(born 205, Lyco, or Lycopolis, Egypt?died 270, Campania) Egyptian-Roman philosopher. At age 27 he traveled to Alexandria, where he studied philosophy for 11 years. In about 242 he joined the expedition of the Roman emperor Gordian III against Persia in order to learn about the philosophies of the Persians and Indians. He went to Antioch and then to Rome, where he settled at age 40, becoming the centre of an influential circle of intellectuals. His attempt to form a Platonic republic in Campania 265 was halted by the emperor Gallienus. He was the founder of the school of philosophy known as Neoplatonism; his collected works, the Enneads (from Greek, enneas: set of nine), arranged by his disciple Porphyry (232? 305), are the first and greatest collection of Neoplatonic writings. For Plotinus, philosophy was not only a matter of abstract speculation but also a way of life and a religion. His works strongly influenced early Christian theology, and his philosophy was widely studied and emulated for many centuries.

For more information on Plotinus, visit

The Greek philosopher Plotinus (205-270) was the founder of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy, which became the most formidable rival of Christianity in the declining years of the ancient world.

Plotinus was born perhaps in the Egyptian town of Lyco, or Lycopolis. He turned to philosophy at the age of 28 and studied for 11 years with the eminent philosopher Ammonius Saccas at Alexandria.

In 243, desiring to learn about Eastern philosophy, Plotinus joined the expedition led by the Roman emperor Gordian III against the Persians. However, Gordian was murdered, and Plotinus was forced to flee to Antioch and then Rome.

Upon his arrival in Rome, Plotinus began to take students, and his influence in the city soon became great among both professional philosophers and other intellectuals. The emperor Gallienus held Plotinus in such high esteem that he considered founding a philosophers' city in Campania on the ruined site of an early Pythagorean settlement. Plotinus's habits of life were austere. He ate and slept only as much as necessary, and he never married. When he fell ill late in life, he left Rome and retired to Campania, where he died.

Plotinus did not begin to write until he was 50 years old. His work, the Enneads, was arranged and published some 30 years after his death by his most famous pupil, Porphyry. It consists of six groups of nine essays and deals with the whole range of ancient philosophical thought with the exception of political theory. Ennead 1 deals with ethics and esthetics; Enneads 2 and 3 deal with physics and cosmology; Ennead 4 treats psychology; and Enneads 5 and 6 deal with metaphysics, logic, and epistemology. The style of these essays is highly personal - sometimes brilliant, sometimes concise to the point of obscurity - but at all times fascinating and indicative of Plotinus's keen and sensitive mind.

His Philosophical System

At the heart of Plotinus's religiophilosophical system is a supreme divinity which is infinite, unitary, and good. It is the ultimate but not the direct cause of all that is, although it is under no compulsion or necessity to produce anything outside itself. Indeed, it is so perfect that it lacks nothing. It simply is. Between this supreme existent and the known world is the supersensual world, made up of three types of being.

The first, produced by an overflow or radiation of the perfect One, is the World-Mind, which is conscious of multiplicity but holds all together in eternal contemplation. It is equivalent to Aristotle's Unmoved Mover and the realm of Plato's Ideas, or Forms. It is also the organizational principle of the universe.

Next comes the World-Soul, produced by the World-Mind and less unitary in that it is further removed from the One and perceives things sequentially. It is therefore the cause of time and space, although it is superior to them since it is eternal.

Finally, there is Nature, the furthest removed from the One and the least creative of the three supersensual beings. Nature corresponds to the Stoic immanent World-Soul. The physical world is a projection of its dreamlike consciousness.

According to Plotinus, man's role in this universe is a unique one. Unlike other animal and plant life, he has within himself the possibility of using his intellect to aspire to unity with the supersensual world. Indeed, through strict discipline, it is even possible to achieve union with the One, but such occurrences are rare. Plotinus claimed to have reached that height of ecstasy himself four times.

The three types of supersensual beings correspond to three types of thought which men may engage in. The lowest, corresponding to the dreamlike consciousness of Nature, is unclear and undisciplined thought. The next, corresponding to the thought of the World-Soul, is discursive thought. The third, corresponding to the unitary thought of the World-Mind, is apprehension of the whole in a single experience of the mind.

Ecstasy of Oneness

The ecstasy which Plotinus claimed to have experienced was one step further. It was a complete union with God, the infinite, unitary, and beneficent One. This experience was impossible to describe. Since God is completely self-sufficient and has no need to be conscious of anything, so the man who reaches the height of ecstatic union with Him finds himself in a state of totally indescribable self-sufficiency and oneness. It is an experience equivalent to the mystical union with God described by Christian mystics.

Plotinus's teachings attracted many followers. The most noteworthy were Porphyry and lamblichus, who carried on his teachings with slightly different emphasis. Neoplatonism, through the development of the many schools it spawned, came to embrace a great number of mystical and superstitious beliefs from the East. It proved to be a resilient and attractive rival to Christianity, and even after Justinian closed the philosophical schools in 529, Neoplatonism remained influential in the development of thought during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Further Reading

Original texts and readable translations of the works of Plotinus are provided in A. H. Armstrong, Plotinus (1966). An excellent commentary is émile Bréhier, The Philosophy of Plotinus, translated by Joseph Thomas (1958). See also W. R. Inge, The Philosophy of Plotinus (2 vols., 1928). Originally written in the late 19th century, Eduard Zeller's Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy, 13th ed. revised by Wilhelm Nestle and translated by L.R. Palmer (1957), is still useful although slightly dated. Discussions of Neoplatonism in the context of the history of Greek literature can be found in standard works on that subject, notably Albin Lesky, A History of Greek Literature (1966). See also Thomas Whittaker, The Neo-Platonists (1928).

