This is a transcript of podcast Episode 15 on the philosophy of Plotinus.
To me, remembering the important elements of Plotinus’s philosophy and Neo-Platonism as a whole is easy to remember when thinking about it and remembering it in relation to one common question about God. It’s a question that people understandably ask whenever there’s any sort of major tragedy in the news or around the world, and really…of all the arguments people make against the existence of a God, it’s one of the most common and I think one of the weakest arguments around. How can an all powerful, loving God exist and still allow evil to exist? Or…with a less narrow conception of what God is you could ask…how can evil or bad things arise from a force that’s entirely good…one that possesses no evil to begin with? You know…if we live in an ordered and harmonious Cosmos as the Greeks mostly thought…and Goodness is something that seems consistent and important to whatever maintains this order and harmony…then why does evil exist at all?
Plotinus had a really good answer to this. Unfortunately, just explaining how Plotinus would have responded to the question when it was asked to him… isn’t enough….and it’s not like his entire philosophy centers around this question anyway. But what I’m getting at here…is if you could remember Plotinus’s response to this question…and why he thought it was the truth, then by remembering one question… you could use it to remember the most important contributions Plotinus and the beginning of Neo-Platonism made to philosophy as a whole. Think of ALL of Plotinus’s philosophy as your entire wardrobe. This question is kind of like a walk-in closet…Instead of having all your clothes in a giant pile on the floor…wrinkled.. getting a shirt or a pair of pants whenever you need them…you can have them neat and orderly in a walk in closet…you can have your Summer beachwear over here…your winter wear way over there…and your old prom dresses hidden deep behind everything else…you know where it is and it makes sense in relation to everything else. This question is a walk-in closet that keeps Plotinus’s philosophy organized…and we’re going to keep referencing it throughout the episode.
First, lets set the stage a little bit…I wanna take you guys back to what it was like to live during Plotinus’s time period, because by understanding that, you can understand where Plotinus is coming from.
You’d find yourself in the year 250 AD. Late Antiquity…Right during a period of the Roman Empire with more disaster and chaos that was out of the average citizen’s control than almost any other time in the History of Rome. This time period is commonly known as the “crisis of the third century”…so just the name kind of gives you an idea of what is going on…This is a couple hundred years AFTER the Hellenistic Age…Again, another example of philosophy making huge strides during times of political and cultural unrest. Life was terrifying and difficult during this time…Constant war and disease was killing the population…and when it was all said and done, historians think the population was reduced by as much as 33%. and that’s not all…the population that survived, even in areas where no war was going on…these people still had to PAY for the constant war. Taxes soared and a lot of people were forced to move somewhere else because they couldn’t afford to be a citizen of Rome anymore. Imagine your modern day government demanding money from you and being forced to walk for a month in one direction to get to a place you could actually afford to live.
In fact, forget that example, just imagine yourself as someone living in Rome around the year 250 AD, during all these problems going on…and you have a bone to pick with Plotinus. You just had an epiphany! You’re thinking to yourself…how can an all powerful God exist when there is so much evil in the world? You think it’s an amazing point, and you’re gonna take it to Plotinus…the wisest, most highly respected philosopher sage around and say “lets see what he has to say about this question…”
Well forget what Plotinus was like for a second… let’s talk about you. Not only was there all this stuff going on at a political level.. but you would’ve found yourself living in a world not long after a massive shift was occurring in how the average person viewed themselves as a being in this world. Or more specifically, what does it mean to be a human being…what are you exactly? Think about it for a second, when you think of your “self”, what are you? Would you say that your body is part of who you are? Are you only a BODY? made up of only atoms in a universe that’s also is made up of only atoms? Maybe you think this body of yours is just where you currently reside…in this physical existence. So what are you? Are you a mind that has the ability to reason that is controlling this body? Are you like the power rangers controlling the megazord…something made of physical stuff controlling something else made of physical stuff? It’s not a simple question.
Remember in, I believe, episode two of the podcast when I did a terrible impression of a pretentious English man asking what is philosophy…and then I believe I did a terrible impression of professor snape just to flesh things out so that there was a good balance of bad spread around…probably my least favorite moment in the history of the show, but i think I’ve gotten a lot better since then…well I’d like to re-adress that question for a minute because I think it’s relevant and can add something here.
