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Plotinus (205-270)... the enlightened Egyptian philosopher

artist rendering of small bust of man and open book ... an original inkwell philosophical analysis

The Enneads and Plotinus' contention of emanating intelligence

(5th edition - March 2008) by A.O. Kime
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Born in Egypt in 205 AD, Plotinus was assuredly the most enlightened philosopher since the trio of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Although not exactly a household name to many, his observations of a metaphysical nature were exceedingly profound.

Since little is known about Plotinus' personal life, it can be summarized briefly. Sometime in his mid-20’s he traveled to Alexandria and studied philosophy under Ammonius Saccas for about 15 years and then, after a year or two following a brief excursion into Persia, ended up in Rome in 244 where he soon founded his own school. He devised and taught a system of philosophy which was later called 'Neoplatonism' and, after about 20 years of teaching, Porphyry became Plotinus' pupil and (later) his most famous. Porphyry is credited for having arranged the works of Plotinus into six enneads (containing nine tractates each) and, because 'enneads' means 'groups of nine', they became known as the Enneads. As a result, they have kept alive the name of Plotinus for centuries.

Plotinus eventually became associated with 'Neoplatonism' because it was deemed his theories were based largely upon, or fashioned after, those of Plato’s. The 'methodical ways' of Plato were thought utilized (borrowed). While somewhat true, it is nonetheless quite unfair... implying Plotinus was not original. While Plato was exceptionally brilliant and the first to comprehensively write about the workings of creation 500 years earlier, to whom philosophy is greatly indebted, isn't cause to issue him a patent on the idea. If it is, then nearly all organized thoughts concerning creation, even today, should be called Neoplatonism. While Plotinus did often refer to Plato and in some cases advanced his theories, the majority of his work was original. Plotinus was, after all, spiritually enlightened... uniquely so. It is what sets him apart.

While Plotinus' hierarchical scheme is the main topic within the Enneads, he also addresses the various relationships this schemata has to do with the living. His theories range wide... from ethics to the soul and even immortality. Most importantly, but seldom recognized or fully appreciated, was that he acquired his spiritual perspective from the nous, more commonly referred to today as the Divine Intellect (or divine intelligence). So, one would think, having been grandly enlightened is a good reason to take notice.

His thoughts centered almost exclusively on the metaphysical aspects of the cosmos and life itself and thus tried to identify the contributing factors and systematically reconstruct how they would interact with each other. In other words, Plotinus was trying to create a model of creation and how it relates to humans. After Plotinus identified what he believed made up the psychological cosmos and human psyche, he then rationalized how they interacted with each other and thus developed his hierarchical schemata consisting of three parts (1) the One (God), (2) intelligence and (3) the soul.

Plotinus was a firm believer in the human soul and that it plays an equal part in the scheme of things. He also believed that intelligence held the highest position within the soul as if an entity unto itself. He refers to the Almighty as the One and effectively elaborated on the first principle (AKA 'ultimate principle') which, he reasoned, could not be one in the same.

Plotinus' views on emanation

Plotinus' thoughts were derived from what is called emanation, whereby (in part) knowledge of the One flows to the intelligence which flows to the soul, thus revealing to him the three part system. Whether famously received or met with a degree of skepticism, his theories have undergone extensive scrutiny for centuries. As to be expected however, there has been criticism his theories are lacking in one way or another. As if expecting a detailed blueprint of the ethereal, a foggy matter in all respects, there were complaints his theories didn’t jibe or that he failed to expand in areas where he should have.

While his fame suggests his theories were also thought feasible by many, at least to the extent mortals can determine what might be feasible in metaphysical matters, he couldn’t quite 'close the circle' to everyone’s satisfaction. As a result, just like all theories put forth about the nature of life, his theories gather dust without proof.

Well, there is a way Plotinus' theories can be proven. It may not be considered ‘proof’ by scientific standards but would be in our legal system. It's the testimony from a corroborating witness. Applied here, if more than one person experiences the same thing and describes it the same way, independent of each other, then effectively that's a corroborating witness. Needless to say, of course, it can’t be a case of these witnesses having prior knowledge of the other's testimony.

Since I've never studied philosophy academically, nor did I self-educate myself until very recently, I had never heard of Plotinus until about 1997 nor previously read any of his theories. I only knew his thoughts after I formed my own beliefs, which I discovered, were almost identical. They were identical only to the extent of being the same concept however; I never attempted to extrapolate it like Plotinus. Anyway, I knew instantly we were both enlightened by the nous after I read his thoughts on the One, first principle, nous and the soul. I knew, from my own experience with the nous, that Plotinus knew what he was talking about.

At the time however, that’s all I needed to know… that someone else knew of this and had been in contact (with the nous). It was adequate verification for me that the nous truly existed. Feeling fully satisfied at the time, as if exonerated, I put the matter aside. Unknowingly denying myself, I delayed until 2003 to research the Enneads.

For those reasons I can attest to the existence of the nous. I can also substantiate Plotinus was right about the soul being the same subconsciousness all humans share and about intelligence emanating. However, I had trouble verifying his contention that intelligence held a superior position within the soul which I never considered before. By finally grasping his meaning of 'intelligence' however, I could then see how it would be in a 'superior position'. While the transcriber never used the term 'subconsciousness', perhaps because it had not yet been coined, I believe 'intelligence' (as he described it), and 'subconsciousness' (as we now call it), are one in the same. I cannot testify to anything else however, I've never had any ‘original’ thoughts about the Almighty (the One) and have doubts I was successful arriving at anything conclusive concerning the first principle.

