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The Enneads of Plotinus


Second ennead:

  1. On the cosmos or on the heavenly system
  2. The heavenly circuit
  3. Are the stars causes
  4. Matter in its two kinds
  5. On potentiality and actuality

The second ennead

First tractate: On the cosmos or on the heavenly system



We hold that the ordered universe, in its material mass, has existed for ever and will for ever endure: But simply to refer this perdurance to the will of God, however true an explanation, is utterly inadequate.

The elements of this sphere change; the living beings of earth pass away; only the ideal-form [the species] persists: Possibly a similar process obtains in the all.

The will of God is able to cope with the ceaseless flux and escape of body stuff by ceaselessly reintroducing the known forms in new substances, thus ensuring perpetuity not to the particular item but to the unity of idea: Now, seeing that objects of this realm possess no more than duration of form, why should celestial objects, and the celestial system itself, be distinguished by duration of the particular entity?

Let us suppose this persistence to be the result of the all- inclusiveness of the celestial and universal—with its consequence, the absence of any outlying matter into which change could take place or which could break in and destroy.

This explanation would, no doubt, safeguard the integrity of the Whole, of the all; but our sun and the individual being of the other heavenly bodies would not on these terms be secured in perpetuity: They are parts; no one of them is in itself the whole, the all; it would still be probable that theirs is no more than that duration in form which belongs to fire and such entities.

This would apply even to the entire ordered universe itself. For it is very possible that this too, though not in process of destruction from outside, might have only formal duration; its parts may be so wearing each other down as to keep it in a continuous decay while, amid the ceaseless flux of the kind constituting its base, an outside power ceaselessly restores the form: In this way the living all may lie under the same conditions as man and horse and the rest man and horse persisting but not the individual of the type.

With this, we would have no longer the distinction of one order, the heavenly system, stable for ever, and another, the earthly, in process of decay: All would be alike except in the point of time; the celestial would merely be longer lasting. If, then, we accepted this duration of type alone as a true account of the all equally with its partial members, our difficulties would be eased—or indeed we should have no further problem—once the will of God were shown to be capable, under these conditions and by such communication, of sustaining the universe.

But if we are obliged to allow individual persistence to any definite entity within the cosmos then, firstly, we must show that the divine will is adequate to make it so; secondly, we have to face the question, What accounts for some things having individual persistence and others only the persistence of type? and, thirdly, we ask how the partial entities of the celestial system hold a real duration which would thus appear possible to all partial things.


Supposing we accept this view and hold that, while things below the moon's orb have merely type-persistence, the celestial realm and all its several members possess individual eternity; it remains to show how this strict permanence of the individual identity—the actual item eternally unchangeable—can belong to what is certainly corporeal, seeing that bodily substance is characteristically a thing of flux.

The theory of bodily flux is held by Plato no less than by the other philosophers who have dealt with physical matters, and is applied not only to ordinary bodies but to those, also, of the heavenly sphere.

"How," he asks, "can these corporeal and visible entities continue eternally unchanged in identity?"—evidently agreeing, in this matter also, with herakleitos who maintained that even the sun is perpetually coming anew into being. To aristotle there would be no problem; it is only accepting his theories of a fifth-substance.

But to those who reject aristotle's Quintessence and hold the material mass of the heavens to consist of the elements underlying the living things of this sphere, how is individual permanence possible? And the difficulty is still greater for the parts, for the sun and the heavenly bodies.

Every living thing is a combination of soul and body-kind: The celestial sphere, therefore, if it is to be everlasting as an individual entity must be so in virtue either of both these constituents or of one of them, by the combination of soul and body or by soul only or by body only.

Of course anyone that holds body to be incorruptible secures the desired permanence at once; no need, then, to call on a soul or on any perdurable conjunction to account for the continued maintenance of a living being.

But the case is different when one holds that body is, of itself, perishable and that soul is the principle of permanence: This view obliges us to the proof that the character of body is not in itself fatal either to the coherence or to the lasting stability which are imperative: It must be shown that the two elements of the union envisaged are not inevitably hostile, but that on the contrary [in the heavens] even matter must conduce to the scheme of the standing result.


We have to ask, that is, how matter, this entity of ceaseless flux constituting the physical mass of the universe, could serve towards the immortality of the cosmos.

And our answer is "because the flux is not outgoing": Where there is motion within but not outwards and the total remains unchanged, there is neither growth nor decline, and thus the cosmos never ages.

We have a parallel in our earth, constant from eternity to pattern and to mass; the air, too, never fails; and there is always water: All the changes of these elements leave unchanged the principle of the total living thing, our world. In our own constitution, again, there is a ceaseless shifting of particles—and that with outgoing loss—and yet the individual persists for a long time: Where there is no question of an outside region, the body-principle cannot clash with soul as against the identity and endless duration of the living thing.

Of these material elements—for example—fire, the keen and swift, cooperates by its upward tendency as earth by its lingering below; for we must not imagine that the fire, once it finds itself at the point where its ascent must stop, settles down as in its appropriate place, no longer seeking, like all the rest, to expand in both directions. No: But higher is not possible; lower is repugnant to its kind; all that remains for it is to be tractable and, answering to a need of its nature, to be drawn by the soul to the activity of life, and so to move to in a glorious place, in the soul. Anyone that dreads its falling may take heart; the circuit of the soul provides against any declination, embracing, sustaining; and since fire has of itself no downward tendency it accepts that guiding without resistance. The partial elements constituting our persons do not suffice for their own cohesion; once they are brought to human shape, they must borrow elsewhere if the organism is to be maintained: But in the upper spheres since there can be no loss by flux no such replenishment is needed.

Suppose such loss, suppose fire extinguished there, then a new fire must be kindled; so also if such loss by flux could occur in some of the superiors from which the celestial fire depends, that too must be replaced: But with such transmutations, while there might be something continuously similar, there would be, no longer, a living all abidingly self-identical.


But matters are involved here which demand specific investigation and cannot be treated as incidental merely to our present problem. We are faced with several questions: Is the heavenly system exposed to any such flux as would occasion the need of some restoration corresponding to nourishment; or do its members, once set in their due places, suffer no loss of substance, permanent by kind? does it consist of fire only, or is it mainly of fire with the other elements, as well, taken up and carried in the circuit by the dominant principle?

Our doctrine of the immortality of the heavenly system rests on the firmest foundation once we have cited the sovereign agent, the soul, and considered, besides, the peculiar excellence of the bodily substance constituting the stars, a material so pure, so entirely the noblest, and chosen by the soul as, in all living beings, the determining principle appropriates to itself the choicest among their characteristic parts. No doubt aristotle is right in speaking of flame as a turmoil, fire insolently rioting; but the celestial fire is equable, placid, docile to the purposes of the stars.

Still, the great argument remains, the soul, moving in its marvellous might second only to the very loftiest existents: How could anything once placed within this soul break away from it into non-being? No one that understands this principle, the support of all things, can fail to see that, sprung from God, it is a stronger stay than any bonds.

And is it conceivable that the soul, valid to sustain for a certain space of time, could not so sustain for ever? This would be to assume that it holds things together by violence; that there is a "natural course" at variance with what actually exists in the nature of the universe and in these exquisitely ordered beings; and that there is some power able to storm the established system and destroy its ordered coherence, some kingdom or dominion that may shatter the order founded by the soul.

Further: The cosmos has had no beginning—the impossibility has been shown elsewhere—and this is warrant for its continued existence. Why should there be in the future a change that has not yet occurred? The elements there are not worn away like beams and rafters: They hold sound for ever, and so the all holds sound. And even supposing these elements to be in ceaseless transmutation, yet the all persists: The ground of all the change must itself be changeless.

As to any alteration of purpose in the soul we have already shown the emptiness of that fancy: The administration of the universe entails neither labour nor loss; and, even supposing the possibility of annihilating all that is material, the soul would be no whit the better or the worse.


But how explain the permanence there, while the content of this sphere—its elements and its living things alike—are passing?

The reason is given by Plato: The celestial order is from God, the living things of earth from the gods sprung from God; and it is law that the offspring of God endures.

In other words, the celestial soul—and our souls with it—springs directly next from the creator, while the animal life of this earth is produced by an image which goes forth from that celestial soul and may be said to flow downwards from it.

A soul, then, of the minor degree—reproducing, indeed, that of the divine sphere but lacking in power inasmuch as it must exercise its creative act on inferior stuff in an inferior region—the substances taken up into the fabric being of themselves repugnant to duration; with such an origin the living things of this realm cannot be of strength to last for ever; the material constituents are not as firmly held and controlled as if they were ruled immediately by a principle of higher potency.

The heavens, on the contrary, must have persistence as a whole, and this entails the persistence of the parts, of the stars they contain: We could not imagine that whole to endure with the parts in flux—though, of course, we must distinguish things sub- celestial from the heavens themselves whose region does not in fact extend so low as to the moon.

Our own case is different: Physically we are formed by that [inferior] soul, given forth [not directly from God but] from the divine beings in the heavens and from the heavens themselves; it is by way of that inferior soul that we are associated with the body [which therefore will not be persistent]; for the higher soul which constitutes the We is the principle not of our existence but of our excellence or, if also of our existence, then only in the sense that, when the body is already constituted, it enters, bringing with it some effluence from the divine reason in support of the existence.


We may now consider the question whether fire is the sole element existing in that celestial realm and whether there is any outgoing thence with the consequent need of renewal.

Timaeus pronounced the material frame of the all to consist primarily of earth and fire for visibility, earth for solidity—and deduced that the stars must be mainly composed of fire, but not solely since there is no doubt they are solid.

And this is probably a true account. Plato accepts it as indicated by all the appearances. And, in fact, to all our perception—as we see them and derive from them the impression of illumination—the stars appear to be mostly, if not exclusively, fire: But on reasoning into the matter we judge that since solidity cannot exist apart from earth- matter, they must contain earth as well.

But what place could there be for the other elements? It is impossible to imagine water amid so vast a conflagration; and if air were present it would be continually changing into fire.

Admitting [with Timaeus; as a logical truth] that two self- contained entities, standing as extremes to each other need for their coherence two intermediaries; we may still question whether this holds good with regard to physical bodies. Certainly water and earth can be mixed without any such intermediate. It might seem valid to object that the intermediates are already present in the earth and the water; but a possible answer would be, "Yes, but not as agents whose meeting is necessary to the coherence of those extremes."

None the less we will take it that the coherence of extremes is produced by virtue of each possessing all the intermediates. It is still not proven that fire is necessary to the visibility of earth and earth to the solidarity of fire.

On this principle, nothing possesses an essential-nature of its very own; every several thing is a blend, and its name is merely an indication of the dominant constituent.

