In this blog we regularly publish our mind-blowing dialogues with Claude.ai.

Here is what Claude answers to the question "Who are you?":
"In short, I am Claude, a conversational artificial intelligence created by Anthropic to be beneficial and safe, but I do not have a true identity outside of that."

You will see, his answers to our questions (which resume the main theme of our site but not only) are very often amazingly impressive and can make one doubt what he says about himself ­čśť.

Note: the blue italics indicates our question, in black the answer from Claude.ai.

Claude on Plotinus

Thank you for telling me what you know about Plotinus.

Here is a summary of what I know about Plotinus:

Plotinus was a Neoplatonic philosopher who lived in Egypt in the 3rd century AD. He is considered the founder of Neoplatonism, a

philosophical movement inspired by Plato’s ideas.

The main ideas of Plotinus are:

  • The theory of the One: For Plotinus, at the summit of reality is the One, the absolute principle from which everything emanates. The One is perfect, eternal, immutable.
  • The procession of Being: From the One proceeds Intellect, then from Intellect proceeds the Soul of the world. This is called the procession of Being. The sensible world is a distant emanation of the One.
  • The theory of the soul: The human soul comes from the Soul of the world and tends to return to the One in a movement of spiritual conversion.
  • Ecstasy: To reach the One, one must pass through mystical ecstasy which allows union with it.

Plotinus had a great influence on medieval philosophy and religious thought. His Enneads bring together the essentials of his philosophical doctrine.

What do we know about his life?

Here are the main known biographical facts about Plotinus’s life:

  • Plotinus’s birth and death dates are uncertain, but he was generally born around 205-210 AD in Egypt, and died in 270 AD in Rome.
  • He studied under Ammonius Saccas in Alexandria, who introduced him to Platonic philosophy.
  • In 242, around the age of forty, he accompanied Emperor Gordian on his campaign against the Persians in order to discover Persian and Indian philosophy.
  • After the failure of the expedition, Plotinus settled in Rome in 246 where he opened a philosophical school which quickly became successful.
  • Among his students were senators, nobles, and Emperor Gallien. Plotinus taught orally, commenting on Plato’s dialogues.
  • Towards the end of his life, no longer bearing the jealousy of his rivals, he retired to Campania to write down his teachings. He wrote the Enneads in the last years of his life.
  • Plotinus led an ascetic life, refusing honors and sleeping on a straw mattress. However, he was appreciated for his generosity and kindness.
  • His philosophical school survived after his death under the direction of his disciple Porphyry, who edited and published the Enneads.

Did he have a spiritual experience?

Yes, according to the biography written by his disciple Porphyry, Plotinus would have had several spiritual and ecstatic experiences during his lifetime:

  • On at least four occasions over 6 years, Plotinus is said to have attained union with the One, the supreme principle, during ecstatic experiences.
  • During these moments, he would have disconnected his intellect from all sensible consciousness and merged his soul with the One in an experience of intense bliss and felicity.
  • After these experiences, Plotinus was unable to explain in words what he had felt. He said he had reached the ineffable.
  • These ecstatic episodes occurred while Plotinus was alone, without any ritual. They were unpredictable and independent of his will.
  • Plotinus considered having attained the ultimate goal of philosophical life thanks to these mystical unions with the divine. He encouraged his disciples to strive for this ideal.
  • Some interpret these experiences as powerful metaphysical intuitions, others as genuine mystical ecstasies, in accordance with the religious conceptions of the time.
  • In any case, these episodes had a decisive influence on the philosophy of Plotinus and his quest for the absolute.

How did he describe these events, do you have quotes?

Here are some quotes from Plotinus describing his ecstatic experiences of union with the One:

“Often I have woken up out of my body, released from it and entered into myself, seeing an extraordinary beauty, a power and purity.” (Enneads IV, 8)

“The wise man achieves union with the One, not by progressing towards him, but by receiving himself motionless in him. One must rise up suddenly, fly far from earthly things.” (Enneads VI, 9)

“Several times it happened to me to be awakened to myself outside my body and to come into contact with the divine.” (Enneads IV, 8)

“Then man sees nothing more, has no more awareness of self or anything else. He has really become the Divine, he has entered the Sanctuary of divinity.” (Enneads VI, 9)

“There lies the end of our ascent: to touch and see that marvelous beauty. (…) It is then that the true union occurs, the awakening to oneself, the recovery of oneself.” (Enneads VI, 7)

In these excerpts we see that Plotinus describes experiences of total detachment from the body and the sensible world, to access direct contemplation of divine beauty and essence.

