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Plotinus (A.D. 204&ndash70), the founder of Neoplatonism, is the last of the great philosophers of antiquity. His life is almost co-extensive with one of the most disastrous periods in Roman history. Shortly before his birth, the army had become conscious of its power, and had adopted the practice of choosing emperors in return for monetary rewards, and assassinating them afterwards to give occasion for a renewed sale of the empire. These preoccupations unfitted the soldiers for the defence of the frontier, and permitted vigorous incursions of Germans from the north and Persians from the East. War and pestilence diminished the population of the empire by about a third, while increased taxation and diminished resources caused financial ruin in even those provinces to which no hostile forces penetrated. The cities, which had been the bearers of culture, were especially hard hit substantial citizens, in large numbers, fled to escape the tax-collector. It was not till after the death of Plotinus that order was re-established and the empire temporarily saved by the vigorous measures of Diocletian and Constantine.

Of all this there is no mention in the works of Plotinus. He turned aside from the spectacle of ruin and misery in the actual world, to contemplate an eternal world of goodness and beauty. In this he was in harmony with all the most serious men of his age. To all of them, Christians and pagans alike, the world of practical affairs seemed to offer no hope, and only the Other World seemed worthy of allegiance. 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. Dean Inge, in his invaluable book on Plotinus, rightly emphasizes what Christianity owes to him. 'Platonism,' he says, 'is part of the vital structure of Christian theology, with which no other philosophy, I venture to say, can work without friction.' There is, he says, an 'utter impossibility of excising Platonism from Christianity without tearing Christianity to pieces'. He points out that Saint Augustine speaks of Plato's system as 'the most pure and bright in all philosophy', and of Plotinus as a man in whom 'Plato lived again', and who, if he had lived a little later, would have 'changed a few words and phrases and become Christian'. Saint Thomas Aquinas, according to Dean Inge, 'is nearer to Plotinus than to the real Aristotle'.

Plotinus, accordingly, is historically important as an influence in moulding the Christianity of the Middle Ages and of Catholic theology. The historian, in speaking of Christianity, has to be careful to recognize the very great changes that it has undergone, and the variety of forms that it may assume even at one epoch. The Christianity of the Synoptic Gospels is almost innocent of metaphysics. The Christianity of modern America, in this respect, is like primitive Christianity Platonism is alien in popular thought and feeling in the United States, and most American Christians are much more concerned with duties here on earth, and with social progress in the everyday world, than with the transcendental hopes that consoled men when everything terrestrial inspired despair. I am not speaking of any change of dogma, but of a difference of emphasis and interest. A modern Christian, unless he realizes how great this difference is, will fail to understand the Christianity of the past. We, since our study is historical, are concerned with the effective beliefs of past centuries, and as to these it is impossible to disagree with what Dean Inge says on the influence of Plato and Plotinus.

Plotinus, however, is not only historically important. He represents, better than any other philosopher, an important type of theory. A philosophical system may be judged important for various different kinds of reasons. The first and most obvious is that we think it may be true. Not many students of philosophy at the present time would feel this about Plotinus Dean Inge is, in this respect, a rare exception. But truth is not the only merit that a metaphysic can possess. It may have beauty, and this is certainly to be found in Plotinus there are passages that remind one of the later cantos of Dante's Paradiso, and of almost nothing else in literature. Now and again, his descriptions of the eternal world of glory

To our high-wrought fantasy present

That undisturbed song of pure concent

Aye sung before the sapphire-coloured throne

Again, a philosophy may be important because it expresses well what men are prone to believe in certain moods or in certain circumstances. Uncomplicated joy and sorrow is not matter for philosophy, but rather for the simpler kinds of poetry and music. Only joy and sorrow accompanied by reflection on the universe generate metaphysical theories. A man may be a cheerful pessimist or a melancholy optimist. Perhaps Samuel Butler may serve as an example of the first Plotinus is an admirable example of the second. In an age such as that in which he lived, unhappiness is immediate and pressing, whereas happiness, if attainable at all, must be sought by reflection upon things that are remote from the impressions of sense. Such happiness has in it always an element of strain it is very unlike the simple happiness of a child. And since it is not derived from the everyday world, but from thought and imagination, it demands a power of ignoring or despising the life of the senses. It is, therefore, not those who enjoy instinctive happiness who invent the kinds of metaphysical optimism that depend upon belief in the reality of a super-sensible world. Among the men who have been unhappy in a mundane sense, but resolutely determined to find a higher happiness in the world of theory, Plotinus holds a very high place.

Nor are his purely intellectual merits by any means to be despised. He has, in many respects, clarified Plato's teaching he has developed, with as much consistency as possible, the type of theory advocated by him in common with many others. His arguments against materialism are good, and his whole conception of the relation of soul and body is clearer than that of Plato or Aristotle.

Like Spinoza, he has a certain kind of moral purity and loftiness, which is very impressive. He is always sincere, never shrill or censorious, invariably concerned to tell the reader, as simply as he can, what he believes to be important. Whatever one may think of him as a theoretical philosopher, it is impossible not to love him as a man.

The life of Plotinus is known, so far as it is known, through the biography written by his friend and disciple Porphyry, a Semite whose real name was Malchus. There are, however, miraculous elements in this account, which make it difficult to place a complete reliance upon its more credible portions.

Plotinus considered his spatio-temporal appearance unimportant, and was loath to talk about the accidents of his historical existence. He stated, however, that he was born in Egypt, and it is known that as a young man he studied in Alexandria, where he lived until the age of thirty-nine, and where his teacher was Ammonius Saccas, often regarded as the founder of Neoplatonism. He then joined the expedition of the Emperor Gordian III against the Persians, with the intention, it is said, of studying the religions of the East. The Emperor was still a youth, and was murdered by the army, as was at that time the custom. This occurred during his campaign in Mesopotamia in A.D. 244. Plotinus thereupon abandoned his oriental projects and settled in Rome, where he soon began to teach. Among his hearers were many influential men, and he was favoured by the Emperor Gallienus.1 At one time he formed a project of founding Plato's Republic in Campania, and building for the purpose a new city to be called Platonopolis. The Emperor, at first, was favourable, but ultimately withdrew his permission. It may seem strange that there should be room for a new city so near Rome, but probably by that time the region was malarial, as it is now, but had not been earlier. He wrote nothing until the age of forty-nine after that, he wrote much. His works were edited and arranged by Porphyry, who was more Pythagorean than Plotinus, and caused the Neoplatonist school to become more supernaturalist than it would have been if it had followed Plotinus more faithfully.

The respect of Plotinus for Plato is very great Plato is usually alluded to as 'He'. In general, the 'blessed ancients' are treated with reverence, but this reverence does not extend to the atomists. The Stoics and Epicureans, being still active, are controverted, the Stoics only for their materialism, the Epicureans for every part of their philosophy. Aristotle plays a larger part than appears, as borrowings from him are often unacknowledged. One feels the influence of Parmenides at many points.

The Plato of Plotinus is not so full-blooded as the real Plato. The theory of ideas, the mystical doctrines of the Phaedo and of Book VI of the Republic, and the discussion of love in the Symposium, make up almost the whole of Plato as he appears in the Enneads(as the books of Plotinus are called). The political interests, the search for definitions of separate virtues, the pleasure in mathematics, the dramatic and affectionate appreciation of individuals, and above all the playfulness of Plato, are wholly absent from Plotinus. Plato, as Carlyle said is 'very much at his ease in Zion' Plotinus, on the contrary, is always on his best behaviour.

The metaphysics of Plotinus begins with a Holy Trinity: The One, Spirit and Soul. These three are not equal, like the Persons of the Christian Trinity the One is supreme, Spirit comes next, and Soul last.2

The One is somewhat shadowy. It is sometimes called God, sometimes the Good it transcends Being, which is the first sequent upon the One. We must not attribute predicates to it, but only say 'It is.' (This is reminiscent of Parmenides.) It would be a mistake to speak of God as 'the All', because God

transcends the All. God is present through all things. The One can be present without any coming: 'while it is nowhere, nowhere is it not'. Although the One is sometimes spoken of as the Good, we are also told that it precedes both the Good and the Beautiful.3Sometimes, the One appears to resemble Aristotle's God we are told that God has no need of His derivatives, and ignores the created world. The One is indefinable, and in regard to it there is more truth in silence than in any words whatever.

