Involuntary Evil and the Socratic Problem of Double Ignorance in Proclus

In: The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition
Danielle A. Layne Gonzaga University

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In his Commentary on the Alcibiades i Proclus often discusses and links the peculiar epistemological category of “double ignorance” (ignorance of ignorance combined with the conceit to knowledge) with evil and grievous error. To understand this more fully, the following analyzes Proclus’ concept of double ignorance, its characteristics and its causes. Markedly, due to his understanding of double ignorance, Proclus offers a response to the “Socratic” idea that no one willingly errs as this particular category of not-knowing enables him to explain how individuals, despite desiring and in some sense knowing the good, fail or ‘miss the mark’ in articulating and doing the good.

What’s especially difficult about being ignorant is that you are content with yourself, even though you are neither beautiful and good nor intelligent. If you don’t think you need anything, of course you won’t want what you don’t think you need.—Diotima

plato, Symposium 204a (tr. Nehamas and Woodruff)

I Introduction

Despite often being lambasted as the tradition that overlooked the Socratic element in Plato’s dialogues, the Neoplatonic philosophers of late antiquity often engaged in and markedly analyzed Socratic themes.1 In particular, Proclus, like Socrates before him, was adamantly committed to the thesis that no one willingly errs and that all error was due to some form of ignorance in the soul.2 As the Neoplatonist writes:

T1. Proclus, De prov. 57, 12-13

Evil, (. . .), we say is wanted (abouleuton) by nobody, and to those who choose it, evil seems to be a good. For no soul would knowingly choose evil, but would avoid it. Due to ignorance, however, [the soul] is occupied with it. For although it has by nature a ‘keen love’ of the good, it is unable to see where the good lies.3

(trans. Steel)

In short, all desire the good but only on account of ignorance do individuals unwillingly surrender themselves to moral error and evil. Proclus further elaborates this thesis in De malorum subsistentia where the Neoplatonist clearly reminds his readers of the Socratic thesis that evil is involuntary and results from ignorance.

T2. Proclus, De mal., 49, 5-14

τοῦ γὰρ ἀγαθοῦ ἕνεκα πάντα, καὶ ὅσα ἀγαθὰ καὶ ὅσα ἐναντία• καὶ γὰρ ταῦτα ἀγνοίᾳ τῆς ἑαυτῶν φύσεως πράττομεν τὸ ἀγαθὸν ποθοῦντες. [. . .] ὅθεν δὴ καὶ ἀκούσιον εἶναι τὸ κακὸν πολλάκις εἴρηται. καὶ πῶς γὰρ ἂν ἑκούσιον εἴη τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ μὲν γενόμενον ἕνεκα, καθ’ αὑτὸ δὲ ὅ ἐστι μήτε ἐφετὸν μήτε βουλητὸν μηδενὶ τῶν ὄντων ὑπάρχον;

For all things are for the sake of this good, all the good and all the contrary things alike. Indeed, when we act badly, we do so out of ignorance as to the nature of these deeds, despite desire for the good. [. . .] Therefore, evil is often said to be involuntary. Indeed, how could it be voluntary if it is done for the sake of the good, whereas according to what it actually is, it is that which is neither desirable to nor willed by any being?4

(tr. Steel and Opsomer)

In both the above passages Proclus highlights how ignorance leads us to act contrary to our will and, in his Commentary on the Alcibiades i, Proclus often discusses the problem of ignorance in detail as he argues repeatedly that overcoming ignorance is necessary for self-knowledge and the good life. In this text Proclus further recognizes a need to delineate between forms of ignorance, with some types being excusable because they do not pose a danger to the soul while other types are reprehensible and may sever our contact with those realities guaranteeing our perfection and happiness. With regard to the former, Proclus characterizes it as simple ignorance, whereby one recognizes the ignorance in their soul, heeds its danger and, consequently, seeks out the knowledge they lack. Such a person further understands that if they are unable to discover the knowledge they lack then they should trust others who possess the required knowledge to guide them in their affairs.5 In opposition to this almost praiseworthy or neutral form of simple ignorance that, at the very least, attempts to correct or overcome the privation of knowledge by avoiding error as much as possible in the pursuit of the good, there is another form of ignorance which positively obstructs individuals from the good, namely, double ignorance (διπλῆ ἀμαθία) or the ignorance of ignorance combined with moral pretense, i.e. the affectation to knowledge. Proclus, in Socratic tenor, repeatedly compares this form of double ignorance to the lowest level of being, describing people in this condition as madmen who “know neither themselves nor others” but since they think they do, they never do the requisite work for acquiring the good.6 Summarizing the basic difference between simple and double ignorance, Proclus ultimately claims that the mere lack of knowing, or simple ignorance, only reveals the absence of a great good (μεγάλου ἀγαθοῦ στέρησιν ἐμφαίνει), knowledge, while the ignorance which is coupled with the absurdity of “thinking one knows when one does not” is characterized not as mere privation but, rather, as a concrete or positive evil insofar as this lack is coupled with conceit.7 While praising Socrates’ method of refutation as a purgative device intent on removing this unfortunate condition of double ignorance, Proclus reiterates the arguments of De prov. and De mal., namely, that “ignorance is in every person involuntarily (τῆς ἀγνοίας ἀκουσίου πᾶσιν οὔσης),” and that people like Alcibiades should therefore “rejoice in being rid of such an evil (ἀπαλλαττόμενος χαίρει τοῦ τοιούτου κακοῦ)” as no one willingly desires to remain in a state that prevents self-knowledge and the good.8

Due to this explicit association of double ignorance with evil or grave error, the following will focus on Proclus’ Commentary on the Alcibiades i in order to analyze the nature and cause of this condition as well as its connection with involuntarily choosing evil despite desiring the good. What will emerge from this examination is the realization that double ignorance or the false conceit to knowledge has a source deeper than one may at first expect. For the Neoplatonist, double ignorance results from the soul’s vague but confused awareness of the innate reasoning principles (οὐσιώδεις λόγοι), the images of the forms imprinted on and constituting the form of the soul. Simply put, this divine content in our soul, which orients our very being, permits us to have some bare notions (ἔννοιαι) of the good, the true and the just. Consequently, these notions explain why the doubly ignorant do not err willingly, despite their pretensions to knowledge. Like the virtuous or wise individual, they are also impelled by an overwhelmingly good desire to reunite with or recollect these principles and their divine causes. Nevertheless, due to their lack of self-knowledge, the doubly ignorant do not recognize that they should turn inward toward the contents of the soul to clarify or articulate (diarthrōsis) their mere “notions” of reality. Instead the doubly ignorant orient themselves outwardly, away from the self and the contents of the soul, desperately rushing toward the sensible realm in a futile attempt to lay hold of what they mistakenly think is the good or that which appears to be good versus the Good itself. In short, we shall discover that like Socrates, Proclus advocates ignorance as the source of moral error, specifically double ignorance as this form of ignorance obstructs the activities of inquiry, self-knowledge and the pursuit of the good. In so doing, we shall acquire a clearer understanding of how, for Proclus, no one willingly errs. Rather, in ignorance, souls perpetually pursue things that merely resemble the good.

II The Problem of Double Ignorance in the Commentary on the Alcibiades i

In Proclus’ Commentary on the Alcibiades i the problem of double ignorance receives considerable attention as the skopos or aim of the text is self-knowledge, an aim, Proclus often argues, which is thwarted by the condition of thinking one knows when one does not. With Socratic fervor, he contends that this “mistaken participation in wisdom gives rise to the sophistry of the world (σοφίας μέθεξις ἡμαρτημένη τὴν ἐνταῦθα σοφιστικὴν ὑφίστησιν).”9 The Neoplatonist clarifies the cause of double ignorance in the hopes of illuminating how individuals can avoid this condition.

T3. Proclus, In Alc., 189, 4-12

τὸ δὲ αἴτιον, ὅτι κατελθοῦσαι εἰς γένεσιν αἱ ψυχαὶ πλήρεις κατ’ οὐσίαν τῶν ἐπιστημῶν ὑπάρχουσαι τὴν ἐκ τῆς γενέσεως λήθην εἰσδέχονται• καὶ τῷ μὲν ἔχειν τοὺς λόγους τῶν πραγμάτων οἷον σφύζοντας ἐννοίας ἔχουσι περὶ αὐτῶν, τῷ δὲ τῆς λήθης πόματι κρατούμεναι διαρθροῦν τὰς ἑαυτῶν ἀδυνατοῦσιν ἐννοίας καὶ εἰς ἐπιστήμην ἀναπέμπειν. οἶον οὖν ἀπεψυγμένας αὐτὰς περιφέρουσι καὶ μόλις ἀναπνέουσας, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο κτῶνται τὴν διπλῆν ἄγνοιαν, οἰόμεναι μὲν εἰδέναι διὰ τὰς ἐννοίας ταύτας, ἀγνοοῦσαι δὲ διὰ τὴν λήθην• καὶ ἡ ἀπάτη καὶ ἡ δόκησις τῆς γνώσεως ἐντεῦθεν.

