Plotinus

 

 

Of the Nature and Origin of Evils 156

 

 

QUESTIONS TO BE DISCUSSED.

 

1. Studying the origin of evils that might affect all beings in general, or some one class in particular, it is reasonable to begin by defining evil, from a consideration of its nature. That would be the best way to discover whence it arises, where it resides, to whom it may happen, and in general to decide if it be something real. Which one of our faculties then can inform us of the nature of evil? This question is not easy to solve, because there must be an analogy between the knower and the known.157 The Intelligence and the Soul may indeed cognize forms and fix their desires on them, because they themselves are forms; but evil, which consists in the absence of all goods, could not be described as a form.158 But inasmuch as there can be but one single science, to embrace even contraries, and as the evil is the contrary of the good, knowledge of the good implies that of evil. Therefore, to determine the nature of evil, we shall first have to determine that of good, for the higher things must precede the lower, as some are forms and others are not, being rather a privation of the good. Just in what sense evil is the contrary of the good must also be determined; as for instance, if the One be the first, and matter the last;159 or whether the One be form, and matter be its absence. Of this further.1143160

A. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EVIL.

A DEFINITION OF EVIL BY CONTRAST WITH THE GOOD.

2. Let us now determine the nature of the Good, at least so far as is demanded by the present discussion. The Good is the principle on which all depends, to which everything aspires, from which everything issues, and of which everything has need. As to Him, He suffices to himself, being complete, so He stands in need of nothing; He is the measure161 and the end of all things; and from Him spring intelligence, being, soul, life, and intellectual contemplation.

NATURE OF DIVINE INTELLIGENCE.

All these beautiful things exist as far as He does; but He is the one Principle that possesses supreme beauty, a principle that is superior to the things that are best. He reigns royally,162 in the intelligible world, being Intelligence itself, very differently from what we call human intelligences. The latter indeed are all occupied with propositions, discussions about the meanings of words, reasonings, examinations of the validity of conclusions, observing the concatenation of causes, being incapable of possessing truth "a priori," and though they be intelligences, being devoid of all ideas before having been instructed by experience; though they, nevertheless, were intelligences. Such is not the primary Intelligence. On the contrary, it possesses all things. Though remaining within itself, it is all things; it possesses all things, without possessing them (in the usual acceptation of that term); the things that subsist in it not differing from it, and not being separated from each other. Each one of them is all the others,163 is everything and everywhere, although not confounded with other things, and remaining distinct therefrom.1144

NATURE OF THE UNIVERSAL SOUL.

The power which participates in Intelligence (the universal Soul) does not participate in it in a manner such as to be equal to it, but only in the measure of her ability to participate therein. She is the first actualization of Intelligence, the first being that Intelligence, though remaining within itself, begets. She directs her whole activity towards supreme Intelligence, and lives exclusively thereby. Moving from outside Intelligence, and around it, according to the laws of harmony,164 the universal Soul fixes her glance upon it. By contemplation penetrating into its inmost depths, through Intelligence she sees the divinity Himself. Such is the nature of the serene and blissful existence of the divinities, a life where evil has no place.

EVIL EXISTS AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THE DERIVATIVE GOODS OF THE THIRD RANK.

If everything stopped there (and if there were nothing beyond the three principles here described), evil would not exist (and there would be nothing but goods). But there are goods of the first, second and third ranks. Though all relate to the King of all things,165 who is their author, and from whom they derive their goodness, yet the goods of the second rank relate more specially to the second principle; and to the third principle, the goods of the third rank.

NATURE OF EVIL.

3. As these are real beings, and as the first Principle is their superior, evil could not exist in such beings, and still less in Him, who is superior to them; for all these things are good. Evil then must be located in non-being, and must, so to speak, be its1145 form, referring to the things that mingle with it, or have some community with it. This "non-being," however, is not absolute non-being.166 Its difference from being resembles the difference between being and movement or rest; but only as its image, or something still more distant from reality. Within this non-being are comprised all sense-objects, and all their passive modifications; or, evil may be something still more inferior, like their accident or principle, or one of the things that contribute to its constitution. To gain some conception of evil it may be represented by the contrast between measure and incommensurability; between indetermination and its goal; between lack of form and the creating principle of form; between lack and self-sufficiency; as the perpetual unlimited and changeableness; as passivity, insatiableness, and absolute poverty.167 Those are not the mere accidents of evil, but its very essence; all of that can be discovered when any part of evil is examined. The other objects, when they participate in the evil and resemble it, become evil without however being absolute Evil.

