On a fixed universe

Edwin Judge draws a line from philosophy to the treatment of the poor.



Edwin Judge draws a line from philosophy to the treatment of the poor.


Plotinus was the great 3rd-century AD philosopher in the Platonic tradition who took Platonic thought to a much more soul-searching level, you might say. Nevertheless, he held firmly to the rational principle that the existing order of things is necessarily correct, and therefore he was happy to see brushed aside from the ideal city the problem of the beggars. They have no place in it. And he held that convention itself – custom if you like, or ethics, but let’s say custom and convention – were part of the rational coherence of the whole, of the whole universe. And so whatever is customarily entrenched is sanctified, if you like, in Plotinus’ view. He wouldn’t have used that word – it is validated by being part of the universal whole.

John Dickson: How did that affect whether or not one would care for the lowest?

Edwin Judge: It would be disruptive of the cultivation of your own soul for one to be involved in the troubles of others. When I say this about Plotinus, though, it is hard; Plotinus himself was not unsympathetic as a personality, and he is deeply concerned with the problem of personal identity and that kind of thing. So that I don’t want to dishonour Plotinus – he is thinking about serious matters – but he’s thinking about them still within the inescapable Hellenic conviction of a fixed universe. That’s the heart of the problem.