Generous Good

Generous Good June 23, 2017

In Enneads 5.143, Plotinus reasons: “If the First is perfect, the most perfect of all, and the primal power, it must be the most powerful of all beings and the other powers must imitate it as far as they are able. . . . Fire warms, snow cools, and drugs act on something else in a way corresponding to their own nature—all imitating the First Principle as far as they are able by tending to everlastingness and generosity. How then could the most perfect, the first Good, remain in itself as if it grudged to give of itself, or was impotent, when it is the productive power of all things?”

He moves from lesser to the greater: If less perfect realities exercise power, and this power is a capacity to effect and cause, a capacity that conforms to the nature of the thing, then it must be the case that the most perfect reality, the “First Principle,” has a power to effect that conforms to its nature. By this reasoning, the First Good cannot remain self-contained; it must, like fire that gives heat, tend toward generosity and cannot selfishly keep itself to itself. If it’s not impotent, it must be generous—generosity and causality being lumped together if not equated. 

It doesn’t take much to turn this into a gloss on Trinitarian theology: Plotinus’s argument implies either a First Principle that must diffuse itself generously toward the world, or a First who generously diffuses Himself in a Second equal to Him. On the first model, the First Principle is dependent on the world to which he/it diffuses himself. In the second, the first is the Father who gives Himself wholly to His Son by His Spirit.


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