People use the word philosophy in an incredibly loose fashion. It can mean…tons of stuff. Because everyone’s definition of it is different, when different people tune in to a philosophy show like this one, people have different expectations of what the content is gonna be. Look, really…it’s no one’s fault. People see the word philosophy overused all around them…like, Howard Schultz writes on the back of a Starbucks cup, “My philosophy is that everyone deserves a hot, delicious…perfectly brewed cup of coffee” but obviously that isn’t what were talking about here.
We’re moving into a place in the history of philosophy where it starts moving in tandem with the story of religion, most notably in the west with the monotheistic religion of Christianity.
So if were trying to figure out what philosophy is exactly, then it might be a good idea to start with what experts say it is…and if you’re getting a degree in philosophy from a university…or you’re reading an overview of philosophy…Not all university curriculums cover Christianity…not all book overviews see Christianity as a notable part of philosophy. Personally, I don’t agree with that, I think it made several very notable ethical contributions, but I don’t entirely disagree with sentiment that they aren’t the same thing. I mean, why would we have two names for them if they were the exact same thing?
There’s a book called A Brief History of Thought by a guy named Luc Ferry…it’s one of those VERY GENERAL, BROAD STROKES introductions to some of the core concepts in philosophy. It’s not comprehensive, its target audience are people that have little or no experience in philosophy and it’s just trying to peak your interest or give you a skeleton to work with when you’re moving forward in your education. People ask me for further reading all the time over email, well here’s one. I’m pretty sure it’s on Audible…why wouldn’t it be. It’s a best seller. But I’d definitely recommend it, but throughout the entire book he makes the case that philosophy and religion are two very different things that try to address the same issue.
He says that we are humans. Unlike any other animal in the animal kingdom, we have the unique ability to use the pre-frontal cortex of our brain and look ahead of us and worry about what terrible things might happen to us in the future. We have the ability to look to the past and regret things that we did or may have not done. This unique ability of humans presents a very unique problem for us…it causes anxiety. It causes fear. Luc Ferry makes the case that what we fear is death…but his definition of death isnt a narrow definition where he’s only talking about the end of our bodily existence…he thinks that death is better described with the term of Irreversibility. Being humans, we worry about anything bad that might happen to us where existence wont be the same anymore. you worry about your arm getting ripped off by a passing train or bus…you might worry about your girlfriend leaving you…and then you’re just gonna be looking back on “the one that got away” for the rest of your life…we fear irreversibility. Well, both religion and philosophy give us relief from this fear. Religion makes the claim that death is an illusion…and there’s all different ways the various religions put this, but most of them say that death is just the end of this obstacle course that we’re in and then TRUE existence begins or re-begins…in some higher realm.
When seemingly bad things happen, Christianity would say that it’s all part of the providential plan of God, so you shouldn’t worry about it, God is sending you a message through this experience.
Luc Ferry says that philosophy, on the other hand, is “salvation without religion”. He thinks that philosophy is a way to look at yourself objectively and overcome this fear of death and irreversibility using only the mechanisms given to you as a homo sapien living on planet earth. You don’t need a supernatural God that tells you that death is actually something really great to overcome it, you can come to peace with death ALL on your own. So far, we’ve seen a lot of examples of this…we have the epicureans saying that there’s no reason to fear death because all you are is a collection of atoms that will simply cease to exist…we have the stoics and the Buddhists saying very similar things about the fact that if you were to be killed or bad things were to happen, they are external to you and completely out of your control so there is no reason to worry about it.
Real quick, you may wonder why things like physics and metaphysics are important in philosophy if you think this way…well, to know the best or wisest way to act in any one situation, one very important piece of information you need is to know where you are. I mean, the proper way to act in the library is completely different than the proper way to act in a night club…or a bowling alley. Luc Ferry says that we can think of physics and metaphysics as just a way of understanding exactly where we are, so that we can make further inferences.
Now if you think about it this way, then philosophy and religion are obviously VERY different from each other. There are exceptions to this RULE that he’s laid out…but by and large it is a really good way to categorize information in philosophy. This is the idea behind why many university curriculums and books don’t consider Christianity or other religions as philosophy. And really, can I just say that as a nice man that wants nothing but to entertain and empower people with my voice, the idea of doing an episode solely on Christianity is a recurring nightmare that I wake up to. Christianity back in the times of Jesus and then the Roman Empire was MUCH different than Christianity is today. Plus, because it effects SO MANY people still, there are ALL KINDS of different interpretations of what happened, how it happened, how Christianity made its ascendancy and its relation with government. It’s an absolute nightmare…its just ASKING for people to be offended…or for people to defensively offer up another interpretation. The religion itself is a pretty big part of philosophy over the years, and we WILL have episodes on philosophers, who were christian, that looked at the tenets of Christianity through the lens of philosophy. But to do an episode on the FOUNDING of the religion, not really relevant and not really a good idea.