EVIL POSSESSES A LOWER FORM OF BEING.

All these things participate in a being; they do not differ from it, they are identical with it, and constitute it. For if evil be an accident in something, then evil, though not being a real being, must be something by itself. Just as, for the good, there is the Good in itself, and the good considered as an attribute of a foreign subject, likewise, for evil, one may distinguish Evil in itself, and evil as accident.

EVIL AS INFINITE AND FORMLESSNESS IN ITSELF.

It might be objected that it is impossible to conceive of indetermination outside of the indeterminate, any1146 more than determination outside of the determinate; or measure outside of the measured. (We shall have to answer that) just as determination does not reside in the determined (or measure in the measured), so indetermination cannot exist within the indeterminate. If it can exist in something other than itself, it will be either in the indeterminate, or in the determinate. If in the indeterminate, it is evident that it itself is indeterminate, and needs no indetermination to become such. If, on the other hand (it be claimed that indetermination exist), in the determinate, (it is evident that) the determinate cannot admit indetermination. This, therefore, demands the existence of something infinite in itself, and formless in itself, which would combine all the characteristics mentioned above as the characteristics of evil.168 As to evil things, they are such because evil is mingled with them, either because they contemplate evil, or because they fulfil it.

THE PRIMARY EVIL IS EVIL IN ITSELF.

Reason, therefore, forces us to recognize as the primary evil, Evil in itself.169 (This is matter which is) the subject of figure, form, determination, and limitation; which owes its ornaments to others, which has nothing good in itself, which is but a vain image by comparison with the real beings—in other word, the essence of evil, if such an essence can exist.

MATTER AS THE SECONDARY EVIL.

4. So far as the nature of bodies participates in matter, it is an evil; yet it could not be the primary Evil, for it has a certain form. Nevertheless, this form possesses no reality, and is, besides, deprived of life (?); for bodies corrupt each other mutually. Being agitated by an unregulated movement, they hinder the1147 soul from carrying out her proper movement. They are in a perpetual flux, contrary to the immutable nature of essences; therefore, they constitute the secondary evil.

THE SOUL IS NOT EVIL BY HERSELF, BUT MAY DEGENERATE BY LOOKING AT DARKNESS.

By herself, the soul is not evil, and not every soul is evil. What soul deserves to be so considered? That of the man who, according to the expression of Plato,170 is a slave to the body. In this man it is natural for the soul to be evil. It is indeed the irrational part of the soul which harbors all that constitutes evil: indetermination, excess, and need, from which are derived intemperance, cowardliness, and all the vices of the soul, the involuntary passions, mothers of false opinions, which lead us to consider the things we seek or avoid as goods or evils. But what produces this evil? How shall we make a cause or a principle of it? To begin with, the soul is neither independent of matter, nor, by herself, perverse. By virtue of her union with the body, which is material, she is mingled with indetermination, and so, to a certain point, deprived of the form which embellishes and which supplies measure. Further, that reason should be hindered in its operations, and cannot see well, must be due to the soul's being hindered by passions, and obscured by the darkness with which matter surrounds her. The soul inclines171 towards matter. Thus the soul fixes her glance, not on what is essence, but on what is simple generation.172 Now the principle of generation is matter, whose nature is so bad that matter communicates it to the beings which, even without being united thereto, merely look at it. Being the privation of good, matter contains none of it, and assimilates to itself all that touches it. Therefore, the perfect Soul, being turned towards ever pure Intelligence,1148 repels matter, indeterminateness, the lack of measure, and in short, evil. The perfect Soul does not approach to it, does not lower her looks; she remains pure and determined by Intelligence. The soul which does not remain in this state, and which issues from herself (to unite with the body), not being determined by the First, the Perfect, is no more than an image of the perfect Soul because she lacks (good), and is filled with indetermination. The soul sees nothing but darkness. The soul already contains matter because she looks at what she cannot see; or, in the every-day expression, because the soul looks at darkness.173

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EVIL FOR THE SOUL.

