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Short passage from the Timaeus - the self constituting soul.

 
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Tim Addey1



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PostPosted: Tue Jul 02, 2019 9:20 am    Post subject: Short passage from the Timaeus - the self constituting soul. Reply with quote

There is an interesting discussion about the self-constituting nature of the human self in the recently published translation of Hermeas' Commentary on the Phaedrus 88.23-89.14 (see also Proclus’ 43rd proposition in his Elements of Theology). The view that we form ourselves (within the paradigmatic limits of our essential nature) seems to be explicitly stated in the Timaeus at 90b in a passage well worth exploring:

In him, therefore, who vehemently labours to satisfy the cravings of desire and ambition, all the conceptions of his soul must be necessarily mortal; and himself as much as possible must become entirely mortal, since he leaves nothing unaccomplished which tends to increase his perishable part. But it is necessary that he who is sedulously employed in the acquisition of knowledge, who is anxious to acquire the wisdom of truth, and who employs his most vigorous exertions in this one pursuit; it is perfectly necessary that such a one, if he touches on the truth, should be endued with wisdom about immortal and divine concerns; and that he should participate of immortality, as far as human nature permits, without leaving any part of it behind.

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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2019 11:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tim,
Thank you for providing a text for us to consider. I don't know anything of Hermeas. Could you perhaps give us some info on him? However my main concern is the Timaeus quotation. Here he describes the soul of a man or woman who is in a rather bad way. If you take the text from just a little earlier Plato talks of the threefold nature of soul. When something goes wrong it usually involves a mess up in the relation between these three faculties. A want of proportion, as the text puts it. The middle or spirited faculty (thumos) naturally inclines to reason but when untrained is constantly overwhelmed by pleasure and its weasly sidekick pain. What I would like to discuss is a form of training which can set the soul on the path from perdition towards its native state of enlightenment.

So perhaps it is training that is thematic here - paideia - education. And if we take the passage in Republic [439e] seriously where Socrates introduces soul's spirit, it is the very education of that faculty via reason.

At [518c] Plato sees education as a 'turning around' periakteon - of the soul; and in the Elements of Theology, at Proposition 15, Proclus speaks of reversion - epistrephein - 'the return to unity',

What I ask is about the nature of such an educative process, or return to unity, when related to the modern man/woman in contemporary society? Note I specify adult here as well as children. The age of a soul is not limited by the age of the body it finds itself in.

Pete
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Tim Addey1



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PostPosted: Fri Jul 05, 2019 7:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hermeas (also spelt Hermias) was a philosopher of the (misnamed) neoplatonic school: he was born in Alexandria in about 410 C.E. and died soon after 440. He studied in Athens under the tutelage of Syrianus and married his teacher's daughter (or perhaps niece) Aedesia and returned to Alexandria to teach. With Aedesia - herself a remarkable philosopher and adept in theurgy - he had two sons who continued the tradition, and taught in the Alexandrian Platonic school (the younger of two would go on to teach Damascius, the last head of the Athenian academy).

He was thus very much centre stage in the late flowering of Platonic thought - although not as prolific or and penetrating as his fellow pupil of Syrianus, Proclus. The only work of his to survive is the Commentary on the Phaedrus - and even this, it is suspected, may only be a reworking of Syrianus' lectures on that dialogue. However, given his early death we should not, perhaps, expect much else.

Here is his discussion of the self-constituting nature of the soul:

"Now, there are two parts to the rational soul: discursive thought and opinion. And, again, in the case of discursive thought the lowest [part] is called, and is in the strict sense, discursive thought, and the highest, which is also called its intellect, [is that] in accordance with which the soul first and foremost becomes intellective, and [is] what some have also called ‘potential intellect’. And there is [yet] another [part] above this that is the highest and most unified [part] of the entire soul, that wants what is good for all things and always devotes itself to the gods and is ready to bring about whatever they wish. This is called one of the soul and bears the image of the One above being, giving unity to the entire soul. That it is indeed necessary that things be this way we may learn from the following.

