plotinus: the three primal hypostasis

January 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

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The Three Primal Hypostases (V, 1 [10])[1]

(V, 1 [10], 1)[2] To begin with, it seems that Plotinus wants to highlight certain modes of the human soul’s becoming into a body. It wanted its independence from the other souls, it forgets its origins while it downplays its own worth. If it is then capable of knowing The One/ The Good, it must know itself better. (V, 1 [10], 2) The Soul, and the soul are the animating life force of the universe. The same is to be said for man, his soul animates him, otherwise he is merely matter, hence: the recasting of a Heraclitus fragment “a corpse is viler than a dunghill.”[3] (V, 1 [10], 3) Although the soul is not perfect, it still retains aspects of The Intelligence from which it stems. For Plotinus, this means that it contains the characteristic of discursive reasoning. (V, 1 [10], 4) If we should find the sensual world amazing enough, we’d do better to recognize that The Intelligible is better than that. Self-composed, The Intelligence thematizes thought itself, it governs all other thought, and it is not as “particular” as the soul is. “It ‘is’ alone,” meaning that it is beyond past and future, re: it is in a state of constant present-ness. Since it is present in this way, this means that it is bound to Being. Something that is thought partakes in being, these twin originary concepts in turn implicate the necessity of identity, difference, movement, and rest. Identity, difference, movement, and rest are also intermixed with other “originating principles” such as number, quantity, and quality. (V, 1 [10], 5) The Intelligence and the Soul are bound together, but where does The Intelligence come from?—The One, “the partless that is prior to plurality.” It appears that The One is unified and beyond a numerical understanding, re: it is not singular and it is not simply a plurality. (V, 1 [10], 6) Problems emerge with an idea that from The One comes multiplicity. There is to be found connections to Aristotle’s ‘unmoved mover.’ “The One leaves its selfsameness undisturbed…” The One is prior to movement—all else moves around, with and for it. A hierarchy would look like this: The One → The Intelligence → The Soul. (V, 1 [10], 7) Even though The Intelligence is smart and it looks like The One, it is only what is intelligible about The One. The One cannot be fully understood. The Intelligible is not diminished in its relationship to The One, after-all, the Intelligible is closely aligned with being. As The Soul’s power is a derivative of The Intelligible, so The Intelligible’s power stems from The One. (V, 1 [10], 8) Plotinus wishes to distinguish between his conceptualization of the (One, Intelligence, Soul) from that of Plato and Parmenides. (V, 1 [10], 9) Although Plotinus sees the differences between the various thinkers who have spoken of The One, etc., he seems to insist on a kind of harmony of the triad. (V, 1 [10], 10) The triad is present in nature and it is present in man. (V, 1 [10], 11) Within us, there too must exist elements of the divine that are tapped into when we make judgments, including and beyond the discursive. (V, 1 [10], 12) Man is not completely aware of how these things are within him, which is why Plotinus recommends looking even deeper inward.


[1] Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co., 1964), 59-71. Plotinus, “The Three Primal Hypostases,” in The Essential Plotinus, translated by Elmer O’Brien. (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Co., 1964), 90-105.

[2] Format note: I’m citing the section numbers first, followed by that section’s explication, viz: (V, 1 [10], 1) […explication…etc.].

[3] Fragment 96: “Corpses are more fit to be thrown out than dung.”

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