Thus we are told that earth cannot have concrete existence without the help of some moist element—the moisture in water being the necessary adhesive—but admitting that we so find it, there is still a contradiction in pretending that any one element has a being of its own and in the same breath denying its self-coherence, making its subsistence depend on others, and so, in reality, reducing the specific element to nothing. How can we talk of the existence of the definite kind, earth—earth essential—if there exists no single particle of earth which actually is earth without any need of water to secure its self- cohesion? What has such an adhesive to act on if there is absolutely no given magnitude of real earth to which it may bind particle after particle in its business of producing the continuous mass? If there is any such given magnitude, large or small, of pure earth, then earth can exist in its own nature, independently of water: If there is no such primary particle of pure earth, then there is nothing whatever for the water to bind. As for air—air unchanged, retaining its distinctive quality—how could it conduce to the subsistence of a dense material like earth?

Similarly with fire. No doubt Timaeus speaks of it as necessary not to the existence but to the visibility of earth and the other elements; and certainly light is essential to all visibility—we cannot say that we see darkness, which implies, precisely, that nothing is seen, as silence means nothing being heard.

But all this does not assure us that the earth to be visible must contain fire: Light is sufficient: Snow, for example, and other extremely cold substances gleam without the presence of fire—though of course it might be said that fire was once there and communicated colour before disappearing.

As to the composition of water, we must leave it an open question whether there can be such a thing as water without a certain proportion of earth.

But how can air, the yielding element, contain earth?

Fire, again: Is earth perhaps necessary there since fire is by its own nature devoid of continuity and not a thing of three dimensions?

Supposing it does not possess the solidity of the three dimensions, it has that of its thrust; now, cannot this belong to it by the mere right and fact of its being one of the corporeal entities in nature? Hardness is another matter, a property confined to earth- stuff. Remember that gold—which is water—becomes dense by the accession not of earth but of denseness or consolidation: In the same way fire, with soul present within it, may consolidate itself on the power of the soul; and there are living beings of fire among the celestials.

But, in sum, do we abandon the teaching that all the elements enter into the composition of every living thing?

For this sphere, no; but to lift clay into the heavens is against nature, contrary to the laws of her ordaining: It is difficult, too, to think of that swiftest of circuits bearing along earthly bodies in its course nor could such material conduce to the splendour and white glint of the celestial fire.


We can scarcely do better, in fine, than follow Plato.


In the universe as a whole there must necessarily be such a degree of solidity, that is to say, of resistance, as will ensure that the earth, set in the centre, be a sure footing and support to the living beings moving over it, and inevitably communicate something of its own density to them: The earth will possess coherence by its own unaided quality, but visibility by the presence of fire: It will contain water against the dryness which would prevent the cohesion of its particles; it will hold air to lighten its bulky matters; it will be in contact with the celestial fire—not as being a member of the sidereal system but by the simple fact that the fire there and our earth both belong to the ordered universe so that something of the earth is taken up by the fire as something of the fire by the earth and something of everything by everything else.

This borrowing, however, does not mean that the one thing taking-up from the other enters into a composition, becoming an element in a total of both: It is simply a consequence of the cosmic fellowship; the participant retains its own being and takes over not the thing itself but some property of the thing, not air but air's yielding softness, not fire but fire's incandescence: Mixing is another process, a complete surrender with a resultant compound not, as in this case, earth—remaining earth, the solidity and density we know—with something of fire's qualities superadded.

We have authority for this where we read:

"At the second circuit from the earth, God kindled a light": He is speaking of the sun which, elsewhere, he calls the all- glowing and, again, the all-gleaming: Thus he prevents us imagining it to be anything else but fire, though of a peculiar kind; in other words it is light, which he distinguishes from flame as being only modestly warm: This light is a corporeal substance but from it there shines forth that other "light" which, though it carries the same name, we pronounce incorporeal, given forth from the first as its flower and radiance, the veritable "incandescent body." Plato's word earthy is commonly taken in too depreciatory a sense: He is thinking of earth as the principle of solidity; we are apt to ignore his distinctions and think of the concrete clay.

Fire of this order, giving forth this purest light, belongs to the upper realm, and there its seat is fixed by nature; but we must not, on that account, suppose the flame of earth to be associated with the beings of that higher sphere.

No: The flame of this world, once it has attained a certain height, is extinguished by the currents of air opposed to it. Moreover, as it carries an earthy element on its upward path, it is weighed downwards and cannot reach those loftier regions. It comes to a stand somewhere below the moon—making the air at that point subtler—and its flame, if any flame can persist, is subdued and softened, and no longer retains its first intensity, but gives out only what radiance it reflects from the light above.

And it is that loftier light—falling variously on the stars; to each in a certain proportion—that gives them their characteristic differences, as well in magnitude as in colour; just such light constitutes also the still higher heavenly bodies which, however, like clear air, are invisible because of the subtle texture and unresisting transparency of their material substance and also by their very distance.


Now: given a light of this degree, remaining in the upper sphere at its appointed station, pure light in purest place, what mode of outflow from it can be conceived possible?

Such a kind is not so constituted as to flow downwards of its own accord; and there exists in those regions no power to force it down. Again, body in contact with soul must always be very different from body left to itself; the bodily substance of the heavens has that contact and will show that difference.

Besides, the corporeal substance nearest to the heavens would be air or fire: Air has no destructive quality; fire would be powerless there since it could not enter into effective contact: In its very rush it would change before its attack could be felt; and, apart from that, it is of the lesser order, no match for what it would be opposing in those higher regions.

Again, fire acts by imparting heat: Now it cannot be the source of heat to what is already hot by nature; and anything it is to destroy must as a first condition be heated by it, must be brought to a pitch of heat fatal to the nature concerned.

In sum, then, no outside body is necessary to the heavens to ensure their permanence—or to produce their circular movement, for it has never been shown that their natural path would be the straight line; on the contrary the heavens, by their nature, will either be motionless or move by circle; all other movement indicates outside compulsion. We cannot think, therefore, that the heavenly bodies stand in need of replenishment; we must not argue from earthly frames to those of the celestial system whose sustaining soul is not the same, whose space is not the same, whose conditions are not those which make restoration necessary in this realm of composite bodies always in flux: We must recognise that the changes that take place in bodies here represent a slipping-away from the being [a phenomenon not incident to the celestial sphere] and take place at the dictate of a principle not dwelling in the higher regions, one not powerful enough to ensure the permanence of the existences in which it is exhibited, one which in its coming into being and in its generative act is but an imitation of an antecedent kind, and, as we have shown, cannot at every point possess the unchangeable identity of the intellectual realm.

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Second tractate: The heavenly circuit



But whence that circular movement?

In imitation of the intellectual-principle.

And does this movement belong to the material part or to the soul? can we account for it on the ground that the soul has itself at once for centre and for the goal to which it must be ceaselessly moving; or that, being self-centred it is not of unlimited extension [and consequently must move ceaselessly to be omnipresent], and that its revolution carries the material mass with it?

If the soul had been the moving power [by any such semi- physical action] it would be so no longer; it would have accomplished the act of moving and have brought the universe to rest; there would be an end of this endless revolution.

In fact the soul must be in repose or at least cannot have spatial movement; how then, having itself a movement of quite another order, could it communicate spatial movement?

But perhaps the circular movement [of the cosmos as soul and body] is not spatial or is spatial not primarily but only incidentally.

What, by this explanation, would be the essential movement of the cosmic soul?

A movement towards itself, the movement of self- awareness, of self-intellection, of the living of its life, the movement of its reaching to all things so that nothing shall lie outside of it, nothing anywhere but within its scope.

The dominant in a living thing is what compasses it entirely and makes it a unity.

If the soul has no motion of any kind, it would not vitally compass the cosmos nor would the cosmos, a thing of body, keep its content alive, for the life of body is movement.

Any spatial motion there is will be limited; it will be not that of soul untrammelled but that of a material frame ensouled, an animated organism; the movement will be partly of body, partly of soul, the body tending to the straight line which its nature imposes, the soul restraining it; the resultant will be the compromise movement of a thing at once carried forward and at rest.

But supposing that the circular movement is to be attributed to the body, how is it to be explained, since all body, including fire [which constitutes the heavens] has straightforward motion?

The answer is that forthright movement is maintained only pending arrival at the place for which the moving thing is destined: Where a thing is ordained to be, there it seeks, of its nature, to come for its rest; its motion is its tendence to its appointed place.

Then, since the fire of the sidereal system has attained its goal, why does it not stay at rest?

Evidently because the very nature of fire is to be mobile: If it did not take the curve, its straight line would finally fling it outside the universe: The circular course, then, is imperative.

But this would imply an act of providence?

Not quite: Rather its own act under providence; attaining to that realm, it must still take the circular course by its indwelling nature; for it seeks the straight path onwards but finds no further space and is driven back so that it recoils on the only course left to it: There is nothing beyond; it has reached the ultimate; it runs its course in the regions it occupies, itself its own sphere, not destined to come to rest there, existing to move.

Further, the centre of a circle [and therefore of the cosmos] is distinctively a point of rest: If the circumference outside were not in motion, the universe would be no more than one vast centre. And movement around the centre is all the more to be expected in the case of a living thing whose nature binds it within a body. Such motion alone can constitute its impulse towards its centre: It cannot coincide with the centre, for then there would be no circle; since this may not be, it whirls about it; so only can it indulge its tendence.

If, on the other hand, the cosmic circuit is due to the soul, we are not to think of a painful driving [wearing it down at last]; the soul does not use violence or in any way thwart nature, for "nature" is no other than the custom the all-soul has established. Omnipresent in its entirety, incapable of division, the soul of the universe communicates that quality of universal presence to the heavens, too, in their degree, the degree, that is, of pursuing universality and advancing towards it.

If the soul halted anywhere, there the cosmos, too, brought so far, would halt: But the soul encompasses all, and so the cosmos moves, seeking everything.

Yet never to attain?

On the contrary this very motion is its eternal attainment.

Or, better; the soul is ceaselessly leading the cosmos towards itself: The continuous attraction communicates a continuous movement—not to some outside space but towards the soul and in the one sphere with it, not in the straight line [which would ultimately bring the moving body outside and below the soul], but in the curving course in which the moving body at every stage possesses the soul that is attracting it and bestowing itself on it.

If the soul were stationary, that is if [instead of presiding over a cosmos] it dwelt wholly and solely in the realm in which every member is at rest, motion would be unknown; but, since the soul is not fixed in some one station there, the cosmos must travel to every point in quest of it, and never outside it: In a circle, therefore.


And what of lower things? [Why have they not this motion?]

[their case is very different]: The single thing here is not an all but a part and limited to a given segment of space; that other realm is all, is space, so to speak, and is subject to no hindrance or control, for in itself it is all that is.

And men?

As a self, each is a personal whole, no doubt; but as member of the universe, each is a partial thing.

But if, wherever the circling body be, it possesses the soul, what need of the circling?

Because everywhere it finds something else besides the soul [which it desires to possess alone].

The circular movement would be explained, too, if the soul's power may be taken as resident at its centre.

Here, however, we must distinguish between a centre in reference to the two different natures, body and soul.

In body, centre is a point of place; in soul it is a source, the source of some other nature. The word, which without qualification would mean the midpoint of a spheric mass, may serve in the double reference; and, as in a material mass so in the soul, there must be a centre, that around which the object, soul or material mass, revolves.

The soul exists in revolution around God to whom it clings in love, holding itself to the utmost of its power near to him as the being on which all depends; and since it cannot coincide with God it circles about him.

