Plotinus was a Greek philosopher* who taught in both Alexandria and Rome. His teachings, which were later collected by one of his students, combined the ideas of Plato and Eastern mystics* to create a new Greek philosophy called Neoplatonism. Some scholars consider him the greatest philosopher between the time of Aristotle, in the 300s B.C., and the beginning of the Renaissance*
Plotinus was born in Lycopolis, in Egypt. He began studying philosophy at the age of 27, spending 11 years in Alexandria teaching and studying under a famous teacher, Ammonius Sacas. Hoping to learn more about Eastern philosophy, Plotinus joined a military expedition against Persia. At about the age of 40, he settled in Rome, where he became the leader of an influential group of thinkers. He did not write anything until he was 50 years old, when he composed a series of philosophical essays that circulated among his students. One of his students, Porphyry, later collected the essays and arranged them by subject into six groups of nine books, called the Enneads.
* philosopher scholar or thinker concerned with the study of ideas, including science
* mystic one who believes that divine truths or direct knowledge of God can be experienced through meditation and contemplation as much as through logical thought
* Renaissance period of the rebirth of interest in classical art, literature, and learning that occurred in Europe from the late 1300s through the 1500s
The essays cover the entire field of ancient philosophy with the exception of politics, which Plotinus chose not to write about. Plotinus covered ethics* and aesthetics* in the first of the six Enneads, physics and cosmology* in the next two, psychology in the fourth, and metaphysics* and logic in the last two. Because of his poor eyesight, Plotinus never revised his work. As a result, his essays often read as if he is thinking aloud or explaining a lesson to a student.
Through St. Augustine, who knew his work well, Plotinus’s work influenced later generations of Christian thinkers. Plotinus also had a significant influence on the thinkers of the Renaissance. (See also Philosophy, Greek and Hellenistic; Philosophy, Roman; Science.)
* ethics branch of philosophy that deals with moral conduct, duty, and judgment
* aesthetics branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of beauty
* cosmology branch of philosophy that deals with the origin and structure of the universe
* metaphysics branch of philosophy concerned with the fundamental nature of reality