On the one hand the rational soul exists thanks to all the causes prior to it, that is to say, thanks to intellect and gods. But on the other it also exists thanks to itself since it perfects itself. Insofar, then, as it has its existence from gods, it possesses the One, which unifies and unites into one all of its powers and all of its plurality, and which first receives goods from gods and [then] renders the whole substance of the soul boniform, since it [sc. the rational soul] is [thereby] bound to the gods and united to them. And, insofar as it exists thanks to intellect, it possesses intellection, as a result of which it grasps the forms by means of simple intuitions and not discursively in that it is also joined to the intellect above it. And insofar as it also causes itself to exist, it possesses the capacity for discursive thought, as a result of which it generates sciences and ideas and operates discursively and argues to a conclusion from premises.

For that it does also cause itself to exist is clear from the fact that it also perfects itself. For a thing that brings itself to perfection and furnishes itself with well-being will much more so furnish itself with being; for well-being is superior to being, so if it furnishes itself with what is superior, it will all the more furnish itself with what is inferior."
(On the Phaedrus, 88.23-89.14)

The misalignment between the various parts of the soul, as conceived as being tripartite, is, as you say, a source of disturbance to be addressed by an appropriate education and a reversion upon itself. But the threefold causes of the soul - Gods, Intellect and itself - means that the reversion is also threefold, for as Proclus says in his Elements, proposition 38, "Every thing which proceeds from certain numerous causes, is converted through as many causes as those are through which it proceeds, and all reversion is through the same things as those through which progression is effected."

Our reversion is first to ourselves, then to intellect and finally, to the Gods. I think we can see that view underlying one of the great passages from Proclus' Theology of Plato (book 1, ch. 3):

"For the soul when looking at things posterior to herself, beholds the shadows and images of beings, but when she converts herself to herself she evolves her own essence, and the reasons which she contains. And at first indeed, [1] she only as it were beholds herself; but, when she penetrates more profoundly into the knowledge of herself, [2] she finds in herself both intellect, and the orders of beings. When however, she proceeds into her interior recesses, and into the adytum as it were of the soul, [2] she perceives with her eye closed, the genus of the Gods, and the unities of beings. For all things are in us psychically, and through this we are naturally capable of knowing all things, by exciting the powers and the images of wholes which we contain.”

My own view is that the first step in any good system of education is a recognition of the goal of that system. This presents us with something of a problem in addressing the question of education in the modern world since the goal, as understood by the Platonic tradition, is almost inconceivable to modern thought. But as Plotinus says, in his treatise on Virtue (I, ii, 6) "the endeavour is not to be without sin, but to be a God" - that is to revert three times over, and to discover the divine within the depths of the soul.

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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Sun Jul 07, 2019 2:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tim,
The connection with Syrianus and of course Proclus puts Hermias into a clear context. Aedesia, his wife, seems to have been constituted in the Alexandrian tradition of strong, intelligent women as Hypatia before her.

There are many things worth discussing here, but I’d like to stick with the theme of education or paideia if I may. Even here there are so many paths to choose from. I find myself choosing a highly speculative one.

Paideia then concerns the realignment of the three faculties of soul which seem correlate with the cardinal virtues. The position ofthumos is crucial here because it seems that this is where sound tutelage is most needed. Reason needs no reason to be reasonable (though this might need a little discussion) and pleasure doesn’t have to be taught to be pleasurable. Thumos – spirit - however, does not seem to know itself at all. Like courage in the polis it only functions as a virtue if it listens to the quiet voice of wisdom and tempers its actions accordingly. However, as Plato has told us that its intuition is to do exactly this we might ask what has gone wrong?

In a way, the question itself is very un-Greek.

After all why should we apportion blame to the soul on reaching the parlous state described in the Timaeus passage when it’s clear that the dice was loaded against it from the beginning? Why did the charioteer of the human soul find himself in charge of an unmatched pair of steeds while trying in vain to follow the beautifully matched pairings of the gods as they effortlessly ascended to the vault of heaven - and this, we remember, preceded the acquisition of a body [Phaedrus 248f]? Clearly blame is not attributable to the body and perhaps not even to soul.

Perhaps one shouldn’t try to match myth against myth but it strikes me that the root of man’s problem is well described in the Timeaus myth:

“So speaking, He [the Demiurge] turned again to the same bowl in which he had mixed the soul of the universe and poured it into what was left of the former ingredients, and mixing them in much the same fashion as before, only not quite so pure, but in a second and third degree.” [41d]

(Thomas Taylor’s “not similarly incorruptible” lays it more on the line.)

