Frames /sing


Plotinus and the Degrees of Being Conception: Ennead V ii, 1

Ennead V ii, 1: On the Genesis and Order of Things Following The Proto

The Hen is all things
but not a single one [oudè hén];
for the arche of all things is not all things,
but in that particular way it is all things, that is to say thither
they run.
Rather, they do not yet exist,
but they will be.

How then does [it all] come out
of a Simple One which has in itself
no intricate appearance,
nor any kind of folds whatsoever?

It is because there is no-thing [oudèn] in itself
that through this out of itself come
all things,
that Being [tò òn] may be;

through this
he himself is not existing [ouk ón],
he, the progenitor of itself. But as such
this is the prime engendering.
Being complete,
to not seek, to not hold, to not need,
in some kind of overflowing,
and overplenteousness of itself
it has made [pepoíêken] another.

So the becoming to itself
is turned and filled,
born toward itself gazing, &
this is the Nous.
& the-standing-towards-that,
the Being of itself she made, as her view
towards itself is Nous.

As it stood towards itself, that it may see,
out of the same nous it becomes and Is.
This one
now being such as that one,
The likeness [tà hómoia] creates the potency [dúnamin],
pouring out the many
– and this image is of itself –
just as before

the prime of itself poured out.
& out of the substance [tês ousías] this energeia
Is the Soul, the becoming of that abiding
& so the Nous-of-the-abiding-before-itself
has become.
Yet not abiding she creates, but
Motioned she is born
a phantom [eídôlon].

However looking there, whence born,
she becomes full,
Advanced into another motion her contrary she engenders ,
a phantom of herself, sensation [aísthêsin],
the nature [phúsin] within natural things [en toîs phutoîs].

& not one thing before itself has been hung up, or cut off.
For this reason
it appears that the upper Soul comes
all the way into natural things.
For in any way she comes,
as if something of herself is in natural

But surely not all of her is in natural things,
but her coming
into being [gignoménê] in natural things
is in this way,
as far & so much as she advanced downward,
into the sub-stasis [hupóstasis]
her other
creating in her going out

and her eagerness [prothumía] for
what’s worse.
Then that before this,
that coming right out of the Nous,
Allows the Nous to abide in itself.

[the Greek text, édition Kirchhoff]

Why Plotinus?

Some recent posts on panpsychism, Spinoza and the such had me returning to the Ur-panpsychist, as least as I read the history of the thought. It was Plotinus who helped structure the very influential, non-dualistic, Neo-Platonist Christian theology of Augustine, to some degree safeguarding from heresy the conception of an ontology of degrees of Being throughout the Medieval ages and the Renaissance. But Plotinus is dramatically under-read, especially in view of his pivotal, and quite influential position within the history of philosophy. Part of this problem has I believe been due to the translation of his work, his writings/lectures compiled and edited by his student Porphry, The Six Enneads. This is not to say that the translations are poor (there are several recent translations out after a historical dearth), but rather that for me they often still grasp at something in the text emphasizing the wrong, or at least importune, threads. They can either verbosely, or somewhat sterilely isolate the “concept” in the writing, and ignore the texture of it, the dexterity and one might say, the luminosity.

For those interested in the history of panpsychism the above is a translation of a passage that is quite important to many of the thinkers that follow. One may recognized immediately aspects of Hegel (reflexivity to the One), Spinoza (radiating degrees of causal dependence upon the One), and even Deleuze (that things that will be “runs through” the One) and Badiou (how Being is created via the Nous) in the framing of the emanation of Being from the Hen. I hope to discuss some of these in future posts, as they are quite intriguing. I present this passage precisely because, although the Enneads is quite long (more than a 1,000 pages in some editions), it may all really come down to this passage (and a few others). If one grasps this, one grasps a whole historical thread of though stretching nearly 2000 years to the present, a thread that has repeatedly dipped beneath the fabric which is has sewn, only to appear again.

Also, this short passage allows one to deal with metaphysics straight on, in a condensed, small space, to try to take it whole and see what one can draw from it. One asks often, what good is metaphysics? Perhaps with this short passage (and another I hope to post), we can see what is being proposed, and even look to what it means for our very lives, the way that we look at and solve problems.

Notes on the Translation

Obviously, I put it into verse. The purpose of this is several fold. The first that the Greek itself if quite condensed, as the language tends to be, but also as the philosopher can push it; and poetry actually is probably the best formal approximation of this condensation of meaning and effect. The verse form forces a reader to pause and consider the kerneling of phrases, just as the Greek would require. In this sense, the line breaks hopefully serve to translate the relationship between the ideas present such that mere prose could not. In this vein I also tried to steer clear of excessive explication within the text itself. Translators of philosophy in Greek often “fill in” the meaning that they think is implied by word-use and word-choice, in effect erasing the fullness of what is being invoked. (With Plato this is disastrous.) Where the implications are open I tried to leave them as open as possible so that one could continue to think along with the writer.

As to the text itself there are several basic decisions I made:

To Hen: This is Plotinus’ crowning concept, and is universally translated as The One. Quite accurately of course. But because “hen” is also the aorist (past) participle of the verb “hiemi” which means anything from  “to set in motion,” “to hurl,” “to let flow, burst” even in context “to speak”, the Hen is The One, but also The-Having-Set-In-Motion. To restrict its conception merely to the former is to dramatically cleave its implicit, associative meaning. Even this simple translation difficulty I think has lead to a misreading of the very core conception of Plotinus’ view. So when thinking about the Hen, think of both a Oneness, but also a flowing out, an activity.

arche: Is both the principle and the origin. It is something like a foundation, but is more active.