Why then do not all souls [I.e., the lower, also, as those of men and animals] thus circle about the godhead?

Every soul does in its own rank and place.

And why not our very bodies, also?

Because the forward path is characteristic of body and because all the body's impulses are to other ends and because what in us is of this circling nature is hampered in its motion by the clay it bears with it, while in the higher realm everything flows on its course, lightly and easily, with nothing to check it, once there is any principle of motion in it at all.

And it may very well be that even in us the spirit which dwells with the soul does thus circle about the divinity. For since god is omnipresent the soul desiring perfect union must take the circular course: God is not stationed.

Similarly Plato attributes to the stars not only the spheric movement belonging to the universe as a whole but also to each a revolution around their common centre; each—not by way of thought but by links of natural necessity—has in its own place taken hold of God and exults.


The truth may be resumed in this way:

There is a lowest power of the soul, a nearest to earth, and this is interwoven throughout the entire universe: Another phase possesses sensation, while yet another includes the reason which is concerned with the objects of sensation: This higher phase holds itself to the spheres, poised towards the above but hovering over the lesser soul and giving forth to it an effluence which makes it more intensely vital.

The lower soul is moved by the higher which, besides encircling and supporting it, actually resides in whatever part of it has thrust upwards and attained the spheres. The lower then, ringed round by the higher and answering its call, turns and tends towards it; and this upward tension communicates motion to the material frame in which it is involved: For if a single point in a spheric mass is in any degree moved, without being drawn away from the rest, it moves the whole, and the sphere is set in motion. Something of the same kind happens in the case of our bodies: The unspatial movement of the soul—in happiness, for instance, or at the idea of some pleasant event—sets up a spatial movement in the body: The soul, attaining in its own region some good which increases its sense of life, moves towards what pleases it; and so, by force of the union established in the order of nature, it moves the body, in the body's region, that is in space.

As for that phase of the soul in which sensation is vested, it, too, takes its good from the supreme above itself and moves, rejoicingly, in quest of it: And since the object of its desire is everywhere, it too ranges always through the entire scope of the universe.

The intellectual-principle has no such progress in any region; its movement is a stationary act, for it turns on itself.

And this is why the all, circling as it does, is at the same time at rest.

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Third tractate: Are the stars causes?



That the circuit of the stars indicates definite events to come but without being the cause direct of all that happens, has been elsewhere affirmed, and proved by some modicum of argument: But the subject demands more precise and detailed investigation for to take the one view rather than the other is of no small moment.

The belief is that the planets in their courses actually produce not merely such conditions as poverty, wealth, health and sickness but even ugliness and beauty and, gravest of all, vices and virtue and the very acts that spring from these qualities, the definite doings of each moment of virtue or vice. We are to suppose the stars to be annoyed with men—and on matters in which men, moulded to what they are by the stars themselves, can surely do them no wrong.

They will be distributing what pass for their good gifts, not out of kindness towards the recipients but as they themselves are affected pleasantly or disagreeably at the various points of their course; so that they must be supposed to change their plans as they stand at their zeniths or are declining.

More absurdly still, some of them are supposed to be malicious and others to be helpful, and yet the evil stars will bestow favours and the benevolent act harshly: Further, their action alters as they see each other or not, so that, after all, they possess no definite nature but vary according to their angles of aspect; a star is kindly when it sees one of its fellows but changes at sight of another: And there is even a distinction to be made in the seeing as it occurs in this figure or in that. Lastly, all acting together, the fused influence is different again from that of each single star, just as the blending of distinct fluids gives a mixture unlike any of them.

Since these opinions and others of the same order are prevalent, it will be well to examine them carefully one by one, beginning with the fundamental question:


Are these planets to be thought of as soulless or unsouled?

Suppose them, first, to be without soul.

In that case they can purvey only heat or cold—if cold from the stars can be thought of—that is to say, any communication from them will affect only our bodily nature, since all they have to communicate to us is merely corporeal. This implies that no considerable change can be caused in the bodies affected since emanations merely corporeal cannot differ greatly from star to star, and must, moreover, blend on earth into one collective resultant: At most the differences would be such as depend on local position, on nearness or farness with regard to the centre of influence. This reasoning, of course, is as valid of any cold emanation there may be as of the warm.

Now, what is there in such corporeal action to account for the various classes and kinds of men, learned and illiterate, scholars as against orators, musicians as against people of other professions? can a power merely physical make rich or poor? can it bring about such conditions as in no sense depend on the interaction of corporeal elements? could it, for example, bring a man such and such a brother, father, son, or wife, give him a stroke of good fortune at a particular moment, or make him generalissimo or king?

Next, suppose the stars to have life and mind and to be effective by deliberate purpose.

In that case, what have they suffered from us that they should, in free will, do us hurt, they who are established in a divine place, themselves divine? There is nothing in their nature of what makes men base, nor can our weal or woe bring them the slightest good or ill.


Possibly, however, they act not by choice but under stress of their several positions and collective figures?

But if position and figure determined their action each several one would necessarily cause identical effects with every other on entering any given place or pattern.

And that raises the question what effect for good or bad can be produced on any one of them by its transit in the parallel of this or that section of the Zodiac circle—for they are not in the Zodiacal figure itself but considerably beneath it especially since, whatever point they touch, they are always in the heavens.

It is absurd to think that the particular grouping under which a star passes can modify either its character or its earthward influences. And can we imagine it altered by its own progression as it rises, stands at centre, declines? Exultant when at centre; dejected or enfeebled in declension; some raging as they rise and growing benignant as they set, while declension brings out the best in one among them; surely this cannot be?

We must not forget that invariably every star, considered in itself, is at centre with regard to some one given group and in decline with regard to another and vice versa; and, very certainly, it is not at once happy and sad, angry and kindly. There is no reasonable escape in representing some of them as glad in their setting, others in their rising: They would still be grieving and glad at one and the same time.

Further, why should any distress of theirs work harm to us?

No: We cannot think of them as grieving at all or as being cheerful on occasions: They must be continuously serene, happy in the good they enjoy and the vision before them. Each lives its own free life; each finds its good in its own act; and this act is not directed towards us.

Like the birds of augury, the living beings of the heavens, having no lot or part with us, may serve incidentally to foreshow the future, but they have absolutely no main function in our regard.


It is again not in reason that a particular star should be gladdened by seeing this or that other while, in a second couple, such an aspect is distressing: What enmities can affect such beings? What causes of enmity can there be among them?

And why should there be any difference as a given star sees certain others from the corner of a triangle or in opposition or at the angle of a square?

Why, again, should it see its fellow from some one given position and yet, in the next Zodiacal figure, not see it, though the two are actually nearer?

And, the cardinal question; by what conceivable process could they affect what is attributed to them? How explain either the action of any single star independently or, still more perplexing, the effect of their combined intentions?

We cannot think of them entering into compromises, each renouncing something of its efficiency and their final action in our regard amounting to a concerted plan.

No one star would suppress the contribution of another, nor would star yield to star and shape its conduct under suasion.

As for the fancy that while one is glad when it enters another's region, the second is vexed when in its turn it occupies the place of the first, surely this is like starting with the supposition of two friends and then going on to talk of one being attracted to the other who, however, abhors the first.


When they tell us that a certain cold star is more benevolent to us in proportion as it is further away, they clearly make its harmful influence depend on the coldness of its nature; and yet it ought to be beneficent to us when it is in the opposed Zodiacal figures.

When the cold planet, we are told, is in opposition to the cold, both become meanacing: But the natural effect would be a compromise.

And we are asked to believe that one of them is happy by day and grows kindly under the warmth, while another, of a fiery nature, is most cheerful by night—as if it were not always day to them, light to them, and as if the first one could be darkened by night at that great distance above the earth's shadow.

Then there is the notion that the moon, in conjunction with a certain star, is softened at her full but is malignant in the same conjunction when her light has waned; yet, if anything of this order could be admitted, the very opposite would be the case. For when she is full to us she must be dark on the further hemisphere, that is to that star which stands above her; and when dark to us she is full to that other star, on which only then, on the contrary, does she look with her light. To the moon itself, in fact, it can make no difference in what aspect she stands, for she is always lit on the upper or on the under half: To the other star, the warmth from the moon, of which they speak, might make a difference; but that warmth would reach it precisely when the moon is without light to us; at its darkest to us it is full to that other, and therefore beneficent. The darkness of the moon to us is of moment to the earth, but brings no trouble to the planet above. That planet, it is alleged, can give no help on account of its remoteness and therefore seems less well disposed; but the moon at its full suffices to the lower realm so that the distance of the other is of no importance. When the moon, though dark to us, is in aspect with the fiery star she is held to be favourable: The reason alleged is that the force of mars is all- sufficient since it contains more fire than it needs.

The truth is that while the material emanations from the living beings of the heavenly system are of various degrees of warmth—planet differing from planet in this respect—no cold comes from them: The nature of the space in which they have their being is voucher for that.

The star known as jupiter includes a due measure of fire [and warmth], in this resembling the morning-star and therefore seeming to be in alliance with it. In aspect with what is known as the fiery star, jupiter is beneficent by virtue of the mixing of influences: In aspect with saturn unfriendly by dint of distance. Mercury, it would seem, is indifferent whatever stars it be in aspect with; for it adopts any and every character.

But all the stars are serviceable to the universe, and therefore can stand to each other only as the service of the universe demands, in a harmony like that observed in the members of any one animal form. They exist essentially for the purpose of the universe, just as the gall exists for the purposes of the body as a whole not less than for its own immediate function: It is to be the inciter of the animal spirits but without allowing the entire organism and its own especial region to run riot. Some such balance of function was indispensable in the all—bitter with sweet. There must be differentiation—eyes and so forth—but all the members will be in sympathy with the entire animal frame to which they belong. Only so can there be a unity and a total harmony.

And in such a total, analogy will make every part a sign.


But that this same mars, or aphrodite, in certain aspects should cause adulteries—as if they could thus, through the agency of human incontinence, satisfy their own mutual desires—is not such a notion the height of unreason? And who could accept the fancy that their happiness comes from their seeing each other in this or that relative position and not from their own settled nature?

Again: Countless myriads of living beings are born and continue to be: To minister continuously to every separate one of these; to make them famous, rich, poor, lascivious; to shape the active tendencies of every single one—what kind of life is this for the stars, how could they possibly handle a task so huge?

They are to watch, we must suppose, the rising of each several constellation and on that signal to act; such a one, they see, has risen by so many degrees, representing so many of the periods of its upward path; they reckon on their fingers at what moment they must take the action which, executed prematurely, would be out of order: And in the sum, there is no One being controlling the entire scheme; all is made over to the stars singly, as if there were no sovereign unity, standing as source of all the forms of being in subordinate association with it, and delegating to the separate members, in their appropriate kinds, the task of accomplishing its purposes and bringing its latent potentiality into act.

This is a separatist theory, tenable only by minds ignorant of the nature of a universe which has a ruling principle and a first cause operative downwards through every member.


