[2.4.2] Plotinus: Neoplatonist Metaphysics

“Plotinus (204-270 AD) is considered to be the founder of Neoplatonism. Taking his lead from his reading of Plato, Plotinus developed a complex spiritual cosmology involving three foundational elements: the One, the Intelligence, and the Soul. It is from the productive unity of these three Beings that all existence emanates, according to Plotinus. The principal of emanation is not simply causal, but also contemplative. In his system, Plotinus raises intellectual contemplation to the status of a productive principle; and it is by virtue of contemplation that all existents are said to be united as a single, all-pervasive reality.”

The following OntoUML diagram shows the main entities in the metaphysical scheme of Plotinus.

Plotinus metaphysics
“the One, which is neither being nor essence, but the source, or rather, the possibility of all existence. In this capacity, the One is not even a beginning, nor even an end, for it is simply the disinterested orientational ‘stanchion’ that permits all beings to recognize themselves as somehow other than a supreme ‘I’…” Is in 1:1 relation with the Intellect;
Intellect“The Intelligence (Nous) is the true first principle — the determinate, referential ‘foundation’ (arkhe) — of all existents; for it is not a self-sufficient entity like the One, but rather possesses the ability or capacity to contemplate both the One, as its prior, as well as its own thoughts, which Plotinus identifies with the Platonic Ideas or Forms (eide)… The Intelligence may be understood as the storehouse of potential being(s), but only if every potential being is also recognized as an eternal and unchangeable thought in the Divine Mind (Nous). Plotinus states that “to think and to be are one and the same” Existentially depending
on the TheOne_
TheGood; contains a multitude of Forms(p).
Form“The Ideas (Forms) reside in the Intelligence as objects of contemplation. Plotinus states that: “No Idea is different from The Intelligence but is itself an intelligence”
HigherSoul“The Soul, like the Intelligence, is a unified existent, in spite of its dual capacity as contemplator and actor. The purely contemplative part of the Soul, which remains in constant contact with the Intelligence, is referred to by Plotinus as the ‘higher part’ of the Soul1:1 relation with Intellect; on which existentially depends. Contains LogoiSpermatikoi.
“through the contemplation of the One via the (Forms) Ideas, the Intelligence produces the logoi spermatikoi (‘seminal reasons’) that will serve as the productive power or essence of the Soul, which is the active or generative principle within Being.”LogoiSpermatikoi are a combination of Forms (many:many – 0..*:1..* relation).
Human “What Plotinus calls the “living being” (zoon) is what we would refer to, roughly, as the human being, or the individual possessed of a distinct personality. This being is the product of the union of the lower or active part of the soul with a corporeal body… Each “particular being” is the product, as it were, of an intelligence (a logos spermatikos)”
“that part which actively descends into the changeable (or sensible) realm in order to govern and directly craft the Cosmos, is the ‘lower part (of the Soul),’ which assumes a state of division as it enters, out of necessity, material bodies… Yet the lower (or active), governing part of the Soul, while remaining, in its essence, a divine being and identical to the Highest Soul, nevertheless, through its act, falls into forgetfulness of its prior, and comes to attach itself to the phenomena of the realm of change, that is, of Matter.” Is part of the HigherSoul; associated with a CorporealBody.
CorporealBody CorporealBody is part of the Matter, made of Matter.
MatterMatter, for Plotinus, may be understood as an eternally receptive substratum (hupokeimenon), in and by which all determinate existents receive their form. Since Matter is completely passive, it is capable of receiving any and all forms, and is therefore the principle of differentiation among existents.”

OBSERVATION: according to my sources Plotinus’s thinking about the granularity of Forms/Ideas is not clarified, meaning if there is a different Form for any specific Particular, like any human being or not. (E.g.: is there a separate Form for Socrates or not?).
To overcome this issue I set one-one multiplicity for the LogoiSpermatikoi-LowerSoul_IndividualSoul relation, presuming that the HigherSoul is the level where the individual LowerSouls for different LivingBeings are created; and I used many-many multiplicity for the Form-
LogoiSpermatikoi relation, supposing that the Intellect thinks in higher categories (e.g. Humans, Genders etc.)

You can find a related post about [1.2.1] Plato’s Forms here. It is interesting to observe the increased complexity of Plotinus’s system.


  • Edward Moore, Plotinus, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

First published: 23/02/2019

  • Updated: 03/07/2019 Diagram modified to OntoUML standard.
  • Updated: 10/01/2022

[2.4.1] Plotinus: Sense-Perception and Judgement

“Sense-perception, as Plotinus (204-270 AD) conceives it, may be described as the production and cultivation of images (of the forms residing in the Intelligence, and contemplated by the Soul). These images aid the soul in its act of governing the passive, and for that reason disorderly, realm of matter. The soul’s experience of bodily sensation (pathos) is an experience of something alien to it, for the soul remains always what it is: an intellectual being. However, as has already been stated, in order for the soul to govern matter, it must take on certain of matter’s characteristics.”

The following UML Use Case diagram shows the main concepts in the theory of sense perception and judgement of Plotionus:

Plotinus: sense perception and judgement
Faculty (power)Related Use Case
SENSE PERCEPTIONExperiences Sensation (pathos) through Body: “the immediate disturbance undergone by the soul through the vicissitudes of its union with matter”
SENSE PERCEPTION Creates Intelligible Objects (noeta): “the moment at which the disturbance becomes an object of intelligible apprehension”
SENSE PERCEPTION Creates types (tupoi): “intelligible realities are then contemplated by the (lower)soul as ‘types’ (tupoi) of the true images/forms (eidolon) ‘produced’ through the Soul’s eternal contemplation of the Intelligence, by virtue of which the cosmos persists and subsists as a living image of the eternal Cosmos that is the Intelligible Realm.”
REASONDiscursive REASONing (dianoia): “discursive reasoning (dianoia).. consists in an act of understanding that owes its knowledge (episteme) to objects external to the mind, which the mind, through sense-perception, has come to ‘grasp’ (lepsis).”
REASONForms Opinion (doxa): ” since the objects which the mind comes to ‘grasp’ are the product of a soul that has mingled, to a certain extent, with matter, or passivity, the knowledge gained by dianoia can only be opinion (doxa).”
REASON Action Initiation
REASON Fall into ‘sin’ (hamartia): “The soul falls into error only when it ‘falls in love’ with the ‘types’ of the true images it already contains, in its higher part, and mistakes these ‘types’ for realities. When this occurs, the soul will make judgments independently of its higher part, and will fall into ‘sin’ (hamartia), that is, it will ‘miss the mark’ of right governance, which is its proper nature.”
JUDGEMENT JUDGEMENT (krinein) with the help of Individual Soul: “The individual souls.. bring these ‘types’ before the Higher Soul in an act of judgment (krinein), which completes the movement or moment of sense-perception (aisthesis). This perception, then, is not a passive imprinting or ‘stamping’ of a sensible image upon a receptive soul; rather, it is an action of the soul, indicative of the soul’s natural, productive power. This ‘power’ is indistinguishable from memory (mnemes), for it involves, as it were, a recollection, on the part of the lower soul, of certain ‘innate’ ideas, by which it is able to perceive what it perceives — and most importantly, by virtue of which it is able to know what it knows”
JUDGEMENT Forms true knowledge (alethes gnosis) – with the help of judgement and the Higher Soul.

The source of all citations and more about the topic in: Edward Moore, PlotinusInternet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

First published: 01/03/2019

Updated: 16/04/2019: some use case relations changed