The reason is that although souls descend to birth filled essentially with knowledge, yet as a result of birth, they contract forgetfulness; and by possessing the innate ideas of reality as it were pulsating within them, they have notions about them, but overcome by the draught of oblivion they are unable to articulate their own notions and reduce them to knowledge. Therefore they carry them around as it were swooning and scarcely breathing, and for this reason acquire twofold ignorance, under the impression that through such notions they possess knowledge but really in a state of ignorance on account of their forgetfulness; and hence come deceit and the illusion of knowledge.10

(trans. O’ Neill)

In this passage Proclus suggests that possessing the innate reasoning principles or logoi, alongside the condition of forgetfulness, stimulates individuals to have some basic notions (ἐννοίας) of reality which concomitantly excite all those immediate feelings and senses of knowing things like the good, the just, the pious etc. To clarify, while these logoi are akin to the Stoic koinai ennoiai, insofar as they are universal and shared by all human beings, they, more than the Stoic conception would allow, are the images of the Forms. These images constitute the very essence of the soul11 and account for the soul’s ability to cognize and know all things.12 They are more than just part of the soul, but comprise the very nature of the soul as distinct from the Intellect insofar as the former’s activity is discursive, contemplating and unfolding such divine images “one by one” and in time.13 Unlike the Stoics who would have argued that the koinai ennoiai constitute the possibility of reason (and are thus absolutely certain and immutable) but are still “ingrained” or “implanted” via some empirical or external activity like observation, Proclus rather insists, as a good Platonist should, that these reasoning principles or logoi belong to the soul essentially. He writes that “souls realize the innate logoi of themselves,” and are thus not tabulae rasae but come like “tablets ever inscribed and the writer is within.”14 Due to the essential nature of the logoi, Proclus consistently argues that self-knowledge begins with the awareness of these logoi, describing the meaning of the Delphic precept in terms of a reversion to such pre-existent knowledge in our souls.15 Nevertheless, Proclus also warns that due to “the draught of oblivion” or, perhaps less poetically stated, due to our descent into the material, sensible world, these logoi as objects of thought are not known or understood but are, in many senses, hidden (kruptesthai), buried or obstructed from our view. Warning against the temptation to look outward for the good as opposed to turning inward toward the logoi, Proclus summarizes the value of these logoi as well as underlining their obscured nature:

T4. Proclus, In Alc., 250.13-251.1

οὐκ ἄρα ἀπὸ τῶν πολλῶν εἰσδέχεσθαι δεῖ τὴν τῶν ἀϊδίων πραγμάτων ἀλήθειαν οὔτε ἀπὸ τῶν αἰσθητῶν τὴν τῶν καθόλου διάκρισιν οὔτε ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλόγων τὴν περὶ τῶν ἀγαθῶν κρίσιν, ἀλλ’ αὐτὴν ἰοῦσαν τὴν ψυχὴν ἐν ἑαυτῇ ζητεῖν καὶ τὸ ἀληθὲς καὶ τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ τοὺς ἀϊδίους τῶν ὄντων λόγους. πλήρης γάρ ἐστιν αὐτῆς ἡ οὐσία τούτων, ἐπικρύπτεται δὲ ἐκ τῆς γενεσιουργοῦ λήθης καὶ πρὸς ἄλλα βλέπει ζητοῦσα τἀληθές, ἔχουσα αὐτὸ κατ’ οὐσίαν, καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις σκοπεῖ τὸ ἀγαθὸν ἀφεῖσα ἑαυτήν. ἐντεῦθεν ἄρα καὶ τῆς ἑαυτῶν γνώσεως ἡμῖν ἀρχὴ παραγίνεται.

We must not then receive the truth of eternal matter from the many nor the discernment of universals from the objects of sense-perception nor our judgment of what is good from the irrational, but the soul, of its own motion, must within itself seek both the true and the good and the eternal logoi of reality. For its essence is full of these logoi, but it is hidden as a result of the forgetfulness incident of generation, and the soul looks elsewhere in its search for truth, although it possesses the latter of its essence and looks out for the good in other things, neglecting itself. From this source comes to us the beginning of our self-knowledge.16

Arguing that the logoi are within and thus constitutive of our self-knowledge and being, Proclus further insists that they have not been entirely forgotten. Rather they remain fully active and present to our souls, but as veiled or obscured. As a consequence, the logoi become a kind of “breathing knowledge,” as C. Steel deemed it, pulsing through us like our very blood. Furthermore, we intuit the presence of our logoi and develop thereby some pre-discursive conceptions or mere notions (psillē ennoiai) of this essential knowledge in our souls. It is this vague awareness of the reasoning principles that thwarts the recognition of our forgetful or imperfect nature and accounts, therefore, for why many, regardless of their inability to justify their views, might describe their immediate notions (ennoiai) of the good as certainties. In other words, the veracity of these reasoning principles or innate logoi helps clarify why so many believe they know the good or the just perfectly or definitively despite lacking an account, despite foregoing inquiry, i.e. the intellectual activity constitutive of the soul. As a result we teeter on the possibility of error.17 As Proclus warns above, when we fail to know ourselves and our fallen nature, we may poison and taint the radiance of our soul by donning the masks of self-deception and pretense. He writes:

T5. Proclus, In Alc., 7, 3-8

καὶ γὰρ ἀγνοοῦμεν ἑαυτοὺς ὑπὸ τῆς γενεσιουργοῦ λήθης κατεχόμενοι καὶ ὑπὸ τῆς ταραχῆς τῶν ἀλόγων εἰδῶν τῆς ζωῆς ἐκκρουόμενοι, καὶ οἰόμεθα πολλὰ γινώσκειν ὧν ἀγνοοῦμεν διὰ τοὺς κατ’ οὐσίαν ἡμῖν ἐνυπάρχοντας λόγους καὶ τῆς αὐτῆς δεόμεθα βοηθείας, ἵνα τῆς τε περιττῆς οἰήσεως ἀποστήσωμεν ἡμᾶς αὐτοὺς καὶ τῆς προσηκούσης ἡμῖν ἐπιμελείας τύχωμεν

Held bound by the forgetfulness incident to generation and sidetracked by the disorder of the irrational forms of life, we do not know ourselves, and we think we know many things of which we are unaware by reason of the essential logoi present in us according to our being; we stand in need of some assistance, in order both to keep ourselves from excessive conceit and to light upon the care appropriate to us.18

(trans. O’ Neill with adaptation in italics)

Here we must realize that for Proclus the conceit to knowledge arises on account of the soul’s possession of essential logoi or the reasoning principles, in addition to its further failure to care for itself in its fallen condition, i.e. its failure to achieve self-knowledge and thus recognize that, while perfect in themselves, these logoi are not understood clearly. We only possess, at the moment, vague or dim ennoiai. We only have a notional or muted understanding of these essential logoi versus a properly articulated and fully developed knowledge.19 Nevertheless, due to the veracity or power of these logoi we stand in need of assistance. We must be on guard for excessive conceit, as these logoi remain in the depths of our souls, tempting us to think we know when we do not.20

To expand upon this problem, Proclus turns to a passage in the Alcibiades i in which Alcibiades admits that when it comes to moral concepts like the just he cannot “name a time of ignorance.”21 Alcibiades knows that even as a child he recognized injustice and thus, for the youth, this evidences the fact that he has always known the just. This refusal to admit ignorance on Alcibiades’ part obviously disappoints Socrates who insists that knowledge must necessarily follow from a time of ignorance; for, if one knows something like the just, then there must have been a time when one did not know it. In Proclus’ attempt to defend the truth behind both Alcibiades’ and Socrates’ seemingly contradictory stances concerning whether ignorance must precede knowledge of such things like the just, the Neoplatonist responds by differentiating between two forms of knowing that lean heavily upon Aristotle’s doctrines of potency and act:

T6. Proclus, In Alc., 240, 12-20

καί μοι δοκεῖ δείκνυσθαι διὰ τούτων ἐναργῶς, τίς μέν ἐστιν ἐπιστήμη πρὸ χρόνου παντὸς ἐν ἡμῖν, τίς δὲ κατὰ χρόνον παραγίνεται. Σωκράτης μὲν γὰρ εἰς τὴν κατ’ ἐνέργειαν ἐπιστήμην ἀποβλέπων ἐπιζητεῖ, τίς ὁ πρὸ ταύτης χρόνος• Ἀλκιβιάδης δὲ τὴν κατ’ οὐσίαν ἔχων ἐπιστήμην, δι’ ἣν καὶ οἴεται εἰδέναι ἃ μὴ οἶδεν, οὐκ ἔχει χρόνον εἰπεῖν τῆς μεθέξεως αὐτῆς ἐξ ἀϊδίου γὰρ αὐτὴν ἔχομεν. ὥστε εἰ ὁ μὲν περὶ ἄλλης ἐπιστήμης λέγει, ὁ δὲ περὶ ἄλλης, ἀμφότερά ἐστιν ἀληθῆ, καὶ <τὸ> τὸν χρόνον προηγεῖσθαι τῆς ἐπιστήμης καὶ τὸ μὴ ἔχειν πρὸ τῆς παρουσίας αὐτῆς εἰπεῖν τινὰ χρόνον. τῆς μὲν γὰρ ἀτελοῦς ἐπιστήμης οὐκ ἔστι προηγούμενος χρόνος, τῆς δὲ κατ’ ἐνέργειαν καὶ τῆς τελείας ἐστί.

