Plotinus

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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Form and Transformation: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus
Frederic M. Schroeder.
McGill-Queens University Press, 1992
Plotinus' Search for the Good
Joseph Katz.
King's Crown Press, 1950
Plotinus: An Introduction to the Enneads
Dominic J. O'Meara.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Ennead III.6: On the Impassivity of the Bodiless
Barrie Fleet; Plotinus.
Clarendon Press, 1995
Plotinus on Selfhood, Freedom and Politics
Asger Ousager.
Aarhus University Press, 2004
Plotinus on Intellect
Eyjólfur Kjalar Emilsson.
Oxford University Press, 2007
Men Who Have Walked with God
Sheldon Cheney.
Alfred A. Knopf, 1945
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IV "The Tardy Flowering of Greek Mysticism: Plotinus"
The Evolution of Medieval Thought
David Knowles.
Helicon Press, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "The Later Platonists and Plotinus"
Religious Imagination
James P. Mackey.
Edinburgh University Press, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Plotinus and the Transcendental Imagination"
The Scientific Evolution of Psychology
J. R. Kantor.
Principia Press, vol.1, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 15 "Plotinus and Roman-African Conversionism"
Florence, 1492: The Reappearance of Plotinus
Saffrey, Henri D.
Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 3, Autumn 1996
Plotinus's Metaphysics: Emanation or Creation?
Gerson, Lloyd P.
The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 46, No. 3, March 1993
Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought
R. J. Hankinson.
Clarendon Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Plotinus' System" begins on p. 409 and "After Plotinus" begins on p. 425
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