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Plotinus (plōtīˈnəs), 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).

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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Plotinus, the greatest Roman neoplatonist, lived from approximately 205 to 270 c.e. He studied in Alexandria, Egypt, one of the centers of learning that preserved classical astrology, magic, and medicine (Alexandrian neoplatonists were responsible for the survival of astrological science in the West). Plotinus accepted astrology but was opposed to a deterministic view of planetary influence. Like Plato (from whom the term neoplatonism is derived), Plotinus is not important for any direct contribution to astrology but for the elaboration and propagation of the Pythagorean view that the individual human being is linked to the greater cosmos through a system of correlations—a view that is a foundation stone of ancient astrological theory.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Born circa A.D. 204, in Lycopolis, Egypt; died 269 or 270, in Minturno, Italy. Classical idealist philosopher; founder of Neoplatonism.

Plotinus studied philosophy in Alexandria at the school of Ammonius Saccas, under whose influence he began his efforts to reconcile the teachings of Plato and Aristotle. In 243–244 he began to teach in Rome. After Plotinus’ death, his fragmentary notes were issued by his pupil Porphyry, who divided the notes into six parts and each part into nine sections. Thus, Plotinus’ 54 treatises are known as the Enneads, or “books of nine.”

Plotinus’ philosophy centers on the dialectics of the three ontological substances (hypostases): the One, the Intelligence (nous), and the Soul. Plotinus presented the first clear, systematic analysis of the triad, of which Plato had provided only a fragmentary outline. The most original part of Plotinus’ teaching is the doctrine of the One as a transcendent first principle, surpassing and preceding all that exists and all that is conceivable. Every thing as such is, above all, distinguishable from every other thing as a certain “one.” Therefore, according to Plotinus, the One is inalienably inherent in all that exists, and the One is all that exists, taken in absolute singularity, even though the One lacks nothing and is inaccessible to any calculation. Everything “flows from” and “grows out” of the One, without loss to the One and without conscious exertion of its will (it is impersonal), but solely from the necessity of its nature (emanation). An intermediate level between the first and second hypostases is number, the principle of every material and immaterial thing. The undifferentiated One, approaching differentiation by means of number, attains qualitative and meaningful differentiation in the Intelligence. Filled to overflowing with itself, the One must make a transition into something else, but inasmuch as the One remains constant and undiminished, the something else merely reflects it, appearing as an “aspect,” an intelligence, and “intelligible cosmos,” or a mirror of the cosmos.

Among Plotinus’ most noteworthy ideas are those concerning the identity of subject and object in the Intelligence and the synthesis of the individual and the general in the Intelligence and in the Soul. For Plotinus, the Soul is unitary and indivisible, an incorporeal substance that cannot be affected. Disagreeing with the Stoics, he argued that the Soul should not be thought of atomistically, as the mere plurality of psychic states. The Soul is a meaningful behavior of the Intelligence beyond the limits of the Intelligence. It is the “logos of the Intelligence.” Plotinus did not modify Plato’s teachings on the immortality of the soul, its descent from heaven to earth and its return to heaven, and the rootedness of all individual souls in a single World Soul. He also accepted Plato’s teaching that knowledge is remembrance. Plotinus criticized the Pythagorean teaching that the soul is the harmony of the body, and he rejected the Aristotelian conception of the entelechy and the Stoics’ naturalistic doctrine of the pneuma.

Related to the doctrine of the One is the concept of the ascent of the soul from an emotional state to suprarational ecstasy. This is the foundation for Plotinus’ mysticism.

Plotinus systematized the Platonic theory of the embodiment of the triad in nature and the cosmos. For Plotinus, matter is merely the “receptacle” of the eternal ideas, the eide. Devoid of quality, quantity, mass, and so forth, matter represents, in pure form, only a substrate of changes, infinite indeterminateness, and nonbeing. Because it is the principle of the destruction of the eternally existing eide, matter is evil.

In the works of Plotinus the sensory universe has a hierarchical structure: the farther from the highest heaven and the closer to earth, the less perfect the embodiment of the eide. The sensory universe is also characterized by the identity of self-consciousness and independent activity at all levels. Time, as the process of becoming, is preceded by nonbecoming eternity, which, in comparison with a pure eidos, is an eternal process of becoming —living eternity, or eternal life. Time is neither motion, number, measure of motion, nor any other attribute of motion. It is the other-being of eternity, the mobile image of eternity, or the eternal energy of the World Soul.

Plotinus’ systematization of Platonic philosophy became the basis for the tradition of Neoplatonism, which spanned many centuries.

Plotinus exerted considerable influence on medieval philosophers, including Augustine. He had an even greater influence on Renaissance thinkers (M. Ficino and Pico della Mirandola) and on the representatives of English idealism (A. Shaftesbury, G. Berkeley) and German idealism (F. W. von Schelling, Hegel), as well as on Goethe and the Jena romantic movement.


Ennéades, vols. 1–6. Edited by E. Bréhier. Paris-Brussels, 1924–38.
Opera, vols. 1–2—. Edited by P. Henry and H. R. Schwyzer. Paris-Brussels, 1951–59—.
Translation of selected treatises in Russian:
Vera irazum, 1898, nos. 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17, 19; 1899, nos. 2, 6, 11–15; 1900, nos. 18–21.
Losev, A. F. Antichnyi Kosmos i sovremennaia nauka. Moscow, 1927.
Antichnye mysliteli ob iskusstve. Moscow, 1938. Pages 244–53.
Istoriia estetiki, vol. 1. Moscow, 1962. Pages 224–35.
Antologiia mirovoifilosofii, vol. 1, part 1. Moscow, 1969. Pages 538–54.


Blonskii, P. P. Filosqfiia Plotina. Moscow, 1918.
Losev, A. F. Dialektika chista u Plotina. Moscow, 1928.
Henry, P. Etudes plotiniennes, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1938–41.
Inge, W. R. The Philosophy of Plotinus. London, 1948.
Schwyzer, H. R. “Plotinos.” In Pauly’sRealencyklopadie desclassischen Altertums, vol. 21. Stuttgart, 1951. Pages 471–592.
Bréhier, E. Histoire de la philosophie de Plotin. Paris, 1968.
Marië n, B. Bibliografia: Critica degli studi plotinianì. Bari, 1949.
Totok, W. Handbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. 1. Frankfurt am Main, 1964. Pages 335–13.

A. F. Losev

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?205--?270 ad, Roman Neo-Platonist philosopher, born in Egypt
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Gorokhov, "Virtual'nye 3D-modeli temperaturno-kriogennogo rezhima gruntovykh plotin v kriolitozone [A virtual 3D model of temperature-cryogenic regime of embankment dams on permafrost]," Privolzhskiy Nauchnyy Zhurnal [Privolzhsky Scientific Journal], vol.
Il concoit les illuminations et les revelations des corps avec l'audace et la distance qui conviennent aux artistes hypersensibles, tout en s'inspirant des citations de Plotin: [beaucoup moins que] Nous sommes beaux quand nous nous connaissons et laids quand nous nous ignorons [beaucoup plus grand que].
Explicated in metaphysical terms by Plato and Plotin, an intuitive content may transform itself into a representation (85) even before man is affected by the structure of the world he carries within himself.
(32.) Porphyrius, Vita Plotini, 12; see Lucien Jerphagnon, "Platonopolis ou Plotin entre le siecle et le reve," in Neoplatonisme: Melanges offerts a Jean Trouillard, Les Cahiers de Fontenay 19-22 (Fontenay-aux-Roses, France: E.N.S., 1981), 215-229.