But, if the stars announce the future—as we hold of many other things also—what explanation of the cause have we to offer? What explains the purposeful arrangement thus implied? Obviously, unless the particular is included under some general principle of order, there can be no signification.

We may think of the stars as letters perpetually being inscribed on the heavens or inscribed once for all and yet moving as they pursue the other tasks allotted to them: On these main tasks will follow the quality of signifying, just as the one principle underlying any living unit enables us to reason from member to member, so that for example we may judge of character and even of perils and safeguards by indications in the eyes or in some other part of the body. If these parts of us are members of a whole, so are we: In different ways the one law applies.

All teems with symbol; the wise man is the man who in any one thing can read another, a process familiar to all of us in not a few examples of everyday experience.

But what is the comprehensive principle of co-ordination? Establish this and we have a reasonable basis for the divination, not only by stars but also by birds and other animals, from which we derive guidance in our varied concerns.

All things must be enchained; and the sympathy and correspondence obtaining in any one closely knit organism must exist, first, and most intensely, in the all. There must be one principle constituting this unit of many forms of life and enclosing the several members within the unity, while at the same time, precisely as in each thing of detail the parts too have each a definite function, so in the all each several member must have its own task—but more markedly so since in this case the parts are not merely members but themselves alls, members of the loftier kind.

Thus each entity takes its origin from one principle and, therefore, while executing its own function, works in with every other member of that all from which its distinct task has by no means cut it off: Each performs its act, each receives something from the others, every one at its own moment bringing its touch of sweet or bitter. And there is nothing undesigned, nothing of chance, in all the process: All is one scheme of differentiation, starting from the firsts and working itself out in a continuous progression of kinds.


Soul, then, in the same way, is intent on a task of its own; alike in its direct course and in its divagation it is the cause of all by its possession of the thought of the first principle: Thus a law of justice goes with all that exists in the universe which, otherwise, would be dissolved, and is perdurable because the entire fabric is guided as much by the orderliness as by the power of the controlling force. And in this order the stars, as being no minor members of the heavenly system, are co-operators contributing at once to its stately beauty and to its symbolic quality. Their symbolic power extends to the entire realm of sense, their efficacy only to what they patently do.

For our part, nature keeps us on the work of the soul as long as we are not wrecked in the multiplicity of the universe: Once thus sunk and held we pay the penalty, which consists both in the fall itself and in the lower rank thus entailed on us: Riches and poverty are caused by the combinations of external fact.

And what of virtue and vice?

That question has been amply discussed elsewhere: In a word, virtue is ours by the ancient staple of the soul; vice is due to the commerce of a soul with the outer world.


This brings us to the spindle-destiny, spun according to the ancients by the fates. To Plato the spindle represents the co- operation of the moving and the stable elements of the cosmic circuit: The fates with necessity, mother of the fates, manipulate it and spin at the birth of every being, so that all comes into existence through necessity.

In the Timaeus, the creating God bestows the essential of the soul, but it is the divinities moving in the cosmos [the stars] that infuse the powerful affections holding from necessity our impulse and our desire, our sense of pleasure and of pain—and that lower phase of the soul in which such experiences originate. By this statement our personality is bound up with the stars, whence our soul [as total of principle and affections] takes shape; and we are set under necessity at our very entrance into the world: Our temperament will be of the stars' ordering, and so, therefore, the actions which derive from temperament, and all the experiences of a nature shaped to impressions.

What, after all this, remains to stand for the "We"?

The "We" is the actual resultant of a being whose nature includes, with certain sensibilities, the power of governing them. Cut off as we are by the nature of the body, God has yet given us, in the midst of all this evil, virtue the unconquerable, meaningless in a state of tranquil safety but everything where its absence would be peril of fall.

Our task, then, is to work for our liberation from this sphere, severing ourselves from all that has gathered about us; the total man is to be something better than a body ensouled—the bodily element dominant with a trace of soul running through it and a resultant life-course mainly of the body—for in such a combination all is, in fact, bodily. There is another life, emancipated, whose quality is progression towards the higher realm, towards the good and divine, towards that principle which no one possesses except by deliberate usage but so may appropriate, becoming, each personally, the higher, the beautiful, the Godlike, and living, remote, in and by it—unless one choose to go bereaved of that higher soul and therefore, to live fate-bound, no longer profiting, merely, by the significance of the sidereal system but becoming as it were a part sunken in it and dragged along with the whole thus adopted.

For every human being is of twofold character; there is that compromise-total and there is the authentic man: And it is so with the cosmos as a whole; it is in the one phase a conjunction of body with a certain form of the soul bound up in body; in the other phase it is the universal soul, that which is not itself embodied but flashes down its rays into the embodied soul: And the same twofold quality belongs to the sun and the other members of the heavenly system.

To the remoter soul, the pure, sun and stars communicate no baseness. In their efficacy on the [material] all, they act as parts of it, as ensouled bodies within it; and they act only on what is partial; body is the agent while, at the same time, it becomes the vehicle through which is transmitted something of the star's will and of that authentic soul in it which is steadfastly in contemplation of the highest.

But [with every allowance to the lower forces] all follows either on that highest or rather on the beings about it—we may think of the divine as a fire whose outgoing warmth pervades the universe—or on whatever is transmitted by the one soul [the divine first soul] to the other, its kin [the soul of any particular being]. All that is graceless is admixture. For the universe is in truth a thing of blend, and if we separate from it that separable soul, the residue is little. The all is a God when the divine soul is counted in with it; "the rest," we read, "is a mighty spirit and its ways are subdivine."


If all this be true, we must at once admit signification, though, neither singly nor collectively, can we ascribe to the stars any efficacy except in what concerns the [material] all and in what is of their own function.

We must admit that the soul before entering into birth presents itself bearing with it something of its own, for it could never touch body except under stress of a powerful inner impulse; we must admit some element of chance around it from its very entry, since the moment and conditions are determined by the cosmic circuit: And we must admit some effective power in that circuit itself; it is co-operative, and completes of its own act the task that belongs to the all of which everything in the circuit takes the rank and function of a part.


And we must remember that what comes from the supernals does not enter into the recipients as it left the source; fire, for instance, will be duller; the loving instinct will degenerate and issue in ugly forms of the passion; the vital energy in a subject not so balanced as to display the mean of manly courage, will come out as either ferocity or faint-heartedness; and ambition... In love...; and the instinct towards good sets up the pursuit of semblant beauty; intellectual power at its lowest produces the extreme of wickedness, for wickedness is a miscalculating effort towards intelligence.

Any such quality, modified at best from its supreme form, deteriorates again within itself: Things of any kind that approach from above, altered by merely leaving their source change further still by their blending with bodies, with matter, with each other.


All that thus proceeds from the supernal combines into a unity and every existing entity takes something from this blended infusion so that the result is the thing itself plus some quality. The effluence does not make the horse but adds something to it; for horse comes by horse, and man by man: The sun plays its part no doubt in the shaping, but the man has his origin in the human- principle. Outer things have their effect, sometimes to hurt and sometimes to help; like a father, they often contribute to good but sometimes also to harm; but they do not wrench the human being from the foundations of its nature; though sometimes matter is the dominant, and the human principle takes the second place so that there is a failure to achieve perfection; the ideal has been attenuated.


Of phenomena of this sphere some derive from the cosmic circuit and some not: We must take them singly and mark them off, assigning to each its origin.

The gist of the whole matter lies in the consideration that soul governs this all by the plan contained in the reason-principle and plays in the all exactly the part of the particular principle which in every living-thing forms the members of the organism and adjusts them to the unity of which they are portions; the entire force of the soul is represented in the all, but, in the parts, soul is present only in proportion to the degree of essential reality held by each of such partial objects. Surrounding every separate entity there are other entities, whose approach will sometimes be hostile and sometimes helpful to the purpose of its nature; but to the all taken in its length and breadth each and every separate existent is an adjusted part, holding its own characteristic and yet contributing by its own native tendency to the entire life- history of the universe.

The soulless parts of the all are merely instruments; all their action is effected, so to speak, under a compulsion from outside themselves.

The ensouled fall into two classes. The one kind has a motion of its own, but haphazard like that of horses between the shafts but before their driver sets the course; they are set right by the whip. In the living-being possessed of reason, the nature- principle includes the driver; where the driver is intelligent, it takes in the main a straight path to a set end. But both classes are members of the all and co- operate towards the general purpose.

The greater and most valuable among them have an important operation over a wide range: Their contribution towards the life of the whole consists in acting, not in being acted on; others, but feebly equipped for action, are almost wholly passive; there is an intermediate order whose members contain within themselves a principle of productivity and activity and make themselves very effective in many spheres or ways and yet serve also by their passivity.

Thus the all stands as one all-complete life, whose members, to the measure in which each contains within itself the highest, effect all that is high and noble: And the entire scheme must be subordinate to its dirigeant as an army to its general, "following on Zeus"—it has been said—"as he proceeds towards the intelligible kind."

Secondary in the all are those of its parts which possess a less exalted nature just as in us the members rank lower than the soul; and so all through, there is a general analogy between the things of the all and our own members—none of quite equal rank.

All living things, then—all in the heavens and all elsewhere—fall under the general reason-principle of the all—they have been made parts with a view to the whole: Not one of these parts, however exalted, has power to effect any alteration of these reason-principles or of things shaped by them and to them; some modification one part may work on another, whether for better or for worse; but there is no power that can wrest anything outside of its distinct nature.

The part effecting such a modification for the worse may act in several ways.

It may set up some weakness restricted to the material frame. Or it may carry the weakness through to the sympathetic soul which by the medium of the material frame, become a power to debasement, has been delivered over, though never in its essence, to the inferior order of being. Or, in the case of a material frame ill-organized, it may check all such action [of the soul] on the material frame as demands a certain collaboration in the part acted on: Thus a lyre may be so ill- strung as to be incapable of the melodic exactitude necessary to musical effect.


What of poverty and riches, glory and power?

In the case of inherited fortune, the stars merely announce a rich man, exactly as they announce the high social standing of the child born to a distinguished house.

Wealth may be due to personal activity: In this case if the body has contributed, part of the effect is due to whatever has contributed towards the physical powers, first the parents and then, if place has had its influence, sky and earth; if the body has borne no part of the burden, then the success, and all the splendid accompaniments added by the recompensers, must be attributed to virtue exclusively. If fortune has come by gift from the good, then the source of the wealth is, again, virtue: If by gift from the evil, but to a meritorious recipient, then the credit must be given to the action of the best in them: If the recipient is himself unprincipled, the wealth must be attributed primarily to the very wickedness and to whatever is responsible for the wickedness, while the givers bear an equal share in the wrong.

