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Plotinus's metaphysics: emanation or creation?

ONE FREQUENTLY READS CASUAL REFERENCES to Neo-Platonic metaphysics as emanationist. It is somewhat less common to find analyses of the term "emanation" so used. In this paper I shall be concerned solely with Plotinus. I hereby set aside all questions regarding any common denominator one might suppose between Plotinus and, say, Proclus.

There are several texts in the Enneads which employ noun and verb forms of [unkeyable] to describe the activity of the One in relation to complex entities. For example,

For the soul now knows that these things must be, but longs to answer the question repeatedly discussed also by the ancient philosophers, how from the One, if it is such as we say it is, anything else, whether a multiplicity or a dyad or a number, came into existence, and why it did not on the contrary remain by itself, but such a great multiplicity flowed [unkeyable] from it as that which is seen to exist in beings, but which we think it right to refer back to the One. (

This, we may say, is the first act of generation: the One, perfect because it seeks nothing, has nothing, and needs nothing, overflows [[unkeyable]], as it were, and its superabundance makes something other than itself. (

The first remark I wish to make about these passages is the obvious one that to think of emanating or flowing in contrast to creating is to make a sort of category mistake. For metaphors are not properly contrasted with technical terminology.(2) If one wants convincing on this point, we need only recall that Aquinas sometimes uses the same metaphor in behalf of an explanation of creation, not in contrast to it.(3) Conceding this, there is still the reasonable suspicion that some fundamental difference remains between Plotinus' metaphysics and a creation metaphysics such as that of Aquinas. I conjecture that the reason for this suspicion is that Plotinus is supposed to be the faithful inheritor of the Parmenidean legacy which lays down the axiom that ex nihilo nihil fit. Aquinas, however, understands creation as ex nihilo. So it would seem just incorrect to construe the metaphors of emanation in a manner which would make Plotinus contradict that axiom.

This reasoning seems less cogent when we begin to explicate the term ex nihilo; for one thing Aquinas does not mean by creatio ex nihilo is temporal origin. That God is the creator of all Aquinas believes he can demonstrate; that the world did not always exist is held by faith alone.(4) Thus, the philosophical core of the notion of creation is casual dependence of being: Deus est causa universalis totius esse. The proper effect of God's casual activity is the being of everything.(5) Let us compare this with a text of Plotinus:

But how is that One the principle of all things? Is it because as principle it keeps them in being, making each one of them to be? Yes, and because it caused them to be. (

A good question for proponents of emanationism in Plotinus to ask themselves at this point is how this passage and similar ones express a noncreationist metaphysics.

One proposal sometimes made in order to differentiate a non-creationist from a creationist metaphysics is that in the former creatures exist of necessity whereas in the latter they do not. Indeed, Plotinus does say that what exists does so necessarily and not as a result of the discursive reasoning [unkeyable] of the [unkeyable] of all.(7) By contrast, Aquinas says in many places that Deus produxit creaturas, non ex necessitate, sed per intellectum et voluntatem.(8) Of course, Aquinas also says that God's knowledge is not discursive, and one of the reasons for this is that discursive knowing implies imperfection.(9) But Plotinus, too, says that the One is perfect and that it acts according to its will [unkeyable].(10) So, whereas Aquinas contrasts the alternatives of acting by necessity and acting by will (and intellect), Plotinus contrasts acting by necessity and acting on the basis of discursive reasoning. This should lead us to conclude that the "necessity" as attributed to creation by Plotinus and "necessity" as denied of God's acting by Aquinas do not mean the same thing.

In fact, there are at least two reasons why the necessary existence of things does not entail that the One acts by necessity. First, the term [unkeyable] in Plotinus implies constraint from outside. But there is nothing outside the One and it is constrained by nothing. Second, the putative necessity by which the One acts cannot be really distinct from the One or indeed from its will, for this would negate its simplicity. So to say that the One acts by necessity could mean nothing else but that it acts according to its will. Another, albeit esoteric, facet of this second reason is that if the One acted by a necessity really distinct from it, then this would set up, counter to Plotinus's express argument, a real relation between the One and what it produces.(11) This would be so because if there is something really distinct from the One, then the One is limited in relation to it; and what prevents the One from being really related to anything, is that it is unqualifiedly unlimited. Thus, it seems that if "necessity" is understood as constraint ab extra, then the One does not act of necessity. Since Aquinas's God does not act by this kind of necessity either, we can hardly use it to contrast Plotinus's metaphysics with Thomistic creation metaphysics.

