Plotinus ~ The Enneads

Transcribed notes from a graduate seminar with Paul J. W. Miller
The University of Colorado, 1967

The transcription is unfinished, i.e. the remainder of the notes are raw and not yet organized even to this poor degree. I present them here anyway because they are a distillation of my cosmology, and the key to understanding the perspective I favor about the universe and how it comes to happen. It is not, you see, original, but merely learned from the Greeks and the Alexandrians. I have been told that Professor Miller is still with us, long ago retired, and living in Rome
Three hypostases, derived from Plato:

1. The One (cf. The Republic 6: The Good;
The Symposium, 7th Letter: Beauty)

2. Mind (nous) (corresponds to Plato’s world of form)

Soul (cf. The Timaeus: Nature is body permeated with mind. It is body ensouled.

Descending from soul:



Aristotle: The nature of a thing is the thing itself.

Plato: The nature of a thing is beyond the thing. It is the presence of something higher in a thing which gives it identity.

Ennead Vi
Soul (which is defined as embodied) has fallen away from mind (nous, not embodied, wholly spiritual). It has “forgotten” (cf The Phaedo). Matter is real to it, since what one loves seems to one to be real.

Soul can forget. It can look away from or look toward things in this way. It is ambiguous. It can turn toward either world by desiring one or the other. Thus it can delude itself into thinking it is inferior to the thing pursued.

Ennead Vi - 2 & 3
Mind (nous) is compared to the sun’s radiation. Soul is compared to the stellar gods which inhabit and animate, but are extrinsic to, the stars themselves. Stars were believed to shine from the reflected light of the sun.
Soul is divine. It resides in a physical body while yet being nous. Once man realizes what he is, he is a god.

Ennead Vi - 3
As “red” and any particular red are indistinguishable, so world soul and a particular soul are indistinguishable.

The Dialectical Premise:
The soul makes itself actual by contemplating its objects. It can look toward the material world, in which it feels less than what it is, or it can look toward mind, the next higher hypostasis. By doing this, soul reconforms to its exemplar. The dialectical method is opposed to the Aristotelian premise that “a thing‘s nature is the thing itself.”

One does not ask of a portrait “What is that?” The answer would be “Canvas, paint, wood, etc.” A better question is “Of what is that?” “It is of George Washington.”

By analogy: soul is of mind. When soul sees that it is the image of something else, it can readapt itself to this exemplar.

Thus one must realize: I am not a thing. I am of a thing. I first become a self-aware copy and then I overcome my limitations as a copy.

My act and the original act are the same act, as “that red” is the same red as “redness”. The instance is reconformed to the essence.

This is not the discovery of an innate idea embodied in me which would be a partial, mediated realization, like Descartes‘ pi in the sky. Inner exploration reveals that the copy is the presence of the original. The identity is immediate, not mediated. The copy is not a thing in which is found the original. It is altogether of the original.

The Aristotelian categories of action and passion: One may act (toward mind, like swimming upstream, or one may be passive, acted upon by material nature.)

Vi 3
Telos = end. Nothing stands between soul and intelligence (nous) but their “to be”, their state of being, their condition. They are identical entities. They are the same thing in different modes.

A receptacle, which may be either spiritual or physical, must exist at each hypostasis to allow the One to become many. There must be not-being, corresponding to being, to receive being - a potential to become actual. This must be conceived outside the temporal sphere. The material principle is the principle of descent by which the manifest is sustained in existence and manages to continue to be. Plato and Plotinus are thus dialectical, not monistic.

Vi 3
It is necessary to be aware that through mind one is emancipated from body.

Vi 4
Mind and soul: Mind is intuitive; soul is discursive. Mind is a union of knower and known. Discursive reasoning is linear and syllogistic, drawing conclusions from prior premises. Intuitive knowing sees at once.
The nature of intuition is identity. One does not know mind discursively. One becomes mind. It is a doing.

Vi 4
Intelligence = mind, nous, Plato‘s being.

Vi 5, 6
Intelligence is present in the soul so long as the soul doesn’t want the wrong things.

Vi 5
Plato’s doctrine of the One and the many: The One and the Indefinite Dyad combine to make form. The Indefinite Dyad is the great plus the small, i.e. it can become both great and small.

The Dyad is generated by the One. The indefinite comes from the definite.

The determinate many is produced by repeating the number One as many times as necessary.

In ancient thought, number is like form: Numbers differ from one another by the degree to which the number One has been multiplied in them. Forms differ from one another by the degree or amount of unity in them.
Number and form are thus analogous.

The condition in which mind regards its source, its engendering hypostasis, the One, as its object of knowledge. Contemplation = engendering.

The One engenders intelligence. Intelligence engenders the soul. Each hypostasis or mode produces an image of itself in a medium (a receptive or material principle.) Beyond this, soul engenders nature.

Mind produces the order of the physical world by contemplation.

The soul is a maker (logos). It makes concepts, i.e. concepts are begotten by the soul in contemplation. This is the idealist view. (In Aristotle, concepts are abstracted from nature as reported by the senses.)

Vi 5 para 7
Nous constitutes its intellectual fruit by looking at the One.

