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Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Neoplatonism is a modern term[1] used to designate a tradition of philosophy that arose in the 3rd century AD and persisted until shortly after the closing of the Platonic Academy in Athens in AD 529 by Justinian I. Neoplatonists were heavily influenced by Plato, but also by the Platonic tradition that thrived during the six centuries which separated the first of the Neoplatonists from Plato.

In defining the term "Neoplatonism", it is difficult to reduce the school of thought to a concise set of ideas that all Neoplatonic philosophers shared in common. The work of Neoplatonic philosophy involved describing the derivation of the whole of reality from a single principle, "the One". While the Neoplatonists generally shared some basic assumptions about the nature of reality, there were also considerable differences in their views and approaches, and so it can be difficult to summarize the philosophical content of Neoplatonism briefly. Instead, the most concise definition of Neoplatonism casts it as an historical term.[2] It refers to the dynamic philosophical tradition that Neoplatonism was over the course of its history: to the work of Plotinus, who is traditionally identified as the founder of Neoplatonism,[3] and to the many thinkers after him, who developed, responded to and criticized his ideas.[4]

There are multiple ways to categorize the differences between the Neoplatonists according to their differing views, but one way [5] counts three distinct phases in Neoplatonism after Plotinus: the work of his student Porphyry, that of Iamblichus and his school in Calchis, and the period in the fifth and sixth centuries, when the Academies in Alexandria and Athens flourished. Thinkers of this final period include Syrianus, Olympiodorus the Younger, Proclus and Damascius. An important feature that distinguishes Neoplatonism after Porphyry from earlier periods is that later Neoplatonists embraced a certain kind of spiritual exercise, called theurgy, as a means of developing the soul through a process called henosis.

Neoplatonism has been very influential throughout history. In the Middle Ages, Neoplatonic ideas were integrated into the philosophical and theological works of many of the most important mediaeval Islamic, Christian, and Jewish thinkers. In Muslim lands, Neoplatonic texts were available in Arabic translations, and notable thinkers such as al-Farabi, Avicenna and Moses Maimonides[6] incorporated Neoplatonic elements into their own thinking. Although the revitalisation of Neoplatonism amongst Italian Renaissance thinkers such as Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola is perhaps more famous, Latin translations of Late Ancient Neoplatonic texts were first available in the Christian West much earlier, in the Middle Ages. Thomas Aquinas, for instance, had direct access to works by Proclus, Simplicius and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and he knew about other Neoplatonists, such as Plotinus and Porphyry, through secondhand sources.[7] The influence of Neoplatonism also extends into forms of culture beyond philosophy, and well into the modern era, for instance, in Renaissance Aesthetics, and in the work of modernist poets such as W. B. Yeats[8] and T.S. Eliot, among many more.

Origins of the term Neoplatonism

The term "Neoplatonism" has a double function as a historical category. On the one hand, it differentiates the philosophical doctrines of Plotinus and his successors from those of the historical Plato. On the other, the term makes an assumption about the novelty of Plotinus' interpretation of Plato. In the nearly six centuries from Plato's time to Plotinus', there had been an uninterrupted tradition of interpreting Plato which had begun with Aristotle and with the immediate successors of Plato's academy and continued on through a period of Platonism which is now referred to as Middle Platonism. The term "Neoplatonism" implies that Plotinus' interpretation of Plato was so distinct from those of his predecessors that it should be thought to introduce a new period in the history of Platonism. Some contemporary scholars, however, have taken issue with this assumption and have doubted that Neoplatonism constitutes a useful label. They claim that merely marginal differences separate Plotinus' teachings from those of his immediate predecessors.

Whether Neoplatonism is a meaningful or useful historical category is itself a central question concerning the history of the interpretation of Plato. For much of the history of Platonism, it was commonly accepted that the doctrines of the Neoplatonists were essentially the same as those of Plato. The Renaissance Platonist Marsilio Ficino, for instance, thought that the Neoplatonic interpretation of Plato was an authentic and accurate representation of Plato's philosophy.[9] Although it is unclear precisely when scholars began to disassociate the philosophy of the historical Plato from the philosophy of his Neoplatonic interpreters, they had clearly begun to do so at least as early as the first decade of the nineteenth century. Contemporary scholars often identify the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher as an early thinker who took Plato's philosophy to be separate from that of his Neoplatonic interpreters. However, others have argued that the differentiation of Plato from Neoplatonism was the result of a protracted historical development that preceded Schleiermacher's scholarly work on Plato.[10]


The most important forerunners of Neoplatonism are the Middle Platonists, such as Plutarch, and the Neopythagoreans, especially Numenius of Apamea. Philo, a forerunner of Neoplatonism, translated Judaism into terms of Stoic, Platonic and Neopythagorean elements, and held that God is "supra rational" and can be reached only through "ecstasy", and Philo held that the oracles of God supply the material of moral and religious knowledge. The earliest Christian philosophers, such as Justin and Athenagoras, who attempted to connect Christianity with Platonism, and the Christian Gnostics of Alexandria, especially Valentinus and the followers of Basilides, also mirrored elements of Neoplatonism, albeit without its rigorous self-consistency.


