on this page

Or send us an email



Application form



Pathways programs

Letters to my students

How-to-do-it guide

Essay archive

Ask a philosopher

Pathways e-journal

Features page

Downloads page

Pathways portal


Pathways to Philosophy
Home



Geoffrey Klempner CV
G Klempner



International Society for Philosophers
ISFP site







PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal

     [home]


PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728

philosophypathways.com/newsletter/

Issue number 150 23rd February 2010

CONTENTS

I. 'The New Pathways Online Conference' by Geoffrey Klempner

II. 'An Attempt at Understanding Terrorism from a Buddhist Perspective' by  Ananya Barua

III. 'Evil in Plotinus' Hypostases of Being' by Rafael Pangilinan

-=-

EDITOR'S NOTE

We celebrate the 150th issue of Philosophy Pathways, launched in January 2001,  with the announcement of a new Pathways online conference. Rather than rely as  we have previously done on external hosting, we decided that the new conference should be maintained on our own web pages. Visually very pleasing, the  conference space makes it easy to start new topics or follow or contribute to  several lines of discussion at the same time.

As explained below, this is not a public forum. If you are not a Pathways  student or a member of the ISFP or PSOE, then consider joining: it's well worth the 10 GBP/ 15 GBP fee for ISFP life membership.

In this issue the articles by Ananya Barua, Research Scholar at Jawaharlal  Nehru University New Delhi and Rafael Pangilinan of the University of Santo  Tomas Philippines converge from different directions on the nature and  metaphysical underpinnings of evil. How does evil arise? Is evil something real in itself, or is it rather a privation arising from the failure of a process  which aims for the good but somehow misses?

Ananya Barua looks at the question of terrorism from the perspective of  Buddhist philosophy. We condemn terrorists as beyond the pale ethically. But  how do you approach the problem of terrorism if your fundamental philosophical  perspective is a non-violent one? How do you dialogue with someone who  implacably refuses to dialogue back? According to the Dalai Lama, it is only by 'long-term strategy to promote globally a political culture of non-violence and  dialogue' that we can hope to win the war on terror, for as history has shown  only too clearly the way of violence only breeds further violence.

The question of evil in the philosophy of Plotinus has long been a bone of  contention amongst scholars, not least because of the NeoPlatonist Proclus'  condemnation of the view, which he attributes to Plotinus, that matter in  itself is 'evil'. But how can that be, if matter ultimately comes from the One  which is all good? Rafael Pangilinan argues for a subtle and more generous  interpretation of Plotinus according to which the evil arises because of the  inherent difficulty in giving form to that which in itself passively resists  any act of formation. Neither the agent, the Soul, nor the recipient, matter,  is 'at fault'. The evil arises, rather, from the fact that the process of  formation is fraught with difficulty and danger.

Geoffrey Klempner

-=-

I. 'THE NEW PATHWAYS ONLINE CONFERENCE' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER

Almost exactly seven years since the Pathways online conference was launched  using the 'Internet Classroom Assistant' at Nicenet.org, I am pleased to  announce a brand new Pathways online conference for all Pathways students, past and present, as well as members of the International Society for Philosophers  and Philosophical Society of England.

The new Pathways conference was launched on 31 January 2010. To date, there  have been 95 posts on 6 topics, which is a healthy figure. I hope that this  trend continues. The long-term future of the conference depends on the  continued enthusiasm of the participants, but also requires a steady influx of  new members willing to share their ideas.

The new conference is hosted by Pathways using the most up-to-date bulletin  board software. The main advantages are speed, user friendliness and  customisability. The feedback I have received so far has been very positive.

The Pathways Nicenet conference used the old system of threaded discussions,  which was popular in its day, but has become increasingly supplanted by the  forum style of linear discussions under each topic. The main difference you  will notice, apart from the visually more pleasing format, is that members of  the conference are able to freely choose discussion topics rather than having  fixed topics set in advance by the conference administrator.

The Pathways online conference is a private, not a public forum. In order to  register as a participant you will need to obtain the conference key. Entering  the key at the URL provided will reveal a link to the conference login page  where you can pick your username and password, as well as other details such as your avatar, motto and signature. To request your conference key and URL, please email klempner@fastmail.net.

After you have successfully registered with the conference, take some time to  try out the different features provided. There are lots of bells and whistles  to explore, as well as a comprehensive and easily navigable help system.

Complete transcripts of the previous Pathways Nicenet conferences, 'The use and value of philosophy', 'Theories of existence', 'Philosophy the learning curve',  'Philosophy a way of life' and 'Last Nicenet conference' can be found by  following the links on the ISFP web site at https:---.

Enjoy your conferencing!

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2010

E-mail: klempner@fastmail.net

-=-

II. 'AN ATTEMPT AT UNDERSTANDING TERRORISM FROM A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE' BY  ANANYA BARUA

We now accept terrorism as global phenomena although what is meant by terrorism is hard to define. Perhaps we have to accept the following observation made  about the true meaning of the term terrorism:

     Terrorism has been described variously as both a tactic and
     strategy; a crime and a holy duty; a justified reaction to
     oppression and an inexcusable abomination. Obviously, a lot
     depends on whose point of view is being represented. All
     manifestations of terrorism seem to be now a global
     phenomenon. Whether it is at national or global level, an
     act of terrorism is an act of crime.[1]
    
This article is an attempt at throwing light on this difficult area called  terrorism from a perspective of universal religion like Buddhism. The article  is informed by the question what is terrorism and how does one understand  terrorism from a Buddhist perspective, and from the perspective of some of the  most renowned contemporary representatives of the Buddhist faith, like the  Dalai Lama.

Now if we ponder over the question what about a Buddhist perspective on  terrorism?, we find that it is not an easy task to define terrorism from a  Buddhist perspective. To quote Prof. Chandra Wikramagamage:

     Buddhism can respond to individual, national or global
     terrorism at two levels, namely the Buddha and the
     Bodhisattva. The level of Buddha is applicable to people of
     intellectual advancement and the level of Bodhisattva is
     applicable to the public.[2]
    
It appears that in this respect Buddhism is much closer to Jainism in spirit  that keeps provision for absolute non-violence for monks and renouncers and  pragmatic application of the principle of ahimsa for worldly people. At the  level of individual enlightenment one is on the path of spiritual progress  through constant practice of meditation, prayer, ethical conduct, suffering  sensitivity etc. That way a true Buddhist is one who takes refuge in the 'Triple Gem' (Tissrana), namely the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. The Triple Gem is also described as follows:

     The Buddha -- The acme of universal wisdom
     The Dhamma -- The perfect code of discipline
     The Sangha -- The exemplary model for a layman

It must be asserted that the Pancha Sila (Five Precepts) do not necessarily  make a person a Buddhist, but to be a real Buddhist, one has to rigorously  practice and observe the five precepts.