It is sometimes supposed that what distinguishes an emanationist metaphysics is an account of production by the first principle whereby this principle is emptied of all that is in it.(12) Alternatively, one may think of Russian dolls or a telescoped antenna where what is somehow contained within the whole is separated out from it. There are certainly many texts in which Plotinus says that everything is contained within the One.(13) But none of these texts, or indeed no other that I know of, claims that anything is ever "outside" of the One or separated off from it. Thus, the relation between the One and everything else cannot be construed according to the above metaphors, where what is suggested is a two-phase process: first, everything is in the One, and second, everything is not in the One, but emptied out of or unfolded from it.(14)

A somewhat more serious and complex suggestion for characterizing an emanationist metaphysics is to construe its account of causal dependence according to the model of a per accidens series. In a per accidens causal series, as opposed to a per se causal series, A is the cause of B, B is the cause of C, and so on. In a per se causal series, A would be the cause of C, and B would be an instrument of A's causal activity. For example, the tree of Jesse is a per accidens causal series: Jesse begat David who begat Solomon and so on. A man causing a traffic accident with his car is an example of a per se causally ordered series. Applying this distinction to Plotinus's claims about the causal activity of the One, we might interpret him to mean that the causality is according to a per accidens ordered series. Thus, the One would cause [unkeyable] to be, [unkeyable] would cause soul to be, and soul would presumably cause nature to be.(15)

We need to distinguish two different questions here. The first question is whether Plotinus's account of metaphysical causality is per accidens or per se, assuming that these alternatives are exhaustive. The second question is whether the selected alternative does indeed distinguish an emanationist from a creationist metaphysics. Regarding this question, Aquinas is clear that God's creative activity does not operate instrumentally.(16) So, were we to opt for a per accidens causal series, we should not therefore conclude that a per se ordered series is a differentia of a creation metaphysics. Let us turn now to the evidence pertaining to an answer to the first question.

The main text supporting the interpretation of metaphysical causality as a per accidens ordered series is a continuation of the text cited above in which the term "emanating" appears:

This [vous], when it has come into being, turns back upon the One and is filled, and becomes Intellect by looking towards it. Its halt and turning towards the One constitutes being, its gaze upon the One, Intellect. Since it halts and turns towards the One that it may see, it becomes at once Intellect and being. Resembling the One thus, Intellect produces in the same way, pouring forth a multiple power--this is a likeness of it--just as that which was before it poured it forth. This activity springing from the substance of Intellect is Soul, which comes into be this while Intellect abides uncharged: for Intellect too comes into being while that which is before it abides unchanged. But Soul does not abide unchanged when it produces: it is moved and so brings forth an image. (

If we employ the concept of a per accidens ordered causal series to interpret this passage, the causal activity of the One is limited to the production of vous. We could still say that without this first production nothing else would be produced, but the existence of the One would no longer be a necessary condition for the production of soul anymore than the existence of the grandfather is a necessary condition for the production of the grandson. Even if we insist that the One exists necessarily, this existence is irrelevant to the causality of the being of soul, which, in the putative per accidens series, is attributed solely to vous.

The obvious impediments to the endorsement of this interpretation are the many texts where Plotinus says that the One preserves all things in being. It might be thought that the interpretation can be retained if this preservation is construed as a counterfactual.(18) Thus, the One preserves everything in being means that if per impossibile the One were to cease existing, then everything else would cease existing as well. We can imagine if we like an Atlas holding the earth aloft, an Atlas who is no part of earthly production, but who could not simply disappear without his burden crashing down. The problem with this construal is that it imports an unacceptable complexity into the One's causal activity. It presumes that the One is the cause of the being of vous and then operates differently in conserving the being of vous and everything else. However the activity of the One may be understood, we cannot accept an interpretation which has it do two different kinds of things. How could we make a distinction within the One to account for this? So, either the One is the cause of the being of vous and everything else or it is the cause of neither. But the latter alternative is excluded by the texts.