Neoplatonism is generally a metaphysical and epistemological philosophy. Neoplatonism is a form of idealistic monism combined with elements of polytheism.

Although the founder of Neoplatonism is supposed to have been Ammonius Saccas, the Enneads of his pupil Plotinus are the primary and classical document of Neoplatonism. As a form of mysticism, it contains theoretical and practical parts, the first dealing with the high origin of the human soul and showing how it has departed from its first estate, and the second showing the way by which the soul may again return to the Eternal and Supreme. The system can be divided between the invisible world and the phenomenal world, the former containing the transcendent One from which emanates an eternal, perfect, essence (nous), which, in turn, produces the world-soul.

The One

One of the characteristic features of Plotinus' system, which was also taken up by subsequent Neoplatonists, is the doctrine of "the One" beyond being. For Plotinus, the first principle of reality is an utterly simple, ineffable, unknowable subsistence which is both the creative source and the teleological end of all existing things. Although, properly speaking, there is no name appropriate for the first principle, the most adequate names are "the One" or "the Good". The One is so simple that it cannot even be said to exist or to be a being. Rather, the creative principle of all things is beyond being, a notion which is derived from book VI of the Republic,[11] when, in the course of his famous analogy of the Sun, Plato says that the Good is beyond being (ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας) in power and dignity.[12] In Plotinus' model of reality, the One is the cause of the rest of reality, which takes the form of two subsequent "hypostases", Nous and Soul. Although Neoplatonists after Plotinus adhered to his cosmological scheme in its most general outline, later developments in the tradition also departed substantively from Plotinus' teachings in regards to significant philosophical issues, such as the nature of evil.

Demiurge or Nous

The original Being initially emanates, or throws out, the nous, which is a perfect image of the One and the archetype of all existing things. It is simultaneously both being and thought, idea and ideal world. As image, the nous corresponds perfectly to the One, but as derivative, it is entirely different. What Plotinus understands by the nous is the highest sphere accessible to the human mind, while also being pure intellect itself. Nous is the most critical component of idealism, Neoplatonism being a pure form of idealism.[13][14] The demiurge (the nous) is the energy, or ergon (does the work), which manifests or organises the material world into perceivability.

The world-soul

The image and product of the motionless nous is the world-soul, which, according to Plotinus, is immaterial like the nous. Its relation to the nous is the same as that of the nous to the One. It stands between the nous and the phenomenal world, and it is permeated and illuminated by the former, but it is also in contact with the latter. The nous/spirit is indivisible; the world-soul may preserve its unity and remain in the nous, but, at the same time, it has the power of uniting with the corporeal world and thus being disintegrated. It therefore occupies an intermediate position. As a single world-soul, it belongs in essence and destination to the intelligible world; but it also embraces innumerable individual souls; and these can either allow themselves to be informed by the nous, or turn aside from the nous and choose the phenomenal world and lose themselves in the realm of the senses and the finite.

The phenomenal world

The soul, as a moving essence, generates the corporeal or phenomenal world. This world ought to be so pervaded by the soul that its various parts should remain in perfect harmony. Plotinus is no dualist in the same sense as sects like the Gnostics; in contrast, he admires the beauty and splendour of the world. So long as idea governs matter, or the soul governs the body, the world is fair and good. It is an image - though a shadowy image - of the upper world, and the degrees of better and worse in it are essential to the harmony of the whole. But, in the actual phenomenal world, unity and harmony are replaced by strife or discord; the result is a conflict, a becoming and vanishing, an illusive existence. And the reason for this state of things is that bodies rest on a substratum of matter. Matter is the indeterminate: that with no qualities. If destitute of form and idea, it is evil; as capable of form, it is neutral. Evil here is understood as a parasite, having no-existence of its own (parahypostasis), an unavoidable outcome of the Universe, having an "other" necessity, as a harmonizing factor.[15]


