B. A. G. (Benjamin Apthorp Gould) Fuller.

The problem of evil in Plotinus online

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FOR their many kindnesses in helping me prepare
this book for the press, I wish to thank Mr. F. R.
Maxwell, jun. and Mr. F. Schenck who have read
the proofs in part, also Professors George Santayana
and R. B. Perry of Harvard University, who have
read them in whole. But, above all, I am indebted
to Mr. S. C. Roberts of Pembroke College and the
University Press, Cambridge, whose revision of the
translations from the Greek and suggestions for
the improvement of my own text, as well as the
friendly interest which he has shown and the en-
couragement which he has given, have made him a
collaborator rather than an assistant in my work.


PARIS, June 1912.





Preliminary Considerations. Division of the subject.
Definition and discussion of metaphysical, physical,
and moral evil. The apportionment of reward to merit . 1

Reasons why evil presents a distinct problem. Primitive
yet sophisticated character of the question . . 14

Types of attempted solution of the problem of Evil.
Four in number :

(1) Libertarianism. Evil the result of a misuse of free-

will. A Fall from an original perfection. Inherit-
ance of consequent sin and suffering.

(2) Ethical Monism. Transubstantiation of Evil by

the Absolute. Reality better for the inclusion of

(3) Naturalism. Evil as well as good purely relative

to the human point of view. Reality unmoral and

(4) Pluralism (Dualism). Evil as absolutely real as

good. Existence in the universe of obstacles and
limitations to the prevalence of the divine will,
and the establishment of the Good . .18

Review of the development of the problem of Evil in
the history of Greek philosophy. The Pre-Socratic
philosophers and contemporary "lay thought." Plato
and Aristotle. The Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics.
The Neo-Pythagoreans and Neo-Platonists . . 25






Statement of the Problem of Evil. Consideration of
pertinent features of the Plotinian system. Plotinus's
inheritance from Plato . . . . .43

The Plotinian Trinity :

(a) The Soul. Suggested by the World-Soul in the
Timaeus. Her nature and functions. The prin-
ciple of sensation and vitality. Reasons for not
regarding her as the First Principle. (1) Her
multiple character and omnipresence. (2) The
incomplete character of her functions of sensation
and synthetic reasoning . . . .46

(6) The Mind. Synoptic Reason, intuitive of Truth.
A combination of the world of Platonic Ideas and
the Aristotelian God . . . .51

(c) The One. Its incomprehensible and ineffable
character. Pure unity transcending all multipli-
city and variety, even the duality of subject and
object in thought. Inability of our experience to
furnish any predicate or category descriptive of
it. Neither quantity, nor quality, nor being, nor
good, nor consciousness, nor mind, nor even one
in the ordinary use of the term ; but above and
beyond them all. Describable in negative terms
only. Union with it attained only in a super-
rational and super-conscious state of ecstasy . 54



Metaphysical Evil and dualism a corollary of mysticism.
Philo an example . . . . . 63

Inability of Plotinus to admit either metaphysical Evil
or dualism. The intention of his system monistic.
Attempted solution of the difficulty by the doctrine, of
emanation. Creation regarded as a spontaneous over-



flow of the divine nature realizing every possibility of
being and perfection . . . . .66

Initial difficulties involved in the theory of emanation :

(a) Of distinguishing the emanation from its source.

(6) Of accounting for variety and multiplicity within

the emanation.

Plotinus's treatment of these difficulties. Distinction of
two acts or operations, one of conserving, the other of
communicating the essence. Necessity that the emana- '
tion should be different from its source. Otherwise tin-
distinguishable from its source. The emanation from
the One, necessarily not-one, that is, Many . . 71

Deduction of Mind from the One. Backward look of the
emanation towards its source. Recognition of itself as
separate from its source. Constitution of itself as Truth
and Reason. Identity of Thought and Being in an Intel-
lect the object of its own thought. Deduction of the
Categories and Ideas ..... 73

Derivation of the Soul from Mind. Soul an emanation
from Mind, the principle of life and sensation, creating,
sustaining, and animating all Nature . . .78

Derivation of the Universe from Soul. Impossible that
the power of emanation should stop with Soul. Further
possibilities of being and perfection. The corporeal
world an emanation or " overflow " from the Soul . 82

