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The One

the Nous
Plotinus taught that Reality is an ontological gradation; that is, a gradation of levels of being.  The highest reality, or First Principle, which Plotinus called The One (to hen), is the most perfect and creative of all.

"That [The One] which is eternally perfect is eternally productive.  That which it produces [the Nous] is eternal too, though inferior to the generating principle..." [1]

 In Plotinus' view, multiplicity is a fragmentation of the original Unity.  Hence each stage of emanation is a descent into greater multiplicity, which means greater restriction, more needs, and the dispersion and weakening of the power of previous stages

.  Hence the Supreme principle must constitute the Negation of Duality, in other words, the One.  And, in a manner that was very controversial to the Greeks, with their abhorrence of infinity, Plotinus describes the One as Formless, Unmeasured, and Infinite


 Plotinus was thus an early advocate in the West of what later came to be called Negative Theology, which says that words and conceptions can only tell us what the Absolute is not, no what it is.  While to deny, for example, that the One is motion does not mean that it is rest, but rather that it is on a level where the duality of motion and rest does not apply


In Indian mysticism Negative Theology goes back to the earliest Upanishads (mystical treatises, the oldest dating from the 7th and 8th Century B.C.E.), where it is said that Brahman (the Absolute) is neti neti - "not this, not this".  In Buddhism too, especially the schools of Madhyamika and Zen, the dialectic of Negative Theology was and is of central importance.

Plotinus applies Plato's term the Good to the One's role as the supreme object of aspiration for all lower realities, due to its utter freedom from limitation and lack of want

.  The One has no need for its products and would not care if it had no products at all; the process of emanation leaves the One totally unaffected and unconcerned

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[1] Ennead V,i,6; translated by Joseph Katz, The Philosophy of Plotinus, pp.15

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 11 November 1998, last modified 27 April 2004