Perhaps this line of argument will seem problematic. There is, however, another argument against the per accidens interpretation which removes the possibility of construing preserving in being differently from causing being. The [unkeyable] of vous is the ultimate explanation or cause of thinking, life, and [unkeyable].(19) It is sufficient at this point to note that it is obviously not the [unkeyable] of that which it receives from the One, the [unkeyable] above it. Now if the One is the [unkeyable] of the being or existence of vous, then in no case is vous the [unkeyable] of the being or existence of anything else. If soul, for example, receives not only life, thinking, and [unkeyable] from vous but existence as well, then vous performs for soul the identical function that the One performs for vous. Then the uniqueness of the [unkeyable] of being, to say nothing of its primacy, would be destroyed. I take it that any interpretation that leads to this result is to be firmly rejected.(20)

If, owing to these objections against an interpretation of the metaphysical causality in Plotinus in terms of a per accidens series, we opt for a per se ordered series, then the One is the sole cause of the being of everything else and the role of the other principles is at most instrumental. One of the central texts relevant to assessing this proposal is also perhaps one of the texts most frequently thought of as somehow expressing emanation:

All things which exist, as long as they remain in being, necessarily produce from their own substances [[unkeyable]], in dependence on their present power, a surrounding reality [[unkeyable]] directed to what is outside them, a kind of image of the archetypes from which it was produced: fire produces the heat which comes from it; snow does not only keep its cold inside itself. Perfumed things show this particularly clearly. As long as they exist, something is diffused from themselves around them, and what is near them enjoys their existence. And all things when they come to perfection produce [[unkeyable]]; the One is always perfect and therefore produces everlastingly; and that which it produces is less than itself. (

There are many, many important features in this passage. Of particular interest to us is just what it is that the One produces. From the above arguments, we can infer that the answer is not simply vous. On the other hand, we must bear in mind that vous is indeed a product of the One. It is in fact the "first" product, that which is eternally in closest proximity to the source of all.(22) All we are told in the present passage is that what is produced by the One is inferior ([unkeyable]) to it.

In order to proceed further we need to adduce another text which will guide us toward the goal:

In each and every thing there is an activity of the substance [[unkeyable]] and there is an activity from the substance [[unkeyable]]; and that which is of the substance is each thing itself, while the activity from the substance derives from the first one, and must in everything be a consequence of it, different from the thing itself: as in fire there is a heat which is the content of its substance, and another which comes into being from that primary heat when fire exercises the activity which is native [[unkeyable]] to its substance in abiding unchanged as fire. So it is also in the higher world; and much more so there, while it [the One] abides in its own proper way of life, the activity generated from the perfection in it and its coexistent activity [[unkeyable]] acquires existence [[unkeyable]], since it comes from a great power, the greatest indeed of all, and arrives at being and substance [[unkeyable]], for that [the One] is beyond being. That is the productive power [[unkeyable]] of all, and its product is already all things [[unkeyable]]. (

As will I hope become clear, there is no doctrine in Plotinus which better illustrates his original use of his Platonic and Aristotelian sources than the distinction between [unkeyable] and [unkeyable]. To begin with, the word [unkeyable] is apparently of Aristotelian origin. There is no occurrence of the word form in Plato. I would add, though this is perhaps a bit more contentious, that the concept pair [unkeyable] is not clearly to be found in Plato at all, though [unkeyable] does of course appear in the sense of "power" rather than "potency."(24) Nevertheless, the use to which Plotinus puts the concept of [unkeyable], particularly in reference to the One, is most un-Aristotelian.

