Emanationism is Platonic monism, and an idea in the cosmology or cosmogony of certain religious or philosophical systems. Emanation from the Latin 'emanare' meaning "to flow from", is the mode by which all things are derived from the First Reality, or Principle. All things are derived from the first reality or perfect god by steps of degradation to lesser degrees of the first reality or god, and at every step the emanating beings are less pure, less perfect, less divine. Emanationism is a transcendent principle from which everything is derived, and is opposed to both Creationism (wherein the universe is created by a sentient God who is separate from creation) and evolutionism/materialism (which posits no underlying subjective and/or ontological nature behind phenomena, being immanent).

Key principles

That complex things are created in nature is not in question by Creationists (Abrahamic religions, etc.), Emanationists, or nihilists and atheists. Rather, the two principles that are in question are the locus for creation and whether a sentient, self-aware Absolute (‘God’) is a necessity for creation. Emanationists such as Pythagoras, Plotinus, Gotama, and others argued that complex patterns in nature were a natural consequence of procession from the One (Hen, Absolute).

According to Emanationism, the Absolute, its nature and its activity must be inseparably one thing only, namely will, such that the nature and activity of the Absolute is both one and the same (again, will) and by its very nature is also its activity ‘to will’ and wills things to be or occur, thereby maintaining the center of the logical system of Emanationism. In addition, agnosis, or the lack of Subjective gnosis, is a primordial privation which must be corrected before a metaphysical "Oneing" (Plotinus) can occur. Through this process, the transcendent yet immanent will of individuals is made self-reflexive by recollecting back further and further. Eventually it will reach that nature, the Noetic (and real) self, which is antecedent to the phenomenal, corporeal self. The ontologically transcendent yet immanent Self is seen as being one's unactualized nature, and this nature will remain unactualized until contemplation is brought to fruition, thereby bringing into actuality what had been merely potential.

According to this paradigm, creation proceeds as an effulgence from the First Principle (the Absolute or Godhead). The Supreme Light or Consciousness descends through a series of stages, gradations, worlds or hypostases, becoming progressively more material and embodied. In time it will turn around to return to the One (epistrophe), retracing its steps through spiritual knowledge and contemplation.


The primary classical exponent of Emanationism was Plotinus, wherein his work, the Enneads, all things phenomenal and otherwise were an emanation from the One (Hen). In Ennead 5.1.6, Emanationism is compared to a diffusion from the One, of which there are three primary hypostases, the One (hen), the Intellect/will (nous), and the Soul (psyche tou pantos). For Plotinus, emanation, or the "soul's descent", is a result of the Indefinite Dyad, or tolma, the primordial agnosis inherent to and within the Absolute, the Godhead.

Plotinus (a key expositor of Emanationism) in particular argued that there is no knowledge or sentience in the Absolute, and that all things noetic and corporeal were as well a logos or proportional phenomena of the emanation of and by the One. In Plotinian Emanationism, there are lesser and lesser potencies of will as procession occurs beginning from the One, through the noetic, or the soul, finally ending in base matter, which is generally seen as utter privation.

Relationship to other belief systems

Emanationism is opposed to both Creationism (wherein the universe is created by a sentient God who knowingly creates it) and nihilism (which posits no underlying subjective and/or ontological nature behind phenomena). Creation itself is merely a logos (Republic 509d-511) of the Absolute which "pours forth" as lesser and lesser potencies of the One, proceeding from the One, to the Nous, then to the Soul, and lastly as utter privation, matter (hyle), or, as Plotinus called matter, "an image of an image" (cf. Plato's Allegory of the cave). Emanationists see this paradigm for the cosmos as the model that most logically corrects the supposed inconsistencies, paradoxes and philosophical incongruities that are found in Creationism and nihilism. Though both Plotinus and Plato as well as Neoplatonist like Iamblichus spoke of the demiurge of the one or absolute monad amalgamating or crafting physical reality out of chaos. The demiurge is depicted as the agent of the one or monad.

Similar belief systems

Other models of Emanationism than that found in Neoplatonism are that of Advaita Vedanta and presecular Buddhism, both of which posit agnosis/nescience as the principle whereby emanation (proodos) occurs, by means of contemplative and assimilative techniques, the Soul is able to assimilate (epistrophe) itself in union with the One, its nature. Specifically that Gotama the Buddha said, in his 'Contingent Manifestation' (paticca-samuppada) philosophical model for the cosmos, that avijja (agnosis, nescience) was the 1st principle of 'becoming' (bhava), in a 12fold chain culminating lasting in death and reincarnation; i.e. that agnosis (avijja) of the will (citta) as pertains its unrealized natural Divinity was the uncaused cause of all becoming.

Emanationist views are found in:

And arguably Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism and the ancient Egyptian religion have elements of emanationism as well.

Emanations are sometimes featured in fiction as well, especially in fantasy fiction. Some examples include:

External links

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