Buddhist sermons have a therapeutic note as well. The very practice of  non-violence will not only heal the wounds of war, conflict and violence as  well as relieve all human and social sorrows; but it can build up a peaceful  and joyful society, and tightly tie with the esteem values of equality,  fraternity and liberty. The Dhammapada's prohibition against killing, that 'All tremble at punishment; to everyone life is dear. Taking oneself as an example,  one should neither strike nor kill,'[3] is a true reflection of the way of the  Buddha. The Buddha reportedly told his followers:

     All are afraid of the rod.
     Of death, all are afraid.
     Having made oneself the example.
     One should neither slay nor cause to slay.
     Dhammapada: chi. 10

The first of the five precepts (Pancha Sila) admonishes one to refrain from  taking life, and early monastic codes list the taking of life as one of the  four grave offenses. Mahayana texts carry this rejection of violence forward;  for example, the Dasabhumika-sutra proclaims that Buddhists 'must not hate any  being and cannot kill a living creature even in thought.'[4] Historically,  Buddhists have formulated institutional and ritual supports for this ideal, as  seen in the uposatha ceremony when Theravada monks twice a month recite the  precepts and confess transgressions.

But the important question is how best to apply the most important Buddhist  teachings to our present situation. How to combat terrorism in these two levels, both politically and religiously and thereby therapeutically? In our  complicated social situation today, where the majority is more corrupt than the minority, when terrorism is the way of the world, one should explore a practical strategy to deliver the Buddhist message of non-violence to all, including the  terrorist. The question remains: in the face of the social situations today,  how to deal with the so-called material civilized waves attacking humans from a variety of aspects? How to keep the familiar tradition, human dignity, and  social order?

A Buddhist activist would firstly give persuasive explanations and typical  evidences of grave social and human damage from war, violent and terrorist  actions; and then skillfully encourage and guide humans practicing Buddhist  non-violent aims by cultivating compassion and sympathy for true peace,  happiness and welfare for oneself and all sentient beings. Even then, one finds that in its treatment of violence, however, the Buddhist tradition sometimes  offers mixed messages. Buddhism prescribes short-term goal of correcting a  perverted situation, while the main objective is the eradication of suffering  and violence and existential anxiety of all sorts.

Although in principle the Buddhist texts, doctrines, and ritual practices  advocate non-harming or nonviolence, there are occasional exceptions to these  universal dharmic principles in extreme cases like one's need for self-defense  or for protecting the helpless and the weaker one from the tyranny of the  oppressor:

     The Mahaparinrvana Sutra allows for situation when adopting
     violent means to counter and prevent more violence is
     practiced by kings, rulers and even monks taking up arms to
     protect dharma and the helpless victim. This Sutra also
     exhorts the laity to use force to protect the Sangha. And
     in the commentarial literature, Buddhist thinkers have set
     forth elaborate justifications of violence. Historically,
     some Buddhists have followed the lead of these
     reinterpretations and qualifications of the doctrine of
     ahimsa. Buddhist thinkers have legitimated violence in
     particular situations; Buddhist sectarian groups have
     engaged in warfare; and Buddhist institutions have publicly
     supported violence by rulers and their armies. It does offer a
     framework for exploring psychological causes of violence.[5]
    
If we look for the Buddha's attitude toward violence as per references made in  some Buddhist Texts including the Pali Nikayas, we find that in many cases  violence and punishment are described as a kind of lesser evil, as  unfortunately unavoidable part of the life of the householder or civil  society.James A. Stroble comments:

     The fact that these are for the most part descriptions
     rather than normative statements is to be stressed, however.
     When there is occasion for the Buddha himself to deal
     with one who is deserving of punishment, the method he uses
     is manifestly one of non-violence. The difference between
     the descriptive portrayal of violence and the normative
     example of the Buddha then establishes a distance between
     the world of the civil authorities and that of the Sangha.[6]

James A. Stroble continues:

     Where the enlightened one is said to 'have stopped moving,'
     'having done what is to be done', the king and ministers and
     householders are described as having many things to do,
     being very busy.[7]

     This then forms the basis of the distinction between the
     political and religious spheres. The political authorities
     are very busy, just as Angulimaala was very busy plundering
     the countryside; both stand in contrast to the Buddha, whose
     goal is to put an end to violence.[8]
    
The Dalai Lama puts it:

     In principle, any resort to violence is wrong. Initially,
     terrorism was a certain mixture of politics, economics, and
     religion. Now, it seems that terrorism is more individual
     and done to avenge personal grudges. So there are two kinds
     of terrorism. Countermeasures for such things are not easy.
     We need two levels. One level -- the immediate -- various
     governments are taking, including some violent methods,
     right or wrong.[9]
    
The Dalai Lama cites instances of Buddhist monks and Buddhist rulers who often  confused these two realms of dharmic and political solution to the evils of the time and in turn took recourse to violence in order to combat violence. What an  individual should do is also determined by each individual's karmic relation to the event. He continues:

     In the 1930s, one Mongolian leader became a very, very
     brutal dictator and eventually became a murderer.
     Previously, he was a monk, I am told, and then he became a
     revolutionary. Under the influence of his new ideology, he
     actually killed his own teacher. Pol Pot's family
     background was Buddhist. Whether he himself was a Buddhist
     at a young age, I don't know. Even Chairman Mao's family
     background was Buddhist.[10]
    
In the Dalai Lama's attitude, we find the basic commitment to Buddhist  non-violence at all costs when he condemns hardness of heart and dictatorship  of Buddhist kings, rulers and also of monks turned activists. In order to  prevent violence one should not transform oneself into the role model of the  enemy. However there is also some concession made for resistance and counter  attack in case of self defense etc.

In his book Instinct for Freedom the contemporary dharma activist Alan Clements, a former Buddhist monk in the Burmese tradition of Mahashi Sayadaw puts the  constraints that make the path of love and ahimsa almost ineffective when one  faces a murderer or a psychopath who becomes killer machine: 'How can one  mediate for peace when brothers and sisters are being killed and to love when a gun is pointed on your head...?'[11] the monk turned activist comments. Is there any way to correct the situation within Buddhist scheme? To what extent one can  go on keeping options for dialogue in peace and love even with the one who has  fallen from the path? when this dialogue seems to be an impossibility and the  terrorist and the dictator needs to be addressed by force and manipulation  rather than by religious and therapeutic means? Here the Dalai Lama gives some  hints when the Buddhist monk faces an extreme situation while facing a  terrorist whose mind is close to all kinds of dialogue and who is just a man  turned machine robotically killing others when acts of violence become a  meaningless but obsessive ritual.

The Buddha's pragmatic and therapeutic approach to the human suffering keeps  room for healing the wounds of one and all. Those who are caught in the vicious circle of past karmas and the wrong and evil effects of those karmas are often  victims of wrong acts, wrong intentions, wrong mindfulness etc. which are to be corrected by Buddhist guidance. But is the terrorist a victim or a perpetrator?  Buddhism will prescribe a special treatment for one who inflicts suffering to  others, a terrorist. He is more a victim and his case is diagnosed as pathos.  No ordinary dialogue is possible in extreme cases when the terrorist is closed  to all such humanitarian appeals simply because his mind is closed to dialogue. Once there is no scope for dialogue and all kinds of interpersonal talks fail,  there is no other way but to identify the situation as pervasive and pathetic  which needs urgent intervention for restoring its human dimension.

