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The Secret (Life) of the One

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What is the One like?


What is it like to be the One?

Works Cited in this Episode:

Primary, roughly in order mentioned:

Immanence of the One:

  • III.8.9.
  • It is intimately present to all things: VI.9[9]7.29, πᾶσι σύνεστι.
  • Everywhere and nowhere: III.9[13]4; VI.8[31]16.1-2: Ἐπεὶ δὲ φάμεν καὶ δοκεῖ πανταχού τε εἶναι τοῦτο καὶ αὖ εἶναι οὐδαμοῦ….
  • Posterior realities ‘participate’ in the One: V.3[49]17.8-10 [note the wording]: μετείληφε καὶ μετέχει ἑνος, οὐκ αὐτὸ ἕν.  The one grants them ‘measure’, while remaining beyond any measure: VI.7[38]33.19-20.

The One as primary cause/first principle:

  • Compositeness requires ontologically-prior simplicity: V.6[24]3.10-15.
  • The One the source of all posterior unities, and of ‘measure’: e.g. V.3[49]15.12-13; 28; 17.10-14; VI.4[32]10; VI.7[38]23.22-24 (measure).
  • The one eternally sustaining all things, right now: VI.7[[38]23.22-24.
  • ‘Participation’ in the One by multiple beings: e.g. V.3[49]17.8-10: the things of nous ‘participate and partake of One, not One itself’. Contrast e.g. VI.8[]8.12-15: the One unrelated to anything else.
  • One/Dyad metaphysics in Plotinus: e.g. V.1[10]6.50-54: nothing separates the One and the Nous except Otherness; V.3[49]12.44: they are ‘neither cut off [from each other] nor identical’.

Contact with the One:

  • We have something of the One in us: III.8[30]9.19 ff; cf. VI.9[9]3.51: ἔχομεν τι παρ’ αὐτοῦ.
  • Erôs for the One, generally: VI.7[38]31.8-9. Erôs for the One, even at the level of matter: V.2.[11]1.1-18.
  • The One beautiful, or even The Beautiful: V.5[32]8.10; VI.2[43]18.1.
  • The One is erôs, worthy of erôs, and is a kind of self-erôs: VI.8[39]15.1 ff.
  • Presence to the one (σύνεσις … κατὰ παρουσίαν) is greater than ἐπιστημή and νόησις: VI.9[9]4.1-3.
  • Touching the One: e.g. V.3[49]10.42; VI.9[9]4.27, 7.4, 9.55, 11.24, 9.20; VI.8[39]11.10-13, etc. Cognition of the One which is not cognition: συναίσθεσις: VI.7[38]31.9. γνῶσις or ἐπαφή (‘touching’): ibid. 36.4. σύνεσις: VI.9[9]4.1-3.
  • Contemplation (θεωρία) of the One by the Nous: e.g. V.2[11]1.7-12. Cf. V.5[32]4.6-8: ‘we long to see the one, if that were somehow possible … you must rush up to the one and stop there without losing it …’. Ibid 6.35-7: you cannot say the one, but you can perhaps see it.

Aphairesis leading to union with the One: III.8[30]10.31 ff; V.4[7]1.

‘Often, awakening to my self from the body and becoming separate from all other externals …’: IV.8[31]1.1-11.

Ιt is the ‘light’ or ‘colour’ coming from elsewhere which gives the noetic reality its beauty: e.g. VI.7[38]22.

‘We speak around it, but we do not speak it itself’: V.3[49]14.1-3: we say τι περὶ αυτοῦ, but οὐ μὴν αὐτὸ λέγομεν.

The One does not exercise consciousness or cognition:

  • Denial of νόησις to the One: e.g. III.9[13]9. γνῶσις, νόησις, συναίσθησις: VI.7[38]41.26-27.
  • Attribution of a sort of self-consciousness which is not self-consciousness: V.4[7]2.15-19.
  • ὑπερνόησις, which isn’t even a word in Greek: VI.8[16]32.
  • Does the One κατανοεῖν (with the kata- perhaps indicating intensity)? Yes, at V.4[18]2, but no at III.9[22]9, on account of the One’s total simplicity – note how chronologically-close these two works are.

Porphyry on the Union: Plot. 23.


  • Gwenaëlle Aubry. Dieu sans la puissance: dynamis et energeia chez Aristote et chez Plotin. Vrin, Paris, 2006.
  • Hadot on Plotty’s ‘mysticism’ really being about nous for the most part: Hadot 1986, 11-12.
  • Zeke Mazur 2021: see below. Mazur’s typology of Plotinian ascent/union is given in Chapter 2: A: katharsis/purification B: ‘Mystical self-reversion’ (‘going inward’) C:1: Autophany (‘luminous vision’) C2: Self-unification D: Annihilation E1: Union with the One E2: Desubjectification.
  • Bronwen Neil. Dream-visions, Prophecy and Contemplation in Origen’s Contra Celsum. In Eleni Pachoumi and Mark Edwards, editors, Praying and Contemplating in Late Antiquity: Religious and Philosophical Interactions, pages 123–37. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 2018., we cite p. 131 n. 35, where the author cites Enn. IV.8[6]1.
  • Scott Walker, ‘Boy Child’, off Scott 4, Fontana 1969.

Required Reading:

I have compiled a list of depictions of the encounter with the One, or approaches to it, in various descriptive modes:

  • I.6[1]7.1-19, 9.6-25
  • IV.8[6]1.1-11
  • VI.9[9]9.2, 3.14-27, 4.1-30, 7.1-23, 9.24-60, 10.9-21, 11.4-25, 36-48 [and note that this entire, baffling work can be read as interlarded with hints and half-revelations of the union]
  • III.8[30]9.19-32, 10.28-35
  • V.8[31]11.1-19
  • V.5[32]4.1-12, 7.31-8.23
  • VI.7[38]31.5-35, 34.1-12, 35.1-36.18
  • VI.8[39]15.14-23, 19.1-16
  • V.3[49]4.4-15, 17.16-39.

Recommended Reading:

  • H. J. Blumenthal. Plotinus in the Light of Twenty Years’ Scholarship: 1951-1971. ANRW, 36.1:528–570, 1987 [pages 550-53 give a nice conspexus of scholarship on the One up to 1987].
  • E. R. Dodds. The Parmenides of Plato and the Neoplatonic One. CQ, 22:129–142, 1928.
  • Pierre Hadot. Neoplatonist Spirituality: Plotinus and Porphyry. In A.H. Armstrong, editor, Classical Mediterranean Spirituality, pages 230–249. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1986. Translated by Jane Curran.
  • Emile Bréhier. The Philosophy of Plotinus. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1958. Translated by J. Thomas, pp. 132-63.
    Zeke Mazur. Having Sex with the One: Erotic Mysticism in Plotinus and the Problem of Metaphor. In P. Vassilopoulou and S.R.L. Clark, editors, Late Antique Epistemology: Other Ways to Truth, page 67–83. Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, 2009.
  • J. Rist. Eros and Psyche: Studies in Plato, Plotinus, and Origen. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1964.
  • F. M. Schroeder. Saying and Having in Plotinus. Dionysius, 9:75–84, 1985.
    Jean Trouillard. Théologie negative et autoconstitution psychique chez les néopla- toniciens. In Savoir, faire, espérer: les limites de la raison, volume 1, pages 307–321. Facultés Universitaires St.-Louis, Brussels, 1976.