In discussing the One of Plotinus, Dominic J. O'Meara writes the following (page 46):

Plotinus points to a distinction between elements which exist only as components of a whole (they depend on their status as parts of a whole in order to exist) and elements which make up a whole, existing both as parts of the whole and as independent of the whole. It is the latter type of element that is relevant to the Principle of Prior Simplicity. This element leads a double life, both in a whole, as part of it, and outside the whole, as in itself.

For example, for Plotinus the soul "is both part of (in) the world and separate from it".

O'Meara continues:

This is no universe where immanence excludes transcendence. Plotinus would not accept a view that would force us to choose between a god that is part of the world and a god that is separate from it: god is both.

O'Meara cites the Enneads V. 6. 3. 10-15 and V. 4[7]. 1. 5-15.

Does this view of God being both immanent and transcendent originate with Plotinus?


O'Meara, D. J. (1995). Plotinus: an introduction to the Enneads. Oxford University Press.


I rather incline to think he was. The language of 'transcendence' and 'immanence' comes later but Plotinus' One covers both aspects in a way not to be found in Plato, Aristotle or the Stoics.

If we identify the One with God then there is a plain sense in which God is transcendent. The One is the supreme principle or cause. It is, like Plato's Form of the Good, beyond being - absolutely transcendent. (Not sure how something beyond being can be a cause but I'll pass on that.)

Yet the One is also omnipresent, which is as good as saying it is immanent. It permeates all things. In my book, that means it is immanent.

References from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, V-VI, ed. P. Edwards, 1967: 353. Entry on Plotinus :

VI 9 [9], ch. 4; ch. 7; V 4 {7], ch.1; V 2 [11], ch. 1.

W.R. Inge, The Philosophy of Plotinus, 2 vols, London, 1929, is worth looking into despite its age but on the whole keep to the current literature as you are doing.


Plotinus' philosophy is not new. Indeed, it is so old it is called Perennial.

'Immanent-transcendent' would be a conceptual distinction and no more than this, as would all distinctions. All 'elements' would lead a double life and this dual-aspect view is formalised in Buddhism as the doctrine of 'two truths' or 'worlds'.

The complication regarding origin of this view is that it may appear as theism or atheism. That is, the Unity implied by this rejection of distinctions may or may not be associated with 'God'. If you are coming from a theistic angle you might like to examine the Christian doctrine of 'Divine Simplicity' which sheds light on this issue, or Nicolas de Cusa's 'Vision of God', or maybe the Upanishads.

De Cusa sums up and solves the transcendent-immanent problem when he reports of God, 'He lies beyond the coincidence of contradictories'

  • +1 I am trying to trace these distinctions. I agree with you that ultimately Plotinus' One is the same as Parmenides' Being and may be the same as a modern physicist's field (if one adds in aliveness) and is the same as theistic references to God, but it is the cultural differences that I am focusing on. – Frank Hubeny Nov 15 '18 at 14:20

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