In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Neoplatonism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Readers
  • Reference Resources

Classics Neoplatonism
Sarah Klitenic Wear
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0201


Neoplatonism (also called “Platonism”) refers to the school of philosophical and religious thought, beginning with the philosopher Plotinus (b. 204–d. 270 CE), which is marked by certain metaphysical teachings on Plato and Aristotle. After Plotinus, the three major periods of Neoplatonism include: the writings of Plotinus’s student, Porphyry (b. 232–d. 305); Iamblichus and the school of Calchis (d. 326); and the 5th- and 6th-century schools of Athens and Alexandria, including Syrianus (d. 437), Proclus (b. 412–d. 485), Damascius (b. 458–d. 538), and Olympiodorus (b. c. 500–d. 570). Each of these three major movements also includes a great many other writers, particularly the last phase of late antique Neoplatonism, which was marked by a pronounced interest in commentaries on the works of Plato and Aristotle, with commentaries on the latter being particularly prevalent in 5th- and 6th-century Alexandria. Moreover, while “Neoplatonism” generally refers to the writings of pagans, the movement was heavily influential among Christian, Jewish, and Arabic thinkers, who adopted terminology and metaphysical principles well into the medieval period. As an extreme example of this, the Christian thinker Pseudo-Dionysius (fl. 500?) not only adopted much of Proclus’s language and thought, but parts of his treatises have been found to be a word for word copying of Proclus’s writing. Although Neoplatonism represents a wide group of authors, styles, and interests certain trends can be found throughout members of the philosophical movement; namely, Neoplatonists believe that the One is the principle of unification and source of all creation; all things emanate from the One and all things return to the One. Below the One is the level of Intellect, which houses the forms, followed by the Soul. One, Intellect, and Soul are all related to each other, with Intellect in some way emanating from the One, and returning to the One, and Soul, which emanates from and returns to Intellect. In Neoplatonic thought, the individual soul of man in some way returns to the One, by means of contemplation of the One and, for some authors, through sacramental practices known as theurgy. While Neoplatonists have these basic principles in common, authors vary in their understandings of the structure of the universe. Later authors, moreover, tend to introduce a greater number of intermediary entities. Because of the breadth of this subject matter, the bibliography will need to be limited to general works on Neoplatonism, works on particular topics, and works on only a handful of key authors who are considered to be key figures in the Athenian and Alexandrian schools of Neoplatonism: Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Syrianus, Proclus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Damascius, and Olympiodorus. For other authors, see the section General Overviews.

General Overviews

There are a number of books that provide a starting point for study in Neoplatonism. For classroom use, Dillon and Gerson 2004 (cited under Readers) offers a fine selection of readings from major texts from a range of Neoplatonists, including Plotinus, Iamblichus, Porphyry, and Proclus. These readings are challenging, while still being accessible to the undergraduate philosophy student. Sambursky 1982 and Sambursky and Pines 1971 (both cited under Readers) are readers, but on very specific topics (place and time, respectively), that could be useful to students looking into those topics. Sorabji 2004 (cited under Readers) is a masterpiece, offering an enormous range of readings on topics from many Neoplatonists, but given that the selections are short, and the range large, the book may be most helpful to those researching, rather than classroom use. For secondary sources, Gerson 2010 is an excellent update of Armstrong 1967. It offers many articles on thinkers and movements in Neoplatonism with excellent bibliographies; it is ideal for beginning students and researchers. Wallis 1995 and Remes 2008 are short introductions to Neoplatonism that are helpful for undergraduates. Tuominen 2009 is an introduction for undergraduates geared toward those interested in the ancient commentators on Aristotle. Lloyd 1990 is a somewhat more complicated introduction and Sorabji 2006 (cited under Readers) is a high-level introduction, focusing on the particular topic of time and eternity. The Ancient Commentators on Aristotle Project and the De Wulf Mansion Centre (both cited under Reference Resources) are two centers which conduct research on Neoplatonists. Both maintain helpful websites; the De Wulf Centre maintains two up-to-date bibliographies on Proclus and Damascius. Gerson 2010 is an excellent starting point for those interested in Neoplatonism. It is encyclopedic in scope, with forty-eight articles covering both figures and movements of thought. The bibliography is extensive. It is an update of Armstrong 1967 which has longer articles with a more general focus. The articles, however, are still important and good as a starting point for those interested in major schools and movements in Neoplatonism. Wallis 1995 and Lloyd 1990 are monographs covering topics in Neoplatonism. Wallis 1995 is particularly good for undergraduates, as it is short and easy to understand, while directing students to texts and authors for further study. Lloyd 1990 is more difficult and would be more useful for the more advanced student, particularly those interested in or trained in modern philosophy. Sorabji 2006 (cited under Readers) provides a range of thinkers and texts on the topic of time and is a good resource for research, but may not be as helpful in a classroom setting. Whittaker 1984 is a collection of articles by prominent scholar on various topics in Platonism and Christian Platonism. International Journal of the Platonic Tradition (cited under Reference Resources) is an open-access journal which publishes scholarly articles on Platonism and a searchable index. O’Meara 1989 is an overview of mathematics in Neoplatonic metaphysics. Watts 2006 gives an historical account of the Neoplatonic schools.

