This was part of an exchange with Robert Wallace, author of Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God, one of the best books I've read about Hegel, excerpts from which are available, along with some of Bob's other work, on his site.
The exchange began from a remark Bob made to somebody else about Gods in the late pagan Platonists. Bob's interlocutor had suggested that they were not to be taken as mere metaphors, to which Bob responded that, e.g., "psychical Gods" are not to be taken as metaphors, but nevertheless are
part of the process of emanation and return, in which the higher stages are clearly more "really real" than the lower, more diverse and material stages. So the disparate "souls" that you take to be "literally" reincarnated and so forth, seem to me to be clearly less real than Soul as such, not to mention Intellect and the One. Thus whatever experience "you" or "I" have when we die, must presumably (for Plotinus and all of his successors) be one of learning, to some degree at least, how unreal our separateness as "you" and "I" was. Similarly, I presume, the multiplicity of the intelligible and psychic "gods" is less real than their unity in Intellect and the One.
I responded first to Bob's claim that, e.g., "psychical Gods" are psychical, "intellective Gods" intellective, and so forth:
No, they aren't. According to Proclus, Gods active on whatever plane of Being are still supra-essential henads. "Psychical" Gods, e.g., are not called this because they are themselves psychical, because they are not even strictly speaking *beings*. Rather, these classes of Gods have these designations because those planes of Being are the *products* of their divine activity.
Thus, for example, Proclus emphasizes in the sixth book of the Platonic Theology that even the assimilative Gods, who are responsible for the assimilation of beings to the forms in which they participate, surely a "lowly" enough function for those who would see it in those terms, that "with respect to their existences [huparxeis] they [the Gods in question] are beyond essence/substance [ousias] and multiplicity, whereas it is according to the participations of them that receive an illumination of this kind that they are so called," (PT VI 16. 79.7-10).
Accordingly, even the "lowest" God is "higher" than Being Itself, if one is going to speak in these terms. This is reflected in the Elements of Theology props. 161-165, in which we read that the ontic hypostases of Being, Intellect, Soul and Body *participate* the corresponding classes of Gods, and hence, e.g., "All those henads are intellectual whereof the unparticipated Intelligence enjoys participation," (prop. 163) and "All those henads are supra-mundane whereof all the unparticipated Soul enjoys participation," (prop. 164).
Bob graciously conceded my technical points, then asked whether I didn't, nevertheless, agree with the latter part of the paragraph of his that I quoted above. I responded as follows:
I'm afraid not, Bob. My argument has always been that while ontic multiplicities are reducible in this fashion, henadic (all-in-each) multiplicity is not; and moreover, that there is a sense in which henadic individuality, that is, existential uniqueness, is a state shared even by beings such as ourselves. As the principle of individuation, the One is not a unity into which lesser realities vanish; this is to construe it after the fashion of ontic principles, to which things are reducible, but always, of course, in some particular respect: souls qua soul, intellects qua intellect, and so forth. The One, however, as the absolute principle, cannot be the object of an absolute reduction, at least not as I read it; for one thing, I fail to see how the One would then be meaningfully distinct from Being.
In his next post, Bob asked for further elaboration. The pieces of his message I'm responding to are in italics. Needless to say, I'm not doing justice to the broader points Bob was making in the larger exchange with other interlocutors into which this dialogue with me was inserted.
I certainly wouldn't want to say, and wouldn't expect Plotinus/Proclus to say, that lesser realities "vanish" into the One. I would expect them to say that lesser realities have less reality than the One has; that their reality depends upon that of the One; just as images have less "real reality" than Forms.
I think that you are not taking proper account of Platonic "optimism" with respect to the procession of Being. Each procession is Good and on account of the Good. A body is not "less real" than the One qua body, it simply has the kind of unity and the manner of being that is appropriate for this plane of being, which, insofar as it is supposed to be the site for transitory expressions of form, is doing exactly what it ought to.
