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The Enneads of Plotinus


Third ennead:

  1. The impassivity of the unembodied
  2. Time and eternity
  3. Nature contemplation and the One
  4. Detached considerations

Sixth tractate: The impassivity of the unembodied



In our theory, feelings are not states; they are action on experience, action accompanied by judgement: The states, we hold, are seated elsewhere; they may be referred to the vitalized body; the judgement resides in the soul, and is distinct from the state—for, if it is not distinct, another judgement is demanded, one that is distinct, and, so, we may be sent back for ever.

Still, this leaves it undecided whether in the act of judgement the judging faculty does or does not take to itself something of its object.

If the judging faculty does actually receive an imprint, then it partakes of the state—though what are called the impressions may be of quite another nature than is supposed; they may be like thought, that is to say they may be acts rather than states; there may be, here too, awareness without participation.

For ourselves, it could never be in our system—or in our liking—to bring the soul down to participation in such modes and modifications as the warmth and cold of material frames.

What is known as the impressionable faculty of the soul—to pathetikon—would need to be identified: We must satisfy ourselves as to whether this too, like the soul as a unity, is to be classed as immune or, on the contrary, as precisely the only part susceptible of being affected; this question, however, may be held over; we proceed to examine its preliminaries.

Even in the superior phase of the soul—that which precedes the impressionable faculty and any sensation—how can we reconcile immunity with the indwelling of vice, false notions, ignorance? Inviolability; and yet likings and dislikings, the soul enjoying, grieving, angry, grudging, envying, desiring, never at peace but stirring and shifting with everything that confronts it!

If the soul were material and had magnitude, it would be difficult, indeed quite impossible, to make it appear to be immune, unchangeable, when any of such emotions lodge in it. And even considering it as an authentic being, devoid of magnitude and necessarily indestructible, we must be very careful how we attribute any such experiences to it or we will find ourselves unconsciously making it subject to dissolution. If its essence is a number or as we hold a reason-principle, under neither head could it be susceptible of feeling. We can think, only, that it entertains unreasoned reasons and experiences unexperienced, all transmuted from the material frames, foreign and recognized only by parallel, so that it possesses in a kind of non-possession and knows affection without being affected. How this can be demands enquiry.


Let us begin with virtue and vice in the soul. What has really occurred when, as we say, vice is present? In speaking of extirpating evil and implanting goodness, of introducing order and beauty to replace a former ugliness, we talk in terms of real things in the soul.

Now when we make virtue a harmony, and vice a breach of harmony, we accept an opinion approved by the ancients; and the theory helps us decidedly to our solution. For if virtue is simply a natural concordance among the phases of the soul, and vice simply a discord, then there is no further question of any foreign presence; harmony would be the result of every distinct phase or faculty joining in, true to itself; discord would mean that not all chimed in at their best and truest. Consider, for example, the performers in a choral dance; they sing together though each one has his particular part, and sometimes one voice is heard while the others are silent; and each brings to the chorus something of his own; it is not enough that all lift their voices together; each must sing, choicely, his own part to the music set for him. Exactly so in the case of the soul; there will be harmony when each faculty performs its appropriate part.

Yes: But this very harmony constituting the virtue of the soul must depend on a previous virtue, that of each several faculty within itself; and before there can be the vice of discord there must be the vice of the single parts, and these can be bad only by the actual presence of vice as they can be good only by the presence of virtue. It is true that no presence is affirmed when vice is identified with ignorance in the reasoning faculty of the soul; ignorance is not a positive thing; but in the presence of false judgements—the main cause of vice—must it not be admitted that something positive has entered into the soul, something perverting the reasoning faculty? So, the initiative faculty; is it not, itself, altered as one varies between timidity and boldness? And the desiring faculty, similarly, as it runs wild or accepts control?

Our teaching is that when the particular faculty is sound it performs the reasonable act of its essential nature, obeying the reasoning faculty in it which derives from the intellectual principle and communicates to the rest. And this following of reason is not the acceptance of an imposed shape; it is like using the eyes; the soul sees by its act, that of looking towards reason. The faculty of sight in the performance of its act is essentially what it was when it lay latent; its act is not a change in it, but simply its entering into the relation that belongs to its essential character; it knows—that is, sees—without suffering any change: So, precisely, the reasoning phase of the soul stands towards the intellectual principle; this it sees by its very essence; this vision is its knowing faculty; it takes in no stamp, no impression; all that enters it is the object of vision—possessed, once more, without possession; it possesses by the fact of knowing but "without possession" in the sense that there is no incorporation of anything left behind by the object of vision, like the impression of the seal on sealing- wax.

And note that we do not appeal to stored-up impressions to account for memory: We think of the mind awakening its powers in such a way as to possess something not present to it.

Very good: But is it not different before and after acquiring the memory?

Be it so; but it has suffered no change—unless we are to think of the mere progress from latency to actuality as change—nothing has been introduced into the mind; it has simply achieved the act dictated by its nature.

It is universally true that the characteristic act of immaterial entities is performed without any change in them—otherwise they would at last be worn away—theirs is the act of the unmoving; where act means suffering change, there is matter: An immaterial being would have no ground of permanence if its very act changed it.

Thus in the case of sight, the seeing faculty is in act but the material organ alone suffers change: Judgements are similar to visual experiences.

But how explain the alternation of timidity and daring in the initiative faculty?

Timidity would come by the failure to look towards the reason-principle or by looking towards some inferior phase of it or by some defect in the organs of action—some lack or flaw in the bodily equipment—or by outside prevention of the natural act or by the mere absence of adequate stimulus: Boldness would arise from the reverse conditions: Neither implies any change, or even any experience, in the soul.

So with the faculty of desire: What we call loose living is caused by its acting unaccompanied; it has done all of itself; the other faculties, whose business it is to make their presence felt in control and to point the right way, have lain in abeyance; the seer in the soul was occupied elsewhere, for, though not always at least sometimes, it has leisure for a certain degree of contemplation of other concerns.

Often, moreover, the vice of the desiring faculty will be merely some ill condition of the body, and its virtue, bodily soundness; thus there would again be no question of anything imported into the soul.


But how do we explain likings and aversions? Sorrow, too, and anger and pleasure, desire and fear—are these not changes, affectings, present and stirring within the soul?

This question cannot be ignored. To deny that changes take place and are intensely felt is in sharp contradiction to obvious facts. But, while we recognize this, we must make very sure what it is that changes. To represent the soul or mind as being the seat of these emotions is not far removed from making it blush or turn pale; it is to forget that while the soul or mind is the means, the effect takes place in the distinct organism, the animated body.

At the idea of disgrace, the shame is in the soul; but the body is occupied by the soul—not to trouble about words—is, at any rate, close to it and very different from soulless matter; and so, is affected in the blood, mobile in its nature. Fear begins in the mind; the pallor is simply the withdrawal of the blood inwards. So in pleasure, the elation is mental, but makes itself felt in the body; the purely mental phase has not reached the point of sensation: The same is true of pain. So desire is ignored in the soul where the impulse takes its rise; what comes outward thence, the sensibility knows.

When we speak of the soul or mind being moved—as in desire, reasoning, judging—we do not mean that it is driven into its act; these movements are its own acts.

In the same way when we call life a movement we have no idea of a changing substance; the naturally appropriate act of each member of the living thing makes up the life, which is, therefore, not a shifting thing.

To bring the matter to the point: Put it that life, tendency, are no changements; that memories are not forms stamped on the mind, that notions are not of the nature of impressions on sealing-wax; we thence draw the general conclusion that in all such states and movements the soul, or mind, is unchanged in substance and in essence, that virtue and vice are not something imported into the soul—as heat and cold, blackness or whiteness are importations into body—but that, in all this relation, matter and spirit are exactly and comprehensively contraries.


We have, however, still to examine what is called the affective phase of the soul. This has, no doubt, been touched on above where we dealt with the passions in general as grouped about the initiative phase of the soul and the desiring faculty in its effort to shape things to its choice: But more is required; we must begin by forming a clear idea of what is meant by this affective faculty of the soul.

In general terms it means the centre about which we recognize the affections to be grouped; and by affections we mean those states on which follow pleasure and pain.

Now among these affections we must distinguish. Some are pivoted on judgements; thus, a man judging his death to be at hand may feel fear; foreseeing some fortunate turn of events, he is happy: The opinion lies in one sphere; the affection is stirred in another. Sometimes the affections take the lead and automatically bring in the notion which thus becomes present to the appropriate faculty: But as we have explained, an act of opinion does not introduce any change into the soul or mind: What happens is that from the notion of some impending evil is produced the quite separate thing, fear, and this fear, in turn, becomes known in that part of the mind which is said under such circumstances to harbour fear.

But what is the action of this fear on the mind?

The general answer is that it sets up trouble and confusion before an evil anticipated. It should, however, be quite clear that the soul or mind is the seat of all imaginative representation—both the higher representation known as opinion or judgement and the lower representation which is not so much a judgement as a vague notion unattended by discrimination, something resembling the action by which, as is believed, the "nature" of common speech produces, unconsciously, the objects of the partial sphere. It is equally certain that in all that follows on the mental act or state, the disturbance, confined to the body, belongs to the sense-order; trembling, pallor, inability to speak, have obviously nothing to do with the spiritual portion of the being. The soul, in fact, would have to be described as corporeal if it were the seat of such symptoms: Besides, in that case the trouble would not even reach the body since the only transmitting principle, oppressed by sensation, jarred out of itself, would be inhibited.

None the less, there is an affective phase of the soul or mind and this is not corporeal; it can be, only, some kind of ideal- form.

Now matter is the one field of the desiring faculty, as of the principles of nutrition growth and engendering, which are root and spring to desire and to every other affection known to this ideal-form. No ideal-form can be the victim of disturbance or be in any way affected: It remains in tranquillity; only the matter associated with it can be affected by any state or experience induced by the movement which its mere presence suffices to set up. Thus the vegetal principle induces vegetal life but it does not, itself, pass through the processes of vegetation; it gives growth but it does not grow; in no movement which it originates is it moved with the motion it induces; it is in perfect repose, or, at least, its movement, really its act, is utterly different from what it causes elsewhere.

The nature of an ideal-form is to be, of itself, an activity; it operates by its mere presence: It is as if melody itself plucked the strings. The affective phase of the soul or mind will be the operative cause of all affection; it originates the movement either under the stimulus of some sense-presentment or independently—and it is a question to be examined whether the judgement leading to the movement operates from above or not—but the affective phase itself remains unmoved like melody dictating music. The causes originating the movement may be likened to the musician; what is moved is like the strings of his instrument, and once more, the melodic principle itself is not affected, but only the strings, though, however much the musician desired it, he could not pluck the strings except under dictation from the principle of melody.


But why have we to call in philosophy to make the soul immune if it is thus immune from the beginning?

Because representations attack it at what we call the affective phase and cause a resulting experience, a disturbance, to which disturbance is joined the image of threatened evil: This amounts to an affection and reason seeks to extinguish it, to ban it as destructive to the well-being of the soul which by the mere absence of such a condition is immune, the one possible cause of affection not being present.

Take it that some such affections have engendered appearances presented before the soul or mind from without but taken [for practical purposes] to be actual experiences within it—then philosophy's task is like that of a man who wishes to throw off the shapes presented in dreams, and to this end recalls to waking condition the mind that is breeding them.

But what can be meant by the purification of a soul that has never been stained and by the separation of the soul from a body to which it is essentially a stranger?

The purification of the soul is simply to allow it to be alone; it is pure when it keeps no company; when it looks to nothing without itself; when it entertains no alien thoughts—be the mode or origin of such notions or affections what they may, a subject on which we have already touched—when it no longer sees in the world of image, much less elaborates images into veritable affections. Is it not a true purification to turn away towards the exact contrary of earthly things?

Separation, in the same way, is the condition of a soul no longer entering into the body to lie at its mercy; it is to stand as a light, set in the midst of trouble but unperturbed through all.

In the particular case of the affective phase of the soul, purification is its awakening from the baseless visions which beset it, the refusal to see them; its separation consists in limiting its descent towards the lower and accepting no picture thence, and of course in the banning for its part too of all which the higher soul ignores when it has arisen from the trouble storm and is no longer bound to the flesh by the chains of sensuality and of multiplicity but has subdued to itself the body and its entire surrounding so that it holds sovereignty, tranquilly, over all.


The intellectual essence, wholly of the order of ideal-form, must be taken as impassive has been already established.

But matter also is an incorporeal, though after a mode of its own; we must examine, therefore, how this stands, whether it is passive, as is commonly held, a thing that can be twisted to every shape and kind, or whether it too must be considered impassive and in what sense and fashion so. But in engaging this question and defining the nature of matter we must correct certain prevailing errors about the nature of the authentic existent, about essence, about being.

The existent—rightly so called—is that which has authentic existence, that, therefore, which is existent completely, and therefore, again, that which at no point fails in existence. Having existence perfectly, it needs nothing to preserve it in being; it is, on the contrary, the source and cause from which all that appears to exist derives that appearance. This admitted, it must of necessity be in life, in a perfect life: If it failed it would be more nearly the nonexistent than the existent. But: The being thus indicated is intellect, is wisdom unalloyed. It is, therefore, determined and rounded off; it is nothing potentially that is not of the same determined order, otherwise it would be in default.

Hence its eternity, its identity, its utter irreceptivity and impermeability. If it took in anything, it must be taking in something outside itself, that is to say, existence would at last include non-existence. But it must be authentic existence all through; it must, therefore, present itself equipped from its own stores with all that makes up existence so that all stands together and all is one thing. The existent [real being] must have thus much of determination: If it had not, then it could not be the source of the intellectual principle and of life which would be importations into it originating in the sphere of non-being; and real being would be lifeless and mindless; but mindlessness and lifelessness are the characteristics of non-being and must belong to the lower order, to the outer borders of the existent; for intellect and life rise from the beyond-existence [the indefinable supreme]—though itself has no need of them—and are conveyed from it into the authentic existent.

If we have thus rightly described the authentic existent, we see that it cannot be any kind of body nor the under-stuff of body; in such entities the being is simply the existing of things outside of being.