Here, then, we enter upon the practical philosophy. Along the same road by which it descended, the soul must retrace its steps back to the supreme Good. It must, first of all, return to itself. This is accomplished by the practice of virtue, which aims at likeness to God, and leads up to God. In the ethics of Plotinus, all the older schemes of virtue are taken over and arranged in a graduated series. The lowest stage is that of the civil virtues, then follow the purifying, and last of all the divine virtues. The civil virtues merely adorn the life, without elevating the soul. That is the office of the purifying virtues, by which the soul is freed from sensuality and led back to itself, and thence to the nous. By means of ascetic observances, the human becomes once more a spiritual and enduring being, free from all sin. But there is still a higher attainment; it is not enough to be sinless, one must become "God" (henosis). This is reached through contemplation of the primeval Being, the One — in other words, through an ecstatic approach to it. Thought cannot attain to this, for thought reaches only to the nous, and it itself is a kind of motion. It is only in a state of perfect passivity and repose that the soul can recognise and touch the primaeval Being. Hence, the soul must first pass through a spiritual curriculum. Beginning with the contemplation of corporeal things in their multiplicity and harmony, it then retires upon itself and withdraws into the depths of its own being, rising thence to the nous, the world of ideas. But, even there, it does not find the Highest, the One; it still hears a voice saying, "not we have made ourselves". The last stage is reached when, in the highest tension and concentration, beholding in silence and utter forgetfulness of all things, it is able, as it were, to lose itself. Then it sees God, the foundation of life, the source of being, the origin of all good, the root of the soul. In that moment, it enjoys the highest indescribable bliss; it is, as it were, swallowed up by divinity, bathed in the light of eternity. Porphyry says that on four occasions during the six years of their acquaintance, Plotinus attained to this ecstatic union with God.

Celestial hierarchy

The religious philosophy of Plotinus for himself personally sufficed, without the aid of the popular religion or worship. Nevertheless, he sought for points of support in these. God is certainly in the truest sense nothing but the primaeval Being who is revealed in a variety of emanations and manifestations. Plotinus taught the existence of an ineffable and transcendent One, the All, from which emanated the rest of the universe as a sequence of lesser beings. Later Neoplatonic philosophers, especially Iamblichus, added hundreds of intermediate beings such as gods, angels, demons, and other beings as mediators between the One and humanity. The Neoplatonist gods are omni-perfect beings and do not display the usual amoral behaviour associated with their representations in the myths.

The One
God, The Good. Transcendent and ineffable.
The Hypercosmic Gods
Those that make Essence, Life, and Soul
The Demiurge
The Creator
The Cosmic Gods
Those who make Being, Nature, and Matter—including the gods known to us from classical religion.


Neoplatonists believed human perfection and happiness were attainable in this world, without awaiting an afterlife. Perfection and happiness— seen as synonymous— could be achieved through philosophical contemplation.

They did not believe in an independent existence of evil. They compared it to darkness, which does not exist in itself but only as the absence of light. So, too, evil is simply the absence of good. Things are good insofar as they exist; they are evil only insofar as they are imperfect, lacking some good which they should have. It is also a cornerstone of Neoplatonism to teach that all people return to the Source. The Source, Absolute, or One is what all things spring from and, as a superconsciousness (nous), is where all things return. It can be said that all consciousness is wiped clean and is returned to a blank slate when returning to the Source. All things have force or potential (dynamis) as their essence. This dynamis begets energy (energeia).[16][17][18]

The Neoplatonists believed in the pre-existence, and immortality of the soul.[19][20] The human soul consists of a lower irrational soul and a higher rational soul (mind), both of which can be regarded as different powers of the one soul. It was widely held that the soul possesses a "vehicle",[21] accounting for the human soul's immortality and allowing for its return to the One after death.[22] After bodily death, the soul takes up a level in the afterlife corresponding with the level at which it lived during its earthly life.[23][24] The Neoplatonists believed in the principle of reincarnation. Although the most pure and holy souls would dwell in the highest regions, the impure soul would undergo a purification,[20] before descending again,[25] to be reincarnated into a new body, perhaps into animal form.[26] Plotinus believed that a soul may be reincarnated into another human or even a different sort of animal. However, Porphyry maintained, instead, that human souls were only reincarnated into other humans.[27] A soul which has returned to the One achieves union with the cosmic universal soul[28] and does not descend again, at least, not in this world period.[25]


The term "Logos" was interpreted variously in neoplatonism. Plotinus refers to Thales[29] in interpreting Logos as the principle of meditation, the interrelationship between the Hypostases[30] (Soul, Spirit (nous) and the 'One'). St. John introduces a relation between 'Logos' and the Son, Christ,[31] whereas, St. Paul calls it 'Son', 'Image', and 'Form'.[31][32][33]Victorinus subsequently differentiated the Logos interior to God from the Logos related to the world by creation and salvation.[31]

Augustine re-interpreted Aristotle and Plato in the light of early Christian thought.[34] In his Confessions, he describes the Logos as the divine eternal Word.[35] Following St. John, Augustine's Logos "took on flesh" in Christ, in whom the logos was present as in no other man.[36][37] He strongly influenced Early Medieval Christian Philosophy.[38] Perhaps the key subject in this was Logos.

