Reading Plotinus: A Practical Introduction to Neoplatonism

by Kevin Corrigan  (Author), 2004


This book provides a practical reading guide to the thought of Plotinus, the great philosopher who was born in Alexandria in the third century a.d., lived in Rome and wrote in Greek. Deeply immersed in earlier Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle, Plotinus’ thought was to have an immense influence upon the theology and philosophy of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as to bear a deep resonance with the major forms of Eastern mystical thought, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. At the same time, Plotinus’ philosophy remains unique in its own right. Corrigan’s work presents, in an accessible and yet authoritative way, three treatises translated in full, as well as several other major passages representative of the wide range of thought to be found in Plotinus’ Enneads. There is extensive and detailed commentary accompanying each translation, which helps the reader to work his or her way through Plotinus’ often highly compressed thought. The concluding chapter draws together the practical and theoretical significance of Plotinus’ writings and situates them in an accessible manner for both first-time reader and scholar alike within the subsequent vast history of Neoplatonism which extends through the Mediaeval and Renaissance worlds and right into modern times. This book is intended to be of use for anyone who wants to read and understand Plotinus, non-specialists and specialists, and it will be particularly helpful for students and scholars of philosophy, history of ideas, aesthetic theory, and literature and religious thought, both Western and Eastern.

(Text by the author)




List of Enneads



Chapter 1: An Overview of Plotinus’ Thought


  1. The hypostases and our relation to them: V, 1 (10) 10-12
  2. Tracing degrees of unity back to the One. The nature of body, soul, and intellect, and the return to the One: VI, 9 (9) 1-3
  3. The derivation of everything (from intellect to matter): IV, 8(6); V, 2(11) 1,3-28
  4. The nature of intellect and soul, and soul’s relation to bodies: IV, 1 (21)
  5. World soul and individual souls: IV, 3 (27) 6
  6. The descent and fall of soul: IV, 8 (5) 5
  7. Matter: II, 5 (25) 5
  8. Bodiliness: II, 7 (37) 3
  9. Soul-body: The human being here: VI, 7 (38) 4-5
  10. Eternity and time: III, 7 (45) 11


1.1 The hypostases

1.2 Free spontaneous creativity: The One

1.3 The derivation of all things: Procession and conversion

1.4 The return to union

1.5 Intellect

1.6 Soul and the sensible world

1.7 The World soul and individual souls

1.8 Soul-body

1.9 Providence, freedom, and matter

1.10 The generation of matter

1.11 The descent and fall of soul

1.12 Nature, contemplation, eternity, and time

1.13 Plotinus, the reader

Chapter 2: Plotinus’ Anthropology


I, 1 (53): What Is the Living Creature and What Is the Human Being?


2.1 Introduction

2.2 What does Plotinus mean by the impassibility or unaffectedness of soul? (I, 1 [53] 2 and III 6 [26])

2.3 Do “we” really perceive and do we perceive directly or mediately? (I, 1 (53) 3-7 and other texts)

2.4 Do we perceive things or our impressions of things?

2.5 How do the affections fit into the overall picture?

2.6 Soul-body and beyond (I, 1, 4-7)

Chapter 3: The range of Plotinus’ thought: From nature and contemplation to the One


III, 8 (30): On Nature and Contemplation and the One


3.1 Introduction

3.2 Play

3.3 Contemplation, action and production: The problem

3.4 An animated, freely dependent world (1, 11 ff.)

3.5 Activity ( energeia ) and power ( dynamis )

3.6 Nature (III, 8, 2)

3.7 Logos and Zogo/’-brothers (III, 8, 2, 27-35)

3.8 Matter: From Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics to Plotinus

3.9 Logos and action, a way of understanding Neoplatonic contemplative production (III, 8, 3)

3.10 The silent speech of nature (III, 8, 4)

3.11 Synaesthesis (III, 4, 15 ff.)

3.12 The nature of images and productive art: Plato and Plotinus (III, 8, 4, 39 ff.)

3.13 The problem of degrees of reality: Filling and being filled (III, 8, 4-5)

3.14 The landscape of soul (III, 8, 5)

3.15 Love and beauty (III, 8, 5, 34 ff.)

3.16 Walk-about, bending back, and trust (III, 8, 6)

3.17 The dialectic of play and seriousness: From the inertia of indifference to kinship of soul (III, 8, 6, 15 ff.)

3.18 Plotinus’ theory of creation in context (III, 8, 7, 1-15)

3.19 The problem of intellect (III, 8, 8)

3.20 Four puzzles: From the drunken circle to haphazard heap (III, 8, 8, 30-48)

3.21 The problem of substance in the Enneads

3.22 Speaking about the One: The character of a simplicity beyond intellect

3.23 Infinity and number (III, 8, 9, 1-6)

3.24 Neither intellect nor intelligible object nor ignorant (III, 8, 9, 6-16)

3.25 Simple, instantaneous awareness (III, 8, 9, 16-24)

3.26 Sound and omnipresence (III, 8, 9, 24-29)

3.27 A “backward” intellect (III, 8, 9, 29 ff.)

3.28 A power for all things (III, 8, 10, 1-26)

3.29 Negative theology and dialectic (III, 8, 10, 26-35)

3.30 The simplicity and playfulness of the image (III, 8, 11)

3.31 Conclusion: Some answers to frequently asked questions about Plotinian Neoplatonism

Chapter 4: A world of beauty, from beautiful things to intelligible shapelessness


V, 8 (31): On the Intelligible Beauty Commentary

4.1 Introduction: The importance and major issues of V, 8

4.2 What does “the beautiful” mean?

4.3 Why is good proportion and structure not “the beautiful”?

4.4 Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

4.5 What is the beauty of art? (V, 8, 1-2)

4.6 Why is intelligible beauty bound up with the perception of natural things? (V, 8, 2)

4.7 How are beauty, science, and wisdom related?

4.8 The Form of the beautiful?

4.9 Intelligible beauty and concrete physical things (V, 8, 4-8)

4.10 Elements of a reflexive aesthetic theory (V, 8, 1-11)

4.11 How does evil fit into this picture? (V, 8, 11)

4.12 The limitations of beauty: What role does the One play?

Chapter 5: Conclusion: Assessment and Afterlife

5.1 Assessment

5.2 Afterlife

Appendix A: Some key passages from Plato and Aristotle

Appendix B: Suggestions for further reading


Index of Names

Index of Subjects


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