The Life of Plotinus - About the One - Nous the World Soul - Religion and Ethics - Some Sayings of plotinus -
 The Universe is a Living Being - The One Transcends the World

In Neo-Platonism the Mind or Spirit, the most sublime stage of the emanations which issue forth from the Absolute Good, as light emanates from a luminous body. The Divine Mind in man.Nous is that energy, power and force emanating from the Source of Life.


"Knowledge has three degrees: opinion, science, illumination. The means or instrument of the first is sense; of the second dialectic; of the third, intuition."
Plotinus, (Letter to Flaccus)

"Therefore must we ascend once more towards the Good, towards there where tend all souls.  Anyone who has seen it knows what I mean, in what sense it is beautiful.  As good it is desired and towards it desire advances.  But only those reach it who rise to the intelligible realm, face it fully, stripped of the muddy vesture with which they were clothed in their descent....Those who have witnessed the manifestation of divine or supernatural realities can never again feel the old delight in bodily beauty." 


Plotinus was born at Lycopolis, in Upper Egypt in 204 CE, and died at Campania in 270 CE. In the twenty-eighth year of his life he applied himself to philosophy, and attended the lectures of the most celebrated men of that time in Alexandria. After studying under Ammonius for some ten years, he accompanied the Emperor Gordian in his campaign against the Persians, in order to learn something of their philosophy. In this object he failed, owing to the unsuccessful issue of the undertaking; he was even obliged to flee for his life to Antioch. In 244 he went to Rome and won numerous adherents to his teaching, among them the Emperor Gallienus and his wife Salonina. He conceive the idea of founding an ideal city in Campania, with the approval and support of the emperor: this city was to be called Platonopolis, and its inhabitants were to live according to the laws of Plato. Gallienus was not disinclined to enter into the plan; but it was thwarted by the opposition of the imperial counselors. He taught in Rome until about 268, retiring then to the country estate of a disciple in Campania. Plotinus did not reduce his doctrine to writing until toward the close of his life, and then did not publish it. His pupil Porphyry, arranged the fifty-four treatises of Plotinus in six Enneades, placing them in logical order from the simplest to the most abstruse, as well as chronological sequence. They were first printed in a Latin translation by Marsilio Ficino at Florence in 1492, then in Greek and Latin at Basel, in 1580.

About the One

What principally distinguishes Plotinus from both Plato and his immediate predecessors is the assumption of a principle higher than the nous. This assumption proceeds from the requirement of unity as an attribute of the highest principle; the nous, as at once subject and object of perception, nooun and nooumenon is twofold. Therefore something higher must be sought, which is absolute unity, the One, identical with the Godhead and wholly transcendent-the first cause, the source of all thinking and being, all the good and beautiful, and all activity. The utter transcendence of God being was taught by Plotinus in a more extreme form than by any of his predecessors. He admits the insolubility by human reason of the most difficult of all metaphysical problems i.e. (how becoming arose out of immutable being and plurality out of unity). The theory of Emanation, which he accepts, also cannot answer the question. Following Plato, he suggests that the explanation may be found in the goodness or benevolence of God. All other beings produce yet others; and how should the most perfect of all beings, the primal goodness and the highest power, remain absorbed in itself as though impotent to produce? This, of course, is rather an anthropomorphic-ethical than a metaphysical explanation. His attempt to supply the metaphysical explanation is found in the view that the highest being is over-full, and, as the higher, does not precisely contain the lower in itself but allows it to flow forth from its superabundant perfection. This doctrine may possibly show oriental influence; but the idea of emanation occurs in the Stoic teaching, and still more in Philo, though in neither so fully developed as with Plotinus.