After Plotinus' (around AD 205–270) and his student Porphyry (around AD 232–309) Aristotle's (non-biological) works entered the curriculum of Platonic thought. Porphyry's introduction (Isagoge) to Aristotle's Categoria was important as an introduction to logic, and the study of Aristotle became an introduction to the study of Plato in the late Platonism of Athens and Alexandria. The commentaries of this group seek to harmonise Plato, Aristotle, and, often, the Stoa.[39] Some works of Neoplatonism were attributed to Plato or Aristotle. De Mundo, for instance, is thought not to be the work of a 'pseudo-Aristotle' though this remains debatable.[40]


Ammonius Saccas

Ammonius Saccas (birth unknown, death ca. AD 265, Greek: Ἀμμώνιος Σακκᾶς) is a founder of Neoplatonism and the teacher of Plotinus. Little is known of Ammonius Saccas other than that both Christians (see Eusebius, Jerome, and Origen) and pagans (see Porphyry and Plotinus) claimed him a teacher and founder of the Neoplatonic system. Porphyry stated in On the One School of Plato and Aristotle, that Ammonius' view was that the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle were in harmony. Eusebius and Jerome claimed him as a Christian until his death, whereas Porphyry claimed he had renounced Christianity and embraced pagan philosophy.


Plotinus (Greek: Πλωτῖνος) (c. 205 – c. 270) was a major Greco-Egyptian[41] philosopher of the ancient world who is widely considered the father of Neoplatonism. Much of our biographical information about him comes from Porphyry's preface to his edition of Plotinus' Enneads. While he was himself influenced by the teachings of classical Greek, Persian and Indian philosophy and Egyptian theology,[42] his metaphysical writings later inspired numerous Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics over the centuries. Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent "One", containing no division, multiplicity, nor distinction; likewise, it is beyond all categories of being and non-being. The concept of "being" is derived by us from the objects of human experience and is an attribute of such objects, but the infinite, transcendent One is beyond all such objects and, therefore, is beyond the concepts which we can derive from them. The One "cannot be any existing thing" and cannot be merely the sum of all such things (compare the Stoic doctrine of disbelief in non-material existence) but "is prior to all existents".


Porphyry (Greek: Πορφύριος, c. A.D. 233– c. 309) was a Syrian[41] Neoplatonist philosopher. He wrote widely on astrology, religion, philosophy, and musical theory. He produced a biography of his teacher, Plotinus. He is important in the history of mathematics because of his Life of Pythagoras and his commentary on Euclid's Elements, which Pappus used when he wrote his own commentary. Porphyry is also known as an opponent of Christianity and as a defender of Paganism; of his Adversus Christianos (Against the Christians) in 15 books, only fragments remain. He famously said, "The gods have proclaimed Christ to have been most pious, but the Christians are a confused and vicious sect."


Iamblichus, also known as Iamblichus Chalcidensis, (c. 245 – c. 325, Greek: Ἰάμβλιχος) was a Syrian[41] Neoplatonist philosopher who determined the direction taken by later Neoplatonic philosophy and, perhaps, by western philosophical religions themselves. He is perhaps best known for his compendium on Pythagorean philosophy. In Iamblichus' system, the realm of divinities stretched from the original One down to material nature itself, where soul, in fact, descended into matter and became "embodied" as human beings. The world is thus peopled by a crowd of superhuman beings influencing natural events and possessing and communicating knowledge of the future, and who are all accessible to prayers and offerings. Iamblichus had salvation as his final goal (see henosis). The embodied soul was to return to divinity by performing certain rites, or theurgy, literally, 'divine-working'.


Hypatia (c. AD 360 – 415) was a Greek woman who served as head of the Platonist school in Alexandria, Egypt, where she taught philosophy, mathematics and astronomy prior to her murder by a mob of anti-pagan Christians.


Proclus Lycaeus (February 8, 412 – April 17, 485), surnamed "The Successor" or "diadochos" (Greek Πρόκλος ὁ Διάδοχος Próklos ho Diádokhos), was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, one of the last major Greek philosophers (see Damascius). He set forth one of the most elaborate, complex, and fully developed Neoplatonic systems. The particular characteristic of Proclus' system is his insertion of a level of individual ones, called henads between the One itself and the divine Intellect, which is the second principle. The henads are beyond being, like the One itself, but they stand at the head of chains of causation (seirai or taxeis) and in some manner give to these chains their particular character. They are also identified with the traditional Greek gods, so one henad might be Apollo and be the cause of all things apollonian, while another might be Helios and be the cause of all sunny things. The henads serve both to protect the One itself from any hint of multiplicity and to draw up the rest of the universe towards the One, by being a connecting, intermediate stage between absolute unity and determinate multiplicity.