For Aristotle, the most perfect [unkeyable] in the universe is the noetic activity of the unmoved mover.(25) This activity of self-contemplation is the antithesis of an activity "in another"; and it is precisely because the unmoved mover is perfect that its activity is unqualifiedly immanent. To have an actuality outside of itself would mean that it had a potency in relation to that actuality and hence that it is imperfect in some respect. Thus, insofar as the actuality of an agent is in the movable, the agent is in potency to that actuality even if it is itself the movable.(26) Aristotle does in fact make a distinction between something like an "internal" and an "external" [unkeyable], as in the case of sight, on the one hand, and building a house on the other.(27) But these are different species of [unkeyable], and there is no suggestion at all that an internal [unkeyable] has connected with it an external one necessarily. For example, what would be the external [unkeyable] following necessarily upon seeing? So when Plotinus makes the distinction between [unkeyable] and [unkeyable] he may reasonably be thought to be quite consciously diverging from Aristotle's use of the concept of [unkeyable].

For a concept of external actualization we naturally look back to Plato. There are at least three relevant passages. First, there is the famous text regarding the Form of the Good which produces knowability, existence, and being in the other Forms.(28) Though this text does not clearly distinguish between what the Form of the Good is or does in itself and what it produces outside itself, the analogical representation of it by the sun and the unique attributes it possesses, such as being [unkeyable], make it reasonable to conclude at least that some such distinction is in harmony with Plato's intention.

The second relevant text is the description of the Demiurge in the Timaeus. The Demiurge is good and so without grudgingness ([unkeyable]).(29) He desires that the world should be as much like himself as possible. So he creates order out of chaos. Notice that in the Demiurge benevolent desire cannot be capricious or transitory. He is permanently well-disposed. But here one hesitates--well-disposed to what? Not to a nonexistent creation, nor to the inchoate heaps of disordered quasi-elements which represent the necessity the Demiurge must overcome. Reflecting on an answer to this question, it is natural enough for Plotinus and indeed for an entire tradition to surmise that the Demiurge or [unkeyable] of all or God or the gods are essentially benevolent in the sense that their goodness is always overflowing. Whether the result of this overflowing goodness is an adjunct to a product or the product itself, the idea that bonum est diffusivum sui can be traced back to this text.

The last text that should be mentioned is from the Symposium, where Diotima declares that the [unkeyable] of love is birth in beauty.(30) More precisely, all men love to possess the good everlastingly and in their possession of it they produce beauty, particularly, as the passage goes on to say, the beauty that is true virtue.(31) So here, though it is not goodness that is itself diffusive, it is association with goodness that spontaneously, or better, naturally, produces.(32)

As suggestive as these three texts undoubtedly are, they do not quite amount to the distinction between [unkeyable] and [unkeyable] as this is applied to the One. The Form of the Good works exclusively on the other Forms; these other Forms are, if anything, the causes of the being of their participants. This would reflect the per accidens series we have already rejected. The Demiurge, which in neither Plato nor Plotinus is equivalent to the Good or One, quite explicitly works on a preexistent chaos, whereas for Plotinus there is no room for an independent [unkeyable] "from below." So, the pressing question is not merely why Plotinus endorses the axiom of the diffusiveness of goodness but why he reinterprets this, using or perhaps misusing an Aristotelian concept.

I answer this question as follows. When Plotinus rejected the primacy of vous as postulated by Aristotle, he thereby rejected the primacy of [unkeyable]. Since [unkeyable] represents limitedness or distinctness in nature, the immediate consequence is that the [unkeyable] of all is going to be beyond [unkeyable] and so beyond limit.(33) This much could be inferred alone from a reaffirmation of Plato's account of the Form of the Good in opposition to Metaphysics 12. It is Aristotle who identified primary [unkeyable] with [unkeyable]; it is Plotinus who reasoned that if the [unkeyable] of all is beyond [unkeyable], then it is beyond the kind of [unkeyable] that is [unkeyable], not beyond [unkeyable] tout court. For, of course, that the One is beyond [unkeyable] does not mean that it is beyond existence or being altogether. Suggestions to the contrary are just misunderstandings of Plotinus's so-called negative theology. What Plotinus rejects in reference to the One is language that implies limitedness or complexity.

