The study of Plotinus I

Plotinus with an English Translation by A. H. Armstrong, professor of Greek, University of Liverpool.
In my father's Library there are many books, all of which he read.

Inside the books are passages that are underlined with great care in his day to day study.
This one book, Plotinus has such passages underlined.

What is a living Being

And soul's power of sense-perception need not be perception of sense-objects, but rather it must be receptive of the impressions produced by sensation on the living being; these are already intelligible entities. So external sensation is the image of this perception of the soul, which is in its essence truer and is a contemplation of forms alone without being affected. From these forms, from which the soul alone receives its lordship over the living being, come reasoning's, and opinions and acts of intuitive intelligence; and this precisely is where "we" are. That which comes before this is "ours" but "we," in our presidency over the living being, are what extends from this point upwards. But there will be no objection to calling the whole thing "living being"; the lower parts of it are something mixed, the part which beings on the level of thought is, I suppose, the true man: those lower parts are the "lion-like," and altogether "the various beast." Since man coincides with the rational soul, when we reason it is really we who reason because rational processes are activities of soul.

So we also possess the forms in two ways, in our soul, in a manner of speaking unfolded and separated, in Intellect all together.
But how do we possess God? He rides mounted on the nature of Intellect and true reality - that is how we possess him;

The nature of that higher soul of ours will be free from all responsibility for the evils that man does and suffers; these concern the living being, the joint entity, as has been said.

The beast is the body which has been given life. But the true man is different, clear of these affections; he has the virtues which belong to the sphere of intellect and have their seat actually in the separate soul, separate and separable even while it is still here below. (For when it withdraws altogether, the lower soul which is illumined by it goes away too in its train.) But the virtues which result not from thought but from habit and training belong to the joint entity; for the vices belong to this, since envy and jealousy and emotional sympathy are located there. But which do our loves belong to? Some to the joint entity, some to man within.

So there is another life of soul,, and other activities, and that which is punished is different. The ascent and the separation is not only from this body but from all that has been added.

The soul is said to go down or incline in the sense that the thing which receives light from it lives with it. It abandons its image if there is nothing at hand to receive it; and it abandons it not in the sense that it is cut off but in that it no longer exists: and the image no longer exists when the whole soul is looking to the intelligible world. The poet seems to be separating the image with regard to Heracles when he says that his shade is in Hades, but he himself among the gods. He was bound to keep to both stories, that he is in Hades and that he dwells among the gods, so he divided him. But perhaps this is the most plausible explanation of the story: because Heracles had this active virtue and in view of his noble character was deemed worthy to be called a god - because he was an active and not a contemplative person (in which case he would have been altogether in the intelligible world), he is above , but there is also still a part of him below.

Yes, we must allow it this sort of movement, which is not a movement of bodies but its own life. And intellectual activity is ours in the sense that the soul is intellectual and intellectual activity is its higher life, both when the soul operates intellectually and when intellect acts upon us. For intellect too is part of ourselves and to it we ascend.


  1. Claudia,

    I haven't thought about Plotinus since my philosophy undergraduate years (so long ago). But I see the relevance to your father's writings, particularly in regards to the notion of spirit ascending to a knowledge of intellegible forms. Plotinus was I believe considered a key figure in Christian platonism.

    The Hades/gods split is striking: one does sense a similar sort of earthly (NY city) and spiritual (Dantesque)divide in his poetry. "He was bound to keep to both stories, that he is in Hades and that he dwells among the gods, so he divided him." I think Samperi the poet was also divided in precisely this sense.

    Thanks for giving us more vital intellectual background to your father's writings.

  2. Conrad,
    I agree. You are welcome. There is so much to research and I rely on you and others for your professional comments and learned insights.


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