Emperor Julian

Julian (born c. 331 – died June 26, 363), was a Roman Emperor (361–363) of the Constantinian dynasty. He was the last pagan Roman Emperor. The legalization of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine had led to its widespread success within the Eastern Roman Empire and, to a lesser extent, the Western Roman Empire. Julian attempted to counteract Christianity by restoring and reforming pagan worship, using the Neoplatonism developed by Iamblichus to unify Hellenic worship in the empire.


Simplicius of Cilicia (c. AD 530), a pupil of Damascius, is not known as an original thinker, but his remarks are thoughtful and intelligent, and his learning is prodigious. To the student of Greek philosophy, his commentaries are invaluable, as they contain many fragments of the older philosophers as well as of his immediate predecessors.

Michael Psellos

Michael Psellos (1018–1078) a Byzantine monk, writer, philosopher, politician, and historian. He wrote many philosophical treatises such as De omnifaria doctrina. He wrote most of his philosophy during his time as a court politician at Constantinople in the 1030s and 1040s.

Gemistus Pletho

Gemistus Pletho (c. 1355 – 1452, Greek: Πλήθων Γεμιστός) remained the preeminent scholar of Neoplatonic philosophy in the late Byzantine Empire. He introduced his understanding and insight into the works of Neoplatonism during the failed attempt to reconcile the East-West schism at the council of Florence. At Florence, Pletho met Cosimo de' Medici and influenced the latter's decision to found a new Platonic Academy there. Cosimo subsequently appointed as head Marsilio Ficino, who proceeded to translate all Plato's works, the Enneads of Plotinus, and various other Neoplatonist works into Latin.

Early Christian and Medieval Neoplatonism

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Certain central tenets of Neoplatonism served as a philosophical interim for the Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo on his journey from dualistic Manichaeism to Christianity. As a Manichee, Augustine had held that evil has substantial being and that God is made of matter; when he became a Neoplatonist, he changed his views on these things. As a Neoplatonist, and later a Christian, Augustine believed that evil is a privation of good and that God is not material. When writing his treatise 'On True Religion' several years after his 387 baptism, Augustine's Christianity was still tempered by Neoplatonism.

Many other Christians were influenced by Neoplatonism, especially in their identifying the Neoplatonic One, or God, with Yahweh. The most influential of these would be Origen, the pupil of Ammonius Saccas and the fifth-century author known as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, (whose works were translated by John Scotus in the 9th century for the West) and proved significant for both the Eastern Orthodox and Western branches of Christianity. Neoplatonism also had links with Gnosticism, which Plotinus rebuked in his ninth tractate of the second Enneads: "Against Those That Affirm The Creator of The Cosmos and The Cosmos Itself to Be Evil" (generally known as "Against The Gnostics").

Due to their belief being grounded in Platonic thought, the Neoplatonists rejected Gnosticism's vilification of Plato's demiurge, the creator of the material world or cosmos discussed in the Timaeus. Neoplatonism has been referred to as orthodox Platonic philosophy by scholars like Professor John D. Turner; this reference may be due, in part, to Plotinus' attempt to refute certain interpretations of Platonic philosophy, through his Enneads. Plotinus believed the followers of Gnosticism had corrupted the original teachings of Plato and often argued against likes of Valentinus who, according to Plotinus, had given rise to doctrines of dogmatic theology with ideas such as that the Spirit of Christ was brought forth by a conscious god after the fall from Pleroma. According to Plotinus, The One is not a conscious god with intent nor a godhead nor a conditioned existing entity of any kind, rather a requisite principle of totality which is also the source of ultimate wisdom.[43]

Despite the influence this pagan philosophy had on Christianity, Justinian I would hurt later Neoplatonism by ordering the closure of the refounded School of Athens.[44] After the closure, Neoplatonic and or secular philosophical studies continued in publicly funded schools in Alexandria. In the early seventh century, the Neoplatonist Stephanus brought this Alexandrian tradition to Constantinople, where it would remain influential, albeit as a form of secular education.[45] The university maintained an active philosophical tradition of Platonism and Aristotelianism, with the former being the longest unbroken Platonic school, running for close to two millennia until the 15th century[45] In the Middle Ages, Neoplatonist ideas influenced Jewish thinkers, such as the Kabbalist Isaac the Blind, and the Jewish Neoplatonic philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol, who modified it in the light of their own monotheism. Neoplatonist ideas also influenced Islamic and Sufi thinkers such as al Farabi and Avicenna. Neoplatonism ostensibly survived in the Eastern Christian Church as an independent tradition and was reintroduced to the West by Plethon, an avowed pagan and opponent of the Byzantine Church, inasmuch as the latter, under Western scholastic influence, relied heavily upon Aristotelian methodology. Plethon's Platonic revival, following the Council of Florence (1438–1439), largely accounts for the renewed interest in Platonic philosophy which accompanied the Renaissance.