We now come to the Second Person, whom Plotinus calls nous. It is always difficult to find an English word to represent nous. The standard dictionary translation is 'mind', but this does not have the correct connotations, particularly when the word is used in a religious philosophy. If we were to say that Plotinus put mind above soul, we should give a completely wrong impression. McKenna, the translator of Plotinus, uses 'Intellectual-Principle', but this is awkward, and does not suggest an object suitable for religious veneration. Dean Inge uses 'Spirit', which is perhaps the best word available. But it leaves out the intellectual element which was important in all Greek religious philosophy after Pythagoras. Mathematics, the world of ideas, and all thought about what is not sensible, have, for Pythagoras, Plato, and Plotinus, something divine they constitute the activity of nous, or at least the nearest approach to its activity that we can conceive. It was this intellectual element in Plato's religion that led Christians&mdashnotably the author of Saint John's Gospel&mdashto identify Christ with the Logos. Logos should be translated 'reason' in this connection this prevents us from using 'reason' as the translation of nous. I shall follow Dean Inge in using 'Spirit', but with the proviso that nous has an intellectual connotation which is absent from 'Spirit' as usually understood. But often I shall use the word nous untranslated.

Nous, we are told, is the image of the One it is engendered because the One, in its self-quest, has vision this seeing is nous. This is a difficult conception. A Being without parts, Plotinus says, may know itself in this case, the seer and the seen are one. In God, who is conceived, as by Plato, on the analogy of the sun, the light-giver and what is lit are the same. Pursuing the analogy, nous may be considered as the light by which the One sees itself. It is possible for us to know the Divine Mind, which we forget through self-will. To know the Divine Mind, we must study our own soul when it is most god-like: we must put aside the body, and the part of the soul that moulded the body, and 'sense with desires and impulses and every such futility' what is then left is an image of the Divine Intellect.

'Those divinely possessed and inspired have at least the knowledge that they hold some greater thing within them, though they cannot tell what it is from the movements that stir them and the utterances that come from

them they perceive the power, not themselves, that moves them: in the same way, it must be, we stand towards the Supreme when we hold nous pure we know the Divine Mind within, that which gives Being and all else of that order: but we know, too, that other, know that it is none of these, but a nobler principle than anything we know as Being fuller and greater above reason, mind, and feeling conferring these powers, not to be confounded with them.'4

Thus when we are 'divinely possessed and inspired' we see not only nous, but also the One. When we are thus in contact with the Divine, we cannot reason or express the vision in words this comes later. 'At the moment of touch there is no power whatever to make any affirmation there is no leisure reasoning upon the vision is for afterwards. We may know we have had the vision when the Soul has suddenly taken light. This light is from the Supreme and is the Supreme we may believe in the Presence when, like that other God on the call of a certain man, He comes bringing light the light is the proof of the advent. Thus, the Soul unlit remains without that vision lit, it possesses what it sought. And this is the true end set before the Soul, to take that light, to see the Supreme by the Supreme and not by the light of any other principle&mdashto see the Supreme which is also the means to the vision for that which illumines the Soul is that which it is to see just as it is by the sun's own light that we see the sun.

But how is this to be accomplished?

The experience of 'ecstasy' (standing outside one's own body) happened frequently to Plotinus:

Many times it has happened: Lifted out of the body into myself becoming external to all other things and self-encentred beholding a marvellous beauty then, more than ever, assured of community with the loftiest order enacting the noblest life, acquiring identity with the divine stationing within It by having attained that activity poised above whatsoever in the Intellectual is less than the Supreme: yet, there comes the moment of descent from intellection to reasoning, and after that sojourn in the divine, I ask myself how it happens that I can now be descending, and how did the Soul ever enter into my body, the Soul which even within the body, is the high thing it has shown itself to be.6

This brings us to Soul, the third and lowest member of the Trinity. Soul, though inferior to nous, is the author of all living things it made the sun and moon and stars, and the whole visible world. It is the offspring of the Divine Intellect. It is double: there is an inner soul, intent on nous, and another, which faces the external. The latter is associated with a downward movement, in which the Soul generates its image, which is Nature and the world of sense. The Stoics had identified Nature with God, but Plotinus regards it as the lowest sphere, something emanating from the Soul when it forgets to look upward towards nous. This might suggest the Gnostic view that the visible world is evil, but Plotinus does not take this view. The visible world is beautiful, and is the abode of blessed spirits it is only less good than the intellectual world. In a very interesting controversial discussion of the Gnostic view, that the cosmos and its Creator are evil, he admits that some parts of Gnostic doctrine, such as the hatred of matter, may be due to Plato, but holds that the other parts, which do not come from Plato, are untrue.

His objections to Gnosticism are of two sorts. On the one hand, he says that Soul, when it creates the material world, does so from memory of the divine, and not because it is fallen the world of sense, he thinks, is as good as a sensible world can be. He feels strongly the beauty of things perceived by the senses:

Who that truly perceives the harmony of the Intellectual Realm could fail, if he has any bent towards music, to answer to the harmony in sensible sounds? What geometrician or arithmetician could fail to take pleasure in the symmetries, correspondences and principles of order observed in visible things? Consider, even, the case of pictures: those seeing by the bodily sense the productions of the art of painting do not see the one thing in the one only way they are deeply stirred by recognizing in the objects depicted to the eyes the presentation of what lies in the idea, and so are called to recollection of the truth&mdashthe very experience out of which Love rises. Now, if the sight of Beauty excellently reproduced upon a face hurries the mind to that other Sphere, surely no one seeing the loveliness lavish in the world of sense&mdashthis vast orderliness, the form which the stars even in their remoteness display, no one could be so dull-witted, so immoveable, as not to be carried by all this to recollection, and gripped by reverent awe in the thought of all this, so great, sprung from that greatness. Not to answer thus could only be to have neither fathomed this world nor had any vision of that other (II, 9, 16).

There is another reason for rejecting the Gnostic view. The Gnostics think that nothing divine is associated with the sun, moon, and stars they were created by an evil spirit. Only the soul of man, among things perceived, has any goodness. But Plotinus is firmly persuaded that the heavenly bodies are the bodies of god-like beings, immeasurably superior to man. According to the Gnostics, 'their own soul, the soul of the least of mankind, they declare deathless, divine but the entire heavens and the stars within the heavens have had no communion with the Immortal Principle, though these are far purer and lovelier than their own souls' (II, 9, 5). For the view of Plotinus there is authority in the Timaeus, and it was adopted by some Christian Fathers, for instance, Origen. It is imaginatively attractive it expresses feelings that the heavenly bodies naturally inspire, and makes man less lonely in the physical universe.

There is in the mysticism of Plotinus nothing morose or hostile to beauty. But he is the last religious teacher, for many centuries, of whom this can be said. Beauty, and all the pleasures associated with it, came to be thought to be of the Devil pagans, as well as Christians, came to glorify ugliness and dirt. Julian the Apostate, like contemporary orthodox saints, boasted of the populousness of his beard. Of all this, there is nothing in Plotinus.

Matter is created by Soul, and has no independent reality. Every Soul has its hour when that strikes, it descends, and enters the body suitable to it. The motive is not reason, but something more analogous to sexual desire. When the soul leaves the body, it must enter another body if it has been sinful, for justice requires that it should be punished. If, in this life, you have murdered your mother, you will, in the next life, be a woman, and be murdered by your son (III, 2, 13). Sin must be punished but the punishment happens naturally, through the restless driving of the sinner's errors.

