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Philosophy Study, ISSN 2159-5313 August 2011, Vol. 1, No.

3, 180-188

Proclus Ontological Arguments concerning the Objective Existence of the Forms

Christos Terezis
University of Patras

Elias Tempelis
Hellenic Naval Academy

In his commentary on the Platonic Parmenides, the Neoplatonist philosopher Proclus (ca. 411-485) offers a systematic defense of the objective existence of the Forms by means of the use of distinctive arguments, four of which are ontological. In contrast with Aristotle, Proclus clearly accepts that the Forms exist as principles of the world and not as posterior concepts describing the common elements of the sensible entities. Thus, he argues first that the ontological presuppositions of the sensible beings are placed in the area of the self-subsistent beings, which correspond to the categories of the Second Hypothesis of the Parmenides. The Forms belong to this area as well. In this respect, Proclus refers to the way of production of the sensible beings, aiming at a strict definition of this process. Secondly, he proves that the existence of the Forms, which possess ontological completeness, is prior to the existence of the sensible things. This is possible since the Forms are generated by the Demiurge of the whole world, by means of an internal reflection upon himself. Thirdly, in order to prove that the sensible world cannot be attributed to mere chance, he argues that the external activity, i.e., the creation of the world, depends on the internal activity, i.e., the development of the Forms in the divine intellect. Fourthly, he implements the concept of hierarchy in the realm of the Forms, through an extensive reference to the ontological priority of the imparticipable over the participable. Thus, he shows how the existence of the primary and intelligible Forms is prior to that of the substantiated Forms. Interestingly enough, the above-mentioned arguments exercised considerable influence on the commentaries of the members of the school of Ammonius, son of Hermias. Keywords: Plato, Proclus, Ammonius, Forms, ontology, metaphysics

1. Introduction
In his commentary on the Parmenides, Proclus analytically presents the evolution of the Forms from the superior to the lower levels of reality. He mentions that in their initial presence, the Forms are found in the Living Being Itself while they neither move nor evidently reside in bodies. Generally, they bestow essence by means of emanation without any activity or motion on their behalf. They offer only the ontologically essential presuppositions for the productive processes, which are scheduled to follow. These take place through activity and motion and are first seen on the level of the god who is called Demiurge. Thus, on the first level, there are four Forms as Monads of the Living Being Itself or the first Being, which are identified as the universal principles of the particular beings, i.e., those sources which posit the compulsory terms for the foundation of
Christos Terezis, professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Patras, Greece; main research field: Ancient Greek and Byzantine Philosophy. Elias Tempelis, assistant professor, Sector of Humanities and Political Sciences, Hellenic Naval Academy; main research field: Greek Philosophy.



the presuppositions of the natural Being. On the second level, they are widened and, with the Demiurge as the first intermediate, they go through all subsequent divine areas until the most exterior ones. This route, of course, is in accordance with the basic tenet of Proclus ontological system: Every new appearance of a metaphysical reality with developments or additions makes it ontologically inferior to its previous one. This devaluation is due to the elimination of the initial unity since the metaphysical multitude comes to the fore. The latter is necessary for the establishment and the explanation of the variety of the world of sensible experience.1 In Proclus own words:
For the gods have clearly said that they are ideas of the Father (for their residence is in the Fathers thoughts), that they go forth for the making of the cosmos (for the launching forth is their procession), that they have all sorts of forms as containing the causes of all particular things, that from the primal Ideas others have gone forth, like swarms of bees, to their allotted roles in the framing of the cosmos, and that they generate the second order of beings. (Morrow, and Dillon 169)

As with reference to his theories about the One and the Henads, Proclus moves towards a strict Realism in the case of his theory on the Forms as well. In conformity with this principle from the beginning, he rejects Aristotles view2 that Socrates had not been led to the foundation of the theory of the Forms from his concern with definitions and logical demonstrations.3 He does not accept Aristotles proposal concerning the inclusion of this theory in the frame of logical and epistemological questions, thus getting away from nominalistic solutions. Therefore, the Neoplatonist philosopher approaches the whole topic through axioms by accepting the objective existence of the Forms, judging it independently from the degree of their cognitive approach on behalf of the human beings. This position is the basic content of his syllogisms in his commentaries on the Parmenides and the Timaeus and is evident in his Platonic Theology. A more systematic exposition is found in his commentary on the Parmenides 785.4-799.22 and 978.21-983.18 by means of the use of four specific arguments with ontological content, which derive from the theoretical background of his system.