Philosophy and theology

John Burnet (1892) noted[46]

The Neoplatonists were quite justified in regarding themselves as the spiritual heirs of Pythagoras; and, in their hands, philosophy ceased to exist as such, and became theology. And this tendency was at work all along; hardly a single Greek philosopher was wholly uninfluenced by it. Perhaps Aristotle might seem to be an exception; but it is probable that, if we still possessed a few such "exoteric" works as the Protreptikos in their entirety, we should find that the enthusiastic words in which he speaks of the "blessed life" in the Metaphysics and in the Ethics (Nicomachean Ethics) were less isolated outbursts of feeling than they appear now. In later days, Apollonios of Tyana showed in practice what this sort of thing must ultimately lead to. The theurgy and thaumaturgy of the late Greek schools were only the fruit of the seed sown by the generation which immediately preceded the Persian War.

Islamic Neoplatonism

Various Arabic scholars and philosophers utilised the works of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and other Neoplatonist philosophers to evaluate, assess, and eventually adapt Neoplatonism to conform to the monotheistic constraints of Islam.[47] Arabic scholars, like earlier Neoplatonic thinkers, read and philosophised the works of Plato and developed similar questions and conclusions. The translation and interpretation of Islamic Neoplatonists had lasting effects on Western philosophers, affecting Descartes' view on the conception of being. Important figures that translated and shaped Islamic Neoplatonism were Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Ibn Arabi, al-Kindi, al-Farabi, and al-Himsi.

There were three major reasons for the prominence of Neoplatonic influences in the Islamic world:

  1. Availability of Neoplatonic texts: Arabic translations and paraphrases of Neoplatonic works were readily available to Moslem scholars greatly due to the availability of the Greek copies, in part, because the Muslims came to rule over some of the more important centres of Greek civilisation (Egypt and Syria).
  2. Spatial and temporal proximity: "Plotinus and other Neoplatonists lived only a few centuries before the rise of Islam, and many of them were Egyptian Greeks."
  3. Neoplatonism's mystical perspectives: Plotinus' system has similar content to Islamic mysticism, like Islamic Sufism. This eased the acceptance of Neoplatonic doctrines by Islamic philosophers.[48]

Islamic Neoplatonism differs from traditional Neoplatonism because of its incorporation of Islamic theology, most commonly through the change in definitions of the One and the First Principle. "What changes Neoplatonism is the transcendence of the First Principle.[49]" Moslem philosophers changed the Neoplatonic characteristics of the One into those attributable to God as present in Islamic scripture, notably transferring the First Principle to God. By assigning the First Principle to God, they are altering the definition to fit the definition of God determined by scripture. Philosophers described God as free from Platonic forms and having divine omniscience and providence. The notion of the divine Intellect is altered under Islamic Neoplatonism and is once again attributed to God. Plotinus doesn't believe in the idea of intelligent design of the universe by an omnipotent being. Islamic philosophers adapted divine Intellect to reinforce scripture, in that God is a transcendent being, omnipresent and inalterable to the effects of creation. The translations of the works which extrapolate the tenets of God in Neoplatonism present no major modification from their original Greek sources, showing the doctrinal shift towards monotheism.[50]

"The greatest cluster of Neoplatonic themes is found in religious mystical writings, which in fact transform purely orthodox doctrines such as creation into doctrines such as emanationism, which allow for a better framework for the expression of Neoplatonic themes and the emergence of the mystical themes of the ascent and mystical union.[51]" Islamic philosophers used the framework of Islamic mysticism in their interpretation of Neoplatonic writings and concepts. Parviz Morewedge gives four suppositions about the nature of Islamic Mysticism:

The Unity of Being
"An inherent potential unity among all dimensions of world-experience."
The Mediator Figure
"The mediation between finite man and the ultimate being."
The Way of Salvation
"Knowledge is embedded in the path of self-realization." Passing trials advances one through stages until transcendence.
The Language of Symbolic Allegory
"Mystical texts are often written in the allegorical language of tales."[52]

Renaissance Neoplatonism

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"Of all the students of Greek in Renaissance Italy, the best-known are the Neoplatonists who studied in and around Florence" (Hole). Neoplatonism was not just a revival of Plato's ideas, it is all based on Plotinus' created synthesis, which incorporated the works and teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and other Greek philosophers. The Renaissance in Italy was the revival of classic antiquity, and this started at the fall of the Byzantine empire, who were considered the "librarians of the world", because of their great collection of classical manuscripts and the number of humanist scholars that resided in Constantinople (Hole).

Neoplatonism in the Renaissance combined the ideas of Christianity and a new awareness of the writings of Plato.