I think this clearly shows which is the knowledge that precedes all time in us, and which is the knowledge that accrues in time. Socrates, considering only knowledge in act, enquires, what was the time before this; but Alcibiades, possessing knowledge in essence, on account of which he thinks he knows what he doesn’t, cannot name a time of his participation therein, since we possess it from eternity. So that if the one speaks about one kind of knowledge, and the other about another, both their statements are true, both that time precedes knowledge and the impossibility of naming a time before its presence. There is no time that precedes imperfect knowledge, but there is a time that precedes knowledge in act and in perfection.

(trans. O’ Neill, emphasis in italics are mine)

For Proclus, knowledge in act (κατ’ ἐνέργειαν ἐπιστήμην) refers to a perfected knowledge acquired in a temporal moment of full recollection or scientific articulation, while knowledge in essence refers to the knowledge in our souls which we possess from eternity. For Proclus knowledge in essence (κατ’ οὐσίαν ἐπιστήμην), while perfect in itself, is a kind of potential or indefinite knowledge insofar as the logoi still await a full recovery or a moment of complete recollection.22 In other words, due to the oblivion caused by this descent individuals are required to do the work of turning or reverting to this essential wisdom, the innate logoi. One does this in order to clarify and articulate (diarthrōsis) this latent or hidden knowledge, i.e. to actualize said knowledge in time.23 In short, this process of articulation and actualization requires that one mimic Proclus’ basic doctrine of creation, i.e. the cyclical process of rest, procession and return or epistrophe, where a reversion to the causes is required before anything can be made actual.24 If one follows such a schema with regards to one’s reasoning principles, one recognizes that the essential knowledge, i.e. the innate logoi, remains in the depths of our soul, constituting our very being. Moreover, due to their perfection and power these logoi have, in a sense, proceeded outward of their own accord, causing the individual soul to have some bare notions or preconceptions of things like the good or the just but in a vague, indefinite or inarticulate manner. The process of return or reversion, then, is that act whereby one turns inward in self-examination and begins to inquire into the causes of one’s notions of things like the just. By virtue of this return, one finally articulates their preconceptions and begins to advance (probolē) one’s knowledge in essence, the logoi.25 Summarizing the difference between knowledge in essence and knowledge in act, Proclus stresses the value of turning inward and articulating the logoi of the soul.

T7. Proclus, In Alc., 191.11-192.4

διττὴ τῶν ψυχῶν ἐστὶν ἡ γνῶσις, ἡ μὲν ἀδιάρθρωτος καὶ κατ’ ἔννοιαν ψιλήν, ἡ δὲ διηρθρωμένη καὶ ἐπιστημονικὴ καὶ ἀναμφισβήτητος. ‘κινδυνεύομεν γάρ’, ὡς αὐτός πού φησιν, ‘ὄναρ πάντα ἐγνωκότες τὰ αὐτὰ ταῦτα ὕπαρ ἀγνοεῖν’, κατ’ οὐσίαν μὲν ἔχοντες τοὺς λόγους καὶ οἷον ἀποπνέοντες τὰς τούτων γνώσεις, κατ’ ἐνέργειαν δὲ καὶ κατὰ προβολὴν οὐκ ἔχοντες. τῆς μὲν οὖν καθ’ ὕπαρξιν ἐν ἡμῖν ἑστώσης τῶν εἰδῶν ἐννοίας χρόνος οὐκ ἔστι προηγούμενος (ἐξ ἀϊδίου γὰρ αὐτὴν εἰλήφαμεν), τῆς δὲ κατὰ προβολὴν καὶ διάρθρωσιν τῶν λόγων γνώσεως καὶ χρόνον ἔχομεν εἰπεῖν.

The knowledge of the soul is twofold: one is inarticulate and by mere notion, the other articulate, scientific and indubitable. ‘For it is,’ as [Plato] himself says somewhere, ‘as if we had learned everything in a dream, only to be unaware of this in our waking hours,’ possessing in our essential being the logoi and as it were exhaling the scent of their knowledge, but not possessing them in actuality and as having been advanced. There is therefore no time which precedes the notion of the forms established within us by our existence (since we have apprehended it from eternity,) but we can give a time to the acquisition of knowledge by the advancement and articulation of the innate logoi.

(trans. O’Neill, modified in italics) Cf. Statesman 277d

Here, we see Proclus’ insistence that the human soul despite possessing fully perfected knowledge in the resources of its being still has a work to do, i.e. it still must actualize said knowledge in the constitutive way of soul whose substance is in eternity but whose activity is in time.26 Interestingly, the soul’s activity is to articulate one’s ennoiai and correspondingly to advance the logoi in time, therein highlighting that there was, indeed, a time before the instigation of such an activity, a time before one reverted to said knowledge in the soul. Illuminating Proclus’ marked proximity to Socrates in this matter, this process of return, actualization and articulation of knowledge first requires the admittance of ignorance as, for both Proclus and Socrates, “ignorance must precede inquiry.”27 Consequently, we see that the Neoplatonist gives the admittance of ignorance both epistemic, metaphysical and, as we shall soon see, ethical significance insofar as only when individual souls perceive the shortcomings of their immediate notions (ennoiai) do they begin to do the work requisite for the discovery and advancement of knowledge. Only in this way can they begin to articulate and clarify their vague understandings, perhaps avoiding in the process, error. Put otherwise, if one simply relies on their intuitions of the good, never admitting ignorance and the need to question or turn to the cause of such intuitions, then one’s notions of the good remain in a state of potency and are never made definite or concrete. Consequently, the causes, i.e. the reasoning principles as objects of thought, remain unknown and indefinite, obscured by the veil of lethé; they are never defined or concretely expressed in intellectual activity and thus they do not constitute actual knowledge for the individual soul.28 Yet, regardless of never being made actual via examination, these reasoning principles remain with us, causing us in their mere notional or dim form as ennoiai to stumble into the stupor of thinking we know the good when we do not.29

All in all, for Proclus, knowledge in act is a kind of knowing that requires the admittance of ignorance; for, this admittance acknowledges our incomplete condition and the need to return to the causes of our notions of things like the good. In other words, despite the admittance of some essential wisdom in our souls, knowledge still moves a potentia ad actum. In short, knowledge in essence, in contrast to knowledge in act, is a kind of intuitive or pregnant grasp of the reasoning principles ordering our soul and, according to Proclus, this intuition must be regarded as imperfect or something not yet made definite. In short, one must admit ignorance regardless of possessing in some intuitive way vague notions of the just or the good. For Proclus, Alcibiades’ inability to name “a time of ignorance” with regards to the just, reveals his double ignorance and his dependence not on truly or fully articulated knowledge but his simple grasp of knowledge in essence. Proclus summarizes:

T8. Proclus, In Alc., 242, 10-14

περὶ μὲν τῆς κρείττονος μαθήσεως οὐδὲ ἔννοιαν ὁ Ἀλκιβιάδης ἔχει, πλὴν ὅσον εἰς τὴν κατ’οὐσίαν ἐνυπάρχουσαν ἡμῖν ἐπιστήμην ἀποβλέπων, ἥτις ἀπὸ θεῶν ἐνδέδοται, καὶ τὸ δίκαιον οἴεται γινώσκειν ἀκριβῶς

Now as regards the superior form of learning Alcibiades has no notion, except that regarding the essential knowledge that is immanent within us, and which is instilled by the gods, he thinks he has an accurate knowledge even of what is just.