We must suppose that at this point in the reasoning Plotinus had to ask himself whether or not [unkeyable] was so tied to [unkeyable] that to attribute it to the One was wrong. There is a text which clearly indicates his answer.

Nor should we be afraid to assume that the first activity [[unkeyable]] is without substance [[unkeyable]], but posit this very fact as his, so to speak, existence [[unkeyable]]. But if one posited an existence without activity, the principle would be defective and the most perfect of all imperfect. And if one adds activity one does not keep the One. If then the activity is more perfect than the substance, and the first is most perfect, the first will be activity. (

It is not too difficult to see why this must be so. The reasoning leading to the positing of an [unkeyable] of all in the first place is reasoning from effect to cause.(35) The first cause is not an essential cause, for that role devolves upon [unkeyable], which does not explain the datum that the One is needed to explain. The only kind of cause that the first cause can be is an efficient cause. Thus, for the One to be the [unkeyable] of all it cannot be deprived of [unkeyable]. To deny [unkeyable] of it would be to deny causal efficacy to it. For being an efficient cause means acting as an efficient cause.

Arguing in this way, we reach a primary [unkeyable], but we do not yet have the premise that distinguishes its causal activity according to a per accidens or a per se ordered series. One might suppose, that is, that the [unkeyable] of the One is just vous alone. This, however, would imply a kind of limitedness in the One: its causal activity operates so far and no further. Yet there is nothing in the One to account for this limitedness; indeed, everything said of the One speaks against it. Another way, albeit rhetorical, of making the same point is to ask, Why should the One stop here, or here? Must not it operate up to the limit of logical possibility?(36) An unlimited or infinite [unkeyable] cannot, it seems, produce its proper effect restrictedly.

If this is so, then the [unkeyable] of the One is neither vous alone nor just that which vous receives from the One. It is not the former because vous or [unkeyable] does not as such have an [unkeyable]. That is, essence does not have an essential cause. It is not the latter because that would imply a limitation in the One. The [unkeyable] [unkeyable] is rather the being of everything that can possess being, from vous down to and including matter.

If this were the whole story, we could simply conclude that Plotinus's metaphysics is creationist in the sense that the proper effect of the first principle of all is the being of everything else. But this would be an oversimplification. In rejecting a per accidens ordered series for metaphysical causality, we still have before us the alternative of a per se ordered series. As we have seen, according to Aquinas at least, if a per se series involves instrumentality, then it is not creationist. Surely the fact that vous and [unkeyable] are [unkeyable] in themselves should give us pause. In fact, I have hitherto suppressed an important distinction in this matter: that between being and existence. To this I now turn.

I shall not now recount the philological evidence, which is in any case ambiguous, though not as ambiguous as some would suppose. Several texts are, however, most revealing.

...because it [the One] is not enslaved to itself, but is only itself and really itself, while every other thing is itself and something else. (

But where absolute substance [[unkeyable]] [the One] is completely what it is, and it is not one thing and its substance [[unkeyable]] another, what it is it is also master of, and is no longer to be referred to another insofar as it is and insofar as it is substance. (

But if it [the One] is needed for the existence of each and every substance [[unkeyable]]--for there is nothing which is which is not one--it would also exist before substance and as generating substance. For this reason also it is one-being [[unkeyable]], but not first being and then one; for in that which was being and also one there would be many... ( Note that in the last text it is said that the one is needed for the existence of every [unkeyable], and that the reason for this is that there is nothing which is not one. Since the One is unqualifiedly simple, the immediate inference is that the oneness and the existence received from the One are the same thing. Thus, it is false to suppose as some have that if the existence of things other than the One is to be accounted for at all, then that is to be done otherwise than by the One, for the One is simply and solely the cause of oneness. Perhaps a salutary reminder in this regard is that "One" is no more of a correct description of the [unkeyable] of all than is any other description, including, I must add, "[unkeyable] of all." So, the One is the cause of the existence of [unkeyable]. As is seen in the second text, there is no distinction within the One between what it is and that it is, between its essence and existence, if you will. By contrast, in everything other than the One, such a distinction needs to be made. The distinction will be a real, minor one in Scholastic terminology, but that is not my main point here. Rather, I am concerned to show that in these texts what is presumed is a distinction between that which is the proper effect of the One's causal activity, namely, existence, and the recipient of this endowment, which is strictly and literally [unkeyable]. But [unkeyable] apart from existence has no reality for Plotinus; it is eternally in possession of its endowment. By "being" I mean whatever it is that is in possession of existence, an existence really distinct from "what" it is.