Do we remember this life after we are dead? The answer is perfectly logical, but not what most modern theologians would say. Memory is concerned with our life in time, whereas our best and truest life is in eternity. Therefore, as the soul grows towards eternal life, it will remember less and less friends, children, wife, will be gradually forgotten ultimately, we shall know nothing of the things of this world, but only contemplate the intellectual realm. There will be no memory of personality, which, in contemplative vision, is unaware of itself. The soul will become one with nous, but not to its own destruction: nous and the individual soul will be simultaneously two and one (IV, 4, 2).

In the Fourth Ennead, which is on the Soul, one section, the Seventh Tractate, is devoted to the discussion of immortality.

The body, being compound, is clearly not immortal if, then, it is part of us, we are not wholly immortal. But what is the relation of the soul to the body? Aristotle (who is not mentioned explicitly) said the soul was the form of the body, but Plotinus rejects this view, on the ground that the intellectual act would be impossible if the soul were any form of body. The Stoics think that the soul is material, but the unity of the soul proves that this is impossible. Moreover, since matter is passive, it cannot have created itself matter could not exist if soul had not created it, and, if soul did not exist, matter would disappear in a twinkling. The soul is neither matter nor the form of a material body, but Essence, and Essence is eternal. This view is implicit in Plato's argument that the soul is immortal because ideas are eternal but it is only with Plotinus that it becomes explicit.

How does the soul enter the body from the aloofness of the intellectual world? The answer is, through appetite. But appetite though sometimes ignoble, may be comparatively noble. At best, the soul 'has the desire of elaborating order on the model of what it has seen in the Intellectual-Principle (nous)'. That is to say, soul contemplates the inward realm of essence, and wishes to produce something, as like it as possible, that can be seen by looking without instead of looking within&mdashlike (we might say) a composer who first imagines his music, and then wishes to hear it performed by an orchestra.

But this desire of the soul to create has unfortunate results. So long as the soul lives in the pure world of essence, it is not separated from other souls living in the same world but as soon as it becomes joined to a body, it has the task of governing what is lower than itself, and by this task it becomes separate from other souls, which have other bodies. Except in a few men at a few moments, the soul becomes chained to the body. 'The body obscures the truth, but there7 all stands out clear and separate' (IV, 9, 5).

This doctrine, like Plato's, has difficulty in avoiding the view that the creation was a mistake. The soul at its best is content with nous, the world of essence if it were always at its best, it would not create, but only contemplate. It seems that the act of creation is to be excused on the ground that the created world, in its main lines, is the best that is logically possible but this is a copy of the eternal world, and as such has the beauty that is possible to a copy. The most definite statement is in the Tractate on the Gnostics (II, 9, 8):

To ask why the Soul has created the Kosmos, is to ask why there is a Soul and why a Creator creates. The question, also, implies a beginning in the eternal and, further, represents creation as the act of a changeful Being who turns from this to that.

Those that think so must be instructed&mdashif they would but bear with correction&mdashin the nature of the Supernals, and brought to desist from that blasphemy of majestic powers which comes so easily to them, where all should be reverent scruple.

Even in the administration of the Universe there is no ground for such attack, for it affords manifest proof of the greatness of the Intellectual Kind.

This All that has emerged into life is no amorphous structure&mdashlike those lesser forms within it which are born night and day out of the lavishness of its vitality&mdashthe Universe is a life organised, effective, complex, allcomprehensive, displaying an unfathomable wisdom. How, then, can anyone deny that it is a clear image, beautifully formed, of the Intellectual Divinities? No doubt it is a copy, not original but that is its very nature it cannot be at once symbol and reality. But to say that it is an inadequate copy is false nothing has been left out which a beautiful representation within the physical order could include.

Such a reproduction there must necessarily be&mdashthought not by deliberation and contrivance&mdashfor the Intellectual could not be the last of things, but must have a double Act, one within itself, and one outgoing there must, then, be something later than the Divine for only the thing with which all power ends fails to pass downwards something of itself.

This is perhaps the best answer to the Gnostics that the principles of Plotinus make possible. The problem, in slightly different language, was inherited by Christian theologians they, also, have found it difficult to account for the creation without allowing the blasphemous conclusion that, before it, something was lacking to the Creator. Indeed, their difficulty is greater than that of Plotinus, for he may say that the nature of Mind made creation inevitable, whereas, for the Christian, the world resulted from the untrammelled exercise of God's free will.

Plotinus has a very vivid sense of a certain kind of abstract beauty. In describing the position of Intellect as intermediate between the One and Soul, he suddenly bursts out into a passage of rare eloquence:

The Supreme in its progress could never be borne forward upon some soulless vehicle nor even directly upon the Soul: it will be heralded by some ineffable beauty: before the Great King in his progress there comes first the minor train, then rank by rank the greater and more exalted, closer to the King the kinglier next his own honoured company until, last among all these grandeurs, suddenly appears the Supreme Monarch himself, and all&mdashunless indeed for those who have contented themselves with the spectacle before his coming and gone away&mdashprostrate themselves and hail him (V, 5, 3).

There is a Tractate on Intellectual Beauty, which shows the same kind of feeling (V, 8):

Assuredly all the gods are august and beautiful in a beauty beyond our speech. And what makes them so? Intellect and especially Intellect operating within them (the divine sun and stars) to visibility&hellip.

To 'live at ease' is There and to these divine beings verity is mother and nurse, existence and sustenance all that is not of process but of authentic being they see, and themselves in all for all is transparent, nothing dark, nothing resistant every being is lucid to every other, in breadth and depth light runs through light. And each of them contains all within itself, and at the same time sees all in every other, so that everywhere there is all, and all is all and each all, and infinite the glory. Each of them is great the small is great the sun, There, is all the stars and every star, again, is all the stars and sun. While some manner of being is dominant in each, all are mirrored in every other.

In addition to the imperfection which the world inevitably possesses because it is a copy, there is, for Plotinus as for the Christians, the more positive evil that results from sin. Sin is a consequence of free will, which Plotinus upholds as against the determinists, and, more particularly, the astrologers. He does not venture to deny the validity of astrology altogether, but he attempts to set bounds to it, so as to make what remains compatible with free will. He does the same as regards magic the sage, he says, is exempt from the power of the magician. Porphyry relates that a rival philosopher tried to put evil spells on Plotinus, but that, because of his holiness and wisdom, the spells recoiled on the rival. Porphyry, and all the followers of Plotinus, are much more superstitious than he is. Superstition, in him, is as slight as was possible in that age. Let us now endeavour to sum up the merits and defects of the doctrine taught by Plotinus, and in the main accepted by Christian theology so long as it remained systematic and intellectual.

There is, first and foremost, the construction of what Plotinus believed to be a secure refuge for ideals and hopes, and one, moreover, which involved both moral and intellectual effort. In the third century, and in the centuries after the barbarian invasion, western civilization came near to total destruction. It was fortunate that, while theology was almost the sole surviving mental activity, the system that was accepted was not purely superstitious, but preserved, though sometimes deeply buried, doctrines which embodied much of the work of Greek intellect and much of the moral devotion that is common to the Stoics and the Neoplatonists. This made possible the rise of the scholastic philosophy, and later, with the Renaissance, the stimulus derived from the renewed study of Plato, and thence of the other ancients.

On the other hand, the philosophy of Plotinus has the defect of encouraging men to look within rather than to look without: when we look within we see nous, which is divine, while when we look without we see the imperfections of the sensible world. This kind of subjectivity was a gradual growth it is to be found in the doctrines of Protagoras, Socrates, and Plato, as well as in the Stoics and Epicureans. But at first it was only doctrinal, not temperamental for a long time it failed to kill scientific curiosity. We saw how Posidonius, about 100 B.C., travelled to Spain and the Atlantic coast of Africa to study the tides. Gradually, however, subjectivism invaded men's feelings as well as their doctrines. Science was no longer cultivated, and only virtue was thought important. Virtue, as conceived by Plato, involved all that was then possible in the way of mental achievement but in later centuries it came to be thought of, increasingly, as involving only the virtuous will, and not a desire to understand the physical world or improve the world of human institutions. Christianity, in its ethical doctrines, was not free from this defect, although in practice belief in the importance of spreading the Christian faith gave a practicable object for moral activity, which was no longer confined to the perfecting of self.