(trans. O’ Neill)

III No One Willingly Errs, Not Even the Doubly Ignorant

Turning now to one of the major characteristics of double ignorance and its connection to the Socratic dictum that “no one willingly errs”, Proclus suggests that individuals who suffer from the conceit to moral wisdom are simply those who rashly identify their unexamined indefinite notions of the good with their images or appearances in the material world. That is to say, as one may have expected, that it is on account of a kind of languor and dependence on the sensible world that the soul first stumbles. Simply put, most individuals, due to double ignorance, rely on their confused insights regarding their essential wisdom and since they lack self-knowledge, i.e. since they have not turned within to the contents of the soul, they tend toward the only reality they know, the externalities of the outside world. In other words, the doubly ignorant neglect the internal intelligible realities and, concomitantly, impetuously confuse sensible goods with the authentic good. As Proclus says concerning the individual love of material goods, “We dash after them as if they were genuine, admire them as real and vaunt ourselves upon them as upon unalloyed examples of the good, allowing ourselves to be deceived by them.”30 As Proclus writes of Alcibiades’ pride in his own physical beauty, “It is just as if someone asserted that the varying conditions of a shadow contributed to the good of the body of which it is a shadow.”31

In describing this habit of the doubly ignorant, we should understand that individuals like Alcibiades do in fact desire the good itself. As such they do not willingly err in loving or depending upon external goods because this inferior desire is partially due to the fact that individuals sense a correspondence between their unexamined notions of the good and material goods. While describing the doubly ignorant, Proclus recalls Plato’s Statesman and criticizes this perverted action:

T9. Proclus, In Alc., 34, 3-8

καὶ δοκοῦσι μὲν εἰς ἕνωσιν τὴν πρὸς τὸ καλὸν σπεύδειν ὥσπερ αἱ τελέως ἐρωτικαὶ ψυχαί, λανθάνουσι δὲ ἑαυτὰς ἀντὶ μὲν τῆς ἑνώσεως ἐπὶ τὸν σκεδασμὸν φερόμεναι τῆς ζωῆς καὶ τὸν τῆς ἀνομοιότητος πόντον, ἀντὶ δὲ τοῦ ἀληθοῦς καὶ ὄντως ὄντος καλοῦ πρὸς τὸ αἶσχος αὐτὸ καὶ τὴν ὑλικὴν ἀμορφίαν συζευγνύμεναι.

Though seeming to hasten towards union with the beautiful like the souls that are perfect lovers, yet unawares, instead of union they tend toward dispersion of their life and ‘the sea of dissimilarity,’ and instead of true and really existent beauty are united with ugliness itself and shapelessness of matter.

(trans. O’ Neill.) Cf. Statesman 273d

According to Proclus, we all have the correct desire to return to a state of divine knowing, but due to the conceit of double ignorance most unwittingly deceive themselves into believing external goods are the authentic good and that mere human opinions constitute knowledge. Interestingly, Proclus defends how this mistaken care, whether for the body or other material goods, arises from the very nature of the rational soul insofar as it is located between intellect and body, between those higher realities which activate the life of the soul and matter characterized by passivity and affectation.32 Ultimately, the doubly ignorant, due to their lack of being aware of the contents of their soul and the need for a “self-moved” inquiry, inadvertently choose the life of passivity and affectation as that is the only world they have experienced. Proclus laments that it is “ ‘a misfortune of the soul’ that has ‘shed its wings’ and fallen into forgetfulness both of itself and at the same time of what precedes it (. . .).”33 The doubly ignorant fail to realize that if they turned within and examined the contents of their very being they would finally view “the vantage point of the divine” and truly activate their potential for the good versus merely being affected by good things. In On Providence Proclus further unpacks how the soul finds itself ensnared in this problem and attributes the problem to the faculty of choice characteristic of the particular rational soul caught between the levels of intellect and sense perception.

T10. Proclus, De prov., 44

To this life we must attribute choice (prohairesis), which may tend to both sides, upwards and downwards, towards the intellect from which it originated and towards sense perception which it generated. Sense perception, however, and all forms of life together with bodies are without choice, as are also the bodies. Since the rational soul is intermediary between intellect and sense perception, it is moved in both directions because of the unstable inclination of its choice; it becomes relationally either of the extremes, although it is neither of them essentially.

(trans. Steel)

Put otherwise, all rational souls have a choice, either reversion to themselves and the superior element constituting the soul or a turn away to the external world of fated sensible bodies. The former choice prepares the soul for true freedom as this life is not dependent upon anything external and as such is self-constituted, willingly striving for the truly Good and therein coming into its own propriety.34 In opposition, the option to identify with the external seduces the soul, enticing it away from itself, attaching or enslaving it to what is other to itself, the world of things externally or intermediately moved, namely, bodies.35

Unfortunately, it is in this decision that the doubly ignorant tend to err as they do not even recognize that they have a choice between the intelligible or the sensible because, to put it succinctly, they do not know themselves. They fail to realize that there is anything beyond their immediate perceptions and so, due to their conceit which causes them not to question or to doubt, the doubly ignorant hastily and thoughtlessly apply their vague notions of their divine content to material and external objects. Nevertheless, this hasty assent to a kind of material correspondence regarding their immediate notions of things like beauty or the good arises from a noteworthy feature that is proper to each individual, the human longing to articulate or reunite with a clear picture of the source of those vague notions, the reasoning principles ordering our very being. The doubly ignorant make mistakes because they want or will (boulêsis), as all souls do, some form of reunion with the divine realities pulsing through them. They, in their love of the good, desperately want to actualize what they haphazardly carry within them and so they willingly rush toward the external world in their attempts to bring such knowledge forth. Here we can certainly see that for Proclus the doubly ignorant will (boulêsis) the good but mistakenly choose (prohairesis) to turn away from it. As Proclus clarifies in On Providence, there is a disharmony between the good will and our choices because “the will, they say, only regards the good, whereas choice is likewise of good and not good things.” While the will has only one object, the “truly good”, choice always has as its object either the “truly good” or the “apparent good.”36 It is due then to this simple divide in the soul that individuals may choose evil, i.e. apparent goods, unwillingly.

In the Alcibiades i commentary, Proclus leans on the Phaedrus, specifically the myth of the charioteer, in order to articulate adequately why individuals so often feel satisfied with their choices in apparent goods. Feeding the problem of double ignorance, individuals choose, with the best of intentions, those sensible images of the good which tug at the bell of remembrance of those realities once seen, hearkening to the vague notions we have of those divine realities constituting our soul.37 As Proclus contends, individuals longing for the good often chase pleasure and, while this is not a virtuous hunt, it is an understandable pursuit since pleasure and all its delights kindle nostalgia for the good itself, as pleasure too causes a kind of wonder, delight and desire akin to the good. He also suggests that others will only see or vaguely recall the good’s “completeness” and, in consequence, many might “direct their enthusiasm to money, since therein lies the image of self-sufficiency” while “others again inclining toward the aspect of competence, are wildly excited about positions of power, for power is an unstable representation of competence” and the activity of the gods.38 Offering a concrete example of these mistakes, Proclus considers Alcibiades and his own longing for power as a perfect paradigm for one who desires correctly in his love of complete power but errs in attributing these things to the world versus the province of the gods. In doing this he doubles the grievousness of his actions, enslaving himself to everyone and everything else whilst desiring and believing he is free.39 So, in sum, many people desire political power because it resembles the activities of the gods, money because its possession gives the illusion of self-sufficiency—a divine attribute—while still others seek out pleasure because it echoes the wonder of the good and the picture of heavenly ease. In all cases individuals manifest both their good will but also their confusion, caused by the ignorance of conceit and the corresponding misapplication of one’s notions.40

For Proclus, such souls chase after representations of the good rather than the good itself, as the mere image in the external world strikes at the cords of inner truth and in developing conceit, in thinking they know the beautiful or the just, individuals do not, as Socrates would agree, willingly err but honestly believe they are choosing the right path and coming closer to the highest object of desire.41 In the following passage Proclus clearly outlines how this error arises, describing it as a perversion of the good latent in our mere notions (ἔννοιαι) of the good.

