Podcast episode

Episode 112: We are the One: Plotinus’ Participatory Metaphysics

We explore some of the aspects of Plotinus’ living, participatory universe, in which humans play a constitutive role.

Works Cited in this Episode:

On the fascinating theory of the self in Plotinus, a few essential works are Blumenthal
1971; O’Daly 1973; Beierwaltes 2001; Remes 2007; Aubry 2008; Chiaradonna 2008;
Girard 2013.


  • The Plotinian equation of ontology and epistemology: e.g. I.6[1]1.9. On Plotinian
    hypostases as ‘modes of consciousness’, see Bréhier 1958, 192-5, Wallis (1976). Cf.
    Rappe 2000, 25-44; Mazur 2010, 33; Perl 2006.
  • Noêsis is being, quoting Parmenides fr. B3 DK (τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι): I.4[46]10.6; III.5[50]7.51; V.1[10]8.17-18; V.6[24]6.22-3; V.9[5]5.29-30; VI.7[38]41.18.
  • Plotinus on the unconscious mind: see especially IV.4[[28]. cf. e.g. IV.3[27]30.11-16; IV.8[6]8; V.1[10]12; V.8[31]11.27-8. See Bréhier 1958, 74-5, 193; Smith 1978.
  • The Plotinian journey inward: IV.8[31]1 (see the Greek below).
  • Nous is the highest God: see Sleeman and Pollet 1980 s.v. θέος for hundreds of examples. Is the noetic world of Forms, and contains everything this kosmos contains (see e.g. VI.7[38]11.3-4 and ff; V.8[31]32=36), but without extension or accidents ([ποιήτεις] e.g. II.6[17]; VI.2[43]14; VI.1[42]12.42 ff.).
  • The One occasionally described as ‘God’: especially in VI.8[39].
  • Plotinus acknowledges the originality of the Undescended Self theory: ‘If one may express one’s own opinion, contradicting that of others …’ IV.8[6]8.1-6. The theory may have Numenian origins (see Numenius frr. 41 and 42 Des Places; Petty 2012, 17). According to Proclus (In Tim. III.323, 5 Diehl) it is ‘a new theory’, by which Proclus means an innovation contrary to the canonical tradition of the Ancients as he sees them. Cf. H+S’s references to Enn. IV.8[6]8.
  • Body inside soul: e.g. IV.3[27]20.14-15, 22.8-9, 9.36-51.
  • The soul’s impassibility: e.g. I.1[53]12.
  • ‘Often, awakening to my self from the body and becoming separate from all other externals’: IV.8[31]1.1-11: Πολλάκις ἐγειρόμενος εἰς ἐμαυτὸν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος καὶ γινόμενος τῶν μὲν ἄλλων ἔξω, ἐμαυτοῦ δὲ εἴσω, θαυμαστὸν ἡλίκον ὁρῶν κάλλος, καὶ τῆς κρείττονος μοίρας πιστεύσας τότε μάλιστα εἶναι, ζωήν τε ἀρίστην ἐνεργήσας καὶ τῷ θείῳ εἰς ταὐτὸν γεγενημένος καὶ ἐν αὐτῷ ἱδρυθεὶς εἰς ἐνέργειαν ἐλθὼν ἐκείνην ὑπὲρ πᾶν τὸ ἄλλο νοητὸν ἐμαυτὸν ἱδρύσας, μετὰ ταύτην τὴν ἐν τῷ θείῳ στάσιν εἰς λογισμὸν ἐκ νοῦ καταβὰς ἀπορῶ, πῶς ποτε καὶ νῦν καταβαίνω, καὶ ὅπως ποτέ μοι ἔνδον ἡ ψυχὴ γεγένηται τοῦ σώματος τοῦτο οὖσα, οἷον ἐφάνη καθ’ ἑαυτήν, καίπερ οὖσα ἐν σώματι. Cf. V.3[49]6.13-18. We cite the translation of Banner 2018, p. 113.
  • Human individuality preserved at all levels of reality: e.g. IV.4[18]5.13-20; IV.3[27]18.13-15, and see the discussion in Episode 113 of the podcast. But see e.g. Bussanich 1997, 5314-20 for a counter-argument.
  • The numerical singularity of nous: IV.3[27]8.22-30; VI.4[22]1.23-25, 12.49; VI.5[23]1.1, 3.19, 11.32. See Chiaradonna 2010. Noës, the plural of nous, is rare in the Enneads, occurring only ten times (at III.9[13]6.7; IV.3[27]5.6; IV.7[38]17.26 and 27, the Attic variant noî at VI.4[22]4.19; VI.6[34]15.14; VI.7[38]17.27; VI.2[43]22.27; at II.9[33]1.33 it occurs in the negative context of denying that we can posit more than one Nous, and at and I.8[51]2.10 they are ‘so-called noës’). This as against the thousands of occurrences of ‘nous’ in the singular. But see IV.3[27]6!
  • On Nous being everywhere, nowhere, and ‘up there’, see  Wilberding 2005.
  • Noêsis as synæsthesia: VI.7[38]12.25 ad fin. Noêsis as vision: We could not even begin to cite all the passages where Plotinus uses the language of vision to describe the perception of the noetic realities. Ennead V.8[31], On the Noetic Beauty, is a classic.
  • ‘Our perceptions here are dim acts of noêsis, and the acts of noêsis there are clear perceptions’: VI.7[38]7.31.
  • Noetic bodies: IV.3[27]18.13-15; IV.4[28]5.13-20; VI.2[43]21.52-53. Noetic bodies as eyeballs that see in every direction: IV.3[27]18.20-22.
  • Noetic matter: II.4[12]3-5 and 15; see [Rist1961, 125].
  • Noetic ‘walking’: V.8[31]4.
  • ‘Alone with the alone’: I.6[36]7.9; cf. V.1[10]6.11-12; VI.7[38]34.7-8. Cf. Numenius fr. 2 Des Places.
  • The direct encounter with the One: see the special episode on the encounter with the One in Plotinus.
  • The One present at all levels of reality, even matter: III.8[30]10.
  • The ‘big mush’ of a universe without a One to limit it: VI.7[38]14.