Additional Sources

Davison, William Theophilus, Mystics and poets, Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1977.

Plotinus, The essence of Plotinus: extracts from the six Enneads and Porphyry's Life of Plotinus, based on the translation by Stephen Mackenna: with an appendix giving some of the most important Platonic and Aristotelian sources on which Plotinus drew, and an annotated bibliography, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976, 1934.

Plōtīnus (c. AD 205–270) greatest Greek philosopher of late antiquity, the chief exponent of Neoplatonism, probably born at Lycopolis in Egypt. He settled in Rome in 244, after having accompanied the expedition of the emperor Gordion to Mesopotamia in order to learn something of eastern thought. He was admired for his extreme spirituality, mysticism, and asceticism. ‘He seemed ashamed of being in a body’, says his biographer and disciple Porphyry. Plotinus wrote philosophical essays arising out of discussions and intended for circulation among his pupils. These were collected by Porphyry and arranged in six books of nine essays each, called Enneads (‘the nines’). Ennead 1 deals with ethics and aesthetics; Enneads 2 and 3 with physics and cosmology; Ennead 4 with psychology; Enneads 5 and 6 with metaphysics, logic, and epistemology. Because of his weak sight Plotinus never read through what he had written; the writings read like oral discourse and are brief, elliptical, and allusive, with abrupt transitions, and are therefore very difficult to understand.

Plotinus' philosophy may be summarized as follows. The universe is to be explained as a hierarchy of realities (or hypostasēs), a great chain of being, in which the higher reality is the cause of and gives existence to whatever is immediately below it; this process Plotinus calls emanation, an ‘overflowing’ from a higher to a lower level. In this process there is a gradual diminution, so that every existent is slightly inferior to its cause. At the top of the hierarchy are three divine realities, the One (Hen), Mind (Nous), and Soul Psȳchē). At the very summit is the One, supreme goodness, which can to a large extent be identified with Plato's Idea of the Good (see PLATO 5). Mind, which comes immediately below the One, and derives its form from contemplating its source, is a fragmented image of the One, and corresponds to intuitive thought. The Platonic Ideas (see PLATO 4) are to be found in Mind. Soul, which derives from Mind, can only contemplate its objects in succession, moving from one to another, and so it creates time and space. It generates the next reality, Nature (Physis), the principle of life and growth. Beyond Nature, at the lowest level of reality, exist material things (matter). Human beings are microcosms, containing within themselves parts of Matter, Nature, Soul, and Mind. What a human being becomes depends on the level to which he directs his consciousness. By intellectual discipline a person may hope to rise to the level of Mind. It is even possible to rise beyond that and be identified, by ecstasy, with the supreme unity of the One (an experience which Plotinus says came four times to him). In ethics Plotinus enjoined purification by self-discipline, with a view to ascent, impelled by love and enthusiasm, towards the One. His writings are based on personal experience and are a classic of mysticism. He makes no explicit reference to Christianity, and unification with the One is not thought of as attainable by divine grace. Plotinus also makes an important contribution to aesthetics: whereas Plato had argued that art imitates natural objects, Plotinus propounds the view that art and nature alike both impose a form on matter in accordance with an inward vision of archetypal Forms or Ideas.

(c. AD 205-70) The founder of Neoplatonism. Plotinus was born in Egypt. After study with the Alexandrian teacher Ammonius Saccus, he travelled in pursuit of wisdom to Persia, but eventually fled to Antioch and Rome in 244. Under the protection of the emperor Gallienus, Plotinus started a school of philosophy; shortly after the death of Gallienus he died of leprosy, possibly in some kind of political exile.

Plotinus' works of note are the Enneads, written between 253 and 270, and collected by his pupil Porphyry (they are called ‘Enneads’ from the Greek ennea, nine, because each of the six books contains nine sections). Following the largely discredited Second Letter attributed to Plato, Plotinus divides the realm of intelligible things into three: the One, Intelligence or nous, and the Soul. The One is the absolutely transcendental, unknowable object of worship and desire. The world of intelligence is that of ideas or concepts, but conceived as ideas in the mind of the One, although also conceived as the realm of number. Finally, below intelligence there is the soul, incorporeal, substantial, and immortal, and capable of transmigration (see metempsychosis). (Below even souls are the denizens of nature, but these may be so negative as not to properly partake of existence at all.) Some but not all souls are sunk into terrestial bodies, which is bad. But the world as a whole is also a living organism, or an example of the one Soul. Perhaps the most characteristic doctrine of Plotinus is that the One ‘emanates’ or overflows, like light from the sun, to create the realm of Intelligence, and that in turn emanates into the world of the soul, although it remains obscure whether this emanation is a joyful procreative act of the higher creative principle, or a kind of betrayal and polluting fall of the lower. In any event, it is in contemplation of the higher, creative principle that the lower receives its form or impress. But it is also as reflections of the one cosmic Soul that individual souls exist, and their aim must be to direct their contemplation back up the hierarchy, eventually to obtain light and vitality by contemplative absorption in the One. See also Neoplatonism.