Against this background, being firmly rooted in the path of Truth and  non-violence which can also take a pragmatic approach to the constraints of any kind of abnormal situation like extreme cases of violence and terrorism, the  Dalai Lama, a lifelong champion of non-violence, maintains utmost restraint and expresses doubts if sheer good will and optimism would suffice. When the so  called partners in peace dialogue do not stand on equal footing and when there  is no reciprocity between the one and the other, between the one who talks and  the one who listens, dialogue becomes monologue and the situation becomes  dehumanized. Dialogue is feasible when there is openness from both sides.

Terrorism cannot be tackled by applying the principle of ahimsa or non-violence alone if the minds of terrorists are closed and non communicative:

     The Tibetan spiritual leader termed terrorism as the worst
     kind of violence, which is not carried by a few mad people
     but by those who are very brilliant and educated... but a
     strong ill feeling is bred in them. 'Their minds are closed,'
     the Dalai Lama said.[12] 'Terrorism is the worst kind of
     violence, so we have to check it, we have to take
     countermeasures.' With terrorists, the Dalai Lama said,
     applying a Buddhist analysis, 'their whole mind is
     dominated by negative emotions.'[13] But he emphasized
     that 'the real antidote' to terrorism in the long run is
     'compassion, dialogue -- peaceful means' even with
     terrorists. 'We have to deal with their motivation,' he
     said. 'Terrorism comes out of hatred, and also
     short-sightedness.'[14]
    
However Buddhism seeks to offer a framework for exploring psychological causes  of violence:

     Man should remain explorers of one's inner dimension and
     its strength and weaknesses and seek to curb the roots of
     all passions and hatred. All these spring from the human's
     Threefold Defilements (desire, hatred and ignorance).
     Central to the Buddhist analysis of the cause of duhkha
     (suffering) is the doctrine of the Three Poisons: greed or
     craving, anger or hatred, and ignorance. Buddhism prods us
     to look at these defilements in ourselves and those who
     might confront us, and how, in each of us as both
     perpetrator and victim of violence, these hindrances derive
     from certain conditions and cause certain actions. The
     second of these defilements, anger and hatred, relates most
     directly to violence.[15]
    
     Due to demands of fame and wealth, of social position, of
     mammon, of personal property, of promotion, and of various
     other desires, etc. in modern life, man has become a
     hireling of lust, anger and delusion. Even though he has
     been able to win and subdue nature with all sorts of
     advanced scientific inventions, he has still failed and is
     tied down with the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness
     and death.[16]
    
Even though recognition is made of the vicious circle of karmic chain of greed, delusion, shortsightedness, temptation, insensitivity etc. That are the root  causes of violent activities on earth, the circle continues and one reaps good  and bad results of good and bad karmas and the situation worsens unless there  is opening in human nature and human mind to receive spiritual and moral light. Once the mind is completely closed to such openings even the best spiritual and  healing aids also become ineffective in humanizing that perverted mind. In such cases, Buddhism offers a pragmatic solution to terrorism by pointing out both  short term and long term strategies to humanize an inhuman situation.

But the hope remains that one day mankind will peruse the path of non-violence  and love. As the Dalai Lama comments:

     Therefore, at the general public level we must cultivate
     the notion of not just one religion, one truth, but
     pluralism and many truths. We can change the atmosphere,
     and we can modify certain ways of thinking. second, there
     should be a spirit of dialogue. Whenever we see any
     disagreements, we must think how to solve them on the basis
     of recognition of oneness of the entire humanity. This is
     the modern reality. When a certain community is destroyed,
     in reality it destroys a part of all of us. So there should
     be a clear recognition that the entire humanity is just one
     family. Any conflict within humanity should be considered
     as a family conflict. We must find a solution within this
     atmosphere.[17]
    
     What is required is a well-thought-out, long-term strategy
     to promote globally a political culture of non-violence and
     dialogue. The international community must assume a
     responsibility to give strong and effective support to
     non-violent movements committed to peaceful changes We must
     draw lessons from the experiences we gained. If we look back
     at the last century, the most devastating cause of human
     suffering has been the culture of violence in resolving
     differences and conflicts. The challenge before us,
     therefore, is to make this new 21st century a century of
     dialogue when conflicts are resolved non-violently.[18]
    
Footnotes

1. International Terrorism and Security website:
    http:---

2. Wikramagamage Prof. Chandra 'Buddhist response to global terrorism'
    http:---

3. Kalupahana, David J. Dhammapada, translated New York: University Press of  America, 1986. p.221

4. Ives, Christopher. 'Sitting with Violence ' in Buddhist Responses to Violence
    http:---

5. Stroble, James 'A Study of the Status of Violence in Early Buddhism' in  Buddhism and War
    http:---

6. Quoted in Ibid.

7. After meeting in person Angulimala the monk, king Pasenadi says to the  Buddha: 'Him, revered sir, that I was unable to tame with stick and sword, the  Lord has tamed without stick and sword. Well, I am going now, revered sir, I am very busy, there is much to be done.' Majjhima Nikaya II.102, PTS no. 30, p. 288. Vassakaara, Chief Minister of Magadha, says, 'Now we shall depart. We have  many affairs (to attend to), much to do.' Digha Nikaya, Mahaparinibb na Sutta,  135; Burma Pitaka Assoc., p. 191.'

8. The Dalai Lama Interview by Amitabh Pal, January 2006 Issue
    http:---

9. http:---

10. Christopher Ives Buddhist Responses to Violence
    http:---

11. The Role of Buddhist Preacher: A Modern Ven. Dr. Thich Quang
    http:---

12. The Dalai Lama Interview by Amitabh Pal, January 2006 Issue
    http:---

13. ibid.

14. ibid.

15. Ives, Christopher. 'Sitting with Violence ' in Buddhist Responses to  Violence
    http:---

16. The Role of Buddhist Preacher: A Modern Ven. Dr. Thich Quang
    http:---

17. http:---

18. ibid.

(c) Ananya Barua 2010

E-mail: barua.ananya@gmail.com

-=-

III. 'EVIL IN PLOTINUS' HYPOSTASES OF BEING' BY RAFAEL PANGILINAN

We know of Plotinus' life primarily because Porphyry, his pupil and colleague  collected and edited his works, dividing some of the larger treatises to make a total of fifty-four, or six groups of nine ('Enneads,' or 'nines') which became  known as the six Enneads. The first of these deals with ethical matters, the  second and third with the physical universe, the fourth with soul, the fifth  generally with intellect and the three major realities, or hypostases (the One, intellect, and soul), and the sixth with being and the One.

Plotinus' influence has been immense in the history of thought, from the  development of later Neoplatonism in Christian, Jewish, and Arabic thought, up  to the Renaissance period. In the twentieth century, and earlier too,  philosophy was unsympathetic to Neoplatonism not only because of its difficulty but also because of its apparent mystical, religious, occultist, and  metaphysical qualities. Our modern materialistic emphasis upon the facts and  nothing but the facts does not exactly predispose us to alternative paradigms,  to other more spiritual forms of thought, or even to deeper examination of the  puzzling question of just what the nature of fact might be. This is unfortunate because Plotinus is the greatest philosopher after Plato and Aristotle until  Augustine, and his influence in the West, though so often hidden or transformed by subsequent figures, has been immense. The only way really to decide these  matters is to read Plotinus for ourselves, keeping an open mind, and being as  well disposed to what we read and yet thoroughly critical of it at the same  time, as he and Plato before him would have expected and, indeed, first  insisted upon.