Just think about any other story we have during this time period or before. I mean just to give an example…we talked about Seneca in our episode on stoic ethics. He lived a generation AFTER when Jesus would have walked the earth…he was supposedly an important public official…adviser to the Emperor Nero…and we don’t even know for sure that he existed. The signs point to yes, but there is uncertainty…Many people think that his writings may be two or three different people just attributed to one guy they call Seneca.
Just think about the magical and crazy stories we’ve heard about people like Pyrrho…or Pythagoras….i mean, today we’re going to talk about Plotinus who lived in TWO HUNDRED AD…and there are all kinds of stories of him summoning spirits and countering a magicians spells…we’re supposed to immediately discount these stories as though they’re completely untrue and accept the miracles that Jesus performed as fulfillment of prophecy. The point i’m trying to make is that ALL the sourcing from this time period is shaky and up for dispute, and as a podcast host I don’t think it would be fair to do a show on the founding of Christianity anyway.
One thing you cannot dispute is the HUGE surge in the popularity of Christianity, and really it was in line with that SHIFTING of how the average person of the time viewed themselves. Remember, what am I exactly? There were tons of answers to this question that came before this time period of 250 AD….I mean, pretty much every Greek Philosopher before had something to say on the matter….and really…they all had the same amount of real evidence to make these claims about what we were…they had nothing. Well now, there was a NEW thought pattern growing in popularity. People decided that they weren’t a body or a mind…they thought they were just a consciousness that controls a body in this physical world.
Humans decided what they truly were was something that closely resembled a spiritual being…not just a spiritual being…but an imprisoned spiritual being… confined, chained to bodies in this physical realm. Your body belongs to you, but it isn’t you. Kind of like your smart phone…it belongs to you…it is instrumental in how you go about your everyday existence…but your smart phone isn’t YOU.
Your true self is just a consciousness that controls this body. It’s important to note that when all these other Greek Philosophers were talking about souls… there were no implications necessarily of this soul traveling to some spirit world after you were dead… there very sporadic instances where they mentioned an afterlife of some sort… but for the vast majority of them, the soul was completely compatible with the physical world, many times as much a part of your body as your hands or feet were. If your hands were the part of your body that held things… or touched things… then the soul was just the part of your body that…reasoned…or felt emotions… or a number of different other things depending on which philosopher was speaking at the time.
Just imagine for a second if you felt that way. The people back then, more and more, began to see themselves as a consciousness… trapped in a flawed physical body… existing in this flawed physical realm that brings you suffering… just dying to return to REAL existence in this higher realm that has nothing to do with the physical world.
Just imagine feeling that way. You’re basically the main character in the movie planet of the apes…you crash land on an alien planet…actually…spoiler alert…you crash land on what you THINK is an alien planet…your ship is destroyed…you need to replace some parts or find a new ship so you can get off the planet and return to your true existence…but in the meantime…you’re trapped on this hostile alien world…just trying to make the best of it.
That would’ve been your reality. That would’ve been Plotinus’s reality. So what started to happen is people started looking for a way to get some relief from this “reality” as they saw it, and not to mention the anxiety of death and all the other problems that face you as a human in this world…and there were several narratives that gained popularity during the time to try to achieve that sense of relief. You saw Eastern philosophy start to gain in popularity in the West a bit during this time…There were several pagan approaches…but none of these caught much steam because they didn’t immediately improve the lives of the people following them like Christianity did. Plus, Christianity offered a personalized salvation, it was very appealing to people worried about their own mortality.
The most important thing we should understand RIGHT NOW… is that during this time that Plotinus lived there were various attempts at creating a system that would help people cope with this new idea of what exactly being a human is. Most commonly, this was done by creating a distinction between existence in this physical world…and what they called TRUE existence… you know… turning away from our bodily existence…and towards a higher realm of existence. Neo-Platonism was one of them.
