Neoplatonism – The one and the many, in more ways than one!

Plotinus – Wikipedia

Neoplatonism is an academic term that scholars, themselves, debate the usefulness of.

We often hear that Neoplatonism builds upon or reinterprets the work of Plato and that the process begins with the philosophical system of Plotinus (205-70 CE).

But some question whether Plotinus’ work differs significantly enough from Plato to justify it being characterized as neo- instead of mere Platonism.

Myself, I’m not in a position to comment, only having a marginal interest from the perspective of the history of ideas. (There are sooo many ideas out there, it is impossible to be an expert on everything).

So how did Plotinus get the ball rolling on all the new (neo) stuff?

His genius was to synthesize Platonic, Aristotelian and Pythagorean ideas into a cosmology that envisions a series of increasingly specific emanations originating from a single metaphysical Source.

The first emanation from the Source is a World Soul, regarded as a metaphysical repository of intelligence and knowledge, something like a Platonic Form. From the World Soul emanate individual souls.

Plotinus’ works were edited by his disciple Porphyry and categorized into six groups of nine, called The Enneads.

English: Philosophers Porphyry and Plotinus Di...
Philosophers Porphyry and Plotinus Dispute Astrology (medieval illuminated manuscript) –  Wikipedia

His key contribution to the history of ideas arguably is his notion of the One. For Plotinus, the One is ultimate Goodness and Beauty existing before – and the source of all – observable manifestations in our world of becoming.

Our world emanates from the One; this process sets up a complicated, hierarchical series of arrangements, or dyads, all leading back up to the One.

Spiritual liberation is achieved through personal union with the One, apparently experienced as pure, insurmountable delight.

This ecstasy, however, is not a lasting interior perception. Its transitory nature is noted by Porphyry, who wrote that Plotinus had four of these peak experiences while the two men knew each other.¹

Neoplatonism has had a pretty wide-ranging influence through the Middle Ages right up to modern times. Most major religions have mystical offshoots or branches that fit aspects of Neoplatonism into an agenda for salvation and a related cosmology.²


² (a) On this point, I often emphasize that cosmology is not just about astronomy. This recent and prevalent usage is a materialistic simplification of a far more interesting and expansive meaning that religion and mythology scholars have recognized for centuries. (b) Trying to highlight some key offshoots with LINER, I had technical problems because my computer is tethered thru wifi to another base computer (sort of a Neoplatonist tech setup, when you think about it 😉 ). Instead of relocating to the main computer and highlighting my own interests, probably best to just link to the full Wikipedia articles.

English: Emanation of light Italiano: Emanazio...
English: Emanation of light Italiano: Emanazione di luce (Wikipedia)

Related » Aristotle, Plato, Platonism, Proclus Pythagoras, Republic

 The Blessings of Judaism and Christianity (


  1. Wow. For me it was later on, browsing through books in the library. He’s one of those names that just keeps coming up… hence his inclusion here! 🙂 Jung speaks of him too… that whole idea of the World Soul.


  2. Another tweak. This time sentence clarification –

    But some question whether Plotinus’ work differs significantly enough from Plato to justify it being characterized as neo- instead of mere Platonism.


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