Plotinus is both an end and a beginning&mdashan end as regards the Greeks, a beginning as regards Christendom. To the ancient world, weary with centuries of disappointment, exhausted by despair, his doctrine might be acceptable, but could not be stimulating. To the cruder barbarian world, where superabundant energy needed to be restrained and regulated rather than stimulated, what could penetrate in his teaching was beneficial, since the evil to be combated was not languor but brutality. The work of transmitting what could survive of his philosophy was performed by the Christian philosophers of the last age of Rome.

Mind over Matter

What little we know about the life of Plotinus (ca. 204–270 CE) comes from the short memoir with which his disciple and literary executor Porphyry (ca. 234–305 CE) prefaced The Enneads—the complete edition of Plotinus’s writings that Porphyry collected and arranged. Because Plotinus was reluctant to speak of his early life, and because Porphyry came to know him when he was already fairly advanced in years, the picture we have is of a man already fully formed in personality and settled in his convictions. According to Porphyry, Plotinus attached small importance to his own biography. Just as he objected to having his likeness drawn or sculpted, because he was ashamed at finding himself caught in the shadowy meshes of a material body, so he also objected to dwelling on the trivial details of his individual existence as a mortal man.

We know that he came originally from Deltaic Lycopolis, in a thoroughly Hellenized Egypt, but not whether he was of Coptic or Greek descent, or what class he came from. Apart from one mildly embarrassing episode with a wet nurse when he was eight, his story begins for us around 232 CE, when at the age of twenty-seven he decided to move to Alexandria to study philosophy. There, after an initial period of searching about among the various schools, he attached himself to Ammonius Saccas, the “Socrates of Neoplatonism.” After eleven years in the city, he conceived a desire to study with the “gymnosophists” and philosophers of India and Persia, and so joined the Persian expedition of Emperor Gordian III. But when that military venture ended in disaster, Plotinus was forced to make a perilous retreat to Antioch, apparently more or less on his own. He moved to Rome, where he spent the rest of his life teaching. When his final illness set in, he retired to Campania to die. His last words were supposedly something like, “Try to elevate the god within us to the divine in the universe.” Then, as his soul departed his body, a snake passed under his bed and out through a hole in the wall.

Apart from this bare outline, Porphyry provides only a few brief, if illuminating, anecdotes. For instance, Plotinus once explained his decision to remain aloof from certain festal liturgies by mysteriously remarking that the divine beings should come to him, not he to them. On another occasion, when the orator Diophanes had publicly argued that a philosopher’s disciple, for the sake of his own advancement, was obliged to submit to his master’s sexual importunities, Plotinus was too agitated to deliver a refutation himself, but had to depute one of his followers for the task. And there are a few more colorful tales, of the sort modern readers might foolishly be prone to doubt. An aspiring philosopher from Alexandria named Olympius, for example, became consumed by envy and attempted to attack Plotinus with magic. But the spells doubled back upon the sorcerer, and Olympius was forced to acknowledge the invincible strength of Plotinus’s soul. Porphyry also relates that, on at least four occasions during the years of their friendship, Plotinus achieved mystical union with the highest divine reality. Perhaps the most delightful tale of all concerns a priest of Isis who, at the temple of the goddess in Rome, invoked an apparition of Plotinus’s tutelary divinity, only to discover that Plotinus was attended by no mere celestial daemon (as most good souls are) but rather by an actual god. In the end, though, these are only so many tantalizing glimpses. Would that we knew a little more. Then again, perhaps Plotinus was right—perhaps too great a concentration on the ephemeral episodes of his life would only distract us from his ideas.

Those ideas, after all, were profoundly influential. Viewed in long retrospect—looking back from the vantage of late modern philosophy, through the golden epochs of the great Christian and Islamic medieval schools, to the world of late antique Hellenistic, Jewish, and Christian thought—we find no pagan thinker more consequential for the development of later traditional “Western” metaphysics and epistemology. Plato and Aristotle, of course, laid the foundations but it was principally through the vehicle of what we now call “Neoplatonism” that the ancient systems were conveyed to the post-pagan world, and it was principally through Plotinus that Neoplatonism first acquired the full grandeur and scope of a recognizable and internally consistent tradition in its own right. His thought constituted a crucial crystallization and creative revision of those spiritual and intellectual currents of late antiquity that would prove most durable and influential in subsequent centuries.

Though Plotinus’s importance has never been entirely forgotten by scholars, and though he enjoyed a period of particularly reverent recovery during the Renaissance, he has rarely received the degree of close attention from modern philosophers that he merits. Moreover, for roughly a century it has been his undeserved fate to serve as a rhetorical foil—caricatured, misrepresented, slandered—for Christian theologians (chiefly Protestant) who have wanted to differentiate between what they fancifully imagine to be the God of the Bible and what they no less fancifully imagine to be the God of the philosophers. This is a pity. There was no more brilliant and dynamically original thinker in the last few centuries of pagan intellectual culture, or the first few centuries of the Christian era.

So it is rather odd that until now there has been no scholarly edition of The Enneads in English. There have been two previous complete translations, but neither was a fully critical edition with the sort of basic scholarly apparatus needed by serious students of Plotinus’s thought. Stephen McKenna’s translation (completed in 1930, revised by B. S. Page in 1956) has long been prized for its literary felicity and honest attempt at accuracy. But it was not made from the best textual exemplars, it suffers from certain idiosyncrasies of translation, and in places it betrays the translator’s sometimes questionable understanding of the Plotinian system. The seven-volume Loeb edition (1966–1988), prepared by the philosophically astute classicist A. H. Armstrong, is an admirable achievement, but its critical apparatus does not do enough to situate the texts or their ideas in the intellectual world of Plotinus’s time.

On the whole, this new critical edition—under the supervision of the always impressive Lloyd Gerson—remedies most of the shortcomings of its predecessors. For one thing, it uses the best available version of the original texts. For another, the translations have obviously been undertaken with great care, and with diligent editorial oversight, in order not only to harmonize their terminology and style but also to render Plotinus’s distinctive speculative vocabulary into a plausible set of English equivalents. Plotinus’s language, it should be noted, is anything but smooth and perspicuous. The treatises were apparently written hastily, and were never properly revised—in large part because of Plotinus’s poor eyesight, atrocious handwriting, and general carelessness with regard to syntax. Plotinus’s Greek encompasses a number of oddities of expression (and even of spelling), and he was not always consistent in terminology. No translator, therefore, can hope to be absolutely certain that he or she has captured the exact connotation of every word or the exact meaning of every sentence. But this edition of The Enneads comes as close to establishing an authoritative Plotinian idiom in English as we could reasonably hope. If it lacks the grace of the McKenna version, it is at least as accurate as the Armstrong at just about every point, and more so in many instances. It also provides a comprehensive glossary, explaining precisely which terms or phrases in English correspond to which in Greek. For any reader with enough Greek to have strong opinions on such things, the glossary makes it possible to recognize where his or her choices might have deviated from those of the translators. In short, this edition is now, without question, the definitive version of these texts in English. It is not likely to be challenged, let alone surpassed, at any point in the foreseeable future.