But there is a bigger problem, it seems to me, in how you are approaching this, namely what it means to say that something's reality "depends upon that of the One". I would agree with this, but I mean something completely different by it, I suspect, than you do. I mean by it that every iterable (repeatable, instantiated) quality of an entity depends upon the non-iterable existence (hyparxis) of that entity. You, on the other hand, seem to use it to privilege over the existence of each entity an hypostatized or reified abstract entity to which it "owes" all it has on account of a sort of sheer eminence of "reality".
The relation to the principle of individuation cannot be assimilated to that between Forms and images, however. The image of a form has its being, qua instance of that form, in that form, not in itself; the unit, by contrast, cannot be said to have its unity in the One, because this would be to undo exactly what the One does: it makes this one thing the individual that it is. This is a measure of how the superior principle imparts more perfectly to the participant that which it has to give. Hence the eminence of the One is manifested precisely in its NOT being a one-over-many OR a one of which the many are parts, aspects, faces, et al.
As for existential uniqueness, I have no doubt that you and I possess that. What we lack, I take it, is full individuation and the "real reality" that goes with it. And when we fully appreciate this lack, we will appreciate that we aren't separate from each other in the way that common sense assumes we are, that is, absolutely.
First, I must note that you treat existential uniqueness as a very lowly quality, as the sum of contingent and material factors. And this is true in a sense, but it is a very important Platonic principle that the lowest phenomena are the manifestations of the highest principles. Therefore, the difference that we call merely "numerical", just insofar as it falls below the threshold of formal difference, expresses the action of principles *superior* to form.
This alterity is present at its purest among the Gods, but the Gods possess an individuality far superior to our own in that they are autarchic (on this divine attribute, see especially chap. 19 of book I of the Platonic Theology, and on the universal divine attributes in general chaps. 13-29 of book I).
As beings, however, we are indeed much less individual than the Gods, because all of our iterable qualities--e.g., "human"--are by that very fact parts of other wholes, whereas the Gods are generative of all such wholes. Qua body, I am part of the whole of matter; qua soul, part of the whole substance of Soul. However, the latter already exhibits a superior form of individuation than the former. So I am more individuated as a soul than I am as a body. The common view may see a soul as *less* individuated, because it is invisible. But they nevertheless recognize that bodies all behave alike to a much greater degree than souls do.
At the level of Intellect, we can account for the individual even better, in the sense that we can see them as the sum of all their essential and accidental qualities, and arrive at *virtual* uniqueness--that is, indiscernibility--in this fashion. The Aristotelian, indeed, goes no further.
What lies beyond? We get the first taste of it in Plato quite early on, if we think of the Phaedo as an "early" dialogue: behind the form lies the cause, the form-bringer of the final argument in the Phaedo; this "cause" shows up again much later as the fourth genus in the Philebus, alongside limit, the unlimited, and the mixture. In the Phaedo, the question of this principle is already posed, due to the dialogue's context, in such a manner as to rule out any mere essence or whatness: the question is not Socrates qua human, but Socrates qua Socrates.
The doctrine of metempsychosis here serves a function much like that of eidetic variation in Husserl; if "Socrates", that is, the causal agency responsible for the taxis (Rep. 618b), or class of essential and accidental characteristics, that we know as Socrates, is thinkable as once having been the son, not of Sophroniscus, but of someone else altogether, or even a swan, or a lion, and being something else again in the future, then we are capable in some respect of thinking of this individual in his unique unity beyond any iterable quality whatsoever, as a pure agency, a pure power of choice definable only negatively insofar as we attempt to determine it as some bundle of form-instances rather than in its positivity as a form-bringer.
This line of thought, I submit, is the substantive correlate in Plato to the formal inquiry into unity in the Parmenides; it is, as it were, the thought-experiment that substantiates as a positivity the pure concept of unity adumbrated in the Parmenidean dialectic in its negativity, and which in turn depends upon that concept for its articulation. The negativity of the first principle is a matter, therefore, not of eminence, but of conceptual necessity.