Plotinus (plōtī'nəs), 205-270, Neoplatonist philosopher. A native of Egypt, perhaps of Roman descent, he went to Alexandria c.232 to devote himself to philosophy. For 10 years he was a dedicated disciple of Ammonius Saccas. To study the philosophies of India and Persia, Plotinus in 242 traveled in the Eastern expedition of Gordian III, the Roman emperor. From 244 he lived in Rome, where his school attracted wide attention. Many followed his advice and example; they gave their wealth to those in need and turned to contemplative thought. However, Plotinus never taught or practiced extreme asceticism. His pupil Porphyry wrote a biography of him and was responsible for the arrangement of his works, which were written after 253, into six Enneads, or groups of nine treatises.

The theories of Plotinus were fundamentally those of Plato but included elements of other Greek philosophies as well, all drawn together into an original system that rapidly won followers and in time had considerable influence on the thinkers of the Christian Church, although Plotinus himself opposed Christianity. His development of the idea of emanation was fuller than that found in the teachings of the Stoics and of Philo. This cosmological conception is the chief point of Neoplatonism, which received its form from Plotinus. All else, even his ethics, depends upon this view of the world.

Among the virtues set forth by Plotinus are political or social virtues, concerning a human being's relations to others; the higher purifying virtues, needed to help the soul become like God by removing from it as much as possible that which is of the senses; and the still higher deifying or enlightening virtures, through the exercise of which a human being may attain to the fulfillment of his or her true nature. But unification with the highest, with God, is not possible through thought. It is attained only when the soul, in an ecstatic state, loses the restraint of the body and has for a time an immediate knowledge of God (see mysticism).


See The Essence of Plotinus (extracts from the six Enneads and Porphyry's life of Plotinus, comp. by G. H. Turnbull, 1934); E. Bréhier, The Philosophy of Plotinus (tr. 1958); J. M. Rist, Plotinus (1967); G. J. O'Daly, Plotinus' Philosophy of the Self (1972).

Word Tutor:



IN BRIEF: n. - Roman philosopher (born in Egypt) who was the leading representative of Neoplatonism (205-270). is a free vocabulary and spelling program where you only pay for results!

Quotes By:




"God is not external to anyone, but is present with all things, though they are ignorant that he is so."

"Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not fine yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one glow or beauty and never cease chiseling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendor of virtue, until you see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine"

"Being is desirable because it is identical with Beauty, and Beauty is loved because it is Being. We ourselves possess Beauty when we are true to our own being; ugliness is in going over to another order; knowing ourselves, we are beautiful; in self-ignorance, we are ugly."


Born 205
Died 270 (aged 64–65)
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Neo-Platonism
Main interests Platonism, Metaphysics, Mysticism
Notable ideas The One, Emanationism, Henosis, Nous

Plotinus (Greek: Πλωτῖνος) (ca. 204/5–270 CE) was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul.[1] His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition.[2] Historians of the 19th century invented the term Neoplatonism[citation needed] and applied it to him and his philosophy which was influential in Late Antiquity. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry's preface to his edition of Plotinus' Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics.



Porphyry reported that Plotinus was 66 years old when he died in 270, the second year of the reign of the emperor Claudius II, thus giving us the year of his teacher's birth as around 205. Eunapius reported that Plotinus was born in the Deltaic Lycopolis; "Lyco-" from the Greek meaning "wolf" (Greek: λύκος, lykos). It is the same root that gave rise to Aristotle's Lyceum (place of the wolf) in Egypt, which has led to speculations that he may have been a native Egyptian of Roman,[3] Greek,[4] or Hellenized Egyptian[5] descent.

Plotinus had an inherent distrust of materiality (an attitude common to Platonism), holding to the view that phenomena were a poor image or mimicry (mimesis) of something "higher and intelligible" [VI.I] which was the "truer part of genuine Being". This distrust extended to the body, including his own; it is reported by Porphyry that at one point he refused to have his portrait painted, presumably for much the same reasons of dislike. Likewise Plotinus never discussed his ancestry, childhood, or his place or date of birth. From all accounts his personal and social life exhibited the highest moral and spiritual standards.

Plotinus took up the study of philosophy at the age of twenty-seven, around the year 232, and travelled to Alexandria to study. There he was dissatisfied with every teacher he encountered until an acquaintance suggested he listen to the ideas of Ammonius Saccas. Upon hearing Ammonius lecture, he declared to his friend, "this was the man I was looking for," and began to study intently under his new instructor. Besides Ammonius, Plotinus was also influenced by the works of Alexander of Aphrodisias, Numenius, and various Stoics.

Expedition to Persia and return to Rome

After spending the next eleven years in Alexandria, he then decided to investigate the philosophical teachings of the Persian philosophers and the Indian philosophers around the age of 38.[6] In the pursuit of this endeavor he left Alexandria and joined the army of Gordian III as it marched on Persia. However, the campaign was a failure, and on Gordian's eventual death Plotinus found himself abandoned in a hostile land, and only with difficulty found his way back to safety in Antioch.

At the age of forty, during the reign of Philip the Arab, he came to Rome, where he stayed for most of the remainder of his life. There he attracted a number of students. His innermost circle included Porphyry, Amelius Gentilianus of Tuscany, the Senator Castricius Firmus, and Eustochius of Alexandria, a doctor who devoted himself to learning from Plotinus and attending to him until his death. Other students included: Zethos, an Arab by ancestry who died before Plotinus, leaving him a legacy and some land; Zoticus, a critic and poet; Paulinus, a doctor of Scythopolis; and Serapion from Alexandria. He had students amongst the Roman Senate beside Castricius, such as Marcellus Orontius, Sabinillus, and Rogantianus. Women were also numbered amongst his students, including Gemina, in whose house he lived during his residence in Rome, and her daughter, also Gemina; and Amphiclea, the wife of Ariston the son of Iamblichus.[7] Finally, Plotinus was a correspondent of the philosopher Cassius Longinus.