Without promising to be exhaustive, this paper shall reassess and answer, if  possible, one scandalous and much fought over question of Plotinus studies: is  matter in the Enneads to be identified with evil? In the Neoplatonic context I  am going to treat evil as whatever is not in order with the world in single  aspects or as a whole, or, more Platonically speaking evil is whatever can be  adduced as responsible for the fact that the world falls short in so many  aspects of the perfection one would expect it to have considering its single  and utterly good ontological origin.

The Problem of Evil and its Sources

To Plotinus, who claims to give a coherent account and a unified view of  Plato's philosophy, the problem of evil presented itself in the following  manner: evil is a deficit in the earthly realization of normative standards,  the deficit being due to the corporeal constitution of things and/ or to a  certain fault of the soul.[1] Roughly speaking, a Neoplatonic answer, on these  premises, would face two possibilities: 1) to blame evil on a fault of the soul (inasmuch as it is the form-giver of bodily things), or 2) to link up evil with  the material condition of things, and ultimately with matter itself.

In the face of the difficulty of reconciling these alternatives, interpreters  of Plotinus have always been tempted to opt for one of the two possibilities,  developing their theories at the expense of the other one. Most scholars share  a view according to which Plotinus, in his old age, dismissed his earlier  theory of the soul-flaw, and by the time he wrote Enneads I.8{51} had totally  adopted the explanation of evil as matter. The problem with this thesis is this: if matter is identified with evil (and even evil itself), that either 'brings us back to the paradox that Good makes evil'[2], or it will lead us to admit the subreptive assumption of a dualism of principles -- stemming from  Middle-Platonism or elsewhere -- in Plotinus' thought. The latter, however,  contradicts the fundamental monistic key-note and creed of his philosophy as a  whole, as well as the explicit anti-dualist statements to be found -- not only! -- in Enneads, II.9{33}.

In contrast, a relatively small (but obviously growing) number of interpreters  has tried to blame evil in the Enneads on a metaphysical fault or flaw, on the  fall or debasement of a world-forming spiritual entity -- which, in Plotinus'  philosophical system and in accordance with the motifs in Plato's Laws and  Phaedrus, would have to be the soul. But how could that be, if Plotinus  excludes every kind of evil from the realm of the intelligible the soul  inhabits?[3] In addition, a conflict of congruency seems to arise when one  takes seriously Plotinus' position that the visible universe as a whole and the soul as pertaining to the realm of the intelligible are to be considered as good ,[4] but that the necessary coming together of soul and matter must be thought  of as the beginning of evils due to a sin of the soul.

But, as I shall try to show in what follows, there is a way to combine and  reconcile both of these possibilities by proving them to be complementary in a  consistent theory of evil as Plotinus conceived it.

Matter, Soul, and the Diffusion of 'Perfection' or 'Goodness'

A short glimpse of both candidates -- soul and matter -- will be necessary: in  his typical top-down arrangement of reality generated through the ontological  flux coming from the one and ineffable Origin, there is one repeated pattern  that Plotinus offers as an explanation (or sometimes rather as a description)  of how one ontological level is derived from the other (that is, of what is  frequently labeled emanation). According to this explanation, a superior  reality of higher ontological intensity generates a hypokeimenon, an at first  completely formless ontological substrate meant to serve as an undetermined  outlet for the further extension of being coming from above. It is only by a  posterior[5] taking shape of its own identity (in a participation in forms)  that the emanate becomes another, ontologically lower-ranging, but nevertheless well defined degree of being, a grade of reality resembling its superordinate  generating reality on a lesser level. The formless hypokeimenon is what  Plotinus calls matter. In this sense, the soul-level, too, when first brought  forth by the Nous, is to be considered as such an formless substrate and as an  undefined potentiality, as 'matter' in regard (or as compared) to the already  ontologically defined generating reality. Soul becomes a reality of its own and in itself only when exercising its proper activity in imitation of and  self-identifying, so to speak, distinction from the Nous.

Now the hypokeimenon brought forth by the soul-level in preparation of soul's  own onto-generative activity (in imitation of the Nous), is the sort of matter  one could compare in a way to Aristotle's prime matter. This -- as Plotinus  insists -- inferior matter is what we will identify as the (in itself)  structureless fabric, which underlies material-matter as we know it of the  bodily universe. And it is only this soul-dependent inferior matter which will  play a role in the following considerations concerning evil.[6]

What is important is this: in Plotinus, soul and matter are to be defined as  standing in a complementary relationship to one another within the dynamics of  the diffusion of good and being: namely matter as the hypokeimenon of soul's  self-identifying activity. Soul, therefore, definitely does right and acts well and according to Good (which it ultimately stems from and will have to revert to) when in imitation and prolongation of what Nous does, it enables the  diffusion by bringing forth a hypokeimenon meant to serve as a necessary  substrate for a subsequent level of reality. For

     the intelligible could not be the last {sc. level of being},
     for it had to have a double activity, one in itself {i.e.
     the self-identifying activity} and one directed to something
     else {i.e. the passing on of being to another}. There had,
     then, to be something after it, for only that which is the
     most powerless of all things has nothing below it.[7]
    
The dialectics of a double activity towards itself and towards the next lower  level is a recurring thought in Plotinus: every new ontological product has to  gather itself at first, so as to constitute its own identity out of the  ontological flux which brought it forth as an undifferentiated potentiality. It is only then that it can turn to its own ontologically generative activity (the  different levels a water-fountain successively fills are a handy and often used illustration of this double aspect of emanation and of how to understand it:  only when the upper basin nearest to the water-source is completely filled up  with water, will it overflow to thus fill up the one beneath, and so on) for in its self-identification, every reality recognizes its origin, and in attaining  awareness of its first Origin, it recognizes itself as a lesser image of this  Origin, of Its utter One-ness (in the act of turning to itself) as well as of  Its perfect undiminished radiation of being (in turning its activity onto  another).[8] In Enneads, II.4{12}.5.32ff, too, Plotinus explicitly lingers over the question of how everything produced by the undifferentiated flow of being  obtains its proper definition by reverting towards the O/one it ultimately  comes from. This is how every ontological level produces an ontologically  lesser alter ego of itself.[9]

What Evil is Made of

As long as this -- roughly sketched -- process develops without any impediment, everything will be in order. And it is for this is exactly what Plotinus states  of the realm of the intelligible. In the level of reality subsequent to the  last degree of intelligible life, that is, to what ontologically follows the  soul, however, this process seems to have been seriously interfered with in  some way. It is by that interference or damage that what is negative comes into our bodily universe. And it is by that circumstance that the source of evil is  to be sought and can be found.