2. Self-Subsistence as a Criterion of Priority of the Metaphysical World over the Natural World
Proclus starts4 his elaboration by positing the question whether the world of the sensible beings is self-subsistent. In his reply, he stresses that if we accept its self-subsistence, many absurdities will occur. Such a definition will generate problems, since the world is corporeal and divisible while only the incorporeal, simple and self-activating causesor, more correctly, the self-causesare self-subsistent. Whatever generates itself, it acts according to the ontological presuppositions of its subsistence, which is divine, as it has received from the One, a self-sufficient character of self-generation and generation of new entities. This is a possibility not possessed by the corporeal essences, which are produced from outside and from essences superior to them.5 The Neoplatonist philosopher observes that the sensible world qua corporeal is not self-moving and that
1. Proclus, In Platonis Parmenidem, 801.27-803.5. 2. Aristotle, Metaphysica, I, 6, 987b and M, 4, 1078b-1079a. See, for instance, Aubenque (1991: 255-256). 3. Proclus, In Platonis Parmenidem, 784.7-10: , (sc. ) , . 4. Op. cit., 785.5-786.28. On Proclus argumentation concerning the objective existence of the Forms, see Rosn (1949: 158-163), Reale (1981: 175-185) and Steel (1984: 3-27). 5. On the concept of self-subsistence, see Proclus, Elementatio Theologica, pr. 40-51, pp. 42.8-50.6. See also, Dodds (1963, repr. 1992: 223-227) and Trouillard (1972: 76-77). For Proclus, the self-subsistent beings are those divine entities, which correspond to the categories of the Second Hypothesis of the Parmenides.



whatever lacks the possibility to move itself by definition is not self-subsistent. Thus, the world must be produced by a principle independent from and ontologically superior to it. The ontological presuppositions of the sensible beings are placed in the area of the self-subsistent beings, which correspond to the categories of the Second Hypothesis of the Parmenides.6 The Forms belong to this area as well, and thus it follows that the archetype functions in a way which presupposes its self-subsistence. After that,7 Proclus refers to the way of creation of the sensible beings, aiming at a strict definition of this process. He stresses that if the principle of the world acted by deliberate choice, then its action would be unstable and variable and would take place in a way which would not be unified and articulated. In this case, the world as a whole would be perishable, since every entity deriving from a moving principle is mutable and perishable, and deliberate choice causes a motion which is unstable. Creation cannot derive, exclusively at least, from projection of emotions. But if the world is eternal, then its principle has a corresponding property in an absolute form and exercises it by its very being. The Neoplatonist philosopher, consistently following his relevant basic positions, observes that everything that acts by deliberate choice necessarily has some creative activity that it exercises by its very being. He stresses that this does not occur necessarily the other way round. Therefore, not everything that creates by its very being has another power of creating by deliberate choice. The power of creating by its very being extends more widely than creation by deliberate choice, thus possessing an ontological and axiological priority over it.8 It should be clarified here that for Proclus, the entities, which produce by Being, have the property of eternity. He also stressesevidently applying the principle of similarity9 to the relation of the divine with its sensible outcomesthat if the principle of the world creates by its very being, it does so from its own essence and is primarily, what its product is secondarily. This analogy clearly does not denote any identity as it is conceived in the sense that the principle bestows to its outcome that which itself is, but ontologically, inferior. This gradation, in connection with his other views, eliminates any suspicion of pantheism. It is a bestowment the content of which is not defined by the philosopher, evidently because it has a metaphysical derivation and is conceived by negations. Thus, if the world is the sensible fulfillment of the totality of the Forms, then conclusively, these archetypes will exist primarily in the principle of the world, since this is exactly their own cause. Therefore, the Forms exist before the sensibles within the one principle of the world. Again, it should be stressed here that it is not about two principles having a common ontological identity, because the relation of the Forms with their principle is clearly metaphysical while the relation of the natural world with its own principle is initially metaphysical, due to the intervention of the Forms, but afterwards, it acquires a cosmological content. The relation Onemultitude dominates here in a twofold dimension.

