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Author(s) Plotinus
Country Roman Empire
Language Greek
Series Enneads
Subject(s) Philosophy

Plotinus’s Großschrift ("Great Work") consists of treatises 30-33 in the Enneads.

Großschrift treatises

  • 3.8[30]: On Nature, Contemplation, and the One
  • 5.8[31]: On the Intelligible Beauty
  • 5.5[32]: That the Intelligibles Are Not outside the Intellect, and on the Good
  • 2.9[33]: Against the Gnostics

Großschrift chapters

(30) 3.8

On Nature, Contemplation, and the One
  • Chapter 1. Let us suppose in a playful way that all things contemplate.
  • Chapter 2. At the lowest level nature, like a craftsman, works on matter by means of its contemplation and the expressed principle.
  • Chapter 3. Nature’s contemplation produces without being itself affected.
  • Chapter 4. Nature would say that its product flows from its contemplation, just as it flowed from its producer. Its contemplation is only an image of a higher form of contemplation and its product a byproduct.
  • Chapter 5. Contemplation at the level of soul.
  • Chapter 6. Action also leads to contemplation.
  • Chapter 7. Contemplation at the level of Being produces active contemplative expressed principles which give format every level. Failure is due to the progressive weakening of contemplation.
  • Chapter 8. In Intellect contemplation is identical with the object of contemplation. It is the primary life and all life at every level is contemplative.

(31) 5.8

On the Intelligible Beauty
  • Chapter 1. The paradigmatic status of Intellect.
  • Chapter 2. The beauty of nature and moral beauty have their paradigms in Intellect.
  • Chapter 3. The ascent to Intellect through its images.
  • Chapter 4. The life of Intellect and of the Forms identical with it.
  • Chapter 5. The non-propositional cognition in Intellect.
  • Chapter 6. Egyptian hieroglyphics as an analogy to non-propositional thinking.
  • Chapter 7. Intellect is not only paradigm but producer of its image, the sensible world.
  • Chapter 8. The beauty of the intelligible world.
  • Chapter 9. The method for eliminating materiality from our thought and so of ascending to the intelligible.
  • Chapter 10. The contemplation of intelligibles by Intellect.
  • Chapter 11. The sense in which the soul is unified with Intellect.
  • Chapter 12. The myth of Kronos and Zeus as analogies for the intelligible and sensible worlds.
  • Chapter 13. The extension of the myth, including Ouranos and Aphrodite, to the three fundamental hypostases. Transition to 5.5.

(32) 5.5

That the Intelligibles Are Not outside the Intellect, and on the Good
  • Chapter 1. The necessity of the internality of Forms to Intellect. The identity of Forms and Intellect means that Forms are alive and are not separable from each other.
  • Chapter 2. Intellect is cognitively identical with Forms and so possesses them, or more exactly is them. Intellect’s cognition of Forms is non-inferential and non-propositional.
  • Chapter 3. Intellect, the second god, is the locus of Being and derived from the first god.
  • Chapter 4. The unity of Intellect is inferior to the unity of the One. The One is not a number.
  • Chapter 5. The One is productive of all things. It produces Intellect first. The One is not participated in.
  • Chapter 6. The transcendence of the One. It is beyond Being. The requirement of negative theology.
  • Chapter 7. Analogy of intellection to sight.
  • Chapter 8. The omnipresence of the One.
  • Chapter 9. The ‘containment’ of Soul within Intellect and Intellect within the One. The One is itself within nothing.
  • Chapter 10. The One is unlimited in power and is identical with the Good. The One must be unlike everything of which it is the cause.
  • Chapter 11. The unqualified unlimitedness of the One. The immateriality of the first principle of all.
  • Chapter 12. The priority of the Good to that which is beautiful. The desire for the Good is prior to the desire for the beautiful.
  • Chapter 13. The absolute simplicity and transcendence of the Good. The Good is not good nor does it possess any other predicates.