With the distinction between existence and being, we can see the problem facing Plotinus. On the one hand, [unkeyable] or vous must be an [unkeyable] distinct from the One, for the [unkeyable] of essence must be sufficiently complex to serve as the guarantor of all eternal truths. On the other hand, if the One is to be the [unkeyable] of all, [unkeyable] must be subordinated to it. Indeed, it is, but only by having its existence caused by the One. [unkeyable] itself is a distinct [unkeyable]. If the One were understood as the cause of being as opposed to the cause of existence, it would assume an illicit complexity. In one place he does actually say that the One has all forms in itself "indistinctly" ([unkeyable]).(38) In fact, the reason given for the One's having the ability to give existence to everything is just that it has everything in it "beforehand." It must have everything indistinctly, however, because otherwise this would compromise its simplicity.

Such language encourages the view that the Forms are eminently as well as virtually in the One. This view obscures the specific causality that the One exercises: for it suggests that the One give essence as well as existence to vous. If this were so, one might then suppose that vous does the same for what is below it. Against such a view are the texts in which Plotinus says that "there is no necessity for something to have what it gives," and "the form is in that which is shaped (that is, vous, but the shaper was shapeless."(39) How then can we reconcile the indistinct existence of Forms in the One with the claim that it does not have them?

Let us recall that vous eternally achieves its good by contemplating the Forms with which it is identical. The indistinct existence of Forms in the One cannot be a superior mode of existence for these Forms for several reasons. First, vous is the [unkeyable] of Forms. Second, the Forms in vous are not an image of Forms in the One. If they were, then vous would not have knowledge of Forms, but only of images. Finally, indistinct Forms are not Forms at all, for the entire point of positing Forms in the first place is to explain distinct intelligible contents in the sensible world. If then vous achieves its good by contemplating Forms, can we give any meaning to that good achieved over and above vous itself? Yes, it is nothing but perfect noncomposite being, that is, existence. Forms are not an image of the One; the divided existence of vous is such an image. The perfect simplicity of the One prevents it from having the Forms eminently. But the fact that the goodness in the life of vous is identified with imperfect oneness makes the Good or the One over and above it a necessary superordinate principle.

The problem of the equal versus subordinate status of vous in relation to the One comes plainly to the fore when we ask about the cause of the being of everything else, especially everything else below [unkeyable], which is of course another [unkeyable] and the source of an analogous problem. When Plotinus analyzes the being of things in the world he will analyze them into essence or image of essence and existence, positing the [unkeyable] of each as vous and One, respectively. That is, the One's proper effect here is evident solely as the existence of things, not their [unkeyable], which derives from the second [unkeyable]. The One, then, is represented as primary cause of existence, but [unkeyable] is the instrumental cause of being. Since there is no being without existence, the One's causal activity is completely instrumental, including even [unkeyable] itself, which as such does not require a cause outside itself. In the being of [unkeyable], the One uses [unkeyable] as an instrument. So also with everything else.

An objection may occur to some. Does not the instrumental activity of [unkeyable] or vous place some constraint or limitation on the One, counter to its purported unlimitedness as explained above? This is an important objection, one which strikes a vital nerve. It is precisely owing to a suspected denial of omnipotence in Christian creation metaphysics, coming out of the Plotinian tradition, that Aquinas refuses to join instrumentality with creation. I think that the correct answer to this objection is to admit that it does place a constraint upon the One, but to deny that it is the sort of constraint that Plotinus means to deny in saying that the One is unlimited.

