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Platonic Praxis

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Platonic Praxis

Post  Erodius on Mon Jul 29, 2013 10:04 pm

In addition to learning about principles of Platonistic thought, the student will best understand the universe as the Platonists see it, if they “don the philosopher’s cloak” and take up the philosophic life. The life of practice is what makes the theory learnt into a reality for the soul, a divine illumination and perfection of the philosopher’s being.

The Platonists of late antiquity rank the steps of the philosophical life into seven stages, each activating a mode of intelligence and manifesting a mode of excellence or virtue.

The modes of intelligence (1) are traditionally called:

The Desire (ἐπιθυμία)
The Spirit (θυμός)
The Imagination (φαντασία)
The Opinion (δόξα)
The Reason (διάνοια)
The Intellect (νοῦς)
The One of the Soul (το ἕν της ψυχής)

The manifestations of excellences or virtues (Ἀρεταί) (2) are:

The Natural (φυσικαί)
The Moral (ἠθικαι)
The Constitutional (πολιτικαί)
The Purificatory (καθαρτικαι)
The Contemplative (θεορετικαι)
The Archetypal (παράδειγματικαι)
The Holy (ἱερατικαι)

For the Platonists, especially the theurgists amongst them, the efforts of the philosopher alone are not enough to guaranty progress up the scale of intelligences and virtues. Rather the divine itself is what effects such change in the soul. The state of such effects was called divine madness or mania by Plato. Hermeias, in his Commentary on Plato’s Phaedrus (3), arranges the four divine manias mentioned by Plato in order of their progressive effects on the soul:

“Poetic” mania brings the disordered parts of the soul into harmony
“Telestic” mania makes the harmonised soul into a whole and elevates it to Intellect
“Mantic” mania concentrates the soul into a unity
“Erotic” mania conjoins the one of the unified soul to the gods and to intelligible Beauty, effecting divine union

But before such maniae may occur, the soul must desire Purity. Porphyry states that purification is spoken of most by the sages because without it, all further stages are impossible. (4) As Damascius points out, though, purity is not something added to the soul, rather purity is the state of the soul when all that is foreign is removed from her (5).

Damascius said that “the life of purification has three degrees:discarding all the confusion of genesis, which has attached itself to our true being, meeting one’s own pure self, being united with one’s own cause by returning to that which is purest in oneself.” (6)

He further says: “Soul has a threefold activity, the object being both the soul itself and what exists on either side, the lower and the higher; hence the three levels of life. In each of these the soul can choose three different ways, as we have said already (quoted above): in social life that of ruling the lower, or of finding within itself the principles of its actions, or of looking up towards causes higher than soul; in the life of purification there are the ways of drawing back from the lower, of developing its own essential type, or of seeking the principles from which it has sprung; and the same obviously holds of the contemplative life, in which the soul considers the superior entities either as exerting providence over the lower degrees of being, or as remaining within themselves, or as connected with what is beyond.” (7)

In purifying the passions and emotions, Damascius says that the student practices these three degrees of purification by: 1. moderating the passions,  2. avoiding them, or 3. becoming completely divorced of them, as far as possible. (8 )

Damascius lays out six steps in the soul's complete purification:

I. Remove from herself pleasure and pain as far as possible
II. Eat only food which is simple, non-luxuriant, vegetarian, sanctified, and traditional
III. Suppress aimless and irrational appetite, following the dictates of reason
IV. Detach herself from sense-perception and imagination, except when it is necessary to use them
V. Keep himself from the multifarious variety of opinion
VI. Escape from “the complexity of discursive thought and seek the simpler forms of demonstration and division as a preparation for the undivided activity of the intellect” (9)

However, we must not forget that purification is not just about the soul, but also about our way of life. Damascius says that we must not only purify our soul, but also our body and our possessions, for we must “strive for all of these, so that everything, not just ourselves, but our tools also, may be flooded by divine illumination, that no demoniac darkness may settle on our soiled tools, turning away our sight from the Gods, and that our soul may travel lighter on her way to the Divine and, so far from being burdened by those tools, by derive strength from them for the upward journey, since she is still tied to them as far as natural life is concerned.” But the soul is still most important, for he adds, “If, on the other hand, we come to God with an impure mind, though pure externally, we lose our efforts; for then the soul by her way of life remains chained to the evil and monstrous demon she resembles.” (10)
1) cf. Anne Shepard, “The Influence of Hermias on Marsilio Ficino’s Doctrine of Inspiration.” The Journal of the Warburg and Cowtould Institutes 43 (1980), p. 104.
2) cf. Damascius, A Commentary on Plato’s Phaedo, I.138-144.
3) II.1-2.
4) Launching Points to the Intelligible, ch. 27, in Dillon and Gerson, Neoplatonic Philosophy: introductory readings (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004), p. 186.
5) cf Commentary on Plato’s Phaedo, I.124.
6) A Commentary on Plato’s Phaedo, I.67, translated by Westerink (Wiltshire: Prometheus Trust).
7) I.74
8 ) I.75.
9) I.120, translated by Westerink.
10) Commentary on Plato’s Phaedo, I.123.
Cited from http://www.platonic-philosophy.org/

"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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Re: Platonic Praxis

Post  Out of Phlegethon on Sun Sep 01, 2013 4:23 pm

The love of wisdom will lead us to Truth. Even a lover like myself who has been snatched up by the metaphysics before Plato cannot live or breathe without certain passages and arguments from Plotinus, Iamblichus and the great (and lesser known) Damascius. Excellent post on the ascetic life of the Platonist philosophers.
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