January 8, 2009

Commentaries on Phaedo 66b-d

OLYMPIODORUS THE YOUNGER: "Imagination [phantasía] is a constant impediment to the operations of our intellect.... And so Odysseus needed the moly and straight talk of Hermes to escape the apparition of Kalypso, which obscured his reason as clouds obscure the sun. Not for nothing is she somewhere called "mirage with trailing robes" -- Kalypso was herself a kálymma [a 'covering']. Accordingly, the Kalypso episode was preceded by Odysseus's landing on the island of Kirke, who (as the daughter of the sun) stands for perception.

"Thus does imagination constitute an impediment to our intellect. And when in the grip of a divine visitation we let imagination intrude, the divine energy lapses. For enthusiasm and imagination are directly opposed. And so Epictetus bids us to say within ourselves: 'You are an apparition, and in no way a true appearance' [Encheiridion I.5] -- and [yet] under the influence of imagination the philosophical choir of Stoics understood God to be a corporeal entity. For imagination is what wraps the incorporeal in a body.

"What, then, does [Aristotle] say? 'Without imagination, there is no thought'? But surely, what the soul knows of universals owes nothing to the activity of the imagination."


DAMASCIUS THE SUCCESSOR: "The existence of knowledge without visualization is made plain by our knowledge of such indivisibles as the unit, the point, and the now, and also by our knowledge of universals (for any imprint surely constitutes an individual 'this'). It is also clear from those things that cannot be visualized at all (such as justice and moderation), and from those self-sufficient forms which are demonstrably indivisible and incorporeal, and from the proofs of incorporeal existence generally. This is how to take this passage: not to fall back on perception and imagination as if they led indivisibly to cognition, for these are what Plato shuns.

"How is it that 'We do not think without imagination'? It's that imagination accompanies thought, not as a complement but as a persecutor, the way a storm accompanies the sailor on the sea."