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In: Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Plato in Antiquity
Author: Dirk Baltzly

Abstract

This paper examines the role of the theme (prothesis or skopos) in Neoplatonic interpretive practice, particularly with respect to Platonic dialogues. The belief that every dialogue has a single skopos and that every aspect of the dialogue can be seen as subserving that skopos is one of the most distinctive of the Neoplatonists’ intepretive principles. It is also the one that is most directly responsible for the forced and artificial character of their readings of Plato. The arguments offered in support of this principle are manifestly inadequate to justify the role that it plays. This is so even if we evaluate those arguments by the Neoplatonists’ own lights. If we want to understand how this practice seemed rational to them, we need to consider more than their texts and Plato’s. We need to consider the role that the shared act of reading a Platonic dialogue with the teacher had in transforming the souls of the students and in the self-understanding of Neoplatonic teachers. I. Hadot, among others, has argued that the continuous commentary was a kind of spiritual exercise. I largely agree with her conclusion, though I believe her analysis of the sense in which these were spiritual exercises needs to be deepened. I argue that the justification for the assumption that each dialogue has a single skopos is best understood by reference to the manner in which the practice of commentary functioned within the internal economy of their schools considered as textual communities.

In: The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition
In: Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Plato in Antiquity
Author: Dirk Baltzly

Abstract

Proclus' interpretation of the Timaeus confronts the question of whether the living being that is the Platonic cosmos perceives itself. Since sense perception is a mixed blessing in the Platonic tradition, Proclus solves this problem by differentiating different gradations of perception. The cosmos has only the highest kind. This paper contrasts Proclus' account of the world's perception of itself with James Lovelock's notion that the planet Earth, or Gaia, is aware of things going on within itself. This contrast illuminates several key differences between contemporary theories of perception and the neoplatonic world view. In particular, it argues that the neoplatonists had a radically different view of these matters because they assigned the property of truth not only to representations, but to objects as well.

In: Phronesis

Abstract

This paper argues that Epicurus held a non-reductionist view of mental states that is in the spirit of Davidson's anomalous monism.1 We argue for this conclusion by considering the role that normative descriptions play in the peritropē argument from On Nature 25. However, we also argue that Epicurus was an indeterminist. We can know that atoms swerve because we can know that we make choices that are up to us and this is incompatible with the ancestral causal determination of mental states by atomic processes. Epicurus escapes the traditional criticism of indeterminist libertarians because the swerve is not meant to explain how choices may be free. The anti-reductionist stance on the mental means that nothing about atomic processes could possibly explain any particular mental event. Moreover, because of the practical and therapeutic nature of Epicurean philosophy, it is not necessary that Epicurus provide an explanation of how the swerve subserves freedom of choice. We know all that we need to know for eudaimonia when we know that some choices are up to us.

In: Phronesis
In: Studies in Hermias’ Commentary on Plato’s Phaedrus