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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 364

The Enneads, a collection of the works and musings of the Greek philosopher Plotinus, is a group of 54 writings that are separated into six sections, the six Enneads. Each of these writings deal with different subject areas and are essentially a collection of his major ideas of philosophy.

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Each of The Enneads takes a different subject to discuss, summarizing Plotinus's viewpoints on that subject. The first group of writing is dedicated to human and animal existence, as well as the nature of virtue and good and evil. He reasons that virtues and morals separate us from animals. He continues this section with discussions of good and evil, happiness, and how to live an upright life.

The second Ennead is a discussion of physical reality. In this text, he sets about discussing the existence and workings of the cosmos, including stellar motion, his ideas on star formation, the nature of physical matter, and the ideas of perspective (titled "Why distant objects appear small").

The third Ennead is more of a discussion of spiritual matters on the human scale. His sections are related to ideas such as Fate, the human spirit, love, and eternity, among other things. He relates this section closely to the previous one—physical reality, because he believes the two are intimately interwoven.

The fourth Ennead is a deep discussion of the soul and its existence. He discusses how the soul is united with the body, its immortality, the nature and purpose of its existence (linking the soul to the idea of morals and therefore how it separates us from beasts), and much more.

The fifth Ennead follows lines of reasoning about the nature of knowledge, good, and truth. He makes arguments about how the intellectual and rational being thinks and what conclusions can rightly be made. He also stipulates that there is, in fact, universal truth, and that all truth that humans come to understand stems from this.

The final Ennead is a conglomeration of his remaining ideas. He discusses immortality, number theory, the omnipotence and omnipresence of God, and free will, among other things. This Ennead is something of a catch-all, to organize things that didn't fall into the remaining subgroups.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 895

The mystic philosopher Plotinus is considered the father of Neoplatonism. He believed that he had achieved union with the Supreme Principle, the One, several times in his life. According to his theory, all material beings and things emanated from the One, including the Intellect, the Soul, and humans. In his belief system, human beings were to work to escape material reality and achieve union (or reunion) with the One. A renowned teacher, Plotinus lectured on this philosophy; his lectures were later compiled by one of his students, Porphyry of Tyre, who edited them into six books of nine chapters each, which he titled Enneas. Porphyry also wrote a biography of Plotinus. Although neither Porphyry nor Plotinus was a Christian, this compilation proved to have a significant influence on later thinkers, both pagan and Christian.

Plotinus’s interpretation of Platonic philosophy centers on his conception of the One, the creator-being. The One engendered not only the universe but himself as well. Plotinus claims this is possible because the One is the penultimate element; it is made up of everything else, yet it remains in the purest form. Plotinus calls this state “the light before the light.” As this purest form, it cannot be described or discussed; living beings can only hope to realize that even with a sense of perfection in meditation, they must be aware that there is a greater perfection that exists. The One is known only by what it is not; it is not comprehensible. It is the paradoxical culmination of everything, and yet it is like nothing else. This creation of a complex universe from the final, most pure element can be compared to the creation of gold jewelry. It is created from parts of pure gold yet could not exist as pure gold jewelry. It needs an amalgam for strength. However, it could not call itself gold without the original gold, which remains in a pure, if almost untouchable, form.

All else emanates from the One “because [there] is nothing within the One that all things are from it.” Plotinus states that the first element to spring from the One is Intellect. The Intellect’s purpose is to discern the rest of the forms of the universe. There are two kinds of matter: intelligent matter such as plants, animals, and humans, and lifeless matter such as earth. In addition, the Intellect allows the One to account for beings with physical characteristics. Intellect classifies matter in two ways: by being in an internal state of activity and thinking and then creating an external reality of thinking, which activates the other forms of life and existence. It is through the first stage that the Intellect is able to aid in the process to return all forms to the One.

The third manifestation is that of the Soul. However, the Soul does not require a body to give it existence but rather exists outside of the sensual world, desiring to find a body into which to fit. It is a permanent part of the universe, while the physical part of the universe is changeable and transient. It is a reflection of the internal state of the Intellect that creates a connection between the Intellect and the bodies of the universe. The Soul exists as a duality; part of it remains connected with the Intellect while part merges with physical creation. Even though “the lowest activity of soul is in its contact with matter to which it brings form,” it, too, serves to further the return of all matter to the One. It provides each being that embodies it with a recognition that there is a need to go back to the One.

The life-forms are also capable of turning away from the One and creating or committing evil, Plotinus says. Even though the One is all good, it is the all-creator; therefore, it is the creator of evil. However, it is humanity’s desire to embark on a path of evil that brings about an evil reality. This path is opened up by an outward manifestation of evil, “by desire or rage or some evil image.” On the other hand, it may be a human desire to use the ability of rational thought for self-control and, thus, remain in the realm of ethical, or good, actions. This will also further the reinstatement of all existence with the One. Plotinus maintains through his writings and lifestyle that thoughtful contemplation is the only way to achieve an ecstatic union with the One.

This “self-knowledge . . . is our beauty,” according to Plotinus, who avers that awareness of an all-encompassing beauty will lead the thinker away from temporal beauty and toward the ultimate One. He calls on those who admire human beauty (lovers) to consider that everything is simply a shadowy reflection of the greatest love and greatest beauty of all. He admonishes all to pray to the One to enter their beings, bringing the One’s perfect image and perfect universe to themselves.

Plotinus’s metaphysical identity hinges on the effort of all things to recapture a oneness with the supreme being: “[O]ur journey,” he writes, “is to the Good, the Primal-Principle.” A virtuous life is one that is spent in contemplation of reaching a union with the supreme goodness. Humanity must learn to meditate on “a presence overpassing all knowledge” to attain unity with the One.

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