LCL 440: xvi-xvii
great blank behind the universe in attaining to which the human personality disintegrates into unconscious nothingness, but as a positive reality of infinite power and content and superabundant excellence. The extreme negativity—partly inherited from the school-tradition—of the language which Plotinus uses about Him1 is designed either to stress the inadequacy of all our ways of thinking and speaking about Him or to make clear the implications of saying that He is absolutely One and Infinite and the source of all defined and limited realities. Building on Plato’s remark in Book VI of the Republic, Plotinus insists that the Good is “beyond being,” that He cannot properly be even said to exist—surely the extreme of negation. But it is perfectly clear from all that Plotinus says about Him, in the very passages where His existence is denied, that He is existent in some sense, and the supreme Existence. What Plotinus is saying is that the unity of the Good is so absolute that no predicates at all can be applied to Him, not even that of existence; and that as the Source of being to all things He is not a thing Himself. Again, Plotinus insists that the One does not think, because thought for him always implies a certain duality of thinking and its object, and it is this that he is concerned to exclude in speaking of the One. But he is anxious to make clear that this does not mean that the life of the One is mere unconsciousness, to show
- 1Though the terms for One and Good are both neuter in Greek, Plotinus when speaking about his First Principle, even in passages where these neuter terms are used, passes over quite naturally from neuter to masculine pronouns and adjectives. I have followed him in this as closely as possible in my translation.
that He is more, not less, than Mind at the highest level at which we can conceive it, and so in some passages he attributes to the One a “super-intellection,” a simple self-intuition, an immediate self-consciousness higher than the thought of the Divine Intellect.1 And when he calls the One “formless” he does so because He is infinite, without limits, and because, precisely as One (here Plotinus follows the school-tradition very closely), He is the principle of form, number, measure, order, and limit; and a source or principle for Plotinus is always other and more than that which it produces.
Plotinus, by his use of negative language, stresses the transcendence of the One to an extreme degree. But he is very careful to exclude all ideas of a quasi-spatial sort about this transcendence. The One is not a God “outside” the world. Nor is He remote from us, but intimately present in the centre of our souls; or rather we are in Him, for Plotinus prefers to speak of the lower as in the higher, rather than the other way round; body is in soul, and soul in Intellect, and Intellect in the One (he is quite aware that whichever way we put it we are using an inadequate spatial metaphor). The hierarchical order of levels of being does not imply the remoteness of the One, because they are not spatially separate or cut off from each other; they are really distinct, but all are present together everywhere. And just because the One is not any particular thing He is present to all things according to their capacity to receive Him.
From the One proceeds the first great derived reality, Intellect, the Divine Mind which is also the