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The Neoplatonic Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite

Eric D. Perl

Publication Year: 2007

The work of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite stands at a cusp in the history of thought: it is at once Hellenic and Christian, classical and medieval, philosophical and theological. Unlike the predominantly theological or text-historical studies which constitute much of the scholarly literature on Dionysius, Theophany is completely philosophical in nature, placing Dionysius within the tradition of ancient Greek philosophy and emphasizing, in a positive light, his continuity with the non-Christian Neoplatonism of Plotinus and Proclus. Eric D. Perl offers clear expositions of the reasoning that underlies Neoplatonic philosophy and explains the argumentation that leads to and supports Neoplatonic doctrines. He includes extensive accounts of fundamental ideas in Plotinus and Proclus, as well as Dionysius himself, and provides an excellent philosophical defense of Neoplatonism in general.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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pp. vii

Note on Translations

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pp. ix


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pp. xi

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pp. 1-4

This book is the fruit of more than twelve years’ study and teaching of the thought of Dionysius the Areopagite,¹ together with that of Plotinus and Proclus, as philosophy: not, primarily, as a late antique cultural phenomenon; nor as an influential episode in the history of Christian theology; nor as “mysticism,” if that be taken to mean something other than philosophy; nor...

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1. Beyond Being and Intelligibility

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pp. 5-16

In recent decades there has been a surge of interest in “negative theology,”¹ of which Dionysius is a leading exponent, and hence many studies of this feature of Dionysius’ thought.² Rarely, however, do such studies attempt to present the philosophical argumentation that underlies his teachings. The doctrine that God or the One, the first principle of reality, lies beyond being...

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2. Being as Theophany

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pp. 17-34

Dionysius frequently says that although God is not any being, he is the cause (αἰτία or αἴτιov) of all things (e.g. DN I.1, 588b; I.3, 589b; I.7, 596C; MTI.2, 1000B; IV, 1040D; V, 1048B), and as such can be named by all the names of all beings. “It is cause of all beings, but itself nothing, as transcending all things in a manner beyond being . . . But since . . . it is cause of all...

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3. Goodness, Beauty, and Love

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pp. 35-52

The dependence of the determined on its determination, and thus the dependence of all beings on God, is understood in Neoplatonism not merely as a static relation, but as a dynamic, though non-temporal, “motion” or “process.”¹ This is the cycle of remaining, procession, and reversion...

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4. The Problem of Evil

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pp. 53-64

Upon completing his account of God as Goodness, Beauty, and Love, Dionysius immediately raises the inevitable question: “If the Beautiful and Good is beloved and desired and cherished by all things . . . how does the multitude of demons not desire the Beautiful and Good . . . and, in general, what is evil, and whence does it originate, and in which of beings...

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5. The Hierarchy of Being

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pp. 65-81

In the Divine Names, Dionysius consistently presents the whole of reality as a hierarchically ranked sequence, descending from angels, or pure intellects, to inanimate beings. Although he applies his neologism...

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6. The Continuum of Cognition

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pp. 83-99

A sharp dichotomy and dualism between sense and intellect, as two different cognitive faculties apprehending two different kinds of objects, is conventionally regarded as perhaps the most fundamental feature of Platonic thought, elaborated in Neoplatonism and adopted by Dionysius.

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7. Symbolism

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pp. 101-109

Since the symbols discussed by Dionysius, like the divine names, are those found in the scriptures, an account of his theory of symbolism might seem to belong to a study of his scriptural interpretation rather than to a study of the specifically philosophical content of his thought. But in...

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pp. 111-113

Here Dodds puts his finger on the operative principle of Proclus’ thought and indeed of all Neoplatonism. But what he fails to realize is that the structure of reality as understood by Neoplatonism matches not merely a culturally and historically specific phenomenon called “Greek logic,” but the universal...


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pp. 115-138


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pp. 139-152


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pp. 153-163

E-ISBN-13: 9780791480021
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791471111
Print-ISBN-10: 079147111X

Page Count: 175
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2007