This volume might also provide an occasion for a renewed appreciation among Anglophone readers of Plotinus’s importance—not only for the history of Western thought, but for contemporary philosophy. At least, as I was rereading the treatises that make up The Enneads in this new edition, I could not help noticing how severely logical a thinker Plotinus was. Of course, if one thinks of philosophical reasoning as a process of reducing synthetic propositions to analytic simples (the pathology of the currently dominant Anglophone tradition) then one might fail to notice how ingeniously each of Plotinus’s guiding claims follows from its essential premises. Many contemporary scholars are familiar with the basic scheme of Plotinus’s thought—the descending ontological hierarchy of the One, Nous, and Psyche, for instance. Some may even be aware of his distinctive treatment of divine simplicity and infinity, or his insistence on the goodness of Being and his definition of evil as pure privation, and so on. But they are likely to think of all these things as a kind of extravagant speculative fantasia, dreamed up by an ingenious artist of the abstract. In point of fact, Plotinus appreciated as perhaps no earlier Western philosopher had ever done that there is a primordial alliance between mind and world, and was able to derive a coherent philosophical picture from this truth.

Plotinus gave exquisitely refined expression to the ancient intuition that the material order is not the basis of the mental, but rather the reverse. This is not only an eminently rational intuition it is perhaps the only truly rational picture of reality as a whole. Mind does not emerge from mindless matter, as modern philosophical fashion would have it. The suggestion that is does is both a logical impossibility and a phenomenological absurdity. Plotinus and his contemporaries understood that all the things that most essentially characterize the act of rational consciousness—its irreducible unity of apprehension, its teleological structure, the logical syntax of reasoning, and on and on—are intrinsically incompatible with, and could not logically emerge from, a material reality devoid of mind. At the same time, they could not fail to notice that there is a constant correlation between that act of rational consciousness and the intelligibility of being, a correlation that is all but unimaginable if the structure and ground of all reality were not already rational. Happily, in Plotinus’s time no one had yet ventured the essentially magical theory of perception as representation. Plotinus was absolutely correct, therefore, to attempt to understand the structure of the whole of reality by looking inward to the structure of the mind and he was just as correct to suppose that the reciprocity between the mind and objective reality must indicate a reality simpler and more capacious than either: a primordial intelligence, Nous, and an original unity, the One, generating, sustaining, and encompassing all things. And no thinker of late antiquity pursued these matters with greater persistence, rigor, and originality than he did. For Anglophone readers inclined to try to follow the course of his reasoning to its end, this new edition provides the ideal resource.

The Enneads
Edited by Lloyd P. Gerson
Cambridge University Press, $150, 938 pp.

Second Period, 263 – 268


More than two-fifths of Plotinus's total literary output was produced during the brief period between 263 and 268, when Porphyry was studying with Plotinus. Perhaps Porphyry's presence worked as a powerful stimulus. A considerable part of the output of this period is devoted to polemics with other schools, notably on the doctrine of categories and against Gnosticism.


Plotinus rejects both the Aristotelian and the Stoic versions of this doctrine, adhering to the principle that there can be no categories common to the realms of the sensible and the intelligible. In application to the realm of the sensible he corrects and modifies Aristotle's categories to the realm of Intelligence he tries to apply Plato's five genera — being, identity, diversity, rest, and change (VI 1 – 3 [42 – 44]).

Ideal Numbers

Aristotle presented Plato as professing the existence of ideal numbers (twoness, threeness, and so on, as distinguished from ordinary numbers — two, three, and so on). And he devoted much effort to the criticism of the theory of ideal numbers. Plotinus defends the theory of ideal numbers — which differ from nonideal numbers in that they do not consist of addible unities and are therefore not addible themselves (V 5 [32], Ch. 4) — and, objecting to any nominalist or abstractionist theory of numbers, attributes to them subsistence. Specifically, after having divided the realm of Intelligence into three layers — Being, Intelligence (in a restricted sense of the word), and the original Living Being — he assigns ideal numbers to the uppermost layer and explains that only because of their existence can Being divide itself into beings (VI 6 [34]), Chs. 8, 16). In this context he also introduces a peculiar concept of infinity: The truly infinite is a thing that has no limits imposed on it from without but only from within (VI 6 [34], Chs. 17f., but compare V 5 [32], Ch. 4).

Polemic Against Gnosticism

Of all the polemics of Plotinus, the most significant is the one against Gnosticism. One could say that when facing Gnostic pessimism point-blank, Plotinus overcompensates for the pessimistic and Gnostic strand present in himself and responds with an almost unlimited optimism. The fundamental mood underlying Gnosticism is alienation from a hostile world, and Gnosticism undertakes to explain this mood and to open the road to escape from the world. The explanation is in the form of a history of the origin of the visible cosmos according to Gnosticism, this cosmos is the result of the activity of an evil god sometimes identified with the Creator-God of the Old Testament or with Plato's divine artisan. This evil god is only the last in a succession of beings. The manner in which this succession takes place consists in a number of voluntary acts by which divinities of an ever lower order originate. The relation between these deities is often personal, based on such traits as curiosity, oblivion, daring, ambition. Man, as he exists in this evil world, contains in himself a spark of what was his original, divine substance, now imprisoned in his body owing to the scheming of the evil god. At a certain moment a messenger-savior in some way breaks the power of the evil god and makes it possible for those who hear the whole story (acquire gnosis) to regain their original standing and free themselves from the tyranny of the evil god.

Plotinus treats Gnosticism as a strictly philosophic system. He simply compares its doctrines with his own and with those of Plato its salvationary aspects are of little interest to him (compare III 2 [47], Ch. 9). In the succession of divine beings he sees only a superfluous multiplication of the three hypostases of his own system (compare V 5 [32], Chs. 1f.). To the cosmic drama that results in the creation of the visible cosmos he opposes his view of a totally undramatic, unconscious emanation, a product of necessity without arbitrariness and, contradicting even Plato's Timaeus (40b – 45a), without planning (V 8 [31], Ch. 7) and, therefore, entirely blameless. The cosmos, product of the activities of the Soul (or Intelligence or both), he considers to be beautiful. Whereas Gnosticism sees the visible universe filled with spirits inimical to man, most outstanding among them being the rulers of the celestial bodies (planets), Plotinus sees in these spirits powers related to man in brotherly fashion. What is true in Gnosticism can, according to him, be found in Plato. The Gnostic objection that Plato did not penetrate the mysteries of the intelligible world Plotinus considers ridiculously presumptuous (II 9 [33] compare V 8 [31], Ch. 8).


In the second period Plotinus was also concerned with the problems inherent in his own system, especially with the relation between the intelligible world and the sensible world and with the structure of the intelligible world.

The One

First, Plotinus tries to elucidate the nature of the One still further. He does this particularly in the context of a discussion concerning the nature of human freedom, in which he also asks whether the One should be considered as a necessary being or as a free one (ens necessarium or ens liberum ) — in theistic terms, whether God must exist or has freely chosen to exist. In what is perhaps his most profound theological discussion, Plotinus tries to establish the concept of the One as Lord of itself and thus not having to serve even itself, so that in the One freedom and necessity coincide (VI 8 [39], Chs. 7 – 21). And without any vacillation he excludes any kind of consciousness from the One (V 6 [24], Chs. 2, 4f.).

Intelligence and Soul

As far as Intelligence is concerned, Plotinus reiterates his doctrine that it contains ideas within itself (V 5 [32], Chs. 1f.), and he again tries to explain how, in spite of being one, it still contains multiplicity (VI 4 [22], Ch. 4 VI 5 [23], Ch. 6). With regard to souls Plotinus tries to explain how they can remain distinct from one another although they all are only one soul (VI 4 [22], Ch. 6 IV 3 [27], Chs. 1 – 8 compare IV 9 [8], Ch. 5).

Both Intelligence and Soul are supposed to be present in the sensible world and, therefore, present in what is extended, although they themselves are not extended. Starting from the famous discussion in Plato's Parmenides (131b), in which the attempt is made to explain how one idea can be present in many particulars, Plotinus tries to show that just because Intelligence and Soul are not extended, they can be omnipresent and ubiquitous in what is extended (VI 4 [22], especially VI 5 [23], Ch. 11). And also in this context he tries to establish the concept of differentiated unity (VI 4 [22], Ch. 4), that is, the noncontradictory character of "one" and "many."