The place of Evil in such a system. Implication of
metaphysical Evil. The emanation of Mind from the
One properly a fall. Plotinus's rejection of the implica-
tion. His denial of metaphysical Evil. Exclusion of
Evil from the realms of Mind and Soul . . .83

Consideration of the difficulties involved in the Plotinian
rejection of metaphysical Evil. Discussion of the term
" perfection." Distinction of mechanical or natural,
from moral perfection. Analysis of the expression " per-
fect after its kind." Impossibility of maintaining a
theory of degrees of perfection. Perfection superlative . 89

Incidental bearing of the discussion on Theology. No
distinctions of better and worse in a perfect state. In
Paradise no difference in point of perfection and happi-
ness between God and the redeemed spirits. Heaven
polytheistic ..... .95

Failure to distinguish between natural and moral
perfection in the systems of Plato and Aristotle . . 98



Confusion consequent upon Plotinus's failure to dis-
tinguish between natural and moral perfection. The
contradiction involved in considering the perfection of
Soul as less perfect than that of Mind and the perfection
of Mind as less perfect than that of the One. The
impropriety of regarding Universe, Soul, and Mind as at
the same time perfect and not self-sufficient. General
weakness and incompleteness of the Plotinian discussion
of metaphysical Evil . . . . .99

Plotinus's defence of the perfection of the Universe
against the pessimism of the Gnostics. Outline of the
Valentinian doctrine. Its resemblance to the system of
Plotinus. The superior logic of its treatment of meta-
physical Evil . . . . . .J03

The Plotinian assertion of the goodness of'the world.
Equality of perfection not to be expected of all things.
Evil in the part not destructive of the perfection of the
whole. The folly of demanding of the sensible, the per-
fection of the intelligible world. The World-Soul not
obstructed and corrupted by the body of the Universe
as the individual soul by the individual body. The perfec-
tion after its kind of each particular genus and species
in the Universe ...... 10T

The absurdities of the pretensions of the Gnostics ex-
posed by Plotinus. Their impiety in arrogating to
themselves a spiritual nature and a special favour of
Providence denied by them to the heavenly bodies
and the earth. The foolishness of their doctrine of
the "Paradigm." The anarchistic results to Ethics of
their refusal to see any differences between the beautiful
and the ugly, the good and the evil, in the sensible
world ....... 117

Discussion of the Plotinian refutation of the Gnostics . 125



Internal imperfection of the Universe. Its failure to
realize even its proper mundane perfection. The internal
conflict and reciprocal destruction of its parts. The
presence of suffering, and, in humanity, of sin . .130



Division of the subject. Physical evil, moral evil,
and the relation between the two. Physical evil. The
Plotinian point of view broader than the Christian.
The inclusion of animal suffering in the problem.
Four symptoms of physical evil for Plotinus. (a) The
mutability of all things. (6) The failure of things
to realize their proper types and perfections. (c)
The conflict between types as such, (d) The conflict
between particulars ...... 133

The Plotinian treatment of these symptoms :
(a) The Mutability of all things. Generation and
corruption to be regarded as part of the nature,
and hence of the perfection of a sensible, as dis-
tinguished from an intelligible world. Neither the
formal structure of the Universe as a whole, nor
any particular form affected by it.

(6) The failure of the particular to realize its proper
entelechy. Application to particulars of the prin-
ciple of varieties of perfection. Each individual,
like each Form, or like the Universe, Soul and
Mind, possessed of its individual entelechy and
justified in its individual existence. Realization of
the type by the particular equivalent, on the
principle of the identity of indiscernibles, to the
destruction of the individual as such . .137

Criticism of the '; Plotinian argument. The perfection
of the individual made dependent on the failure of the
particular to realize the perfection of its type. An example
of the contradiction involved in regarding perfection as
graded ....... 142

Possible avoidance of the difficulty by recourse to the
doctrine of Ideas of individuals. This doctrine, though
held by Plotinus, not invoked by him in this connection . 146

Similarity of Plotinus's method of dealing with the
difficulty to modern systems of ethical monism. Com-
parison of his assertion that the particular, though
justified in not realizing, must still strive to realize the
universal, with the Neo-Hegelian theory that the Universe
is perfect for the very reason that we feel and act as
if it were imperfect. Both theories saved from absurdity
only by a concealed naturalism . . . . 14T

