Self-motion and reflection:

Stephen Menn

in Neoplatonism and the Philosophy of Nature

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199693719
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739019 | DOI:
Self-motion and reflection:

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The later Neoplatonists want to reconcile Aristotle and Plato on how far down immortality extends. They must therefore maintain that Aristotle’s poiêtikos nous is part of the soul, and that when Plato says the soul is immortal he means only the rational soul. They face a difficulty in the Phaedrus, where Plato uses the premise that soul is self-moving to argue that ‘all soul is immortal’: it seems that if this argument works, it will prove too much. Furthermore, Aristotle criticizes this argument: soul is the source of self-motion to the animal composite, but it may be an unmoved, rather than self-moved, mover of the body. Aristotle thinks only an uncritical assimilation of souls to bodies would lead us to think that souls must be moved in order to cause motion in bodies. Hermias and Proclus respond that the only self-motion that cannot be reduced to one part moving another is the rational soul’s self-thinking: the Phaedrus proof of immortality works only for a self-thinking soul, and since only this is properly self-moved and self-motion is the definition of soul, only the rational soul is properly a soul. The Neoplatonists’ attempt, in defending Plato against Aristotle, to ‘purify’ him of improper assimilation of divine things to bodies, leads not only to improved arguments but to conceptual innovations. Notably, the concept of ‘reflection’ emerges from a reinterpretation of the Timaeus’ construction of the World-Soul, with its straight lines ‘bent back’ into circles, that will apply only to a self-thinking rational soul.

Keywords: Hermias; Proclus; immortality; self-motion; reflection; harmonization; assimilation; purification

Chapter.  15548 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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