Three Instances of the Good in Proclus

Apeiron 56 (2):371-393 (2023)
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Plato’s Philebus famously combines a deliberation on the virtuous life as a balancing act between prudence and pleasure with a theory of the composition of mixtures from limit and limitedness. The latter aspect of the dialogue is used by the Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus as a basis for his own metaphysical analysis of the ultimate first principle, the One, and the manner in which it produces all things which exist. Multiple scholarly analyses have been provided of Proclus’ use of the Phileban theory of limit and the unlimited for his description of the first principle’s creation process. However, this paper shows that Proclus reads the Philebus not merely for its discussion of limit and unlimited, but also for its description of the good life. After all, the Neoplatonic One is also the Good from Plato’s Republic. In Phil. 20d1–11, Socrates suggest that the good is perfect, sufficient, and desirable. Proclus’ Commentary on the Republic and Platonic Theology reveal that these three aspects of the good provide Proclus with a framework to describe the Neoplatonic first principle qua Good. In Proclus’ view, the three Phileban concepts constitute the base elements of the good which reappear in all of its manifestations, and thus link the good in us to the transcendent and unqualified Good: the desirable element represents the good’s singularity and its position as the centre around which all beings circle; the sufficient element represents the non-reciprocal bestowal of existence and generative power by any form of the good upon its participants; lastly, the perfect element reverts all creatures to the good in which they participate, even when not all genera of beings in the Neoplatonic universe are equally capable of such participation. Furthermore, Proclus uses the description of the good life as not merely intellectual from the Philebus to fortify his arguments in disagreements with other Neoplatonic commentators regarding the transcendence of the Good over the intelligible principles, and conversely employs the Neoplatonic definition of the first principle to affirm the ethics of the Platonic dialogue. Thus, although Proclus’ primary goal in reading the Philebus is to obtain knowledge of the ultimate first principle, Socrates’ analysis of the virtuous life in the dialogue is just as important for his purposes as the theory of mixtures.



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