  • Armstrong, A. H., ed. 1967. The Cambridge history of later Greek and early medieval philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521040549

    Eight articles arranged chronologically outlining major thinkers and works from the Neoplatonic movement. Unlike Gerson 2010, this one-volume book consists of lengthy articles on general movements in Neoplatonism, including early Neoplatonism, late Neoplatonism, Arabic Neoplatatonism, Christian Neoplatonism, and so on. Although the bibliography is out of date, the articles are very helpful, especially for undergraduates.

  • Gerson, Lloyd, ed. 2010. The Cambridge history of philosophy in late antiquity. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Two-volume encyclopedia of philosophy from the later Roman Empire until the Scholastic movement. Features forty-eight excellent articles on both particular thinkers and movements from experts in the field. Some of the articles are basic overviews, others delve into sophisticated debates on their topic. The bibliography is excellent and is highly recommended as a starting point for someone researching in the area of Neoplatonism.

  • Lloyd, A. C. 1990. Anatomy of Neoplatonism. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Detailed introduction to Neoplatonic thought. Particularly strong in the areas of Neoplatonic logic and semantics. More suitable than Wallis 1995 for upper-level undergraduates.

  • O’Meara, Dominic J. 1989. Pythagoras revived: Mathematics and philosophy in late antiquity. Oxford: Clarendon.

    On Neopythagoreanism in Iamblichus, Hierocles, Syrianus, and Proclus.

  • Remes, P. 2008. Neoplatonism. Stocksfield, UK: Acumen.

    A general introduction to Neoplatonism useful for undergraduate students. Treats metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of self in the thought of the predominant Neoplatonic philsophers.

  • Tuominen, M. 2009. The ancient commentators on Plato and Aristotle. Stocksfield, UK: Acumen.

    Introduction to the method and thought of the ancients reading texts, particularly Aristotle.

  • Wallis, R. T. 1995. Neoplatonism. 2d ed. London: Gerald Duckworth.

    A short introduction to Neoplatonism (112 pages), originally published in 1972, updated in 1995. It introduces many complexities and it is particularly good about citing original texts. The three main chapters include the thoughts of Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus, followed by a chapter on the Athenian school (which combines Proclus and Damascius).

  • Watts, E. J. 2006. City and school in late antique Athens and Alexandria. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520244214.001.0001

    History of the Athenian and Alexandian schools of Platonism from the 2nd through the 6th centuries CE. Covers the rise of the school and the closing of the Athenian school under Justinian, the role of predominant figures, such as Proclus and Damascius, as well as interactions between pagans and Christians.

  • Whittaker, J. 1984. Studies in Platonism and patristic thought. London: Variorum Reprints.

    Collection of articles by notable scholar.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.