When it comes to dualism versus neoplatonist privation, are there actually any good arguments at all in favor of neoplatonist privation?

The argument for dualism seems obvious. It is known that some things cause pleasure and other things cause suffering. From these, we derive the existence of Good and Bad. They are thus of equal standing. Why should one of them be considered superior to the other? Why should we grant one existence, but not the other?

That is, dualism should be the standard position. It is up to the neoplatonists to provide proof that Good and Bad are not of equal standing.

But I cannot seem to find any convincing arguments for privation (a heck of a lot of bad ones, though). I mean, even the link above to the Stanford site mentions that the main reason philosopher's moved away from dualism to privation is because they liked the romantic thought of "one God". That's evidently a poor reason. (The Second main reason is that there's little empirical evidence for the cosmologic setup underlying Manichaean Dualism, but note that this argument does not hurt general dualism at all, since general dualism does not adobt the cosmology of the Manichaean dualism).

What are the good arguments in favor of privation?

  • Agreed: there are no good arguments for it. The problem is... the problem of evil. No "reasonable" theory can account for the fact that a "good" God that is omnipotent and that is the creator of all has created the EVIL. Thus, philosophers tried to find some solution to the problem. Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 8:42
  • There is no problem of evil when it's recognized that God brings about good in spite of and even by means of the sins of mankind. How could it be a problem that God who is good does good works? Everything is going exactly as predicted from Genesis onward.
    – user3017
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 9:35
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA The problem of evil is solved by the co-existence of an anti-God, who too is omnipotent and omniscient and represents pure evil.
    – Dooo
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 11:48
  • @PédeLeão That is a very poor argument indeed, since it does not explain why God's plan is so terrible as it evidently would be in that case. What, God really can't do good without inevitably causing so much unnecessary suffering and hunger? Must be a terrible god then.
    – Dooo
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 11:49
  • @Dooo. How do you figure it's unnecessary? It's a question of God's justice in response to the sinfulness of mankind. What you call a "terrible" plan is, in fact, a glorious plan that reveals the sublime nature of God's moral excellence. Only the arrogance of man prevents us from seeing it as such.
    – user3017
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 12:10

5 Answers 5


"But I cannot seem to find any convincing arguments for privation"

This is the argument that is tacitly behind all Socratic thought. Some "pleasures" are judged, by competent human beings, to be bad. For instance the pleasure of a coward fleeing in the face of the enemy, when he gets away. From this we can conceive the notion that one may be intellectually mistaken about what the good is, i.e., in the case that we believe ourselves to think pleasure is simply good. It turns out, deep down, that is not our opinion, we need someone like Socrates to exercise us and set the right idea before us. This kind of exercise suggests that knowledge, simply, is good, and so the privation, nescience, is bad.

At the risk of incurring the exceeding ire of those in-biased folk, I must, by duty, add, that this notion of God follows from the intellectual exercises. The difficulty being that we, to use an anachronistic term, the modern term, have "bounded rationality", and so must take a leap of faith at the final step to find the direction which knowledge, if possible would set us in, towards the fullness of the right way of life, the good. Frankly, all these ideas can still be seen to be guiding all human life, if one is trained in observing.

  • Nice! Thus knowledge becomes crucial in understanding good and evil. I would just say that for Plotinus this view of good and evil comes from experience and understanding, not from intellectual exercises. We don't need this 'leap of faith' if we have the knowledge but only if we don't. Not arguing just commenting. For a convincing argument as requested by the OP one would have to study the perennial philosophy and see how its metaphysics is coupled to its ethics. . . .
    – user20253
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 18:41

I'm not sure that this need be a discussion of good and evil. This comes from (a good entry in) the SEP.

"...Therefore, it is wrong to see the One as a principle of oneness or goodness, in the sense in which these are intelligible attributes. The name ‘One’ is least inappropriate because it best suggests absolute simplicity."

Plotinus was a student of Indian and Persian philosophy and his philosophy is 'non-dualism'. Good and evil would be human judgements. This is the philosophy of the Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus has the words 'Sin, as such, does not exist'. We see the same claim in Buddhism where suffering, as such, would not exist. Or in the Tao Teh Ching, where we are told 'Because right and wrong were invented the Way was injured'.

It may look like theism sometimes and at others atheism and this is because it is a subtle doctrine that breaks down all categories of thought. All distinctions and divisions would be unreal in the sense that they are reducible. This would apply to good/evil no less than existence/nonexistence or One/Many.