Thanks for the (cross-) post. I haven't read Wallace's work on Hegel, though one would know that the exchange was begun by a Hegelian from the first citation (and wonder why he was bothering to post on a Neoplatonism board). This formulaic image---all ostensible process extending from and returning to the one authoritative Absolute---is inevitably identified as the theological thrust of the Hegelian dialectic. And indeed, this is precisely why we continue to labor to produce a sufficiently immanent, critical metaphysics after (& in spite of) Hegel.What's disturbing is the attempt is export the Hegelian formula wholesale into a system that isn't amenable to it; in fact Proclus provides the perfect antidote to this homogenizing impulse. In any case, here again you are taking the fight to whatever front happens to open up---or to use an image dearer to me since Game of Thrones---maintaining the Night's Watch. Let us live and die at our post, my brother.
& Cheerio, KT
When I read Bob's book on Hegel in school, I liked it because it seemed to be arguing against just the sort of formulaic image you refer to, because he pits himself against what he calls the "substance-monism" interpretation of Hegel. At that time, I thought that all that mattered, in effect, was to resist the hypostatization of the Absolute in order to produce from Hegel's resources a critical metaphysics.
This is perhaps a good example of how exclusively talking in terms of "immanence" versus "transcendence" can obscure what is genuinely at stake in such a critical metaphysics. One has only so much room to maneuver in the Hegelian system, precisely because of its lack of transcendence, in one sense, namely the transcendence at each stage that would be given by the positivity of the "result".
In another sense, of course, the very effect of this is to create a virulent transcendence, because one is constantly dissolving any determinacy. Only a rigorous ascesis prevents this from becoming a sort of fanâ'. In a similar fashion, contemporary partisans of "immanence" are frequently in the position of sacrificing the integrity of all manner of particulars to the operation of their immanent constructive principles.
The late antique Platonists were sufficiently familiar with these tactics from their debates with Stoics, Skeptics and others to craft a system in which all of these intellectual moves were regionally permissable, but in which they strived to allow none of them to become absolute.
Ironically, though, with respect to Bob's exporting a Hegelian formula, I don't know that he regards himself anymore as working out of a primarily Hegelian paradigm. I think that a bad, but all too common, reading of Platonism is holding the position for him now of a philosophia perennis which he wishes to wield against the "materialism" he sees as, in effect, a bigger problem than that of veering into a reductive idealism. (He gives lip service to resisting the latter, but basically just in the form of the old Berkeleyan straw man.)
On July 14th, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Hello from "Bob's interlocutor" who has been interlocuting away with the material in your sites ever since. :)
I was wanting to take the conversation further, but it seemed to stop, and I didn't know if I hadn't perhaps obtruded enough. I was interested whether metempsychosis here *only* fulfills that eidetic-reduction function in your view, or describes a process that can actually take place.
Also Thomas Mether introduced the question of 'metabolism' which I found interesting and which chimes with my own approach.
I only dimly see the nature of the 'fight' you're fighting, but you are certainly offering material of great use to me, so thanks.
Hello, Jason! I wanted to thank you for your kind words about my work on the Neoplatonism group, but didn't want to waste bandwidth there saying so; I'm pleased to take the opportunity now.
With respect to metempsychosis, I certainly don't think that its only importance is in the operation I compared to a sort of an "eidetic variation". I stress the latter point because it is so rare to accord any properly philosophical function at all to the doctrine in Plato.
Appreciating this philosophical function requires, however, embracing the famous Leibnizian aporia concerning reincarnation, namely that the identity of someone else with me who shares no determinate qualities with me is utterly paradoxical. The identity in question, therefore, can only be a purely first-person or a purely third-person ascription. This means that as an actual process it largely falls outside the scope of properly philosophical interest.
This is not to say that there is not a good deal more to be said about the function of metempsychosis in Plato, especially in regard to the Meno and the role that anamnesis plays in the recognition of form, which also brings in the Phaedrus account of the experience of love and beauty; and I have made a start on this in my essay Plato's Gods and the Way of Ideas.
On July 14th, 2011 05:39 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
Had no idea Leibniz had addressed this! Doubtless you're correct that the identity conundrum makes it not-properly-philosophical... I will think about that some more sometime though, as well as looking more at the essays on your site as I go. I can't help cross-pollinating with psychology et al. I'm translating the Meno as I brush up on my Greek and will think about that dimension of it.