What I would like to show now is that this cacogenic damage has to do with the  hypokeimenon of soul's activity, namely matter -- and at the same time that  matter cannot be simply identified with evil itself merely for that reason.  Strictly speaking, matter is just the last possible degree of the derivation  sequence from the One. As the passage from Enneads, II.9{33} quoted above shows, the soul's activity produces something which lacks any proper energeia or  actuality and which therefore lacks any ability to identify itself  ontologically by reversion or by steadying itself as an entity in its own right vis-a-vis the ontological flux. As soul[10] transmits the stream of being, it  does not produce an ontological reflection or alter ego of itself, but an  ontological opponent or contrary (so to speak), a negation of its energetic  self, which is matter.

Interpreted according to the purport of the Platonism, Plotinus considers this  not something any more, but merely as an ontological chasm.[11] Necessarily,  this last, meontic[12] degree signifies the total ebbing away or stoppage of  the energetic process of successive self-defining levels of being, and the  necessary end of that process: hence the statement in Enneads, II.9{33}.8.21ff  that only and finally that which is the most powerless of all things has  nothing below it -- this might be an allusion to the necessity-formula of  Theaetetus 176a as well as a reminder of Plotinus' constant rapprochement (if  not identification) of energeia and ousia. So the expiration of all actuality  in the matter-level, opposite the intelligible hypostasis, signifies the end of the derivation process. This is what matter is, and this is what it should be  considered as: the final product of a dynamic process it concludes, it depends  on, and in turn affects.

Along the same lines, Plotinus metaphorically speaks of matter as 'begging', 'bothering' or (as Plotinus' choice of words might suggest) 'instigating' soul  for the communication of form and for the transformation of its unfitness into  reality: and when Plotinus explicitly speaks of how matter by this constant  begging and bothering and as 'matter's indefiniteness distresses it'[13]  becomes soul's evil, then it should be clear that this statement should, or  rather must be read and can only be understood clearly within the complementary context of soul's activity in the diffusion of being. As a matter of fact, the  perspective Plotinus adopts is plain enough: he speaks exclusively from the  soul's point of view on matter, telling how soul feels bothered by formless  matter's simultaneous greed and incapacity for being.

It is a distinctive feature of this construction that matter displays an  unexpected tendency towards good (which is form-giving) in its powerless will  for realization and for transformation into being, and in its yearning for  substance: matter wants to, yet cannot, imitate the higher hypostases'  self-defining reversal. Matter thus strangely partakes (if only in its own  awkward way, namely via negativa) in the principle of the good diffusion all  Neoplatonic derivation rests upon. One should stop to think about the  far-reaching implications and the serious consequences this Plotinian doctrine  has: the very matter denounced as evil and evil itself, by its nature has an  inward connection with and a laudable tendency towards Good and a (admittedly  passive) role in the transmission of being, in the diffusion. How is this to be understood, and what has all this, as the quoted passages of the Enneads suggest, to do with evil coming into the world?

Plotinus gives a hint in ch. 28 of the Enneads VI.7{38}. Actually, Plotinus'  argument is quite revealing; what makes it look like a mere hint is the at  first sight awkward example he embellishes his thoughts with. What Plotinus  says here is, I am convinced, the following: what makes us talk of evil as  equivalent to matter is the fact that formless matter, in its powerlessness,  begs and bothers soul for the communication of form. But at the same time,  matter is not able in any way to receive and to hold and contain form. Rather,  forms 'come upon matter like a good dream'[14] that seems to bring some order  into it.

Soul indulges in the idle dream of transferring forms onto formless matter,  taking them from the intelligible realm.[15] Yet this process of shaping the  formless remains entirely on the soul's side and does not reach matter nor have an effect on it. This awkward situation made Plotinus observe that due to the  formlessness of matter, objects appear to be where they in reality are not[16]  -- because in reality the forms remain within the soul. Plotinus presents us  here with a strange hylemorphistic negation of hylemorphism -- but a fitting  piece of his philosophy entirely in accord with his fundamental ideas and basic conceptions, let alone his eagerness to interpret Plato flawlessly. And of a  piece with Plotinus' theory of evil, too, as I want to outline in the following. Because matter's complete incapability of form-reception and inaccessibility  for structure, as well as soul's complementary drifting away in daydreams when  making this inert matter the object of its natural tendency of the transmission of forms[17] will show the way to a better solution of the matter-evil problem.

Evils Arising

So far, matter's relation to soul (and vice versa) has been discussed. At least two things should be clear by now. First, although Plotinus speaks of matter as  inert, structureless, powerless, and obnoxiously incapable, etc., this does not render matter evil. The nature of matter is necessary, as to place and function, and in its own way fitting (though admittedly unfit), and appropriate  constituent of reality as a whole. It has its proper place and sense within  this derivation process and to consider it outside of this process is  impossible and methodologically doubtful. Matter as passive potentiality is  nothing in itself but all-dependent on others. Matter itself is an oxymoron, to a certain extent, for Plotinus, and always to be referred to as if written in  quotation marks, and this should duly arouse suspicions whenever a trite  identification of matter and evil itself is proposed.

Second, matter does not always instigate soul to perform an inadequate waste of form-transmission on its formless hypokeimenon. From case to case, soul  profitably and agreeably 'dreams' forms into matter, and the most prominent  example of this achievement is the universe as a whole, which like a living,  perfect and beautiful work of art is an accomplished and joyful projection of  forms by the world-Soul into matter.[18] Plotinus reminds us of all that in the elaborate passage on Soul's activity in building the corporeal realm. But  individual souls can contact matter without any harm done as well. They on  principle are strong enough to perform their activity in matter without doing  wrong and without evil coming to pass. Finally, the 'visible gods,' i.e. the  planets, are corporeal, hence material, but are free of all evil. So it is not  by the mere presence of matter that a presence of evil can be diagnosed, which  makes it difficult to believe that matter in Plotinus can be commuted with evil. In consequence, even lower matter is not the carrier or bearer of evil, let  alone evil itself, and therefore not in itself the cause for whatever is not in order with the world.[19] And neither is the form-bringing S/soul-principle, of  course. And neither matter nor soul is to be considered as evil in actuality,  since both do definitely serve the good diffusion.

Yet evils come into the world exactly when both, soul and matter, get in  contact in the constitution of the bodily cosmos. Plotinus, just like other  Neoplatonists, has given the question of the individual soul's fall into matter a great deal of thought. He speaks of soul's sin and forgetfulness, etc. In its  deplorable condition of complete powerlessness and formlessness, matter by  merely being there (not by acting on its own initiative, hence passive)[20]  incites the soul to act upon it.

In its utter incapacity for self-identification matter needs to be  ontologically replenished, reverted towards Good, by another.[21] This other is, of course, soul as standing next to it in the sequence of the procession of  being. Accordingly, Plotinus can maintain his dogma of the utter goodness of  the intelligible realm and at the same time explain how and why it is that  soul's activity in the bodily sphere can have evil as a consequence: it is  because soul's entirely well motivated intentions of form-giving despair  vis-a-vis matter's completely formless inability to be formed. This passive  resistance to the communication of form makes it clear why matter is called  evil in the Enneads. But it should be equally clear now that when Plotinus  calls matter evil, this can only be meant within a dynamic process it stands in, depending on and passively acting on others. Finally, it should be clear that evils belong to the ontic world.