In endowing things with existence, the One is unlimited. It does not run out of power or goodness. There is nothing that could exist that does not. Yet what could exist is not the One's business. That birds and bees can and do exist, that griffins could exist, but do not, and that square circles cannot exist, are owing to facts about [unkeyable], to put it crudely. When the One produces existence, it uses the template of [unkeyable]. Its causal power is a pure stream, flowing out and over whatever it is that can receive it according to its own nature.

No doubt Plotinus saw a certain advantage in instrumentalism. For example, he did not see it so much as a limitation but as a way to divest the One of responsibility for evil. The ultimate explanation of evil is to be found in what things are, and for this the One is not the [unkeyable]. Ironically perhaps, Plato would have found it easier to assimilate [unkeyable] to the Good, but only at the cost of making matter a separate [unkeyable], independent of [unkeyable]. Yet Plotinus does come tantalizingly close to undercutting the separateness of the [unkeyable] of [unkeyable] when he says that all the Forms exist in the One indistinctly. One may perhaps usefully compare this with Anaximander's [unkeyable], which at least on Aristotle's testimony appears to be a unique [unkeyable] in which all things are contained indistinctly and from which all things come.[40] Although Plotinus's One is obviously a more sophisticated metaphysical principle that is the [unkeyable] of Anaximander, there must be something in the nature of [unkeyable] or in the nature of the One which prevents Plotinus from collapsing the former into the latter.

It is well to be clear about the alternatives facing the philosopher who has arrived at this point. Either [unkeyable], shorthand for the locus of eternal truths, is a really distinct albeit subordinate [unkeyable], or it is merely a conceptually distinct description of the One. I think we should resist concluding that Plotinus neatly accommodates both alternatives when he calls the One [unkeyable]. For this would be to undervalue his unqualified insistence that [unkeyable] is an [unkeyable]. To reject the first, Plotinian, alternative is either to introduce real complexity into the One or to reduce all eternal truth to a single truth, perhaps least misleadingly represented as "the One exists." I have of course left aside the theological adaptation of the first alternative wherein [unkeyable] becomes identified with the second person of the Christian Trinity.

Returning to the question with which I began this paper, Is Plotinus's metaphysics creationist or emanationist? if it is allowed that instrumental creationism is a legitimate species of creationism, then I think the answer is the former. If, on the other hand, one insists that there is no common genus for a metaphysics that holds that the existence of everything depends on the first principle and a metaphysics that holds that the being of everything depends on the first principle, then Plotinus's metaphysics is not accurately called creationist. But it is not emanationist either. I do not have a convenient label to offer for this alternative.

(1) All translations are by A. H. Armstrong in the eight volume Loeb edition of the works of Plotinus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966-88).

(2) A similar point is made by Fernand Brunner, "Creation et emanation: fragment de philosophie comparee," Studia Philosophia 33 (1973): 33-63.

(3) See, for example, Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I, q. 45, a. 1: "Sicut igitur generatio hominis est ex non ente quod est non homo, ita creatio, quae est emanatio totius esse, est ex non ente quod est nihil." Heinrich Dorrie provides a useful survey of the literary uses of the language of emanation in his "Emanation. Ein unphilosophisches Wort im spatantiken Denken," in Parusia, ed. Kurt Flasch (Frankfurt am Main: Minerva, 1960), 211-28.

(4) See Summa theologiae I, q. 46, a. 2.

(5) "Illud autem quod est proprius effectus Dei creantis, est illud quod praesupponitur omnibus aliis, scilicet esse absolute"; Summa theologiae I, q. 46, a. 5.

(6) "[unkeyable]". [unkeyable]." Cf. Enneads,,,,,

(7) Cf. Enneads

(8) Cf. Summa theologiae I, q. 19, a. 4; q. 25, a. 5; q. 28, a. 1, ad 3.

(9) Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles 1.57.

