I just took notes on something about Plotinus. I’m going to summarize it here, because that helps me remember what I read. I do not believe any of this, I am just summarizing Plotinus for my own benefit. I’ll add my own comments at the end.
In Plotinus’ system, everything emanates necessarily from the Divine and strives to return there. The Divinity is a graded Triad consisting of three hypostases:
- The One,
- The Divine Mind, and
- The All-Soul.
I’ll go over each of these in turn.
The One is unknowable, because it transcends the knowable. It negates all quality, including qualities like goodness and existence. We can still refer to it as “the Good,” in the sense that it is the goal everything strives toward. We can also refer to it as “existing” if we keep in mind that this only means it does not have the quality of nonexistence.
The One is not Creator or the First Cause – the Creator falls lower in the Divine hierarchy. It has Supra-Existence, and acts in an eternal Super-Act. Nothing could exist without it. Language drives us to speak of it as a cause, meaning its perfection implies an act of producing something else. The most perfect thing is a mind, so it produces the Divine Mind.
The Divine Mind or Intellectual-Principle, unlike the One, is something that existence may be affirmed of. It is an Intelligence, and a mediation to us of the One. It is the beginning of plurality and complexity, and it contains the Divine Thoughts (these are Plato’s Forms – Plotinus is heavily influenced by Plato). The Divine Ideas are the archetypes of everything that exists in the lower spheres.
The Divine Mind contains all particular minds, which are “shadows” of the Divine Mind. It cannot be unproductive, because its Act of Thought comes with an Act of Act. Therefore, the Divine Thinking creates the All-Soul.
The All-Soul is an eternal emanation of the the Divine Mind. The Divine Mind has two Acts: it contemplates the One, and it generates that which is lower in the hierarchy. Likewise, the All-Soul has two Acts: It contemplates the Divine Mind, and it generates the lower realms upon the model of the Divine Ideas. We can verbally partition these two aspects or acts of the All-Soul by referring to them as the Leading Principle of the Soul and the Lower Soul, respectively.
The All-Soul is the Logos or ordering principle of the universe, the mobile cause of movement and form, and the Creator of everything lower. As its name suggests, it includes all souls.
This is very weird stuff. My understanding is that Plotinus claimed to know all of this through mystical experience, which explains the apparent arbitrariness of his worldview. Nevertheless, he does offer arguments for some aspects of it, and I may cover those arguments later.