Not only are the universal essences – tree-hood, redness, etc. – in the eternal mind, but also the essences of the individuals. Let me make this clear by saying that in God is the form of each of us, independent of the changes in every moment of our life, that form which a great painter would see and express in his picture of us. All this is in the eternal mind, in the eternal spirit or nous.
But now it comes to a third principle: he calls it soul. “Soul” is the principle of life in all Greek thinking. It is not an immortal substance, first of all, but it is the principle of movement, the principle which moves the stars: therefore the stars have souls; the principle which moves the animals and plants: they also have souls; the principle which moves our bodies: so we have souls; the principle which moves the whole universe: so there is a world-soul, the soul. which is the moving principle of everything that is. This is the second principle, after the ultimate.
This soul-principle is midway between the nous on the one side, and the bodily reality on the other. It is the productive power of the existing world; it forms and controls matter, as our life-principle forms and controls every cell of our body. The soul of the world actualizes itself in many individual souls. Everything has an individual soul. These individual souls gives movement and life to everything, but they all have their common principle in the world-soul.
Now this principle of “soul”, universally and individually, is the principle of ambiguity. Plotinus knew what I try to teach now for weeks in this room each morning at 9 o’clock (in the course on Advanced Problems in Systematic Theology,) that life is ambiguous, that ambiguity is a definite characteristic of life. He describes the ambiguity of the principle of the soul in the following way: the soul is turned both towards the spirit (or mind) and towards matter. It has, so to speak, two directions in which to look: it looks always to the meaningful contents – we call this in our language man’s spiritual life, in knowledge, esthetics, ethics, and everything else; and at the same time (to) the relationship to our bodily existence and the whole world of material embodiment. The soul has this ambiguity; it has these two sides.
In this system of hierarchies, coming down from the ultimate, (which is beyond anything definite) to the mind (soul), everything which is has a place. This was very important because in this way Plotinus could place the whole mythological world, after it was purified by philosophy, into his system. The gods of the pagans are limited powers of being which have their place in the whole of reality. This world is a harmonious world; it is directed by the principle of providence. Here, first, providence and harmony are united, – the main principle of the Enlightenment, of the modern belief in progress in this country and everywhere, the basis of an optimistic world view. This optimism immediately makes itself felt in another statement of Plotinus, namely that the planetary forces, i. e., the demonic forces, are an illusion; they have no independent power; they are subjected to providence,(exactly as Paul describes it in Romans 8, except that Plotinus derives this same statement from his philosophy of cosmic harmony, while Paul derives it from the victorious fight of the Christ against the demons.) There are many different souls in the cosmos: mortal souls, such as plants, animals and man; and immortal souls, such as the half-divine and divine beings as have appeared in mythology. In this way the pagan powers of being have found a place to rest on; they are reestablished not as gods in mythological terms, but as powers of being. And therefore not contradicting each other, not imperialistic – one god wanting to be the God of all gods – but brought into a system of hierarchies where they have their definite place.