(33) 2.9

Against the Gnostics
  • Chapter 1. There are only three intelligible principles. In particular, the One or the Good is the single highest principle, and there cannot be more than one Intellect.
  • Chapter 2. In the case of soul, by contrast, higher and lower parts may be distinguished.
  • Chapter 3. Whatever is part of a necessary chain of emanation, and this includes matter, is everlasting.
  • Chapter 4. It is not due to some regrettable failing of Soul that it produced the sensible world.
  • Chapter 5. A critique of three Gnostic views: (i) that human souls are superior to celestial souls; (ii) that there is a soul composed of the elements; and (iii) that there is a ‘new earth’.
  • Chapter 6. The Gnostics take over much from Plato, but they misunderstand Plato and wrongly accuse Plato and the ancient Greeks of being mistaken about the nature of things.
  • Chapter 7. The relationship of the soul of the cosmos to its body is not entirely analogous to that of an individual’s soul to its body.
  • Chapters 8–9. This sensible universe is necessary and the best possible imitation of the intelligible universe, despite perceived shortcomings and injustices. It is important to understand the rank of human life in the hierarchy of being.
  • Chapters 10–12. Objections to the Gnostic account of the relation between the sensible world and the principles responsible for creating it.
  • Chapter 13. The importance of understanding each thing’s rank in the hierarchy of being.
  • Chapter 14. Against the magic practices and theory of the Gnostics, including a criticism of daemons as a cause of disease.
  • Chapter 15. Gnostic doctrines lead to hedonism and egoism, and they have not provided an adequate account of virtue.
  • Chapters 16–17. Problems surrounding the Gnostic teachings on the gods and providence. Since genuine appreciation of anything entails an appreciation of its likeness, the Gnostics should appreciate the beauty and order of the sensible world.
  • Chapter 18. This appreciation of the sensible world need not make us lovers of body.Weshould strive to be like the universe and the celestial things by not letting our bodies distract us from contemplation.

Enneads 6.7–9

Treatises 6.7–9 in the Enneads are not part of the Großschrift, but contain similar themes. The treatises discuss the One (τὸ ἕν).

  • 6.7[38]: How the Multiplicity of the Ideas Came to Exist, and on the Good
  • 6.8[39]: On the Voluntary, and the One’s Wishing
  • 6.9[9]: On the Good or the One


How the Multiplicity of the Ideas Came to Exist, and on the Good

The Good as cause or explanation:

  • Chapters 1–14 explain the relation between sensible things and the Forms. Intellect is the collection of Forms, complete Life.
    • Chapter 1. Did the gods give sensations to sensible living things, so that they can live? No, sense-perception was not given to living things by reasoning workmen gods, since god does not reason discursively.
    • Chapter 2. Intellect explains all of sensible life.
    • Chapter 3. But how can there be sensible living things in the intelligible, for they must have the capacity for sense-perception?
    • Chapter 4. Answering this question requires investigation of what the definition of human being includes.
    • Chapter 5. The definition is a mixture of two expressed principles, that for growth and that for intellect. Three human beings are to be distinguished: the first illuminates the second, the second the third.
    • Chapter 6. In Intellect, there is sense-perception of sensibles, such as they are in Intellect.
    • Chapter 7. Sense-perception in the intelligible is clear, in the sensible, faint.

The Good in rational choice:

  • Chapters 8–14. All of the kinds of life can be in Intellect, since there is a hierarchy among them, and each of them represents Intellect in its own way.
    • Chapter 8. Intellect is the complete Living Being, containing all intellects and all souls.
    • Chapter 9. The powers unfold hierarchically, the lower from the higher, but the lower ones do not include all the power before them, but they make up for these deficiencies with their own peculiar attributes.
    • Chapter 10. Intellect is a unitary perfect Living Being; and this precludes it possessing differentiating attributes.
    • Chapter 11. The elements in matter derive from their veritable living counterparts in Intellect, being expressed principles like plants and animals.
    • Chapter 12. All living things are necessarily in the Living Being. In turn, all life is derived from one source.
    • Chapter 13. Intellect is variegated, indeed it comprises all life, since it fulfils its own nature as Substance.
    • Chapter 14. Intellect is a structured ‘one-many’, such that all things have their place in it.
  • Chapters 15–42. The nature of the Good and its relation to Intellect.

