Plotinus and Evil

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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9 Responses

  1. Kim says:

    Evil isn’t absolute. It isn’t one of the four fundamental forces, nor is it a characteristic of matter. It is merely a perception, communally agreed up on by people. And we all got choices.
    Love the Jewish version of why we got kicked out of The Garden:
    We outgrew it.Report

  2. Renee says:

    Epictetus: “Just as a mark is not set up to be missed, neither does evil exist in the world.”Report

      • Renee in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Thanks for the link! Although I’m not qualified to comment on the Stoics’ system of morality, I find that Epictetus to be good, practical advice to avoid jumping to conclusions about how ‘evil’ other people are. Even in regards to the Norway shooter, I think he would say that we should pity the man because he clearly has a deficient sense of what is good and bad.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to Renee says:

          Probably so. There’s a passage where he talks about having his house broken into and his possessions stolen and he blames himself for having such nice things. It’s hard to achieve that level of detachment.

          In terms of evil, I think it actually works well as an adjective- a synonym for something like ‘wantonly destructive and malicious’. I suppose we could call the Norway shooter wantonly destructive and malicious instead, but I see ‘evil’ as basically saying the same thing. I think maybe ‘a deficient sense of good an evil’ works better than just seeing it as a lack of good looking like evil. The problem I have with using Plotinus’s idea of absolute lack of good is that it fails to capture the active maliciousness of the act.

          It’s harder for me to think of ‘evil’ as an abstract noun than as an adjective, but I also recognize the foolishness of that, given that I have no problem with other abstract nouns like ‘goodness’ and ‘love’, and actually rely on a belief that they have some metaphysical reality. Certainly, Epictetus solves that problem too, but I’m not ready to take that step.

          Thanks for the comments!Report

  3. Kyle Cupp says:

    A good summary, Rufus. I’ve encountered this question among Catholic philosophers and theologians who don’t quite buy the Thomistic conception of evil as a lack of good that ought to be there and nothing more, yet don’t want to go so far as to say evil has being, which would lead to idea that God created evil. I’ve wondered if this problem arises from an approach to the good that’s too much grounded in metaphysics, specifically an approach that views the terms “good” and “being” as having separate meanings but ultimately the same referent.

    An aside: despite the tradition of evil as privation in Catholic thought, the traditional symbolism of baptism and sin figure evil as something with being and not as a mere privation: a stain, a blemish, a contaminant, something that baptism cleans and washes away.

    Anyhow, I enjoyed your framing the issue in terms of Plotinus.Report

  4. Dan O. says:

    It’s interesting that the logic of a discussion of evil in the context of Platonism logically shadows a discussion of change in the same context. What you say about the Norway terrorist, “In addition to an absence of Good, it seems as if there should have been something added to make him evil”, I could say about a star with respect to change. It seems that the mere absence of the total and constant perfection of being isn’t enough to explain the dynamism of an actual star (as we understand them physically)!

    The flying-horses imagery from the Phaedrus, and your comment regarding procreation, in a way, confirms this connection. After all, the change that leads to death is such a sinking, a sinking that also results in renewal.

    Sorry to be florid, but I’m always a bit lost in these discussions. My conception of being is organized around things that are transient, dynamic, and contingent entities. Ancient philosophers have conceptions of being whereby substances are independent entities, having their properties necessarily. I have a hard time thinking that way.Report