(phuton) phutois: I translate this “natural things” instead of “plants” as many rightful translators do (as in the section that follows he makes the distinction between phuton and the animal without logos, the latter having the power of sense-perception. This is because I believe that Plotinus is not thinking of this plant or that, but rather of the entire profusion of “growth” that is shown in both plants and animals, the raw aspect of what we regularly call and imply by “Nature” per se. This is an important translation point for the general argument of panpsychism that I believe that Plotinus holds.

Nous: Of course this is “mind” often translated as “intellect”.

autos, etc.: Plotinus uses the reflexive to great degree here, and in more than one gender. I direct the meaning toward this itself, himself, herself, though it can also mean “the same” with obvious philosophical precedent.

There are several other points of translation where I differ from the main line, so perhaps as always, check with other translations to get the full spectrum of possible readings. For instance, I take care to maintain the shifts in gender accomplished here, where Plotinus moves from neuter Hen, to a masculine progenitor to a female engendering and a female soul, always looking back upon the neuter, itself.

The translation is not meant as anything to be taken as authoritative, but rather an experiment in form so as to largely provide a gateway for those interested in Plotinus who have not read him directly, and perhaps an occasion for thought, for those who have studied him more closely.


10 responses to “Plotinus and the Degrees of Being Conception: Ennead V ii, 1

  1. anodynelite April 15, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    I had begun to suspect you were a classicist, and then this removed most doubt. I took a few semesters of Attic Greek and you’re making me miss the days when I could’ve probably (very slowly) read Plotinus in the original.

    Any recommendations (Chalmers already noted) for readings in panpsychism? I’d like to get my hands on that essay Iain Hamilton Grant wrote for Mind that Abides, but I’m afraid that’s probably one of those $75 books that I won’t buy on principle…

  2. John McCreery April 16, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Just wanted to say …. beautiful.

  3. kvond April 16, 2009 at 10:30 am

    John, thank you.

  4. kvond April 16, 2009 at 10:37 am

    AL, Sorry to disappoint, but I certainly am no Classicist, nor anything within academia. I am just a writer with one might say a passion for the Ancient Greek language and literature. My translations are no doubt to some degree error prone, and always are experimental, always trying to draw something out otherwise largely missed.

    There seems to be very little on Panpsychism. There is the Whitehead influenced work of Hartschorne and with a slightly religious bent, Process Theology which counts as “panentheism”. Perhaps others know of something more. My study of panpsychism actually comes from tracing the roots of Spinoza’s thinking myself. There also really is very little on Plotinus as well. Schroeder’s “Form and Transformation: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus” is pretty good.

    From what I understand, The Mind that Abides is on Google Books, and quite a few pages are available for reading, if you want to breeze through.

  5. henadology April 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Nicely done; I think the idea of translating Plotinus into verse is quite inspired, actually.

    I see that we share some common interests, so I’m adding you to my blogroll.

  6. anodynelite April 16, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Well classicist or not I like your posts on classical topics/poetry. More proof that you don’t have to do it professionally to be good at it.

    Anyway, thanks for the recommendations, I forgot to check google books for MtA.

  7. kvond April 16, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Thanks for the compliments. Good to hear that others enjoy some of my thoughts.

  8. John McCreery April 17, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Reading the opening stanza of your translation of Plotinus, I was reminded of the Dao De Jing. Here are a few of the numerous translations of Chapter 1.


    The Way that can be told of is not an unvarying way;
    The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
    It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;
    The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.

    The Way that can be experienced is not true;
    The world that can be constructed is not true.
    The Way manifests all that happens and may happen;
    The world represents all that exists and may exist.

    To experience without intention is to sense the world;
    To experience with intention is to anticipate the world.
    These two experiences are indistinguishable;
    Their construction differs but their effect is the same.

    Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
    Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.


    The Tao that can be known is not Tao.
    The substance of the World is only a name for Tao.
    Tao is all that exists and may exist;
    The World is only a map of what exists and may exist.

    One experiences without Self to sense the World,
    And experiences with Self to understand the World.
    The two experiences are the same within Tao;
    They are distinct only within the World.
    Neither experience conveys Tao
    Which is infinitely greater and more subtle than the World.


    The Tao that can be known is not Tao.
The substance of the World is only a name for Tao.
Tao is all that exists and may exist;
    The World is only a map of what exists and may exist.
One experiences without Self to sense the World,
And experiences with Self to understand the World.
The two experiences are the same within Tao;
They are distinct only within the World.
Neither experience conveys Tao
Which is infinitely greater and more subtle than the World.


  9. kvond April 17, 2009 at 9:44 am


    There can be no doubt that translations of the Tao de Ching influenced both the desire I had to put Plotinus in verse, but also the values of Richard John Lynn’s particularly scholarly and prose translation itself: , which works to strip the words down to bare essentials, restrict explication and the resolution of ambiguity. I did not though have it specifically in mind, as these are what I look for in translation in general. The section 6 reference to the root of Heaven and Earth, the Gushen Valley Spirit, did come to mind momentarily when Plotinus tells us that it is the very emptiness of the Hen that makes it overflow.

  10. Pingback: The Cone of Plotinus: Ontologies of Profusion and Particularization « Frames /sing

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