5. Since the lack of good is the cause that the soul looks at darkness, and mingles therewith, the lack of good and darkness is primary Evil for the soul. The secondary evil will be the darkness, and the nature of evil, considered not in matter, but before matter. Evil consists not in the lack of any particular thing, but of everything in general. Nothing is evil merely because it lacks a little of being good; its nature might still be perfect. But what, like matter, lacks good entirely, is essentially evil, and possesses nothing good? Nature, indeed, does not possess essence, or it would participate in the good; only by verbal similarity can we say that matter "is," while we can truly say that matter "is" absolute "nonentity." A mere lack (of good) therefore, may be characterized as not being good; but complete lack is evil; while a lack of medium intensity consists in the possibility of falling into evil, and is already an evil. Evil, therefore, is not any particular evil, as injustice, or any special vice; evil is that which is not yet anything of that, being nothing definite. Injustice and the other vices must be considered as kinds of evil, distinguished from each other by mere accidents;1149 as for instance, what occurs by malice. Besides, the different kinds of evil differ among each other either by the matter in which evil resides, or by the parts of the soul to which it refers, as sight, desire, and passion.

RELATION BETWEEN EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL EVIL.

If we grant the existence of evils external to the soul, we shall be forced to decide about their relation to sickness, ugliness, or poverty. Sickness has been explained as a lack or excess of material bodies which fail to support order or measure. The cause of ugliness, also, has been given as deficient adjustment of matter to form. Poverty has been described as the need or lack of objects necessary to life as a result of our union with matter, whose nature is (the Heraclitian and Stoic) "indigence." From such definitions it would follow that we are not the principle of evil, and are not evil in ourselves, for these evils existed before us. Only in spite of themselves would men yield to vice. The evils of the soul are avoidable, but not all men possess the necessary firmness. Evil, therefore, is caused by the presence of matter in sense-objects, and is not identical with the wickedness of men. For wickedness does not exist in all men; some triumph over wickedness, while they who do not even need to triumph over it, are still better. In all cases men triumph over evil by those of their faculties that are not engaged in matter.

IN WHAT SENSE EVILS ARE UNIVERSAL AND UNAVOIDABLE.

6. Let us examine the significance of the doctrine174 that evils cannot be destroyed, that they are necessary,1150 that they do not exist among the divinities, but that they ever besiege our mortal nature, and the place in which we dwell.175 Surely heaven is free from all evil because it moves eternally with regularity, in perfect order; because in the stars is neither injustice nor any other kind of evil, because they do not conflict with each other in their courses; and because their revolutions are presided over by the most beautiful harmony.164 On the contrary, the earth reveals injustice and disorder, (chiefly) because our nature is mortal, and we dwell in a lower place. But when Plato,176 says, that we must flee from here below, he does not mean that we should leave the earth, but, while remaining therein, practice justice, piety, and wisdom. It is wickedness that must be fled from, because wickedness and its consequences are the evil of man.

EVIL IS NOT GOOD'S QUALITATIVE, BUT ONLY FIGURATIVE ANTAGONIST.

When176 (Theodor) tells (Socrates) that evils would be annihilated if men practised (Socrates') teachings, the latter answers that that is impossible, for evil is necessary even if only as the contrary of good. But how then can wickedness, which is the evil of man, be the contrary of good? Because it is the contrary of virtue. Now virtue, without being Good in itself, is still a good, a good which makes us dominate matter. But how can Good in itself, which is not a quality, have a contrary? Besides, why need the existence of one thing imply its contrary? Though we may grant that there is a possibility of the existence of the contrary of some things—as for instance, that a man in good health might become sick—there is no such necessity. Nor does Plato assert that the existence of each thing of this kind necessarily implies that of its contrary; he makes this statement exclusively of the Good. But1151 how can there be a contrary to good, if the good be "being," let alone "above being"?177 Evidently, in reference to particular beings, there can be nothing contrary to "being." This is proved by induction; but the proposition has not been demonstrated as regards universal Being. What then is the contrary of universal Being, and first principles in general? The contrary of "being" must be nonentity; the contrary of the nature of the Good is the nature and principle of Evil. These two natures are indeed respectively the principles of goods and of evils. All their elements are mutually opposed, so that both these natures, considered in their totality, are still more opposed than the other contraries. The latter, indeed, belong to the same form, to the same kind, and they have something in common in whatever subjects they may be. As to the Contraries that are essentially distinguished from each other, whose nature is constituted of elements opposed to the constitutive elements of the other, those Contraries are absolutely opposed to each other, since the connotation of that word implies things as opposite to each other as possible. Measure, determination, and the other characteristics of the divine nature178 are the opposites of incommensurability, indefiniteness, and the other contrary things that constitute the nature of evil. Each one of these wholes, therefore, is the contrary of the other. The being of the one is that which is essentially and absolutely false; that of the other is genuine Being; the falseness of the one is, therefore, the contrary of the truth of the other. Likewise what pertains to the being of the one is the contrary of what belongs to the being of the other. We also see that it is not always true to say that there is no contrary to "being," for we acknowledge that water and fire are contraries, even if they did not contain the common element of matter, of which heat and cold, humidity and dryness, are accidents. If they existed alone by themselves, if their1152 being were complete without any common subject, there would still be an opposition, and an opposition of "being." Therefore the things that are completely separate, which have nothing in common, which are as distant as possible, are by nature contrary. This is not an opposition of quality, nor of any kinds of beings; it is an opposition resulting from extreme distance, and from being composed of contraries, thereby communicating this characteristic to their elements.

