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Damascius-About The Nature of Reality

‘Chaldean Astronomers on the Babel Tower’, from Camille Flammarion ‘s ‘Histoire du Ciel’, Hetzel_1872.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is a quote from Damascius’ ‘Commentary on Plato’s ‘Phaedo’ (I,312-324, Westerink). It is about the nature of Reality, of things real or not and how to discern the true nature of both. We have added a short commentary by Tim Addey in ‘Beyond the Shadows, the metaphysics of the Platonic Tradition’, Prometheus Trust 2003. Page 101.


312. There are two kinds of forms, real-existents and things in process; the number and nature of what might be called the elements of each are the following:

A. Real-existents are divine, immortal, intelligential, having a single form, indissoluble, of the same condition and nature.

B. Things in process are corporeal, not immortal, not intelligential, multifarious, dissoluble, ever changing.313. Things that have true being are ‘divine’ because dependent on Gods before them.

314. They are ‘immortal’ because their nature is eternal; for since they do not lack anything, neither can they ever lack life.

315. They are ‘intelligential’ in the sense that they are capable of thought; this is proved by the contrasting attribute of things on process, ‘non intelligential’ (anoeton). In the ‘Timaeus’ the word is used in the same meaning.

316. They ‘have a single form’ because they are form only and are simple forms, indivisible because of their unity.

317. They are ‘indissoluble’ as a consequence of being indivisible, without parts and absolutely non-dimensional; for anything that is dissolved into its components.

318. Existents as such are ‘always of the same condition and quality’; for in that which is real in the proper and primary sense that neither was nor will be anything that is not; therefore, they are entirely invariable.

319.Things in process are described by the narrower term ‘human things’; elsewhere (Laws I, 631b6-d1) Plato contradistinguishes the human as corporeal from the divine, inasmuch as the divine participates in the Gods, whereas human nature on its lower level is participated by the body. Rather, we should contrast the divine as the most completely united with the human as the most radically disintegrated.

320. They are all without exception ‘not immortal’ according to the ‘Timaeus’ (41b2); here, however, in combination with ‘human’ things, he applies the term ‘mortal’.

321. Corporeal things have no ‘thought’; nor even perception, taken by themselves.

322. It is ‘multifarious’ inasmuch as each part of it is an aggregate of many things and inasmuch as it is divided and material.

323. It is ‘dissoluble’ because it is composed of many parts; the way in which it is dissolved is the same in which it was composed, either as regards its essence only, or also in time.

324. It is ‘never of the same condition and nature’, because it is forever changing either in activity or in substance as well.’*‘Let us summarize these two states: In the intelligible place we have real being which is stable and causal, eternal and true. In the material realm we have things which are constantly rising into existence but never really ‘are’, material things are effects of intelligible causes; they are temporal and in varying degrees deceptive unless their relation to real being, or ideas, is acknowledged. Much of the unspoken ‘philosophy’ of our materialistic civilization implies that material things are real and abstract things are less real: this is a reversal of the true state of things according to the Platonic tradition. To many modern thinkers’ abstract things are merely a convenient construct of the mind which imposes a more or less arbitrary order on the mass of real materiality. It is true, of course, that the human mind is creative, and it is this quality which might suggest that the process of abstraction is moving the thinker away from reality; but the first action of the human mind is ‘discovery’, not ‘creativity’. Once the mind discovers principles it then naturally starts to use them in the subsequent creative process-but it must be emphasized that we cannot be truly creative unless we have contacted some ‘already existing’ abstraction. Proof of this follows from the fact that if our understanding of the pre-existing principle is too distorted the creative process which follows our flawed discovery will necessarily be limited and carry within it a high degree of destructiveness.’

Damascius-About The Nature of Reality

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