Matter's neediness and simultaneous incapacity for receiving form, its  relational ousia, is the center of Plotinus' doctrine of evil. The receiving of being which constituted the different ontological intensities and well-defined  degrees of being so far, is lead ad absurdum in matter's unlimited  receptiveness which has no measure anymore.

This is why matter is to be considered a privation, corruption, obstruction,  and disturbance of soul's -- in principle -- positive and laudable activity.[22] Matter's reduction of soul's formative task to Sisyphean (absurd) toil,  results objectively in natural evils, the sufferings soul experiences when  ordering the bodily universe, i.e. pains, sicknesses, hunger, deformities, as  well as ugliness and other imperfections and troublesome hindrances and  shortcomings of all kinds. The subjective consequences are to be found in  soul's further involvement in a mere mirror-reality of imperfect form-dreams,  an entanglement which paralyses and hardens it, which dilutes its attention and turns it away from what it should do (which is to revert towards Good and to  live in the sphere of the intelligible and the true forms)[23] and perverts or  darkens its perception of what is real and right. This is what Plotinus  understands by moral evil, that is sin, wickedness, and everything else which,  as Plotinus fears, will drag us deeper into the morass of natural evils.

It is in an almost tragic shift of circumstance that the interpreter learns why, when speaking of the unending dynamics of ontological generation and  reversion, Plotinus calls matter evil: As we contemplate matter for  philosophical investigation's sake, we seem indirectly to grasp a negative  notion of it as not being, as mere passive thing, as ontologically void of  reality, etc., in short, as the very pre-ontic substratum all matter is without being evil. Plotinus shows that evil is not to be considered as an entity, but  as privation, i.e. in relational terms. Believe your eyes: Plotinus is saying  exactly what Proclus says when allegedly criticizing Plotinus and when in fact  criticizing the doctrine of matter's identification with evil:

     For it is not called evil because it has, but rather
     because it has not quality; so that perhaps it would not be
     evil if it was a form (eidos) instead of a nature opposed to
     form. But the nature opposed to form is privation; but
     privation is always in something else and has no existence
     by itself.[24]
    
As we attempt to define matter in itself, we must at the same time admit that  we cannot, at least, not if we take Plotinus' philosophy seriously. Matter as  mere potentiality is all-dependent on realization 'from above', is  ontologically all-awaiting and nothing else. Matter can only be adequately  grasped (if ever) when seen within the dynamics of the ontological process  within which it makes sense as the final constituent. And the same is true for  Plotinus' doctrine of matter as evil: the 'other', which matter awaits being  from, is soul, and it is as a constituent of the by nature interrelated  procession and return that matter can become a lethal trap for its formative  principle whose action it passively provoked by just being at hand as a totally indeterminate substratum for soul's natural energeia. An energeia, on the other  hand, which was not meant to be wasted on an absurd losing of the soul's self  to the mere mirror of matter, but to be the energy of reversion towards the  higher truths and real forms.

Summary

A brief synopsis of what has been said on matter and evil in Plotinus can be  given, I am confident, in some sort of short catechism of seven little steps.  With these seven steps, I hardly pretend to do more than to give an exegesis of what Plotinus summarizes in Enneads, I.8{51}.14.38-55:

1) Matter, in Plotinus' view of the procession, is necessary and necessarily  structureless, a void hypokeimenon, and strictly evil.

2) How can matter thus conceived be evil?

3) Plotinus' answer is: though completely passive, matter stimulates the soul  to act upon it, but since matter is completely structureless, individual soul's Sisyphean (absurd) action upon it, from case to case (and, in effect, in most  cases), is painfully in vain, which is how evil come into the universe, as  shown.

4) So why does Plotinus call matter evil at all?

5) He does so by expressing an ensemble of thoughts in agreement with his  agent-relative way of doing philosophy. Metonymical expressions are an almost  typical stylistic feature in Plotinus and denote the perspective of the  philosophical agent speaking. Cf. Plotinus' repeated references to forms  ordering and shaping matter when in reality (which he discloses in just one  remote passage and cryptically enough, as he obviously cannot state it directly) he thinks that forms never do order matter, but that souls (as relative  agents) dream forms towards matter, matter remaining without forms and forms  remaining within the soul's realm just as our daydreams remain within our minds and do not shape clouds whatsoever.[25] I should claim that talking about matter as if it were something 'in itself' and about matter as evil are such 'agent-neutral' shorthand ways of talking as well. Plotinus states this, in fact, in Enneads, I.8{51}.5.11-13: 'when we say it 'is', we are just using the same word for two different things, and the true way of speaking is to say it 'is not ''. Plato's Phaedo (102b) reminds us about our references to relations.[26]

6) But can that be maintained in the face of the fact that Plotinus even calls  matter the prime evil?

7) There must be something underlying the phenomenal forms of evil, and these  should just be taken as different expressions of one subjacent pattern or  common origin. Now what is the type (negatively spoken) of all these different  occurrences, what is the one evil at the very bottom of all the different evils? Well, firstly: something which as a type of multiple occurrences can be  Platonically called a first evil, and which can be seen as such a thing  independently of all accidental determinations and singular circumstances, i.e., a metaphysical pattern. And secondly: it does not necessarily have to be  something in the sense of some entity or principle[27] or -- in the worst of  cases -- a substance, not even in the sense of a proto-substantial hypokeimenon such as matter might be conceived. The evil as presented by Plotinus can be a -- paradigmatic, in a negative and passive way -- state of affairs, a flaw, a  misconnection, an event, etc. as well. And it is. It is such a flaw and  combination defect in the sense explained in 3), and particular evils are its  concrete multiple outcomes.[28] Compare it to such obviously recurring events  in the course of history that could make us believe in circular history, in  history repeating itself: there is no substance at the root of all this; just a pattern of all too human standard relationships (and their failure) that  obviously won't pass away.

These are only a few and fairly small steps, and they are easily reconcilable  with Plotinus' illustrative and elliptical idiom, as well as smoothly  comprehensible within the philosophical guide of the Enneads. In comparison,  the gain is enormous for whoever wishes to submit a rational reconstruction of  Plotinus' philosophy must take his philosophical premises and intentions  seriously.

This sounds banal. But for Plotinus' explanation of matter this implies that  one is to follow his basic tenet of the first producing Principle's complete  and utter Goodness, Its sole causation, and Its omnipotence down to the detail. And this means that the interpreter has to apply this tenet all the way down to  the procession from the One and even to the very last outpost of this  procession, which is matter. To avoid paradoxes (such as Good producing evil)  and inconsistencies (such as a tacit dualism of principles, one entirely active and good, one totally evil) in the interpretation of Plotinus, and to avoid,  above all and even more calamitous, imputing such paradoxes and inconsistencies to Plotinus rather than to oneself, a consistent explication of matter and evil  in the Enneads should run like this: the One produces whatever it produces  completely and flawlessly. The generation of being stemming from it brings  forth matter as the last possible offspring in the ontological procession.  Matter, as the hypokeimenon of soul's activity, has what no emanate or  hypokeimenon had so far, i.e., passively and potentially (never in actual or as such, neither of which ever applies to matter) the disposition to wake evil in  the constellation and manner described above in its exasperating interaction  with soul which experiences it as completely inert and in no way apt for  formation. This is why matter, in an ensemble of thoughts which turns our  attention from a view of matter per se to Plotinus' conception of the problem  is called the evil in the Enneads.