While experiencing the same thing Plotinus did 1,800 years ago is enough in itself to feel qualified to address the matter, I feel further emboldened now after having researched the Enneads.

Of course, the shortcomings of metaphysical semantics is really at the heart of the problem in explaining and thus understanding the realities of the spirit world (as in 'intelligence' versus 'subconsciousness'). This must have been maddening for the transcriber as well. At any rate, I liked Plotinus' concept of an intelligence/soul relationship; it struck me immediately as having a ring of truth. While at first I wondered why this was never 'revealed' to me, but by later realizing what Plotinus meant by 'intelligence' I made the connection in my article about the subconscious mind. My failure to grasp it at first is likely due to Plotinus having had more experiences with the nous and therefore privy to more information.

The same goes for the first (ultimate) principle, I wasn’t getting anywhere at first. However, that all changed when I was pondering the theory Melissos had put forth about voids being impossible and ran across Plotinus’ contentions on the first principle. Sensing a relationship, I then tied them together to make a better argument for my book 'STD LEX'. Whether I did so accurately I'm unsure since it 'seemed' more the result of reasoning rather than from anything I 'extracted'. In spiritual matters, you can't trust reasoning. Plotinus, on the other hand, seemed to have 'extracted' most everything and thus was able to extrapolate a 'system'. I never seriously pondered the One (God) either because I didn’t know where to begin. It also seemed an exercise in futility.

Experiencing the nous

Obvious to me and totally convinced, the incredible knowledge Plotinus possessed came from the nous which he apparently experienced at least four times. I, however, only experienced it once... but I believe my single experience was to the same level as his. He evidently spoke of it in a manner which suggested it was an ‘event’ or 'episode'. I wholeheartedly agree... it was a distinguishable episode albeit entirely 'mental'. It could be characterized as an 'out-of-body' experience but to describe it further is nearly impossible.

The underlying cause for the difficulty in expressing metaphysical matters is best revealed in this question the ancient mystics purportedly often posed: “Do languages assist or create understanding?” For the ethereal the latter holds true. It took Plotinus 441 pages of dialogue in the Enneads to overcome the problem of semantics. If it was possible to boil it down, as a typical synopsis could ordinarily do, a few dozen pages would have been enough. Of course, accurately transcribing the characterization done in one language into another would be equally challenging.

For the scientific-minded, however, the inability to fully explain metaphysical realizations just doesn’t compute. Yet, those who fervently believe anything conceived can be explained have forgotten the inability to characterize sensory feelings (tastes, smells, sounds). This inability to characterize metaphysical matters also creates misunderstandings which the misrepresented sixth sense can testify.

Aside from being a ‘corroborating witness’ for Plotinus, I can contribute in another way… for some reason Plotinus didn’t explain how he managed to make contact with the nous (not at all) but I know how, and perfectly well. To the extent possible my article about the Divine Intellect tries to explain it. And, in different ways, I also tried to have my articles reflect the results of my interactions. Credit must also be given to the Muse of Greek mythology... a symbolic representation which might explain yet another type of emanating intelligence albeit less profound but more easily accessible.

At http://www.iep.utm.edu/plotinus you’ll find an excellent analysis on everything Plotinus believed. Importantly, you'll be able to distinguish between Plotinus' contentions and the opinions of the great essayist Edwin Moore. Even though metaphysical matters are nearly impossible to explain, nonetheless Plotinus managed (somehow) and Moore's analysis clarifies many things.


“Plotinus does make it clear that no words can do justice to the power of the One; even the name, 'the One,' is inadequate, for naming already implies discursive knowledge, and since discursive knowledge divides or separates its objects in order to make them intelligible, the One cannot be known through the process of discursive reasoning (Ennead VI.9.4).” Edwin Moore

“Knowledge of the One is achieved through the experience of its 'power' (dunamis) and its nature, which is to provide a 'foundation' (arkhe) and location (topos) for all existents (VI.9.6).” Edward Moore

“Since the purpose of the soul is to maintain order in the material realm, and since the essence of the soul is one with the Highest Soul, there will necessarily persist in the material realm a type of order (doxa) that is a pale reflection of the Order (logos) persisting in the Intelligible Realm.” Edward Moore

“Plotinus also maintains, in keeping with Platonic doctrine, that any sensible thing is an image of its true and eternal counterpart in the Intelligible Realm. Therefore, the sensible matter in the cosmos is but an image of the purely intellectual Matter existing or persisting, as noetic substratum, within the Intelligence (nous). Since this is the case, the confusion into which the soul is thrown by its contact with pure passivity is not eternal or irremediable, but rather a necessary and final step in the drama of Life, for once the soul has experienced the 'chaotic passivity' of material existence, it will yearn ever more intensely for union with its prior, and the pure contemplation that constitutes its true existence (IV.8.5).” Edward Moore

For the intellectual basis of our metaphysical articles - being neither scientifically derived (maybe a tad) or
containing an ounce of religious dogma (maybe an iota) - see Spiritual Metaphysics … the overlord of realities

“Plotinus' last words, recorded by Porphyry, more than adequately summarize the goal of his philosophy: "Strive to bring back the god in yourselves to the God in the All"” Edward Moore

In summary, the contentions of Plotinus can be validated by experiencing divine intelligence.

A.O. Kime

Matrix of Mnemosyne... the place of smoke signals from the spirit world

Last modified: 03/05/16