Later life

While in Rome Plotinus also gained the respect of the Emperor Gallienus and his wife Salonina. At one point Plotinus attempted to interest Gallienus in rebuilding an abandoned settlement in Campania, known as the 'City of Philosophers', where the inhabitants would live under the constitution set out in Plato's Laws. An Imperial subsidy was never granted, for reasons unknown to Porphyry, who reports the incident.

Porphyry subsequently went to live in Sicily, where word reached him that his former teacher had died. The philosopher spent his final days in seclusion on an estate in Campania which his friend Zethos had bequeathed him. According to the account of Eustochius, who attended him at the end, Plotinus' final words were: "Strive to give back the Divine in yourselves to the Divine in the All."[citation needed] Eustochius records that a snake crept under the bed where Plotinus lay, and slipped away through a hole in the wall; at the same moment the philosopher died.

Plotinus wrote the essays that became the Enneads over a period of several years from ca. 253 until a few months before his death seventeen years later. Porphyry makes note that the Enneads, before being compiled and arranged by himself, were merely the enormous collection of notes and essays which Plotinus used in his lectures and debates, rather than a formal book. Plotinus was unable to revise his own work due to his poor eyesight, yet his writings required extensive editing, according to Porphyry: his master's handwriting was atrocious, he did not properly separate his words, and he cared little for niceties of spelling. Plotinus intensely disliked the editorial process, and turned the task to Porphyry, who not only polished them but put them into the arrangement we now have.

Major ideas


Plotinus' "One" pictured as light amidst the darkness of nothingness

Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent "One", containing no division, multiplicity or distinction; beyond all categories of being and non-being. His "One" "cannot be any existing thing", nor is it merely the sum of all things [compare the Stoic doctrine of disbelief in non-material existence], but "is prior to all existents". Plotinus identified his "One" with the concept of 'Good' and the principle of 'Beauty'. [I.6.9]

His "One" concept encompassed thinker and object of thought alike dyad). Even the self-contemplating intelligence (the noesis of the nous) must contain duality. "Once you have uttered 'The Good,' add no further thought: by any addition, and in proportion to that addition, you introduce a deficiency." [III.8.11] Plotinus denies sentience, self-awareness or any other action (ergon) to the One [V.6.6]. Rather, if we insist on describing it further, we must call the One a sheer Dynamis or potentiality without which nothing could exist. [III.8.10] As Plotinus explains in both places and elsewhere [e.g. V.6.3], it is impossible for the One to be Being or a self-aware Creator God. At [V.6.4], Plotinus compared the One to "light", the Divine Nous (first will towards Good) to the "Sun", and lastly the Soul to the "Moon" whose light is merely a "derivative conglomeration of light from the 'Sun'". The first light could exist without any celestial body.

The One, being beyond all attributes including being and non-being, is the source of the world—but not through any act of creation, willful or otherwise, since activity cannot be ascribed to the unchangeable, immutable One. Plotinus argues instead that the multiple cannot exist without the simple. The "less perfect" must, of necessity, "emanate", or issue forth, from the "perfect" or "more perfect". Thus, all of "creation" emanates from the One in succeeding stages of lesser and lesser perfection. These stages are not temporally isolated, but occur throughout time as a constant process. Plotinus here resolves the issues between Plato's ontology and Aristotle's Actus et potentia. The issue being that Aristotle, through resolving Parmenides' Third Man argument against Plato's forms and ontology created a second philosophical school of thought. Plotinus here then reconciles the "Good over the Demiurge" from Plato's Timaeus with Aristotle's static "unmoved mover" of Actus et potentia. Plotinus does this by making the potential or force (dunamis) the Monad or One and making the demiurge or dyad, the action or energy component in philosophical cognitive ontology. Later Neoplatonic philosophers, especially Iamblichus, added hundreds of intermediate beings as emanations between the One and humanity; but Plotinus' system was much simpler in comparison.

The One is not just an intellectual conception but something that can be experienced, an experience where one goes beyond all multiplicity.[8] Plotinus writes, "We ought not even to say that he will see, but he will be that which he sees, if indeed it is possible any longer to distinguish between seer and seen, and not boldly to affirm that the two are one."[9]

Emanation by the One

Plotinus offers an alternative to the orthodox Christian notion of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), which attributes to God the deliberation of mind and action of a will, although Plotinus never mentions Christianity in any of his works. Emanation ex deo (out of God), confirms the absolute transcendence of the One, making the unfolding of the cosmos purely a consequence of its existence; the One is in no way affected or diminished by these emanations. Plotinus uses the analogy of the Sun which emanates light indiscriminately without thereby diminishing itself, or reflection in a mirror which in no way diminishes or otherwise alters the object being reflected.

The first emanation is Nous (Divine Mind, logos or order, Thought, Reason), identified metaphorically with the Demiurge in Plato's Timaeus. It is the first Will toward Good. From Nous proceeds the World Soul, which Plotinus subdivides into upper and lower, identifying the lower aspect of Soul with nature. From the world soul proceeds individual human souls, and finally, matter, at the lowest level of being and thus the least perfected level of the cosmos. Despite this relatively pedestrian assessment of the material world, Plotinus asserted the ultimately divine nature of material creation since it ultimately derives from the One, through the mediums of nous and the world soul. It is by the Good or through beauty that we recognize the One, in material things and then in the Forms.[10]

The essentially devotional nature of Plotinus' philosophy may be further illustrated by his concept of attaining ecstatic union with the One (henosis see Iamblichus). Porphyry relates that Plotinus attained such a union four times during the years he knew him. This may be related to enlightenment, liberation, and other concepts of mystical union common to many Eastern and Western traditions.

