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RE: [neoplatonism] A metaphysical argument or a moral one?

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  • Adamson, Peter
    Hi all, I actually translated that first argument once upon a time for the Commentators Project. The word for good there (jud) could also mean generosity,
    Message 1 of 4 , May 2, 2013
      Hi all,

      I actually translated that first argument once upon a time for the Commentators Project. The word for "good" there (jud) could also mean "generosity," but I think even without that Prof Langermann's proposed reading is very plausible. It's interesting to see how the idea comes up even in thinkers who think that the universe does proceed necessarily from the First, e.g. Avicenna argues that God's necessity implies His generosity (in the Ilahiyyat of the Shifa'). I agree with the suggestion that the root of the argument must be Proclus' understanding of the idea that God/the Demiurge is not envious i.e. does not begrudge the world its existence; since this is an unvarying feature of God, He must unvaryingly create/cause the universe. I think the metaphysical/moral distinction here is a false dichotomy. The idea is something like this, isn't it?

      1. God's goodness is an unvarying feature
      2. Therefore God is good at every moment.
      3. Any moment at which God is good is a moment at which he causes the world.
      4. God causes the world at every moment.
      5. The world is eternal.

      Lots of potential problems there (e.g. 1 could be a timeless claim, in which case 2 doesn't follow; or God could at every moment cause a temporally bounded world, at first "looking ahead" to the world He knows He will create, so that 5 doesn't follow from 4). But still it seems to me to capture what Proclus is saying and to combine a metaphysical point about divine attributes (premise 1) and a moral point about the nature of what His gooodness implies (premise 3). I think this is how it (or similar arguments) was understood by people like Farabi and Avicenna.

      Peter Adamson

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      From: neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com [neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com] on behalf of John Dillon [jmdillon@...]
      Sent: Wednesday, May 01, 2013 6:40 PM
      To: neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: Re: [neoplatonism] A metaphysical argument or a moral one?

      > I would like to share some thoughts on a movement I detect in the expression
      > of what is Proclus' first argument against creation. I would like to present
      > the movement in a very general, hence imprecise, sense, then move on to a few
      > short philological points. The claim that the "self-diffusive" Good cannot but
      > diffuse the good always, and, therefore, the cosmos is co-eternal with the
      > Good, is a metaphysical one, and I think that Proclus intended it as such.
      > However, it can be (and was) reformulated in a moral sense, viz.: it would
      > have been stingy for the deity to refrain from creating, and spreading out
      > goodness; hence he did not, and the world is eternal and uncreated. I am
      > wondering if list members concur in this observation, and if any work has been
      > done on it.
      > Now, two related issues:
      > 1. This move may already be present in the reference to Plato at the beginning
      > of section 4 in Philoponus' refutation, (citing the translation of M Share):
      > "Another argument: If God is good, and as Plato in his wisdom says, 'in the
      > good no envy ever arises in regard to anything'... why did he not etc.?" Envy
      > is a moral vice, so it seems that there is at least a moral tinge to the
      > argument here. Moreover: doesn't this sound like a paraphrase, if not a
      > quotation, from Proclus? Wouldn't this be Proclus citing Plato in support of
      > his argument? But Plato is not mentioned by name in either of the Arabic
      > versions of the first argument, nor do I see any mention of envy.
      > 2. The Greek atopos, which is used to mean "absurd" in philosophical
      > argumentation, also has moral connotations; according to LSJ, " /unnatural,
      > disgusting, foul,/...; later, wicked, wrong". It seems that in Arabic, forms
      > of the root sh.n.ayn were used; that root seems to me to have much more of a
      > moral (or perhaps aesthetic) sense. Wehr has "ugly, abominable, repulsive,
      > hideous, disgraceful, etc.". Perhaps in English we could render atopos nearly
      > literally as "out of place" and capture the meaning, but I don't think that
      > that option existed in Arabic (though perhaps some usages of /fi ghayri
      > mawdu'ihi /aim for atopos).
      > This conundrum is painfully felt in the different translations of forms of
      > sh.n.ayn in the translations of Maimonides' /Guide/. S. Munk chooses the
      > French "absurde", which best fits the context in most places, but S Pines
      > chooses "disgraceful", which makes the jusdgment moral rather than logical.
      > Interestingly enough--and I have to check how consistent this is--the medieval
      > Hebrew translator, S Ibn Tibbon, uses two words, /harhaqa/, "putting
      > something at a distance", which is OK for the logical sense, and /genut/,
      > which is more of a moral judgment (worthy of condemnation).
      > Your comments appeciated!
      > Thanks in advance,
      > Tzvi Langermann
      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

      Dear Tzvi, I should say that the �moral� aspect goes back to Plato�s
      language in the Timaeus, which you quote: �He was good� etc. Of course God,
      or rather the One (and the other hypostases) can do no other than to create,
      and so there cannot be a time when they have not created.
      All the best, John

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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