Philosophy Plotinus
Lloyd P. Gerson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0177


After Plato and Aristotle, Plotinus (b. 204/5–d. 270 CE) stands out as the most accomplished and influential philosopher of Antiquity. He is also the only philosopher from this period, other than Plato, whose works are all extant. In his writings, collectively known by the name given to them by his student and editor, Porphyry, as Enneads (“nines” in Greek, for the six groups of nine “treatises”), he engages with the entire history of philosophy up to that time, systematizing Plato and defending that system against all comers, especially Peripatetics, Skeptics, and Stoics. For the next three hundred or so years, philosophy in Late Antiquity took Plotinus as its starting point. Proclus (b. 412–d. 485 CE) thought of him as the principal “exegete of the Platonic revelation.” Philosophy in Late Antiquity was essentially Platonism as constructed by Plotinus, and it is this philosophy that Christians, Muslims, and Jews appropriated and struggled to fit within their theological frameworks.

General Overviews

Although Plotinus tried to present Platonism as a system, his writings are anything but systematic. They are explicitly occasional pieces, responding to and summarizing seminar discussions held with a wide range of students. These writings do not present the elements of his philosophy in the neat divisions typically used today. Because Plotinus held that the solution to any genuine philosophical problem must ultimately adduce his three fundamental “hypostases”— the One, Intellect, and Soul—someone first encountering Plotinus should begin with a general introduction that gives prominence to the nature of these three principles and the way they operate together. Against this background, much, but, alas, by no means all, of his writings become intelligible. Dillon 1988 and Henry 1991 provide helpful overviews of Plotinus’s philosophy. O’Meara 1993 is a solid monograph-length introduction to the main lines of Plotinus’s thought. Chiaradonna 2009 is a very clear and comprehensive introduction. Emilsson 2017 is the most recent comprehensive introduction to Plotinus. Rist 1967 is a seminal study. Halfwassen 2004 situates Plotinus within his predecessors and successors. Gerson 1994 is a more analytically oriented, comprehensive study. Hadot 1963 is a deeply conceived reflection on the principles of Plotinus’s philosophy. Lloyd 1990 and Wallis 1995 locate Plotinus within the larger picture of late Greek philosophy. See, most recently, Remes and Slaveva-Griffin 2014, which includes extensive treatments of various aspects of Plotinus’s philosophy.

  • Chiaradonna, Riccardo. Plotino. Rome: Carocci, 2009.

    A comprehensive, clear, and accurate Italian introduction to the thought of Plotinus with abundant reference to his historical antecedents.

  • Dillon, John. “The Mind of Plotinus.” Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium on Ancient Philosophy 3 (1988): 333–357.

    DOI: 10.1163/2213441787X00191

    A good, concise account of Plotinus’s basic philosophical orientation.

  • Emilsson, Eyjólfur K. Plotinus. London: Routledge, 2017.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203413159

    A philosophically sophisticated and comprehensive introduction to Plotinus. Taking into account much of the extensive contemporary scholarship.

  • Gerson, Lloyd. Plotinus: Arguments of the Philosophers. London: Routledge, 1994.

    A detailed, historically contextualized analysis of the central arguments of Plotinus for his philosophical position. This book attempts to engage with the main lines of Plotinian interpretation in the 20th century.

  • Hadot, Pierre. Plotin ou la simplicité du regard. Paris: Plon, 1963.

    A brief and clear exposition of Plotinus’s philosophy by one of the great Plotinus scholars of the last century.

  • Halfwassen, Jens. Plotin und der Neuplatonismus. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2004.

    A very helpful general introduction to Plotinus and his philosophical successors, including a brief foray into Christian Neoplatonism.

  • Henry, P. “The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought.” Preface to the 3rd edition of the translation of Plotinus by S. MacKenna. In The Enneades. By Plotinus. Edited by John M. Dillon, xxxv–lxx. London: Penguin, 1991.

    A wide-ranging and rich survey of Plotinus’s position in the history of philosophy. Very helpful and extensive citations of central texts.

  • Lloyd, Antony C. The Anatomy of Neoplatonism. Oxford: Clarendon, 1990.

    A highly sophisticated analysis of some of the presuppositions and axioms of late Platonism.

  • O’Meara, Dominic. Plotinus: An Introduction to the Enneads. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

    A very good and clear general introduction. Probably the most accessible, accurate, and concise survey of Plotinus’s philosophy.

  • Remes, Pauliina, and Svetla Slaveva-Griffin, eds. The Routledge Handbook of Neoplatonism. London: Routledge, 2014.

    Contains extensive essays on every aspect of Neoplatonism, each one of which contains valuable information on Plotinus.

  • Rist, John M. Plotinus: The Road to Reality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1967.

    A groundbreaking work, historically, philologically, and philosophically very useful.

  • Wallis, R. T. Neoplatonism. 2d ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1995.

    An excellent introduction to late Platonism, including some attention to works and philosophers not usually noticed.

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