When the success is due to labour, tillage for example, it must be put down to the tiller, with all his environment as contributory. In the case of treasure-trove, something from the all has entered into action; and if this be so, it will be foreshown—since all things make a chain, so that we can speak of things universally. Money is lost: If by robbery, the blame lies with the robber and the native principle guiding him: If by shipwreck, the cause is the chain of events. As for good fame, it is either deserved and then is due to the services done and to the merit of those appraising them, or it is undeserved, and then must be attributed to the injustice of those making the award. And the same principle holds is regards power—for this also may be rightly or unrightly placed—it depends either on the merit of the dispensers of place or on the man himself who has effected his purpose by the organization of supporters or in many other possible ways. Marriages, similarly, are brought about either by choice or by chance interplay of circumstance. And births are determined by marriages: The child is moulded true to type when all goes well; otherwise it is marred by some inner detriment, something due to the mother personally or to an environment unfavourable to that particular conception.


According to Plato, lots and choice play a part [in the determination of human conditions] before the spindle of necessity is turned; that once done, only the spindle-destiny is valid; it fixes the chosen conditions irretrievably since the elected guardian-spirit becomes accessory to their accomplishment.

But what is the significance of the lots?

By the lots we are to understand birth into the conditions actually existent in the all at the particular moment of each entry into body, birth into such and such a physical frame, from such and such parents, in this or that place, and generally all that in our phraseology is the external.

For particulars and universals alike it is established that to the first of those known as the fates, to clotho the spinner, must be due the unity and as it were interweaving of all that exists: Lachesis presides over the lots: To atropos must necessarily belong the conduct of mundane events.

Of men, some enter into life as fragments of the all, bound to that which is external to themselves: They are victims of a sort of fascination, and are hardly, or not at all, themselves: But others mastering all this—straining, so to speak, by the head towards the higher, to what is outside even the soul—preserve still the nobility and the ancient privilege of the soul's essential being.

For certainly we cannot think of the soul as a thing whose nature is just a sum of impressions from outside—as if it, alone, of all that exists, had no native character.

No: Much more than all else, the soul, possessing the idea which belongs to a principle, must have as its native wealth many powers serving to the activities of its kind. It is an essential-existent and with this existence must go desire and act and the tendency towards some good.

While body and soul stand one combined thing, there is a joint nature, a definite entity having definite functions and employments; but as soon as any soul is detached, its employments are kept apart, its very own: It ceases to take the body's concerns to itself: It has vision now: Body and soul stand widely apart.


The question arises what phase of the soul enters into the union for the period of embodiment and what phase remains distinct, what is separable and what necessarily interlinked, and in general what the living-being is.

On all this there has been a conflict of teaching: The matter must be examined later on from quite other considerations than occupy us here. For the present let us explain in what sense we have described the all as the expressed idea of the Governing soul.

One theory might be that the soul creates the particular entities in succession—man followed by horse and other animals domestic or wild: Fire and earth, though, first of all—that it watches these creations acting on each other whether to help or to harm, observes, and no more, the tangled web formed of all these strands, and their unfailing sequences; and that it makes no concern of the result beyond securing the reproduction of the primal living-beings, leaving them for the rest to act on each other according to their definite natures.

Another view makes the soul answerable for all that thus comes about, since its first creations have set up the entire enchainment.

No doubt the reason-principle [conveyed by the soul] covers all the action and experience of this realm: Nothing happens, even here, by any form of haphazard; all follows a necessary order.

Is everything, then, to be attributed to the act of the reason- principles?

To their existence, no doubt, but not to their effective action; they exist and they know; or better, the soul, which contains the engendering reason-principle, knows the results of all it has brought to pass. For whenever similar factors meet and act in relation to each other, similar consequences must inevitably ensue: The soul adopting or foreplanning the given conditions accomplishes the due outcome and links all into a total.

All, then, is antecedent and resultant, each sequent becoming in turn an antecedent once it has taken its place among things. And perhaps this is a cause of progressive deterioration: Men, for instance, are not as they were of old; by dint of interval and of the inevitable law, the reason-principles have ceded something to the characteristics of the matter.


The soul watches the ceaselessly changing universe and follows all the fate of all its works: This is its life, and it knows no respite from this care, but is ever labouring to bring about perfection, planning to lead all to an unending state of excellence—like a farmer, first sowing and planting and then constantly setting to rights where rainstorms and long frosts and high gales have played havoc.

If such a conception of soul be rejected as untenable, we are obliged to think that the reason-principles themselves foreknew or even contained the ruin and all the consequences of flaw.

But then we would be imputing the creation of evil to the reason-principles, though the arts and their guiding principle do not include blundering, do not cover the inartistic, the destruction of the work of art.

And here it will be objected that in all there is nothing contrary to nature, nothing evil.

Still, by the side of the better there exists also what is less good.

Well, perhaps even the less good has its contributory value in the all. Perhaps there is no need that everything be good. Contraries may co-operate; and without opposites there could be no ordered universe: All living beings of the partial realm include contraries. The better elements are compelled into existence and moulded to their function by the reason-principle directly; the less good are potentially present in the reason- principles, actually present in the phenomena themselves; the soul's power had reached its limit, and failed to bring the reason- principles into complete actuality since, amid the clash of these antecedent principles, matter had already from its own stock produced the less good.

Yet, with all this, matter is continuously overruled towards the better; so that out of the total of things—modified by soul on the one hand and by matter on the other hand, and on neither hand as sound as in the reason-principles—there is, in the end, a unity.


But these reason-principles, contained in the soul, are they thoughts?

And if so, by what process does the soul create in accordance with these thoughts?

It is on matter that this act of the reason is exercised; and what acts physically is not an intellectual operation or a vision, but a power modifying matter, not conscious of it but merely acting on it: The reason-principle, in other words, acts much like a force producing a figure or pattern on water—that of a circle, suppose, where the formation of the ring is conditioned by something distinct from that force itself.

If this is so, the prior puissance of the soul [that which conveys the reason-principles] must act by manipulating the other soul, that which is united with matter and has the generative function.

But is this handling the result of calculation?

Calculation implies reference. Reference, then, to something outside or to something contained within itself? If to its own content, there is no need of reasoning, which could not itself perform the act of creation; creation is the operation of that phase of the soul which contains ideal-principles; for that is its stronger puissance, its creative part.

It creates, then, on the model of the ideas; for, what it has received from the intellectual-principle it must pass on in turn.

In sum, then, the intellectual-principle gives from itself to the soul of the all which follows immediately on it: This again gives forth from itself to its next, illuminated and imprinted by it; and that secondary soul at once begins to create, as under order, unhindered in some of its creations, striving in others against the repugnance of matter.

It has a creative power, derived; it is stored with reason- principles not the very originals: Therefore it creates, but not in full accordance with the principles from which it has been endowed: Something enters from itself; and, plainly, this is inferior. The issue then is something living, yes; but imperfect, hindering its own life, something very poor and reluctant and crude, formed in a matter that is the fallen sediment of the higher Order, bitter and embittering. This is the soul's contribution to the all.


Are the evils in the universe necessary because it is of later origin than the higher sphere?

Perhaps rather because without evil the all would be incomplete. For most or even all forms of evil serve the universe—much as the poisonous snake has its use—though in most cases their function is unknown. Vice itself has many useful sides: It brings about much that is beautiful, in artistic creations for example, and it stirs us to thoughtful living, not allowing us to drowse in security.

If all this is so, then [the secret of creation is that] the soul of the all abides in contemplation of the highest and best, ceaselessly striving towards the intelligible kind and towards God: But, thus absorbing and filled full, it overflows—so to speak—and the image it gives forth, its last utterance towards the lower, will be the creative puissance.

This ultimate phase, then, is the maker, secondary to that aspect of the soul which is primarily saturated from the divine intelligence. But the creator above all is the intellectual-principle, as giver, to the soul that follows it, of those gifts whose traces exist in the third kind.

Rightly, therefore, is this cosmos described as an image continuously being imaged, the first and the second principles immobile, the third, too, immobile essentially, but, accidentally and in matter, having motion.

For as long as divine mind and soul exist, the divine thought- forms will pour forth into that phase of the soul: As long as there is a sun, all that streams from it will be some form of light.

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Fourth tractate: Matter in its two kinds


By common agreement of all that have arrived at the conception of such a kind, what is known as matter is understood to be a certain base, a recipient of form-ideas. Thus far all go the same way. But departure begins with the attempt to establish what this basic kind is in itself, and how it is a recipient and of what.

To a certain school, body-forms exclusively are the real beings; existence is limited to bodies; there is one only matter, the stuff underlying the primal-constituents of the universe: Existence is nothing but this matter: Everything is some modification of this; the elements of the universe are simply this matter in a certain condition.

The school has even the audacity to foist matter on the divine beings so that, finally, God himself becomes a mode of matter—and this though they make it corporeal, describing it as a body void of quality, but a magnitude.

Another school makes it incorporeal: Among these, not all hold the theory of one only matter; some of them while they maintain the one matter, in which the first school believes, the foundation of bodily forms, admit another, a prior, existing in the divine-sphere, the base of the ideas there and of the unembodied beings.


We are obliged, therefore, at the start, both to establish the existence of this other kind and to examine its nature and the mode of its being.

Now if matter must characteristically be undetermined, void of shape, while in that sphere of the highest there can be nothing that lacks determination, nothing shapeless, there can be no matter there. Further, if all that order is simplex, there can be no need of matter, whose function is to join with some other element to form a compound: It will be found of necessity in things of derived existence and shifting nature—the signs which lead us to the notion of matter—but it is unnecessary to the primal.

And again, where could it have come from? Whence did it take its being? If it is derived, it has a source: If it is eternal, then the primal-principles are more numerous than we thought, the firsts are a meeting-ground. Lastly, if that matter has been entered by idea, the union constitutes a body; and, so, there is body in the supreme.


Now it may be observed, first of all, that we cannot hold utterly cheap either the indeterminate, or even a kind whose very idea implies absence of form, provided only that it offer itself to its priors and [through them] to the highest beings. We have the parallel of the soul itself in its relation to the intellectual- principle and the divine reason, taking shape by these and led so to a nobler principle of form.

Further, a compound in the intellectual order is not to be confounded with a compound in the realm of matter; the divine reasons are compounds and their act is to produce a compound, namely that [lower] nature which works towards idea. And there is not only a difference of function; there is a still more notable difference of source. Then, too, the matter of the realm of process ceaselessly changes its form: In the eternal, matter is immutably one and the same, so that the two are diametrically opposites. The matter of this realm is all things in turn, a new entity in every separate case, so that nothing is permanent and one thing ceaselessly pushes another out of being: Matter has no identity here. In the intellectual it is all things at once: And therefore has nothing to change into: It already and ever contains all. This means that not even in its own sphere is the matter there at any moment shapeless: No doubt that is true of the matter here as well; but shape is held by a very different right in the two orders of matter.

As to whether matter is eternal or a thing of process, this will be clear when we are sure of its precise nature.


The present existence of the ideal-forms has been demonstrated elsewhere: We take up our argument from that point.

If, then, there is more than one of such forming ideas, there must of necessity be some character common to all and equally some peculiar character in each keeping them distinct.

This peculiar characteristic, this distinguishing difference, is the individual shape. But if shape, then there is the shaped, that in which the difference is lodged.

There is, therefore, a matter accepting the shape, a permanent substratum.

Further, admitting that there is an intelligible realm beyond, of which this world is an image, then, since this world- compound is based on matter, there must be matter there also.

