Volume 82, Issue 4, Fall 2008
The Nature of Distance
Neoplatonic and Dionysian Versions of Negative Theology
In their attempts to come know the first principle of reality, the One, the Neoplatonic philosophers employ a negative theological approach. In the case of
Plotinus, this approach can be described as a “taking away” (aphairesis): as the One is in its purity present to the soul, the task of the soul consists in taking away—that is, removing—all positive approaches. The case of Proclus is different as he departs from a different metaphysical presupposition: taking away will not work, because the One as it is remains distant from the soul. Instead he pleads for an approach by means of negations (apophaseis), which ought to awaken our awareness of the totally different character of the trace of the One in us, but can never lead to an experience of the One as it is. The two approaches function in different metaphysical contexts. Hence it may be surprising that Pseudo-Dionysius, a keen reader not only of Proclus but also of Plotinus, invokes both approaches and thinks them reconcilable. This essay attempts to describe the nature of this compatibility and to reconstruct the metaphysical context that it presupposes.