Questions for the Great Plotinus

1 What is the One?

The One is the Good, the superessential and the superabundant. The One is one because of the rule of Prior Simplicity. Everything is resolved into a greater coherence, and the greatest coherence is absolute and perfect, complete, beautiful oneness. All being derives from the One, all good.

2 What is Nous?

Nous is Intellect or Divine Intellect, or Mind. It is the real of Real Being, being first of all Beings and the second divine hypostasis. When that which emanates from the superessential One returns in proper contemplation to the One, the Forms, the Archetypes are eternally generated as a coherent image of the One, for Divine Intellect contemplates the One, and in its mind this contemplated object is the Forms, also mighty beings. They do not exist in Mind as a set, full of diversity and variety, but are the one coherent Reason for all diversity and variety.

3 What is World Soul?

Soul, or World Soul, or the All is the third divine hypostasis and the last, and weakest. So abundant is Nous that from it also emanates that which turns back and in contemplation of the Intellectual Form generates the undivided but distinguishable forms. World Soul is Nature, in its lower parts, and nourishes the world of objects where when form is joined to matter, forms become distinct, separate. From World Soul emanates a dream, as it were a mirror, and in this mirror are reflected the forms that it generates by contemplating Divine Intellect.

4 What are Forms?

Forms exist at each level except the One, which is absolutely one and nothing else. The Forms of Intellect result from the Intellectual matter, which emanates from the One, as it turns in contemplation. They are a generated compound of intellectual matter and One. World Soul, which is the spiritual matter emanating from Intellect, beholds these forms and generates in turn forms, as the Forms of Intellect meet it, creating the substance of soul. Forms are the principle of intelligible coherence in a thing. We must think of them according to their substance, which is not physical, has none of the degenerate separations that create space about it. We must rise in abstraction to their contemplation, and by moving our consciousness higher in World Soul, a part of which our souls are, distinguished from it by being united to matter in body, we must contemplate the forms of Intellect, and thereby rise to contemplate the One. This is to have the intellectual satisfaction of understanding at such a high level that everything below it is intuitively graspable and to have the wisdom of knowing the what is good.

5 What is better, the acorn or the oak?

The acorn, for it contains the principle of what follows and has not degenerated into a loss of simplicity and union by acquiring more substance and growing.

6 What are the two movements?

There is the movement away and the movement back, and that is all. The first is downward for it is away from its source, and it is a degradation. The second is upward for it is back, and it is ennobling. The second is contemplation, the first privation. Matter, being the last movement away, is absolute privation and thus it is metaphysical evil. It is the disposition utterly away from the Good, how than can it be anything but evil? When matter receives form then you have shapes and qualities and objects, and in so far as matter participates in Form it returns and rises and it is a good. But it is an image in a mirror, which is dreamed by World Soul, and remember, it is a mirror that does not exist. We must not be seduced downward, but return in contemplation of the higher, not the lower.

8 What is the Self?

Divisions within Soul produce the various souls which are the forms of human being. Just as there is a higher and a lower World Soul, in keeping with the two motions, there are higher and lower portions of each human soul. The higher is concerned with gazing along with World Soul, of which it always remains a part, at Nous. The lower nourishes corporeal substance, and ministers to the body that which comes from the realm of Intellect: Form. Our consciousness, now, slides between the two polarities of the lower and higher soul. It is dragged down by the appetites and passions, which it ought to leave to run with as little attention as possible, and not be trapped, distracted or much less habituated to the corporeal demands for satisfaction. Instead it should detach itself from the lower soul and seek the higher, closer to the World Soul of which it is a part, directing its attention toward higher things: Contemplation of the Nous. This is virtue, as attention to the lower is vice.

9 What is matter?

Matter is that which receives forms. World Soul’s power is weakness, and its emanation is weak: nothing can come from it, for it is essential nothingness. Matter is primal evil in that it is impassible, neither desiring nor responding to form, but being that last movement away which is also nothing. Without form you have no shape, no color, no quality, nothing. That which receives form, receives these things, and that we call matter. When matter receives form we have the world of our senses, but if we propose that the forms must inform matter and provide everything, including substance, then we must say that matter is nothing, absolute privation, primal evil.

10 What is wrong with the Gnostics?

There are three things. First is that they are ignorant and incoherent. I would say they do to the divine Plato what Christians say they do to their Scriptures. There is no Hellenism in them, no logic, no rigor, no examination, no close discussions of the technical terms of Aristotle, no wrestling with the difficulties of ancient philosophy but only irresponsible uses of chimerical suggestions. They are doctrinally incorrect, for there are three divine hypostases, and no more. The second thing is that they are irreverent. They do not accord to the divine what is due to it: they have no fear to make up absurdities and ascribe inelegancies that are completely arbitrary. They say what ought not to be said. The third is that they do not appreciate the order and beauty of the physical world, and so manifest their contempt of Form and the higher which is manifested in the lower. You can’t do that without turning on the Good. The whole thing is rubbish.

11 What is a good Platonic joke?

You know that Platonists believe in transmigration of the soul. We say that the greatest punishment for the bad is to be reincarnated as an oyster, do you know why?

12 Why?

Because an oyster lives in a cave of his own making.

Plotinus

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