T11. Proclus, In Alc., 150. 19-23

αἱ μὲν οὖν ἔννοιαι μεγάλαι καὶ θαυμασταὶ τῶν τοιούτων ψυχῶν, τὰ δὲ ἐπιτηδεύματα σμικρὰ καὶ ἀγεννῆ καὶ εἰδωλικά, χωρὶς ἐπιστήμης μεταδιωκόμενα. τὰ μὲν γάρ ἐστι παρὰ φύσιν, αἱ δὲ κατὰ φύσιν, καὶ τὰ μὲν λήθης ἐστὶν ἔκγονα καὶ ἀγνοίας, αἱ δὲ τῶν αὐτοφυῶν ὠδίνων ἀνακινήσεις

So the conceptions of such souls are grand and admirable, but their translations into practice are petty, ignorable and illusionary, pursued without true knowledge; their notions are in character, but their actions out of it, the former the stirring of birth-pangs in keeping with nature, the latter the products of oblivion and unawareness.42

(tr. O’Neill)

Here, Proclus carefully reminds his readers that as reflecting the divine content of the soul our vague notions or preconceptions of the logoi are still good in themselves, i.e. they are “grand and admirable.” Nevertheless, insofar as we do not deliver these notions properly, i.e. by choosing to apply them to the world of mortal bodies, we articulate them poorly and, therein, err. Proclus elsewhere compares this process of misapplying our notions to being correct according to one’s major premises but “deceived according to the minor premises.”43 Proclus argues that Alcibiades exemplifies this process in his desire for self-sufficiency as the youth rightly recognizes that self-sufficiency is a divine activity, but by looking to money, friends and public reputation, he, as discussed above, only possesses “the appearance of self-sufficiency, but not the reality.”44 In other words, in the desire for self-sufficiency Alcibiades is correct according to the “common and unperverted notion” but deceived in the minor premise by identifying self-sufficiency with the acquisition of pleasure, money or political power.45 Focusing on the goods of pleasure and money, Proclus explicitly concentrates on how this faulty syllogistic reasoning always returns to the desirability of the good itself and results from the soul’s choice to turn not to its higher faculties of knowing but the lower faculties associated with ignorance and the material world.

T12. Proclus, In Alc., 104, 15-21

καὶ οὕτως εὑρήσεις καὶ τὸν φιλήδονον καὶ τὸν φιλοχρήματον διὰ ταύτην ψευδομένους• ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἡδονήν, ὁ δὲ χρήματα τίθεται τὸ ἀγαθόν, ὅτι δὲ πᾶν τὸ ἀγαθὸν ἐφετόν, κοινόν ἐστιν αὐτοῖς. καὶ συνελόντι φάναι, τὰς μὲν μείζους τῶν προτάσεων ἕκαστοι τιθέασιν ἀπὸ τῶν κοινῶν ἐννοιῶν καὶ τοῦ λόγου ταύτας προβάλλοντες, τὰς δὲ ἐλάττους ἀπὸ φαντασίας, ἀπὸ αἰσθήσεως, ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλόγων προφέρονται παθῶν.

So you will find both the lover of pleasure and the lover of money deceived on this account; the one posits pleasure, the other money as the good, but that every good is desirable is the common premise of both of them. To put it briefly they each posit their major premises by realizing them from common notions and the faculty of reason, but they put forward the minor premises from imagination, sense perception and the irrational emotions.

(tr. O’Neill)

Proclus continues to describe this faulty form of reasoning when he describes how Alcibiades’ love of honor arises from having seen or having recalled that honor is a divine attribute. In short, the youth is correct according to his major premise that honor is a good or something divine. Yet, as can be expected, he errs in his decision to identify honor with public or external praise rather than the inward praise and genuine devotion to the gods exhibited by honoring the divine eternal realities discovered in true self-knowledge.46 Strikingly, this also helps us understand why the doubly ignorant tend to pursue praiseworthy reputations, i.e. public images, as these images projected by the external world reflect the notable desire for true self-knowledge and the divine notion that self-knowledge is a good of the soul. In short, obtaining a praiseworthy public reputation, i.e. maintaining a good or groomed public image via ‘keeping up with the Jones,’ like the pursuit of money or political power, simply arises from the false belief that self-knowledge is achieved through knowing one’s public image. In consequence, the doubly ignorant admire the mere image of the self as seen in the external world by their peers and colleagues rather than the real self, which is viewed only when one turns inward. Markedly, Proclus notes that the love of honor and a good reputation are the hardest desires to clear from the soul as the most “powerful characters succumb before honor, reputation and power [. . .]” and thus Proclus appropriately thinks that in the process of philosophical purification from the state of double ignorance “the last garment to be cast off is that of ambition, that of being made ‘naked’ [. . .].”47

Of course, as most Platonists can assume, to be made naked, to cast off conceit and ambition, demands quite simply that individuals withdraw from mere representations and reach upwards from the underground cave to choose to ascend toward the realities found only within the soul in its proper acts of contemplation and dialectic. This, of course, demands a complete turn from the sensible, material, corporeal world, from those images and faculties that bind us to ignorance and perplexity. Offering a compelling adaptation of Socrates’ divine mission through Neoplatonic metaphysics, Proclus believed this activity of turning from the world of appearance to intelligible reality requires that individuals assume the difficult work of personal learning and discovery, of inquiry into and care for the soul.48 As Proclus writes, “[T]he soul of man, [. . .] requires both learning and discovery, in order that through learning and discovery it may find itself and the fullness of the notions innate therein.”49 Reiterating more fully his proximity to Socrates, Proclus insists that the activities of learning and discovery, of questioning oneself and others, are the actions that purify one from conceit to knowledge insofar as one first admits ignorance and the need to clarify and articulate, i.e. care for, the knowledge we already possess.50 This is an activity which depends upon realizing that while our desires are good and our notions possess true potency, we, through our own languor in thought and dependence upon what is external, have misapplied them, unwittingly erring in the process. Proclus ultimately concludes that the aim of Socrates’ teaching methods was to purify individuals from double ignorance, from believing they have knowledge prior to learning and discovery, prior to performing the activities that constitute our being, thereby reorienting his companions inwards toward self-knowledge and the truly amazing discovery that they already, in many senses, possessed in the contents of their soul what they wanted. As can be seen in the following and final quote, Proclus heralds Socrates as one who attaches or reunites individuals to what they truly desire, reunion with the good.

T13. Proclus, In Alc., 152.11-20

ὁ τρόπος τῆς Σωκρατικῆς διδασκαλίας, ἕκαστον ἀνάγειν εἰς τὸ οἰκεῖον ἐφετόν, καὶ τῷ μὲν φιληδόνῳ δεικνύναι, ποῦ τὸ καθαρῶς ἡδύ, τὸ πρὸς τὸ λυπηρὸν ἀμιγές (. . .). τῷ δὲ φιλοχρημάτῳ, ποῦ τὸ ὄντως αὔταρκες, τὸ μηδαμῶς τῆς ἐνδείας ἀναπιμπλάμενον (. . .). τῷ δὲ φιλάρχῳ, ποῦ τὸ δύνασθαι καὶ τὸ ἄρχειν καὶ ποῖον τὸ ἡγεμονικὸν εἶδος τῆς ζωῆς δουλείας ἁπάσης καθαρεῦον (. . .).

Such was the method of Socrates’ teaching, to elevate each individual to his appropriate object of desire, and to show the lover of pleasure where pure pleasure, unmixed with pain exists (. . .); to show the lover of money where real self-sufficiency, completely free from need, exists (. . .); and to show the lover of command where power and rule exist and what is the nature of the authoritative form of life free from all enslavement (. . .).

(tr. O’Neill)

To summarize, then, Proclus has outlined that via possessing innate logoi in our soul we develop some pre-discursive but indefinite notions of moral concepts. It is then on account the veracity and perfection of the causes of these notions, i.e. the logoi, that we can then be tempted to conceit, into believing that our mere notions are actual knowledge despite never having inquired. The condition of double ignorance then is further compacted in choosing to identify ones notions not with what gives them power but with things in the sensible world. Regardless, Proclus insists that all human beings possess the will (boulesis) to the Good, but due to the nature of the soul as one that can choose between the life of sense or nonsense, the intelligible within or the ignorance of matter without, we, due to our own conceit, sometimes unwittingly choose that which we do not desire, i.e. the appearances of the Good versus the true Good. In the end, for Proclus it is our conceit which fools us into believing that our understanding of the good is the Good and so we blindly perpetuate this error, scarcely realizing that our choices do not reflect what we truly want. Thus, in short, Proclus turns to Socrates as an exemplar of one who teaches us to remove the obstacle to self-knowledge, double ignorance, while further insisting that one must admit ignorance and realize that what we desire, what we truly will, is already within, awaiting our return through the activities of learning and inquiry characteristic of the rational soul.


