“There is a principle having intellection of the external and another having self-intellection and thus further removed from duality.
“Even the first mentions is not without an effort towards the pure unity of which it is not so capable. It does actually contain its object, though as something other than itself.
“In the self-intellect, there is not even this distinction of being: self-conversing, the subject is its own object, and thus takes the double form while remaining essentially a unity. The intellection is the more profound for the internal possession of the object.
“This principle in the primal intellect since there can be no intellection without duality in unity. If there is no unity, perceiving principle and perceived object will be different, and the intellection, therefore, not primal: a principle concerned with something external cannot be the primal intellect since it does not process the object as integrally its own as itself; it it does possess the object as itself—the condition of true intellection—the two are one. Thus (in order to primal intellection) there must be a unity in duality, while a pure unity with no counterbalancing duality can have no object for its intellection and ceases to be intellective. In other words, the primal intellective must be at once simple and something else.
“But the surest way of realizing that its nature demands this combination of unity and duality is to proceed upwards from the Soul, where the distinction can be made more dearly since the duality is exhibited more obviously.” ~Plotinus
External Intellection and Self-Intellection
What Plotinus means when he speaks of intellection of the external is awareness of something or someone outside of ourselves. Self-intellection, therefore, means self-awareness. Plotinus says that the intellect of the external does “contain its object,” but sees it as something other than itself. I’m not quite sure what he is trying to say with that statement. Does he mean to say that all things are a part of ourselves and we just think they are external, or does he mean that there is but one intellect, one consciousness, so everything is part of that single unified consciousness and the separation is but illusion? I think it is possible to be separate beings and things, yet connected to the all, like individual bricks that are part of a wall. The structure of nearly everything in the universe seems to have a hierarchy to it including our physical bodies. The galaxy is made of many solar systems, solar systems are made of one or two stars and several planets, etc. One from many, that is the idea of a hierarchical structure.
One and the Same
Maybe these two types of intellect are really just a case of looking at the same thing from different angles. Does it really matter, for example, when we look at a tree if we think of it as a separate being or just a part of ourselves? It shouldn’t, but with some people it does. Many don’t think they are responsible in any way for the welfare of others, but they do care about themselves. But it really shouldn’t make any difference either way. How we treat others is just as important to our own well being as how we treat ourselves. Plotinus goes on to say as much himself. He says the intellect is the subject as well as the object, so essentially a unity. Duality in unity and unity in duality. That’s an idea that won’t make the anti-duality crowd happy, but maybe it should.
Duality in Unity
So put into simple words, Plotinus is saying that there is duality in unity and unity in duality. There is no reason to argue over which is reality and which isn’t. The correct answer is “both”. Duality is real because we know that we can observe ourselves, we can contemplate what we are thinking and why we are thinking it. This is a mental duality. On the physical level, we know that we have a physical body that is separate from that of other beings. But at the same time, we are all linked together by the Thread of Life1 into a single whole. Many gurus and philosophers have told us that we should think of Man as an individual being, not as a species. But in this philosophy of Plotinus, we are both. We can be individual men and women, and still, be just a part of a single entity called Man.
Something that is shocking, and even unbelievable, to many people is that our physical body, while a unity, is made up of many individual entities. While that can refer to the various cells and organs, it is more than that. Our bodies are full of beneficial microbes, which is now called the Microbiome. Most people know we have bacteria living in us and most of them are beneficial, even essential, for us to live. What few know is that there are more microbes in us than anything else! Out bodies are massive colonies of various living creatures! Yet together, it makes one human being: unity from duality.
Spiritual Duality in Unity
Among the most vocal opponents of duality are those who call themselves spiritual. But there is no reason for this opposition. Accepting duality does not mean abandoning unity. Further, it allows us to understand the complexities of the multi-dimensional universe better.
If reality was an absolute unity, there couldn’t be many dimensions. We could not have a material universe and a spiritual one, each made up of several dimensions. So the realm of matter, where duality seems obvious to most (hot & cold, male and female, etc.) can be separate from the realm os spirit where things are quite different. If there was no duality to keep these two realms separate, everything would degenerate into matter and we would be lost forever. Fortunately, duality within the Unity is real, and the two realms remain separate.
Matter is unable to penetrate the higher levels called spirit. Spirit, however, can easily penetrate into the realm of matter, and is doing so. Eventually, there will be enough spirit in the material universe that it will transform back into spirit from which it degenerated as a result of the Demiurge. When that happens, all will be spirit, and the duality in unity will be gone. Creation will then be a complete unity.