Corrigan: Comments Enneads I,1 (53)

A major problem for any reader of the Enneads (and particularly of III, 6 (26), "On the impassibility of incorporeals") is that compound entities, human beings among them, seem to be sandwiched between two different kinds of impassibility, or incapacity to feel anything: an unfeeling matter and an unfeeling soul! The world may indeed be a cold place, but this looks too cold for comfort. How does Plotinus reach and state this position in I, 1, 2-3?

As so often throughout the Enneads, Plotinus' argument turns on the question of how we use language and what we mean by the terms we use. Aristotle too analyzes the claim of form to be substance (a "most puzzling" claim, he says) in Metaphysics VII (1029 a 33) in terms of what we could mean by it. Plotinus borrows some of this language, though to different effect. If soul and her essential being are different, soul will be a compound and there will be no problem in attributing all sorts of physical things and feelings to her. But if soul and her essential being are the same, then soul will be a form, and not a compound of form and matter, and it won't be correct to say that she feels, blushes, blanches, and so on, for what we mean will be, not that the soul is the subject of such things, but that the human being (that is, the individual compounds we are) has such experiences. Of course, on these terms the soul's immortality would seem to follow naturally, since she gives something but receives nothing (2, 9-12).