GOOD IMPLIES EVIL BECAUSE MATTER IS NECESSARY TO THE WORLD.

7. Why is the existence of both good and evil necessary? Because matter is necessary to the existence of the world. The latter is necessarily composed of contraries, and, consequently, it could not exist without matter. In this case the nature of this world is a mixture of intelligence and necessity.179 What it receives from divinity are goods; its evils derive from the primordial nature,180 the term used (by Plato) to designate matter as a simple substance yet unadorned by a divinity. But what does he mean by "mortal nature?" When he says that "evils besiege this region here below," he means the universe, as appears from the following quotations181: "Since you are born, you are not immortal, but by my help you shall not perish." In this case it is right to say that evils cannot be annihilated. How then can one flee from them?182 Not by changing one's locality, (as Plato) says, but by acquiring virtue, and by separating from the body, which, simultaneously, is separation from matter; for being attached to the body is also attachment to matter. It is in the same sense that (Plato) explains being separated from the body, or not being separated from it. By dwelling with the divinities he means being united to the intelligible objects; for it is in them that inheres immortality.

1153

EXISTENCE OF EVIL IS NECESSARY AS LAST MATERIAL DEGREE OF BEING.

Here follows still another demonstration of the necessity of evil. Since good does not remain alone, evil must necessarily exist by issuing from the good.183 We might express this differently, as the degradation and exhaustion (of the divine power, which, in the whole hierarchic series of successive emanations weakens from degree to degree). There must, therefore, be a last degree of being, beyond which nothing further can be begotten, and that is evil. Just as the existence of something after a first (Good) is necessary, so must also a last degree (of being) be necessary. Now the last degree is matter, and contains nothing more of the First; (and, as matter and evil are identical,) the existence of evil is necessary.

MATTER IS CAUSE OF EVIL, EVEN IF CORPOREAL.

8. It may still be objected that it is not matter that makes us wicked; for it is not matter that produces ignorance and perverted appetites. If, indeed, these appetites mislead us to evil as a result of the perversity of the body, we must seek its cause, not in matter, but in form (in the qualities of the bodies). These, for instance, are heat, cold, bitterness, pungency, and the other qualities of the bodily secretions; or, the atonic condition or inflammation of certain organs; or, certain dispositions which produce the difference of appetites; and, if you please, false opinions. Evil, therefore, is form rather than matter. Even under this (mistaken) hypothesis we are none the less driven to acknowledge that matter is the evil. A quality does not always produce the same results within or outside of matter; thus the form of the axe without iron does not cut. The1154 forms that inhere in matter are not always what they would be if they were outside of it. The ("seminal) reasons" when inhering in matter are by it corrupted and filled with its nature. As fire, when separate from matter, does not burn; so form, when remaining by itself, effects what it would if it were in matter. Matter dominates any principle that appears within it, alters it, and corrupts it by imparting thereto its own nature, which is contrary to the Good. It does not indeed substitute cold for heat, but it adds to the form—as, for instance, to the form of fire—its formless substance; to figure adding its shapelessness; to measure, its excess and lack, proceeding thus until it has degraded things, transubstantiating them into its own nature. That is the reason that, in the nutrition of animals, what has been ingested does not remain what it was before. The foods that enter into the body of a dog, for instance, are by assimilation transformed into blood and canine secretions, and, in general, are transformed according to the animal that receives them. Thus even under the hypothesis that evils are referred to the body, matter is the cause of evils.

MASTERY OF THESE CORPOREAL DISPOSITIONS IS NOT EASY.

