Proclus on the Good in his Commentary on the Republic
- This passage in the Republic, at 509B, where Socrates clearly states
that the Good is beyond being ("epekeina", the exact term, which of
course appears again much later, as in "dis epikeina"), I find truly
intriguing, since I wouldn't have thought such a concept would go
all the way back to Plato. My first thought was that Speusippus'
similar notion must have derived from here, most likely.
But in Russell Dancy's excellent entry for Speusippus at the online
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Dancy has the following:
It has seemed to many scholars that Speusippus' denial that the One
is a being gains plausibility from Plato's Republic: VI 509b2-10 has
often been read as placing the Form of the Good (which, according to
the tradition stemming from Aristotle, Plato identifies with the
One) `beyond being' and so making the top of Plato's ontological
ladder not a being, either. But this is inconsistent with other
passages in the Republic in which the Form of the Good is plainly
said to be a being (e.g., VII 518cd, 526e), and the phrase often
translated `beyond being' in 509b can be read simply as meaning `on
the far edge of being'. This does not mean that there is nothing
pertinent in Plato; there is, in the later dialogues, especially the
Parmenides (see below). But Republic VI 509b2-10 cannot be cited in
support of Speusippus' view.
Well, I looked at those other two passages in the Republic, and I
don't think they are quite as strong as he would have us believe,
but they certainly can allow the inference that Plato later appears
to be saying the Good has existence. I am not at all sure about his
take on "epekeina" meaning "on the edge of" - I should look in the
big LSJ, which I have to say I didn't do. But it's also important to
note what just follows Socrates' claim at 509b, what Glaucon says at
509c, "Apollon...daimonias hyperboles!" spoken, as Plato says, with
a laugh. And then Socrates says, well, you're the one who made me
say all that, expressing what I thought on the subject. So it's a
little difficult to know whether Plato is serious here, through
Socrates, or because of how Glaucon reacts, maybe just "playing" a
little with the idea - ? I think Plato was in fact toying with the
idea that the Good was beyond being, and hence Socrates' says so.
At any rate, Proclus at least took him quite seriously here, and in
several places says that Plato put the Good above being (e.g. in the
Commentary on the Parmenides, and in the essay on the Good in his
Commentary on the Republic.) But interestingly enough, not in the
famous passage in the Parmenides commentary where he quotes
Speusippus saying the same on this very subject (VII 38 Klibanksy).
Why doesn't he refer to Plato's view here? Seems odd to me,
especially since he did so otherwise in the same commentary.
I am not at all familiar with secondary scholarship on the Republic,
so it may well be that the passage at 509b has been thoroughly dealt
with, and Dancy alludes to a lot of discussion on this, but I saw
only on article mentioned in his bibliography, which is after all
aimed at Speusippus, not Plato, this one, Krämer, Hans Joachim,
1969, "EPEKEINA TES OUSIAS: Zu Platon, Politeia 509B", Archiv för
Geschichte der Philosophie 51: 1-30, which takes the position, Dancy
says, that Plato means to place the Good above being, something not
that surprising I would think in view of Kramer's other writings.
Proclus' essay on the Good, which I have read only in Festugiere's
French translation (Tome II, Dissertation XIe), since I don't have
the Greek text, surprised me also in that I thought it would have
presented an opportunity to refer to Iamblichus' similar view. No,
in this essay Proclus does not once refer to any other philosopher
at all, he sticks to an analysis of the passage in the Republic
itself and couple of referencs to other dialogues of Plato and to
the Second letter at the very end of the piece, when he says
(Proclan humor? Is there such a thing?), that in the letter Plato
says briefly what he says in more words here in the Republic.
As for the argument he does give in the essay, I would say, if I
follow it correctly, that the main gist is that such a first
principle as the Good cannot be represented in any way other
than "anhypothetically" (Proclus' term). No surprise, most of the
discussion is basically apophatic - what else?
Interestingly enough, I think Speusippus had already reached this
point as well - on page 84 of Prof Dillons <Heirs of Plato> we read
this in reference to Speusippus frag 73 Taran from Proclus (again)
Commentary on Euclid: "First principles are characterized by
simplicity (haplotes), indemonstrability (to anapodeikton), and self-
evidence (to autopiston), and the mode of their comprehension is
thus to be distinguished from that of what follows from them." (Prof
Dillon in his footnote points out that the three epithets themselves
are likely not of Classical origin but the thought expressed does go
back to Speusippus, and he then gives the entire quotation from
Proclus including them.) Interesting - I think you might easily also
add to that list "anhypothetical" - ?
Granted, really how else can anyone characterize that which is above
being, with no attributes? Still, I think it's worth noting how much
of this appears to have started in the Academy, was then lost or
ignored in the sceptical period (?), to reappear in Neoplatonism;
but how much was openly credited back to the Academy by the later
philosophers? No mention of Speusippus in Proclus' essay on the
Republic, but then I fully realize that doesn't mean he was unaware
of Speusippus' work, and that Proclus in general often doesn't
mention earlier philosophers in his own tradition by name.
I do think it's often worthwhile at least to consider also what
authors DON'T say, at least up to a point.