Marsilio Ficino (1433–99) was "chiefly responsible for packaging and presenting Plato to the Renaissance" (Hole). In 1462, Cosimo I de' Medici, patron of arts, who had an interest in humanism and Platonism, provided Ficino with all 36 of Plato's dialogues in Greek for him to translate. Between 1462 and 1469, Ficino translated these works into Latin, making them widely accessible, as only a minority of people could read Greek. And, between 1484 and 1492, he translated the works of Plotinus, making them available for the first time to the West.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94) was another excelling Neoplatonist during the Italian Renaissance. He could not only speak and write in Latin and Greek, but he also had immense knowledge on the Hebrew and Arabic languages. The pope banned his works because they were viewed as heretical - unlike Ficino, who managed to stay on the right side of the church.

The efforts of Ficino and Pico to introduce Neoplatonic and Hermetic doctrines into the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church has recently been evaluated in terms of an attempted "Hermetic Reformation".[53]

Cambridge Platonists

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In the seventeenth century in England, Neoplatonism was fundamental to the school of the Cambridge Platonists, whose luminaries included Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, Benjamin Whichcote and John Smith, all graduates of Cambridge University. Coleridge claimed that they were not really Platonists, but "more truly Plotinists": "divine Plotinus", as More called him.

Later, Thomas Taylor (not a Cambridge Platonist) was the first to translate Plotinus' works into English.[54][55]

Modern Neoplatonism

In the essay "Inner and Outer Realities: Jean Gebser in a Cultural/Historical Perspective", Integral philosopher Allan Combs claims that ten modern thinkers can be called Neo-Platonists: Goethe, Schiller, Schelling, Hegel, Coleridge, Emerson, Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, Jean Gebser and the modern theorist Brian Goodwin. He sees these thinkers as participating in a tradition which can be distinguished from the empiricist and materialist Western philosophical traditions.[56]

In the philosophy of mathematics, in the early 20th century, the German philosopher, Gottlob Frege, renewed the interest in Plato's theory of mathematical objects (and other abstract objects, in general). Since then, a number of philosophers, such as Crispin Wright and Bob Hale have defended and developed this Neo-platonist account of mathematics.

Some cite American poet Ezra Pound as a Neo-platonist, albeit from a rather Confucian perspective, due to his great admiration for Plotinus and his writings on philosophy and religion. Religiously, he described himself in public as a Hellenistic Pagan.

Other notable modern Neoplatonists include Thomas Taylor, "the English Platonist", who wrote extensively on Platonism and translated almost the entire Platonic and Plotinian corpora into English, and the Belgian writer Suzanne Lilar.

Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick identified as a Neoplatonist and explores related mystical experiences and religious concepts in his theoretical work, compiled in The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.

