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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 3, 1998

Ancient Philosophy

John J. Cleary
Pages 79-84

Mathematics as Paideia in Proclus

I examine one aspect of the central role which mathematics plays in Proclus's ontology and epistemology, with particular reference to his Elements of Theology. I focus on his peculiar views about the ontological status of mathematical objects and the special faculties of the soul that are involved in understanding them. If they are merely abstract objects that are "stripped away" from sensible things, then they are unlikely to reorient the mind towards the intelligible realm, as envisioned by Plato in the Republic. Thus, in order to defend the function of mathematics as a prodaideutic to dialectic, Proclus rejects Aristotelian abstractionism in favor of an elaborate account in terms of Nous projecting images of its Forms through the medium of the imagination. In metaphorical terms, he replaces the Aristotelian image of the soul as a blank tablet with that of a tablet that has always been inscribed and is always writing itself, while also being written on by Nous. The mediating function of mathematics for understanding the higher realities is grounded in the fact that its central principles of Limit and Unlimited have a universal provenance in Proclus's whole system of reality.

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