Intelligence, Soul, Change

Probably the most formidable difficulty facing Plotinus is the result of his theory treating Intelligence and Soul as metaphysical principles on the one hand and as present in man on the other (that is, as both transcendent and immanent) and, therefore, in some way engaged in mental life, particularly in sensing and remembering. As metaphysical principles — that is, members of the realm of the intelligible — Intelligence and Soul should be unchangeable, whereas in man they seem to be involved in change. From this difficulty Plotinus tries to extricate himself in many ways, of which two will be presented.

On the one hand he keeps even the human soul away as much as possible from the processes of sensing, remembering, desiring, experiencing pleasure and pain, and so on (III 6 [26], Ch. 1 – 5). Sometimes he insists that the soul simply notices all these processes without being affected by what it perceives (IV 6 [41] IV 4 [28], Ch. 19). Sometimes he insists that it is not the soul itself but only some trace of it which is engaged in these activities (IV 4 [28], Chs. 18f. compare VI 4 [22], Ch. 15, l. 15), and this ties in with the theory that the soul did not really — or not in its entirety — descend (VI 4 [22], Ch. 16). Sometimes he introduces the concept of a double soul, a higher and a lower, with only the lower being changeable. This doubling of the soul Plotinus carries to such extremes that he assumes two imaginative faculties and two faculties of memory, each belonging to its respective soul and each remembering in a different manner and different events. This is particularly the case after man's death the higher soul no longer remembers anything it experienced while in the body, whereas the lower soul still remembers (IV 3 [27], Chs. 25 – 32 IV 4 [28], Ch. 1, l. 5). Sometimes he suggests that all the mental activities involving change happen not to the soul but to the composite of soul and body (IV 4 [28], Ch. 17), leaving undecided how anything can affect a whole without affecting the part that belongs to it.

On the other hand, when it comes to Intelligence and Soul as metaphysical principles (and even to the world soul and astral souls), Plotinus disallows them memory entirely (IV 4 [28], Chs. 6 – 17). As to sensing, he distinguishes two kinds, one serving such practical purposes as self-preservation, the other purely theoretical it is only the theoretical kind that he ascribes to metaphysical entities, the implication obviously being that this kind of sensation does not cause any change in the perceiver (IV 4 [28], Ch. 24). Why they should still be called Intelligence and Soul remains somewhat unclear. Perhaps the most striking example of the real effects of the Soul's falling away from Intelligence (despite everything said by Plotinus to minimize these effects) is that the cosmic soul, as it falls away, engenders time because of an inability to contemplate the totality of Intelligence simultaneously (III 7 [45], Ch. 11).


The difficulties created for the explanation of the cognitive aspects of man's mental life without the assumption of a real change (passibility) of the soul return with even greater significance in the field of ethics. If there is no actual fall of the soul and if no deterioration of its nature has taken place as the result of incarnation (III 6 [26], Ch. 5), why is purifying the soul necessary? Yet the concept of purification plays a central role in the ethics of Plotinus (compare I 6 [1] I 2 [19]) he even describes the perfections — wisdom, self-control, justice, courage — as purifications. Plotinus tries to help himself by a metaphor: The soul is merely covered with mud, which, however, has never penetrated it. According to another explanation, what the soul has acquired because of its fall is nothingness, and all it has to do, therefore, is to get rid of nothing (VI 5 [23], Ch. 12, ll. 16 – 23).

Cosmic Sympathy

The insistence that memory and sensation, in their ordinary senses, are absent from the realm of Intelligence and even from that of the celestial sphere Plotinus explains with his theory that the universe is one animated organism. The sympathy existing among parts of one organism make memory and sensation superfluous, since the mutual affection need not be perceived. This leads to characteristic explanations of the efficacy of magic, prayers, and astrology. All these activities (and prophecies) are made possible by the fact that each part of the universe affects the others and is affected by them, not by mechanical causation nor by influencing the will of deities — particularly stars — but exclusively by mutual sympathy (IV 3 [27], Ch. 11 IV 4 [28], Chs. 40f.). In this doctrine of sympathy many scholars see the influence of the Stoa, particularly Posidonius, on Plotinus.


As to matter, Plotinus in the writings of this period — with less ambiguity than in other periods — characterizes it as the result of the last step of the emanative process, thus fully preserving the monistic character of his system (II 5 [25], Ch. 5 compare I 8 [51], Ch. 7). Some other problems discussed by Plotinus are distinctly occasional pieces and somewhat peripheral with regard to the system. Thus, we find a theory of vision, explained by sympathy (IV 5 [29] II 8 [35]) a discussion of the Stoic concept of the complete interpenetration of bodies (II 7 [37]) a cosmology without the assumption of ether (II 1 [40]).

The Traditional Enneagram

The Enneagram of Personality Types is a modern synthesis of a number of ancient wisdom traditions, but the person who originally put the system together was Oscar Ichazo. Ichazo was born in Bolivia and raised there and in Peru, but as a young man, moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to learn from a school of inner work he had encountered. Thereafter, he journeyed in Asia gathering other knowledge before returning to South America to begin putting together a systematic approach to all he had learned.

After many years of developing his ideas, he created the Arica School as a vehicle for transmitting the knowledge that he had received, teaching in Chile in the late 1960's and early 70's, before moving to the United States where he resided until his passing in 2020. In 1970, When Ichazo was still living in South America, a group of Americans, including noted psychologists and writers Claudio Naranjo and John Lilly, went to Arica, Chile to study with Ichazo and to experience firsthand the methods for attaining self-realization that he had developed.

This group spent several weeks with Ichazo, learning the basics of his system and engaged in the practices he taught them. The Arica school, like any serious system of inner work, is a vast, interwoven, and sometimes complex body of teachings on psychology, cosmology, metaphysics, spirituality, and so forth, combined with various practices to bring about transformations of human consciousness. (Neither Don Riso nor Russ Hudson was affiliated with this school, and therefore cannot describe it with any justice, but those seeking to learn more about it can do so through Arica publications1).

Among the highlights for many of the participants was a system of teachings based on the ancient symbol of the Enneagram. The Enneagram symbol has roots in antiquity and can be traced back at least as far as the works of Pythagoras. 2 The symbol was reintroduced to the modern world by George Gurdjieff, the founder of a highly influential inner work school. Gurdjieff taught the symbol primarily through a series of sacred dances or movements, designed to give the participant a direct, felt sense of the meaning of symbol and the processes it represents. What Gurdjieff clearly did not teach was a system of types associated with the symbol. Gurdjieff did reveal to advanced students what he called their chief feature. The chief feature is the lynchpin of a person's ego structure—the basic characteristic that defines them. Gurdjieff generally used colorful language to describe a person's chief feature, often using the Sufi tradition of telling the person what kind of idiot they were. People could be round idiots, square idiots, subjective hopeless idiots, squirming idiots, and so forth. But Gurdjieff never taught anything about a system of understanding character related to the Enneagram symbol.

For these and other reasons, many early Enneagram enthusiasts have mistakenly attributed the system of the nine types to Gurdjieff or to the Sufis because of Gurdjieff's use of some Sufi techniques. This has led to the widespread and erroneous belief that the Enneagram system has been handed down from the Sufis or from some other ancient school as an ongoing "oral tradition." While it is true that Ichazo drew on his knowledge of a number of such traditions, the actual combination of those traditions connected with the Enneagram symbol is purely his creation. Thus, the "Traditional Enneagram" only goes back to the 1960's when Ichazo was first teaching it, although the philosophy behind the Enneagram contains components from mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and ancient Greek philosophy (particularly Socrates, Plato, and the Neo-Platonists)—all traditions that stretch back into antiquity.

In Personality Types (11-26), we offered a more extensive history of the system, but here, we want to look at the basics of the Enneagram system developed by Ichazo. 3

Ichazo actually taught Aricans a system of 108 Enneagrams (or "Enneagons," in his terminology), but the Enneagram movement in America has been based on the first few, and primarily on four of them. These are called the Enneagram of the Passions, the Enneagram of the Virtues, the Enneagram of the Fixations, the Enneagram of the Holy Ideas.

