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Perpetuity, Eternity, and Time in Proclus' Cosmos

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image of Phronesis

Proclus composed 18 arguments for the eternity of the world and they survive only because Philoponus, intending to refute Proclus' arguments one by one, quotes each; one copy of Philoponus' work – and so Proclus' arguments too – survives. Because of their odd history, these arguments have received little attention either in themselves or in relation to Proclus' other works, even though they are intrinsically interesting and reflect his larger philosophical enterprise. I first examine Argument XVIII, in which Proclus calls on "perpetuity", "eternity", and "time" to argue that the cosmos must be eternal. This argument leaves unanswered two important questions. The cosmos is caused by god and is itself a god; how can a cause and its effect both be gods? Proclus concludes that the cosmos is "a copy of the perpetuity of the eternal"; but what does this phrase – and the conclusion that it expresses – mean? To answer these questions, I turn to The Elements of Theology, a systematic progression of 211 propositions disclosing the causal structure of all reality. "Eternity" and "time", along with "being perpetual", also appear here, particularly in propositions 40-55, to which I turn in the second part of this paper. They are conjoined with what Proclus calls "the Self-Constituted". I argue that by understanding the relation of the Self-Constituted as a cause to its effect, what depends upon another, we can also understand the causal relation between god and the cosmos. The cosmos can be called divine because, via the cause/effect relation between them, god and the cosmos are both eternal; the cosmos is "a copy of the perpetuity of the eternal" because via its relation to god, the cosmos becomes what its cause is, and in this precise sense an effect "imitates" its cause.


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