That to which the One looks is beyond being, i.e. is not a point in the dialectic of the One and the many.
When a thinker thinks himself, he is already on the next level.

(40 minutes of missed notes.)

The One and the many
The doctrine of Plotinus is identical to that of Plato (Symposium). Both the lover and the philosopher are intermediate beings. Soul is present in them on several levels, both a unity and a plurality.

How is the ambivalence of soul explainable? How is it both One and a plurality?

Soul is not a thing; it is rather an independent substance. It is distinguishable from a quality in that quality is like an adjective, whereas soul is more like a noun.

As the forms of qualities (such as redness) are One, a unity in the realm of forms, but many as they occur in nature, exhibiting parts and diversity, while yet remaining identical (this red being red only insofar as it partakes of the single form of redness), so the soul as it occurs in matter is plural, while taken in itself it is Mind and One. Mind has no parts; it is a unity. Soul in itself is Mind, but soul is Mind-embodied. The apparent manyness of soul is due to the plural nature of matter.

Thus at any particular point in body (dispersed matter) soul is present entirely. The whole soul, as one, is embodied in all parts of matter (body.) Body consists of parts, while soul, unlike nature, is not divisible. Soul is neither simply one nor simply many. Its plurality is only apparent from a pluralistic vantage point. (As it is our point of view which requires a material principle in order to sense a thing.) But this is a mere affection of the soul, due to its being temporarily embodied. An apparent manyness is both seen from and due to the material half, while soul by itself remains one. This is also the Platonist view.

In itself, soul is pure spiritual unity. It is mind. But considered in a body, it appears divided. Conjoined to body it has parts, faculties, appetites; this is only apparent. As mind is the form of the soul, soul is the form of the body. Soul is more real than body. Soul has no real multiplicity. Embodied, its multiplicity is apparent, but not real.

Vi 3 para 8 & Vi 5 para 9
Opposes nature to mechanism

Notes related to notes;


The pre-existing, problematic blankness which must be there to receive being. Uncreated, it precedes any possible thing, the paper beneath a watercolor, the other hand of a two-handed card trick, the conjuration of apparent time and space stuffed-to-capacity with events more diverse and outrageous than most audiences would consider possible.

Wisdom 11:

The just punishment of Israel

16 But for the foolish devices of their iniquity, because some being deceived worshiped dumb serpents and worthless beasts, thou didst send upon them a multitude of dumb beasts for vengeance, 17 that they might know that by what things a man sinneth, by the same also he is tormented. 18 For thy almighty hand, which made the world of matter without form, was not unable to send upon them a multitude of bears, or fierce lions, 19 or unknown beasts of a new kind, full of rage: either breathing out a fiery vapor, or sending forth a stinking smoke, or shooting horrible sparks out of their eyes, 20 whereof not only the hurt might be able to destroy them, but also the very sight might kill them through fear. 21 Yea, and without these, they might have been slain with one blast, persecuted by their own deeds, and scattered by the breath of thy power: but thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight.

The power of God

22 For great power always belonged to thee alone: and who shall resist the strength of thy arm? 23 For the whole world before thee is as the least grain of the balance, and as a drop of the morning dew that falleth down upon the earth. 24 But thou hast mercy upon all, because thou canst do all things, and overlookest the sins of men for the sake of repentance. 25 For thou lovest all things that are, and hatest none of the things which thou hast made: for thou didst not appoint, or make any thing, hating it. 26 And how could any thing endure, if thou wouldst not, or be preserved, if not called by thee? 27 But thou sparest all: because they are thine, O Lord, who lovest souls.

~ Wisdom 11:16-27

Measure, number and weight, the three elements of world.

Measure is the ratio or proportion. It is the intelligence which produces the mix, the recipe for any thing.

Number is the form, the quiddity, the identity, the what-it-is of any thing.

Weight is the matter which receives or permits the unrolling or engendering of the creation. Relative to the contents of the creation it includes time and space, the containers, the recepticles of what is.

It is this measured, precise and inevitable process, not the limitless heat of galactic explosions, the unimaginable magnitudes or vanishing infinities, that produces the world. This is why we are not killed by the mighty coming-to-be of the universe, and why, in fact, deluded bits of flotsam though we are, we stand nevertheless in an intimate relation to the power that creates the world. The originating power is not the violence of expanding gases, but truth, the uncontestable assertion of pure arithmetic. It is, if not exactly comprehensible, at least something akin to ourselves, like what we think.

Before we set off the atomic bomb, Einstein had it written down on a piece of paper.
Physical causes are the handmaidens of logic, Schopenhauer notwithstanding. Something does not happen that can not happen.

Whatever put us here gave us the ability to think the sun. The Father of the sun is our Father too.

Maybe the Lord’s Prayer describes not some hoped-for future New Jerusalem or after-life, but the ongoing reality of the creation, eternally producing a copy of heaven upon the earth. Perhaps it speaks of our role in this creation, our desire to come to a contemplation of God by releasing what binds us to nature, and thus to participate in the divine fecundity, whatever that might be.