To grasp the significance of these diagrams and the relationship between them, we must remember that the system was designed primarily to help elucidate the relationship between Essence and personality, or ego. In Ichazo's own words:

"We have to distinguish between a man as he is in essence, and as he is in ego or personality. In essence, every person is perfect, fearless, and in a loving unity with the entire cosmos there is no conflict within the person between head, heart, and stomach or between the person and others. Then something happens: the ego begins to develop, karma accumulates, there is a transition from objectivity to subjectivity man falls from essence into personality." (Interviews with Ichazo, page 9)

Thus, Ichazo saw the Enneagram as a way of examining specifics about the structure of the human soul and particularly about the ways in which actual soul qualities of Essence become distorted, or contracted into states of ego. In developing his Enneagram theories, he drew upon a recurrent theme in Western mystical and philosophical tradition—the idea of nine divine forms. This idea was discussed by Plato as the Divine Forms or Platonic Solids, qualities of existence that are essential, that cannot be broken down into constituent parts. This idea was further developed in the third century of our era by the Neo-Platonic philosophers, particularly Plotinus in his central work, The Enneads.

These ideas found their way from Greece and Asia Minor southward through Syria and eventually to Egypt. There, it was embraced by early Christian mystics known as the Desert Fathers who focused on studying the loss of the Divine Forms in ego consciousness. The particular ways in which these Divine forms became distorted came to be known as the Seven Deadly Sins: anger, pride, envy, avarice, gluttony, lust, and sloth. How the original nine forms, in the course of their travels from Greece to Egypt over the course of a century, became reduced to seven deadly sins remains a mystery.

Another key influence Ichazo employed in developing these ideas comes from mystical Judaism, and particularly from the teachings of the Kabbala. Central to Kabbala is a diagram called Tree of Life (Etz Hayim in Hebrew). The Tree of Life is a said to be a map showing the particular patterns and laws by which God created the manifest universe. The diagram is composed of 10 spheres (Sefirot) connected by 22 paths in particular ways. Most significantly, Ichazo must have been aware of the Kabbalistic teaching that all human souls are "sparks" that arise out of these spheres or emanations from the Kabbalistic Tree. (The first sphere, Keter, is reserved for the Messiah, leaving nine other spheres for the rest of us.) In the traditional teachings of the Kabbala, for instance, each of the great patriarchs of the Bible were said to be embodiments of the different spheres of the Tree. 4 This teaching suggests that there are different kinds of souls—different emanations or facets of the Divine Unity.

Ichazo's brilliant work was in discovering how these Divine Forms and their corresponding distortions connected with the Enneagram symbol and with the three Centers of human intelligence, Thinking, Feeling, and Instinct. He called the higher, essential qualities of the human mind the Holy Ideas, in accordance with western mystical tradition. Each Holy Idea also has a corresponding Virtue. The Virtues are essential qualities of the heart experienced by human beings when they are abiding in Essence. As a person loses awareness and presence, falling away from Essence into the trance of the personality, the loss of awareness of the Holy Idea becomes a person's Ego-fixation, and the loss of contact with the Virtue causes the person's characteristic Passion. While everyone has the capacity to embody all of the Holy Ideas and Virtues, one pair of them is central to the soul's identity, so the loss if it is felt most acutely, and the person's ego is most preoccupied with recreating it, although in a futile, self-defeating way. See the diagram below.

5. References and Further Reading

  • Elmer O’Brien, S. J. (1964) tr., The Essential Plotinus: Representative Treatises From The Enneads (Hackett Publishing).
    • This fine translation of the more accessible, if not always most relevant, treatises of Plotinus serves as a valuable introduction to the work of a difficult and often obscure thinker. The Introduction by O’Brien is invaluable.
    • Stephen MacKenna’s rightly famous translation of Plotinus is more interpretive than literal, and often less clear to a modern English reader than what is to be found in O’Brien’s translation. However, before delving into the original Greek of Plotinus, one would do well to familiarize oneself with the poetic lines of MacKenna. The Penguin edition, although unfortunately abridged, contains an excellent Introduction by John Dillon, as well as a fine article by Paul Henry, S. J., “The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought.” Also included is MacKenna’s translation of Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus.
    • This is a readily available edition of Plotinus’ Greek text. Armstrong’s translation is quite literal, but for that reason, often less than helpful in rendering the subtleties of Plotinus’ thought. For the reader who is ready to tackle Plotinus’ difficult Greek, it is recommended that she make use of the Loeb edition in conjunction with the translations of O’Brien and MacKenna, relying only marginally on Armstrong for guidance.
    • This little introduction to Plotinus’ philosophy by his most famous student is highly interesting, and quite valuable for an understanding of Plotinus’ influence on later Platonists. However, as an accurate representation of Plotinus’ thought, this treatise falls short. Porphyry often develops his own unique interpretations and arguments under the guise of a commentary on Plotinus. But that is as it should be. The greatest student is often the most violently original interpreter of his master’s thought.
    • This history of philosophy is considered something of a classic in the field, and the section on Plotinus is well worth reading. However, Copleston’s analysis of Plotinus’ system represents the orthodox scholarly interpretation of Plotinus that has persisted up until the present day, with all its virtues and flaws. The account in the history book is no substitute for a careful study of Plotinus’ text, although it does provide useful pointers for the beginner.
    • This is a complete English translation of the Fragments in Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, the standard edition of the surviving fragments of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. The study of these fragments, especially Parmenides, Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras, provides an essential background for the study of Plotinus.
    • The essay “Form and Meaning: A Note on the Phenomenology of Language,” in this edition, literally has Plotinus written all ‘oeuvre’ it.

    To understand Plotinus in the fullest fashion, don’t forget to familiarize yourself with Plato’s Symposium, Phaedrus, Phaedo, the Republic, and the Letters (esp. II and VII), not to mention Aristotle, the Stoics and the Epicureans, the Hellenistic Astrologers, the Gnostics, the Hermetic Corpus, Philo and Origen.

    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&hellip So that Being may exist the One is not Being, but the begetter of Being.


    The roots of the Enneagram are disputed and unclear, but seem connected to different spiritual and oral traditions as well as specific mathematical and philosophical traditions. Some authors claim strong Sufi roots, while others point to connections to early esoteric Christianity. It should be noted, however, that it is definitely not common to all Sufi traditions.

    The origins of the Enneagram

    • Some authors believe that variations of the Enneagram symbol can be traced to the sacred geometry of Pythagorean mathematicians and mystical mathematics.
    • Plotinus, in the Enneads, speaks of nine divine qualities that manifest in human nature.
    • It may have entered into esoteric Judaism through the philosopher Philo, later becoming embedded in the branches of the Tree of Life in the Kabbalah (Nine-Foldedness).
    • Variations of the Enneagram symbol appear in the Sufi tradition, with specific reference to the Naqshbandi Order (“Brotherhood of the Bees”).
    • Possible relationship with Christianity through medieval references to the Evagrius’ catalogue of various forms of temptation (Logismoi) which much later, in medieval times, was translated into the seven deadly sins.
    • Franciscan mystic Ramon Llull taught a philosophy and theology of nine principles in an attempt to integrate different faith traditions.
    • Jesuit mathematician Athanasius Kircher has an Enneagram-like drawing that forms part of a 17th-century text.

    The 21st Century Enneagram

    The more recent evolution of the Enneagram, in the form and shape that is known in the 21st century, is much clearer. Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic and teacher used the Enneagram to explain the unfolding of creation, calling it a symbol of perpetual motion. Movements, or sacred dances, constitute an integral part of the Gurdjieff Work. Gurdjieff sometimes referred to himself as a “teacher of dancing”. He alludes to the fact that he was introduced to the Enneagram in the 1920s during a visit to a monastery in Afghanistan, but he does not definitively explain the symbol’s origin.