That which first issues from the One is the nous, which is conscious of being a product and image of the One and receives from its relation to the One its power to produce other existences. It is not mere thought but actual being, comprehending all things as the genus comprehends the species. Plato conceived of actual being as being contained in one idea, that of good. Plotinus conceived of it as containing the ideas. Another difference is that whereas Plato asserted the existence of ideas only for such objects as had a common concept or name, Plotinus attributes them to all single existences. From the nous proceeds further the soul, the third principle. As the highest principle has neither thought nor consciousness, so the nous, which is purely contemplative, has no reflective, logical thought. This is the work of the world-soul, which is the link between the intelligible and the phenomenal world, carrying on the process of emanation down to its lowest terms. Matter is conceived by Plotinus not exactly as an emanation from the world-soul, but rather (as with Plato) in the guise of a receptive or passive principle in contrast to the formative or active. What the world-soul sees in the nous, with that it is pervaded and that it strives to reproduce. The content of the soul descends to lower stages. This content is composed of the ideas; and thus in the image of the nous and soul images of the ideas are also contained. These are the logoi, concepts, whose sum, the Logos par excellence, like the world-soul itself, is an emanation from the nous. These logoi are the essential factor in the giving of form to matter, which is formed in an organic, not a mechanical, manner. This formative process presupposes purpose, but not knowledge or deliberation-just as in Heraclitus all becoming takes place on rational principles, yet without any conscious foresight. If everything, therefore, is formed and pervaded by rational powers, the world-soul with its content permeating all, all must be rational or reason. Although the logoi are lower than their prototypes, and their relations with formless matter go lower still, yet Plotinus finds in the world of phenomena traces of the highest; the absolutely Good and Beautiful is visible even in the world of sense. The spirit of Plato, as expressed in the close of the Timoeus, the idea that the sensible world is a great and beautiful and perfect thing, dominates Plotinus also, so that in spite of matter producing evil, he is far from regarding this world as evil or hateful, representing rather in this point the general optimism of Greek philosophy than the tendency of the early Christian writers to despise the visible world. On the whole, in his explanation of the existence of evil in the universe and his justification of the higher powers in respect to it, he follows the Stoics.


From the world-soul proceed individual souls, but they are not parts of it. Going down into bodies, they have forgotten the higher, the divine, from which they came, and have believed themselves independent. Thus, they have gone continually lower, and stand in need of a return to the better. Plotinus does not make it plain whether this can be executed With freedom by men. The ethical goal is sometimes represented, after Plato, as approximation to the Godhead, sometimes in a more Aristotelian fashion as operation in conformity with the nature of the operator, and again, with Heraclitus and the Stoics, as obedience to reason. Among the virtues Plotinus distinguishes first the "political" or social, which are the four commonly accepted by the Greeks-prudence, courage, temperance, and justice; but these can not make the soul like God. Above them are the purifying virtues, which have that effect. They consist in freeing oneself as far as possible from the body and from sin by an avoidance of what is sensual, though without any exaggerated asceticism. Man, however, is not to be satisfied by mere freedom from sin, but must strive actually to become God. To this end serve the deifying virtues, which are the reproduction on a higher plane of the primary or political virtues. Through these the true nature of man comes to its fulfillment; and thus his beatitude consists in the maintenance of his proper attitude toward himself, undisturbed by external happenings or relations. The supreme aim, indeed, with Plotinus as with Philo, lies not in the realm of thought (as the detailed exposition of the deifying virtues might suggest), but in ecstatic elevation to the highest good, to the Godhead. Logical knowledge is only a preliminary to this, which consists in immediate knowledge of and union with God. To this Plotinus himself, according to the testimony of Porphyry, attained only four times in the six years that the disciple was with him. The reason why man on earth can not remain permanently in this state is that he has not yet succeeded in turning wholly away from the earthly; the time of permanent union will come when he is no longer tormented by any restlessness of the body. On the immortality of the soul Plotinus wrote a separate treatise, in which he follows Plato in the main, especially emphasizing the fact that the soul, as incorporeal and incomposite, is incapable of dissolution. A reunion of soul and body in the after life is inconceivable to him, since the passage into this higher life is conditioned by the desertion of the body, whose nature is in essential opposition to that of the soul.

(From the Internet Encyclopedia of philosophy)

Some Sayings of Plotinus 


The One, perfect in seeking nothing, possessing nothing and needing nothing, overflows and creates a new reality by its superabundance. [5.2.1.]

The process is like the unfolding of a seed, moving from simple origin to termination in the world of sense, the prior always remaining in its place, while begetting its successor from a store of indescribable power - power that must not halt within the higher realm . . but continue to expand until the universe of things reaches the limit of its possibility, lavishing its vast resources on all its creatures, intolerant that any one should have no share in it. Nothing is debarred from participation in the Good, to the extent of its receptivity. [4.8.6]

The One is omnipresent.

This All is universal power, of infinite extent and infinite in potency, a god so great that all his parts are infinite. Name any place, and he is already there. [5.8.9.]

It has not deserted its creation for a place apart; it is always present to those with strength to touch it. [6.9.7]

Soul is present in all things.