The True Human and Happiness

The philosophy of Plotinus has always exerted a peculiar fascination upon those whose discontent with things as they are has led them to seek the realities behind what they took to be merely the appearances of the sense.

The philosophy of Plotinus: representative books from the Enneads, p. vii[11]

Authentic human happiness for Plotinus consists of the true human identifying with that which is the best in the universe. Because happiness is beyond anything physical, Plotinus stresses the point that worldly fortune does not control true human happiness, and thus “… there exists no single human being that does not either potentially or effectively possess this thing we hold to constitute happiness.” (Enneads I.4.4) The issue of happiness is one of Plotinus’ greatest imprints on Western thought, as he is one of the first to introduce the idea that eudaimonia (happiness) is attainable only within consciousness.

The true human is an incorporeal contemplative capacity of the soul, and superior to all things corporeal. It then follows that real human happiness is independent of the physical world. Real happiness is, instead, dependent on the metaphysical and authentic human being found in this highest capacity of Reason. “For man, and especially the Proficient, is not the Couplement of Soul and body: the proof is that man can be disengaged from the body and disdain its nominal goods.” (Enneads I.4.14) The human who has achieved happiness will not be bothered by sickness, discomfort, etc., as his focus is on the greatest things. Authentic human happiness is the utilization of the most authentically human capacity of contemplation. Even in daily, physical action, the flourishing human’s “…Act is determined by the higher phase of the Soul.” (Enneads III.4.6) Even in the most dramatic arguments Plotinus considers (if the Proficient is subject to extreme physical torture, for example), he concludes this only strengthens his claim of true happiness being metaphysical, as the truly happy human being would understand that which is being tortured is merely a body, not the conscious self, and happiness could persist.

Plotinus offers a comprehensive description of his conception of a person who has achieved eudaimonia. “The perfect life” involves a man who commands reason and contemplation. (Enneads I.4.4) A happy person will not sway between happy and sad, as many of Plotinus’ contemporaries believed. Stoics, for example, question the ability of someone to be happy (presupposing happiness is contemplation) if they are mentally incapacitated or even asleep. Plotinus disregards this claim, as the soul and true human do not sleep or even exist in time, nor will a living human who has achieved eudaimonia suddenly stop using its greatest, most authentic capacity just because of the body’s discomfort in the physical realm. “…The Proficient’s will is set always and only inward.” (Enneads I.4.11)

Overall, happiness for Plotinus is "...a flight from this world's ways and things." (Theat 176AB) and a focus on the highest, i.e. Forms and The One.

Against causal astrology

Plotinus seems to be one of the first to argue against the still popular notion of causal astrology. In the late tractate 2.3, "Are the stars causes?", Plotinus makes the argument that specific stars influencing one's fortune (a common hellenistic theme) attributes irrationality to a perfect universe, and invites moral turpitude.[clarification needed] He does, however, claim the stars and planets are ensouled, as witnessed by their movement.

Plotinus and the Gnostics

At least two modern conferences within Hellenic philosophy fields of study have been held in order to address what Plotinus stated in his tract Against the Gnostics and who he was addressing it to, in order to separate and clarify the events and persons involved in the origin of the term "Gnostic". From the dialogue, it appears that the word had an origin in the Platonic and Hellenistic tradition long before the group calling themselves "Gnostics" -- or the group covered under the modern term "Gnosticism" -- ever appeared. It would seem that this shift from Platonic to Gnostic usage has led many people to confusion. The strategy of sectarians taking Greek terms from philosophical contexts and re-applying them to religious contexts was popular in Christianity, the Cult of Isis and other ancient religious contexts including Hermetic ones (see Alexander of Abonutichus for an example).

In the case of gnosticism it is important to understand that Plotinus and the Neoplatonists viewed it as a form of heresy or sectarianism to the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy of the Mediterranean and Middle East.[12] He accused them of using senseless jargon and being overly dramatic and insolent in their distortion of Plato's ontology.[13] Plotinus attacks his opponents as untraditional, irrational and immoral[14][15] and arrogant.[16] He also attacks them as elitist and blasphemous to Plato for the Gnostics despising the material world and its maker.[17]

Plotinus, for example, attacked the Gnostics for vilifying Plato's ontology of the universe contained in Timaeus, and the universes' creation by the demiurge.[18] In this view the Demiurge is an artist or craftsman, in that he creates through mixing or amalgamating what already is. Plotinus accused Gnosticism of vilifing the Demiurge or craftsman that crafted the material world, even thinking of the material world as evil or a prison.

The Neoplatonic movement (though Plotinus would have simply referred to himself as a philosopher of Plato) seems to be motivated by the desire of Plotinus to revive the pagan philosophical tradition.[19] Plotinus was not claiming to innovate with the Enneads, but to clarify aspects of the works of Plato that he considered misrepresented or misunderstood.[20] Plotinus referred to tradition as a way to interpret Plato's intentions. Because the teachings of Plato were for members of the academy rather than the general public, it was easy for outsiders to misunderstand Plato's meaning. However, Plotinus attempted to clarify how the philosophers of the academy had not arrived at the same conclusions (such as misotheism or Dystheism of the creator God as an answer to the problem of evil) as the targets of his criticism.