  • Hadot on Plotty’s ‘mysticism’ really being about nous for the most part: Hadot 1986, 11-12.
  • Plato’s Timæus on the body being within soul: 36e.
  • Porphyry perhaps not holding Plotinus’ doctrine of the undescended self: See Smith 1974, pp. 47-49 for a good discussion of the issues and further bibliography.

Secondary Works Cited Above:

  • Gwenaëlle Aubry. Un moi sans identité? Le hemeis Plotinien. In Gwenaëlle Aubry and Frédérique Ildefonse, editors, Le moi et l’interiorité, pages 107–125. Vrin, Paris, 2008.
  • Nicholas Banner. Philosophic Silence and the ‘One’ in Plotinus. The University Press, Cambridge, 2018.
  • W. Beierwaltes. Das wahre Selbst. Studien zu Plotins Begriff des Geistes und des Einen. Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt, 2001.
  • H. J. Blumenthal. Plotinus’ Psychology: His Doctrine of the Embodied Soul. Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag, 1971.
  • Emile Bréhier. The Philosophy of Plotinus. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1958. Translated by J. Thomas.
  • J. Bussanich. Mystical Elements in the Thought of Plotinus. ANRW, 36(7):5300–5330, 1997.
  • R. Chiaradonna. Sostanze intellegibili e unità numerica in Plotino. In Daniela P. Taormina, editor, L’essere del pensiero. Saggi sulla filosofia di Plotino, pages 121–136. Bibliopolis, Napoli, 2010.
  • Riccardo Chiaradonna. Plotino: Il “noi” e il “nous”. In Gwenaëlle Aubry and Frédérique Ildefonse, editors, Le moi et l’interiorité, pages 277–293. Vrin, Paris, 2008.
  • Christian Girard. L’identité de l’homme chez Plotin. PhD thesis, Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2013.
  • Pierre Hadot. Neoplatonist Spirituality: Plotinus and Porphyry. In A.H. Armstrong, editor, Classical Mediterranean Spirituality, pages 230–249. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1986. translated by Jane Curran.
  • Alexander J. Mazur. The Platonizing Sethian Gnostic Background of Plotinus’ Mysticism. PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 2010.
  • G O’Daly. Plotinus’ Philosophy of the Self. Irish University Press, Shannon, 1973.
  • Eric D. Perl. The Togetherness of Thought and Being: A Phenomenological Reading of Plotinus’ Doctrine That the Intelligibles are not Outside the Intellect. In J. J. Cleary and G. M. S. Gurtler, editors, Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, Vol. XXII, pages 1–26. Brill, Leiden, 2006.
  • R. Petty. Fragments of Numenius of Apamea. Number VII in Platonic Texts and Translations. Prometheus Trust, Hockley, 2012.
  • Sara Rappe. Reading Neoplatonism: Non-Discursive Thinking in the Texts of Plotinus, Proclus and Damascius. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 2000.
  • P. Remes. Plotinus on Self: the Philosophy of the ‘We’. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007.
  • J. Rist. Plotinus on Matter and Evil. Phronesis, 6(2):154–66, 1961.
  • J. H. Sleeman and Gilbert Pollet. Lexicon Plotinianum. Brill/Leuven University Press, Leiden/Leuven, 1980.
  • Andrew Smith. Porphyry’s Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: a Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism. Martinus Nijhoff, den Haag, 1974.
  • Andrew Smith. Unconsciousness and Quasi-Consciousness in Plotinus. Phronesis, 23 (3):292–301, 1978.
  • R. Wallis. Nous as Experience. In R. Baine Harris, editor, The Significance of Neoplatonism, pages 121–154. International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, Norfolk, VA, 1976.
  • J. Wilberding. Creeping Spatiality: The Location of Nous in Plotinus’ Universe. Phronesis, 50(4):315–334, 2005.




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