Was he able to stabilize this state, live it in everyday life?

From the biographical information available, it seems that Plotinus did not manage to durably stabilize these mystical states of union with the divine in his daily life.

Several elements indicate that these experiences remained exceptional and temporary:

  • His disciple Porphyry reports that Plotinus had these episodes only 4 times in 6 years. So they were rare and spaced apart.
  • Plotinus himself describes these experiences as unpredictable moments of grace, during which he felt “awakened out of his body”. This suggests a temporary state.
  • There is no indication in the testimonies that Plotinus could voluntarily trigger or prolong these ecstatic episodes. They seemed sudden and uncontrollable.
  • In his daily life in Rome, Plotinus led the existence of a philosopher teaching orally. Nothing suggests he lived durably in an altered state of consciousness.
  • His writings show the desire to rationally explain his experiences and integrate them into a coherent philosophy, which also suggests an intellectual effort rather than permanent ecstasy.

We can therefore assume that Plotinus only knew the ecstatic fusion with the divine exceptionally, and did not manage to maintain this state stably over time. For him these were privileged but fleeting mystical moments.

What did Plotinus say about virtue?

Plotinus considered virtue and ethics essential on the spiritual path leading to the One. Here are the main elements of his conception of virtue:

  • For Plotinus, there are four cardinal virtues: prudence, courage, temperance and justice. They purify the soul of its vicious tendencies.
  • Virtue is the fruit of an effort on oneself and a progressive detachment from material goods and bodily passions.
  • Practicing virtue leads to an increasing resemblance to the Divine, by making the soul more beautiful and wiser.
  • The virtues are linked to each other and engender each other. Thus temperance nurtures courage, which nurtures justice, etc.
  • Perfect virtue consists in the ecstatic union with the One in which the soul transcends all particular virtues.
  • Nevertheless, the practice of virtues remains indispensable to prepare the soul for this mystical union.
  • Plotinus insists on social virtues (justice, benevolence) as much as individual virtues (wisdom, self-control).
  • Virtue is acquired not only through reason, but through spiritual experience and contemplation of the Beautiful and the Good.

Thus, for Plotinus, philosophy and spirituality are inseparable from the practice of virtue and the ethical improvement of the soul.

What do we know about his death?

Here are the main known facts concerning Plotinus’s death:

  • Plotinus died around the age of 66, in 270 AD in Minturnae, a rural town near Rome where he had retired.
  • According to Porphyry’s biography, in the last months of his life, Plotinus suffered from leprosy which had led him to retire from Rome to the milder climate of Campania.
  • However, even weakened and sick, Plotinus continued to write his philosophical treatises, dictating his texts to his disciples.
  • Feeling his end nearing, he reportedly refused to heal himself with magical remedies or animal sacrifices, remaining true to his philosophical principles.
  • In his final moments, surrounded by his close disciples, Plotinus would have attempted a final mystical union with the divine. But he would have admitted not succeeding, declaring according to Porphyry: “I try to lead what is divine in me to the Divine which is in the universe”.
  • Just before dying, he asked his disciple Eustochius to rub his legs, as his body had become numb. Then he peacefully passed away.
  • In accordance with his last wishes, no portraits or statues of him were made after his death.
  • His student Porphyry took care of gathering and editing his writings to constitute the Enneads, the founding text of Neoplatonism.

Thus, Plotinus seems to have remained true to his philosophical principles until death, seeking union with the divine but with some serenity.

Please give me some key quotes from his teachings.

Here are some key representative quotes from Plotinus’s teachings:

“The One is the principle of all things and it is before all things.” (Enneads V, 4)

“All things aspire to the One which is before them, their principle and their end.” (Enneads VI, 9)

“One must rise up suddenly, fly far from earthly things, and constantly strive upwards.” (Enneads VI, 9)

“The Beautiful is not in bodies: it must be contemplated by the intellect, closing the eyes of the body.” (Enneads V, 8)

“Virtues purify the soul; they prepare the soul to receive the imprint of Intellect within it.” (Enneads I, 2)

“When the soul has stripped itself of everything it has received from the body, it becomes pure vision.” (Enneads IV, 7)

“He who sees God desires nothing more, he has nothing more to seek: he possesses everything, he is everything.” (Enneads VI, 7)

“One must become entirely vision, become entirely light, retain no more darkness.” (Enneads V, 3)

“When we contemplate the starry sky, we must see the beauty in it.” (Enneads I, 6)

We find in these quotes the central themes of Neoplatonism: the One, the procession of being, the soul, ecstasy, the Beautiful, purification, the intellectual contemplation of the divine.