Ancient world

Many Christians were also influenced by Neoplatonism, most notably Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. St. Augustine, though often referred to as a "Platonist," acquired his Platonist philosophy through the mediation of Plotinus' teachings.


Plotinus' philosophy had a great influence on the development of Christian theology. In A History of Western Philosophy, logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that:

To the Christian, the Other World was the Kingdom of Heaven, to be enjoyed after death; to the Platonist, it was the eternal world of ideas, the real world as opposed to that of illusory appearance. Christian theologians combined these points of view, and embodied much of the philosophy of Plotinus. [...] Plotinus, accordingly, is historically important as an influence in moulding the Christianity of the Middle Ages and of Catholic theology.[21]

The Eastern Orthodox position on energy, for example, is often contrasted with the position of the Roman Catholic Church, and in part this is attributed to varying interpretations of Aristotle and Plotinus, either through Thomas Aquinas for the Roman Catholics or Gregory of Nyssa for the Orthodox.


Neo-Platonism and the ideas of Plotinus influenced medieval Islam as well, since the Sunni Abbasids fused Greek concepts into sponsored state texts, and found great influence amongst the Ismaili Shia.[22] Persian philosophers as well, such as Muhammad al-Nasafi and Abu Yaqub Sijistani. By the 11th century, Neo-Platonism was adopted by the Fatimid state of Egypt, and taught by their da'i.[22] Neo-Platonism was brought to the Fatimid court by Iraqi Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, although his teachings differed from Nasafi and Sijistani, who were more aligned with original teachings of Plotinus.[23] The teachings of Kirmani in turn influenced philosophers such as Nasir Khusraw of Persia.[23]


In the Renaissance the philosopher Marsilio Ficino set up an Academy under the patronage of Cosimo de Medici in Florence, mirroring that of Plato. His work was of great importance in reconciling the philosophy of Plato directly with Christianity. One of his most distinguished pupils was Pico della Mirandola, author of An Oration On the Dignity of Man. Our term 'Neo Platonist' has its origins in the Renaissance.


In England, Plotinus was the cardinal influence on the 17th-century school of the Cambridge Platonists, and on numerous writers from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to W. B. Yeats and Kathleen Raine.


Many renowned Indian philosophers such as Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Ananda Coomaraswamy and others[who?] used the writing of Plotinus in their own texts as a superlative elaboration upon Indian monism, specifically Upanishadic and Advaita Vedantic thought. Some have compared Plotinus' teachings to the Hindu school of Advaita Vedanta (advaita meaning "not two" or "non-dual"),[24] and has been elaborated upon in J. F. Staal, Advaita and Neoplatonism: A critical study in comparative philosophy, Madras: University of Madras, 1961. More recently, see Frederick Copleston,[25] Religion and the One: Philosophies East and West (University of Aberdeen Gifford Lectures 1979-1980) and the special section "Fra Oriente e Occidente" in Annuario filosofico No. 6 (1990), including the articles "Plotino e l'India" by Aldo Magris and "L'India e Plotino" by Mario Piantelli. The connection is also mentioned in Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (ed.), History of Philosophy Eastern and Western (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1952), vol. 2, p. 114; in a lecture by Professor Gwen Griffith-Dickson;[26] and in John Y. Fenton, "Mystical Experience as a Bridge for Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion: A Critique," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 1981, p. 55. The joint influence of Advaitin and Neoplatonic ideas on Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered in Dale Riepe, "Emerson and Indian Philosophy," Journal of the History of Ideas, 1967.