But body, a non-existence? Matter, on which all this universe rises, a non-existence? Mountain and rock, the wide solid earth, all that resists, all that can be struck and driven, surely all proclaims the real existence of the corporeal? And how, it will be asked, can we, on the contrary, attribute being, and the only authentic being, to entities like soul and intellect, things having no weight or pressure, yielding to no force, offering no resistance, things not even visible?

Yet even the corporeal realm witnesses for us; the resting earth has certainly a scantier share in being than belongs to what has more motion and less solidity—and less than belongs to its own most upward element, for fire begins, already, to flit up and away outside of the body-kind.

In fact, it appears to be precisely the most self-sufficing that bear least hardly, least painfully, on other things, while the heaviest and earthiest bodies—deficient, falling, unable to bear themselves upward—these, by the very down-thrust due to their feebleness, offer the resistance which belongs to the falling habit and to the lack of buoyancy. It is lifeless objects that deal the severest blows; they hit hardest and hurt most; where there is life—that is to say participation in being—there is beneficence towards the environment, all the greater as the measure of being is fuller.

Again, movement, which is a sort of life within bodies, an imitation of true life, is the more decided where there is the least of body a sign that the waning of being makes the object affected more distinctly corporeal.

The changes known as affections show even more clearly that where the bodily quality is most pronounced susceptibility is at its intensest—earth more susceptible than other elements, and these others again more or less so in the degree of their corporeality: Sever the other elements and, failing some preventive force, they join again; but earthy matter divided remains apart indefinitely. Things whose nature represents a diminishment have no power of recuperation after even a slight disturbance and they perish; thus what has most definitely become body, having most closely approximated to non-being lacks the strength to reknit its unity: The heavy and violent crash of body against body works destruction, and weak is powerful against weak, non-being against its like.

Thus far we have been meeting those who, on the evidence of thrust and resistance, identify body with real being and find assurance of truth in the phantasms that reach us through the senses, those, in a word, who, like dreamers, take for actualities the figments of their sleeping vision. The sphere of sense, the soul in its slumber; for all of the soul that is in body is asleep and the true getting-up is not bodily but from the body: In any movement that takes the body with it there is no more than a passage from sleep to sleep, from bed to bed; the veritable waking or rising is from corporeal things; for these, belonging to the kind directly opposed to soul, present to it what is directly opposed to its essential existence: Their origin, their flux, and their perishing are the warning of their exclusion from the kind whose being is authentic.


We are thus brought back to the nature of that underlying matter and the things believed to be based on it; investigation will show us that matter has no reality and is not capable of being affected.

Matter must be bodiless—for body is a later production, a compound made by matter in conjunction with some other entity. Thus it is included among incorporeal things in the sense that body is something that is neither real-being nor matter.

Matter is no soul; it is not intellect, is not life, is no ideal- principle, no reason-principle; it is no limit or bound, for it is mere indetermination; it is not a power, for what does it produce?

It lives on the farther side of all these categories and so has no tide to the name of being. It will be more plausibly called a non- being, and this in the sense not of movement [away from being] or station (in not-being) but of veritable not-being, so that it is no more than the image and phantasm of mass, a bare aspiration towards substantial existence; it is stationary but not in the sense of having position, it is in itself invisible, eluding all effort to observe it, present where no one can look, unseen for all our gazing, ceaselessly presenting contraries in the things based on it; it is large and small, more and less, deficient and excessive; a phantasm unabiding and yet unable to withdraw—not even strong enough to withdraw, so utterly has it failed to accept strength from the intellectual principle, so absolute its lack of all being.

Its every utterance, therefore, is a lie; it pretends to be great and it is little, to be more and it is less; and the existence with which it masks itself is no existence, but a passing trick making trickery of all that seems to be present in it, phantasms within a phantasm; it is like a mirror showing things as in itself when they are really elsewhere, filled in appearance but actually empty, containing nothing, pretending everything. Into it and out of it move mimicries of the authentic existents, images playing on an image devoid of form, visible against it by its very formlessness; they seem to modify it but in reality effect nothing, for they are ghostly and feeble, have no thrust and meet none in matter either; they pass through it leaving no cleavage, as through water; or they might be compared to shapes projected so as to make some appearance on what we can know only as the void.

Further: If visible objects were of the rank of the originals from which they have entered into matter we might believe matter to be really affected by them, for we might credit them with some share of the power inherent in their senders: But the objects of our experiences are of very different virtue than the realities they represent, and we deduce that the seeming modification of matter by visible things is unreal since the visible thing itself is unreal, having at no point any similarity with its source and cause. Feeble, in itself, a false thing and projected on a falsity, like an image in dream or against water or on a mirror, it can but leave matter unaffected; and even this is saying too little, for water and mirror do give back a faithful image of what presents itself before them.


It is a general principle that, to be modified, an object must be opposed in faculty, and in quality to the forces that enter and act on it.

Thus where heat is present, the change comes by something that chills, where damp by some drying agency: We say a subject is modified when from warm it becomes cold, from dry wet.

A further evidence is in our speaking of a fire being burned out, when it has passed over into another element; we do not say that the matter has been burned out: In other words, modification affects what is subject to dissolution; the acceptance of modification is the path towards dissolution; susceptibility to modification and susceptibility to dissolution go necessarily together. But matter can never be dissolved. What into? By what process?

Still: Matter harbours heat, cold, qualities beyond all count; by these it is differentiated; it holds them as if they were of its very substance and they blend within it—since no quality is found isolated to itself—matter lies there as the meeting ground of all these qualities with their changes as they act and react in the blend: How, then, can it fail to be modified in keeping? The only escape would be to declare matter utterly and for ever apart from the qualities it exhibits; but the very notion of substance implies that any and every thing present in it has some action on it.


In answer: It must, first, be noted that there are a variety of modes in which an object may be said to be present to another or to exist in another. There is a "presence" which acts by changing the object—for good or for ill—as we see in the case of bodies, especially where there is life. But there is also a "presence" which acts, towards good or ill, with no modification of the object, as we have indicated in the case of the soul. Then there is the case represented by the stamping of a design on wax, where the "presence" of the added pattern causes no modification in the substance nor does its obliteration diminish it. And there is the example of light whose presence does not even bring change of pattern to the object illuminated. A stone becoming cold does not change its nature in the process; it remains the stone it was. A drawing does not cease to be a drawing for being coloured.

The intermediary mass on which these surface changes appear is certainly not transmuted by them; but might there not be a modification of the underlying matter?

No: It is impossible to think of matter being modified by, for instance, colour—for, of course we must not talk of modification when there is no more than a presence, or at most a presenting of shape.

Mirrors and transparent objects, even more, offer a close parallel; they are quite unaffected by what is seen in or through them: Material things are reflections, and the matter on which they appear is further from being affected than is a mirror. Heat and cold are present in matter, but the matter itself suffers no change of temperature: growing hot and growing cold have to do only with quality; a quality enters and brings the impassible substance under a new state—though, by the way, research into nature may show that cold is nothing positive but an absence, a mere negation. The qualities come together into matter, but in most cases they can have no action on each other; certainly there can be none between those of unlike scope: What effect, for example, could fragrance have on sweetness or the colour-quality on the quality of form, any quality on another of some unrelated order? The illustration of the mirror may well indicate to us that a given substratum may contain something quite distinct from itself—even something standing to it as a direct contrary—and yet remain entirely unaffected by what is thus present to it or merged into it.

A thing can be hurt only by something related to it, and similarly things are not changed or modified by any chance presence: Modification comes by contrary acting on contrary; things merely different leave each other as they were. Such modification by a direct contrary can obviously not occur in an order of things to which there is no contrary: Matter, therefore [the mere absence of reality] cannot be modified: Any modification that takes place can occur only in some compound of matter and reality, or, speaking generally, in some agglomeration of actual things. The matter itself—isolated, quite apart from all else, utterly simplex—must remain immune, untouched in the midst of all the interacting agencies; just as when people fight within their four walls, the house and the air in it remain without part in the turmoil.

We may take it, then, that while all the qualities and entities that appear on matter group to produce each the effect belonging to its nature, yet matter itself remains immune, even more definitely immune than any of those qualities entering into it which, not being contraries, are not affected by each other.


Further: If matter were susceptible of modification, it must acquire something by the incoming of the new state; it will either adopt that state, or, at least, it will be in some way different from what it was. Now on this first incoming quality suppose a second to supervene; the recipient is no longer matter but a modification of matter: This second quality, perhaps, departs, but it has acted and therefore leaves something of itself after it; the substratum is still further altered. This process proceeding, the substratum ends by becoming something quite different from matter; it becomes a thing settled in many modes and many shapes; at once it is debarred from being the all-recipient; it will have closed the entry against many incomers. In other words, the matter is no longer there: Matter is destructible.

No: If there is to be a matter at all, it must be always identically as it has been from the beginning: To speak of matter as changing is to speak of it as not being matter.

Another consideration: It is a general principle that a thing changing must remain within its constitutive idea so that the alteration is only in the accidents and not in the essential thing; the changing object must retain this fundamental permanence, and the permanent substance cannot be the member of it which accepts modification.

Therefore there are only two possibilities: The first, that matter itself changes and so ceases to be itself, the second that it never ceases to be itself and therefore never changes.

We may be answered that it does not change in its character as matter: But no one could tell us in what other character it changes; and we have the admission that the matter in itself is not subject to change.

Just as the ideal principles stand immutably in their essence—which consists precisely in their permanence—so, since the essence of matter consists in its being matter [the substratum to all material things] it must be permanent in this character; because it is matter, it is immutable. In the intellectual realm we have the immutable idea; here we have matter, itself similarly immutable.


I think, in fact, that Plato had this in mind where he justly speaks of the images of real existents "entering and passing out": These particular words are not used idly: He wishes us to grasp the precise nature of the relation between matter and the ideas.

The difficulty on this point is not really that which presented itself to most of our predecessors—how the ideas enter into matter—it is rather the mode of their presence in it.

It is in fact strange at sight that matter should remain itself intact, unaffected by ideal-forms present within it, especially seeing that these are affected by each other. It is surprising, too, that the entrant forms should regularly expel preceding shapes and qualities, and that the modification [which cannot touch matter] should affect what is a compound [of idea with matter] and this, again, not a haphazard but precisely where there is need of the incoming or outgoing of some certain ideal-form, the compound being deficient through the absence of a particular principle whose presence will complete it.

But the reason is that the fundamental nature of matter can take no increase by anything entering it, and no decrease by any withdrawal: What from the beginning it was, it remains. It is not like those things whose lack is merely that of arrangement and order which can be supplied without change of substance as when we dress or decorate something bare or ugly.

But where the bringing to order must cut through to the very nature, the base original must be transmuted: It can leave ugliness for beauty only by a change of substance. Matter, then, thus brought to order must lose its own nature in the supreme degree unless its baseness is an accidental: If it is base in the sense of being baseness the absolute, it could never participate in order, and, if evil in the sense of being evil the absolute, it could never participate in good.

We conclude that matter's participation in idea is not by way of modification within itself: The process is very different; it is a bare seeming. Perhaps we have here the solution of the difficulty as to how matter, essentially evil, can be reaching towards the good: There would be no such participation as would destroy its essential nature. Given this mode of pseudo- participation—in which matter would, as we say, retain its nature, unchanged, always being what it has essentially been—there is no longer any reason to wonder as to how while essentially evil, it yet participates in idea: For, by this mode, it does not abandon its own character: Participation is the law, but it participates only just so far as its essence allows. Under a mode of participation which allows it to remain on its own footing, its essential nature stands none the less, whatever the idea, within that limit, may communicate to it: It is by no means the less evil for remaining immutably in its own order. If it had authentic participation in the good and were veritably changed, it would not be essentially evil.

In a word, when we call matter evil we are right only if we mean that it is not amenable to modification by the good; but that means simply that it is subject to no modification whatever.


This is Plato's conception: To him participation does not, in the case of matter, comport any such presence of an ideal-form in a substance to be shaped by it as would produce one compound thing made up of the two elements changing at the same moment, merging into one another, modified each by the other.

In his haste to his purpose he raises many difficult questions, but he is determined to disown that view; he labours to indicate in what mode matter can receive the ideal-forms without being, itself, modified. The direct way is debarred since it is not easy to point to things actually present in a base and yet leaving that base unaffected: He therefore devises a metaphor for participation without modification, one which supports, also, his thesis that all appearing to the senses is void of substantial existence and that the region of mere seeming is vast.

Holding, as he does, that it is the patterns displayed on matter that cause all experience in living bodies while the matter itself remains unaffected, he chooses this way of stating its immutability, leaving us to make out for ourselves that those very patterns impressed on it do not comport any experience, any modification, in itself.

In the case, no doubt, of the living bodies that take one pattern or shape after having borne another, it might be said that there was a change, the variation of shape being made verbally equivalent to a real change: But since matter is essentially without shape or magnitude, the appearing of shape on it can by no freedom of phrase be described as a change within it. On this point one must have "a rule for thick and thin" one may safely say that the underlying kind contains nothing whatever in the mode commonly supposed.

But if we reject even the idea of its really containing at least the patterns on it, how is it, in any sense, a recipient?

The answer is that in the metaphor cited we have some reasonably adequate indication of the impassibility of matter coupled with the presence on it of what may be described as images of things not present.

But we cannot leave the point of its impassibility without a warning against allowing ourselves to be deluded by sheer custom of speech.

Plato speaks of matter as becoming dry, wet, inflamed, but we must remember the words that follow: "and taking the shape of air and of water": This blunts the expressions "becoming wet, becoming inflamed"; once we have matter thus admitting these shapes, we learn that it has not itself become a shaped thing but that the shapes remain distinct as they entered. We see, further, that the expression "becoming inflamed" is not to be taken strictly: It is rather a case of becoming fire. Becoming fire is very different from becoming inflamed, which implies an outside agency and, therefore, susceptibility to modification. Matter, being itself a portion of fire, cannot be said to catch fire. To suggest that the fire not merely permeates the matter, but actually sets it on fire is like saying that a statue permeates its bronze.

