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The Joy (?) of Triads

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  • vaeringjar
    I have been going through finally in some detail Stephen Gersh s and his discussion on participation and reversion in the late
    Message 1 of 4 , Aug 27, 2009
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      I have been going through finally in some detail Stephen Gersh's <From Iamblichus to Eriugena> and his discussion on participation and reversion in the late Neoplatonists (135 or so ff) prompted me to bring this up. The issue I find odd is one I have puzzled over before more than once, but is summarized fairly well in this footnote 103 on p.147:

      "Proclus El. Th. 96.9ff: "Every partial member in any order can participate in the monad of the rank immediately above in two ways: either through the wholeness co-ordinate with it, or else through the partial member of the higher rank which is in an analogous position with it in relation to that series as a whole." Interpreted in terms of the enneadic scheme, Proclus' doctrine would imply that the life within Intellect could participate in the being within Being ( = the monad of the series immediately above it) either through the life within Being (the monad of its own order) or through the being within Intellect (the partial member of the higher order analogous to it in position.)"

      First off I suspect I am not alone in general in finding this one of the oddest features of later Neoplatonism, though then again maybe I am wrong in that regard. But what really makes me scratch my head is not how this works, though that takes a little concentration to understand, rather what purpose does this really serve in the representation of reality, to put it simply?

      I fear this is one case in Neoplatonism when perhaps rightly one could accuse our friends of rather getting carried away with a numerical scheme just for the sake of what I will call for lack of better term the Joy of Combination. Or perhaps more accurately they just felt it neccessary, once they admitted the basic triad, to play it out to an ennead, out of necessity that this sort of reflection across being, life, and intellect had to occur from the nature of the importance of the elements of triad themselves - not sure I put that last point very well at all, but there it is.

      But either way I still don't see exactly what this accomplishes, though I can understand what is achieved with the simple triad. While Gersh's discussion is good I don't think he gets into the issue I am bringing up, and I don't recall that Dodds in the relevant notes in his edition of the ET does either. Now the answer may well lie in more study of rather Damascius, whom Gersh does mention and I think must be the ancient philosopher who pays the most attention to these triads, but I don't know if he gives the Why? in addition to the How?.

      I also fear this is the sort of thing that, well, turns off people to Neoplatonism! At least I think we can excuse those who on seeing this sort of complexity tend to long for the relative simplicity of Plotinus and Porphyry. I can actually understand more readily the propagation of different Hellenic gods at different levels that we see in Proclus on more easily than this process of complex reversion, even as sad as it made Dodds to see the once great Homeric gods end up so dourly catalogued and pigeon-holed in dry and dusty quaintly marked bins such as these...

      I really enjoy studying the Neoplatonists, but I also try to keep their feet to the fire, as it were, best I can, or at least try to maintain some critical stance, and this one is bothering me (lots more than theurgy, by the way, which I understand now).

      But on the other hand I would be happy to be told how really useful this scheme is, how I missed that point.

      Perhaps Lloyd deals with this in Anatomy of Neoplatonism - ?

      Dennis Clark
    • jensav55
      Lloyd has, in my opinion, done the best work on these matters, but I would say a few words on why I don t think that the structure that you described is merely
      Message 2 of 4 , Aug 28, 2009
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        Lloyd has, in my opinion, done the best work on these matters, but I would say a few words on why I don't think that the structure that you described is merely "external" or "abstract", as Hegel would say.

        It matters that we can distinguish, e.g., between Intellect as caused by Life and Intellect as caused by Being (I'm using the Proclean hypostases here), and this is what is being expressed by the two (or more) modes of reversion. Intellect and Life are both caused by Being, but Life also exercises a causality not simply reducible to the causality of Being operating through it.

        From the former perspective we see Intellect as a result of the processes immanent to Life (ideal motion, expression of power, proto-spatial disposition), from the other as Being's reversion upon itself. These are quite distinct perspectives. Moreover, we can see that when Life is in the position of Being, that is, at the beginning of a causal cycle, the result, namely Soul, resembles Life in a different way than Intellect does, Intellect here being the vehicle, so to speak, or the instrument, for the emergence of Soul.

        What ultimately makes it possible for each hypostasis to exercise a relatively autonomous, or at least distinct, causality is that each ontic hypostasis directly participates the divine, because at each level there is a class of Gods, in whom the real causality of "the One" is present immediately at each level, because as Proclus explains, the Gods active on every plane of Being are nevertheless supra-essential henads. This is the ground of the parallel "theurgical" reversion according to sunthêmata.

        Thus it is the surplus or excess of the supra-essential relative to Being that makes it not only possible, but necessary, to account for the different lines of causality in the system. This excess is, in turn, present on each successive plane of Being in diminished form; hence, the excess of Being over all of the hypostases contained within it is greater than that of Life over Intellect and Soul, and this is directly reflected in the narrower scope of causality at each stage down the chain.