I don't want to swamp *your* bandwidth in turn but a question came up whilst reading Iamblichus that I'd love to get a quick direction about... let me know if that's ok and/or this an ok place etc.?
Had to chuckle at the notion of "swamping my bandwidth"; I don't use this LJ for very much, so anything that makes it seem like more of a going concern seems like a fine idea. I'm more than willing to take a crack at your Iamblichus question.
On July 14th, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
I appreciate it!
It was actually set off by this post of yours as well, the part on 'Platonic optimism'.
On my first real run-through of the DM, I found in I.18 something about the nature of matter -- it's p.69 in the SBL edition. "Anebo" talks about the powers of Mars and Saturn as influxes too strong for the material body, and his point is that what we might call their 'malefic' influence is really a question of our inability to deal with their energies.
This he says is because of the 'weakness' of matter, or its insufficiency -- the word is astheneia. My question is simply: from the philosophical-Platonist point of view, as you see it, what is the reason for the astheneia in the material realm or our bodies? (That is, specifically as an explanation of our inability to absorb or deal with divine influx.)
And I suppose two supplementary questions might be, where in the Platonic corpus does mention of this astheneia first appear? And also, what effect would you suppose a theurgical practice would have had on the astheneia, if any?
Thanks Edward for considering this!
It might be useful to quote the passage in question, so that others might benefit:
It is participation, then, which becomes the cause of … the fact that what is bestowed in one way is received by the things of this realm in another way. For example, the emanation deriving from Saturn tends to pull things together, while that deriving from Mars tends to provoke motion in them; however, at the level of material things, the passive generative receptacle receives the one as rigidity and coldness, and the other as a degree of inflammation exceeding moderation … since the feebleness [astheneia] of the material and earthly realm is not able fully to take in the unsullied power and pure life-force of aetherial entities …
Iamblichus is saying that the body can only receive, e.g., the aetherial emanation from Saturn as a privation, and that from Mars as an excess. I think that this ought to be viewed as similar to the limitations involved in representing a three-dimensional object two-dimensionally, or representing the relations between colors in grey scale. There is something present in these planetary energies, deriving ultimately from the divinities those planets in turn participate, that gets, as it were, lost in translation. Now, we would readily recognize that a 2D projection of a 3D object, for example, can be extraordinarily useful, even indispensible for certain purposes, so there is nothing categorical in acknowledging its limitations.
It is no accident in this respect that we are dealing here with planets participating Gods whose activity even the intellect does not receive without remainder, so to speak. The transgressive activity of Kronos with respect to his offspring and the transgressions visited upon him by Zeus, or the belligerence of Ares and his cuckolding by Aphrodite, demand the sort of exegesis that Plato knew children and the literal-minded (like Euthyphro) to be little capable of; hence these were the sorts of myths that could not be permitted in the ideal city of the Republic, which is actually an intellective construction for Proclus, and not the blueprint for an actual city at all.
These Gods' spheres of activity lie at the limits of the intellective plane; Kronos at its upper limits, Ares at its lower. Kronos is, we might say, the intellective in its transgressive universality, Ares in its excessive particularity; the one dissolving all difference into identity, transforming his very sovereignty into bondage, the other dissolving all identity into difference, unmasking stability as merely strife in stalemate.
The “way of Kronos”, the “way of Ares”, will both of them bring out the “weakness”, as it were, of Intellect as well, in other words, so it is not a problem peculiar to matter in this respect. But insofar as the problem peculiar to matter is form, these energies present a special problem that, e.g., the Jovian energy would not, because the latter is operating generally in the same direction as the striving of the soul with respect to matter, namely to secure the fidelity of the form in a given material instance. It is the soul, in fact, which inevitably finds the Saturnian or Martial energies problematic, because the former tries to purify the body’s alterity relative to the Ideal, while the latter tries to metabolize the body in the service of the Ideal.
So as you can see, I am perhaps less ready to treat the asthenia in question globally, rather than speaking of specific instances. Far too much is said in broad, generalizing terms about "matter", which is rarely helpful. On the status of matter generally, I have written recently in the paper on pronoia I presented at Dalhousie. With regard to theurgical practice, I would say that one's conception of theurgy ought never to transgress the boundaries of the goal set out by Iamblichus in his commentary on the De Anima, where he states that souls who have freed themselves from generation "administer the universe together with the Gods," (frag. 53). Hence there is no question of changing the basic terms of embodied being, though there is of course always room for improvement within those parameters.