The Forms are Good-like:

  • Chapters 15–23. What does it mean to say that Forms and hence Intellect are Good-like? The Intellect turns towards the Good, but only in receiving the Good is there actual thought of the Forms. Only in this way does the soul desire Intellect. The paradox is that Forms resemble something without form.
    • Chapter 15. Intellect is complete Life, whereas life in the sensible world is merely a trace of the archetype. Intellect is Goodlike, because it contains the Good in the Forms, so it is a variegated good.
    • Chapter 16. Intellect does not see the Good, it lives in accordance with it, hence the Good explains the Forms, Substance, and their being seen.
    • Chapter 17. Intellect acquires boundaries on having seen the Good, hence the Forms are in Intellect, and are themselves intellects. Intellect makes Soul rational by passing on a trace of what it itself receives from the Good.
    • Chapter 18. Life is only good when it comes from the Good; life is not in the Good itself.
    • Chapter 19. But each thing is not good because of desire, and because of each thing’s virtue in the sensible world, but not in Intellect, since there nothing is bad. Reason still needs to understand in what way the Good is in the Forms.
    • Chapter 20. Intellect is not the Good, since, although soul desires it, not everything does.
    • Chapter 21. The activity of Intellect and its contents are Good-like insofar as they are derived from the Good, and bounded. Soul desires the life of Intellect insofar as this is derived from the Good.
    • Chapter 22. Each thing is what it is in itself, but it becomes desired when the Good itself colours it, because this gives it grace and love in the eyes of those desiring it.
    • Chapter 23. There must be the Good, otherwise there would be no vice either. The Good produces Intellect, Life, and Soul.

Nine questions about defining the Good:

  • Chapters 24–30. Is the Good all that the soul desires? Is the Good a mixture of pleasure and knowledge?
    • Chapter 24. The Good is what everything desires; that is how we know there is the Good. The objection is then raised that in and of themselves Life and Intellect, and anything beyond them, are not good.
    • Chapter 25. Our good includes joy, but the Good itself is desired because it is good, not vice versa. The good of the body is soul, that of the soul is virtue. Then comes Intellect, and finally, the Good. It provides ‘light’ to Intellect.
    • Chapter 26. One can tell that one has hit on the good when things improve, there is fulfilment and no regrets. Pleasure, in contrast, always requires continuation with something new.
    • Chapter 27. Appropriation occurs for each thing when it attains its own fulfilment, which is determined by something superior to itself. This leaves the question of what the primary Good is.
    • Chapter 28. Matter has awareness of the Good, that is, being formed, and so being something. The Good is as far from matter as possible.
    • Chapter 29. Pleasure is not characteristic of the primary Good, since it consists in filling a need.
    • Chapter 30. We have a portion of the Good because of a mixture of truth, measurement, and beauty.

The soul’s return to its origin in the Good:

  • Chapters 31–36. The Good goes beyond the truth, beauty, and proportion of Intellect. When the soul is directed by the Good alone, this means that it is not directed by any Form whatever.
    • Chapter 31. On account of the love of the Good in the soul, it moves beyond sensible things, and Intellect, and desires to make itself like the thing it loves.
    • Chapter 32. The principle of the beauty of the Forms lies in something formless, namely, in the Good.
    • Chapter 33. Form is measured, but Beauty itself is without measure, and without form: Beauty is the nature of the Good itself.
    • Chapter 34. When the soul arrives at Beauty itself, it sheds all other properties, and has a contentment that cannot be surpassed.
    • Chapter 35. When soul arrives at the Good, all motion, and thought, ceases. Intellect can both think its own contents, and also be receptive for the Good. The Good unifies soul and intellect when it is present to them.
    • Chapter 36. Cognizing the Good is ‘the most important subject of learning’. In its case, seeing and light are one.

The Good and thought:

  • Chapters 37–42. The separation of Intellect from the Good, and the hierarchy of existence.
    • Chapter 37. The Good does not think, and so does not think itself, as the Peripatetics claim.
    • Chapter 38. The Good is not, has no predicates and does not think itself.
    • Chapter 39. Thinking and Substantiality requires Difference, so that the Good cannot think itself, on pain of not being simple.
    • Chapter 40. Persuasion is added to the arguments: the Good is unmixed with thinking, and is only attained when one moves beyond thought.
    • Chapter 41. Since the Good is perfectly one, primary and independent, it cannot think, since thinking requires an object.
    • Chapter 42. The hierarchy: all beings are for the sake of the Good. Intelligibles follow the Good directly, Soul in Intellect produces the sensible things.