But let’s go back to our example. You’re living during this time, you see yourself as this consciousness that’s trapped in this inferior physical realm….you have this great idea pointing out how God can’t exist because there is evil in the world and you want to talk to Plotinus. Well based on the stories that we have about him…it’s pretty clear that Plotinus was a pretty interesting guy…he’s alive a little too late to have super extreme stories about him where he’s practically a god himself…he has kind of a lessened version of the treatment people like Pythagoras got…it’s not as extreme…he ends up sounding a little less like Pythagoras and a little more like the ruler of North Korea…you know he gets stories like “he invented the game of basketball and scored 500 points in his first game playing” There’s a story of Plotinus when he’s fairly young and one of his fellow classmates got really jealous of him and cast a spell on him…he was like an evil magician…and Plotinus gets hit with the spell and his body gets all stiff, but because Plotinus had such a powerful spirit protecting him…the spell bounced off of him and was reflected back onto the person that cast it. Basically, replace the entire opening sequence of the Harry Potter books or movies with this section of Plotinus’s life…I mean come on…his mom’s love protected him…Voldemort’s spell was reflected and then he had to get geriatric care for the next 15 years…I’m just saying lets not COMPLETELY rule out that JK Rowling stole this story from Plotinus.
What I’m saying is…we have a very limited number of stories about Plotinus to work with…and these kinds of stories recur over and over again. He was seen as a sage in his time…he didn’t eat very much…he didn’t sleep very much…he was breastfed until the age of 8…and it’s clear that there was at least some sort of reason to believe that he had these sage like qualities and powers because he had a level of transcendent knowledge. He had encountered something intellectually that made him…different from everyone else. He had achieved that sense of relief that everyone was looking for. And it’s not like he just didn’t experience the feeling of being trapped on an alien planet like everyone else…he felt that too…there’s a story of someone wanting to make some kind of likeness for him to be remembered by. You know they wanted to make a painting of him…and he turns to the guy and says:
“Is it not enough to have to carry around this image? Must I transmit the image of this image as worthy of attention?”
What he meant here is that this body that he inhabits in this physical world…this isn’t the highest form of existence…this body that he’s in is already just an inferior copy…it’s just an image. Why should he have a picture painted of this false image…it’s just an inferior copy of an inferior copy. It’s like taking a Polaroid picture of a Polaroid picture. Whats the point?
Plotinus was highly respected. And if you asked him…How can a God exist who is good and powerful and still allow evil to exist in the world? How can that possibly be the case? He would say that it’s because EVIL does not exist. At least in the way YOU think about it, it doesn’t.
See, Plotinus would have heard your question and said:
“how does evil exist in the world? that’s easy…i’ll do you one better…how does ANYTHING bad exist in the world at all?”
Not just…why does God allow serial killers to exist…but also, why are people born with birth defects? why do people get cancer? Things like that. Really, Plotinus doesn’t HAVE to challenge you here, but the word he used for evil in greek is better translated in modern times to anything “bad”…so just go with it.
He would say that the reason why you’re so confused about evil existing is because you’re looking at it the wrong way. When bad things exist in the world…when evil things happen…that isn’t a presence of evil or badness…that is an ABSENCE of goodness.
Because no matter what it is…if something commits an evil act or has qualities that are bad…those qualities or acts can only exist IN RELATION to something good. We used a Harry Potter example earlier…well Lord Voldemort…we’ve all seen the depiction of him in the movies…he certainly commits his fair share of evil acts…but he wouldn’t be able to commit any of them if he didn’t have a certain level of…virility. He has a GOOD body…not a good body like an Abercrombie and Fitch model…his body…is good. He has good enough health and mobility to chase harry potter around and try to do evil stuff. You cant be an evil dictator on the level of a Lord Voldemort on a hover-round. alright? And there are other examples on Lord Voldemort…he doesn’t really have a nose. Well, at least not like a normal person. It looks like he lost it in a construction accident…but the couple slits that he does have…if we call that his NOSE then it still allows him to breathe. If a good nose is one that performs the functions of a nose well, then there is at least SOME good present in relation to his BAD nose. If there wasn’t, then the nose wouldn’t exist, and he would be dead. Everything evil or bad really should be thought of as goodness not being as good as it has the potential to be. Because if something was COMPLETELY devoid of ANY good qualities…it would not and COULD NOT exist. The physical matter things are made of also plays a big role and a little later, we’ll talk about how matter works into all this.
The genius of this lies in saying the same thing in a different way. If you took away the good of something…then the bad is always taken away with it. So bad only exists in relation to good, and is therefore just an absence of good.