(c) The conflict of types. An obscure and difficult point.
The Plotinian appeal to logical subsumption and



organization irrelevant. Logical consistency of a
world not sufficient for its perfection. The
scientific not the only human interest. Evil not
banished by being understood and explained . 149
(d) The conflict of particulars. The Plotinian justifica-
tion of the internecine conflict between the
different parts of the Universe. The particular by
nature perishable. The death of one thing, the
life of another. Form and Matter eternal. The
transitoriness of particulars likened to the same
actor's change of mask and role. Better a mortal
and mutable world than no sensible world at all . 154
The Plotinian treatment of physical evil in its immediate r-
bearing upon human life. Similarity to the Stoic /
Theodicy. Denial that Evil exists for the wise and /
virtuous. Invocation of the dramatic analogy. The i
vicissitudes of human life to be regarded as indifferent
to essential human excellences .... 157

Conflict of Mysticism and Stoicism in the Plotinian con-
ception of the sage. Comparison of the Mystic and
the Stoic attitudes towards life. Their agreement in
disparaging external goods and ills The difference in
the quality of their equanimity. Absolute optimism v.
absolute pessimism. The Plotinian sage possessed of
both attitudes ...... 158

Discussion of the danger involved in both attitudes
Their latent antinomianism. The identity of absolute
optimism and pessimism. Pessimism, or naturalism,
preferable ethically to absolute optimism. Absolute
optimism destructive of all effort to improve the world.
A Reality already perfect incapable of improvement.
Sin and imperfection apparent only and unimportant in
such a system. Moral action always action as if the
absolute of the ethical monists, or an omnipotent Deity
did not exist. Ethical monism only saved from moral
anarchy by a latent naturalism. Statement of the
difficulties in terms of the dramatic analogy. Plotinus's
recognition of the dangers of this position. . Postponement
of the consideration of his argument . . .161

Necessity of the existence of physical evil for the sinner.
No contradiction involved in asserting its existence for
the sinner, while denying its existence for the virtuous
and wise. A Universe in which sin is punished better



from a moral point of view than one in which it is not.
The Plotinian development of the punitive relation
between physical and moral evil. Immortality, transmi-
gration of souls. Karma, or the law of moral causality.
Intermediate states . . . . . .167

Plotinus's theory of an economy in vice on the part of
the Universe. The criminal pressed into the service of
the divine justice. The violence suffered by the victims
of crime, a just punishment for misdeeds in former
existences. The criminality of the perpetrator none
the less a fact. Punishment remedial not vindictive.
** Karma " a proof of the providential government of the
world ....... 171

The difficulty of reconciling the doctrines of transmigra-
tion and " Karma " with the theory of Ideas of individuals.
The Idea, and therefore the essence, of the individual
immutable and incapable of variation in moral value.
The Plotinian treatment of the difficulty. Introduction
of the principle of Matter. Approximation to the Kantian
distinction between the "empirical" and "intelligible"
characters in the individual. Variations in moral
values involved in transmigration and the operation of
Karma, attributable to the " empirical " character only.
Discussion ....... 174

Continuation of Plotinus's treatment of the problem of
reward and merit. His failure to make sufficient use of
the notions of Karma and transmigration. His reversion
to the argument of grades of perfection. Perfect
apportionment of reward to merit not to be demanded
of a sensible world. His attack on the theory and
practice of non-resistance to evil. Possible reference to
the Christians . . . . . .179

Criticism of the Plotinian discussion. Inadequacy of
the judicial analogy, (a) The inexplicable tardiness of
the divine justice. (6) The divine justice as commonly
understood a sign of imperfection not of perfection
in the Universe. Punishment of sinners a mere
" policing " of the Universe necessitated by the
existence of Evil . . . . . .184

Moral Evil. The problem of sin. Difficulty of account-
ing for it in the Plotinian system. Attempt to shift
responsibility for moral evil from God to man. Freewill.
The implicit determinism of the Plotinian philosophy.