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1 For this characteristic view see E. Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung. Dritter Theil, Zweite Abtheilung. Die Nacharistotelische Philosophie, zweite Hälfte, Leipzig 1903, p. 496; W. Bröcker, Platonismus ohne Sokrates. Ein Vortrag über Plotin, Wissenschaft und Gegenwart 33, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt 1966; R.F. Hathaway, “The Neoplatonist Interpretation of Plato: Remarks on Its Decisive Characteristics,” The Journal of the History of Philosophy, 7, 1969, pp. 19-26; contra see W. Beierwaltes, “Selbsterkenntnis als sokratischer Impuls im neuplatonischen Denken”, Sokrates. Geschichte, Legende, Spiegelungen. Sokrates-Studien ii, (ed.) H. Kessler, Die Graue Edition, Kusterdingen 1995, p. 97-116; Smith, A. (2004). “The Neoplatonic Socrates” in Karasmanis, V. (ed.), Socrates: 2400 years since his death. European Cultural Centre of Delphi. Hellenic Ministry of Culture, 455-460; Rangos, S. (2004). “Images of Socrates in Neoplatonism,” in Karasmanis, V. (ed.), Socrates: 2400 years since his death. European Cultural Centre of Delphi. Hellenic Ministry of Culture, 464-480. See also D. Layne and H. Tarrant (eds.), The Neoplatonic Socrates, Penn University Press ( forthcoming). While the following does not intend to address the specific criticisms of Hathaway et al it does hope to highlight both Proclus’ understanding of a typical Socratic maxim and his valorization of recognized ignorance insofar as the latter is necessary for inquiry and self-knowledge. Due to the latter theme, we will assuredly recognize how the value of the ‘aporetic’ element in Plato’s dialogues is not lost on Proclus. See Hathaway (1966: 19-20). For a more detailed argument regarding Proclus’ understanding of Socratic ignorance see D. Layne, “Proclus on Socratic Ignorance, Knowledge and Irony,” Socrates and Socratic Dialogue, (ed.) F. de Luise & A. Stavru, Brill( forthcoming).

2 See Protagoras 345c-e where Socrates argues, “No one willingly goes toward the bad or what one believes to be bad,” or the Meno 77d-e where Socrates states, “Obviously, those who are ignorant of the bad do not desire it, but only what they supposed to be good, though it is really bad; so that those who are ignorant of it and think it good are really desiring the good.” Cf. Gorg., 509c5-7, Protagoras, 357d, Laches 194d, Lysis 210a-b, Alc., i 134c-135b for further examples of this thesis and the corresponding claim that error results from ignorance. See also Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1103a16-18, 1144b28-9, 1145a20-b25, 1147b14-16.

3 See C. Steel (2007) 68 as this translation of De prov. utilizes not only H. Boese’s edition of the Tria Opsucula but also a Greek retroversion of William of Moerbeke’s original Latin translation, the fruits of which allow for a fuller understanding of such passages.

4 Cf. De mal., 54. 1-10, 46.8-13 and in Remp., 2, 355, 11-352, 2. The nature of evil is thoroughly examined in the former text and is considered to be a parupostasis or a parasitic kind of existence, leading Proclus to conclude that evil does not exist per se, but only on account of inactivity and weakness in 1) souls not turned to the active principle in them, i.e. the Intellect, 2) irrational souls contrary to reason and 3) the body out of accord with nature. See De mal., 55, 5-15 and 36. 8-13. Throughout De mal., Proclus discusses the different types of evil and clearly associates the evil of the soul neither with matter nor the passions connected with matter, but with ignorance and the privation of intellect. See De mal., 24. 1-40, 25.1-25, 33. 20.24, 39. 40-44. For more information on the “problem of evil” and its relation to ignorance see J. Opsomer and C. Steel (2003) 55-57. See also R. Chlup, “Proclus’ Theory of Evil: An Ethical Perspective” International Journal of the Platonic Tradition, vol. 3:1, 2009: pp. 26-57. Chlup’s article carefully unpacks the ethical repercussions of Proclus’ theory of evil, evidencing that evil is “to deviate from one’s nature” and, as will be argued at some length below, is “something actively caused by the choosing soul.” (2009) 5. The following hopes to clarify exactly what detracts the “choosing soul” from actively obtaining the authentic good, i.e. what all truly desire.

5 See In Alc., 189.10-190.8, 200.15-201.9, 236.14-19.

6 In Alc. 293.16. Cf. Laws 716a. For further reference to this concept of double ignorance in the Platonic dialogues themselves see Laws 863b-d, Symposium, 204a, Sophist 229c1-10, Alcibiades i 118b, Lysis 217e-222a and the Statesman 302b. See also Layne, D. “Defending the Mere Presence of Ignorance from Plato to Erasmus.” The Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. Vol. 83, 2009, pp. 253-267.

7 In Alc., 290.20-23:

Τὸ δὲ ‘οὐκ ἐπίσταιτο’ μεγάλου ἀγαθοῦ στέρησιν ἐμφαίνει, τῆς ἐπιστήμης• καὶ τὸ ‘οἴοιτο’ προστίθησιν αὐτῷ καὶ κακόν, τὴν οἴησιν τὴν περιττὴν καὶ τὴν ἄγνοιαν τὴν διπλῆν» The phrase ‘that he did not know’ indicates the absence of a great good viz. knowledge; and the words ‘but thought he did’ add thereto a positive evil viz. excessive conceit and twofold ignorance.

(trans. O’Neill)

8 In Alc. 278.15-279.1. Consider In Alc., 17.1-5 where Proclus describes the overall intent of both Socrates and the dialogue as the clearing away of “every obstacle of twofold ignorance to self-knowledge and all that withdraws us from advertence to ourselves, by casting out conceit, and shows that this is the greatest of evils—the ignorance of ourselves. Concomitantly the greatest and most perfect of goods is revealed as possessing its subsistence in knowledge of ourselves.” See also In Alc., 115.21-16.1, 174.1-10.

9 In Alc., 34, 16-17.

10 Cf. In Alc., 280.24-28.8.

11 For more on the Stoic koinai ennoiai see F.H. Sandbach, “Ennoia and Prolepsis in the Stoic Theory of Knowledge,” in A. Long (ed.), Problems in Stoicism, London: Athlone Press, 1971. See further J. Phillips, “Stoic ‘common notions’ in Plotinus,” Dionysius, vol. 11, 1987 pp. 33-52. For the, perhaps definitive, article on Proclus’ conception of the innate reasoning principles or logoi see C. Steel, “Breathing Thought. Proclus on the Innate Knowledge of the Soul,” J. Cleary (ed.), The Perennial Tradition of Neoplatonism, Leuven: Leuven up 1997, 293-309. Steel explains that “we possess in ourselves, that is, in our rational soul, the logoi of all things” which “are called logoi because they belong to the ousia of the soul; they are not something acquired by it or added to its essence, but constitute the essence of the soul itself [. . .].” (1997) 296. See further Helmig (2012) 266 who notes that the logoi ousiōdeis can also be referred to as katholou logoi (In Parm., iv 896.23, v 1020.29 and In Tim., i 32.6, i 349.13), mesoi logoi (In Tim., ii 251.21 and In Alc., 21.21-22) and eidē en psychē (In Parm., iv 892.19-24, et § 194 and 195). Helmig also argues that the logoi ousiōdeis should be identified with Proclus’ occasional use of the term koinai ennoiai. See n. 44 below. Furthermore, this section on the innate logoi has benefited greatly from a last minute reading of C. Helmig, Forms and Concepts: Concept Formation in the Platonic Tradition, Berlin, de Gruyter 2012, pp. 263-325. The following ventures to highlight the ethical implications versus the merely epistemological consequences of Proclus’ theory.

12 See et § 194 and 195. See also In Parm., 982.28-33 where the essential logoi are the causes of discursive reasoning and demonstration, without which, the Neoplatonist argues, all dialectical methods or paths to truth would prove futile. As he says, quoting Parmenides, “One will have no direction to turn one’s thought.”

13 See In Parm., 808.14-809.19: “For, to put it briefly, Soul is third in rank form the One and is naturally actualized this way. For the One is one only and precedes thought, Intellect thinks all Ideas as one, and Soul sees them all one by one [. . .] for this is her peculiar property; for the power to divine and define appears first in Soul [. . .]. It is therefore appropriate that Soul should have the function of division and of seeing things discursively. It is no wonder, then, that whereas the divine Forms exist primordially together and unified in the demiurgic intellect, our soul attacks them separately [. . .] for spoken discourse breaks apart the single unitary thought and traverses in temporal succession the parts of the unified conceptions in the mind.”

14 In Alc., 280.21-281.3. See also In Alc., 277.22 and In Eucl. 16.8.

15 In Alc., 20.15-21.7.

16 See also In Alc., 281.1-8 and In Crat. 61.9. See Helmig (2012: 272-278) for Proclus’ Middle Platonic influences with regard to the view that the reasoning principles are hidden or obscured as well as a detailed account of the importance of this development for the Platonic theory of recollection.