It may be objected that one ought to master these dispositions of the body. But the principle that could triumph over them is pure only if it flee from here below. The appetites which exercise the greatest force come from a certain complexion of the body, and differ according to its nature. Consequently, it is not easy to master them. There are men who have no judgment, because they are cold and heavy on account of their bad constitution. On the contrary, there are others who, because of their temperament, are light and inconstant. This is proved by the difference of our own1155 successive dispositions. When we are gorged, we have appetites and thoughts that differ from those we experience when starved; and our dispositions vary even according to the degrees of satiety.

DEFINITION OF PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EVIL.

In short, the primary Evil is that which by itself lacks measure. The secondary evil is that which accidentally becomes formless, either by assimilation or participation. In the front rank is the darkness; in the second that which has become obscured. Thus vice, being in the soul the result of ignorance and formlessness, is of secondary rank. It is not absolute Evil, because, on its side, virtue is not absolute Good; it is good only by its assimilation and participation with the Good.

B. BY WHAT PART OF OUR NATURE WE COME TO KNOW EVIL.

HOW THE SOUL COMES TO KNOW VICE.184

9. How do we get to know vice and virtue? As to virtue, we know it by the very intelligence and by wisdom; for wisdom knows itself. But how can we know vice? Just as we observe that an object is not in itself straight, by applying a rule, so we discern vice by this characteristic, that it does not comport itself with virtue. But do we, or do we not have direct intuition thereof? We do not have the intuition of absolute vice, because it is indeterminate. We know it, therefore, by a kind of abstraction, observing that virtue is entirely lacking. We cognize relative vice by noticing that it lacks some part of virtue. We see a part of virtue, and, by this part, judging what is lacking in order completely to constitute the form (of1156 virtue), we call vice what is lacking to it; defining as the indeterminate (evil) what is deprived of virtue. Similarly with matter. If, for instance, we notice a figure that is ugly because its ("seminal) reason," being unable to dominate matter, has been unable to hide its deformity, we notice ugliness by what is lacking to form.

HOW TO SEE MATTER: BY DIALECTIC ABSTRACTION.

But how do we know that which is absolutely formless (matter)? We make abstraction of all kinds of form, and what remains we call matter. We allow ourselves to be penetrated by a kind of shapelessness by the mere fact that we make abstraction of all shape in order to be able to represent matter (by a "bastard reasoning").185 Consequently, intelligence becomes altered, and ceases to be genuine intelligence when it dares in this way to look at what does not belong to its domain.186 It resembles the eye, which withdraws from light to see darkness, and which on that very account does not see. Thus, in not seeing, the eye sees darkness so far as it is naturally capable of seeing it. Thus intelligence which hides light within itself, and which, so to speak, issues from itself, by advancing towards things alien to its nature, without bringing along its own light, places itself in a state contrary to its being to cognize a nature contrary to its own.165 But enough of this.

MATTER IS BOTH WITHOUT QUALITIES AND EVIL.

10. It may well be asked (by Stoics) how matter can be evil, as it is without quality?187 That matter possesses no qualities can be said in the sense that by itself it has none of the qualities it is to receive, or to which matter is to serve as substrate; but cannot be1157 said in the sense that it will possess no nature. Now, if it have a nature, what hinders this nature from being bad, without this being bad being a quality? Nothing indeed is a quality but what serves to qualify something different from itself; a quality is, therefore, an accident; a quality is that which can be mentioned as the attribute of a subject other than itself.188 But matter is not the attribute of something alien; it is the subject to which accidents are related. Therefore, since every quality is an accident, matter, whose nature is not to be an accident, is without quality.189 If, besides, quality (taken in general), itself be without quality, how could one say of matter, so far as it has not yet received any quality, that it is in some manner qualified? It is, therefore, possible to assert of matter that, it both has no quality, and yet is evil. Matter is not evil because it has a quality, but just because it has none. If, indeed, matter possessed a form, it might indeed be bad; but it would not be a nature contrary to all form.

MATTER AS DEPRIVATION IS STILL WITHOUT QUALITIES.

11. It may be further objected that nature, independent of all form, is deprivation. Now deprivation is always the attribute of some hypostatic substance, instead of itself being substance. If then evil consist in privation, it is the attribute of the substrate deprived of form; and on that account it could not exist by itself. If it be in the soul that we consider evil, privation in the soul will constitute vice and wickedness, and there will be no need to have recourse to anything external to explain it.

1158

MATTER MAY EXIST AND YET BE EVIL.

