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Plotinus (AD 204 – 270) was a Greek or Hellenic Egyptian philosopher of the 3rd century, rooted in the Platonic tradition of metaphysics. It was his philosophy for which 19th century historians coined the term “Neo-Platonism,” which focused on the more spiritual aspects of Plato’s teachings, and should perhaps be considered a uniquely separate school of thought.
Plotinus, the Young Years
During his twenties, Plotinus traveled to Alexandria in Egypt in order to study philosophy, eventually coming under the tutelage of Amonius Saccas, of whom little is known. Following eleven years of study, Plotinus desired to learn more Eastern philosophies, and joined the army of Gordian III in a march to Persia. Following Gordian’s defeat, Plotinus made his way back to Antioch, and then settled in Rome.
During his stay in Rome, Plotinus began to attract students, among whom were several Senators. Plotinus also traveled in the circle of the Emperor Gallienus. Plotinus’ major writing is the Enneads, a collection of essays complied by his student Porphyry.
Plotinus - Three Main Ideas
Plotinus’ philosophy is notable for three major ideas.
- The first is that there is only one supreme essence to the Universe, which he called the One, the source of everything.
- From the One emanates Nous (logos or reason), from which comes the World Soul. Human souls come out of the World Soul.
- His third notion concerned happiness, which for Plotinus was the contemplative capacity of the human soul.