And this begs the question of why there should even be an absence in the first place. Well this is the crossroads that can explained by the rest of Plotinus’s philosophy. This is a convenient pivot point…because by explaining that absence of good, we thereby explain his largest contribution to philosophy and the philosophical system that allowed him to get relief from being trapped on an alien planet.
See, this alien planet is the physical world. And Plotinus’s philosophy begins with asking what seems like kind of a weird question…How do we tell when something is something…What is a quality that everything that is something has? Well to answer this question, Plotinus looks at a lot of different individual things…
“It is in virtue of unity that beings are beings. This is equally true of things whose existence is primal and of all that are in any degree to be numbered among beings. What could exist at all except as one thing? Deprived of unity, a thing ceases to be what it is called: no army unless as a unity: a chorus, a flock, must be one thing. Even house and ship demand unity, one house, one ship; unity gone, neither remains… thus even continuous magnitudes could not exist without an inherent unity; break them apart and their very being is altered in the measure of the breach of unity.”
So in case you didn’t catch it, Plotinus says that every thing has a certain amount of unity. In order to be considered a being…you need to possess a certain amount of unity. I mean, what makes a marching band ONE marching band? Why isn’t it just a bunch of individual people in really weird costumes that specialize in playing various different instruments? There is a quality of UNITY that makes them ONE marching band. If you remember our last episode, when we compared the world of forms to IKEA, what makes the bookshelf a bookshelf as opposed to all the different parts that you get when you open the box when you get home?On that same note, what makes a clock a clock, instead of just being a bunch of different individual cogs and levers? Plotinus says what all these things have in common is that they possess unity, but they all don’t have the same amount of unity. The level of unity something has comes down to the idea that Aristotle lays out in his four causes…and if you remember, one of those four causes is the efficient cause, which the vast majority of the time is just the cause of the thing’s existence. What brought this thing into being? Well, the efficient cause of a clock is much different than the efficient cause of a dog. I mean, humans artificially created that clock’s unity…living things like dogs have a unity that is inherent…they were born with it. Plotinus says that something like a dog has a greater amount of unity than something like a clock.
And marching bands…they have less unity than either of these things…for obvious reasons.
Following this line of reasoning, Plotinus says that the more unity something has…the more real it is. Well, we’ve already talked about this concept of reality not existing in this physical world…this bodily existence…and that our true existence lies in a higher realm that were hoping to return to one day…and for the record, this is compatible with huge concepts that Plato talked about…remember his allegory of the cave that reality as we see it can be thought of as just shadows on a cave wall. Well those shadows on the cave wall that we see in our bodily existence…the inferior copies of the true forms of everything…this alien planet was what almost every single piece of Greek Philosophy before Plotinus tried to make us feel better about. We can look at the philosophy of this time period as just a means to an end of relieving the suffering of the physical world WITHIN the physical world…Greek philosophy that came before focused on achieving happiness in this physical world…but Plotinus tells us to turn away from our bodily existence and towards a higher realm where our true reality is…and this idea of unity is extremely important.
This is the part we NEED to remember for future catholic philosophy. THE MOST important part of Plotinus’s philosophy is called his “chain of being” sometimes referred to as his “hierarchy of being”. Its kind of how it sounds…its a hierarchical system…The most common visual people use to describe the way Plotinus looked at existence, and one that I think is really good, is by thinking of it as a multi-tiered fountain. You’ve seen one before where the water spouts out of the top tier and it overflows into the next tier until it overflows into the third tier and so on and so forth…Well, think of Plotinus’s philosophy as a three tiered fountain. At the very top…the TOP TIER OF THIS FOUNTAIN…is Unity. Plotinus sometimes calls it, “The One” he sometimes calls it “the good” as a harkening back to Plato..many people call it “God”…but I cant call it anything. Nobody should really call it anything. You know how the first rule of fight club is that you cant talk about fight club? Well, the first rule of “the one” is that you cant talk about the one. It is beyond description. The second you try to categorize it with words and call it something, you’re already wrong. In fact, if it wasn’t such a huge part of his philosophy, I wouldn’t have even brought it up. See, my only skill is to categorize things and make them relatable…but Plotinus has found my kriptonite. In fact, the best way for me to even convey what it is in an inaccurate way is to compare it to the second and third tiers of the fountain, so let me just tell you what all three tiers are and then ill explain how they relate to each other. The top tier is “the one”, the second tier is “the intellect”, and the bottom tier is the soul which creates the physical world that we live in.