Elsewhere190 it is objected that matter does not exist; here the attempt is to show that matter is not evil in so far as it exists. (If this were the case), we should not seek the origin of evil outside of the soul, but it would be located within the soul herself; there evil consists in the absence of good. But, evidently, the soul would have nothing good on the hypothesis that privation of form is an accident of the being, which desires to receive form; that, consequently, the privation of good is an accident of the soul; and that the latter produces within herself wickedness by her ("seminal) reason." Another result would be that the soul would have no life, and be inanimate; which would lead to the absurdity that the soul is no soul.

THE SOUL CANNOT POSSESS EVIL WITHIN HERSELF.

We are thus forced to assert, that the soul possesses life by virtue of her ("seminal) reason," so that she does not, by herself, possess privation of good. Then she must from intelligence derive a trace of good, and have the form of good. The soul, therefore, cannot by herself be evil. Consequently, she is not the first Evil, nor does she contain it as an accident, since she is not absolutely deprived of good.

RELATIVE PRIVATION IS IMPOSSIBLE.

12. To the objection that in the soul wickedness and evil are not an absolute privation, but only a relative privation of good, it may be answered that in this case, if the soul simultaneously, contain possession and privation of the good, she will have possessed a feeling mingled of good and evil, and not of unmingled evil. We will still not have found the first evil, the absolute1159 Evil. The good of the soul will reside in her essence (being); evil will only be an accident thereof.

EVIL AS AN OBSTACLE TO THE SOUL.

13. Another hypothesis is that evil owes its character only to its being an obstacle for the soul, as certain objects are bad for the eye, because they hinder it from seeing. In this case, the evil of the soul would be the cause that produces the evil, and it would produce it without being absolute Evil. If, then, vice be an obstacle for the soul, it will not be absolute Evil, but the cause of evil, as virtue is not the good, and only contributes to acquiring it. If virtue be not good, and vice be not evil, the result is that since virtue is neither absolute beauty nor goodness, vice is neither absolute ugliness nor evil. We hold that virtue is neither absolute beauty, nor absolute goodness, because above and before it is absolute Beauty and Goodness. Only because the soul participates in these, is virtue or beauty considered a good. Now as the soul, by rising above virtue, meets absolute Beauty and Goodness, thus in descending below wickedness the soul discovers absolute Evil. To arrive at the intuition of evil the soul, therefore, starts from wickedness, if indeed an intuition of evil be at all possible. Finally, when the soul descends, she participates in evil. She rushes completely into the region of diversity,191 and, plunging downwards she falls into a murky mire. If she fell into absolute wickedness, her characteristic would no longer be wickedness, and she would exchange it for a still lower nature. Even though mingled with a contrary nature, wickedness, indeed, still retains something human. The vicious man, therefore, dies so far as a soul can die. Now when, in connection with the soul, we speak of dying, we mean that while she is engaged in the body, she penetrates (further) into matter, and1160 becomes saturated with it. Then, when the soul has left the body, she once more falls into the same mud until she have managed to return into the intelligible world, and weaned her glance from this mire. So long as she remains therein, she may be said to have descended into hell, and to be slumbering there.192

WEAKNESS OF THE SOUL AS AN EXPLANATION OF EVIL.

14. Wickedness is by some explained as weakness of the soul, because the wicked soul is impressionable, mobile, easy to lead to evil, disposed to listen to her passions, and equally likely to become angry, and to be reconciled; she yields inconsiderately to vain ideas, like the weakest works of art and of nature, which are easily destroyed by winds and storms. This theory (is attractive, but implies a totally new conception, that of "weakness" of soul, and it would have) to explain this "weakness," and whence it is derived; for weakness in a soul is very different from weakness in a body, but just as in the body weakness consists in inability to fulfil a function, in being too impressionable, the same fault in the soul might, by analogy, be called by the same name, unless matter be equally the cause of both weaknesses. Reason, however, will have to explore the problem further, and seek the cause of the soul-fault here called weakness.

WEAKNESS OF THE SOUL OCCURS CHIEFLY IN SOULS FALLEN INTO MATTER.

