Plotinus (204/5-270 c.e.) was an Egyptian by birth but Greek (or Hellenistic) by upbringing. He studied philosophy in Alexandria under Ammonius Saccus, before joining a military campaign against Persia, where he encountered Indian ideas. He went to Rome c 244, where he taught until about 268.
His lectures were only committed to writing later in life. As the central figure of Neoplatonism, Plotinus was the representative of a spiritual-philosophical tradition that begins with Plato or before, and passes through the stages of early post-Platonism and Middle Platonism.
The early life of Plotinus is not well known. However, in his mid-to late twenties, Plotinus went to Alexandria to undertake studies in philosophy. After having attended various lectures from the most important philosophers of the day, he finally found his teacher and mentor in Ammonius Saccas, with whom he studied with until 242.
Plotinus pursued further studies in Persian and Indian philosophy, and consequently accompanied Emperor Gordian III on a military expedition. After the latter’s assassination in 244, the expedition was thus cancelled in Mesopotamia. Via Antioch, Plotinus then went to Rome to establish a school of philosophy, where he remained as teacher for the next twenty years.
Plotinus spawned many students-cum-followers; among them were the philosophers Amelius and Eustochius, the emperor Gallienus and his wife, Salonina, and the important Porphyry. It was Porphyry who truly documented Plotinus and not only urged Plotinus to collect his lectures but also edited them into the Enneads (Gr. “ennea”: nine), which Porphyry published roughly thirty years after the philosopher’s death.
At the heart of Plotinus's religiophilosophical system is a supreme divinity which is infinite, unitary, and good. It is the ultimate but not the direct cause of all that is, although it is under no compulsion or necessity to produce anything outside itself. Indeed, it is so perfect that it lacks nothing. It simply is. Between this supreme existent and the known world is the supersensual world, made up of three types of being.
The first, produced by an overflow or radiation of the perfect One, is the World-Mind, which is conscious of multiplicity but holds all together in eternal contemplation. It is equivalent to Aristotle's Unmoved Mover and the realm of Plato's Ideas, or Forms. It is also the organizational principle of the universe.
Next comes the World-Soul, produced by the World-Mind and less unitary in that it is further removed from the One and perceives things sequentially. It is therefore the cause of time and space, although it is superior to them since it is eternal.
Finally, there is Nature, the furthest removed from the One and the least creative of the three supersensual beings. Nature corresponds to the Stoic immanent World-Soul. The physical world is a projection of its dreamlike consciousness.
He died on 270 AD at the city of Campania