17 See Helmig (2012: 274-275) who, following Steel, clarifies the distinction between ennoiai and logoi, arguing that the ennoiai represent our pre-reflexive awareness of the innate knowledge in the soul and are thus the likely cause of error. Helmig further argues that the proper intellectual activity of the soul resulting from the possession of the logoi and corresponding ennoiai are the activities of probolē (projection) and diarthrōsis (articulation). See below, as well as n. 20 and n. 24.

18 Cf. De mal., 21.15-22.16 where Proclus further connects the problem of evil to the soul’s “oblivion” and the “descent” or fall from the “heavenly sights.”

19 See In Alc. 191.11-192.4. To be clear, the logoi only appear vague and inarticulate and so await clarification through an examination that would reveal their divine, complete nature. The objects themselves, the innate logoi, are not indefinite but rather the individual’s perception of them is vague. As C. Steel (1997: 294) argues, “When Proclus calls this insight ‘vague’ and ‘inarticulate’ he is therefore not referring to its object, for in themselves the logoi are clear and articulate; he is referring to our mode of apprehension of the logoi.” See also Chlup (2012) and Helmig (2012) for concise reformulations of this argument.

20 This is contrary to Helmig (2012: 320), who dismisses the connection between double ignorance and the innate logoi by claiming that Proclus “cannot mean this” as Proclus would not make the logoi but only the vague ennoiai responsible for twofold ignorance. In response, I would argue that it is, as Proclus insists in almost all the quotes above, on account of the innate logoi that we develop conceit and twofold ignorance as it is the logoi that, in a significant respect, cause the ennoiai themselves. Moreover, it is due to the veracity, power, i.e. perfection, of the underlying logoi that we feel justified in our conceit. It cannot be the vague ennoiai that cause us to feel we know when we do not as they are indefinite and muted. It is rather the perfection of their cause which provokes us to regard the ennoiai as knowledge. As Proclus says above, it is due to the innate logoi that “we stand in need of assistance,” i.e. that we need to protect ourselves from conceit. Ultimately, it is by possessing logoi, not ennoiai, that we sense our proximity to the divine. This, of course, does not mean that the logoi themselves are directly responsible for error or, that they are, as it were, the cause of evil. To the contrary, the mistakes and errors of the doubly ignorant result from human torpor in their articulation of our vague notions, the ennoiai, and the choice to identify the logoi with objects in the external world. In the end, we are responsible for error and evil as well as the perversion of our logoi by letting them remain in their indefinite state as ennoiai and inappropriately applying ennoiai to the world of things. See below for more details. See also n. 22, 23 and 24 for more on the importance of articulating our mere notions.

21 In Alc., 237, 1. Cf. Alc., 109d-110b.

22 By identifying knowledge in essence with potential knowledge, Proclus does not imply that this essential knowledge is potential or imperfect in itself, but he does suggest that it is only potential for us. C. Steel (2010) 630-653 clarifies Proclus’ point with regard to the fact that the soul possesses all things in actuality but through forgetfulness only appears to possess them potentially. See also Helmig (2012) 290. For both Helmig and Steel this clarification is made in part by Proclus’ attempt to distance himself from Aristotle, who argued that we come upon the scene as blank slates with only potential knowledge. Cf. De Anima 429a27-8. See Proclus, In Alc., 277.11-22, 280.24-281.10 and In Crat., 61.5-10 where Proclus’ scribe clearly asserts that the soul holds these things “not potentially, but actually [. . .]” and as such we need only uncover or bring to light our essential wisdom.

23 On the importance of diarthrōsis, concept formation and the doctrine of innate knowledge see Helmig (2012: 278-289). Helmig not only references Proclus’ sources for the value of diarthrōsis in Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and Middle Platonism, but he argues that it is the lack of articulation that leads to error in Proclus. Below I hope to clarify that it is not merely the lack of articulation that leads to error but that it stems from the choice to identify one’s inner content with the outside world.

24 See Proclus, et, § 30-35 where the Neoplatonist outlines how all products of creation “remain” in their cause, “proceed” from their cause and, most importantly, “revert” upon or return to their cause. For a concise understanding of Proclus’ doctrine of cyclical creativity see Chlup (2012: 64-82). See also Dillon (1987: xviii-xix) where he succinctly explains: “The cyclical process of rest in the causal principle, procession from it and reversion towards it, governs all activity both in the intelligible and physical worlds. The original rest in one’s cause is a state of potentiality which can also be viewed as the cause’s potency [. . . .] while both procession and reversion are required before actuality is achieved.” In other words, for a product of creation to become actual it must both proceed from out of itself as well as return toward its cause. Cf. Enn. v 2, 1.7-21.

25 See Helmig (2012: 290) for a defense of the rejection of the translation of probolē with ‘projection,’ substituting in its stead a ‘putting forth’ or ‘advancing’ of the soul’s innate content. Helmig describes the process of full recollection of one’s innate logoi as probolē. As he argues, “The Neoplatonists defended a kind of innatism to the effect that our innate knowledge is present in the soul in act, but somehow obstructed, veiled, or hidden. Before we come to grasp this knowledge we possess preconceptions (ennoiai) of it. These preconceptions have to be articulated. The final step of recollection concerns not the preconceptions (our awareness of the logoi), but the innate knowledge itself which has to be put forth, brought to light so that it can be apprehended. This putting forth or bringing to light is referred to as proballein.” (2012: 293). See also Chlup (2012: 145-151).

26 See et, § 191, De prov., 9, In Parm., 808.1-809.10.

27 In Alc., 240, 16-17.

28 That is, despite being in act in themselves, the logoi are indefinite for us. See De mal., 26.8-10 and 21.15-20 where Proclus emphasizes that all things of generation are perfected in activities in time while “oblivion” is a state of potency. Accordingly, those who are ignorant of their divine causes are not actualizing their potentiality and thus remaining in a state of oblivion, i.e. they are not doing the work constitutive of the human soul.

29 Cf. In Alc., 189, 4-12.

30 In Alc., 108, 11-13.

31 In Alc. 107, 15-18.

32 See In Alc., 116, 5-117, 115.

33 In Alc., 20, 1-21.5. Cf. Phaedrus 246c-249c.

34 It should be noted that for Proclus freedom is not, as we often regarded, derivative from choice but, rather, choice stands in complete opposite to freedom insofar as it allows for the possibility of turning away from the truly Good. See Proclus, de Prov., 56-61. Ultimately, real freedom is a divine privilege and so Proclus suggests that the soul “would have become itself the power over all things, if it had not had the impulse of choice, but had only been will. For a willed life is in accordance with the good and it makes what depends on us extremely powerful and it is really godlike.” Of course this position was already well articulated by Plotinus. See Enn., vi 8, 4.12-15. As Chlup summarizes, “For Plotinus, freedom does not imply the ability to chose arbitrarily between alternatives, but rather the power to direct one’s activity unfailingly toward the Good. Freedom is not characterized by capriciousness but by lack of compulsion: our action is free if it voluntarily strives toward the Good, but involuntary if it only strives toward some apparent good, being deluded by things in our world which only imitate the Good. The chief criterion of freedom is correct knowledge of the good. Freedom and choice are thus entirely unrelated—indeed, they rule each other out, ‘for to be capable of the opposite belongs to incapacity to remain with the best.’ ” (2009) 44. Cf. Plotinus Enn., vi 8, 21.5-7.

35 See also De prov., 57.1-4 where Proclus emphasizes that choice is a rational faculty that “strives for some good, either true or apparent, and leads the soul toward both. Through this faculty the soul ascends and descends, does wrong and does right. Considering the activity of this faculty authors have called its ambivalent inclination ‘the crossroads’ in us.” Cf. De prov. 17, 18, 44 and 21 for the explicit connection of choosing between the intelligible and the sensible as a choice between freedom and slavery. See also Steel (2007) 49-50. Consider also In Alc., 190, 16-191,4 where Proclus compares the doubly ignorant to matter:

κατὰ δὲ τὴν διπλῆν ἀμαθίαν ὁμοιοῦται τῇ ὕλῃ. ὡς γὰρ ἐκείνη πάντα κατὰ δόκησιν ἔχει ψιλήν, κατ’ ἀλήθειαν δὲ οὐδέν, καὶ οἴεται μὲν κεκοσμῆσθαι, τῆς δὲ ἀκοσμίας οὐκ ἀπήλλακται, οὕτω δὴ καὶ ὁ τὴν διπλῆν ἔχων ἄγνοιαν οἴεται γιγνώσκειν ἃ μὴ γινώσκει, καὶ δόκησιν περιφέρει σοφίας ὧν ἐστὶν ἀμαθής.