A hypostatic picture of the creation has one distinct advantage over a mythical/historical picture when it comes to presenting itself as an intelligible world view in order to gain adherency. A rational creation may be understood by any number of arguments and explications, as there are many ways to lead a student to the necessary truth of theorems and other eternal verities, and their implications for human conduct. The historical creationists, such as so-called “naîve Christians”, who don’t trouble themselves with the state of affairs prior to their tribal origins, but who begin with a creative fiat which is at once the beginning of history, hold their religion as a story, more narrative literature than math, into which is woven the recipe for salvation in the form of commandments, not explained but simply given. If I do not understand the meaning of the story, the response is just a retelling of the story, perhaps in greater detail. We are urged to believe the story, but since the articles of faith address only the facticity or ficticiousness of these characters and these events, things nobody could possibly know by direct experience, we are given no criteria for judgement, no means to either assent or deny. There is no way to extract enough intelligibility from it to hold in our minds what it is we are admitting to be true, even if we were willing to believe it blindly. Only rarely, to provide some kind of grist for concept formation, will an historical creationist present his story as an allegory for a standing truth, since this diminishes the status of the described events as the standing truth itself, ramified into physical actuality and presenting its unmediated substance into our faces. They are not, in other words, willing for the story to be a mere vehicle for describing the truth. The story is the point. Like the naive realism of Aristotle, no reality is added to it by finding meaning in it. Even those whose minds can not depart from the simple apprehension of events in time and space wish, in their religion, to behold the truth directly.

Both historical and rational religious orientations, to the extent that there is no agreement, offer a world of competing, clamoring lunacies. Without intelligibility, unless you believe that God wrote the Bible, there are no road maps at all.

Hypostatic religion seeks to insinuate itself into the machinations of the divine. Opponents like Martin Buber find this speculative and distant, a hubris which substitutes theoretical constructs about God for the actual, distinct, independently existing, regular fellow God is when you really get to know him. It gropes for transcendental principles from such unquestionable immediacies as thought and number and light.

Historical narrative religion doesn’t get into God’s business, but merely restates, in the idiom of its myth, man’s need for redeption, and the bloody sacrifice which accomplishes this, period. How any of it works in reality they leave to apologists like St. Thomas. It is religion for good people who get headaches when they think about God.

Hypostatic religion is the religion of philosophers. Stupid people can’t be Augustinian Christians. (I could be mistaken about this. This is what it says in my notes.)

Heretics in hypostatic religions are philosophers with differing and contradictory ideas about the configuration of the Divine Substance. If they are burned at the stake it is because they are wrong, not because they are stupid. At least among these disputants, human reason stands as a universal, if very imperfect, court of appeal. We are talking about the Athanasians and the Gnostics and the Pelagians, and we are not talking about Jack Van Impe and Jimmy Swaggart.

It is noteworthy that since Martin Luther’s Great Schism, the sheer number of disputants and sub-schisms has multiplied down to frayed ends. The kernal of truth has become chaff. This is not surprising, given that the court of appeal for historical-narrative religion is now whatever interpretation of scripture pops into the brain of any dipshit televangeist, and no direct, awe-inspired, abiblical vision of how anything got to be here to begin with can be brought to bear on the debate. It is a “figure” of the One and the many. There is a great deal more variety in the beliefs of stupid people than in those of intelligent people. The beliefs of the apostate don’t have to make sense. They are unrestrained. They multiply like rabbits.

Okay, history is actual. Love subsumes reason, and the Creator made lots of different kinds of creatures, not only philosophers. So how is this primordial bicker between Plato and Aristotle to be resolved?

Just as physical causes are the discursive counterparts of rational necessities (i.e. are less real, but not non-existent), so historical facts might be the sequential representation of intelligible (static) truths. One might proceed from the other without contradiction, so that the question of how we get together with the Deity might have more than one answer. In one case we turn away from nature, mortify the flesh and soar upward to embrace the architect of our souls, while in the other God descends into nature and, by the act of being nailed to a piece of common wood, forgives us for falling into darkness and includes us back into His mystical body. (cf. Augustine’s philosophy of history - historical events, biblical + modern, are “a figure for” the celestial status quo). What exists eternally is written in time. We have a philosopher, a roving reporter if you will, at both ends. Maybe they only think they’re arguing.

“Non-being is already in relation to being - being in its otherness.”

The known universe is not surrounded by nothingness, nor is the creation preceded by a vast eternity of empty time. There is no “forever” in which we are dead, and no great, black void beyond the outer frontier of the Big Bang. Nothingness, to insist upon the obvious, has no extension and therefore has not got the ability to surround anything. Likewise it has no duration, and can not precede, succeed or subsume anything. The blank page upon which God writes the world is not some pre-existing Godless chaos requiring to be filled with intelligible being like the Louisiana Purchase, but is a recepticle produced by God for the purpose of the creation, as a watercolorist produces a piece of paper so there will be something for the paint to go onto.
The apparent hugeness of this is an effect of the 3-D glasses, clarifying the image. The screen itself is without size.

At any level of transcription you need pencil and paper, the finger of God, the vessel, and the Word (the thing written.)