Personally I feel that Plotinus is streets ahead of Plato and he takes us into an area of philosophy rarely studied by university philosophers and that due to its subtlety and profundity takes a lot of getting to know. The good news is that because Plotinus is trustworthy (imho) we can study any nondual writings from the Upanishads to the Tao Te Ching and onwards to modern writers like Rupert Spira to help get a handle on his philosophy.

If it is theism then it is the theism of the Christian doctrine of Divine Simplicity and of A Course in Miracles, not the objective theism endorsed by those who see God as separate from ourselves. If there is a God, or if we want to use this word, then God is me and you. This is view of Erwin Schrodinger, so it is even possible to learn something about Plotinus' view from reading Schrodinger.

I'm reluctant to answer the question about privation directly without a clear definition for 'privation', but the question about dualism is easily dealt with. Non-dualism is a rejection of any possible form of dualism.


For the class of evil that consists of bad things done deliberately by sentient beings then the main argument is free will. The logic being that, although what god created was good, that goodness included free will which left open the door for us to act evilly.

Where this doesn't work is if you include natural acts as evil. For example: disease, tsunamis etc. With these, it's effectively impossible to use a free will argument but there can still be considerable suffering. In other words, there are evil consequences without direct evil intent.

Now, if you're ok with your god having a bit of righteous anger in their armoury, then you can partially reconcile the natural disaster scenario with the concept of divine retribution. Some people used their free will to do bad things so god punishes them.

What's left then is the suffering of the innocents. One may, possibly, be able to justify an abused child as being because of the free will of the abuser but the toddler lying in agony with a flesh eating disease? Not so much.

The only justification I have heard for the latter is that we were born into sin so there's no such thing as an innocent. I, personally, find this argument abhorrent but YMMV.

Also, personally, I don't buy the free will causing suffering in others argument either. Free will doesn't mean we can do anything (I can't jump to the moon) so why aren't we prevented from causing suffering?

Whether these are convincing for you or not is, of course, up to you. For me, it's very hard to get past the suffering of the innocents problem. I have never seen anything that satisfactorily reconciles this with the accepted traits of the Christian god. I continue to look.

  • The only truly innocent human being was Jesus Christ, and we crucified Him. We need a huge dose of humility and recognize that we are not just incapable of standing in judgement of God, we are also grossly unworthy.
    – user3017
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 12:20
  • @PédeLeão The funny thing is that we are indeed capable of standing in judgement of god. It would be nice if he wasn't judged in absentia but you can't have everything. I don't doubt for a moment that I'm unworthy though.
    – Alex
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 14:26
  • @Alex. I meant capable in the sense of having adequate knowledge at our disposal to make a fair judgement.
    – user3017
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 14:34
  • @PédeLeão That's the sense I meant too. Oh, and you have made that judgement. You've judged God worthy of worship. Unless you're saying that you're, in some sense, forced to worship which would be an interesting, and extraordinary, claim. What you're really saying is that I'm not capable of making a judgement that's different from yours. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. Just don't be surprised that not everyone agrees with it.
    – Alex
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 15:26
  • @Alex. Repentance and faith make us more capable of recognizing God as worthy of worship. But you're correct in the sense that I cannot fully recognize the fullness of His goodness. However, sinful man cannot accuse God of wrongdoing without accusing himself and bringing condemnation upon his own head.
    – user3017
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 16:19

In a nutshell, the arguments for evil as privation are dependent on prior metaphysical commitments (monism) that are not neutral. The argument a Neoplatonist would have to give for privation, would be in two parts: first, she would aim to argue for monism over dualism (e.g., Treatise V.3 in the Enneads "On the cognitive hypostases and what is beyond"). Secondly, she would aim to show why, given monism, evil is best accounted for as privation (e.g., Treatise I.8 "On what are and whence come evils").


Up until Plotinus, Platonists and Aristotelians alike regarded the First Cause or Principle of everything as a kind of Intellect (Aristotle's Unmoved Mover who also thinks itself, or the Middle Platonic concepts of Nous, wherein the Forms reside as eternal thoughts).

Plotinus incorporated this idea in his system, of course, but argued that it could not be the First Cause on the basis that Intellect entails duality, and therefore requires a more fundamental principle of Unity to account for its existence (hence, the Neoplatonic 'One', beyond Nous). So Neoplatonists would reject Dualism on the basis that duality (even the minimal duality implied by Intellect) demands a more fundamental more unified principle for its existence. So the disagreement with Dualism is at a much more fundamental level than accounting for evil.

The privation theory then comes out of the need to account for the phenomena of evil (which, for Neoplatonists is always closely related to imperfection/incompletion) within the framework of their monism.

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