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Neoplatonism is a philosophical doctrine, developed by Platonists of late Antiquity as a result of mid-Platonism. Philo of Alexandria is the precursor of this movement towards 40, then it develops in Rome from 232 by Ammonios Saccas, master of Plotinus, and the pupils of the latter, Porphyry and Iamblichus. Neoplatonism is a very influential school in Antiquity, with great continuators like Proclus, until the exile of its last representatives like Damascios and Simplicios of Cilicia in 529, following the closure of schools and pagan places of worship by Emperor Justinian.

The Neoplatonism or Platonism of Late Antiquity tries to reconcile the philosophy of Plato with certain currents of Eastern spirituality such as the Chaldaic Oracles, as well as with other schools of Greek philosophy, in particular those of Pythagoras and Aristotle. The work of Aristotle ended up being conceived by the Neoplatonists as an introduction to the work of Plato.

The word “Neoplatonism” was coined by Thomas Taylor, in his translation of Plotinus’ Enneads in 1787, and taken up by Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom Stein in 1864 in Sieben Bücher zur Geschichte des Platonismus. This word can, however, be confusing to the uninformed public. Indeed, these philosophers also took into account other philosophies, like that of Aristotle. The Neoplatonists called themselves simply Platonists, but this name is no longer exact today as their relations to Plato’s philosophy were so complex: while having remained faithful to him, they differ greatly from him.

Neoplatonism is characterized by the importance given to the First Principle, the One, in metaphysics, and by mystical experiences. Neoplatonism had for centuries a profound influence on Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, and Islamic philosophy, as well as on philosophers like Hegel and Schelling. There is a neoplatonism specific to the Renaissance called Medicean neoplatonism.


It is possible to see a precursor of Neoplatonism in the person of Philo of Alexandria who, around 40, translates Judaism in terms of Stoic, Platonic and Neopythagorean elements and maintains that God is “supra-rational” and cannot be reached. only through ecstasy. He adds that the Oracles of God provide moral material and religious knowledge. It is Philo who circulates the idea that Plato admits two worlds, including an intelligible world (κόσμος νοητός). Plato, however, admits only two levels, two places, the intelligible, the sensitive, in participation. Plato admits only one Whole, one Universe (in two levels, in two participating places), not two separate worlds: he speaks of “intelligible place” and of “visible place”, in relation to analogy, resemblance. (The Republic, VI, 508b).

The most important precursors of Neoplatonism, are the mid-Platonists, such as Plutarch (around 80) and the Neopythagoreans, especially Numenius of Apamea (around 150).

The early Christian philosophers, such as Justin of Nablus (c. 135) and Athenagoras of Athens, tried to connect Neoplatonism with Christianity. The Gnostic Christians of Alexandria, especially Valentine (c. 150) and the disciples of Basilides, also represented elements of Neoplatonism.

There is, however, no evidence of any influence of Jewish or Christian philosophies in Plotinus. Alexandria, where Neoplatonism originated, is steeped in oriental religious practices. It is only late Neoplatonism, starting from Iamblichus, which offers a parallel between Plato and the Gnostics.


Neoplatonic philosophy aims to solve one of the problems at the heart of ancient Greek thought, namely the problem of the One and the Multiple. More particularly, it is a question of understanding how to articulate the One with the Multiple. We see the Multiple in nature, and the One is the foundation of intelligibility. This philosophy is linked to Platonism by its desire to resolve the aporias of Plato’s thought, and in particular those of one of the most difficult dialogues: Parmenides, where Plato envisages three main hypotheses on the One (the absolute One unknowable and ineffable which excludes any multiple; the One which is being and therefore admits all opposites; the One which is and which is not, and which therefore is change, instant).

There are four principles which govern the solution of the One / Multiple problem:

  • “All multiplicity supposes a unity which gives it its structure”: principle of systematizing unity
  • “All unity transcends the multiplicity it unifies”: principle of transcendence
  • “All multiplicity is contained in some way in the unity which transcends it”: principle of immanence
  • “Any reality which, to be realized, must leave the unity in which it was contained, can only be fully realized by a return to the unity from which it emanates”: principle of conversion.

Some features of neoplatonism:

  1. The most commented book is Plato’s Parmenides, because this book is about first principles, about the One. Neoplatonists see Plato’s dialogue as a theology, while scholars today see it more as an intellectual game.
  2. Neoplatonism especially retains the idea of ​​the absolute transcendence of Good and neglects political philosophy.
  3. Philosophy tends towards mysticism, its moral end is union with the original, divine Principle: Plotinus had ecstasies (Porphyry, Life of Plotinus), Iamblichus sought to “follow God” (Life of Pythagoras, 86).
  4. There are many triads: three gods in Numenius of Apamea, three hypostases in Plotinus, the triads of being / thought / life, rest / procession / conversion, substance / activity / power …
  5. The hypostases, that is to say the divine principles (One, Second One, Being, Life, Intellect) are multiplying.
  6. Eastern philosophy is more or less present (Egyptians, Chaldeans, Judaism). The Neoplatonists want to systematize and unify Greek mythology, Orphism, Pythagoreanism, Platonism, the Chaldaic Oracles.

The Neoplatonists identify the gods with the Platonic Ideas. But Plotinus and Porphyry consider religious practice unworthy of the sage, because he is able to reach God directly by the spiritual elevation of his thought, while Iamblichus, Proclus and the Neoplatonic school of Athens strive to observe traditional rites as religiously as possible. Neoplatonic theology is becoming more complex. According to Proclus (Commentary on Parmenides, VI, 1061-1063), Syrianos would have broken down the second hypothesis of Plato’s Parmenides into fourteen parts corresponding to the procession of all the degrees of being after the One: the three triads of intelligible gods (= being), the three triads of intelligible-intellectual gods (= life), the two triads of intellectual gods (= intellect), the seventh divinity (= the separation of the higher gods from the gods of the world) ; the hypercosmic gods (= the chiefs), the hypercosmic-encosmic gods (= the gods detached from the world), the encosmic gods (= the celestial and sublunary gods), the universal souls, finally the superior beings (angels, demons and heroes) (R. L. Cardullo). In his Commentary on the Timaeus, Proclus admits nine levels of reality: One, being, life, spirit, reason, animals, plants, living beings, raw material. He establishes a hierarchy of gods in nine degrees: 1) the One, first god; 2) henads; 3) intelligible gods; 4) the intelligible-intellectual gods; 5) intellectual gods; 6) hypercosmic gods; 7) the encosmic gods; 8) universal souls; 9) angels, demons, heroes.

Translated from Wikipedia

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