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Proclus on the Good in his Commentary on the Republic

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  • vaeringjar
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 18, 2006
      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.

      Dennis Clark
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