Emanation governed by necessity. Rigid determina-
tion within the realm of Mind, Soul, and the physical
Universe. The difficulty of reconciling moral responsi-
bility with such a theory . . . . .186

Plotinus's treatment of the difficulty. His attempt to
detach notions of responsibility and freedom from the
idea of the indifference of the will. His review and
criticism of the atomistic, hylozoistic, astrologistic, Hera-
cleitean, and Stoic theories of causation . . .194

His identification of freedom with self-determination.
The Soul a principle, active not passive, modifying as
well as modified by outer stimuli. Comparison of the
Plotinian with the Kantian view of freedom . .194

The dangers, involved in such a theory, of freeing Pro-
vidence from responsibility for good as well as for evil.
Plotinus's method of dealing with the problem. His
distinction between action in accordance with Providence,
and by Providence. The " will of God " not the source
of human volition, but a standard of good, without which
volition has no moral significance . . . .199

Another difficulty. The problem of reconciling re-
sponsibility with the freedom of self-determination.
The will,when self-determined (free), incapable of willing
other than the good ; when determined by outer in-
fluences, e.g. the solicitations of sense, not free, and
therefore not responsible. Further comparisons of
Plotinus with Kant. The inadequacy of his treatment
of the question. His irrelevant appeal to the theory
of grades of perfection . . . . .201

Criticism of the Plotinian discussion of the problem of
freedom and determinism. A possible method of dealing
with the difficulty. The process of emanation neither
free nor determined. The antinomy of freedom and
necessity not a dilemma. The terms only significant and
opposed in an imperfect world, where the expression of
the will is hampered by limitations . . . 204

Resumption of the Plotinian argument regarding moral
Evil. Attempts to explain Evil as positively contributive
to the perfection of the Universe :

(a) Reapplication of the theory of degrees of perfec-
tion. Human excellence an inferior kind of
excellence. Complete moral virtue not to be ex-
pected of man.'



(6) Parts, imperfect in themselves, capable in combina-
tion of forming a perfect whole.

(c) Evil productive of good.

(d) Appeal to the aesthetic analogy. Comparison of
the opposition of good and evil to that of hero and
villain in the play, or of notes in a musical instru-
ment. Explicit declaration of the interdependence

of contraries . . . . . .206

Dualistic qualifications of the foregoing arguments
by Plotinus. (a) Sin not a sine qua non of virtue, but
due to a residuum of irrationality which the divine
order is unable to subdue. (6) Evil necessary, not
as a contrast to set off the good, but as a lack or
diminution of good, (c) Grades of perfection identified
for the moment with grades of imperfection, (d) The
material for the world-drama found, not created by,
the divine playwright . . . . .213

The Plotinian discussion of the nature of the opposition
between good and evil. Transition to dualism and a theory
of Matter. Opposites not necessary to one another's
existence. Evil not necessary to good, Not-being not
necessary to Being. Evil necessary to good in the sense
that a last term in a series is necessary to a first. Evil
the last term in the series of emanations from the
Good. This " last " also Matter . . . .219

Discussion of dualism. Defence of moral dualism. The
question of the omnipotence of God. Analysis of the
religious demand that God shall be conceived as
almighty ....... 222



Evil excluded by Plotinus from the sphere of real exist-
ence and identified with Not-being. The problem of the
existence of Not-being in Plato and Aristotle. Not-
being for Plotinus relative and equivalent to the not-good.
Evil for Plotinus incidental to a progressive degeneration
from higher to lower levels of being. Distinction



between primary and secondary, substantival and ad-
jectival evil. Vice not substantival evil, but accidental
and adjectival in the soul. The essence of the soul pure.
Inconsistency of the Plotinian theory of Evil as a de-
generation of the Good with the doctrine of degrees of
perfection. Final definition by Plotinus of primary
and secondary evil ...... 225

Evil not determination of Matter by Form, but a blurring
of Form by Matter. Matter the indefinable substratum
of all qualities and modifications .... 234

Difficulties connected with regarding Matter as an
indefinable substratum :

(a) Epistemological difficulty of "knowing" the inde-^
finable. Plotinus's reply. Adjectival or secondary
evil known through the agency of, and by contrast
with, the Form partially obscured. Substantival
evil known by a spurious knowledge, the Platonic
vbdos \oyia-/j.6s . . . . . 235

