Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321

The Enneads by Plotinus is a work of philosophical discussion, a collection of Plotinus's ideas and theories on the nature of life, immortality, and much more. The themes are different for each section, but there are several consistent ideas that are interwoven throughout that can be analyzed.

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A primary theme that runs through this work is the nature of the soul and how it separates man from beast. Plotinus gives a much more theoretical and behavioral definition of humanity and intelligence in comparison to scientific representations of species. The philosopher's idea is that intelligence and the ability to distinguish between good and evil are what give humanity their separation from beasts—and this is also his definition of the soul. By knowing good and evil and having defined morals, humans are separated and elevated above animals.

A second theme Plotinus spends a great deal of time on is the nature of the Cosmos. He believes that the stars are physical creations that portend fates. There is, in his opinion, an undeniable connection between the heavens and physical events. His second and third Enneads are intimately linked, even though the second describes exclusively physical reality (stars, the cosmos, etc) while the third deals entirely with the ideas of fate, eternity, and love. These seemingly disconnected things are, in his mind, unified—he feels that the cosmos is essentially a representation or precursor of Earthly events and affairs (as described in detail in his section "Are the stars causes?").

His third theme, explored in detail in the Fifth Ennead—however, it is prevalent throughout the text—is the idea of knowledge. He states a clear belief in universal truth, and from that is what stems the ideas of morality and ethics. This leads to the human soul (knowledge of good and evil that separates us from animals) and also leads to "inner beauty", because it allows us to become pure by following morals.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 341

Plotinus strives repeatedly to emphasize that the universe is created by a singular unit. His theory that “there must be one cause” echoes the teachings in Genesis of the creation of all matter. The spiritual being he labels the One is as much a creator-being as the God of the Bible, who is also described variously as the word and the light, just as Plotinus describes his supreme being.

This light, or knowledge, is passed on from the One to the Intellect, which, in turn, passes it to the Soul. This triune deity correlates with the Holy Trinity in its form, purpose, and philosophical conflict. While the One is certainly the Creator-God, the Intellect can be interpreted as a Holy Spirit figure who brings revelation to the Apostles and to the rest of humankind. The Soul is the only portion of Plotinus’s elements to unite with an actual body, as the Christ figure is the only godhead to become one with humanity. Also just as the purpose of Christ-as-man is salvation, so is the purpose of the Soul-and-body to return to the One through contemplation, which will lead to an ecstatic revelation. This spiritual awakening is necessary because Plotinus avers that the One is intellectually an unknowable being. In comparison, Matthew 11:27 says “no one knows the Father except the Son,” emphasizing the point that only through prayer and study will an understanding and eventual union with God be achieved.

Finally, Plotinus examines the consequences of the union of the Soul with a body, which unfortunately may lead to a manifestation of evil through evil deeds. The soul, he claims, “falls under the conditions of the entire living experience; this compound it is that sins; it is this, and not the other that pays penalty.” The remission of sin by acknowledgment and penance is universal to Christian philosophy. Plotinus consigns sin to the acts of the body only, and this can be traced to the story of Adam and Eve, who were the first embodied persons and the first to sin.

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