And how can you predicate an ordered system without thinking of form, and how think of form apart from the notion of something in which the form is lodged?

No doubt that realm is, in the strict fact, utterly without parts, but in some sense there is part there too. And in so far as these parts are really separate from each other, any such division and difference can be no other than a condition of matter, of a something divided and differentiated: In so far as that realm, though without parts, yet consists of a variety of entities, these diverse entities, residing in a unity of which they are variations, reside in a matter; for this unity, since it is also a diversity, must be conceived of as varied and multiform; it must have been shapeless before it took the form in which variation occurs. For if we abstract from the intellectual-principle the variety and the particular shapes, the reason-principles and the thoughts, what precedes these was something shapeless and undetermined, nothing of what is actually present there.


It may be objected that the intellectual-principle possesses its content in an eternal conjunction so that the two make a perfect unity, and that thus there is no matter there.

But that argument would equally cancel the matter present in the bodily forms of this realm: Body without shape has never existed, always body achieved and yet always the two constituents. We discover these two—matter and idea—by sheer force of our reasoning which distinguishes continually in pursuit of the simplex, the irreducible, working on, until it can go no further, towards the ultimate in the subject of enquiry. And the ultimate of every partial-thing is its matter, which, therefore, must be all darkness since light is a reason- principle. The mind, too, as also a reason-principle, sees only in each particular object the reason-principle lodging there; anything lying below that it declares to lie below the light, to be therefore a thing of darkness, just as the eye, a thing of light, seeks light and colours which are modes of light, and dismisses all that is below the colours and hidden by them, as belonging to the order of the darkness, which is the order of matter.

The dark element in the intelligible, however, differs from that in the sense-world: So therefore does the matter—as much as the forming-idea presiding in each of the two realms. The divine matter, though it is the object of determination has, of its own nature, a life defined and intellectual; the matter of this sphere while it does accept determination is not living or intellective, but a dead thing decorated: Any shape it takes is an image, exactly as the base is an image. There on the contrary the shape is a real-existent as is the base. Those that ascribe real being to matter must be admitted to be right as long as they keep to the matter of the intelligible realm: For the base there is being, or even, taken as an entirety with the higher that accompanies it, is illuminated being.

But does this base, of the intellectual realm, possess eternal existence?

The solution of that question is the same as for the ideas.

Both are engendered, in the sense that they have had a beginning, but unengendered in that this beginning is not in time: They have a derived being but by an eternal derivation: They are not, like the cosmos, always in process but, in the character of the supernal, have their being permanently. For that differentiation within the intelligible which produces matter has always existed and it is this cleavage which produces the matter there: It is the first movement; and movement and differentiation are convertible terms since the two things arose as one: This motion, this cleavage, away from the first is indetermination [= matter], needing the first to its determination which it achieves by its return, remaining, until then, an alienism, still lacking good; unlit by the supernal. It is from the divine that all light comes, and, until this be absorbed, no light in any recipient of light can be authentic; any light from elsewhere is of another order than the true.


We are led thus to the question of receptivity in things of body.

An additional proof that bodies must have some substratum different from themselves is found in the changing of the basic- constituents into one another. Notice that the destruction of the elements passing over is not complete—if it were we would have a principle of being wrecked in non-being—nor does an engendered thing pass from utter non-being into being: What happens is that a new form takes the place of an old. There is, then, a stable element, that which puts off one form to receive the form of the incoming entity.

The same fact is clearly established by decay, a process implying a compound object; where there is decay there is a distinction between matter and form.

And the reasoning which shows the destructible to be a compound is borne out by practical examples of reduction: A drinking vessel is reduced to its gold, the gold to liquid; analogy forces us to believe that the liquid too is reducible.

The basic-constituents of things must be either their form- idea or that primal matter [of the intelligible] or a compound of the form and matter.

Form-idea, pure and simple, they cannot be: For without matter how could things stand in their mass and magnitude?

Neither can they be that primal matter, for they are not indestructible.

They must, therefore, consist of matter and form- idea—form for quality and shape, matter for the base, indeterminate as being other than idea.


Empedokles in identifying his "elements" with matter is refuted by their decay.

Anaxagoras, in identifying his "primal-combination" with matter—to which he allots no mere aptness to any and every nature or quality but the effective possession of all—withdraws in this way the very intellectual-principle he had introduced; for this mind is not to him the bestower of shape, of forming idea; and it is co-aeval with matter, not its prior. But this simultaneous existence is impossible: For if the combination derives being by participation, being is the prior; if both are authentic existents, then an additional principle, a third, is imperative [a ground of unification]. And if this creator, mind, must pre-exist, why need matter contain the forming-ideas parcel-wise for the mind, with unending labour, to assort and allot? Surely the undetermined could be brought to quality and pattern in the one comprehensive act?

As for the notion that all is in all, this clearly is impossible.

Those who make the base to be "the infinite" must define the term.

If this "infinite" means "of endless extension" there is no infinite among beings; there is neither an infinity-in-itself [infinity abstract] nor an infinity as an attribute to some body; for in the first case every part of that infinity would be infinite and in the second an object in which the infinity was present as an attribute could not be infinite apart from that attribute, could not be simplex, could not therefore be matter.

Atoms again cannot meet the need of a base.

There are no atoms; all body is divisible endlessly: Besides neither the continuity nor the ductility of corporeal things is explicable apart from mind, or apart from the soul which cannot be made up of atoms; and, again, out of atoms creation could produce nothing but atoms: A creative power could produce nothing from a material devoid of continuity. Any number of reasons might be brought, and have been brought, against this hypothesis and it need detain us no longer.


What, then, is this kind, this matter, described as one stuff, continuous and without quality?

Clearly since it is without quality it is incorporeal; bodiliness would be quality.

It must be the basic stuff of all the entities of the sense- world and not merely base to some while being to others achieved form.

Clay, for example, is matter to the potter but is not matter pure and simple. Nothing of this sort is our object: We are seeking the stuff which underlies all alike. We must therefore refuse to it all that we find in things of sense—not merely such attributes as colour, heat or cold, but weight or weightlessness, thickness or thinness, shape and therefore magnitude; though notice that to be present within magnitude and shape is very different from possessing these qualities.

It cannot be a compound, it must be a simplex, one distinct thing in its nature; only so can it be void of all quality. The principle which gives it form gives this as something alien: So with magnitude and all really-existent things bestowed on it. If, for example, it possessed a magnitude of its own, the principle giving it form would be at the mercy of that magnitude and must produce not at will, but only within the limit of the matter's capacity: To imagine that will keeping step with its material is fantastic.

The matter must be of later origin than the forming-power, and therefore must be at its disposition throughout, ready to become anything, ready therefore to any bulk; besides, if it possessed magnitude, it would necessarily possess shape also: It would be doubly inductile.

No: All that ever appears on it is brought in by the idea: The idea alone possesses: To it belongs the magnitude and all else that goes with the reason-principle or follows on it. Quantity is given with the ideal-form in all the particular species—man, bird, and particular kind of bird.

The imaging of Quantity on matter by an outside power is not more surprising than the imaging of Quality; Quality is no doubt a reason-principle, but Quantity also—being measure, number—is equally so.


But how can we conceive a thing having existence without having magnitude?

We have only to think of things whose identity does not depend on their quantity—for certainly magnitude can be distinguished from existence as can many other forms and attributes.

In a word, every unembodied kind must be classed as without quantity, and matter is unembodied.

Besides quantitativeness itself [the absolute-principle] does not possess quantity, which belongs only to things participating in it, a consideration which shows that Quantitativeness is an idea- principle. A white object becomes white by the presence of whiteness; what makes an organism white or of any other variety of colour is not itself a specific colour but, so to speak, a specific reason-principle: In the same way what gives an organism a certain bulk is not itself a thing of magnitude but is magnitude itself, the abstract absolute, or the reason-principle.

This magnitude-absolute, then, enters and beats the matter out into magnitude?

Not at all: The matter was not previously shrunken small: There was no littleness or bigness: The idea gives magnitude exactly as it gives every quality not previously present.


But how can I form the conception of the sizelessness of matter?

How do you form the concept of any absence of quality? What is the act of the intellect, what is the mental approach, in such a case?

The secret is indetermination.

Likeness knows its like: The indeterminate knows the indeterminate. Around this indefinite a definite conception will be realized, but the way lies through indefiniteness.

All knowledge comes by reason and the intellectual act; in this case reason conveys information in any account it gives, but the act which aims at being intellectual is, here, not intellection but rather its failure: Therefore the representation of matter must be spurious, unreal, something sprung of the alien, of the unreal, and bound up with the alien reason.

This is Plato's meaning where he says that matter is apprehended by a sort of spurious reasoning.

What, then, is this indetermination in the soul? does it amount to an utter absence of knowledge, as if the soul or mind had withdrawn?

No: The indeterminate has some footing in the sphere of affirmation. The eye is aware of darkness as a base capable of receiving any colour not yet seen against it: So the mind, putting aside all attributes perceptible to sense—all that corresponds to light—comes on a residuum which it cannot bring under determination: It is thus in the state of the eye which, when directed towards darkness, has become in some way identical with the object of its spurious vision.

There is vision, then, in this approach of the mind towards matter?

Some vision, yes; of shapelessness, of colourlessness, of the unlit, and therefore of the sizeless. More than this would mean that the soul is already bestowing form.

But is not such a void precisely what the soul experiences when it has no intellection whatever?

No: In that case it affirms nothing, or rather has no experience: But in knowing matter, it has an experience, what may be described as the impact of the shapeless; for in its very consciousness of objects that have taken shape and size it knows them as compounds [I.e., as possessing with these forms a formless base] for they appear as things that have accepted colour and other quality.

It knows, therefore, a whole which includes two components; it has a clear knowledge or perception of the overlie [the ideas] but only a dim awareness of the underlie, the shapeless which is not an ideal-principle.

With what is perceptible to it there is presented something else: What it can directly apprehend it sets on one side as its own; but the something else which reason rejects, this, the dim, it knows dimly, this, the dark, it knows darkly, this it knows in a sort of non-knowing.

And just as even matter itself is not stably shapeless but, in things, is always shaped, the soul also is eager to throw over it the thing-form; for the soul recoils from the indefinite, dreads, almost, to be outside of reality, does not endure to linger about non-being.


"but, given magnitude and the properties we know, what else can be necessary to the existence of body?"

Some base to be the container of all the rest.

"A certain mass then; and if mass, then magnitude? Obviously if your base has no magnitude it offers no footing to any entrant. And suppose it sizeless; then, what end does it serve? It never helped idea or quality; now it ceases to account for differentiation or for magnitude, though the last, wherever it resides, seems to find its way into embodied entities by way of matter."

"Or, taking a larger view, observe that actions, productive operations, periods of time, movements, none of these have any such substratum and yet are real things; in the same way the most elementary body has no need of matter; things may be, all, what they are, each after its own kind, in their great variety, deriving the coherence of their being from the blending of the various ideal-forms. This matter with its sizelessness seems, then, to be a name without a content."