Further, if what enters must be an ideal-principle how could it set matter aflame? But what if it is a pattern or condition? No: The object set aflame is so in virtue of the combination of matter and condition.

But how can this follow on the conjunction when no unity has been produced by the two?

Even if such a unity had been produced, it would be a unity of things not mutually sharing experiences but acting on each other. And the question would then arise whether each was effective on the other or whether the sole action was not that of one (the form) preventing the other [the matter] from slipping away?

But when any material thing is severed, must not the matter be divided with it? Surely the bodily modification and other experience that have accompanied the sundering, must have occurred, identically, within the matter?

This reasoning would force the destructibility of matter on us: "the body is dissolved; then the matter is dissolved." We would have to allow matter to be a thing of quantity, a magnitude. But since it is not a magnitude it could not have the experiences that belong to magnitude and, on the larger scale, since it is not body it cannot know the experiences of body.

In fact those that declare matter subject to modification may as well declare it body right out.


Further, they must explain in what sense they hold that matter tends to slip away from its form [the idea]. Can we conceive it stealing out from stones and rocks or whatever else envelops it?

And of course they cannot pretend that matter in some cases rebels and sometimes not. For if once it makes away of its own will, why should it not always escape? If it is fixed despite itself, it must be enveloped by some ideal-form for good and all. This, however, leaves still the question why a given portion of matter does not remain constant to any one given form: The reason lies mainly in the fact that the ideas are constantly passing into it.

In what sense, then, is it said to elude form?

By very nature and for ever?

But does not this precisely mean that it never ceases to be itself, in other words that its one form is an invincible formlessness? In no other sense has Plato's dictum any value to those that invoke it.

Matter [we read] is "the receptacle and nurse of all generation."

Now if matter is such a receptacle and nurse, all generation is distinct from it; and since all the changeable lies in the realm of generation, matter, existing before all generation, must exist before all change.

"Receptacle" and "nurse"; then it "retains its identity; it is not subject to modification. Similarly if it is" [as again we read] "the ground on which individual things appear and disappear," and so, too, if it is a "place, a base." Where Plato describes and identifies it as "a ground to the ideas" he is not attributing any state to it; he is probing after its distinctive manner of being.

And what is that?

This which we think of as a nature-kind cannot be included among existents but must utterly rebel from the essence of real beings and be therefore wholly something other than they—for they are reason-principles and possess authentic existence—it must inevitably, by virtue of that difference, retain its integrity to the point of being permanently closed against them and, more, of rejecting close participation in any image of them.

Only on these terms can it be completely different: Once it took any idea to hearth and home, it would become a new thing, for it would cease to be the thing apart, the ground of all else, the receptacle of absolutely any and every form. If there is to be a ceaseless coming into it and going out from it, itself must be unmoved and immune in all the come and go. The entrant idea will enter as an image, the untrue entering the untruth.

But, at least, in a true entry?

No: How could there be a true entry into that which, by being falsity, is banned from ever touching truth?

Is this then a pseudo-entry into a pseudo- entity—something merely brought near, as faces enter the mirror, there to remain just as long as the people look into it?

Yes: If we eliminated the authentic existents from this sphere nothing of all now seen in sense would appear one moment longer.

Here the mirror itself is seen, for it is itself an ideal-form of a kind [has some degree of real being]; but bare matter, which is no idea, is not a visible thing; if it were, it would have been visible in its own character before anything else appeared on it. The condition of matter may be illustrated by that of air penetrated by light and remaining, even so, unseen because it is invisible whatever happens.

The reflections in the mirror are not taken to be real, all the less since the appliance on which they appear is seen and remains while the images disappear, but matter is not seen either with the images or without them. But suppose the reflections on the mirror remaining and the mirror itself not seen, we would never doubt the solid reality of all that appears.

If, then, there is, really, something in a mirror, we may suppose objects of sense to be in matter in precisely that way: If in the mirror there is nothing, if there is only a seeming of something, then we may judge that in matter there is the same delusion and that the seeming is to be traced to the substantial- existence of the real-beings, that substantial-existence in which the authentic has the real participation while only an unreal participation can belong to the unauthentic since their condition must differ from that which they would know if the parts were reversed, if the authentic existents were not and they were.


But would this mean that if there were no matter nothing would exist?

Precisely as in the absence of a mirror, or something of similar power, there would be no reflection.

A thing whose very nature is to be lodged in something else cannot exist where the base is lacking—and it is the character of a reflection to appear in something not itself.

Of course supposing anything to desert from the authentic beings, this would not need an alien base: But these beings are not subject to flux, and therefore any outside manifestation of them implies something other than themselves, something offering a base to what never enters, something which by its presence, in its insistence, by its cry for help, in its beggardom, strives as it were by violence to acquire and is always disappointed, so that its poverty is enduring, its cry unceasing.

This alien base exists and the myth represents it as a pauper to exhibit its nature, to show that matter is destitute of the good. The claimant does not ask for all the Giver's store, but it welcomes whatever it can get; in other words, what appears in matter is not reality.

The name, too [poverty], conveys that matter's need is never met. The union with poros, possession, is designed to show that matter does not attain to reality, to plenitude, but to some bare sufficiency—in point of fact to imaging skill.

It is, of course, impossible that an outside thing belonging in any degree to real-being—whose nature is to engender real- beings—should utterly fail of participation in reality: But here we have something perplexing; we are dealing with utter non-being, absolutely without part in reality; what is this participation by the non-participant, and how does mere neighbouring confer anything on that which by its own nature is precluded from any association?

The answer is that all that impinges on this non-being is flung back as from a repelling substance; we may think of an echo returned from a repercussive plane surface; it is precisely because of the lack of retention that the phenomenon is supposed to belong to that particular place and even to arise there.

If matter were participant and received reality to the extent which we are apt to imagine, it would be penetrated by a reality thus sucked into its constitution. But we know that the entrant is not thus absorbed: Matter remains as it was, taking nothing to itself: It is the check to the forthwelling of authentic existence; it is a ground that repels; it is a mere receptacle to the realities as they take their common path and here meet and mingle. It resembles those reflecting vessels, filled with water, which are often set against the sun to produce fire: The heat rays—prevented, by their contrary within, from being absorbed—are flung out as one mass.

It is in this sense and way that matter becomes the cause of the generated realm; the combinations within it hold together only after some such reflective mode.


Now the objects attracting the sun-rays to themselves—illuminated by a fire of the sense- order—are necessarily of the sense-order; there is perceptibility because there has been a union of things at once external to each other and continuous, contiguous, in direct contact, two extremes in one line. But the reason-principle operating on matter is external to it only in a very different mode and sense: Exteriority in this case is amply supplied by contrariety of essence and can dispense with any opposite ends [any question of lineal position]; or, rather, the difference is one that actually debars any local extremity; sheer incongruity of essence, the utter failure in relationship, inhibits admixture [between matter and any form of being].

The reason, then, of the immutability of matter is that the entrant principle neither possesses it nor is possessed by it. Consider, as an example, the mode in which an opinion or representation is present in the mind; there is no admixture; the notion that came goes in its time, still integrally itself alone, taking nothing with it, leaving nothing after it, because it has not been blended with the mind; there is no "outside" in the sense of contact broken, and the distinction between base and entrant is patent not to the senses but to the reason.

In that example, no doubt, the mental representation—though it seems to have a wide and unchecked control—is an image, while the soul [mind] is in its nature not an image [but a reality]: None the less the soul or mind certainly stands to the concept as matter, or in some analogous relation. The representation, however, does not cover the mind over; on the contrary it is often expelled by some activity there; however urgently it presses in, it never effects such an obliteration as to be taken for the soul; it is confronted there by indwelling powers, by reason-principles, which repel all such attack.

Matter—feebler far than the soul for any exercise of power, and possessing no phase of the authentic existents, not even in possession of its own falsity—lacks the very means of manifesting itself, utter void as it is; it becomes the means by which other things appear, but it cannot announce its own presence. Penetrating thought may arrive at it, discriminating it from authentic existence; then, it is discerned as something abandoned by all that really is, by even the dimmest semblants of being, as a thing dragged towards every shape and property and appearing to follow—yet in fact not even following.


An ideal-principle approaches and leads matter towards some desired dimension, investing this non-existent underlie with a magnitude from itself which never becomes incorporate—for matter, if it really incorporated magnitude, would be a mass.

Eliminate this ideal-form and the substratum ceases to be a thing of magnitude, or to appear so: The mass produced by the idea was, let us suppose, a man or a horse; the horse-magnitude came on the matter when a horse was produced on it; when the horse ceases to exist on the matter, the magnitude of the horse departs also. If we are told that the horse implies a certain determined bulk and that this bulk is a permanent thing, we answer that what is permanent in this case is not the magnitude of the horse but the magnitude of mass in general. That same magnitude might be fire or earth; on their disappearance their particular magnitudes would disappear with them. Matter, then, can never take to itself either pattern or magnitude; if it did, it would no longer be able to turn from being fire, let us say, into being something else; it would become and be fire once for all.

In a word, though matter is far extended—so vastly as to appear co-extensive with all this sense-known universe—yet if the heavens and their content came to an end, all magnitude would simultaneously pass from matter with, beyond a doubt, all its other properties; it would be abandoned to its own kind, retaining nothing of all that which, in its own peculiar mode, it had hitherto exhibited.

Where an entrant force can effect modification it will inevitably leave some trace on its withdrawal; but where there can be no modification, nothing can be retained; light comes and goes, and the air is as it always was.

That a thing essentially devoid of magnitude should come to a certain size is no more astonishing than that a thing essentially devoid of heat should become warm: Matter's essential existence is quite separate from its existing in bulk, since, of course, magnitude is an immaterial principle as pattern is. Besides, if we are not to reduce matter to nothing, it must be all things by way of participation, and magnitude is one of those all things.

In bodies, necessarily compounds, magnitude though not a determined magnitude must be present as one of the constituents; it is implied in the very notion of body; but matter—not a body—excludes even undetermined magnitude.


Nor can we, on the other hand, think that matter is simply absolute magnitude.

Magnitude is not, like matter, a receptacle; it is an ideal- principle: It is a thing standing apart to itself, not some definite mass. The fact is that the self-gathered content of the intellectual principle or of the all-soul, desires expansion [and thereby engenders secondaries]: In its images—aspiring and moving towards it and eagerly imitating its act—is vested a similar power of reproducing their states in their own derivatives. The magnitude latent in the expansive tendency of the image- making phase [of intellect or all-soul] runs forth into the absolute magnitude of the universe; this in turn enlists into the process the spurious magnitude of matter: The content of the supreme, thus, in virtue of its own prior extension enables matter—which never possesses a content—to exhibit the appearance of magnitude. It must be understood that spurious magnitude consists in the fact that a thing [matter] not possessing actual magnitude strains towards it and has the extension of that straining. All that is real being gives forth a reflection of itself on all else; every reality, therefore, has magnitude which by this process is communicated to the universe.

The magnitude inherent in each ideal-principle—that of a horse or of anything else—combines with magnitude the absolute with the result that, irradiated by that absolute, matter entire takes magnitude and every particle of it becomes a mass; in this way, by virtue at once of the totality of idea with its inherent magnitude and of each several specific idea, all things appear under mass; matter takes on what we conceive as extension; it is compelled to assume a relation to the all and, gathered under this idea and under mass, to be all things—in the degree in which the operating power can lead the really nothing to become all.

By the conditions of manifestation, colour rises from non- colour [= from the colourless prototype of colour in the ideal realm]. Quality, known by the one name with its parallel in the sphere of primals, rises, similarly, from non-quality: In precisely the same mode, the magnitude appearing on matter rises from non-magnitude or from that primal which is known to us by the same name; so that material things become visible through standing midway between bare underlie and pure idea. All is perceptible by virtue of this origin in the intellectual sphere but all is falsity since the base in which the manifestation takes place is a non-existent.

Particular entities thus attain their magnitude through being drawn out by the power of the existents which mirror themselves and make space for themselves in them. And no violence is required to draw them into all the diversity of shapes and kinds because the phenomenal all exists by matter [by matter's essential all-receptivity] and because each several idea, moreover, draws matter its own way by the power stored within itself, the power it holds from the intellectual realm. Matter is manifested in this sphere as mass by the fact that it mirrors the absolute magnitude; magnitude here is the reflection in the mirror. The ideas meet all of necessity in matter [the ultimate of the emanatory progress]: And matter, both as one total thing and in its entire scope, must submit itself, since it is the material of the entire here, not of any one determined thing: What is, in its own character, no determined thing may become determined by an outside force—though, in becoming thus determined, it does not become the definite thing in question, for thus it would lose its own characteristic indetermination.


The ideal principle possessing the intellection [= idea, noesis] of magnitude—assuming that this intellection is of such power as not merely to subsist within itself but to be urged outward as it were by the intensity of its life—will necessarily realize itself in a kind [= matter] not having its being in the intellective principle, not previously possessing the idea of magnitude or any trace of that idea or any other.

What then will it produce [in this matter] by virtue of that power?

Not horse or cow: These are the product of other ideas.

No: This principle comes from the source of magnitude [= is primal "magnitude"] and therefore matter can have no extension, in which to harbour the magnitude of the principle, but can take in only its reflected appearance.

To the thing which does not enjoy magnitude in the sense of having mass-extension in its own substance and parts, the only possibility is that it present some partial semblance of magnitude, such as being continuous, not here and there and everywhere, that its parts be related within it and ungapped. An adequate reflection of a great mass cannot be produced in a small space—mere size prevents—but the greater, pursuing the hope of that full self-presentment, makes progress towards it and brings about a nearer approach to adequate mirroring in the parallel from which it can never withhold its radiation: Thus it confers magnitude on that [= matter] which has none and cannot even muster up the appearance of having any, and the visible resultant exhibits the magnitude of mass.

Matter, then, wears magnitude as a dress thrown about it by its association with that absolute magnitude to whose movement it must answer; but it does not, for that, change its kind; if the idea which has clothed it were to withdraw, it would once again be what it permanently is, what it is by its own strength, or it would have precisely the magnitude lent to it by any other form that happens to be present in it.