        Edward Butler
        http://henadology.wordpress.com/
      • vaeringjar
        ... Thanks, Edward, for laying that all out. Actually I answered my own question last night by just rereading Wallis, p.123 and p.133. The simple answer to
        Message 3 of 4 , Aug 28, 2009
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          --- In neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com, "jensav55" <epb223@...> wrote:
          >
          > Lloyd has, in my opinion, done the best work on these matters, but I would say a few words on why I don't think that the structure that you described is merely "external" or "abstract", as Hegel would say.
          >
          > It matters that we can distinguish, e.g., between Intellect as caused by Life and Intellect as caused by Being (I'm using the Proclean hypostases here), and this is what is being expressed by the two (or more) modes of reversion. Intellect and Life are both caused by Being, but Life also exercises a causality not simply reducible to the causality of Being operating through it.
          >
          > From the former perspective we see Intellect as a result of the processes immanent to Life (ideal motion, expression of power, proto-spatial disposition), from the other as Being's reversion upon itself. These are quite distinct perspectives. Moreover, we can see that when Life is in the position of Being, that is, at the beginning of a causal cycle, the result, namely Soul, resembles Life in a different way than Intellect does, Intellect here being the vehicle, so to speak, or the instrument, for the emergence of Soul.
          >
          > What ultimately makes it possible for each hypostasis to exercise a relatively autonomous, or at least distinct, causality is that each ontic hypostasis directly participates the divine, because at each level there is a class of Gods, in whom the real causality of "the One" is present immediately at each level, because as Proclus explains, the Gods active on every plane of Being are nevertheless supra-essential henads. This is the ground of the parallel "theurgical" reversion according to sunthêmata.
          >
          > Thus it is the surplus or excess of the supra-essential relative to Being that makes it not only possible, but necessary, to account for the different lines of causality in the system. This excess is, in turn, present on each successive plane of Being in diminished form; hence, the excess of Being over all of the hypostases contained within it is greater than that of Life over Intellect and Soul, and this is directly reflected in the narrower scope of causality at each stage down the chain.
          >
          >
          > Edward Butler
          > http://henadology.wordpress.com/
          >

          Thanks, Edward, for laying that all out.

          Actually I answered my own question last night by just rereading Wallis, p.123 and p.133. The simple answer to this he gives there is what he terms as the "principle of Correspondence" put forth apparently first by Iamblichus, in the de Anima I think, but echoed elsewhere, especially in Proclus E.T. 103 which directly states the principle, "All things in all things, but each to its own proper nature...". (I didn't have a lot of time to look for the original in Iamblichus in my nice, new very red and gold, edition of Prof. Dillon's fragments (!), but I think it's in there somewhere, probably from Proclus in Tim or the like.) Dodds' notes on Prop. 103 on p.254 as usual are excellent; he sums up its purpose as a way to reconcile distinctness with continuity, and with an ancient reference to that effect to a passage in the Plat. Theo. which I intend to read now as a part of further digesting this issue.

          Of course isn't that often a main concern in Neoplatonism, attempting that reconciliation? Rather like or even a part of the concern to get the Many out of the One, I would think.

          Gersh however a little later in the passage I cited earlier has an interesting difference with Dodds and others who see the enneadic schema also as transverse vs horizontal. He denies it is any such thing, contra the received opinion. I just read him and don't quite follow his argument yet in detail.

          Any of the experts care to weigh in on this one? I think this is not the easiest part of Neoplatonism to deal with. Gersh writes clearly enough, but I don't think it's at all obvious to the casual observer. Then there is trying to read Damascius on these issues - rather simple Greek style, I do think, but I don't think getting his philosophical meaning is often easy at all, though maybe that's just my relative unfamiliarity with him other than previously dipping in here and there to cherry-pick this or that.

          Dennis Clark
        • vaeringjar
          ... Thanks for the tip - I am finally getting around to reading Lloyd s book as well - I assume you are referring to Anatomy of Neoplatonism. I didn t say in
          Message 4 of 4 , Aug 28, 2009
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            --- In neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com, "jensav55" <epb223@...> wrote:
            >
            > Lloyd has, in my opinion, done the best work on these matters, but > I would say a few words on why I don't think that the structure
            > that you described is merely "external" or "abstract", as Hegel
            > would say.



            Thanks for the tip - I am finally getting around to reading Lloyd's book as well - I assume you are referring to Anatomy of Neoplatonism.

            I didn't say in my other posting, that the adherence to the Principle of Correspondence shows at a minimum the later Neoplatonists were not acting in any frivolous or merely mathematically attracted way in propagating these triads reflectively.

            I suppose though that one can still argue about the ultimate effectiveness, even of such a principle itself too.

            It's also curious in a way, about the second hypostasis, that you also might accuse them of being inclined there to exercise that old human trait of compensating for horror vacui: the One must remain inviolate (though I am sure we can argue that Iamblichus wasn't all that worried about that in comparison to, say, Proclus), so let's pile it up in the second hypostasis. Actually either Gersh or Wallis, I forget which one, starts off the relevant discussion with a comment about the general view that they just seemed to be obsessed with triads, so I am hardly the first to point this out.

            My own opinion, at least so far, is that they were honestly trying to accomodate these basic principles at the highest level they an occur (or should I say authypostaze?) but are so very close to unity, and as Dodds said, it's often about reconciling the opposites of continuity and distinctness. But add on top of that this synthetic drive to include all these Platonic elements from the dialogues, that Proclus elaborates in the first book of the Plat Theo, like limit and the infinite and the mixed, along with Pythagorean notions of monad, dyad, and triad, their own view of causality, and the concept of procession, remaining, and reversion, and then on top of all that the individual elements of the Chaldaean oracular, Orphic, and Hellenic theologies...

            If you are going to explain your reality, I guess you can't leave anything out.

            Dennis Clark
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