3. The Metaphysics of Transcendence and the Metaphysics of Immanence

Proclus second ontological argument10 is based on his view that the archetypal principles are present in
6. Proclus, consistently following the Platonic tradition, divides reality into divine and sensible. In his theological interpretation of the Parmenides, he argues that its Second Hypothesis reveals the causal relation of the One-Good with the divine beings which have derived from it, and that the three following hypotheses describe its causal relation with the realities, which are subject to Becoming. See Proclus, Theologia Platonica, I, 50.6-12 and 57.12-20. 7. Proclus, In Platonis Parmenidem, 786.29-788.12. 8. Concerning the production by Being, see Proclus, Theologia Platonica, II, 50. 20-25. 9. On the principle of similarity, see Proclus, Elementatio Theologica, pr. 28-29, pp. 32.10-34.11. Cf. Charles-Saget (1982: 241-242). 10. Cf. Proclus, In Platonis Parmenidem, 788.29-790.4.



an imperfect way in the sensible beings, a situation which imposes the necessity of their presence in a perfect way in a field superior to the sensible. It should be clarified here that the afore-mentioned imperfection is not due to the archetypes themselves, but to the way they are perceived by the natural beings, which are imperfect with their own gradations of course. The philosopher here mentions that in the natural universe, similarity, dissimilarity, equality, inequality and the rest categories do not exist in a perfect way, and consequently, any categorical predication ascribed to it is not possessed authentically.11 Thus, the first conclusion reached is that before the existence of the sensibles, there exist the Forms, which possess ontological completeness or at least, a completeness superior to their own. The Forms are generated by the Demiurge of the whole world in the sense that by contemplating himself, he develops them in his ontological frame. In other words, the Demiurge, by means of an internal reflection upon himself, expresses the Forms as particular definitions of the specifications imposed by the production as a planning from above. He does not have such a relation with the sensible beings, and this differentiation means that the Forms have an ontological priority over them. We observe here something, which will be fully assessed in the following argument, namely, that Proclus, in contrast with Aristotle, clearly accepts that the Forms have an objective existence in the intellect of the Demiurge, and that they are not introduced either as posterior concepts describing the common elements of the sensible entities,12 or simply in order to meet theoretical requirements. That the Forms exist in the demiurgic intellect as the blueprints or models for the universe is the standard view of Platonists from at least the 2nd century AD and may go back to Xenocrates. According to this tradition, the Forms are considered to be divine intellections and are thus, ontologically downgraded in comparison with their position in the works of Plato. The first clear and full statement of this doctrine, which seems to have derived from Platonic and Aristotelian elements, is found in Alcinous. He argued that the Form is Gods thought, the prime object to human intellection and the model for the creation of the world. Apuleius also claimed that God takes from the Formsthe models for the creation of the world. For Philo the Logos, i.e., the sum total of the Forms in activity is the instrument of God in the creation of the world. Through the influence of Logos, the Forms in the divine intellect become seminal reason-principles and serve as the models and creative principles of the material world. Seneca recorded a doctrine according to which God creates the world by using the paradigmatic principles he contains within himself. Like Platonic Ideas, they are immortal, unchanging and not subject to decay. Plotinus, too, accepted the Middle-Platonic view that Forms are the thoughts of God. Their number is finite, but the Forms themselves have an infinite power to produce particular beings.13

