Plotinus's assertion that the soul, in so far as it is in the body, rests in deep sleep, now acquires a new meaning for us; Plotinus, like his great predecessors Epictetus, Plato, and Socrates, felt that we must awake out of something, overcome some self-evident truths. We must discover the magician who holds the souls of men under his spell. Where is he? How fight against him? One might think that one should begin first by fighting against the Logos and freeing man from the power of the ideas which dominate him; for our confidence in self-evident truths is precisely the "sleep of the soul" which hides within it the danger of transition to not-being. Ancient philosophy, however - and Plotinus forms no exception here - has never taken up arms openly against self-evidences. Modern philosophy, even in the shape of those of its representatives who, like Plotinus, have lost complete confidence in reason, is still living today on the Greek tradition and shows the same indecision; for is not to fight against self-evidence to foredoom oneself to failure?
I quoted a saying of Spinoza's that daily experience teaches us that success and failure fall in like measure on the just and unjust. Are these words correct? They contain an objective truth known to mankind for many thousands of years past; but can we admit this truth? We have just heard from Socrates that no one can do harm to a good man. How reconcile these two mutually contradictory assertions? For in our world, in which the law of contradiction is omnipotent, they cannot exist side by side. Either the truth of daily experience will devour Socrates' truth, or it will be devoured by it; the same is true also for a whole series of other truths for which there is no salvation possible either in dream or in reality. From these truths we cannot awake; they have permeated our whole being; the animate and the inanimate world are in their power. What are we to do? How accept the inacceptable, overcome the invincible? There was only the one answer, which Socrates gave to the Cynics and which the Stoics exalted into a theory. The inevitable and the invincible must in some way be recognized as acceptable; or, as Epictetus says, "Give me what thou wilt, and I will turn it into a good." The philosopher becomes a worker of miracles; he must become one! Not among the Stoics alone, as is usually assumed, but in all systems of antiquity and modernity ethics becomes the fundamental and central part of philosophy, which in its turn feeds all the rest, even ontology.
What then, is ethics? After all that we have said no one will deny that ethics at the present time, as also in the past and the future, is the art of performing natural miracles, i.e. miracles which agree with reason and submit to the necessity which reason recognizes in the world order. Read Epictetus' Diatribes or Plotinus's Enneads, and you will be convinced; then, too, you will understand why Pascal speaks of Epictetus's superbe diabolique, and feel how significant is the specific gravity of his exclamation: "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but not the philosophers' God." Pascal too sought the miracle, the "natural miracle" awakened in him the whole force of his imagination, but not because he feared any "contradiction" in this combination of words. Epictetus really felt the contradiction to be intolerable to the human soul (p‚sa de psychÍ logikÍ physei diabeblÍtai pros machÍn - II, 26). But Pascal knew that there are things in the world which are even more intolerable to us than outer or inner contradictions; he knew, too, that the conception of a supernatural miracle is just as contradictory as that of a natural miracle. We must assume he had his reasons for rejecting the miracles of philosophy and preferring to them those of the Bible. Or can he have made his choice arbitrarily, without reason? Did it suddenly become clear to him that there are times when the absence of a reason is, as Bergson says so well, better than any reason? Did he then first attain "sight" by suddenly convincing himself that all our reasons, all our self-evidence, are nothing but a mere assoupissement et enchantement surnaturel?
Here seems to lie the opposition in principle between Pascal and the traditional philosophy, an opposition which Pascal himself did not succeed in expressing quite sharply enough in those Pensťes of his which have come down to us. Mill says somewhere that if, every time that we had two objects and added two to them, some being secretly added another object, we should be convinced that twice two is five. And Mill is right; or rather, he was expressing, without knowing it, a very profound thought. For does it not continually happen indeed that when we have two things and add two to them five comes out? Someone inserts the fifth. Men, however, do not notice the person who inserts it, and simply "conclude" that in some cases twice two is five. Bergson expressed this thought recently by saying that scientific thought eschews everything "new". Every time that any one inserts something new, we try to explain it, to behave as though nothing new had occurred. For by the doctrine of reason, which starts from self-evident truths, or from the idea of natural necessity (which is the same thing), everything new is audacity, something that ought not to be, something contradictory to reason or irrational. And consequently, there is nothing new, for nothing is that cannot be.
Why does this happen? Why has man such fear of the new, as though it were Plotinus's "nothingness"? I think only one answer is possible; the possibility of a "new" thing takes out of man's hands the wand of Mercury, which gave him the imagined power of performing natural miracles. The new is the completely unexpected, the unforeseen and unforeseeable; the new is something completely unlike anything which was before; it is something that does not submit to man and to the magic wand of which Epictetus dreamt. And yet the "old", that which is known to man, was once itself "new", once appeared in the world without asking man's permission or awaiting the beckoning of his magic wand. Thus the old New, just like the new New, once appeared "audaciously" in the world, without asking permission of reason and of man, the bearer of reason. Now we have this "new"; what of it? If we recognize the old New, shall we not have to recognize the new New also? Reason will never contradict itself, never diverge from consistency!