So, things exist in this physical world. Right? They all possess different amounts of unity. And much like Plato talked about in his allegory of the cave and his world of forms…we can study things like…TREES in this physical world. We can see a million trees and write down all the characteristics about them, but we will never find the PERFECT form of a tree…and part of the reason for that is…what is tree-e-ness? it isn’t roundness…or if it’s a pine tree…it isn’t the ESSENCE of being “Green”…It’s JUST TREE-E-NESS. But we can never find that here in the physical world. No matter how hard you look, it will always have other forms in relation to it…green-ness and roundness for example. But the perfect form of tree-e-ness MUST exist somewhere…even if it’s only in thought. As we all know by now, this PLACE where these things exist is called the world of forms. Well that perfect form of tree-e-ness in the world of forms is the most unified, perfect version of a tree…and if the more unified something is the more real it is, as Plotinus thought, then that tree, even if it only exists through intellectual thought…is more real than any of these flawed shadows on the cave wall of the physical world.
This is why the second tier of the fountain is called the intellect. This is the world of forms. This is where true existence lies. We are souls that inhabit a physical body. Sure, it may seem like we exist in the sense-able world…you know the world that we can sense with our sense organs, but TRUE existence is in the intellect.
Just because trees in the physical world LOOK like trees, doesn’t mean they ARE trees. Plotinus thought of things in the physical world as more of NON-being than Being…because true being…the unified, pure forms of everything existed in tier 2…the intellect. These physical non-beings were shadows on the cave wall, or as Plotinus saw it, reflections of the forms from tier 2…cast by the soul…into FLAWED, terrible matter that distorts and dilutes everything…and that’s the world we live in. The soul is tier three. That is the function of the soul to Plotinus, to create and organize the physical world by being a catalyst between the world of forms and this crude physical matter that ruins everything. To Plotinus there was a rational soul given to humans that was a little different… and a world soul that did it for… everything else. To Plotinus, humans were really just pure intellects with an individual soul. He thought the purpose of an intellect…was to think…and try to gain understanding about the world of forms. Yeah we have all these emotions and ambitions and desires but really, those don’t make up what it means to be “me” … those are just as much a part of us as our physical bodies are. OUR true existence, and the true existence of most things for that matter lied in tier two…the intellect. So because of all that, Plotinus concludes that the goal of philosophy, and really what we should all be doing, given that we are an intellect, we should turn away from this bodily existence and towards reality by contemplating and trying to understand the forms and then eventually we will find out how fake the physical world is and that actually always connected to true existence, or tier 2.
But in this tier 2, in the world of forms, there exists a perfect form of everything. Again, if we think about it as IKEA, there is a perfect form of a bookshelf, the perfect form of the end table…the perfect form of the night stand…but even all of these things have one thing in common. they are all a single unified being, in themselves. that’s the unity that we talked about…and because of this Plotinus thinks they must all rely on something even greater than them…something whose entire being is that unity…that oneness….something that gives rise to everything. That is the first tier. The One…The Good…God…whatever you want to call it.
Through lots of imagery and storytelling Plotinus says that the One overflows and gives rise to The intellect and that the intellect overflows and gives rise to the soul which then shines reflections of these perfect forms into the terrible physical matter that makes up the sense-able world. Hence the example of the fountain.
Now, it’s not the story of HOW all of this stuff happens that’s important here, though he does go into a lot of detail. It’s not the nuts and bolts of the method in which the one somehow overflows into the intellect and so on and so forth. The IMPORTANT part is what this system means to us as beings living in the physical world. By understanding how far removed we are from “the one”…by understanding how diluted and imperfect the physical world is due to the fact that it is created by flawed matter and is the third tier of the fountain, which for all intents and purposes is a SUPER watered-down version of the first tier of the fountain. by understanding all that, we can understand why evil and bad things can exist…why there can be an absence of good. because the world we live in is a Polaroid picture of a Polaroid picture of a Polaroid picture.
So real quick, this is the closet that organizes Plotinus’s contributions. how can bad or evil exist in a world with an all powerful god? the answer is: it doesn’t. Only absences of good do. good things not being as PURELY good as they could be. And this can be explained because we exist in the physical world, the bottom rung on Plotinus’s hierarchy of being.