4. The Rational Intervention of the Metaphysical World in the Natural World

By means of his third ontological argument,14 Proclus aims at excluding the production of the sensible world by chance. He begins by positing the question about the possibility of the mutual coexistence of all natural beings and of the eternity of the world as a whole if there is no principle of the universe. He answers that the Demiurge is one and that he bestows all measures and harmony on the world, which has a certain
11. Here the division into parts imposes its own domination: , (op. cit., 789.11-14). 12. Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysica A, 6, 987b-988a; H, 6, 1045; M, 4-5, 1078b-1080a. See also Dumoulin (1986: 355-368), who correctly refers to Aristotelian logical treatises, like the Topica, for instance. 13. Cf. Tempelis (1998: 77-78). 14. Cf. Proclus, In Platonis Parmenidem, 790.5-35.



variety and its parts are not of the same value and order due to the law of hierarchy of beings. According to Proclus, whatever bestows essence as the ontological mode of existence, it bestows order as well: (sc. ) .15 At the same time, the Demiurge as a rational being does not ignore either order or the lack of order. If he ignored them, then the production would be a process or a result, which would characterize an irrational being and not the necessity of a divine and intelligent principle. Following that,16 the Neoplatonist philosopher reinforces his argumentation by making the distinction between essential and accidental. He stresses that the causes themselves are prior and that the attributes derive from their manifestations. Thus, the essential cause exists before that which is by chance and corresponds to the accident. The Demiurge of the natural universe is essentially a cause and simultaneously, he knows what he is the cause of. Contemplating himself and knowing himself, he knows, evidently instantaneously, his outcomes as well. By means of his principles and his immaterial Forms, he knows the mundane principles and the mundane forms, which are the cause out of which the world directly derives. Thus, whatever is created exists in the intellect of the Demiurge, but without matter. Proclus also observes that the Demiurge does not reflect upon the beings because he is about to create them, since then the external activity would have been superior to the internal one and would define the content of its manifestation. The external activity would function by way of necessity for the internal activity, something which is not accepted by the philosopher. What actually happens is quite the opposite. Since the Demiurge reflects upon himself, he is the creator of the universe. Thus, the external activity, i.e., the creation of the world, depends on the internal activity, i.e., the development of the Forms. More specifically, the world as a whole is produced by the universal monad of the Forms, and the special parts, which constitute the world or make it manifest, are produced by the distinctive MonadsForms. Once again, the relation between the One, which is manifest as monad, and the multitude controls all processes.

5. The Hierarchical Mode of Presence of the Forms

Proclus fourth ontological argument17 is mainly about the implementation of the concept of hierarchy in the realm of the Forms. The philosopher starts by observing that Nature, the immediate cause of the world, contains the reason-principles of the natural beings as a whole, i.e., the universal and created schemes of their generation. But if Nature contains the principles, there should be, prior to it, a superior cause containing the Forms. This is due to that whatever acquires its existence from inferior causes has its principle in the superior ones. The Forms, which are ontologically superior to the natural principles, will consequently preexist within a reality superior to Nature. This reality has the divine propertiespossibilities of knowing the content of its inner manifestation and of producing cognitive processes, which cannot be worked on by Nature due to its irrationality. It should be noted that the term irrational should be understood not as referring to animal condition, but as meaning the absence of an autonomous possibility for the planning of productive patterns with a teleological perspective. In the category irrational, Proclus includes that whatever is not self-subsistent. So, if the Demiurge contemplates himself within himself, all Forms are intellectual and cognitive and thus they do not exist only in the material world in the sense of their imperfect copies, i.e., as mundane principles. Consequently, the Forms initially are found in themselves ante res and after that, they are found substantiated in
15. Op. cit., 791.12-14. 16. Op. cit., 790.35-791.28. 17. Op. cit., 793.5-796.13. Cf. Perczel (2000: 529).