Note that Plato’s account of the decline of the soul is subtly different to Old Testament mythology which rested upon Jehovah’s condemnation of the disobedience of man. His plummet from grace left a whole civilisation in a neurosis it hasn’t recovered from to this day.

This is just not the Greek style – certainly not Plato’s. If we are to take the Timaeus myth seriously it must be accepted that the fall was preordained, engineered by the Demiurge himself. Plato even gives us a clue as to why: “In order that there may be mortal creatures” [41c]. These creatures, ostensibly humans, were necessary to perfect His project; for man could do what the gods, even their creator, could not do, that is, traverse Being and Becoming and somehow unify them. At the beginning of Timaeus’ discourse we are introduced to horaton, the visible (tangible) disharmony which needed order. Only a being possessing the right equipment, outward sense perception and inward soul, could complete this task.

So the human soul, receiving his mortal body, literally falls into the sense-world (by an unspoken transition from the palinode of Phaedrus to the Cave Allegory of Republic.) Here where it is most needed is one of Plato’s most important pronouncements on paideia at 518.

Education, he tells us, is not what the professors think it is. They think they can simply put knowledge into any awaiting empty mind just as if you could inject sight into blind eyes. But even if we were to use that analogy we would have to modify it severely, for this knowledge that the eye is being taught to seek outwardly is already innate in the mind of the seeker. So the eye would have to ‘turn’ to apprehend it. However that would result in the absurdity of only the eye having knowledge and the rest of the ensouled entity still being ignorant. Therefore it is the whole soul of the being that must turn in the act of finding itself, for again, it is absurd to think you can have knowledge and still ignore that very knowing. Knowledge is full and whole and it makes the knower also full and whole.

This, as far as it goes, is how I interpret Plato’s words at Republic 518. No blame, no shame. If you, Tim, or anyone else, disagree with this interpretation it would be good if you could put your own notions forward for discussion.

Plato here is aiming at an all round education but with the ultimate aim of providing a remedy to the state of soul described in that passage from Timaeus you quoted in your first post.

So bearing in mind your quote from The Elements Of Theology, education is not an addition (as if it were mere information) but a turning, a returning to unity. ‘Returning’ is better because if we are to believe Timaeus’ account not only does the soul find itself but, in doing so, it fulfils its cosmic function. And this brings us to ask what such an education could be, both in context of the individual soul and the conventional image through which he perceives that cosmos.
Pete
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Tim Addey1



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PostPosted: Tue Jul 09, 2019 4:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Peter - there are some interesting threads emerging from this exchange. You comment "After all why should we apportion blame to the soul on reaching the parlous state described in the Timaeus passage when it’s clear that the dice was loaded against it from the beginning? Why did the charioteer of the human soul find himself in charge of an unmatched pair of steeds while trying in vain to follow the beautifully matched pairings of the gods as they effortlessly ascended to the vault of heaven - and this, we remember, preceded the acquisition of a body [Phaedrus 248f]? Clearly blame is not attributable to the body and perhaps not even to soul."

I'm not sure we should be blaming anything here: Epictetus, in his Handbook, says that someone without education blames others for his troubles, someone who has started his education blames himself, but the one who has completed his education blames neither himself or others. Everything has its place in the drama of the universe, and every level of reality is filled with its appropriate good, I think.

In filling that level of reality which requires the placement of soul, the Timaeus reports (as you say, with reference to that passage around 41d) that all soul is produced by particular mixtures of
essence,
sameness and
difference.

Proclus points out (Commentary on the Timaeus, book 2, 139) that there are possible variations which produce differing souls. They are:
1) The domination in the mixture of essence produces divine souls;
2) The domination of essence and sameness over difference produces angelic souls;
3) The domination of sameness produces daemonical souls;
4) The domination of sameness and difference over essence produces heroic souls;
5) The domination of difference produces human souls.

(Note that by heroic souls, Proclus means essentially heroic souls, not human souls that perform heroic actions.)

This allows the whole space, so to speak, which lies between eternal intellect and temporal bodies to be filled with souls with differing purposes and functions. The human soul, being dominated by difference, expresses its nature by being the most changeable in thought and deed. Sometimes we ascend to the contemplation of the eternal heavens and the ideas which shine brightly there, and sometimes we descend, almost forgetting those ideas and becoming more or less blinded by the darkness of the material life.

But this is in conformity to the divine scheme, which wills a universe filled with goodness, without any vacuum.