[I]n regard to double ignorance [the soul] resembles matter; the latter possesses all things in mere appearance, but in truth nothing, and has the conceit of being endowed with order, but has not escaped disorder; so also the person who is doubly ignorant thinks he knows what he does not know, and carries around him an appearance of wisdom in those subjects of which he is ignorant.

(tr. O’Neill)

36 De prov. 57-58. See C. Steel (2007) pp. 68-69. Consider also In Tim., i 378.22-379.9 where Proclus claims that evil is not natural for the soul “for she is essentially the mistress of her choice.”

37 See In Alc., 112.5-8.

38 In Alc., 148.1-149.5, 152.1-15 and 153.10-20. Cf. Proclus, De prov. 45-47 where he discusses the nature of pleasure and hedonism in relation to the good. See also Plotinus, Enn., ii 3, 2.1-11.

39 In Alc., 148.1-5.

40 See also In Alc., 136.9-137.1 where Proclus clearly alludes to the Phaedrus in his description of this process.

ἄλλαι μὲν οὖν τῶν ψυχῶν ἄλλοις εἰσὶν οἰκεῖαι θεάμασι, διὸ καὶ αἱ μὲν ἄλλοις, αἱ δὲ ἄλλοις εἰδώλοις ἐπιτρέχουσιν• ὧν γὰρ εἶδον ἐκεῖ τὰ εἴδωλα καὶ τὰς σκιὰς φιλοφρονοῦνται. ὅσαι δὲ αὖ τοῦ μεγάλου Διὸς ὀπαδοὶ γεγένηνται καὶ συμπεριεπόλουν αὐτῷ τὴν ἡγεμονικὴν ἔχοντι τάξιν ἐν τοῖς δώδεκα τῶν ὅλων ἄρχουσι, κατὰ εἶδος τοῦ σφετέρουθεοῦ καὶ δεῦρο ἐλθοῦσαι τὸ ἡγεμονικὸν εἶδος τῆς ζωῆς ποθοῦσι• καὶ τὸ μὲν ὄντως τοιοῦτον ἀγνοοῦσι, τὴν δὲ ἐν τοῖς φαινομένοις ἐξουσίαν καὶ δύναμιν ἐπιδιώκουσι. κἂν μὲν τύχωσιν ἐπιστημόνων τῶν καθηγου μένων, εἰς σωτηρίαν αὐταῖς καὶ ἀναγωγὴν ἡ ἐπιτηδειότης ἡ τοιαύτη τελευτᾷ• ἂν δὲ καταμείνωσιν ἐν τοῖς εἰδώλοις, φίλαρχοι γίνονται καὶ περὶ τὰς φαινομένας ἐπτόηνται δυνάμεις καὶ τυραννίδων ἐμπιπλᾶσι τοὺς ἑαυτῶν βίους καὶ τῶν τοιούτων κακῶν.

Now different souls are akin to different sights, and for this reason some run after some images, and some run after others, since they favour the images and shadows of what they have seen in the other world. But as many as have become followers of mighty Zeus and used to accompany him who holds the leader’s rank among the twelve rulers of the universe, in accordance with the specific nature “of their own god,” yearn after a leaders kind of life even when they come here. They are unaware of what is genuinely so, but they pursue authority and power in the world of appearances. If they chance upon learned guides, this sort of predisposition ends in salvation and upward ascent for them; but if they abide among mere images, they become ambitious and passionately excited concerning the appearances of power and fill their lives with tyrannies and suchlike evils.

41 Cf. Proclus, De mal. sub. 49.1-20.

42 See also In Alc., 135.19-136.5. Here Proclus clearly associates the mistake of the soul with turning to the use of sense-perception and imagination over the the use of the soul’s higher faculties of knowledge:

καὶ λέγομεν ὅτι μένουσαι μὲν αἱ ψυχαὶ παρὰ τοῖς θεοῖς νοερῶς ἐνεργοῦσι καὶ τῆς τε ἀγαθοειδοῦς βουλήσεως τῶν θεῶν καὶ τῆς εἱλικρινοῦς ἀπολαύουσι δόσεως• προϊοῦσαι δὲ ἐκεῖθεν διὰ φαντασίας καὶ ἀορίστου τινὸς κινή σεως εἰδώλοις ἐντυγχάνουσι τῶν ἐκεῖ πραγμάτων καὶ φαινομένοις ἀντὶ τῶν ἀληθῶν, καὶ θεώμεναι τὰς εἰκόνας καὶ τὰ εἴδωλα τῶν πραγμάτων παιφάσσουσι περὶ αὐτά, καὶ ποθοῦσι μὲν ἃ εἶδον, ἀντιπεριάγονται δὲ εἰς ἃ μὴ ποθοῦσιν.

We assert that when souls abide with the gods they act intelligently and enjoy both the will of the gods, which is of the form of the good, and their uncontaminated giving; but proceeding therefrom through the imagination and a certain indeterminate motion, they encounter images of the realities of the other world and appearances in place of what is genuine, and beholding the representations and images of the realities became all excited about them; though they long for what they do not long for.

(tr. Westerink)

43 In Alc., 104.10-12: καὶ ὁρᾷς δὴ πάλιν ὅπως ἐνταῦθα ὁ Ἀλκιβιάδης κατορθοῖ μὲν κατὰ τὴν μείζονα, σφάλλεται δὲ κατὰ τὴν ἐλάσσονα πρότασιν.

44 In Alc., 107.4

45 Here it should be clarified that Proclus is using the language of koinai ennoiai and, as such, may actually be referring not to our mere notions (psillē ennoia) but rather to the logoi ousiōdeis. See Helmig (2012: 270) where he argues that logoi ousiōdeis can be identified with the common notions (koinai ennoiai) insofar as they, like the Stoic conception, are the same for all souls and as such are common. Helmig further cites authors of the later Platonic tradition, like Eustratius and Damascius, for confirmation of this identity of the common notions and the logoi ousiōdeis. See Proclus, In Parm., 896. 12-18 for Proclus’ own attempt to distance the logoi ousiōdeis from the Stoic common notions as well as the expressibles or lekta. Arguably there seems to be some inconsistency with Proclus’ vocabulary in discussing the logoi versus the ennoiai but, nevertheless, in this section we need only emphasize that the doubly ignorant possess the right starting point whether it be logoi or ennoiai but err in articulating them.

46 Cf. In Alc., 151.5-8.

47 In Alc., 138.15-19. Cf. De mal., 24.20-30 where Proclus writes:

Therefore we must strip ourselves of the garments with which, in descending, we become invested, and proceed naked from here to there, completely purifying the eye of our soul by which we contemplate true being, instead of sense make intellect the principal ruler of our internal lives. What then is the origin of evil for us? It is the continuous communion and cohabitation with what is inferior to us. It is also oblivion and ignorance, which come about by looking to that which is dark and not intellectual. (tr. Steel and Opsomer)

48 In Alc., 153.

49 In Alc., 187.14-18.See also R.M. Van de Berg, (2001) p. 113 who similarly discusses the need to be purified from conceit, i.e. double ignorance, in relation to Proclus’ commentary on Plato’s Cratylus.

50 See in Alc., 100.27-103.21, 228.20-229.13, 241.10-18, 254.14, 289.1-290.12 for a detailed analysis of Socrates’ manner of refuting Alcibiades and its purgative purpose from double ignorance. For specific references to the elenchos’ purgative aims see in Parm., 654.1-14 as well as in Alc., 8.19, 276.20-282.8 and 302.9-17. See in Parm., 977.20 for Proclus’ praise of Socrates’ own willingness to be refuted insofar as refutation aims at the good. See also in Parm., 649.17-36, 652.1-14 and 654.15-655.11 where the commentator clearly associates Socrates with the art of refutation and the practice of arguing on both sides of a question. Proclus discusses how the former intends to be cathartic for those suffering from the conceit to knowledge, e.g. sophists, while the latter is directed at young men like Theaetetus or Lysis who need to examine and test their beliefs, i.e. discover that they unwittingly hold false beliefs. Cf. in Parm., 989.15-18 where Proclus specifically argues that the elenchos is directed toward sophists suffering from double ignorance. This leads him to claim that dialogues like the Lysis depict Socrates’ methods toward the young and as such his method will partake of refutation as well as stimulating the discovery of truth. Cf. Layne (2009).

  • 3

    See C. Steel (2007) 68 as this translation of De prov. utilizes not only H. Boese’s edition of the Tria Opsucula but also a Greek retroversion of William of Moerbeke’s original Latin translation, the fruits of which allow for a fuller understanding of such passages.

  • 41

    Cf. Proclus, De mal. sub. 49.1-20.

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