rebus. This evolution follows a downward hierarchical process. Thus, the motionless principles of the Forms existing in the world, i.e., the substantiated ones, are first found in the Intellect, afterwards in the souls, then in Nature and finally in the sensible beings. The ones in the Intellect are immutable in essence and in activity, the ones in the soul are motionless in essence and movable in activity, the natural ones are invisible but inseparable from the visible substantiated ones and, finally, the visible ones are to be found in the sensibles and are divisible. The transition from the absolute to the relative is evident here. The imparticipable gradually functions as inversely proportional to the participable. Concluding his syllogisms,18 Proclus refers to the ontological priority of the imparticipable over the participable.19 Thus, having characterized the substantiated Forms as participable, he stresses that prior to them, there exist the transcendent and immaterial monads. In conformity with these views, he distinguishes, among them, matter as participating, the substantiated Forms as participable, and the primaryintelligible Formsas imparticipable. At the same time, he observes that prior to the substantiated Forms, the Demiurge has created those which have a content themselves and are separate from the sensible beings. The metaphysics of transcendence should by definition, be preserved in every way: , , . ,, , , .20 As long as the mundane phenomena extend further, the relations are more complex and the absolute conditions are reduced, evidently, within their own region and also as to the content of their immediate principles. Proclus whole doctrine concerning the objective existence of the Forms is also a considerable part of the theory of his own student Ammonius and the members of his school on knowledge of the intelligible world, which also dealt in detail with the nature of the demiurgic Intellect. They understand the intelligible Forms, which exist in the demiurgic Intellect, as universals prior to the particulars. They are known by metaphysicians. The Forms are not mental perceptions of the Demiurge, but intelligible substances in his intellect as eternally pure actualities. As creative reason-principles, the Forms are timelessly used by the Demiurge for the creation of all natural beings, and as cognitive reason-principles, the Forms provide him with omniscience, granting him perfect knowledge of what he creates. It is remarkable here that Ammonius and his students cited isolated Aristotelian passages in order to show that Aristotle, too, considered the Forms to be creative reason-principles within the demiurgic Intellect. Needless to say, of course, that Aristotle did not hold such views. To show that the Demiurge cannot but have Forms both as cognitive and creative reason-principles within Him, Ammonius argues that if he did not know what He creates, He would be similar to Nature which does not know the beings it creates. He would also be inferior to men as they know the things they make themselves. The creative reason-principles in the demiurgic Intellect are unified exemplars of the corporeal beings they give existence to and exist irrespectively of the physical components of the material beings. They derive from the One and contribute to the creation of all beings by means of the participation of particular beings in them. Apart from the
18. Cf. for instance, Proclus, Elementatio Theologica, pr. 177, p. 156.1-24. See also Dodds (1963, repr. 1992: 292-293). 19. Cf. Proclus, In Platonis Parmenidem, 797.4-798.26. 20. Cf. Proclus, Elementatio Theologica, pr. 23, p. 26.22-28.7. See also Charles-Saget (1982: 301-302).