The [universal] soul—containing the ideal principles of real-beings, and itself an ideal principle—includes all in concentration within itself, just as the ideal principle of each particular entity is complete and self-contained: It, therefore, sees these principles of sensible things because they are turned, as it were, towards it and advancing to it: But it cannot harbour them in their plurality, for it cannot depart from its kind; it sees them, therefore, stripped of mass. Matter, on the contrary, destitute of resisting power since it has no act of its own and is a mere shadow, can but accept all that an active power may choose to send. In what is thus sent, from the reason-principle in the intellectual realm, there is already contained a degree of the partial object that is to be formed: In the image- making impulse within the reason-principle there is already a step [towards the lower manifestation] or we may put it that the downward movement from the reason-principle is a first form of the partial: Utter absence of partition would mean no movement but [sterile] repose. Matter cannot be the home of all things in concentration as the soul is: If it were so, it would belong to the intellective sphere. It must be all-recipient but not in that partless mode. It is to be the place of all things, and it must therefore extend universally, offer itself to all things, serve to all interval: Thus it will be a thing unconfined to any moment [of space or time] but laid out in submission to all that is to be.

But would we not expect that some one particularized form should occupy matter [at once] and so exclude such others as are not able to enter into combination?

No: For there is no first idea except the ideal principle of the universe—and, by this idea, matter is [the seat of] all things at once and of the particular thing in its parts—for the matter of a living being is disparted according to the specific parts of the organism: If there were no such partition nothing would exist but the reason-principle.


The ideal principles entering into matter as to a mother [to be "born into the universe"] affect it neither for better nor for worse.

Their action is not on matter but on each other; these powers conflict with their opponent principles, not with their substrata—which it would be foolish to confuse with the entrant forms—heat [the principle] annuls cold, and blackness annuls Whiteness; or, the opponents blend to form an intermediate quality. Only that is affected which enters into combinations: Being affected is losing something of self- identity.

In beings of soul and body, the affection occurs in the body, modified according to the qualities and powers presiding at the act of change: In all such dissolution of constituent parts, in the new combinations, in all variation from the original structure, the affection is bodily, the soul or mind having no more than an accompanying knowledge of the more drastic changes, or perhaps not even that. [body is modified: Mind knows] but the matter concerned remains unaffected; heat enters, cold leaves it, and it is unchanged because neither principle is associated with it as friend or enemy.

So the appellation "recipient and nurse" is the better description: Matter is the mother only in the sense indicated; it has no begetting power. But probably the term mother is used by those who think of a mother as matter to the offspring, as a container only, giving nothing to them, the entire bodily frame of the child being formed out of food. But if this mother does give anything to the offspring it does so not in its quality as matter but as being an ideal-form; for only the idea is generative; the contrary kind is sterile.

This, I think, is why the doctors of old, teaching through symbols and mystic representations, exhibit the ancient hermes with the generative organ always in active posture; this is to convey that the generator of things of sense is the intellectual reason principle: The sterility of matter, eternally unmoved, is indicated by the eunuchs surrounding it in its representation as the all-mother.

This too exalting title is conferred on it in order to indicate that it is the source of things in the sense of being their underlie: It is an approximate name chosen for a general conception; there is no intention of suggesting a complete parallel with motherhood to those not satisfied with a surface impression but needing a precisely true presentment; by a remote symbolism, the nearest they could find, they indicate that matter is sterile, not female to full effect, female in receptivity only, not in pregnancy: This they accomplish by exhibiting matter as approached by what is neither female nor effectively male, but castrated of that impregnating power which belongs only to the unchangeably masculine.

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Seventh tractate: Time and eternity



Eternity and time; two entirely separate things, we explain "the one having its being in the everlasting kind, the other in the realm of process, in our own universe"; and, by continually using the words and assigning every phenomenon to the one or the other category, we come to think that, both by instinct and by the more detailed attack of thought, we hold an adequate experience of them in our minds without more ado.

When, perhaps, we make the effort to clarify our ideas and close into the heart of the matter we are at once unsettled: Our doubts throw us back on ancient explanations; we choose among the various theories, or among the various interpretations of some one theory, and so we come to rest, satisfied, if only we can counter a question with an approved answer, and glad to be absolved from further enquiry.

Now, we must believe that some of the venerable philosophers of old discovered the truth; but it is important to examine which of them really hit the mark and by what guiding principle we can ourselves attain to certitude.

What, then, does eternity really mean to those who describe it as something different from time? We begin with eternity, since when the standing exemplar is known, its representation in image—which time is understood to be—will be clearly apprehended—though it is of course equally true, admitting this relationship to time as image to eternity the original, that if we chose to begin by identifying time we could thence proceed upwards by recognition [the Platonic anamnesis] and become aware of the kind which it images.


What definition are we to give to eternity?

Can it be identified with the [divine or] intellectual substance itself?

This would be like identifying time with the universe of heavens and earth—an opinion, it is true, which appears to have had its adherents. No doubt we conceive, we know, eternity as something most august; most august, too, is the intellectual kind; and there is no possibility of saying that the one is more majestic than the other, since no such degrees can be asserted in the above-World; there is therefore a certain excuse for the identification—all the more since the intellectual substance and eternity have the one scope and content.

Still; by the fact of representing the one as contained within the other, by making eternity a predicate to the intellectual existents—"the nature of the exemplar," we read, "is eternal"—we cancel the identification; eternity becomes a separate thing, something surrounding that nature or lying within it or present to it. And the majestic quality of both does not prove them identical: It might be transmitted from the one to the other. So, too, eternity and the divine nature envelop the same entities, yes; but not in the same way: The divine may be thought of as enveloping parts, eternity as embracing its content in an unbroken whole, with no implication of part, but merely from the fact that all eternal things are so by conforming to it.

May we, perhaps, identify eternity with repose-there as time has been identified with movement-here?

This would bring on the counter-question whether eternity is presented to us as repose in the general sense or as the repose that envelops the intellectual essence.

On the first supposition we can no more talk of repose being eternal than of eternity being eternal: To be eternal is to participate in an outside thing, eternity.

Further, if eternity is repose, what becomes of eternal movement, which, by this identification, would become a thing of repose?

Again, the conception of repose scarcely seems to include that of perpetuity—I am speaking of course not of perpetuity in the time-order (which might follow on absence of movement) but of that which we have in mind when we speak of eternity.

If, on the other hand, eternity is identified with the repose of the divine essence, all species outside of the divine are put outside of eternity.

Besides, the conception of eternity requires not merely repose but also unity—and, in order to keep it distinct from time, a unity including interval—but neither that unity nor that absence of interval enters into the conception of repose as such.

Lastly, this unchangeable repose in unity is a predicate asserted of eternity, which, therefore, is not itself repose, the absolute, but a participant in repose.


What, then, can this be, this something in virtue of which we declare the entire divine realm to be eternal, everlasting? We must come to some understanding of this perpetuity with which eternity is either identical or in conformity.

It must at once, be at once something in the nature of unity and yet a notion compact of diversity, or a kind, a nature, that waits on the existents of that Other World, either associated with them or known in and on them, they collectively being this nature which, with all its unity, is yet diverse in power and essence. Considering this multifarious power, we declare it to be essence in its relation to this sphere which is substratum or underlie to it; where we see life we think of it as movement; where all is unvaried self-identity we call it repose; and we know it as, at once, difference and identity when we recognize that all is unity with variety.

Then we reconstruct; we sum all into a collected unity once more, a sole life in the supreme; we concentrate diversity and all the endless production of act: Thus we know identity, a concept or, rather, a life never varying, not becoming what previously it was not, the thing immutably itself, broken by no interval; and knowing this, we know eternity.

We know it as a life changelessly motionless and ever holding the universal content [time, space, and phenomena] in actual presence; not this now and now that other, but always all; not existing now in one mode and now in another, but a consummation without part or interval. All its content is in immediate concentration as at one point; nothing in it ever knows development: All remains identical within itself, knowing nothing of change, for ever in a now since nothing of it has passed away or will come into being, but what it is now, that it is ever.

Eternity, therefore—while not the substratum [not the essential foundation of the divine or intellectual principle]—may be considered as the radiation of this substratum: It exists as the announcement of the identity in the divine, of that state—of being thus and not otherwise—which characterizes what has no futurity but eternally is.

What future, in fact, could bring to that being anything which it now does not possess; and could it come to be anything which it is not once for all?

There exists no source or ground from which anything could make its way into that standing present; any imagined entrant will prove to be not alien but already integral. And as it can never come to be anything at present outside it, so, necessarily, it cannot include any past; what can there be that once was in it and now is gone? futurity, similarly, is banned; nothing could be yet to come to it. Thus no ground is left for its existence but that it be what it is.

That which neither has been nor will be, but simply possesses being; that which enjoys stable existence as neither in process of change nor having ever changed—that is eternity. Thus we come to the definition: The life—instantaneously entire, complete, at no point broken into period or part—which belongs to the authentic existent by its very existence, this is the thing we were probing for—this is eternity.


We must, however, avoid thinking of it as an accidental from outside grafted on that nature: It is native to it, integral to it.

It is discerned as present essentially in that nature like everything else that we can predicate there—all immanent, springing from that essence and inherent to that essence. For whatever has primal being must be immanent to the firsts and be a first-eternity equally with the good that is among them and of them and equally with the truth that is among them.

In one aspect, no doubt, eternity resides in a partial phase of the all-being; but in another aspect it is inherent in the all taken as a totality, since that authentic all is not a thing patched up out of external parts, but is authentically an all because its parts are engendered by itself. It is like the truthfulness in the supreme which is not an agreement with some outside fact or being but is inherent in each member about which it is the truth. To an authentic all it is not enough that it be everything that exists: It must possess allness in the full sense that nothing whatever is absent from it. Then nothing is in store for it: If anything were to come, that thing must have been lacking to it, and it was, therefore, not all. And what, of a nature contrary to its own, could enter into it when it is [the supreme and therefore] immune? Since nothing can accrue to it, it cannot seek change or be changed or ever have made its way into being.

Engendered things are in continuous process of acquisition; eliminate futurity, therefore, and at once they lose their being; if the non-engendered are made amenable to futurity they are thrown down from the seat of their existence, for, clearly, existence is not theirs by their nature if it appears only as a being about to be, a becoming, an advancing from stage to stage.

The essential existence of generated things seems to lie in their existing from the time of their generation to the ultimate of time after which they cease to be: But such an existence is compact of futurity, and the annulment of that futurity means the stopping of the life and therefore of the essential existence.

Such a stoppage would be true, also, of the [generated] all in so far as it is a thing of process and change: For this reason it keeps hastening towards its future, dreading to rest, seeking to draw being to itself by a perpetual variety of production and action and by its circling in a sort of ambition after essential existence.

And here we have, incidentally, lighted on the cause of the circuit of the all; it is a movement which seeks perpetuity by way of futurity.

The primals, on the contrary, in their state of blessedness have no such aspiration towards anything to come: They are the whole, now; what life may be thought of as their due, they possess entire; they, therefore, seek nothing, since there is nothing future to them, nothing external to them in which any futurity could find lodgement.

Thus the perfect and all-comprehensive essence of the authentic existent does not consist merely in the completeness inherent in its members; its essence includes, further, its established immunity from all lack with the exclusion, also, of all that is without being—for not only must all things be contained in the all and Whole, but it can contain nothing that is, or was ever, non-existent—and this state and nature of the authentic existent is eternity: In our very word, eternity means ever-being.


This ever-being is realized when on examination of an object I am able to say—or rather, to know—that in its very nature it is incapable of increment or change; anything that fails by that test is no ever-existent or, at least, no ever-all- existent.

But is perpetuity enough in itself to constitute an eternal?

No: The object must, farther, include such a nature-principle as to give the assurance that the actual state excludes all future change, so that it is found at every observation as it always was.

Imagine, then, the state of a being which cannot fall away from the vision of this but is for ever caught to it, held by the spell of its grandeur, kept to it by virtue of a nature itself unfailing—or even the state of one that must labour towards eternity by directed effort, but then to rest in it, immoveable at any point assimilated to it, co- eternal with it, contemplating eternity and the eternal by what is eternal within the self.

Accepting this as a true account of an eternal, a perdurable existent—one which never turns to any kind outside itself, that possesses life complete once for all, that has never received any accession, that is now receiving none and will never receive any—we have, with the statement of a perduring being, the statement also of perdurance and of eternity: Perdurance is the corresponding state arising from the [divine] substratum and inherent in it; eternity [the principle as distinguished from the property of everlastingness] is that substratum carrying that state in manifestation.

Eternity, thus, is of the order of the supremely great; it proves on investigation to be identical with God: It may fitly be described as God made manifest, as God declaring what he is, as existence without jolt or change, and therefore as also the firmly living.

And it should be no shock that we find plurality in it; each of the beings of the supreme is multiple by virtue of unlimited force; for to be limitless implies failing at no point, and eternity is pre- eminently the limitless since (having no past or future) it spends nothing of its own substance.

Thus a close enough definition of eternity would be that it is a life limitless in the full sense of being all the life there is and a life which, knowing nothing of past or future to shatter its completeness, possesses itself intact for ever. To the notion of a life (a living-principle) all-comprehensive add that it never spends itself, and we have the statement of a life instantaneously infinite.


Now the principle this stated, all good and beauty, and everlasting, is centred in the One, sprung from it, and pointed towards it, never straying from it, but ever holding about it and in it and living by its law; and it is in this reference, as I judge, that Plato—finely, and by no means inadvertently but with profound intention—wrote those words of his, "eternity stable in unity"; he wishes to convey that eternity is not merely something circling on its traces into a final unity but has [instantaneous] being about the One as the unchanging life of the authentic existent. This is certainly what we have been seeking: This principle, at rest within rest with the One, is eternity; possessing this stable quality, being itself at once the absolute self-identical and none the less the active manifestation of an unchanging life set towards the divine and dwelling within it, untrue, therefore, neither on the side of being nor on the side of life—this will be eternity [the real-being we have sought].

