A Common Source

In my last post, I alluded to the critical distinction between simply interpreting the writings of Plato as an endpoint in themselves, and using the writings of Plato as tools to access, understand, and explain the same transcendent realities that Plato himself was also trying to access, understand, and explain. It is only in the latter case that we are thinking like the ancient commentators, that we are approaching Plato with a mindset akin to theirs. Here is one small illustration of the difference, from Morrow and Dillon’s English translation of Proclus’ commentary on Plato’s Parmenides.

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Divine Poiēsis (an encouragement to virtue)

Early in book III of his Parmenides Commentary, Proclus distinguishes two kinds of creative activity (poiēsis): that which comes about from the very being of the cause, and that which results from some deliberate choice.

Beings in the middle of the metaphysical hierarchy do both. Our soul, for example, gives life to the body by its very being (provided that the material substratum is serviceable), while it does other things by choice. Lower down the hierarchy, though, we find fire heating by its very being, but not doing anything by deliberate choice. And so, in keeping with one of the basic principles of Platonic metaphysics, if creative activity by being alone extends farther down, it must also extend farther up.

Furthermore, creative activity that results from being alone is effortless, and is more suited to the Gods:

The creative activity of those beings that make what they do by their very being is effortless, and we must conclude that effortlessness belongs primarily to the divine, since we also live most easily and with least effort when our life and Godlike and in the path of virtue.

Proclus, in Parm. 787 Cousin; trans. Morrow & Dillon, p. 159.

And this seems to me an excellent, yet gentle, encouragement to virtue.