On July 15th, 2011 12:18 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
Ah, alright... very interesting and all the more so for being unexpected.
I'd love to read the pronoia paper, but I don't remember seeing it at your other site?
On the 3D-->2D translation thing it's useful but equally there is a question of as you say 'not receiving without remainder'. To me that excess over what can be "translated", is actually being said in the passage to leave a problematic untranslatable remainder which still has an effect, but an effect that humans tend to judge reflexively as inherently problematic for matter.
I'm afraid I was seeing this as a generalized feature of matter! You knew it. ^_^) I take what you say about its being the soul's problem etc., but the reasons I saw this passage that way were really textual, and also do not exclude the more general Kronos/Ares problem at intellectual levels.
Right before the astheneia clause is a sentence translated:
So then, does not what causes decay and asymmetricality come about through the differentiating, material, and passive deviance of the recipients?
The word 'hylic' specifically is used here, and this 'differentiating, hylic passive deviance' is itself what is summed up in the term astheneia, in that succeeding clause. The word for 'passive' here, pathêtê, is the same as that used for the 'passive generative receptacle' of before (quoted by you above). All of which led me to believe that Iamblichus means a specific astheneia related to the material, not excluding but different from any more generalized one.
Now would you say you merely prefer your approach to the passage, or would you say it just can't be read my way? Also, on the 'unhelpfulness' of generalized statements about matter, can you give a description what is unhelpful about it? (Is it for example to do with something you said to Bob, about needing to see lowest phenomena as manifestations of the highest principles, and matter-fixation preventing that?)
On that final point of yours:
one's conception of theurgy ought never to transgress the boundaries of the goal set out by Iamblichus in his commentary on the De Anima, where he states that souls who have freed themselves from generation "administer the universe together with the Gods," (frag. 53). Hence there is no question of changing the basic terms of embodied being, though there is of course always room for improvement within those parameters.
... I'd love a little more! What kind of transgression of those basic terms and boundaries do you mean to exclude?
The paper I'm referring to is called "The Henadic Structure of Providence in Proclus," and is available from the Philosophy page on the henadology site.
What is unhelpful about generalized statements about matter is that they tend to fall back on simplistic formulae that merely restate the opposition between form and matter, and what's worse, generalize the latter to the whole procession of Being. "Form" is, in a sense, as dependent a category as "matter"; they are co-emergent, matter's passivity corresponding to form's specific type of activity.
Nor is Iamblichus the most felicitous textual locus for a discussion of the hypostatic position of matter, inasmuch as he is, for all his virtues, nowhere near as systematic a thinker as Proclus; hence his statements will not bear as much weight. In addition, we possess his work in a fragmentary state. We cannot state with confidence what his comprehensive theory was about matter.
Note that Proclus stresses that procession as a whole does not take place through "weakness" (astheneian) or "diminution" (huphesis), but "through a superabundance of goodness," (Plat. Theol. II 7 50.20-22). I discuss this passage in my dissertation (Chap. 1) and elsewhere.
Regarding theurgy, I am simply emphasizing again the point I made to Bob, about the goodness of cosmogenesis, against the tendency to impose upon Platonists a typically "gnostic" anti-cosmic sentiment. One would not be assisting the Gods to administer something the fundamental nature of which was somehow wrong.
On July 16th, 2011 01:51 am (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
Well I'll definitely check that paper out next.
Thanks for all this Edward.
From what you say (all of which I take), maybe I didn't make clear my reasons for gleefully pouncing on the astheneia thing. I'm certainly not interested in any "anti-cosmic sentiment" in talking about matter; I'm interested in the perfectibility of matter and the material state. This has more to do with Alchemy than with Platonism I suppose!
I was definitely not thinking that procession occurred by means of weakness therefore. As I mentioned in the original conversation with Bob, I'm only forced by the experience of purification to the idea of an impurity... that was why this passage jumped out at me.