See also


  1. ^ "Who was Plotinus?". 
  2. ^ "Plotinus". 
  3. ^ "Plotinus." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press, 2003.
  4. ^ "Plotinus." The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Oxford University Press, 1993, 2003.
  5. ^ Bilolo, M.: La notion de « l’Un » dans les Ennéades de Plotin et dans les Hymnes thébains. Contribution à l’étude des sources égyptiennes du néo-platonisme. In : D. Kessler, R. Schulz (Hrsg.), "Gedenkschrift für Winfried Barta Htp dj n Hzj", (Münchner Ägyptologische Untersuchungen, Bd. 4), Frankfurt; Berlin; Bern; New York; Paris; Wien: Peter Lang, 1995, pp. 67-91.
  6. ^ Porphyry, On the Life of Plotinus and the Order of His Books, Ch. 3 (in Armstrong's Loeb translation, "he became eager to make acquaintance with the Persian philosophical discipline and that prevailing among the Indians").
  7. ^ Porphyry, Vita Plotini, 9. See also Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon, and Jackson P. Hershbell, (1999) Iamblichus on The Mysteries, page xix. SBL. who say that "to gain some credible chronology, one assumes that Ariston married Amphicleia some time after Plotinus's death"
  8. ^ Stace, W. T. (1960) The Teachings of the Mystics, New York, Signet, pp110-123
  9. ^ Stace, W. T. (1960) The Teachings of the Mystics, New York, Signet, p122
  10. ^ I.6.6 and I.6.9
  11. ^ Plotinus (1950). The philosophy of Plotinus: representative books from the Enneads. Appleton-Century-Crofts. p. vii. Retrieved 1 February 2012. 
  12. ^ From Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pgs 220-222. The treatise as it stands in the Enneads is a most powerful protest on behalf of Hellenic philosophy against the un-Hellenic heresy (as it was from the Platonist as well as the orthodox Christian point of view) of Gnosticism. There were Gnostics among Plotinus's own friends, whom he had not succeeded in converting (Enneads ch.10 of this treatise) and he and his pupils devoted considerable time and energy to anti-Gnostic controversy (Life of Plotinus ch.16). He obviously considered Gnosticism an extremely dangerous influence, likely to pervert the minds even of members of his own circle. It is impossible to attempt to give an account of Gnosticism here. By far the best discussion of what the particular group of Gnostics Plotinus knew believed is M. Puech's admirable contribution to Entretiens Hardt V (Les Sourcesde Plotin). But it is important for the understanding of this treatise to be clear about the reasons why Plotinus disliked them so intensely and thought their influence so harmful.
  13. ^ From Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pgs 220-222. Short statement of the doctrine of the three hypostasis, the One, Intellect and Soul; there cannot be more or fewer than these three. 1.Criticism of the attempts to multiply the hypostasis, and especially of the idea of two intellects, one which thinks and that other which thinks that it thinks. (Enneads Against the Gnostics ch. 1). The true doctrine of Soul (ch. 2).
    - 2.The law of necessary procession and the eternity of the universe (ch.3).
    - Attack on the Gnostic doctrine of the making of the universe by a fallen soul, and on their despising of the universe and the heavenly bodies (chs. 4-5).
    - The sense-less jargon of the Gnostics, their plagiarism from and perversion of Plato, and their insolent arrogance (ch. 6).
    - 3.The true doctrine about Universal Soul and the goodness of the universe which it forms and rules (chs. 7-8).
    - 4.Refutation of objections from the inequalities and injustices of human life (ch. 9).
    - 5.Ridiculous arrogance of the Gnostics who refuse to acknowledge the hierarchy of created gods and spirits and say that they alone are sons of God and superior to the heavens (ch. 9).
    - 6.The absurdities of the Gnostic doctrine of the fall of "Wisdom" (Sophia) and of the generation and activities of the Demiurge, maker of the visible universe (chs. 10-12).
    - 7.False and melodramatic Gnostic teaching about the cosmic spheres and their influence (ch. 13).
    - 8.The blasphemous falsity of the Gnostic claim to control the higher powers by magic and the absurdity of their claim to cure diseases by casting out demons (ch. 14).
    - 9.The false other-worldliness of the Gnostics leads to immorality (ch. 15).
    - 10.The true Platonic other-worldliness, which love and venerates the material universe in all its goodness and beauty as the most perfect possible image of the intelligible, contracted at length with the false, Gnostic, other-worldliness which hates and despises the material universe and its beauties (chs. 16-18).
    AH Lawrence introduction to - Pages 220-222
  14. ^ From Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pgs 220-222 The teaching of the Gnostics seems to him untraditional, irrational and immoral. They despise and revile the ancient Platonic teaching and claim to have a new and superior wisdom of their own: but in fact anything that is true in their teaching comes from Plato, and all they have done themselves is to add senseless complications and pervert the true traditional doctrine into a melodramatic, superstitious fantasy designed to feed their own delusions of grandeur. They reject the only true way of salvation through wisdom and virtue, the slow patient study of truth and pursuit of perfection by men who respect the wisdom of the ancients and the know their place in the universe.Pages 220-222
  15. ^ Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pgs 220-222 9.The false other-worldiness of the Gnostics leads to immorality (Enneads ch. 15).
  16. ^ Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pgs 220-222 Ridiculous arrogance of the Gnostics who refuse to acknowledge the hierarchy of created gods and spirits and say that they alone are sons of God and superior to the heavens (Enneads ch. 9)
  17. ^ They claim to be a privileged caste of beings, in whom alone God is interested, and who are saved not by their own efforts but by some dramatic and arbitrary divine proceeding; and this, Plotinus says, leads to immorality. Worst of all, they despise and hate the material universe and deny its goodness and the goodness of its maker. This for a Platonist is utter blasphemy, and all the worse because it obviously derives to some extent from the sharply other-worldly side of Plato's own teaching (e.g. in the Phaedo). At this point in his attack Plotinus comes very close in some ways to the orthodox Christian opponents of Gnosticism, who also insist that this world is the good work of God in his goodness. But, here as on the question of salvation, the doctrine which Plotinus is defending is as sharply opposed on other ways to orthodox Christianity as to Gnosticism: for he maintains not only the goodness of the material universe but also its eternity and its divinity. The idea that the universe could have a beginning and end is inseparably connected in his mind with the idea that the divine action in making it is arbitrary and irrational. And to deny the divinity (though a subordinate and dependent divinity)of the World-Soul, and of those noblest of embodied living beings the heavenly bodies, seems to him both blasphemous and unreasonable.Pages 220-222
  18. ^ Short statement of the doctrine of the three hypostasis, the One, Intellect and Soul; there cannot be more or fewer than these three. - - 1.Criticism of the attempts to multiply the hypostasis, and especially of the idea of two intellects, one which thinks and that other which thinks that it thinks. (ch. 1). The true doctrine of Soul (ch. 2).
    - 2.The law of necessary procession and the eternity of the universe (ch.3).
    - Attack on the Gnostic doctrine of the making of the universe by a fallen soul, and on their despising of the universe and the heavenly bodies (chs. 4-5).
    Pages 220-222
  19. ^ "as Plotinus had endeavored to revive the religious spirit of paganism." A Biographical History of Philosophy, by George Henry Lewes Published 1892, G. Routledge & Sons, ltd pg294 Google Books Search
  20. ^ "It must also be recognized that “forgery” is a modern notion. Like Plotinus and the Cappadocians before him, Dionysius does not claim to be an innovator, but rather a communicator of a tradition. Pseudo-Dionysius in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  21. ^ "A History of Western Philosophy." Bertrand Russell. Simon and Schuster, INC. 1945. pp. 284-285
  22. ^ a b Halm, 176.
  23. ^ a b Halm, 177.
  24. ^ This connection is made in the works of Ananda Coomaraswamy:
  25. ^ Frederick Charles Copleston. "Religion and the One 1979–1981". Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  26. ^ "Creator (or not?)". Retrieved 2010-01-08. 