(6) The ethical difficulty of ascribing an evil character v
to that which is without quality or determination .-
The difficulty in Aristotle. Implicit attribution
by him to Matter of a positive recalcitrancy, as
well as a positive inclination, to the Good.
Self-contradictions of the doctrine. Plutarch's
criticism. Introduction of a positive principle of
evil antagonistic to God. Matter neutral. The
doctrine of Numenius. Philo's theory of Mattel.
The Plotinian solution of the difficulty. Identifi-
cation of the positively Evil principle demanded by
Plutarch with precisely the absolute lack of form,
determination, and quality of the Aristotelian
TTpibrr) uXT?. All qualification good. Opposition of
good and evil not an opposition of qualities or
characters, but of an absolute lack of form and
character to determination as such . . . 240

Criticism of the Plotinian argument. The implicit
attribution of positive existence to Not-being. Its vacil-
lation between the conceptions of Not-being as relative
and as absolute. Similar vacillation between conceptions
of the plurality of Ideas and particulars as a variety of
types of perfection, and as grades of imperfection. Im-
possibility of regarding Not-being as the cause of Evil . 257
Resumption of the Plotinian discussion. Privation or



<TTfyr)<ris absence of essence. Vice not a privation of
good in the soul. Privation again not a quality. The
relation of Privation to Matter. Agreement of Privation
and Matter in point of indeterminateness. The relation
of Matter to indeterminateness. Indeterminateness not
a property, but the essence of Matter. Matter not
identical with all " otherness " or '* difference," but only
with difference from Being as such. Matter, then, or
Not-being identical simply with privation of Being.
Privation not destroyed by the advent of determination.
Matter not in itself rendered good by its union with the
Good ....... 259

Further questions regarding the nature of moral evil.
Vice not the same as the entrance of the Soul into Matter,
body, and generation. Matter, then, the cause of evil in
the soul. Plotinus's rejection of the Aristotelian theory
of the particular the rode TL composed of Form and
Matter. Abolition of all but a nominal distinction
between moral and physical evil .... 270

Matter as a physical substratum. Plotinus's adoption
of the Aristotelian Argument. Form alone insufficient to
account for Change. His criticism of the hylozoistic and
atomistic theories of Matter. More detailed criticism of
Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Anaximander, and Leucippus.
Conclusion that Matter in itself is without qualities,
primary or secondary ..... 274

Intelligible Matter. Plotinus's distinction between in-
telligible and sensible Matter. Intelligible Matter the
common quality and basis in the Ideas and Forms, *".#.
Being. Matter implied or created by the Idea of Differ-
ence as the medium in which the differentiation of the
Forms takes place. The indefiniteness of intelligible
Matter an image of the infinity of the One ; the indeter-
minateness of sensible Matter the image of the indefinite-
ness of intelligible Matter ..... 277

Review of the Plotinian theory of Matter. Plotinus's
combination of the Platonic and Aristotelian Theories.
Matter a law or condition rather than a stuff. Plotinus's
modifications of the Platonic and Aristotelian Teaching.
His tendency to regard Matter as absolute Not-being.
Individuation of Forms and Souls due to the Idea of
Difference ....... 282

Criticism of the Plotinian Theory. Not a corrrection



but an exposure of the self-contradictions latent in the
Platonic and Aristotelian views. Opposed tendencies
towards naturalism and mysticism. Failure of both
systems to regard the plurality of Forms and Ideas as
due to the division and diminution by an evil principle
of a single transcendent Good. Their silence regarding
the cause of the plurality of Ideas and Forms . . 284

The Plotinian confusion of the functions of Matter and
those of the Idea of Difference :

(a) Usurpation of functions of Matter by the Idea of
Difference. The difference of the particular from
its Form or Idea already logically implied in the
differentiation of particulars from one another.
Impossibility of assuming different principles for
the individuation of human and of non-human
particulars. Idea of Difference responsible for all
individuation or for none. A dilemma between
naturalism and mysticism.

(b) Usurpation of the functions of the Idea of difference

Online LibraryB. A. G. (Benjamin Apthorp Gould) FullerThe problem of evil in Plotinus → online text (page 1 of 24)