Plotinus Ennead VI.4 & VI.5: On the Presence of Being, One and the Same, Everywhere as a Whole. Translated, with Introduction and Commentary by Eyjόlfur K. Emilsson and Steven K. Strange.
Las Vegas/Zurich/Athens, Parmenides Publishing
2014, Pp. 295, $37.00.
Steven Strange did a first translation of this extremely rich portion of the Enneads before his untimely death, which Eyjόlfur Emilsson - benefiting from Christian Tornau’s German commentary on the same section – was able to bring to completion. As a platform for Plotinus’ view of philosophy as a return back up the scale of being towards union with the transcendent One, this shows the strengths, but also the weakness offered by Plotinus’ attempted systematization of Greek philosophy coming to him primarily from the Platonic tradition. The weakness is that true being cannot change, and in particular that the higher cannot incline or ‘stoop’ towards the lower. Love must be proportional to its object, and each level of being is appropriately taken up with itself, or the stages of being above itself, in its attempted return to the One. It is rather up to the lower realm to ‘convert’ and re-direct its vision from the still lower realm of matter where they sought empire and glory, towards the upper realm which must, to stay perfect, remain indifferent towards them. Since in knowing, knower and object known become one, this is enough to pull the lower back whence it has fallen. Looking ‘down’ is always a sin, motivated by hybris, envy, and a sense of lack –never by compassion. This doctrine, however, leaves a hole in Plotinus’ explanatory structure, as in previous Greek philosophy.
Knowledge of itself is the explanatory engine for creation in the descending cascade of the emanation, but as a ‘second’ activity, and unintended side-effect, of each level’s self- contemplation; in no sense is it an initiative of the higher towards the lower. The emanated spume immediately turns back towards its source, receives its higher form insofar as it is able, and consolidates as a new, lower hypostasis which in turn knows itself and inadvertently generates a still lower level, all the way down to inert, lifeless, dispersed matter. World soul links the higher ‘intelligible’ realm to the lower ‘sensible’ realm; besides animating the latter, it also provides unity and providence (because body is ‘in’ soul, rather than soul ‘in’ body). It thus serves as a counter-force to the tendency towards dispersion and lack of being, and excites individuals to search for yet higher forms of unity and being. This section shows how the soul stays free from the localization and divisibility that characterize body; soul makes the ‘intelligible’ realm present whole and entire at every point in the universe, whence the latter aid to uplift, contemplation, rest and eventual union with the One is available to every individual, but unfortunately can be received only according to the particular nature of these lower creatures. But where did these differences among lower beings come from? This Plotinus cannot answer – although the fate of each and every lower being hangs in the balance. It is a question of destiny, free will, favourable dispositions or their absence, or perhaps predestination? Is it chance or luck – but more basically, without a reason for it, how can there be any differences at all? As the lacunae stand out more glaringly, we begin to notice that Plotinus’ ‘soul-scape’ is good as far as it goes, but stands in need of a doctrine of ‘original sin’ as well as of divine initiative - in both creation and salvation - to give us a complete or adequate picture.