substantial principles of all things, the demiurgic Intellect also has the principles of the accidents, which perfect material substances. Because of this function, these accidents are themselves close to being substantial; as is the case with heat and whiteness, which themselves may be accidents but characterize the substances of fire and snow respectively. Ammonius and his students proposed a theological solution to the ontological problem whether the ultimate source of all substances, universal and particular, is common. They suggested that both kinds of substances have some sort of communion between them because of their ultimate derivation from the divine. All particular substances acquire their being according to the degree of susceptibility they have to participation in the divine, viewed as the primary substance. Material objects are thus images of their intelligible principles on account of their having sufficient similarities with them, but they enjoy only a limited degree of existence. Thus, the ontological order of the being of things is identical with their natural order and independent of human knowledge. On the top of the pyramid are posited the universal and immaterial beings. These are the principles of the material particular beings which are placed at the basis of the pyramid.21 To turn to Proclus, again, and according to what has been examined so far, we reach the following general conclusions: First, it has been clear that Proclus theory about the Forms is placed in the frame of a coherent Realism. The Forms exist, initially, objectively and independently, of any of their substantiated presences in the divine realm of the Second Hypothesis of the Parmenides (transcendent Realism). Afterwards, they become substantiated as productivearchetypal causes of the sensible beingsand as essential principles in the soul (immanent Realism). In terms of causality and hierarchy, the immanent Realism presupposes the transcendent. The Forms do not acquire real existence in the field of the natural universe, but, on the contrary, they consist of the ontological presuppositions of the reduction of the sensible entities to Being. The universalia in rebus consist of the substantiated images of the universalia ante res. However, it should be noted here that no reference is made to the principle of analogy; therefore, attention is needed as to how ambivalence and polyvalence will be used. Secondly, by placing the Forms in the divine intellect, Proclus follows a tradition the beginning of which is found in the 2nd century BC. According to this tradition, the Forms are considered to be divine intellections and are thus, ontologically downgraded in comparison with their position in the work of Plato. The theological orientation of the philosophical systems contributes to the hierarchical specification of the Forms. Last but not least, it should be mentioned that for Proclus, the ontological arguments were not enough to prove the objective existence of the Forms. Thus, he proceeded to the formulation of some more arguments with epistemological content. With reference to all these arguments, Proclus implements a scheme of priority which is based on the standard Neoplatonic hierarchy, but owes a great deal to Aristotle, as can be seen from the claim that what is actual must be prior to what is potential, both in cognition and existence. Since the forms are only sometimes actualised in the human souls, this scheme enables Proclus to argue that the Platonic Forms must exist as eternal actualities in a divine realm that is separate from and prior to the human realm. For the Neoplatonist philosopher, this is confirmed by the fact that these monadic Forms are the transcendent causes of the forms in the human souls, which are their multiple effects.22 Therefore, after the ontological arguments, the objective existence of the Forms is also shown by means of the correspondences between the hierarchical levels of reality and the hierarchies of the human cognitive powers. In this case, the Neoplatonist philosopher
21. Cf. Tempelis (1998: 71-89). 22. Cf. Cleary (2000: 82-85).



radically refuses any conceptualistic and nominalistic solution to the problem of the Universals. The reason-principles existing in the soul are not either the common notions or the posterior Universals of the sensible beings, but are essential as projections of the Forms. The sensible beings do not define the presuppositions for their cognitive approach, but, on the contrary, become known by the soul, because within its field preexistin a way not defined by Proclusin essence the principles of the Forms. It should also be noted that the principles are not initially identical with the cognitive content of the soul, since this property is acquired as something posterior, i.e., after their essential existence in its own field. Therefore, Proclus excludes from this discussion the posterior logical definition of the intelligible and sensible essence and accepts the a priori ontological content of the epistemological categories, the common notions and the names. The philosopher accepts the possibility of formulation of the posterior Universals, but he downgrades them so as to consider them as conceptions of the inferior cognitive powers of the human soul. The Forms, through their immanent presence within the soul, are transformed into cognitive capacities, but their objective validity is not preserved in their new condition. Proclus systematically discussed the a priori existence of the Forms in the human soul at In Platonis Parmenidem 890.39-906.2 commenting on Parmenides 132b. In his particular remarks, Proclus rejects the position that the Forms are concepts which come into being in the soul. He clarifies that by the term concepts, he means the activities of the soul when it thinks the Forms. Furthermore, the Forms possess an ontological content. Therefore, they are not the concepts which are constructed when the soul thinks the posterior universals, i.e., the general common characteristics of the particular material beings. If that were the case, the Forms would be simple impressions deriving from the material beings. The Forms are metaphysical realities existing not outside the souls but in their substance, and are thought by the soul through a kind of recollection. Therefore, the soul can be characterized as a plenum of Forms. In his previous comment (In Platonis Parmenidem 885.34-890.38), Proclus had already rejected the position that humans are elevated to the transcendent Forms through the observation of the common characteristics which exist in the many material beings of the same kind. If one is based on these characteristics, one can only be restricted to the level of the natural reason-principles, which are ontological realities inferior to the transcendent Forms. Proclus refers to the same topic at 970.10-978.3 commenting on Parmenides 134e-135a. He stresses there that the full comprehension of the theory of the Forms requires a systematic dialectic exercise. He mentions that even the wisest men are somehow uncertain about this theory. These people, preserving the clarity of their minds, and by means of the proper philosophical preparation, can be led to the understanding of the Forms. The major role here is played by the appropriate instructor, who, according to Proclus, is no other than Socrates or Plato.23

Works Cited
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