The mutability of the human soul is the problem of the dark horse of the Phaedrus: it is the very struggle to bring that horse under the direction of reason (aided by the obedient horse) which leads us to manifest goodness in our level of the universe. This can only be done, I think, by ensuring that all three "parts" or "motivational streams" of the soul are aligned with their proper virtue (their arete).

We can see education as both gnostic and vital (as Socrates says, in the Phaedo, we go to the next life only with our learning and discipline, leaving all else behind). The reason is naturally reasonable, but it does need to be exercised (only by this means does it align with wisdom, otherwise it is, as if it were, asleep); and desires naturally desire (but they need to accept moderation and so align with temperance); and the thumos is naturally stable, but can only actualize its stability by aligning with the virtue of courage.

So all in all I think we're in agreement. The descent into the material world is a part of the plan - primarily a descent rather than a fall in the Christian sense - and, as you say, it is only by turning the whole self towards the light of truth which brings about our ascent.

The only thing I might question is the concept of man being able to do what the Gods are unable to do - since it is their will and their goodness which bring about the existence and powers of the human soul. And as Proclus says, everything which exists in an effect is held in a more perfect way by its cause (see propositions 7 and 18 ). Strictly speaking the Gods transcend not only time but also eternity, and hold both within their own unity - being and becoming are, therefore, already united in the Gods, but in a way which is ineffable and invisible to minds.

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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Tue Jul 16, 2019 3:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tim,
Let’s stray somewhat from the path of education just for this post, although that is still my main interest here. Instead I’d like to consider these remarks at the end of your last post:

Quote:
The only thing I might question is the concept of man being able to do what the Gods are unable to do - since it is their will and their goodness which bring about the existence and powers of the human soul. And as Proclus says, everything which exists in an effect is held in a more perfect way by its cause (see propositions 7 and 18 ). Strictly speaking the Gods transcend not only time but also eternity, and hold both within their own unity - being and becoming are, therefore, already united in the Gods, but in a way which is ineffable and invisible to minds.

I am tempted to fall back behind the words of Timaeus himself when he says: “Don’t therefore be surprised, Socrates, if on many matters concerning the gods and the whole world of change we are unable in every respect and on every occasion to render a consistent and accurate account.” [Timaeus 29c]

So yes, I admit it would seem strange that man should have an ability that even the gods do not possess, though the Demiurge does remind us on more than one occasion that neither were the gods ageless nor the world everlasting except at His say so:

“Therefore, since you [the gods] have been created, you are not entirely immortal and indissoluble; but you will never be dissolved nor taste death, as you will find my will a stronger and more sovereign bond than those with which you were bound at your birth.”
[Tim. 41b]

However Plato is ambiguous about the status of the gods who appear in the Timaeus, a work of Nature, and it may well be the gods of mythology that Proclus alludes to. For my part I am merely trying to make good Platonic sense of this section of Timaeus in the light of a possible extended and articulated story of the soul (which in my opinion does seem available for excavation).

Why for instance would the Demiurge claim:

“But if these [mortal creatures, but mainly mankind] were created and given life by me, they would be equal to the gods.” [Tim. 41c]

Unlike Jehovah, the Demiurge is not a jealous god. “He was good and what is good has no particle of envy in it. Being therefore without envy he wished all things to be like himself as possible.” [Tim. 29e]

So there must be another reason why he wanted to deny man equality with the gods. Why was man’s soul created with a defect and why was he later born incomplete if this wasn't a necessary state of affairs? As Marsilio Ficino, the mildest of philosophers, warned at the outset of his Platonic Theology: “Were the soul not immortal, no creature would be more miserable than man.” That could be said of no other (potentially) immortal being, just as no other being seems to need educating, unless one considers breaking in a horse an education!

So perhaps this is indeed an ability that neither God nor gods possess.

Paths do begin open up towards a general discussion of education. The specifics can be left till later. Of course there are no conclusions to be drawn yet, however the way Plato has structured Timaeus’ monologue it is charged with interest. Is it therefore not without merit to follow a narrative that seems to suggest itself clearly and in an intelligent way?

I think that at the Prometheus Trust conference in Warminster a few years ago I gave a paper entitled something like “Republic, Model for a Mystery School”; I find myself again considering similar notions but now expanding my interest to Timaeus.

On with the motley,
Pete
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