Guthrie: Tratado 34 (VI, 6) – Of Numbers.


Of Numbers.


1. Does manifoldness consist in distance from unity? Is infinity this distance carried to the extreme, because it is an innumerable manifoldness? Is then infinity an evil, and are we ourselves evil when we are manifold? (That is probable); or every being becomes manifold when, not being able to remain turned towards itself, it blossoms out; it extends while dividing; and thus losing all unity in its expansion, it becomes manifoldness, because there is nothing that holds its parts mutually united. If, nevertheless, there still remain something that holds its parts mutually united, then, though blossoming out, (the essence) remains, and becomes manifoldness.


But what is there to be feared in magnitude? If (the essence) that has increased could feel (it would feel that which in itself has become evil; for) it would feel that it had issued from itself, and had even gone to a great distance (from itself). No (essence), indeed, seeks that which is other than itself; every (essence) seeks itself. The movement by which (an essence) issues from itself is caused either by “audacity,” or necessity. Every (being) exists in the highest degree not when it becomes manifold or great, but when it belongs to itself; now this occurs when it concentrates upon itself. That which desires to become great in some other manner is ignorant of that in which true greatness consists; instead of proceeding towards its legitimate goal, it turns towards the outside. Now, on the contrary, to turn towards oneself, is to remain in oneself. The demonstration of this may be seen in that which participates in greatness; if (the being) develop itself so that each of its parts exist apart, each part will indeed exist, but (the being) will no longer be what it originally was. To remain what it is, all its parts must converge towards unity; so that, to be what it was in its being, it should not be large, but single. When it possesses magnitude, and quantity inheres in it, it is destroyed, while when it possesses unity, it possesses itself. Doubtless the universe is both great and beautiful; but it is beautiful only so far as the unity holds it in from dissipating into infinity. Besides, if it be beautiful, it is not because it is great, but because it participates in beauty; now, if it need participation in beauty, it is only because it has become so large. Indeed, isolated from beauty, and considered in itself as great, it is ugly. From this point of view, what is great is with beauty in the relation obtaining between matter and form, because what needs adornment is manifold; consequently, what is great has so much more need of being adorned and is so much more ugly (as it is great).


2. What opinion should we hold of that which is called the number of infinity? We must begin by examining how it can be a number, if it be infinite. Indeed, sense-objects are not infinite; consequently, the number which inheres in them could not be infinite, and he who numbers them, does not number infinity. Even if they were multiplied by two, or by more, they still could always be determined; if they were multiplied in respect of the past or the future, they would still be determined. It might be objected that number is not infinite in an absolute manner, but only (in a relative manner) in this sense, that it is always possible to add thereto. But he who numbers does not create numbers; they were already determined, and tjiey existed (before being conceived by him who was numbering them). As beings in the intelligible world are determined, their number is also determimed by the quantity of beings. Just as we make man manifold by adding to him the beautiful, and other things of the kind, we can make an image of number correspond to the image of every intelligible being. Just as, in thought, we can multiply a town that does not exist, so can we multiply numbers. When we number the parts of time, we limit ourselves to applying to them the numbers that we have in ourselves, and which, merely on that account, do not cease remaining in us.


3. How did the infinite, in spite of its infiniteness, reach existence? For the things which have arrived at existence, and which subsist, have been preparatorily contained in a number. Before answering this question, we must examine whether, when it forms part of veritable essences, multitude can be evil. On high, the manifoldness remains united, and is hindered from completely being manifoldness, because it is the one essence; but this is inferior to unity by this very condition that it is manifoldness, and thus, is is imperfect in respect to unity. Therefore, though not having the same nature as the One, but a nature somewhat degraded (in comparison with unity), manifoldness is inferior to unity; but, by the effect of the unity which it derives from the One (since it is the one essence), it still possesses a venerable character, reduces to unity the manifold it contains, and makes it subsist in an immutable manner.


How can infinity subsist in the intelligible world? Either it exists among the genuine essences, and then is determined; or it is not determined, and then it does not exist among the veritable essences, but it must be classified among the things which exist in perpetual becoming, such as time. The infinite is determinate, but it is not any the less infinite; for it is not the limit which receives the determination, but the infinite; and between the boundary and the infinite there is no intermediary that could receive the determination. This infinite acts as if it were the idea of the boundary, but it is contained by what embraces it exteriorly. When I say that it flees, I do not mean that it passes from one locality to another, for it has no locality; but I mean that space has existed from the very moment that this infinite was embraced. We must not imagine that what is called the movement of the infinite consists in a displacement, nor admit that the infinite by itself possesses any other of the things that could be named; thus the infinite could neither move, nor remain still. Where indeed would it halt, since the place indicated by the word “where” is posterior to infinity? Movement is attributed to infinity only to explain that the infinite has no permanency. Should we believe that the infinite exists on high in one only and single place, or that it arises there, and descends here below? No: for it is in respect to one only and single place that we are enabled to conceive both what has risen and does not descend, as well as that which descends.


How then can we conceive the infinite ? By making abstraction of form by thought. How will it be conceived? We may conceive of the infinite as simultaneously being the contraries, and not being them. It will have to be conceived as being simultaneously great and small; for the infinite becomes both of these. It may also be conceived as both being moved, and being stable; for the infinite becomes these two things also. But before the infinite becomes these two contraries, it is neither of them in any determinate manner; otherwise, you would have determined it. By virtue of its nature, the infinite is these things therefore in an indeterminate and infinite manner; only on this condition will it appear to be these contrary things. If, by applying your thought to the infinite, you do not entice it into a determination, as into a net, you will see the infinite escaping you, and you will not find anything in it that would be a unity; otherwise, you would have determined it. If you represented to yourself the infinite as a unity, it would seem to you manifold; if you say that it is manifold, it will again make game of you; for, all things do not form a manifold where no one thing is one. From still another standpoint, the nature of the infinite is movement, and according to another nature, stability; for its property of being invisible by itself constitutes a movement which distinguishes it from intelligence; its property of not being able to escape, of being exteriorly embraced, of being circumscribed within an unescapable circle constitutes a sort of stability. Movement therefore cannot be predicated of infinity, without also attributing stability to it.

GUTHRIE, K. S. Plotinus: Complete Works: In Chronological Order, Grouped in Four Periods. [single Volume, Unabridged]. [s.l.] CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.