(10) Enneads, 53

(11) "[unkeyable]..."; Enneads

(16) "Unde non potest aliquid operari dispositive et instrumentaliter ad hunc effectum, cum creatio non sit ex aliquo praesupposito quod possit disponi per actionem instrumentalis agentis"; Summa theologiae I, q. 45, a. 5.

(17) Cf. Enneads 4.8.6,

(12) Cf. C. P. Gorman, "Freedom in the God of Plotinus," New Scholasticism 14 (1940):379-405. Gorman uses the phrase "progressive unfolding of reality" to characterize the One's relation to its products (p. 404).

(13) For example, see Enneads 5.5.9, 6.4.2,

(14) Cf. H. F. Muller, "Ist die Metaphysik des Plotins ein Emanations-system?" Hermes 48 (1914): esp. 416-22, where this interpretation is decisively refuted. More recently, in the same vein, see G. Reale, "I foundamenti della metafisica di Plotino e la struttura della processione," in Graceful Reason, ed. Lloyd P. Gerson (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1983), esp. 153-8.

(15) "Just as the One overflows into Mind and Mind into Soul and Soul into the world, so the latent powers of Soul in their final exhaustion pass over into blank nothingness, or, in other words, beget or produce it"; B. A. G. Fuller, The Problem of Evil in Plotinus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912), 306.

(18) There is some textual support provided for this in the conditional clause at Enneads [unkeyable].

(19) For example, see Enneads See also Pierre Hadot, "Etre, Vie, Pensee chez Plotin et avant Plotin," in Les sources de Plotin (Geneva: Foundation Hardt, 1960), 107-41. Hadot richly documents his conclusion that "la triade etre-vie-pensee revele la structure de l'Intelligence."

(20) At Enneads Plotinus says that vous "makes likenesses [[unkeyable]]" as does the One. Armstrong is wrong to translate this as "produces in the same way." As the text goes on to make clear, the point is that the relation of vous to what is below it is analogous to the relation of the One to vous. The specific feature of the analogue is imagery or copying. That is, the image of vous is analogous to the image of the One. This does not make vous the cause of existence of anything.

(21) Cf. Enneads,, I doubt that, which seems to hold that the [unkeyable] is [unkeyable], should be taken to indicate that the distinction between first and second [unkeyable] does not apply to the One. Rather, vous is where the concept of [unkeyable] can be applied without the qualification [unkeyable]. The [unkeyable] is the [unkeyable] of [unkeyable]. Against Hans Buchner (Plotins Moglichkeitslehre [Munich: Anton Pustet, 1970], 99), Enneads does not imply that there is no [unkeyable] in the One. Rather, it implies that the [unkeyable] in the One, though producing a secondary [unkeyable], does not thereby erect a real relation between the One and everything else.

(22) On the texts indicating gradation in the One's products, cf. Dominic O'Meara, Structures hierarchiques dans la pensee de Plotin (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), esp. 120-4.

(23) Cf. Enneads,,,,,,

(24) For example, Republic 509b9, in reference to the Form of the Good.

(25) Cf. Metaphysics 1071b19-20, 1072b26-7.

(26) Cf. Physics 202a13-21.

(27) Metaphysics 1050a23-9.

(28) Republic 509b6-10.

(29) Timaeus 29e.

(30) Symposium 206b.

(31) Cf. Ibid., 212a.

(32) For the documentation of the use of this principle in ancient Greek philosophy in and before Plotinus see Klaus Kremer, "Bonum est diffusivum sui. Ein Beitrag zum Verhaltnis von Neuplatonismus and Christentum," in Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt, ed. Wolfgang Haase and Hildegard Temporini, teil 2, bd. 36.2 (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1987), 994-1032, esp. 1002-11.

(33) Cf. Enneads,,

(34) Cf. Enneads,

(35) Cf. Ibid.,;, 28;;;

(36) Cf. Enneads, where Plotinus bases the plenitude of creation on the ungrudging nature of the One.

(37) Cf. Enneads,

(38) Enneads Cf.,,,,

(39) Enneads, 17-18.

(40) Cf. Physics 187a20-1.
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Author:Gerson, Lloyd P.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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