Truly to be comports never lacking existence and never knowing variety in the mode of existence: Being is, therefore, self- identical throughout, and, therefore, again is one undistinguishable thing. Being can have no this and that; it cannot be treated in terms of intervals, unfoldings, progression, extension; there is no grasping any first or last in it.

If, then, there is no first or last in this principle, if existence is its most authentic possession and its very self, and this in the sense that its existence is essence or life—then, once again, we meet here what we have been discussing, eternity.

Observe that such words as "always," "never," "sometimes" must be taken as mere conveniences of exposition: Thus "always—used in the sense not of time but of incorruptibility and endlessly complete scope—might set up the false notion of stage and interval. We might perhaps prefer to speak of "being," without any attribute; but since this term is applicable to essence and some writers have used the word "essence" for things of process, we cannot convey our meaning to them without introducing some word carrying the notion of perdurance.

There is, of course, no difference between being and everlasting being; just as there is none between a philosopher and a true philosopher: The attribute "true" came into use because there arose what masqueraded as philosophy; and for similar reasons "everlasting" was adjoined to "being," and "being" to "everlasting," and we have [the tautology of] "everlasting being." We must take this "everlasting" as expressing no more than authentic being: It is merely a partial expression of a potency which ignores all interval or term and can look forward to nothing by way of addition to the all which it possesses. The principle of which this is the statement will be the all-existent, and, as being all, can have no failing or deficiency, cannot be at some one point complete and at some other lacking.

Things and beings in the time order—even when to all appearance complete, as a body is when fit to harbour a soul—are still bound to sequence; they are deficient to the extent of that thing, time, which they need: Let them have it, present to them and running side by side with them, and they are by that very fact incomplete; completeness is attributed to them only by an accident of language.

But the conception of eternity demands something which is in its nature complete without sequence; it is not satisfied by something measured out to any remoter time or even by something limitless, but, in its limitless reach, still having the progression of futurity: It requires something immediately possessed of the due fullness of being, something whose being does not depend on any quantity [such as instalments of time] but subsists before all quantity.

Itself having no quantity, it can have no contact with anything quantitative since its life cannot be made a thing of fragments, in contradiction to the partlessness which is its character; it must be without parts in the life as in the essence.

The phrase "he was good" [used by Plato of the demiurge] refers to the idea of the all; and its very indefiniteness signifies the utter absense of relation to time: So that even this universe has had no temporal beginning; and if we speak of something "before" it, that is only in the sense of the cause from which it takes its eternal existence. Plato used the word merely for the convenience of exposition, and immediately corrects it as inappropriate to the order vested with the eternity he conceives and affirms.


Now comes the question whether, in all this discussion, we are not merely helping to make out a case for some other order of beings and talking of matters alien to ourselves.

But how could that be? What understanding can there be failing some point of contact? And what contact could there be with the utterly alien?

We must then have, ourselves, some part or share in eternity.

Still, how is this possible to us who exist in time?

The whole question turns on the distinction between being in time and being in eternity, and this will be best realized by probing to the nature of time. We must, therefore, descend from eternity to the investigation of time, to the realm of time: Till now we have been taking the upward way; we must now take the downward—not to the lowest levels but within the degree in which time itself is a descent from eternity.

If the venerable sages of former days had not treated of time, our method would be to begin by linking to [the idea of] eternity [the idea of] its next [its inevitable downward or outgoing subsequent in the same order], then setting forth the probable nature of such a next and proceeding to show how the conception thus formed tallies with our own doctrine.

But, as things are, our best beginning is to range over the most noteworthy of the ancient opinions and see whether any of them accord with ours.

Existing explanations of time seem to fall into three classes:

Time is variously identified with what we know as movement, with a moved object, and with some phenomenon of movement: Obviously it cannot be rest or a resting object or any phenomenon of rest, since, in its characteristic idea, it is concerned with change.

Of those that explain it as movement, some identify it with absolute movement [or with the total of movement], others with that of the all. Those that make it a moved object would identify it with the orb of the all. Those that conceive it as some phenomenon, or some period, of movement treat it, severally, either as a standard of measure or as something inevitably accompanying movement, abstract or definite.


Movement time cannot be—whether a definite act of moving is meant or a united total made up of all such acts—since movement, in either sense, takes place in time. And, of course, if there is any movement not in time, the identification with time becomes all the less tenable.

In a word, movement must be distinct from the medium in which it takes place.

And, with all that has been said or is still said, one consideration is decisive: Movement can come to rest, can be intermittent; time is continuous.

We will be told that the movement of the all is continuous [and so may be identical with time].

But, if the reference is to the circuit of the heavenly system [it is not strictly continuous, or equable, since] the time taken in the return path is not that of the outgoing movement; the one is twice as long as the other: This movement of the all proceeds, therefore, by two different degrees; the rate of the entire journey is not that of the first half.

Further, the fact that we hear of the movement of the outermost sphere being the swiftest confirms our theory. Obviously, it is the swiftest of movements by taking the lesser time to traverse the greater space the very greatest—all other moving things are slower by taking a longer time to traverse a mere segment of the same extension: In other words, time is not this movement.

And, if time is not even the movement of the cosmic sphere much less is it the sphere itself though that has been identified with time on the ground of its being in motion.

Is it, then, some phenomenon or connection of movement?

Let us, tentatively, suppose it to be extent, or duration, of movement.

Now, to begin with, movement, even continuous, has no unchanging extent [as time the equable has], since, even in space, it may be faster or slower; there must, therefore, be some unit of standard outside it, by which these differences are measurable, and this outside standard would more properly be called time. And failing such a measure, which extent would be time, that of the fast or of the slow—or rather which of them all, since these speed-differences are limitless?

Is it the extent of the subordinate movement [= movement of things of earth]?

Again, this gives us no unit since the movement is infinitely variable; we would have, thus, not time but times.

The extent of the movement of the all, then?

The celestial circuit may, no doubt, be thought of in terms of quantity. It answers to measure—in two ways. First there is space; the movement is commensurate with the area it passes through, and this area is its extent. But this gives us, still, space only, not time. Secondly, the circuit, considered apart from distance traversed, has the extent of its continuity, of its tendency not to stop but to proceed indefinitely: But this is merely amplitude of movement; search it, tell its vastness, and, still, time has no more appeared, no more enters into the matter, than when one certifies a high pitch of heat; all we have discovered is motion in ceaseless succession, like water flowing ceaselessly, motion and extent of motion.

Succession or repetition gives us number—dyad, triad, etc.—and the extent traversed is a matter of magnitude; thus we have quantity of movement—in the form of number, dyad, triad, decade, or in the form of extent apprehended in what we may call the amount of the movement: But, the idea of time we have not. That definite Quantity is merely something occurring within time, for, otherwise time is not everywhere but is something belonging to movement which thus would be its substratum or basic-stuff: Once more, then, we would be making time identical with movement; for the extent of movement is not something outside it but is simply its continuousness, and we need not halt on the difference between the momentary and the continuous, which is simply one of manner and degree. The extended movement and its extent are not time; they are in time. Those that explain time as extent of movement must mean not the extent of the movement itself but something which determines its extension, something with which the movement keeps pace in its course. But what this something is, we are not told; yet it is, clearly, time, that in which all movement proceeds. This is what our discussion has aimed at from the first: "What, essentially, is time?" it comes to this: We ask "What is time?" and we are answered, "time is the extension of movement in time!"

On the one hand time is said to be an extension apart from and outside that of movement; and we are left to guess what this extension may be: On the other hand, it is represented as the extension of movement; and this leaves the difficulty what to make of the extension of rest—though one thing may continue as long in repose as another in motion, so that we are obliged to think of one thing time that covers both rest and movements, and, therefore, stands distinct from either.

What then is this thing of extension? To what order of beings does it belong?

It obviously is not spatial, for place, too, is something outside it.


"A number, a measure, belonging to movement?"

This, at least, is plausible since movement is a continuous thin; but let us consider.

To begin with, we have the doubt which met us when we probed its identification with extent of movement: Is time the measure of any and every movement?

Have we any means of calculating disconnected and lawless movement? What number or measure would apply? What would be the principle of such a measure?

One measure for movement slow and fast, for any and every movement: Then that number and measure would be like the decade, by which we reckon horses and cows, or like some common standard for liquids and solids. If time is this kind of measure, we learn, no doubt, of what objects it is a measure—of movements—but we are no nearer understanding what it is in itself.

Or: We may take the decade and think of it, apart from the horses or cows, as a pure number; this gives us a measure which, even though not actually applied, has a definite nature. Is time, perhaps, a measure in this sense?

No: To tell us no more of time in itself than that it is such a number is merely to bring us back to the decade we have already rejected, or to some similar collective figure.

If, on the other hand, time is [not such an abstraction but] a measure possessing a continuous extent of its own, it must have quantity, like a foot-rule; it must have magnitude: It will, clearly, be in the nature of a line traversing the path of movement. But, itself thus sharing in the movement, how can it be a measure of movement? Why should the one of the two be the measure rather than the other? Besides an accompanying measure is more plausibly considered as a measure of the particular movement it accompanies than of movement in general. Further, this entire discussion assumes continuous movement, since the accompanying principle; time, is itself unbroken [but a full explanation implies justification of time in repose].

The fact is that we are not to think of a measure outside and apart, but of a combined thing, a measured movement, and we are to discover what measures it.

Given a movement measured, are we to suppose the measure to be a magnitude?

If so, which of these two would be time, the measured movement or the measuring magnitude? for time [as measure] must be either the movement measured by magnitude, or the measuring magnitude itself or something using the magnitude like a yard-stick to appraise the movement. In all three cases, as we have indicated, the application is scarcely plausible except where continuous movement is assumed: Unless the movement proceeds smoothly, and even unintermittently and as embracing the entire content of the moving object, great difficulties arise in the identification of time with any kind of measure.

Let us, then, suppose time to be this "measured movement," measured by quantity. Now the movement if it is to be measured requires a measure outside itself; this was the only reason for raising the question of the accompanying measure. In exactly the same way the measuring magnitude, in turn, will require a measure, because only when the standard shows such and such an extension can the degree of movement be appraised. Time then will be, not the magnitude accompanying the movement, but that numerical value by which the magnitude accompanying the movement is estimated. But that number can be only the abstract figure which represents the magnitude, and it is difficult to see how an abstract figure can perform the act of measuring.

And, supposing that we discover a way in which it can, we still have not time, the measure, but a particular quantity of time, not at all the same thing: Time means something very different from any definite period: Before all question as to quantity is the question as to the thing of which a certain quantity is present.

Time, we are told, is the number outside movement and measuring it, like the tens applied to the reckoning of the horses and cows but not inherent in them: We are not told what this number is; yet, applied or not, it must, like that decade, have some nature of its own.

Or "it is that which accompanies a movement and measures it by its successive stages"; but we are still left asking what this thing recording the stages may be.

In any case, once a thing—whether by point or standard or any other means—measures succession, it must measure according to time: This number appraising movement degree by degree must, therefore, if it is to serve as a measure at all, be something dependent on time and in contact with it: For, either, degree is spatial, merely—the beginning and end of the stadium, for example—or in the only alternative, it is a pure matter of time: The succession of early and late is stage of time, time ending on a certain now or time beginning from a now.

Time, therefore, is something other than the mere number measuring movement, whether movement in general or any particular tract of movement.

Further: Why should the mere presence of a number give us time—a number measuring or measured; for the same number may be either—if time is not given us by the fact of movement itself, the movement which inevitably contains in itself a succession of stages? To make the number essential to time is like saying that magnitude has not its full quantity unless we can estimate that quantity.

Again, if time is, admittedly, endless, how can number apply to it?

Are we to take some portion of time and find its numerical statement? That simply means that time existed before number was applied to it.

We may, therefore, very well think that it existed before the soul or mind that estimates it—if, indeed, it is not to be thought to take its origin from the soul—for no measurement by anything is necessary to its existence; measured or not, it has the full extent of its being.

And suppose it to be true that the soul is the appraiser, using magnitude as the measuring standard, how does this help us to the conception of time?


Time, again, has been described as some sort of a sequence on movement, but we learn nothing from this, nothing is said, until we know what it is that produces this sequential thing: Probably the cause and not the result would turn out to be time.

And, admitting such a thing, there would still remain the question whether it came into being before the movement, with it, or after it; and, whether we say before or with or after, we are speaking of order in time: And thus our definition is "time is a sequence on movement in time!"

Enough: Our main purpose is to show what time is, not to refute false definition. To traverse point by point the many opinions of our many predecessors would mean a history rather than an identification; we have treated the various theories as fully as is possible in a cursory review: And, notice, that which makes time the measure of the all- movement is refuted by our entire discussion and, especially, by the observations on the measurement of movement in general, for all the argument—except, of course, that from irregularity—applies to the all as much as to particular movement.

We are, thus, at the stage where we are to state what time really is.


To this end we must go back to the state we affirmed of eternity, unwavering life, undivided totality, limitless, knowing no divagation, at rest in unity and intent on it. Time was not yet: Or at least it did not exist for the eternal beings, though its being was implicit in the idea and principle of progressive derivation.

But from the divine beings thus at rest within themselves, how did this time first emerge?

We can scarcely call on the muses to recount its origin since they were not in existence then—perhaps not even if they had been. The engendered thing, time, itself, can best tell us how it rose and became manifest; something thus its story would run:

Time at first—in reality before that "first" was produced by desire of succession—time lay, self- concentrated, at rest within the authentic existent: It was not yet time; it was merged in the authentic and motionless with it. But there was an active principle there, one set on governing itself and realizing itself [= the all-soul], and it chose to aim at something more than its present: It stirred from its rest, and time stirred with it. And we, stirring to a ceaseless succession, to a next, to the discrimination of identity and the establishment of ever-new difference, traversed a portion of the outgoing path and produced an image of eternity, produced time.

For the soul contained an unquiet faculty, always desirous of translating elsewhere what it saw in the authentic realm, and it could not bear to retain within itself all the dense fullness of its possession.