    In South America, Oscar Ichazo, the Bolivian-born founder of the Arica School established in 1968 also taught the Enneagram. During the 1960s Ichazo’s Enneagram of Personality and related theories formed part of a larger body of teaching that he termed Protoanalysis.

    Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean psychiatrist was exposed to the Enneagram through Ichazo and brought the Enneagram into the modern psychological tradition. Individuals such as Ochs, Almaas and Maitri studied with Naranjo, who still teaches the Enneagram to this day. Through Ochs, the Enneagram was introduced into numerous Christian communities in the United States where authors such as Wagner, Riso and Hudson were exposed to the teachings.

    Since its introduction into the world of psychology, the Enneagram has been partially validated through experiential and empirical studies (for a summary see Sutton (2012) and cross-referenced with other constructs of psychology such as the MBTI). Enneagram teachers have also drawn on the work of psychologists outside of the Enneagram community to enhance our understanding and application of the framework. An example is the work of Karen Horney on psychological forms of defence which has led to Riso and Hudson developing the fractal pattern of the Hornevians or social styles.

    We acknowledge the rich contributions of all the Enneagram authors and practitioners that have contributed to the cumulative understanding and continue to inspire our application of the Enneagram.

    The Integrative Enneagram Questionnaire draws on the collective body of knowledge of the field and as the developers of the iEQ9 we would like to acknowledge the following Enneagram experts and practitioners for their contribution to the development and application of the model as we understand it today:

    We also acknowledge contemporary theorists and developers of the field: David Daniels, Don Riso and Russ Hudson, Jerry Wagner, Mark Bodnarczuk, Sandra Maitri, Beatrice Chestnut, Ginger Lapid-Bogda and many more.

    Plotinus on Number

    Svetla Slaveva-Griffin’s book, Plotinus on Number, is an investigation into the complicated world of Ennead VI.6. This short but dense book is remarkably enjoyable Slaveva-Griffin works through the major issues in the treatise systematically and yet the book is not a commentary on the work. Instead, using Enn. VI.6 as a reference point, the book explains Plotinus’ contribution to the Platonic conception of number, particularly with respect to how Plotinus differs from Aristotle’s interpretation of Plato’s concept of number. The approach of the book allows the author to place Plotinus in the history of late antique mathematics, the scholarship for which has been heavy on Proclus and the Neopythagoreans to the neglect of Plotinus. In addition, this book provides insight into issues in Plotinian metaphysics, but one word of caution: Slaveva-Griffin does lay out some basic principles of Neoplatonism in her introduction, but the book assumes a certain level of understanding, especially of terms like “indefinite dyad” or “monad”. With this in mind, it would be best for the novice Platonist or historian of mathematics to start with a more general book on Neoplatonism or Plotinus first. Still, the book is certainly not overly-technical and it uses minimal Greek quotations, so it could be of use in an upper-level undergraduate seminar on Neoplatonism, but only after basic tenets of Platonic metaphysics had been thoroughly established. With that said, the book is truly interesting and very well-written without doubt, it is a notable contribution to the field.

    In the introduction, Slaveva-Griffin establishes that Plotinus, unlike Aristotle, distinguishes between intelligible number and arithmetical number. Slaveva-Griffin argues that Plotinus was “the first Post-Platonic philosopher who develops a theory of numbers”(p.12), which is interesting in light of Neopythagorean figures such as Nichomachus of Gerasa likening the monad to God or Middle Platonists such as Moderatus, who Slaveva-Griffin includes in her discussion of the topic (p.13). The main point which Slaveva-Griffin sets out in the introduction is that Plotinus views multiplicity as number, an argument which is supported by her systematic look at Enn. VI.6.

    In Chapter One, “Platonic Cosmology on Plotinian Terms”, Slaveva-Griffin argues that Enn. VI.6 converts the systasis of the Timaeus into apostasis so that the Plotinian cosmology describes emanation from the One rather than a composition of the world by the demiurge. The author links this apostasis with creation of multiplicity from the One, which proceeds mathematically from the One. In Chapter Two, “Multiplicity as Number”, Slaveva-Griffin shows how the mathematical hierarchy of multiplicity from the One stems from a Neoplythagorean tradition of multiplicity and number. Here, she argues, I think most rightly, that Plotinus relies upon Moderatus’ definition of the One, or three Ones, in this case. While for Moderatus the first One is absolute stability, the second One acts as the principle of creation, and the third One is the principle of material reality and the principle which enumerates individual things. In these first two chapters, Slaveva-Griffin does a fine job of showing how Plotinus manipulates a Neopythagorean tradition to explain how the multiplicity comes from the One at the time of the creation of the universe. By probing into the historical sources of Plotinus’ understanding of number, this book offers a nice historical-philosophical approach to the question of number.

    Next, the issue of infinity is taken up, starting with Plotinus’ critique of Aristotle’s Ph. 208a15 in Enn. VI.6.2. In Chapter Three, “The Number of Infinity”, Slaveva-Griffin first discusses the Platonic view of the generation of numbers and the distinction between Ideal numbers and arithmetical numbers, the former of which is left out in Aristotle’s understanding of number. Here, Slaveva-Griffin addresses the question of whether number is incidental to the Forms by looking at the discussion of time and movement in Enn. III.7.12.

    Chapter Five, “Number and the Universe” is a joy to read. The discussion here centers on the difference between monadic number, which gives quantity, and substantial number, which, like the One, does not participate in quantity rather, it acts as a holding place for being. In terms of a diagram of the universe, the One stands at the head of the universe, with substantial number between it and monadic number. Substantial number, thus, is ontologically important as an intermediary figure, it shortens the distance between the One and number which enumerates physical reality. The remainder of this chapter outlines the various functions of substantial number. Slaveva-Griffin discusses how Being cannot function without substantial number because Being is unified substantial number. Substantial number is also an expression of Intellect insofar as Intellect is number moving in itself. This chapter describes how substantial number generates Being, Intellect, beings and complete Living Being because they are pure intelligible entities. The whole universe, thus, is a single living being which encompasses all living beings within it.

    Chapter Six, “Unity of Thought and Writing” is more of an appendix, as the bulk of the argument is completed at the end of Chapter Five. Here, Slaveva-Griffin describes how Porphyry arranged Plotinus’ work in relation to Plotinus’ concepts of multiplicity and number, as well as late Neopythagean thought. Thus, just as the cosmos is a multiplicity ordered by number, so is the Enneads an outfolding into multiplicity. Most of the ideas in this chapter were covered in previous chapters still, this is a fine chapter and the topic is of interest to many who read the Enneads.

    Slaveva-Griffin’s Plotinus on Number is scholarly and challenging.

    Introduction: One by Number

    1. Platonic Cosmology on Plotinian Terms
    Ennead VI.6 and the Timaeus
    Origin of Multiplicity in Plotinus
    Plotinus’ Apostasis and Numenius’ Stasis
    The Universe as Degrees of Separation from the One

    2. Multiplicity as Number
    Surfacing from the ‘Neopythagorean Underground’
    Outward and Inward Direction of Multiplicity in Ennead VI.6
    Multiplicity as Effluence and Unity

    3. The Number of Infinity
    Plato’s Position
    Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato and the Platonists
    Plotinus’ Answer

    4. Number and Substance
    Plotinus’ Three Hypotheses about Number in the Intelligible Realm
    Is Substantial Number Discrete and Incidental?
    The Whole Number of Beings
    Substantial and Monadic Number

    5. Number and the Universe
    Substantial Number and the One
    Substantial Number and Absolute Being
    Substantial Number and Intellect
    Substantial Number and Beings
    Substantial Number and the Complete
    Living Being
    Soul and Number
    The Unfigured Figure of Soul’s Dance

    6. Unity of Thought and Writing
    Porphyry and the Enneads
    Ennead VI.6
    “Six Along with the Nines”

    Watch the video: 25 Plotinus u0026 Neo-Platonism (June 2022).


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