I must confess to not having given much thought to alchemy in a long time. I encourage you, however, to check out Ted Hand's alchemical blog, it's a great resource:
Also, if you're on Twitter, I would recommend his feed, @t3dy.
On July 18th, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
Yes a very nice resource! Adam McLean (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/) is another great one.
I only meant alchemy loosely or metaphorically really. As in my post here (http://lightningoak.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/virtue-as-love-of-higher-mind/), the kind of practice I do refreshes the physical and simultaneously gets closer to more conscious experience of the soul. This requires development of virtue too. So virtue, which transforms the appetitive, is also associated with the rejuvenation of the body (from which the appetitive springs.)
In this Iamblichus quote there's this 'excess' of Martian energy in the normal 'asthenic' human frame and from that comes a certain kind of excess in the appetitive nature. What happens if you then transform the material weakness? You change the physical nature and you get virtue.
Well that was where I was going anyhow!
I read the providence paper and I'm still mulling it, fascinating. Thanks so much for this. BTW I saw that previous project idea of yourse about Stoic 'physics' et al. needing to be seen not as halting anticipation of our 'physics' but as something with its own particular kind of explanatory power. This is something I had thought for ages and I hope you find some way to rejuvenate that project too. There is more science in the vitalism of the pneuma idea every day for example... it reminds me of how Stoic logic was viewed once, as this terrible falling-off from the Peripatetic, a view that I think was turned around by Benson Mates (http://www.amazon.com/Stoic-Logic-Benson-Mates/dp/B0014TZ98Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311030726&sr=1-1). The same could happen for the physics...
In this Iamblichus quote there's this 'excess' of Martian energy in the normal 'asthenic' human frame and from that comes a certain kind of excess in the appetitive nature. What happens if you then transform the material weakness? You change the physical nature and you get virtue.
I would make a slight amendment here, in that Iamblichus is not saying that there is an excess of Martial energy in the normal human frame, but that "at the level of material things" the emanation in question is received "as a degree of inflammation exceeding moderation." I would relate this to the difficulty in finding the appropriate place, so to speak, for the traits of anger and aggression we associate with Ares. Experienced purely on a physical level, this "thymotic" energy is simply a kind of excitability or irritability; it requires tempering by other principles in the soul in order to be productive rather than disruptive.
If it is true, as has been plausibly alleged, that the so-called Homeric Hymn to Ares was actually written by Proclus, we may see here the attempt of one particularly thoughtful later Platonist to think through the proper disposition toward this divine energy, which does require a certain transmutation to be experienced by us as virtue.
I'm pleased you appreciated my remarks on Stoic and Presocratic "physics". At some point, I shall find an appropriate venue for that paper on Stoic ekpyrosis I've had on my hands for years, in which I've tried to put those ideas into practice; I could imagine it accompanied some day with a brief speculative essay on Atomism that treats the latter, not in the light of modern atomism, but more in relation to henology, inasmuch as we know that some ancient atomists spoke of the possibility of an "atom" the size of the universe. This implies that we may treat something, now as "atomic", now as composite. This in turn gets us closer to Giordano Bruno's doctrine of "minima" on different planes, the physical minima being just one piece of a broader metaphysical doctrine.
On July 21st, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
I would relate this to the difficulty in finding the appropriate place, so to speak, for the traits of anger and aggression we associate with Ares[...] it requires tempering by other principles in the soul in order to be productive rather than disruptive.
Yes this is exactly what I was thinking. It goes extremely well with the alchemy concept, understood widely. That widening has a lot of validity given more recent scholarly work eg: http://www.amazon.com/Internal-Alchemy-K
I could imagine it accompanied some day with a brief speculative essay on Atomism that treats the latter, not in the light of modern atomism, but more in relation to henology
Yes excellent... maybe Leibniz can play in again too.
I didn't know that hymn was thought to be by Proclus. Personally the value of Ares isn't as much of a tough sell for me, but then I was taught a lot by martial arts... 'we make war that we may live in peace'.
I think I've clogged your LJ long enough! I will be watching for more. Thanks.