A seed is at rest; the nature-principle within, uncoiling outwards, makes way towards what seems to it a large life; but by that partition it loses; it was a unity self-gathered, and now, in going forth from itself, it fritters its unity away; it advances into a weaker greatness. It is so with this faculty of the soul, when it produces the cosmos known to sense—the mimic of the divine sphere, moving not in the very movement of the divine but in its similitude, in an effort to reproduce that of the divine. To bring this cosmos into being, the soul first laid aside its eternity and clothed itself with time; this world of its fashioning it then gave over to be a servant to time, making it at every point a thing of time, setting all its progressions within the bournes of time. For the cosmos moves only in soul—the only space within the range of the all open to it to move in—and therefore its movement has always been in the time which inheres in soul.

Putting forth its energy in act after act, in a constant progress of novelty, the soul produces succession as well as act; taking up new purposes added to the old it brings thus into being what had not existed in that former period when its purpose was still dormant and its life was not as it since became: The life is changed and that change carries with it a change of time. Time, then, is contained in differentiation of life; the ceaseless forward movement of life brings with it unending time; and life as it achieves its stages constitutes past time.

Would it, then, be sound to define time as the life of the soul in movement as it passes from one stage of act or experience to another?

Yes; for eternity, we have said, is life in repose, unchanging, self-identical, always endlessly complete; and there is to be an image of eternity-time—such an image as this lower all presents of the higher sphere. Therefore over against that higher life there must be another life, known by the same name as the more veritable life of the soul; over against that movement of the intellectual soul there must be the movement of some partial phase; over against that identity, unchangeableness and stability there must be that which is not constant in the one hold but puts forth multitudinous acts; over against that oneness without extent or interval there must be an image of oneness, a unity of link and succession; over against the immediately infinite and all- comprehending, that which tends, yes, to infinity but by tending to a perpetual futurity; over against the Whole in concentration, there must be that which is to be a Whole by stages never final. The lesser must always be working towards the increase of its being, this will be its imitation of what is immediately complete, self-realized, endless without stage: Only thus can its being reproduce that of the higher.

Time, however, is not to be conceived as outside of soul; eternity is not outside of the authentic existent: Nor is it to be taken as a sequence or succession to soul, any more than eternity is to the divine. It is a thing seen on soul, inherent, coeval to it, as eternity to the intellectual realm.


We are brought thus to the conception of a natural- principle—time—a certain expanse [a quantitative phase] of the life of the soul, a principle moving forward by smooth and uniform changes following silently on each other—a principle, then, whose act is sequent.

But let us conceive this power of the soul to turn back and withdraw from the life-course which it now maintains, from the continuous and unending activity of an ever-existent soul not self-contained or self-intent but concerned about doing and engendering: Imagine it no longer accomplishing any act, setting a pause to this work it has inaugurated; let this outgoing phase of the soul become once more, equally with the rest, turned to the supreme, to eternal being, to the tranquilly stable.

What would then exist but eternity?

All would remain in unity; how could there be any diversity of things? What earlier or later would there be, what long-lasting or short-lasting? What ground would lie ready to the soul's operation but the supreme in which it has its being? Or, indeed, what operative tendency could it have even to that since a prior separation is the necessary condition of tendency?

The very sphere of the universe would not exist; for it cannot antedate time: It, too, has its being and its movement in time; and if it ceased to move, the soul-act [which is the essence of time] continuing, we could measure the period of its repose by that standard outside it.

If, then, the soul withdrew, sinking itself again into its primal unity, time would disappear: The origin of time, clearly, is to be traced to the first stir of the soul's tendency towards the production of the sensible universe with the consecutive act ensuing. This is how "time"—as we read—"came into being simultaneously" with this all: The soul begot at once the universe and time; in that activity of the soul this universe sprang into being; the activity is time, the universe is a content of time. No doubt it will be urged that we read also of the orbit of the stars being times": But do not forget what follows; "the stars exist," we are told, "for the display and delimitation of time," and "that there may be a manifest measure." no indication of time could be derived from [observation of] the soul; no portion of it can be seen or handled, so it could not be measured in itself, especially when there was as yet no knowledge of counting; therefore the soul brings into being night and day; in their difference is given duality—from which, we read, arises the concept of number.

We observe the tract between a sunrise and its return and, as the movement is uniform, we thus obtain a time-interval on which to measure ourselves, and we use this as a standard. We have thus a measure of time. Time itself is not a measure. How would it set to work? And what kind of thing is there of which it could say, "I find the extent of this equal to such and such a stretch of my own extent?" What is this "I"? Obviously something by which measurement is known. Time, then, serves towards measurement but is not itself the measure: The movement of the all will be measured according to time, but time will not, of its own nature, be a measure of movement: Primarily a kind to itself, it will incidentally exhibit the magnitudes of that movement.

And the reiterated observation of movement—the same extent found to be traversed in such and such a period—will lead to the conception of a definite quantity of time past.

This brings us to the fact that, in a certain sense, the movement, the orbit of the universe, may legitimately be said to measure time—in so far as that is possible at all—since any definite stretch of that circuit occupies a certain quantity of time, and this is the only grasp we have of time, our only understanding of it: What that circuit measures—by indication, that is—will be time, manifested by the movement but not brought into being by it.

This means that the measure of the spheric movement has itself been measured by a definite stretch of that movement and therefore is something different; as measure, it is one thing and, as the measured, it is another; [its being measure or] its being measured cannot be of its essence.

We are no nearer knowledge than if we said that the foot- rule measures magnitude while we left the concept magnitude undefined; or, again, we might as well define movement—whose limitlessness puts it out of our reach—as the thing measured by space; the definition would be parallel since we can mark off a certain space which the movement has traversed and say the one is equivalent to the other.


The spheral circuit, then, performed in time, indicates it: But when we come to time itself there is no question of its being "within" something else: It must be primary, a thing "within itself." it is that in which all the rest happens, in which all movement and rest exist smoothly and under order; something following a definite order is necessary to exhibit it and to make it a subject of knowledge—though not to produce it—it is known by order whether in rest or in motion; in motion especially, for movement better moves time into our ken than rest can, and it is easier to estimate distance traversed than repose maintained.

This last fact has led to time being called a measure of movement when it should have been described as something measured by movement and then defined in its essential nature; it is an error to define it by a mere accidental concomitant and so to reverse the actual order of things. Possibly, however, this reversal was not intended by the authors of the explanation: But, at any rate, we do not understand them; they plainly apply the term measure to what is in reality the measured and leave us unable to grasp their meaning: Our perplexity may be due to the fact that their writings—addressed to disciples acquainted with their teaching—do not explain what this thing, measure, or measured object, is in itself.

Plato does not make the essence of time consist in its being either a measure or a thing measured by something else.

On the point of the means by which it is known, he remarks that the circuit advances an infinitesimal distance for every infinitesimal segment of time so that from that observation it is possible to estimate what the time is, how much it amounts to: But when his purpose is to explain its essential nature he tells us that it sprang into being simultaneously with the heavenly system, a reproduction of eternity, its image in motion, time necessarily unresting as the life with which it must keep pace: And "coeval with the heavens" because it is this same life [of the divine soul] which brings the heavens also into being; time and the heavens are the work of the one life.

Suppose that life, then, to revert—an impossibility—to perfect unity: Time, whose existence is in that life, and the heavens, no longer maintained by that life, would end at once.

It is the height of absurdity to fasten on the succession of earlier and later occurring in the life and movement of this sphere of ours, to declare that it must be some definite thing and to call it time, while denying the reality of the more truly existent movement, that of the soul, which has also its earlier and later: It cannot be reasonable to recognize succession in the case of the soulless movement—and so to associate time with that—while ignoring succession and the reality of time in the movement from which the other takes its imitative existence; to ignore, that is, the very movement in which succession first appears, a self-actuated movement which, engendering its own every operation, is the source of all that follows on itself, to all which, it is the cause of existence, at once, and of every consequent.

But:—we treat the cosmic movement as overarched by that of the soul and bring it under time; yet we do not set under time that soul-movement itself with all its endless progression: What is our explanation of this paradox?

Simply, that the soul-movement has for its prior eternity which knows neither its progression nor its extension. The descent towards time begins with this soul-movement; it made time and harbours time as a concomitant to its act.

And this is how time is omnipresent: That soul is absent from no fragment of the cosmos just as our soul is absent from no particle of ourselves. As for those who pronounce time a thing of no substantial existence, of no reality, they clearly belie god himself whenever they say "he was" or "he will be": For the existence indicated by the "was and will be" can have only such reality as belongs to that in which it is said to be situated:—but this school demands another type of argument.

Meanwhile we have a supplementary observation to make.

Take a man walking and observe the advance he has made; that advance gives you the quantity of movement he is employing: And when you know that quantity—represented by the ground traversed by his feet, for, of course, we are supposing the bodily movement to correspond with the pace he has set within himself—you know also the movement that exists in the man himself before the feet move.

You must relate the body, carried forward during a given period of time, to a certain quantity of movement causing the progress and to the time it takes, and that again to the movement, equal in extension, within the man's soul.

But the movement within the soul—to what are you to (relate) refer that?

Let your choice fall where it may, from this point there is nothing but the unextended: And this is the primarily existent, the container to all else, having itself no container, brooking none.

And, as with man's soul, so with the soul of the all.

"Is time, then, within ourselves as well?"

Time in every soul of the order of the all-soul, present in like form in all; for all the souls are the one soul.

And this is why time can never be broken apart, any more than eternity which, similarly, under diverse manifestations, has its being as an integral constituent of all the eternal existences.

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Eighth tractate: Nature contemplation and the One



Supposing we played a little before entering on our serious concern and maintained that all things are striving after contemplation, looking to vision as their one end—and this, not merely beings endowed with reason but even the unreasoning animals, the principle that rules in growing things, and the earth that produces these—and that all achieve their purpose in the measure possible to their kind, each attaining vision and possessing itself of the end in its own way and degree, some things in entire reality, others in mimicry and in image—we would scarcely find anyone to endure so strange a thesis. But in a discussion entirely among ourselves there is no risk in a light handling of our own ideas.

Well—in the play of this very moment am I engaged in the act of contemplation?

Yes; I and all that enter this play are in contemplation: Our play aims at vision; and there is every reason to believe that child or man, in sport or earnest, is playing or working only towards vision, that every act is an effort towards vision; the compulsory act, which tends rather to bring the vision down to outward things, and the act thought of as voluntary, less concerned with the outer, originate alike in the effort towards vision.

The case of man will be treated later on; let us speak, first, of the earth and of the trees and vegetation in general, asking ourselves what is the nature of contemplation in them, how we relate to any contemplative activity the labour and productiveness of the earth, how nature, held to be devoid of reason and even of conscious representation, can either harbour contemplation or produce by means of the contemplation which it does not possess.


Uhere is, obviously, no question here of hands or feet, of any implement borrowed or inherent: Nature needs simply the matter which it is to work on and bring under form; its productivity cannot depend on mechanical operation. What driving or hoisting goes to produce all that variety of colour and pattern?

The wax-workers, whose methods have been cited as parallel to the creative act of nature, are unable to make colours; all they can do to impose on their handicraft colours taken from elsewhere. None the less there is a parallel which demands attention: In the case of workers in such arts there must be something locked within themselves, an efficacy not going out from them and yet guiding their hands in all their creation; and this observation should have indicated a similar phenomenon in nature; it should be clear that this indwelling efficacy, which makes without hands, must exist in nature, no less than in the craftsman—but, there, as a thing completely inbound. Nature need possess no outgoing force as against that remaining within; the only moved thing is matter; there can be no moved phase in this nature-principle; any such moved phase could not be the primal mover; this nature-principle is no such moved entity; it is the unmoved principle operating in the cosmos.

We may be answered that the reason-principle is, no doubt, unmoved, but that the nature-principle, another being, operates by motion.

But, if nature entire is in question here, it is identical with the reason-principle; and any part of it that is unmoved is the reason-principle. The nature-principle must be an ideal-form, not a compound of form and matter; there is no need for it to possess matter, hot and cold: The matter that underlies it, on which it exercises its creative act, brings all that with it, or, natively without quality, becomes hot and cold, and all the rest, when brought under reason: Matter, to become fire, demands the approach not of fire but of a reason-principle.

This is no slight evidence that in the animal and vegetable realms the reason-principles are the makers and that nature is a reason- principle producing a second reason-principle, its offspring, which, in turn, while itself, still, remaining intact, communicates something to the underlie, matter.

The reason-principle presiding over visible shape is the very ultimate of its order, a dead thing unable to produce further: That which produces in the created realm is the living reason- principle—brother no doubt, to that which gives mere shape, but having life-giving power.


But if this reason-principle [nature] is in act—and produces by the process indicated—how can it have any part in contemplation?

To begin with, since in all its production it is stationary and intact, a reason-principle self-indwelling, it is in its own nature a contemplative act. All doing must be guided by an idea, and will therefore be distinct from that idea: The reason-principle then, as accompanying and guiding the work, will be distinct from the work; not being action but reason-principle it is, necessarily, contemplation. Taking the reason-principle, the logos, in all its phases, the lowest and last springs from a mental act [in the higher logos] and is itself a contemplation, though only in the sense of being contemplated, but above it stands the total logos with its two distinguishable phases, first, that identified not as nature but as all-soul and, next, that operating in nature and being itself the nature-principle.

And does this reason-principle, nature, spring from a contemplation?

Wholly and solely?

From self-contemplation, then? Or what are we to think? It derives from a contemplation and some contemplating being; how are we to suppose it to have contemplation itself?

The contemplation springing from the reasoning faculty—that, I mean, of planning its own content, it does not possess.

But why not, since it is a phase of life, a reason-principle and a creative power?

Because to plan for a thing is to lack it: Nature does not lack; it creates because it possesses. Its creative act is simply its possession of it own characteristic essence; now its essence, since it is a reason-principle, is to be at once an act of contemplation and an object of contemplation. In other words, the, nature-principle produces by virtue of being an act of contemplation, an object of contemplation and a reason- principle; on this triple character depends its creative efficacy.

Thus the act of production is seen to be in nature an act of contemplation, for creation is the outcome of a contemplation which never becomes anything else, which never does anything else, but creates by simply being a contemplation.