See also


  1. The term first appeared in 1827
  2. "The term ‘Neoplatonism’ is an invention of early 19th century European scholarship and indicates the penchant of historians for dividing ‘periods’ in history. In this case, the term was intended to indicate that Plotinus initiated a new phase in the development of the Platonic tradition."
  4. See also Remes, Paulina, 2008, “Neoplatonism”. Acumen publishing, page 1. “What is Neoplatonism? ‘Neoplatonism’ refers to a school of thought that began in approximately 245 CE, when a man called Plotinus moved… [to] the capital of the Roman Empire… [and] began teaching his interpretation of Plato’s philosophy. Out of the association of people in Rome… emerged a school of philosophy that displays enough originality to be considered a new phase of Platonism”.
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  7. Wayne Hankey, "Aquinas, Plato, and Neo-Platonism"
  8. Peter J. Hansen, Yeats, Neoplatonism and the Aesthetic of Exile, Arizona State University, 1994
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  10. Tigerstedt, E.N. The Decline and Fall of the Neoplatonic Interpretation of Plato. 1974
  11. Dodds, E.R. "The Parmenides of Plato and the Origin of the Neoplatonic 'One'". The Classical Quarterly, Jul–Oct 1928, vol. 22, p. 136
  12. Plato, Republic 509b
  13. Schopenhauer wrote of this Neoplatonist philosopher: "With Plotinus there even appears, probably for the first time in Western philosophy, idealism that had long been current in the East even at that time, for it taught (Enneads, iii, lib. vii, c.10) that the soul has made the world by stepping from eternity into time, with the explanation: 'For there is for this universe no other place than the soul or mind' (neque est alter hujus universi locus quam anima), indeed the ideality of time is expressed in the words: 'We should not accept time outside the soul or mind' (oportet autem nequaquam extra animam tempus accipere)." (Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume I, "Fragments for the History of Philosophy," § 7)
  14. Similarly, professor Ludwig Noiré wrote: "For the first time in Western philosophy we find idealism proper in Plotinus (Enneads, iii, 7, 10), where he says, "The only space or place of the world is the soul," and "Time must not be assumed to exist outside the soul." Ludwig Noiré, Historical Introduction to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. It is worth noting, however, that, like Plato, but unlike Schopenhauer and other modern philosophers, Plotinus does not worry about whether or how we can get beyond our ideas in order to know external objects.
  15. Richard T. Wallis and Jay Bregman (1992), Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, SUNY Press, pp. 42–45
  16. D. G. Leahy, Faith and Philosophy: The Historical Impact, pages 5–6. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
  17. Enneads VI 9.6
  18. Richard T. Wallis and Jay Bregman (1992), SUNY Press, page 173].
  19. Plotinus, iv. 7, "On the immortality of the Soul."
  20. 20.0 20.1 Glen Warren Bowersock, Peter Brown, Peter Robert Lamont Brown, Oleg Grabar, 1999, Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, page 40. Harvard University Press.
  21. See Plato's Timaeus, 41d, 44e, 69c, for the origin of this idea.
  22. Paul S. MacDonald, 2003, History of the Concept of Mind: Speculations About Soul, Mind and Spirit from Homer to Hume, page 122. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
  23. Plotinus, iii.4.2
  24. Andrew Smith, 1974, Porphyry's Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: A Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism, page 43. Springer.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Andrew Smith, 1974, Porphyry's Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: A Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism, page 58. Springer.
  26. "Whether human souls could be reborn into animals seems to have become quite a problematical topic to the later neoplatonists." - Andrew Smith, (1987), Porphyrian Studies since 1913, ANRW II 36, 2.
  27. Remes, Pauliina, Neoplatonism (University of California Press, 2008), p. 119.
  28. James A. Arieti, Philosophy in the Ancient World: An Introduction, page 336. Rowman & Littlefield
  29. Handboek Geschiedenis van de Wijsbegeerte I, Article by Carlos Steel
  30. The journal of neoplatonic studies, Volumes 7–8, Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghamton University, 1999, P 16
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Theological treatises on the Trinity, By Marius Victorinus, Mary T. Clark, P25
  32. Col. 1:15
  33. Phil. 2:5-7
  34. Neoplatonism and Christian thought (Volume 2), By Dominic J. O'Meara, page 39
  35. Confessiones, Augustine, P 130
  36. De immortalitate animae of Augustine: text, translation and commentary, By Saint Augustine (Bishop of Hippo.), C. W. Wolfskeel, introduction
  37. 1 John 1:14
  38. Handboek Geschiedenis van de Wijsbegeerte I, Article by Douwe Runia
  39. Handboek Geschiedenis van de Wijsbegeerte I, Article by Frans de Haas
  40. De Mundo, Loeb Classical Library, Introductory Note, D.J. Furley
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 George Sarton (1936). "The Unity and Diversity of the Mediterranean World", Osiris 2, pp. 406–463 [429–430].
  42. Porphyry, On the Life of Plotinus and the Order of His Books, Ch. 3 (Armstrong's Loeb translation). <templatestyles src="Template:Blockquote/styles.css" />

    "he became eager to make acquaintance with the Persian philosophical discipline and that prevailing among the Indians"

  44. See E. Watts, City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria; Rainer Thiel, Simplikios und das Ende der neuplatonischen Schule in Athen, and a review by Gerald Bechtle, University of Berne, Switzerland, in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.04.19. Online version retrieved June 15, 2007.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Encyclopædia Britannica, Higher Education in the Byzantine Empire, 2008, O.Ed.
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  53. Heiser, James D., Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century, Repristination Press: Texas, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4610-9382-4
  54. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for Plotinus
  55. Notopoulos, J.A. "Shelley and Thomas Taylor" Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of America, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jun., 1936), pp. 502–517
  56. Inner and Outer Realities: Jean Gebser in a Cultural/Historical Perspective by Allan Combs


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Further reading

  • The London Philosophy Study Guide offers many suggestions on what to read, depending on the student's familiarity with the subject: Post-Aristotelian philosophy
  • Charles Emile Ruelle, An edition of Damascius On First Principles, (Paris, 1889)
  • Whittaker, Thomas, The Neo-Platonists: A Study in the History of Hellenism, (Cambridge, 1901)
  • Gerson, Lloyd P. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Dillon, John M. and Gerson, Lloyd P. (eds.), Neoplatonic Philosophy. Introductory Readings. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2004).
  • Chiaradonna, Riccardo and Franco Trabattoni (eds.), Physics and Philosophy of Nature in Greek Neoplatonism: Proceedings of the European Science Foundation Exploratory Workshop (il Ciocco,Castelvecchio Pascoli, June 22–24, 2006) (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2009) (Philosophia antiqua, 115).
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  • Gertz, Sebastian R. P., Death and Immortality in Late Neoplatonism: Studies on the Ancient Commentaries on Plato's Phaedo, Brill: Leiden, 2011.
  • Remes, Pauliina and Slaveva-Griffin, Svetla (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Neoplatonism, New York: Routledge, 2014.

External links