Further reading

Critical editions of the Greek text
  • Emile Bréhier, Plotin: Ennéades (with French translation), Collection Budé, 1924-1938.
  • Paul Henry and Hans-Rudolf Schwyzer (eds.), Editio maior (3 volumes), Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1951–1973.
  • Paul Henry and Hans-Rudolf Schwyzer (eds.), Editio minor, Oxford, Oxford Classical Text, 1964–1982.
Complete English translation
  • Plotinus. The Enneads (translated by Stephen MacKenna), London, Medici Society, 1917-1930.
  • A. H. Armstrong, Plotinus. Enneads (with Greek text), Loeb Classical Library, 7 vol., 1966-1988.
  • Thomas Taylor, Collected Writings of Plotinus, Frome, Prometheus Trust, 1994. ISBN 1-898910-02-2 (contains approximately half of the Enneads)
  • J. H. Sleeman and G. Pollet, Lexicon Plotinianum, Leiden, 1980.
  • Roberto Radice (ed.), Lexicon II: Plotinus, Milan, Biblia, 2004. (Electronic edition by Roberto Bombacigno)
The Life of Plotinus by Porphyry
  • Porphyry, "On the Life of Plotinus and the Arrangement of his Works" in Mark Edwards (ed.), Neoplatonic Saints: The Lives of Plotinus and Proclus by their Students, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2000.
Anthologies of texts in translation, with annotations
  • Kevin Corrigan, Reading Plotinus: A Practical Introduction to Neoplatonism, West Lafayette, Purdue University Press, 2005.
  • John M. Dillon and Lloyd P. Gerson, Neoplatonic Philosophy: Introductory Readings, Hackett, 2004.
Introductory works
  • Kevin Corrigan, Reading Plotinus. A Practical Introduction to Neoplatonism, Purdue University Press, 1995.
  • Lloyd P. Gerson, Plotinus, New York, Routledge, 1994.
  • LLoyd P. Gerson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, Cambridge, 1996.
  • Dominic J. O'Meara, Plotinus. An Introduction to the Enneads, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1993. (Reprinted 2005)
  • John M. Rist, Plotinus. The Road to Reality, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1967.
Major commentaries in English
  • Michael Atkinson, Plotinus: Ennead V.1, On the Three Principal Hypostases, Oxford, 1983.
  • Kevin Corrigan, Plotinus' Theory of Matter-Evil: Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander of Aphrodisias (II.4, II.5, III.6, I.8), Leiden, 1996.
  • John N. Deck, Nature, Contemplation and the One: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus, University of Toronto Press, 1967; Paul Brunton Philosophical Foundation, 1991.
  • Barrie Fleet, Plotinus: Ennead III.6, On the Impassivity of the Bodiless, Oxford, 1995.
  • W. Helleman-Elgersma, Soul-Sisters. A Commentary on Enneads IV, 3 (27) 1-8 of Plotinus, Amsterdam, 1980.
  • Kieran McGroarty, Plotinus on Eudaimonia: A Commentary on Ennead I.4, Oxford, 2006.
  • P. A. Meijer, Plotinus on the Good or the One (VI.9), Amsterdam, 1992.
  • H. Oosthout, Modes of Knowledge and the Transcendental: An Introduction to Plotinus Ennead V.3, Amsterdam, 1991.
  • J. Wilberding, Plotinus' Cosmology. A study of Ennead II. 1 (40), Oxford, 2006.
  • A. M. Wolters, Plotinus on Eros (eNN. III.5), Amsterdam, 1972.
General works on Neoplatonism
Studies on some aspects of Plotinus' work
  • R. B. Harris (ed.), Neoplatonism and Indian Thought, Albany, 1982.
  • Giannis Stamatellos, Plotinus and the Presocratics. A Philosophical Study of Presocratic Influences in Plotinus' Enneads, Albany, 2008.
  • N. Joseph Torchia, Plotinus, Tolma, and the Descent of Being, New York, Peter Lang, 1993. ISBN 0-8204-1768-8
  • Antonia Tripolitis, The Doctrine of the Soul in the thought of Plotinus and Origen, Libra Publishers, 1978.
  • M. F. Wagner (ed.), Neoplatonism and Nature. Studies in Plotinus' Enneads, Albany, 2002.

External links

Text of the Enneads
Online English Translations

ref>{{cite web|author=Frederick Charles Copleston |url=

Post a question - any question - to the WikiAnswers community:


Mentioned in

Porphyry (Greek scholar)
Ammonius Saccus (philosophy)
emanationism (philosophy)
Join using:
Join Answers:
Why join?
Joining is free and easy. You can still be anonymous; just choose any username and password.
  • Get notified about updated answers
  • Follow your favorite categories
  • Get credit for your contributions
  • Customize your profile
  • Answer questions more easily
Not convinced? Read more.
Lost your password?
Already have an Answers account? Connect your accounts!
By doing so, you include all of your history (contributions, messages, profile) from your Answers account in your Facebook account. If you don't connect accounts, your new account will be starting from scratch.