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Online Lecture

Taking Plato Seriously:
Proclus as Exegete

May 30, 2024

Lecture will take place on Zoom
7-9pm Athens & Alexandria

6-8pm Paris

5-7pm Oxford
12-2pm New York

Image: Yerassimos Steris, Landscape with the Acropolis, 1931-1935, oil on canvas, 53,5 x 64 cm, Marinos Fokas-Kosmetatos Bequest, National Gallery, inv. no. Π.8578
© 2015 National Gallery-Alexandros Soutsos Museum-Evripidis Koutlidis Foundation


It is practically a commonplace among students of ancient philosophy that Proclus’ personal philosophical works go far beyond what any reasonable interpretation of Plato would allow. And yet there is no doubt that Proclus thought that he was an accurate and assiduous exegete of Plato. Hegel, in his History of Philosophy, remarked that Proclus was a more accurate exegete of Plato than was Plotinus because Plotinus, unlike Proclus, was overly influenced by Aristotle. So, the question I ask in this paper is “can we understand how Proclus proceeds from his commentaries on the dialogues to his own constructive metaphysics.” Among scholars of Proclus, there is widespread agreement that the key to understanding Proclus’ philosophy is, indeed, to be found in his commentaries on the dialogues of Plato. Controversy arises, naturally enough, when it comes to the details of the path from the one to the other. Etienne Gilson, a shrewd student of the history of philosophy and certainly no friend of Proclus, suggested in his Being and Some Philosophers that if one embraced Plato’s philosophy as true, then one would end up with Proclean metaphysics. Gilson took Proclean metaphysics as self-evidently absurd, leading him to deny the antecedent. Nevertheless, Gilson inadvertently confirms the Hegelian point that Proclus was a highly accurate exegete of Plato coupled with the contemporary scholarly opinion that Proclus own philosophy is derived from that exegesis. So, one way of framing the issue with which I shall be concerned is whether the Platonism that we can derive from Plato himself and the Platonism of Proclus stand or fall together.

Lloyd Gerson (University of Toronto)

Lloyd Gerson is Professor of philosophy in the University of Toronto. He is the author, co-author, translator, or editor of 25 book on ancient philosophy and some 250 articles and reviews, including most recently Plato’s Moral Realism (Cambridge, 2023) and the forthcoming second edition of Plotinus. The Enneads and (with James Wilberding), the New Cambridge Companion to Plotinus (Cambridge, 2022).