On the Voluntary, and the One’s Wishing
  • Chapter 1. ‘What depends on us’: can this expression be extended from humans to intelligibles and the One? We have to ask how ‘what depends on us’ is distinguished from the voluntary.
  • Chapter 2. Which faculty of the soul does ‘what depends on us’ relate to – desire, spirit, or to a combination of desire and reason? No action depends entirely on us.
  • Chapter 3. Does true freedom lie in opinion or representation? No, in the intellect.
  • Chapter 4. Is it not impossible to attribute freedomto intelligible beings? For they are subject to their own natures. In the case of intelligible beings, one should not distinguish between activity and substance – so one is not subject to the other.
  • Chapter 5. Can virtue be free? It is like a second intellect.
  • Chapter 6. Only freedom in the activity of the intellect is freedom in the full sense. It is the will for the Good that makes the intellect free.
  • Chapter 7. The ‘reckless argument’: the Good is not free since it does not control its own nature. However, a consequence would be to make the expression ‘what depends on us’ meaningless.
  • Chapter 8. The predicates which cannot be applied to the Good.
  • Chapter 9. The principle of all things cannot be by accident; it is prior to necessity in being what it is.
  • Chapter 10. The cause of Intellect cannot be by accident; the Good is above all necessity because of its boundless power.
  • Chapter 11. The Good is not, and so cannot be the object of enquiry; it is none of the predicates collected in the genera of Being.
  • Chapter 12. We are aware of our own freedom, so the principle that makes us free must also be free.
  • Chapter 13. Predicates used of the Good are used to persuade; the Good’ activity is not subservient to its being, since the two are identical. Only the Good satisfies itself. Still, all predicates hold only ‘as it were’ of the Good.
  • Chapter 14. If each being is the cause of itself, the Good must be a fortiori cause of itself.
  • Chapter 15. The awareness of our own freedom allows us to approach the true life of the Good.
  • Chapter 16. The positive attributes of the Good.
  • Chapter 17. Neither intelligible nor sensible being is accidentally; only the Good relates solely to itself.
  • Chapter 18. We should look for the Good in ourselves; images of the Good.
  • Chapter 19. Contemplation of the Good itself is better than mere images of it; it is ‘beyond Substantiality’.
  • Chapter 20. Is the Good not prior to itself if it produces itself?
  • Chapter 21. The Good is will entirely; it cannot produce itself other than it does. There is identity between the substantiality of the Good and its will. To contemplate the Good, one has to do away with all other predicates.


On the Good or the One
  • Chapter 1. Everything is because of the One; while Soul provides unity it is not the One.
  • Chapter 2. Nor is Intellect the One, and nor are individuals.
  • Chapter 3. For the soul to be directed by the one requires the soul to leave off the variety it is accustomed to, and undergo habituation of character, and then use Intellect as a guide, while excluding all determinations from the One.
  • Chapter 4. The presence of the One is prior to that of science, and only direct vision, not teaching, provides contact with the One.
  • Chapter 5. The progress from awareness of body to that of the One leads via the possession of reason and virtue, then from the science to Intellect, and finally from Intellect to the One. The One is prior to the Intellect in that it has no parts.
  • Chapter 6. The One is not like a monad or a point because it is not in another thing. It is a maximum in being infinite in power: it has no need of anything. It has no good nor will, nor thought nor being with itself.
  • Chapter 7. The One is the object of investigation in that it may be present, not as a thing, and the presence is to be found in not knowing: the presence of the One is to be found within oneself.
  • Chapter 8. For we revolve around the centre, or better making our centre coincide with the centre of all things: in that way the eternal presence is present to us.
  • Chapter 9. By turning around the One, we receive being, in turning towards the One we receive well-being. For the soul has innate love of the Good which makes us desire death, even if true contemplation is possible in this life.
  • Chapter 10. This contemplation is interrupted, although it is unity with the One.
  • Chapter 11. One only remembers being like the One. The soul need not be afraid of proceeding to nothing. For virtue and contemplation take turns in guiding the soul.

See also