Matter thus and in a way as awkward as its own meontic being completes the  perfect order and scaling of the entire cosmos, or at least it does so as long  as it remains pure passive power not in contact with soul. Only when soul comes upon it in a certain wrong way which does not have to be wrong but can be wrong, evils come into the world: there was no need for them to come about, but it  happened.[29]

As it is easy to see, the problem in this paper was strictly narrowed down to  the question of matter and evil; for that limited scope, what I said should  suffice. However, it should have become clear that a second constituent is  lacking for a thorough explanation of evil and its coming about. That second  constituent is, of course, soul's role in the drama of evil, and an  interpretation of what it means that the soul sins and falls, etc. For now, I  should just like to point out that the fact that my interpretation of matter in Plotinus' normative ontology cannot stand alone but needs a complementary view  on the coherence of his philosophical system, makes a strong point in favor of  its accuracy, and, if I may be so bold, of its Plotinian spirit.

Some Possible Consequences

No doubt, this interpretation of matter's status and normative assessment in  Plotinus' ontology takes getting used to. As a methodologically advisable  difficult selection of Plotinus' own wording and as a correction of ingrained  views on Plotinus, it takes on the standard reading of, above all, Enneads, I.8 {51}. It is an attempt to interpret the problem according to the spurious  reasoning or indeed very diverse kind of reasoning, etc. Plotinus himself holds to be necessary here a reference to Plato's Timaeus 52 b), taking seriously, at  the same time, the metaphysical images and illustrative allusions and hints to  which he has recourse.

On the other hand, this interpretation would also allow recognition of Plotinus' doctrine of evil as the pattern underlying all (or at least most) subsequent  Neoplatonic explanations of the origin-of-evil problem, including those of the  Christian Neoplatonists who, like Augustine, Boethius, (Pseudo-)Dionysius the  Areopagite, and even Anselm of Canterbury, could not consent to a thesis  identifying matter with evil (since the fall of the angels has nothing to do  with matter), but propose a doctrine of the narcissistic aversion of God  towards much lesser and ontologically poorer degrees of reality, however,  richer as to potentiality (that is the sinful error in normative estimation) by spiritual, or at least rational, creatures gifted with freedom.[30]

Even more heretical, I would propose that my interpretation can -- at least to  a notable extent -- reconcile Plotinus' view of the problem with Proclus',  whose writing on the substance of evil is traditionally held to be in  contention with the Plotinian doctrine of evil identified with matter.[31] I am quite sure that it is in contention with that doctrine, but not with Plotinus.

Books

Armstrong, Arthur Hillary, ed. The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early  Medieval Philosophy. Cambridge: Clarendon, 1967.

Corrigan, Kevin. Reading Plotinus: A Practical Introduction to Neoplatonism.  West Lafayette: Purdue U P, 2005.

Gerson, Lloyd P., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1996.

-- -- -- . Plotinus. London: Routledge, 1994.

Korsgaard, Christine. The Sources of Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge U P,  1996.

O'Meara, Dominic J. Plotinus: An Introduction to the Enneads. Oxford: Oxford U  P, 1993.

Plotinus. The Six Enneads. Translated by Stephen Mackenna. Kita: Kessinger  Publishing, 2004.

Rist, John M. Plotinus: The Road to Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1967.

Yhap, Jennifer. Plotinus on the Soul: A Study in the Metaphysics of Knowledge.  Selinsgrove: Susquehanna U P, 2003.

Articles

Lekkas, Georgios. 'Plotinus: Towards an Ontology of Likeness (On the One and  the Nous).' International Journal of Philosophical Studies 13, no. 1 (2005): 53 -68.

O'Brien, Denis. 'Matter in Plotinus.' Phronesis 44 (1999): 45-71.

Opsomer, Jan. 'Proclus vs Plotinus on Matter (De mal. subs. 30-7).' Phronesis 46, no. 2 (2001): 154-188.

Riel, Gerd Van. 'Horizontalism or Verticalism? Proclus vs Plotinus on the  Procession of Matter.' Phronesis 46, no. 2 (2001): 129-153.

Strange, Steve. 'Plotinus' account of participation in Ennead.' Journal of the  History of Philosophy 30, no. 4 (1992): 479-496.

Footnotes

1. Plotinus, The Six Enneads, trans. Stephen Mackenna (Kita: Kessinger  Publishing, 2004), V.1 10 8.10-14.

2. Dominic J. O'Meara, Plotinus: An Introduction to the Enneads (Oxford: Oxford U P, 1993), 86.

3. Plotinus, The Six Enneads, I.8 51 2.25ff and ch. 4-5

4. Ibid., IV.8 6 2.1-55.

5. For the sake of brevity, I describe simultaneous or non-temporal logical  dependencies in terms of chronology (in the same way, I describe non-spatial  entities in terms of above and inferior, etc.). In reality, time is brought  forth only at the last stage of the procession, i.e. in the formation of the  visible cosmos, as Plotinus reminds us every now and then. cf. ibid., III.7 45  12,22; 13,23ff; II.4 12 5.25f.

6. This is a significant point: it is not the bare and dull fact or  circumstance of being matter, i.e. of subsisting as a structureless  hypokeimenon, that raises the question of matter and evil. The hypokeimenon of  the ontogenetic activity of Nous is a structureless substrate too, but it  remains aloof from all evil (cf. ibid., V.9 5 3.22ff; II.4 12 3.4; III.9 13 5.2; II.5 25 3.14). Something else, some additional problem, must be adduced if  the inferior matter, the hypokeimenon of the soul's activity, is going to be  said to have anything to do with evil.

7. Ibid., II.9 33 8.21ff. Explanations and insertions in square brackets are  mine.

8. In his 'Matter in Plotinus,' Phronesis 44 (1999): 45-71, Denis O'Brien has  examined this process of self-identification and reversion by interpreting  several of the most cogent passages of Plotinus' works, such as Six Enneads, V .1 10 7,4-6 (on p. 48f) and V.2 11 1.7-11 (on p. 51ff). For a handy summary of  this article, one sentence taken from the abstract will do a good service: 'The One or Intellect produces an undifferentiated other, which becomes Intellect or  soul by itself turning towards and looking towards the prior principle, with no possibility of the One's 'turning towards' or 'seeing' itself.'

9. Cf. ibid., V.2 11 1,9f. In this interpretation I follow Denis O'Brien, 'Matter in Plotinus,' 69.

10. A differentiation in terminology is necessary at this point: Plotinus marks a clear difference between the universal Soul and the individual soul, insisting at the same time that the universal Soul remains entirely unaffected with evil  (Six Enneads, I.8 51 15.23ff; IV.8 6 2.1-55) since both transmit being, but on  different levels and in slightly different ways. In the following, whenever I  refer to the 'soul', the individually acting spiritual entity is meant, except  where Soul is put in upper case. For the nonetheless intimate relation of soul (s) to Soul -- a relation not always easy to disentangle -- I remind the reader  of IV.8 6 3.19-22.