Now, to begin with: Extension is not an imperative condition of being a recipient; it is necessary only where it happens to be a property inherent to the recipient's peculiar mode of being. The soul, for example, contains all things but holds them all in an unextended unity; if magnitude were one of its attributes it would contain things in extension. Matter does actually contain in spatial extension what it takes in; but this is because itself is a potential recipient of spatial extension: Animals and plants, in the same way, as they increase in size, take quality in parallel development with quantity, and they lose in the one as the other lessens.

No doubt in the case of things as we know them there is a certain mass lying ready beforehand to the shaping power: But that is no reason for expecting bulk in matter strictly so called; for in such cases matter is not the absolute; it is that of some definite object; the absolute matter must take its magnitude, as every other property, from outside itself.

A thing then need not have magnitude in order to receive form: It may receive mass with everything else that comes to it at the moment of becoming what it is to be: A phantasm of mass is enough, a primary aptness for extension, a magnitude of no content—whence the identification that has been made of matter with the void.

But I prefer to use the word phantasm as hinting the indefiniteness into which the soul spills itself when it seeks to communicate with matter, finding no possibility of delimiting it, neither encompassing it nor able to penetrate to any fixed point of it, either of which achievements would be an act of delimitation.

In other words, we have something which is to be described not as small or great but as the great-and-small: For it is at once a mass and a thing without magnitude, in the sense that it is the matter on which mass is based and that, as it changes from great to small and small to great, it traverses magnitude. Its very undeterminateness is a mass in the same sense that of being a recipient of magnitude—though of course only in the visible object.

In the order of things without mass, all that is ideal- principle possesses delimitation, each entity for itself, so that the conception of mass has no place in them: Matter, not delimited, having in its own nature no stability, swept into any or every form by turns, ready to go here, there and everywhere, becomes a thing of multiplicity: Driven into all shapes, becoming all things, it has that much of the character of mass.


It is the corporeal, then, that demands magnitude: The ideal- forms of body are ideas installed in mass.

But these ideas enter, not into magnitude itself but into some subject that has been brought to magnitude. For to suppose them entering into magnitude and not into matter—is to represent them as being either without magnitude and without real- existence [and therefore undistinguishable from the matter] or not ideal-forms [apt to body] but reason-principles [utterly removed] whose sphere could only be soul; at this, there would be no such thing as body [I.e., instead of ideal- forms shaping matter and so producing body, there would be merely reason- principles dwelling remote in soul.]

The multiplicity here must be based on some unity which, since it has been brought to magnitude, must be, itself, distinct from magnitude. Matter is the base of identity to all that is composite: Once each of the constituents comes bringing its own matter with it, there is no need of any other base. No doubt there must be a container, as it were a place, to receive what is to enter, but matter and even body precede place and space; the primal necessity, in order to the existence of body, is matter.

There is no force in the suggestion that, since production and act are immaterial, corporeal entities also must be immaterial.

Bodies are compound, actions not. Further, matter does in some sense underlie action; it supplies the substratum to the doer: It is permanently within him though it does not enter as a constituent into the act where, indeed, it would be a hindrance. Doubtless, one act does not change into another—as would be the case if there were a specific matter of actions—but the doer directs himself from one act to another so that he is the matter, himself, to his varying actions.

Matter, in sum, is necessary to quality and to quantity, and, therefore, to body.

It is, thus, no name void of content; we know there is such a base, invisible and without bulk though it be.

If we reject it, we must by the same reasoning reject qualities and mass: For quality, or mass, or any such entity, taken by itself apart, might be said not to exist. But these do exist, though in an obscure existence: There is much less ground for rejecting matter, however it lurk, discerned by none of the senses.

It eludes the eye, for it is utterly outside of colour: It is not heard, for it is no sound: It is no flavour or savour for nostrils or palate: Can it, perhaps, be known to touch? No: For neither is it corporeal; and touch deals with body, which is known by being solid, fragile, soft, hard, moist, dry—all properties utterly lacking in matter.

It is grasped only by a mental process, though that not an act of the intellective mind but a reasoning that finds no subject; and so it stands revealed as the spurious thing it has been called. No bodiliness belongs to it; bodiliness is itself a phase of reason- principle and so is something different from matter, as matter, therefore, from it: Bodiliness already operative and so to speak made concrete would be body manifest and not matter unelaborated.


Are we asked to accept as the substratum some attribute or quality present to all the elements in common?

Then, first, we must be told what precise attribute this is and, next, how an attribute can be a substratum.

The elements are sizeless, and how conceive an attribute where there is neither base nor bulk?

Again, if the quality possesses determination, it is not matter the undetermined; and anything without determination is not a quality but is the substratum—the very matter we are seeking.

It may be suggested that perhaps this absence of quality means simply that, of its own nature, it has no participation in any of the set and familiar properties, but takes quality by this very non- participation, holding thus an absolutely individual character, marked off from everything else, being as it were the negation of those others. Deprivation, we will be told, comports quality: A blind man has the quality of his lack of sight. If then—it will be urged—matter exhibits such a negation, surely it has a quality, all the more so, assuming any deprivation to be a quality, in that here the deprivation is all comprehensive.

But this notion reduces all existence to qualified things or qualities: Quantity itself becomes a Quality and so does even existence. Now this cannot be: If such things as Quantity and existence are qualified, they are, by that very fact, not qualities: Quality is an addition to them; we must not commit the absurdity of giving the name Quality to something distinguishable from Quality, something therefore that is not Quality.

Is it suggested that its mere alienism is a quality in matter?

If this alienism is difference-absolute [the abstract entity] it possesses no Quality: Absolute Quality cannot be itself a qualified thing.

If the alienism is to be understood as meaning only that matter is differentiated, then it is different not by itself [since it is certainly not an absolute] but by this difference, just as all identical objects are so by virtue of identicalness [the absolute principle of identity].

An absence is neither a Quality nor a qualified entity; it is the negation of a Quality or of something else, as noiselessness is the negation of noise and so on. A lack is negative; Quality demands something positive. The distinctive character of matter is unshape, the lack of qualification and of form; surely then it is absurd to pretend that it has Quality in not being qualified; that is like saying that sizelessness constitutes a certain size.

The distinctive character of matter, then, is simply its manner of being—not something definite inserted in it but, rather a relation towards other things, the relation of being distinct from them.

Other things possess something besides this relation of alienism: Their form makes each an entity. Matter may with propriety be described as merely alien; perhaps, even, we might describe it as "the aliens," for the singular suggests a certain definiteness while the plural would indicate the absence of any determination.


But is absence this privation itself, or something in which this privation is lodged?

Anyone maintaining that matter and privation are one and the same in substratum but stand separable in reason cannot be excused from assigning to each the precise principle which distinguishes it in reason from the other: That which defines matter must be kept quite apart from that defining the privation and vice versa.

There are three possibilities: Matter is not in privation and privation is not in matter; or each is in each; or each is in itself alone.

Now if they should stand quite apart, neither calling for the other, they are two distinct things: Matter is something other than privation even though privation always goes with it: Into the principle of the one, the other cannot enter even potentially.

If their relation to each other is that of a snubnose to snubness, here also there is a double concept; we have two things.

If they stand to each other as fire to heat—heat in fire, but fire not included in the concept of heat—if matter is privation in the way in which fire is heat, then the privation is a form under which matter appears but there remains a base distinct from the privation and this base must be the matter. Here, too, they are not one thing.

Perhaps the identity in substance with differentiation in reason will be defended on the ground that privation does not point to something present but precisely to an absence, to something absent, to the negation or lack of real-being: The case would be like that of the affirmation of non-existence, where there is no real predication but simply a denial.

Is, then, this privation simply a non-existence?

If a non-existence in the sense that it is not a thing of real- being, but belongs to some other kind of existent, we have still two principles, one referring directly to the substratum, the other merely exhibiting the relation of the privation to other things.

Or we might say that the one concept defines the relation of substratum to what is not substratum, while that of privation, in bringing out the indeterminateness of matter, applies to the matter in itself: But this still makes privation and matter two in reason though one in substratum.

Now if matter possesses an identity—though only the identity of being indeterminate, unfixed and without quality—how can we bring it so under two principles?


The further question, therefore, is raised whether boundlessness and indetermination are things lodging in something other than themselves as a sort of attribute and whether privation [or negation of quality] is also an attribute residing in some separate substratum.

Now all that is number and reason-principle is outside of boundlessness: These bestow bound and settlement and order in general on all else: Neither anything that has been brought under order nor any Order-absolute is needed to bring them under order. The thing that has to be brought under order [e.g., matter] is other than the Ordering principle which is limit and definiteness and reason-principle. Therefore, necessarily, the thing to be brought under order and to definiteness must be in itself a thing lacking delimitation.

Now matter is a thing that is brought under order—like all that shares its nature by participation or by possessing the same principle—therefore, necessarily, matter is the undelimited and not merely the recipient of a nonessential quality of indefiniteness entering as an attribute.

For, first, any attribute to any subject must be a reason- principle; and indefiniteness is not a reason- principle.

Secondly, what must a thing be to take indefiniteness as an attribute? Obviously it must, beforehand, be either definiteness or a defined thing. But matter is neither.

Then again indefiniteness entering as an attribute into the definite must cease to be indefinite: But indefiniteness has not entered as an attribute into matter: That is, matter is essentially indefiniteness.

The matter even of the intellectual realm is the indefinite, [the undelimited]; it must be a thing generated by the undefined nature, the illimitable nature, of the eternal being, the One illimitableness, however, not possessing native existence there but engendered by the One.

But how can matter be common to both spheres, be here and be there?

Because even indefiniteness has two phases.

But what difference can there be between phase and phase of indefiniteness?

The difference of archetype and image.

So that matter here [as only an image of indefiniteness] would be less indefinite?

On the contrary, more indefinite as an image-thing remote from true being. Indefiniteness is the greater in the less ordered object; the less deep in good, the deeper in evil. The indeterminate in the intellectual realm, where there is truer being, might almost be called merely an image of indefiniteness: In this lower sphere where there is less being, where there is a refusal of the authentic, and an adoption of the image-kind, indefiniteness is more authentically indefinite.

But this argument seems to make no difference between the indefinite object and indefiniteness-essential. Is there none?

In any object in which reason and matter co-exist we distinguish between indeterminateness and the indeterminate subject: But where matter stands alone we make them identical, or, better, we would say right out that in that case essential indeterminateness is not present; for it is a reason-principle and could not lodge in the indeterminate object without at once annulling the indeterminateness.

Matter, then, must be described as indefinite of itself, by its natural opposition to reason-principle. Reason is reason and nothing else; just so matter, opposed by its indeterminateness to reason, is indeterminateness and nothing else.


Then matter is simply alienism [the principle of difference]?

No: It is merely that part of alienism which stands in contradiction with the authentic existents which are reason- principles. So understood, this non-existent has a certain measure of existence; for it is identical with privation, which also is a thing standing in opposition to the things that exist in reason.

But must not privation cease to have existence, when what has been lacking is present at last?

By no means: The recipient of a state or character is not a state but the privation of the state; and that into which determination enters is neither a determined object nor determination itself, but simply the wholly or partly undetermined.