In the soul weakness does not derive from an excess of density or rarefaction of leanness or stoutness, nor of any sickness such as fever. It must be met in souls which are either entirely separated from matter, or in those joined to matter, or in both simultaneously. Now,1161 as it does not occur in souls separated from matter, which are entirely pure, and "winged,"193 and which, as perfect, carry out their functions without any obstacle; it remains, that this weakness occurs in fallen souls, which are neither pure nor purified. For them weakness consists not in the privation of anything, but in the presence of something alien, just as, for instance, weakness of the body consists in the presence of slime or bile. We shall, therefore, be able to understand clearly the weakness of the soul by ferreting out the cause of the "fall" of the soul.

THE FALL OF THE SOUL AS DESCENT INTO MATTER.

Just as much as the soul, matter is included within the order of beings. For both, so to speak, there is but a single locality; for it would be an error to imagine two different localities, one for matter, and the other for the soul; such as, for instance, earth might be for matter, and air for the soul. The expression that "soul occupies a locality different from matter" means only that the soul is not in matter; that is, that the soul is not united to matter; that the soul does not together with matter constitute something unitary; and that for the soul matter is not a substrate that could contain the soul. That is how the soul is separated from matter. But the soul possesses several powers, since she contains the principle (intelligence), the medium (the discursive reason), and the goal (the power of sensation) (united to the generative and growing powers). Now, just like the beggar who presents himself at the door of the banquet-hall, and with importunity asks to be admitted,194 matter tries to penetrate into the place occupied by the soul. But every place is sacred, because nothing in it is deprived of the presence of the soul. Matter, on exposing itself to its rays is illuminated by it, but it cannot harbor the principle that illuminates1162 her (the soul). The latter indeed, does not sustain matter,195 although she be present, and does not even see it, because it is evil. Matter obscures, weakens the light that shines down upon her, by mingling its darkness with her. To the soul, matter affords the opportunity of producing generation, by clearing free access towards matter; for if matter were not present, the soul would not approach it. The fall of the soul is, therefore, a descent into matter; hence comes her "weakness," which means, that not all of the soul's faculties are exercised; because matter hinders their action, intruding on the place occupied by the soul and forcing her, so to speak, to retrench. Until the soul can manage to accomplish her return into the intelligible world, matter degrades what it has succeeded in abstracting from the soul. For the soul, therefore, matter is a cause of weakness and vice. Therefore, by herself, the soul is primitively evil, and is the first evil. By its presence, matter is the cause of the soul's exerting her generative powers, and being thus led to suffering; it is matter that causes the soul to enter into dealings with matter, and thus to become evil. The soul, indeed, would never have approached matter unless the latter's presence had not afforded the soul an opportunity to produce generation.

NO MORE THAN THE EXISTENCE OF THE GOOD CAN THAT OF MATTER BE DENIED.

15. Those who claim that matter does not exist, will have to be referred to our extended discussion196 where we have demonstrated the necessity of its hypostatic existence. Those who would assert that evil does not belong among beings would, if logical, thereby also deny the existence of the good, and of anything that was desirable; thereby annihilating desire, as well as aversion, and even thought; for everybody shares desire for the good, and aversion for the evil. Thought1163 and knowledge, simultaneously, apply to good and evil; thought itself is a good.

EXPLANATION OF THE EVIL OF THE SOUL.

We must, therefore, acknowledge the existence first of Good, unmixed, and then the nature mingled of good and evil; but what most participates in evil thereby trends towards absolute Evil; and what participates in it to a less degree thereby trends towards good. For what is evil to soul? It is being in contact with inferior nature; otherwise the soul would not have any appetite, pain, or fear. Indeed fear is felt by us only for the composite (of soul and body), fearing its dissolution, which thus is the cause of our pains and sufferings. The end of every appetite is to put aside what troubles it, or to forestall what might do so. As to sense-representations (fancy197), it is the impression made by an exterior object on the irrational part of the soul, a part which can receive this impression only because it is not indivisible. False opinion rises within the soul because it is no longer within truth, and this occurs because the soul is no longer pure. On the contrary, the desire of the intelligible leads the soul to unite intimately with intelligence, as she should, and there remain solidly entrenched, without declining towards anything inferior. It is only because of the nature and power of the Good that evil does not remain pure Evil. (Matter, which is synonymous with evil) is like a captive which beauty covers with golden chains, so that the divinities might not see its nakedness, and that men might not be intruded on by it; or that men, if they must see it, shall be reminded of beauty on observing an even weakened image thereof.

 

REFERENCE

Plotinos. Complete Works. Trans. by Kenneth S. Guthrie. 4 vols. Comparative Literature Press, 1918. Project Gutenberg.

The Fifth Decad

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Cantos LII - LXXI

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