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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Neoplatonism (nee-oh-PLAY-tehn-ih-zm) refers to the philosophy developed by Plotinus (205-270 c.e.), in which the philosopher addresses the ordering of matter by a nonphysical deity or cosmic mind. Plotinus proposes a theory of emanation in which he posits a deity so transcendent, so beyond being, so beyond anything in human experience or imagination as to be wholly incapable of articulation. It cannot be known except by a “way of removing,” by which every attribute that can be thought is removed until only god alone is left. The emanation from the ineffable god or “One” is the Divine Intelligence; from the Divine Intelligence emanates the General Soul. From the General Soul emanates everything else, including matter. The first three—the One, the Divine Intelligence, and the General Soul—constitute a “trinity” of descending hierarchical value.

Neoplatonism also addresses how humans might come into contact with the divine. Because much Neoplatonism deals with this subject, Neoplatonism may be described as both a philosophic and a religious doctrine. However, without an organized structure including worshipers or adherents, institutionalized rituals and observances, or the support of the political authorities, it was not destined to endure, although it influenced subsequent movements in philosophy and literature over the centuries.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

O’Meara, Dominic J. Plotinus: An Introduction to the Enneads. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Rist, John M. Plotinus: The Road to Reality. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1967.