11. Cf., inter alia, the passage at ibid., I.8 51 3.7ff: matter is 'like an  image of being or something still more non-existent'.

12. Meontic differs from mimetic in that the former imitates what is there in  reality while the latter imitates what is not there. The mimetic and meontic  modes, though offering contrasting ways of depicting reality, should be viewed  in terms of a continuum, rather than absolute opposition, to illuminate things  of the spirit rather than material phenomena.

13. Cf. Six Enneads, II.4 12 10.34

14. Ibid., VI.7 38 28.7.

15. According to some interpreters, we dream forms into them when seeing their  diffuse quasi-shape. Yet what does the soul see in the totally formless  hypokeimenon of matter? Itself, as in a mirror, Plotinus replies (ibid., IV.3  27 12). Soul ultimately dreams itself into matter, thus disavowing its contact  with reality that is spiritual.

16. Ibid., III.6 26 7.4-44)17. Cf. also the motif of 'awakening' in Plotinus,  who uses it to describe the re-entry from such daydreams to the 'real reality'  of the intelligible. As Arthur Hillary Armstrong has put it in his chapter on  Plotinus in The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, ed. Arthur Hillary Armstrong (Cambridge: Clarendon, 1967), 227: 'Plotinus often  describes this turning and concentration of attention upwards as 'waking': and  waking ourselves up from our dream-like obsession with the needs and desires of our lower self in the world of the senses is for him a difficult process  requiring vigorous intellectual and moral self-discipline'.

17. Cf. O'Brien, Matter in Plotinus, 45: 'Since matter is lifeless, it cannot  turn towards its source. Soul therefore has to be herself directly responsible  both for the production of matter and for the covering of matter with form'.

18. This is why Plato praises the cosmos as a blessed God. See Six Enneads, IV .8 6 1-2; V.8 31 8.21; II.9 33 4.27; 8.19ff

19. All the same, in distinguishing the two matters, lower and upper, Plotinus  solves a problem Plato left unanswered: whether matter has a good disposition  for receiving form or a negative inertness. Plotinus can answer this  traditional dilemma: on principle, matter (lower and upper) is a mere  hypokeimenon and therefore by essence disposed to receive form. Yet lower  matter displays an utter inability to be formed and by its total passiveness is liable to overstrain its form-giving principle, soul.

20. In a passage on soul's relation to matter Plotinus says: 'soul would not  have come to it matter. unless its presence had given soul the occasion of  coming to birth' (ibid., I.8 51 14.54f ).

21. Plotinus makes this insistence in ibid., II.5 25 1.30f.

22. Once more O'Brien seems to have hit the nail on the head when he says: 'Soul will forever cover with form the formlessness and the disfigurement of the object whose appearance is a consequence of her own movement away from the  higher principles 'towards herself' (cf. Six Enneads, III.9 13 3.7-16). Not  that the movement was itself evil. The soul becomes evil, not in the making of  matter, but only as a possible consequence of her activity in covering with  form the object to which she has given birth.' 'Plotinus on Matter and Evil,'  in: Lloyd P. Gerson, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus (Cambridge:  Cambridge U P, 1996), 190.

23. In Plotinus' eyes the reversion of the upper emanate is at the same time  the reversion of the lower emanate it penetrates with being. The two energies  he speaks of in Six Enneads, II.9 33 8.29ff thus complement each other in the  reversion of all towards the highest Being. There are frequent allusions to  this idea that the higher reality contains the lower one(s) and lifts it (them) up in its own upward movement throughout the Enneads. See IV.3 27 9.34ff; VI.9 9 3.3ff; VI.4 22 1.7; V.5 32 9.30.

24. Ibid., I.8 51 10.13-11,4.

25. Cf., as buttressing examples, Plotinus' repeated but unelaborated talk of  how the soul falls down or comes into bodies, etc. (all of which describes an  experience of an agent) when in reality he insists that it is not soul that is  embodied, but that it is rather bodies that are enclosed by the soul as a flue  is by water (Six Enneads, IV.3 27 9.34ff; VI.9 9 3.3ff; VI.4 22 1.7; V.5 32  9.30).

26. As Christine Korsgaard says: 'To talk about values and meanings is not to  talk about entities ..., but to talk in a shorthand way about relations we have with ourselves and one another. The normative demands of meaning and reason are  not demands that are made on us by objects, but are demands that we make on  ourselves and each other.' The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1996), 138. In an analogous way, one might say about Plotinus' account of  evil: to talk about evil is not to talk about an entity, but to talk in a  shorthand way about relations within the Plotinian procession and between soul  and matter. Evil is not an object, but an outcome of such miscarried relations.

27. Strictly speaking, this is utterly impossible considering Plato's doctrine  that there can be no eidos of bad things. And that evil itself, and therefore  an entity (by self-predication) entirely evil, is impossible in Plotinus' eyes  as well, is clearly stated for instance in Six Enneads, I.8 51 15.23f.

28. This is perfectly consistent with Plotinus' observation that 'if evil  occurs accidentally in something else, it must be something itself first, even  if it is not a substance' (ibid., I.8 51 3.22f.).

29. Plotinus states this in Six Enneads I.8 51 7.16ff, a passage which also  deserves attention insofar as it touches on the problem of Plato's  necessity-formula in Theaetetus 176a. Note again how evil is inserted in the  processual philosophy and matter, again, is what is most distant from the Good  (substitute First for actuality, Last for potentiality in Armstrong's  translation, and the case will become clearer). The consequence will be that  matter (as mere potentiality) will be necessary for the procession to come to  an end, and this is where evil comes in as well, since evil, though not simply  the same as matter, will not come about without matter. Though Plotinus does  not say here, in what manner: 'One can grasp the necessity of evil in this way  too. Since not only the Good exists, there must be the last end to the process  of going out past it ... : and this last, after which nothing else can come  into being, is evil. Now it is necessary that what comes after the First should exist, and therefore that the Last should exist; and this is matter, which  possesses nothing at all of the Good. And in this way too evil is necessary'.  Evil here is clearly the outcome of a process. Again, it is not an instance per se, but the result of a miscarried relation at the lowest seam of reality.

30. It is because they turned away from God and upper reality and toward the  vast unbounded, but never real, prospective of their own possibilities that  (Pseudo-)Dionysius, in his treatise The Divine Names, trans. Clarence Edwin Rolt (Kita, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2007), 725 A calls the devil's and daemons' fall and form of existence procession, toward matter. Supposedly emulating  (if not copying) Proclus, the alleged slasher of Plotinus' doctrine on evil,  Dionysius as a Christian thinker expresses exactly the same view on matter and  evil Plotinus proposes.

31. Cf. John M. Rist, Plotinus: The Road to Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge U P,  1967), 190.

(c) Rafael D. Pangilinan 2010

E-mail: rafael_pangilinan1002@yahoo.com


[top]

Pathways to Philosophy

Original Newsletter
Home Page
Pathways Home Page