The power and nature of Soul encompasses heaven and guides it according to its will. To all this vast expanse, as far as it extends, it gives itself, and every interval, both large and small, is filled with Soul. . . Soul enlivens all things with its whole self and all Soul is present everywhere. . . And vast and diversified thought this universe is, it is one by the power of soul and a god because of soul. The sun is also a god, because ensouled, and the other stars, and if we ourselves partake of the Divine, this is the cause. [5.1.2.]

Nothing is detached or severed from its prior, so that the higher soul seems to extend as far as plants; and in a way it does so extend, because the life in plants belongs to it. Not that soul is wholly within plants, but only to the extent that they are the lower limit of its advance, another level of existence created by its decline towards the worse. [5.2.1.]

Every participant partakes of the power of Being in its entirety, while Being is unchanged and undivided. [4.4.8]

Soul in its unity is not extended by fragmentation into bodies, but is entirely present where it is present, and omnipresent and undivided throughout the universe. [6.4.12]

The universe is a living being

This universe is a single living being embracing all living beings within it, and possessing a single Soul that permeates all its parts to the degree of their participation in it. Every part of this sensible universe is fully participant in its material aspect, and in respect of soul, in the degree to which it shares in the World Soul. [4.4.32.]

A sympathy pervades this single universe, like a single living creature, and the distant is near. . . Like parts lie not in contact but separated, with other parts between, yet by their likeness they feel sympathy . . and in a living and unified being there is no part so remote as not to be near, through the very nature that binds the living unity in sympathy. [4.4.32]


[Matter] is an image and phantom of corporeal mass, a mere tendency to substantial existence, static but without position; it is invisible in itself, eluding all attempts to observe it, present yet unseen. . . Images of intelligible beings pass in and out of it . . without cutting, as if through water, or like shapes floating through the Void. [3.6.7.]

If evil exists, it exists in non-being . . . Such is the whole world of sense and all experience of the senses. [1.8.1]

[Matter] is the substrate which underlies figures, forms, shapes, measures and limits . . a mere shadow in relation to real Being, the very essence of evil, if such is possible. [1.8.2]

Rejection of the body and sense experience.

Sense-perception belongs to the sleeping soul, the part of the soul immersed in body; and the true awakening is a rising up, not with the body, but from the body. . . To rise up to very truth is altogether to depart from bodies. Corporeality is contrary to soul and essentially opposed to soul. [3.6.6.]

If life and soul survive death, then there will still be good, and the more so now that soul acts purely according to its nature, unimpeded by body. [1.7.3.]

What else could true moderation be but to avoid association with bodily pleasures, and to shun them as impure affections of a thing impure? . . The soul when purified becomes pure form and formative power, all disembodied and intellective, and wholly within the Divine. [1.6.6.]

The One transcends the Universe.

The source is not fragmented into the universe, for its fragmentation would destroy the whole, which would not longer come to be if there did not remain by itself, distinct from it, its source. [3.8.10.]

The One is all things and yet no one of them. It is the source of all things, not itself all things, but their transcendent Principle. . . So that Being may exist the One is not Being, but the begetter of Being.

The ascent to union with God.

Intellect can veil itself from the world and concentrate its gaze within, and though it sees nothing, it will behold a light - not an external light in some perceived object, but a solitary light, pure and self-contained, suddenly revealed within itself. . . We must not enquire whence it comes, for there is no "whence". . . He does not come as one expected, and his coming knows no arrival; he is beheld not as one who enters but who is eternally present. [5.7-8.]

Our thought cannot grasp the One as long as any other image remains active in the soul . . To this end, you must set free your soul from all outward things and turn wholly within yourself, with no more leaning to what lies outside, and lay your mind bare of ideal forms, as before of the objects of sense, and forget even yourself, and so come within sight of that One. [6.9.7]

Beyond duality.

A bolder course would be to abandon the duality of seer and seen, and count both as one. In that vision the seer does not see or distinguish, or even imagine, two; he is changed, no longer himself nor owning himself there, but belongs to God, one with him, center joined with center. [6.9.10]

If he remembers who he became when he merged with the One, he will bear its image in himself. He was himself one, with no diversity in himself or his outward relations; for no movement was in him, no passion, no desire for another, once the ascent was accomplished. Nor indeed was there any reason or though, nor, if we dare say it, any trace of himself. [6.9.11.]

Please take note that for Plotinus "evil" means the absence of GOOD, or complete UNCONSCIOUSNESS and IGNORANCE of what is GOOD.



If you want to know more about Plotinus, please read the book
"Return to the One" - Plotinus guide to God-Realization written by Brian Hines.


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