And nature, asked why it brings forth its works, might answer if it cared to listen and to speak:

"It would have been more becoming to put no question but to learn in silence just as I myself am silent and make no habit of talking. And what is your lesson? This; that whatever comes into being is my is my vision, seen in my silence, the vision that belongs to my character who, sprung from vision, am vision- loving and create vision by the vision-seeing faculty within me. The mathematicians from their vision draw their figures: But I draw nothing: I gaze and the figures of the material world take being as if they fell from my contemplation. As with my mother (the all-soul] and the beings that begot me so it is with me: They are born of a contemplation and my birth is from them, not by their act but by their being; they are the loftier reason-principles, they contemplate themselves and I am born."

Now what does this tell us?

It tells: That what we know as nature is a soul, offspring of a yet earlier soul of more powerful life; that it possesses, therefore, in its repose, a vision within itself; that it has no tendency upward nor even downward but is at peace, steadfast, in its own essence; that, in this immutability accompanied by what may be called self- consciousness, it possesses—within the measure of its possibility—a knowledge of the realm of subsequent things perceived in virtue of that understanding and consciousness; and, achieving thus a resplendent and delicious spectacle, has no further aim.

Of course, while it may be convenient to speak of "understanding" or "perception" in the nature-principle, this is not in the full sense applicable to other beings; we are applying to sleep a word borrowed from the wake.

For the vision on which nature broods, inactive, is a self- intuition, a spectacle laid before it by virtue of its unaccompanied self-concentration and by the fact that in itself it belongs to the order of intuition. It is a vision silent but somewhat blurred, for there exists another a clearer of which nature is the image: Hence all that nature produces is weak; the weaker act of intuition produces the weaker object.

In the same way, human beings, when weak on the side of contemplation, find in action their trace of vision and of reason: Their spiritual feebleness unfits them for contemplation; they are left with a void, because they cannot adequately seize the vision; yet they long for it; they are hurried into action as their way to the vision which they cannot attain by intellection. They act from the desire of seeing their action, and of making it visible and sensible to others when the result shall prove fairly well equal to the plan. Everywhere, doing and making will be found to be either an attenuation or a complement of vision-attenuation if the doer was aiming only at the thing done; complement if he is to possess something nobler to gaze on than the mere work produced.

Given the power to contemplate the authentic, who would run, of choice, after its image?

The relation of action to contemplation is indicated in the way duller children, inapt to study and speculation, take to crafts and manual labour.


This discussion of nature has shown us how the origin of things is a contemplation: We may now take the matter up to the higher soul; we find that the contemplation pursued by this, its instinct towards knowing and enquiring, the birth pangs set up by the knowledge it attains, its teeming fullness, have caused it—in itself, all one object of vision—to produce another vision [that of the cosmos]: It is just as a given science, complete in itself, becomes the source and cause of what might be called a minor science in the student who attains to some partial knowledge of all its divisions. But the visible objects and the objects of intellectual contemplation of this later creation are dim and helpless by the side of the content of the soul.

The primal phase of the soul—inhabitant of the supreme and, by its participation in the supreme, filled and illuminated—remains unchangeably there; but in virtue of that first participation, that of the primal participant, a secondary phase also participates in the supreme, and this secondary goes forth ceaselessly as life streaming from life; for energy runs through the universe and there is no extremity at which it dwindles out. But, travel as far as it may, it never draws that first part of itself from the place whence the outgoing began: If it did, it would no longer be everywhere [its continuous being would be broken and] it would be present at the end, only, of its course.

None the less that which goes forth cannot be equal to that which remains.

In sum, then:

The soul is to extend throughout the universe, no spot void of its energy: But, a prior is always different from its secondary, and energy is a secondary, rising as it must from contemplation or act; act, however, is not at this stage existent since it depends on contemplation: Therefore the soul, while its phases differ, must, in all of them, remain a contemplation and what seems to be an act done under contemplation must be in reality that weakened contemplation of which we have spoken: The engendered must respect the kind, but in weaker form, dwindled in the descent.

All goes softly since nothing here demands the parade of thought or act on external things: It is a soul in vision and, by this vision, creating its own subsequent—this principle [of nature], itself also contemplative but in the feebler degree since it lies further away and cannot reproduce the quality or experiences of its prior—a vision creates the vision.

[such creative contemplation is not inexplicable] for no limit exists either to contemplation or to its possible objects, and this explains how the soul is universal: Where can this thing fail to be, which is one identical thing in every soul; vision is not cabined within the bournes of magnitude.

This, of course, does not mean that the soul is present at the same strength in each and every place and thing—any more than that it is at the same strength in each of its own phases.

The charioteer [the leading principle of the soul, in the Phaedrus myth] gives the two horses [its two dissonant faculties] what he has seen and they, taking that gift, showed that they were hungry for what made that vision; there was something lacking to them: If in their desire they acted, their action aimed at what they craved for—and that was vision, and an object of vision.


Action, thus, is set towards contemplation and an object of contemplation, so that even those whose life is in doing have seeing as their object; what they have not been able to achieve by the direct path, they hope to come at by the circuit.

Further: Suppose they succeed; they desired a certain thing to come about, not in order to be unaware of it but to know it, to see it present before the mind: Their success is the laying up of a vision. We act for the sake of some good; this means not for something to remain outside ourselves, not in order that we possess nothing but that we may hold the good of the action. And hold it, where? Where but in the mind?

Thus once more, action is brought back to contemplation: For [mind or] soul is a reason-principle and anything that one lays up in the soul can be no other than a reason-principle, a silent thing, the more certainly such a principle as the impression made is the deeper.

This vision achieved, the acting instinct pauses; the mind is satisfied and seeks nothing further; the contemplation, in one so conditioned, remains absorbed within as having acquired certainty to rest on. The brighter the certainty, the more tranquil is the contemplation as having acquired the more perfect unity; and—for now we come to the serious treatment of the subject-

In proportion to the truth with which the knowing faculty knows, it comes to identification with the object of its knowledge.

As long as duality persists, the two lie apart, parallel as it were to each other; there is a pair in which the two elements remain strange to one another, as when ideal-principles laid up in the mind or soul remain idle.

Hence the idea must not be left to lie outside but must be made one identical thing with the soul of the novice so that he finds it really his own.

The soul, once domiciled within that idea and brought to likeness with it, becomes productive, active; what it always held by its primary nature it now grasps with knowledge and applies in deed, so becoming, as it were, a new thing and, informed as it now is by the purely intellectual, it sees [in its outgoing act] as a stranger looking on a strange world. It was, no doubt, essentially a reason-principle, even an intellectual principle; but its function is to see a [lower] realm which these do not see.

For, it is a not a complete thing: It has a lack; it is incomplete in regard to its prior; yet it, also, has a tranquil vision of what it produces. What it has once brought into being it produces no more, for all its productiveness is determined by this lack: It produces for the purpose of contemplation, in the desire of knowing all its content: When there is question of practical things it adapts its content to the outside order.

The soul has a greater content than nature has and therefore it is more tranquil; it is more nearly complete and therefore more contemplative. It is, however, not perfect, and is all the more eager to penetrate the object of contemplation, and it seeks the vision that comes by observation. It leaves its native realm and busies itself elsewhere; then it returns, and it possesses its vision by means of that phase of itself from which it had parted. The self-indwelling soul inclines less to such experiences.

The sage, then, is the man made over into a reason- principle: To others he shows his act but in himself he is vision: Such a man is already set, not merely in regard to exterior things but also within himself, towards what is one and at rest: All his faculty and life are inward-bent.


Certain principles, then, we may take to be established—some self-evident, others brought out by our treatment above:

All the forms of authentic existence spring from vision and are a vision. Everything that springs from these authentic existences in their vision is an object of vision-manifest to sensation or to true knowledge or to surface-awareness. All act aims at this knowing; all impulse is towards knowledge, all that springs from vision exists to produce ideal-form, that is a fresh object of vision, so that universally, as images of their engendering principles, they all produce objects of vision, ideal- forms. In the engendering of these sub-existences, imitations of the authentic, it is made manifest that the creating powers operate not for the sake of creation and action but in order to produce an object of vision. This same vision is the ultimate purpose of all the acts of the mind and, even further downward, of all sensation, since sensation also is an effort towards knowledge; lower still, nature, producing similarly its subsequent principle, brings into being the vision and idea that we know in it. It is certain, also, that as the firsts exist in vision all other things must be straining towards the same condition; the starting point is, universally, the goal.

When living things reproduce their kind, it is that the reason- principles within stir them; the procreative act is the expression of a contemplation, a travail towards the creation of many forms, many objects of contemplation, so that the universe may be filled full with reason-principles and that contemplation may be, as nearly as possible, endless: To bring anything into being is to produce an idea-form and that again is to enrich the universe with contemplation: All the failures, alike in being and in doing, are but the swerving of visionaries from the object of vision: In the end the sorriest craftsman is still a maker of forms, ungracefully. So love, too, is vision with the pursuit of ideal- form.


From this basis we proceed:

In the advancing stages of contemplation rising from that in nature, to that in the soul and thence again to that in the intellectual-principle itself—the object contemplated becomes progressively a more and more intimate possession of the contemplating beings, more and more one thing with them; and in the advanced soul the objects of knowledge, well on the way towards the intellectual- principle, are close to identity with their container.

Hence we may conclude that, in the intellectual-principle itself, there is complete identity of knower and known, and this not by way of domiciliation, as in the case of even the highest soul, but by essence, by the fact that, there, no distinction exists between being and knowing; we cannot stop at a principle containing separate parts; there must always be a yet higher, a principle above all such diversity.

The supreme must be an entity in which the two are one; it will, therefore, be a seeing that lives, not an object of vision like things existing in something other than themselves: What exists in an outside element is some mode of living-thing; it is not the self- living.

Now admitting the existence of a living thing that is at once a thought and its object, it must be a life distinct from the vegetative or sensitive life or any other life determined by soul.

In a certain sense no doubt all lives are thoughts—but qualified as thought vegetative, thought sensitive and thought psychic.

What, then, makes them thoughts?

The fact that they are reason-principles. Every life is some form of thought, but of a dwindling clearness like the degrees of life itself. The first and clearest life and the first intelligence are one being. The first life, then, is an intellection and the next form of life is the next intellection and the last form of life is the last form of intellection. Thus every life, of the order strictly so called, is an intellection.

But while men may recognize grades in life they reject grade in thought; to them there are thoughts [full and perfect] and anything else is no thought.

This is simply because they do not seek to establish what life is.

The essential is to observe that, here again, all reasoning shows that whatever exists is a bye-work of visioning: If, then, the truest life is such by virtue of an intellection and is identical with the truest intellection, then the truest intellection is a living being; contemplation and its object constitute a living thing, a life, two inextricably one.

The duality, thus, is a unity; but how is this unity also a plurality?

The explanation is that in a unity there can be no seeing [a pure unity has no room for vision and an object]; and in its contemplation the One is not acting as a unity; if it were, the intellectual-principle cannot exist. The highest began as a unity but did not remain as it began; all unknown to itself, it became manifold; it grew, as it were, pregnant: Desiring universal possession, it flung itself outward, though it were better had it never known the desire by which a secondary came into being: It is like a circle [in the idea] which in projection becomes a figure, a surface, a circumference, a centre, a system of radii, of upper and lower segments. The Whence is the better; the Whither is less good: The Whence is not the same as the Whence-followed- by-a-Whither; the Whence all alone is greater than with the Whither added to it.

The intellectual-principle on the other hand was never merely the principle of an inviolable unity; it was a universal as well and, being so, was the intellectual-principle of all things. Being, thus, all things and the principle of all, it must essentially include this part of itself [this element-of-plurality] which is universal and is all things: Otherwise, it contains a part which is not intellectual-principle: It will be a juxtaposition of non- intellectuals, a huddled heap waiting to be made over from the mass of things into the intellectual-principle!

We conclude that this being is limitless and that, in all the outflow from it, there is no lessening either in its emanation, since this also is the entire universe, nor in itself, the starting point, since it is no assemblage of parts [to be diminished by any outgo].


Clearly a being of this nature is not the primal existent; there must exist that which transcends it, that being [the absolute], to which all our discussion has been leading.

In the first place, plurality is later than unity. The intellectual-principle is a number [= the expression of a plurality]; and number derives from unity: The source of a number such as this must be the authentically One. Further, it is the sum of an intellectual-being with the object of its intellection, so that it is a duality; and, given this duality, we must find what exists before it.

What is this?

The intellectual-principle taken separately, perhaps?

No: An intellect is always inseparable from an intelligible object; eliminate the intelligible, and the intellectual-principle disappears with it. If, then, what we are seeking cannot be the intellectual-principle but must be something that rejects the duality there present, then the prior demanded by that duality must be something on the further side of the intellectual- principle.

But might it not be the intelligible object itself?

No: For the intelligible makes an equally inseparable duality with the intellectual-principle.

If, then, neither the intellectual-principle nor the intelligible Object can be the first existent, what is?

Our answer can only be:

The source of both.

What will this be; under what character can we picture it?

It must be either intellective or without intellection: If intellective it is the intellectual-principle; if not, it will be without even knowledge of itself—so that, either way, what is there so august about it?

If we define it as the good and the wholly simplex, we will, no doubt, be telling the truth, but we will not be giving any certain and lucid account of it as long as we have in mind no entity in which to lodge the conception by which we define it.

Yet: Our knowledge of everything else comes by way of our intelligence; our power is that of knowing the intelligible by means of the intelligence: But this entity transcends all of the intellectual nature; by what direct intuition, then, can it be brought within our grasp?

To this question the answer is that we can know it only in the degree of human faculty: We indicate it by virtue of what in ourselves is like it.

For in us, also, there is something of that being; nay, nothing, ripe for that participation, can be void of it.

Wherever you be, you have only to range over against this omnipresent being that in you which is capable of drawing from it, and you have your share in it: Imagine a voice sounding over a vast waste of land, and not only over the emptiness alone but over human beings; wherever you be in that great space you have but to listen and you take the voice entire—entire though yet with a difference.

And what do we take when we thus point the intelligence?