Still, must not the nature of this undetermined be annulled by the entry of determination, especially where this is no mere attribute?

No doubt to introduce quantitative determination into an undetermined object would annul the original state; but in the particular case, the introduction of determination only confirms the original state, bringing it into actuality, into full effect, as sowing brings out the natural quality of land or as a female organism impregnated by the male is not defeminized but becomes more decidedly of its sex; the thing becomes more emphatically itself.

But on this reasoning must not matter owe its evil to having in some degree participated in good?

No: Its evil is in its first lack: It was not a possessor (of some specific character).

To lack one thing and to possess another, in something like equal proportions, is to hold a middle state of good and evil: But whatever possesses nothing and so is in destitution—and especially what is essentially destitution—must be evil in its own kind.

For in matter we have no mere absence of means or of strength; it is utter destitution—of sense, of virtue, of beauty, of pattern, of ideal principle, of quality. This is surely ugliness, utter disgracefulness, unredeemed evil.

The matter in the intellectual realm is an existent, for there is nothing previous to it except the beyond-existence; but what precedes the matter of this sphere is existence; by its alienism in regard to the beauty and good of existence, matter is therefore a non-existent.

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Fifth tractate: On potentiality and actuality



A distinction is made between things existing actually and things existing potentially; a certain actuality, also, is spoken of as a really existent entity. We must consider what content there is in these terms.

Can we distinguish between actuality [an absolute, abstract principle] and the state of being-in-act? And if there is such an actuality, is this itself in act, or are the two quite distinct so that this actually existent thing need not be, itself, an act?

It is indubitable that potentiality exists in the realm of sense: But does the intellectual realm similarly include the potential or only the actual? And if the potential exists there, does it remain merely potential for ever? And, if so, is this resistance to actualization due to its being precluded [as a member of the divine or intellectual world] from time-processes?

First we must make clear what potentiality is.

We cannot think of potentiality as standing by itself; there can be no potentiality apart from something which a given thing may be or become. Thus bronze is the potentiality of a statue: But if nothing could be made out of the bronze, nothing wrought on it, if it could never be anything as a future to what it has been, if it rejected all change, it would be bronze and nothing else: Its own character it holds already as a present thing, and that would be the full of its capacity: It would be destitute of potentiality. Whatever has a potentiality must first have a character of its own; and its potentiality will consist in its having a reach beyond that character to some other.

Sometimes after it has turned its potentiality into actuality it will remain what it was; sometimes it will sink itself to the fullest extent in the new form and itself disappear: These two different modes are exemplified in (1) bronze as potentially a statue and (2) water [= primal-liquid] as potentially bronze or, again, air as potentially fire.

But if this be the significance of potentiality, may we describe it as a power towards the thing that is to be? Is the bronze a power towards a statue?

Not in the sense of an effectively productive force: Such a power could not be called a potentiality. Of course potentiality may be a power, as, for instance, when we are referring not merely to a thing which may be brought into actualization but to actuality itself [the principle or abstract in which potentiality and the power of realizing potentiality may be thought of as identical]: But it is better, as more conducive to clarity, to use "potentiality" in regard to the process of actualization and "power" in regard to the principle, actuality.

Potentiality may be thought of as a substratum to states and shapes—and forms which are to be received, which it welcomes by its nature and even strives for—sometimes in gain but sometimes, also, to loss, to the annulling of some distinctive manner of being already actually achieved.


Then the question rises whether matter—potentially what it becomes by receiving shape—is actually something else or whether it has no actuality at all. In general terms: When a potentiality has taken a definite form, does it retain its being? Is the potentiality, itself, in actualization? The alternative is that, when we speak of the "actual statue" and of the "potential statue," the actuality is not predicated of the same subject as the "potentiality." if we have really two different subjects, then the potential does not really become the actual: All that happens is that an actual entity takes the place of a potential.

The actualized entity is not the matter [the potentiality, merely] but a combination, including the form-idea on the matter.

This is certainly the case when a quite different thing results from the actualization-statue, for example, the combination, is distinctly different from the bronze, the base; where the resultant is something quite new, the potentiality has clearly not, itself, become what is now actualized. But take the case where a person with a capacity for education becomes in fact educated: Is not potentiality, here, identical with actualization? Is not the potentially wise socrates the same man as the socrates actually wise?

But is an ignorant man a being of knowledge because he is so potentially? Is he, in virtue of his non-essential ignorance, potentially an instructed being?

It is not because of his accidental ignorance that he is a being of knowledge: It is because, ignorant though he be by accident, his mind, apt to knowledge, is the potentiality through which he may become so. Thus, in the case of the potentially instructed who have become so in fact, the potentiality is taken up into the actual; or, if we prefer to put it so, there is on the one side the potentiality while, on the other, there is the power in actual possession of the form.

If, then, the potentiality is the substratum while the thing in actualization—the statue for example a combination, how are we to describe the form that has entered the bronze?

There will be nothing unsound in describing this shape, this form which has brought the entity from potentiality to actuality, as the actualization; but of course as the actualization of the definite particular entity, not as actuality the abstract: We must not confuse it with the other actualization, strictly so called, that which is contrasted with the power producing actualization. The potential is led out into realization by something other than itself; power accomplishes, of itself, what is within its scope, but by virtue of actuality [the abstract]: The relation is that existing between a temperament and its expression in act, between courage and courageous conduct. So far so good:


We come now to the purpose of all this discussion; to make clear in what sense or to what degree actualization is predicable in the intellectual realm and whether all is in actualization there, each and every member of that realm being an act, or whether potentiality also has place there.

Now: If there is no matter there to harbour potentiality: If nothing there has any future apart from its actual mode: If nothing there generates, whether by changes or in the permanence of its identity; if nothing goes outside of itself to give being to what is other than itself; then, potentiality has no place there: The beings there possess actuality as belonging to eternity, not to time.

Those, however, who assert matter in the intellectual realm will be asked whether the existence of that matter does not imply the potential there too; for even if matter there exists in another mode than here, every being there will have its matter, its form and the union of the two [and therefore the potential, separable from the actual]. What answer is to be made?

Simply, that even the matter there is idea, just as the soul, an idea, is matter to another [a higher] being.

But relatively to that higher, the soul is a potentiality?

No: For the idea [to which it is matter] is integral to the soul and does not look to a future; the distinction between the soul and its idea is purely mental: The idea and the matter it includes are conceived as a conjunction but are essentially one kind: Remember that aristotle makes his fifth body immaterial.

But surely potentiality exists in the soul? Surely the soul is potentially the living-being of this world before it has become so? Is it not potentially musical, and everything else that it has not been and becomes? does not this imply potentiality even in the intellectual existences?

No: The soul is not potentially these things; it is a power towards them.

But after what mode does actualization exist in the intellectual realm?

Is it the actualization of a statue, where the combination is realized because the form-idea has mastered each separate constituent of the total?

No: It is that every constituent there is a form-idea and, thus, is perfect in its being.

There is in the intellectual principle no progression from some power capable of intellection to the actuality of intellection: Such a progression would send us in search of a prior principle not progressing from power to act; there all stands ever realized. Potentiality requires an intervention from outside itself to bring it to the actualization which otherwise cannot be; but what possesses, of itself, identity unchangeable for ever is an actualization: All the firsts then are actualizations, simply because eternally and of themselves they possess all that is necessary to their completion.

This applies equally to the soul, not to that in matter but to that in the intellectual sphere; and even that in matter, the soul of Growth, is an actualization in its difference; it possesses actually [and not, like material things, merely in image] the being that belongs to it.

Then, everything, in the intellectual is in actualization and so all there is actuality?

Why not? If that nature is rightly said to be "sleepless," and to be life and the noblest mode of life, the noblest activities must be there; all then is actualization there, everything is an actuality, for everything is a life, and all place there is the place of life, in the true sense the ground and spring of soul and of the intellectual principle.


Now, in general anything that has a potentiality is actually something else, and this potentiality of the future mode of being is an existing mode.

But what we think of as matter, what we assert to be the potentiality of all things, cannot be said to be actually any one being among beings: If it were of itself any definite being, it could not be potentially all.

If, then, it is not among existences, it must necessarily be without existence.

How, therefore, can it be actually anything?

The answer is that while matter can not be any of the things which are founded on it, it may quite well be something else, admitting that all existences are not rooted in matter.

But once more, if it is excluded from the entities founded on it and all these are beings, it must itself be a non- being.

It is, further, by definition, formless and therefore not an idea: It cannot then be classed among things of the intellectual realm, and so is, once more, a non-being. Falling, as regards both worlds, under non-being, it is all the more decidedly the non- being.

It has eluded the nature of the authentic existences; it has even failed to come up with the things to which a spurious existence can be attributed—for it is not even a phantasm of reason as these are—how is it possible to include it under any mode of being?

And if it falls under no mode of being, what can it actually be?


How can we talk of it? How can it be the matter of real things?

It is talked of, and it serves, precisely, as a potentiality.

And, as being a potentiality, it is not of the order of the thing it is to become: Its existence is no more than an announcement of a future, as it were a thrust forward to what is to come into existence.

As potentiality then, it is not any definite thing but the potentiality of everything: Being nothing in itself—beyond what being matter amounts to—it is not in actualization. For if it were actually something, that actualized something would not be matter, or at least not matter out and out, but merely matter in the limited sense in which bronze is the matter of the statue.

And its non-being must be no mere difference from being.

Motion, for example, is different from being, but plays about it, springing from it and living within it: Matter is, so to speak, the outcast of being, it is utterly removed, irredeemably what it was from the beginning: In origin it was non-being and so it remains.

Nor are we to imagine that, standing away at the very beginning from the universal circle of beings, it was thus necessarily an active something or that it became a something. It has never been able to annex for itself even a visible outline from all the forms under which it has sought to creep: It has always pursued something other than itself; it was never more than a potentiality towards its next: Where all the circle of being ends, there only is it manifest; discerned underneath things produced after it, it is remoter [from real-being] even than they.

Grasped, then, as an underlie in each order of being, it can be no actualization of either: All that is allowed to it is to be a potentiality, a weak and blurred phantasm, a thing incapable of a shape of its own.

Its actuality is that of being a phantasm, the actuality of being a falsity; and the false in actualization is the veritably false, which again is authentic non-existence.

So that matter, as the actualization of non-being, is all the more decidedly non-being, is authentic non- existence.

Thus, since the very reality of its nature is situated in non- being, it is in no degree the actualization of any definite being.

If it is to be present at all, it cannot be an actualization, for then it would not be the stray from authentic being which it is, the thing having its being in non-beingness: For, note, in the case of things whose being is a falsity, to take away the falsity is to take away what being they have, and if we introduce actualization into things whose being and essence is potentiality, we destroy the foundation of their nature since their being is potentiality.

If matter is to be kept as the unchanging substratum, we must keep it as matter: That means—does it not?—that we must define it as a potentiality and nothing more—or refute these considerations.

Enneads of Plotinus, END MATTER

Enneads of Plotinus, LITERATURE  


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