The intellectual-principle in us must mount to its origins: Essentially a thing facing two ways, it must deliver itself over to those powers within it which tend upward; if it seeks the vision of that being, it must become something more than intellect.

For the intellectual-principle is the earliest form of life: It is the activity presiding over the outflowing of the universal Order—the outflow, that is, of the first moment, not that of the continuous process.

In its character as life, as emanation, as containing all things in their precise forms and not merely in the agglomerate mass—for this would be to contain them imperfectly and inarticulately—it must of necessity derive from some other being, from one that does not emanate but is the principle of emanation, of life, of intellect and of the universe.

For the universe is not a principle and source: It springs from a source, and that source cannot be the all or anything belonging to the all, since it is to generate the all, and must be not a plurality but the source of plurality, since universally a begetting power is less complex than the begotten. Thus the being that has engendered the intellectual-principle must be more simplex than the intellectual-principle.

We may be told that this engendering principle is the One- and-all.

But, at that, it must be either each separate entity from among all or it will be all things in the one mass.

Now if it were the massed total of all, it must be of later origin than any of the things of which it is the sum; if it precedes the total, it differs from the things that make up the total and they from it: If it and the total of things constitute a co-existence, it is not a source. But what we are probing for must be a source; it must exist before all, that all may be fashioned as sequel to it.

As for the notion that it may be each separate entity of the all, this would make a self-identity into a what you like, where you like, indifferently, and would, besides, abolish all distinction in things themselves.

Once more we see that this can be no thing among things but must be prior to all things.


And what will such a principle essentially be?

The potentiality of the universe: The potentiality whose non- existence would mean the non-existence of all the universe and even of the intellectual-principle which is the primal life and all life.

This principle on the thither side of life is the cause of life—for that manifestation of life which is the universe of things is not the first activity; it is itself poured forth, so to speak, like water from a spring.

Imagine a spring that has no source outside itself; it gives itself to all the rivers, yet is never exhausted by what they take, but remains always integrally as it was; the tides that proceed from it are at one within it before they run their several ways, yet all, in some sense, know beforehand down what channels they will pour their streams.

Or: Think of the life coursing throughout some mighty tree while yet it is the stationary principle of the whole, in no sense scattered over all that extent but, as it were, vested in the root: It is the giver of the entire and manifold life of the tree, but remains unmoved itself, not manifold but the principle of that manifold life.

And this surprises no one: Though it is in fact astonishing how all that varied vitality springs from the unvarying, and how that very manifoldness could not be unless before the multiplicity there were something all singleness; for, the principle is not broken into parts to make the total; on the contrary, such partition would destroy both; nothing would come into being if its cause, thus broken up, changed character.

Thus we are always brought back to the One.

Every particular thing has a One of its own to which it may be traced; the all has its One, its prior but not yet the absolute One; through this we reach that absolute One, where all such reference comes to an end.

Now when we reach a One—the stationary principle—in the tree, in the animal, in soul, in the all—we have in every case the most powerful, the precious element: When we come to the One in the authentically existent beings—their principle and source and potentiality—shall we lose confidence and suspect it of being-nothing?

Certainly this absolute is none of the things of which it is the source—its nature is that nothing can be affirmed of it—not existence, not essence, not life—since it is that which transcends all these. But possess yourself of it by the very elimination of being and you hold a marvel. Thrusting forward to this, attaining, and resting in its content, seek to grasp it more and more—understanding it by that intuitive thrust alone, but knowing its greatness by the beings that follow on it and exist by its power.

Another approach:

The intellectual-principle is a seeing, and a seeing which itself sees; therefore it is a potentiality which has become effective.

This implies the distinction of matter and form in it—as there must be in all actual seeing—the matter in this case being the intelligibles which the intellectual-principle contains and sees. All actual seeing implies duality; before the seeing takes place there is the pure unity [of the power of seeing]. That unity [of principle] acquires duality [in the act of seeing], and the duality is [always to be traced back to] a unity.

Now as our sight requires the world of sense for its satisfaction and realization, so the vision in the intellectual- principle demands, for its completion, the good.

It cannot be, itself, the good, since then it would not need to see or to perform any other act; for the good is the centre of all else, and it is by means of the good that every thing has act, while the good is in need of nothing and therefore possesses nothing beyond itself.

Once you have uttered "the good," add no further thought: By any addition, and in proportion to that addition, you introduce a deficiency.

Do not even say that it has intellection; you would be dividing it; it would become a duality, intellect and the good. The good has no need of the intellectual-principle which, on the contrary, needs it, and, attaining it, is shaped into goodness and becomes perfect by it: The form thus received, sprung from the good, brings it to likeness with the good.

Thus the traces of the good discerned on it must be taken as indication of the nature of that archetype: We form a conception of its authentic being from its image playing on the intellectual- principle. This image of itself, it has communicated to the intellect that contemplates it: Thus all the striving is on the side of the intellect, which is the eternal striver and eternally the attainer. The being beyond neither strives, since it feels no lack, nor attains, since it has no striving. And this marks it off from the intellectual-principle, to which characteristically belongs the striving, the concentrated strain towards its form.

Yet: The intellectual-principle; beautiful; the most beautiful of all; lying lapped in pure light and in clear radiance; circumscribing the nature of the authentic existents; the original of which this beautiful world is a shadow and an image; tranquil in the fullness of glory since in it there is nothing devoid of intellect, nothing dark or out of rule; a living thing in a life of blessedness: This, too, must overwhelm with awe any that has seen it, and penetrated it, to become a unit of its being.

But: As one that looks up to the heavens and sees the splendour of the stars thinks of the maker and searches, so whoever has contemplated the intellectual universe and known it and wondered for it must search after its maker too. What being has raised so noble a fabric? And where? and how? Who has begotten such a child, this intellectual- principle, this lovely abundance so abundantly endowed?

The source of all this cannot be an intellect; nor can it be an abundant power: It must have been before intellect and abundance were; these are later and things of lack; abundance had to be made abundant and intellection needed to know.

These are very near to the un-needing, to that which has no need of knowing, they have abundance and intellection authentically, as being the first to possess. But, there is that before them which neither needs nor possesses anything, since, needing or possessing anything else, it would not be what it is—the good.

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Ninth tractate: Detached considerations


"The intellectual-principle" [= the divine mind]—we read [in the Timaeus]—"looks on the ideas indwelling in that being which is the essentially living [= according to Plotinus, the intellectual realm], "and then"—the text proceeds—"the creator judged that all the content of that essentially living being must find place in this lower universe also."

Are we meant to gather that the ideas came into being before the intellectual-principle so that it "sees them" as previously existent?

The first step is to make sure whether the "living being" of the text is to be distinguished from the intellectual-principle as another thing than it.

It might be argued that the intellectual-principle is the contemPlator and therefore that the living-being contemplated is not the intellectual-principle but must be described as the intellectual object so that the intellectual-principle must possess the ideal realm as something outside of itself.

But this would mean that it possesses images and not the realities, since the realities are in the intellectual realm which it contemplates: Reality—we read—is in the authentic existent which contains the essential form of particular things.

No: Even though the intellectual-principle and the intellectual Object are distinct, they are not apart except for just that distinction.

Nothing in the statement cited is inconsistent with the conception that these two constitute one substance—though, in a unity, admitting that distinction, of the intellectual act [as against passivity], without which there can be no question of an intellectual-principle and an intellectual object: What is meant is not that the contemPlatory being possesses its vision as in some other principle, but that it contains the intellectual realm within itself.

The intelligible Object is the intellectual-principle itself in its repose, unity, immobility: The intellectual-principle, contemPlator of that object—of the intellectual-principle thus in repose is an active manifestation of the same being, an act which contemplates its unmoved phase and, as thus contemplating, stands as intellectual-principle to that of which it has the intellection: It is intellectual-principle in virtue of having that intellection, and at the same time is intellectual object, by assimilation.

This, then, is the being which planned to create in the lower universe what it saw existing in the supreme, the four orders of living beings.

No doubt the passage: [of the Timaeus] seems to imply tacitly that this planning principle is distinct from the other two: But the three—the essentially-living, the intellectual-principle and this planning principle will, to others, be manifestly one: The truth is that, by a common accident, a particular trend of thought has occasioned the discrimination.

We have dealt with the first two; but the third—this principle which decides to work on the objects [the ideas] contemplated by the intellectual-principle within the essentially- living, to create them, to establish them in their partial existence—what is this third?

It is possible that in one aspect the intellectual-principle is the principle of partial existence, while in another aspect it is not.

The entities thus particularized from the unity are products of the intellectual-principle which thus would be, to that extent, the separating agent. On the other hand it remains in itself, indivisible; division begins with its offspring which, of course, means with souls: And thus a soul—with its particular souls—may be the separative principle.

This is what is conveyed where we are told that the separation is the work of the third principle and begins within the third: For to this third belongs the discursive reasoning which is no function of the intellectual-principle but characteristic of its secondary, of soul, to which precisely, divided by its own kind, belongs the act of division.

2.... For in any one science the reduction of the total of knowledge into its separate propositions does not shatter its unity, chipping it into unrelated fragments; in each distinct item is talent the entire body of the science, an integral thing in its highest principle and its last detail: And similarly a man must so discipline himself that the first principles of his being are also his completions, are totals, that all be pointed towards the loftiest phase of the nature: When a man has become this unity in the best, he is in that other realm; for it is by this highest within himself, made his own, that he holds to the supreme.

At no point did the all-soul come into being: It never arrived, for it never knew place; what happens is that body, neighbouring with it, participates in it: Hence Plato does not place soul in body but body in soul. The others, the secondary souls, have a point of departure—they come from the all-soul—and they have a place into which to descend and in which to change to and fro, a place, therefore, from which to ascend: But this all-soul is for ever above, resting in that being in which it holds its existence as soul and followed, as next, by the universe or, at least, by all beneath the sun.

The partial soul is illuminated by moving towards the soul above it; for on that path it meets authentic existence. Movement towards the lower is towards non-being: And this is the step it takes when it is set on self; for by willing towards itself it produces its lower, an image of itself—a non- being—and so is wandering, as it were, into the void, stripping itself of its own determined form. And this image, this undetermined thing, is blank darkness, for it is utterly without reason, untouched by the intellectual-principle, far removed from authentic being.

As long as it remains at the mid-stage it is in its own peculiar region; but when, by a sort of inferior orientation, it looks downward, it shapes that lower image and flings itself joyfully thither.


(a)... How, then, does unity give rise to multiplicity?

By its omnipresence: There is nowhere where it is not; it occupies, therefore, all that is; at once, it is manifold—or, rather, it is all things.

If it were simply and solely everywhere, all would be this one thing alone: But it is, also, in no place, and this gives, in the final result, that, while all exists by means of it, in virtue of its omnipresence, all is distinct from it in virtue of its being nowhere.

But why is it not merely present everywhere but in addition nowhere-present?

Because, universality demands a previous unity. It must, therefore, pervade all things and make all, but not be the universe which it makes.

(b) the soul itself must exist as seeing—with the intellectual-principle as the object of its vision—it is undetermined before it sees but is naturally apt to see: In other words, soul is matter to [its determinant] the intellectual- principle.

(c) When we exercise intellection on ourselves, we are, obviously, observing an intellective nature, for otherwise we would not be able to have that intellection.

We know, and it is ourselves that we know; therefore we know the reality of a knowing nature: Therefore, before that intellection in act, there is another intellection, one at rest, so to speak.

Similarly, that self-intellection is an act on a reality and on a life; therefore, before the life and real-being concerned in the intellection, there must be another being and life. In a word, intellection is vested in the activities themselves: Since, then, the activities of self-intellection are intellective-forms, We, the authentic We, are the intelligibles and self-intellection conveys the image of the intellectual sphere.

(d) the primal is a potentiality of movement and of repose—and so is above and beyond both—its next subsequent has rest and movement about the primal. Now this subsequent is the intellectual-principle—so characterized by having intellection of something not identical with itself whereas the primal is without intellection. A knowing principle has duality [that entailed by being the knower of something) and, moreover, it knows itself as deficient since its virtue consists in this knowing and not in its own bare being.

(e) in the case of everything which has developed from possibility to actuality the actual is that which remains self- identical for its entire duration—and this it is which makes perfection possible even in things of the corporeal order, as for instance in fire but the actual of this kind cannot be everlasting since [by the fact of their having once existed only in potentiality] matter has its place in them. In anything, on the contrary, not composite [= never touched by matter or potentiality] and possessing actuality, that actual existence is eternal... There is, however, the case, also in which a thing, itself existing in actuality, stands as potentiality to some other form of being.

(f)... But the first is not to be envisaged as made up from Gods of a transcendent order: No; the authentic existents constitute the intellectual-principle with Which motion and rest begin. The primal touches nothing, but is the centre round which those other beings lie in repose and in movement. For movement is aiming, and the primal aims at nothing; what could the summit aspire to?

Has it, even, no intellection of itself?

It possesses itself and therefore is said in general terms to know itself... But intellection does not mean self-ownership; it means turning the gaze towards the primal: Now the act of intellection is itself the primal act, and there is therefore no place for any earlier one. The being projecting this act transcends the act so that intellection is secondary to the being in which it resides. Intellection is not the transcendently venerable thing—neither intellection in general nor even the intellection of the good. Apart from and over any intellection stands the good itself.

The good therefore needs no consciousness.

What sort of consciousness can be conceived in it?

Consciousness of the good as existent or non- existent?

If of existent good, that good exists before and without any such consciousness: If the act of consciousness produces that good, then the good was not previously in existence—and, at once, the very consciousness falls to the ground since it is, no longer consciousness of the good.

But would not all this mean that the first does not even live?

The first cannot be said to live since it is the source of life.

All that has self-consciousness and self-intellection is derivative; it observes itself in order, by that activity, to become master of its being: And if it study itself this can mean only that ignorance inheres in it and that it is of its own nature lacking and to be made perfect by intellection.

All thinking and knowing must, here, be eliminated: The addition introduces deprivation and deficiency.

Enneads of Plotinus, END MATTER

Enneads of Plotinus, LITERATURE  


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