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Edward Butler on Proclus, Part I: ‘Henadology’

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As mentioned in our Episode 186, Proclus’ henads are above my pay-grade (or should that be ‘is above my pay-grade’? Or should that be ‘have hyper-pay-grade hyparxis’?). Speaking as a baffled reader of Proclus, I start by probing the idea of the henads using Plotinus’ doctrine of the one as a test-case in various ways; the answers Dr Butler gives are in every case excellent, provocative, and to the point. Although I remain baffled, I am now baffled in a better way than I was before. We discuss Proclus’ ‘system’, and the different ways it would look depending on the method being employed or the discussion underway – methods like the eidetic the and theurgic/synthematic, for example, approach the universe differently, although there is only one universe. We wend our way toward the centre of a dialectical labyrinth; I am glad of my guides.

Interview Bio:

Edward Butler is an expert on ancient Platonist philosophy and a philosopher of polytheism. He has written a number of crucial pieces on Proclus’ metaphysics, notably vis à vis the henads, and much more; his academia page is required reading for those interested in this and related topics. He maintains the blog henadology, which contains much that will interest those interested in polytheism more generally, as well as high-quality discussions of the Platonists, largely in that context. He is Director of the Center for Polytheism Studies, formerly the Center for Global Polytheist and Indigenous Traditions, a Thought Center at Indic Academy, and serves on the advisory board of the journal Oscillations: Non-Standard Experiments in Anthropology, the Social Sciences, and Cosmology.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Aristotle on the Eleatics ‘bordering on madness’ [but, as Dr Butler says, it may not be the Eleatics per se who thus border, but certain of their findings if taken to certain conclusions]: Gen. corr. 325a19.

Plotinus on how the Gnostics are wrong to ‘contract the divine into one’ (οὐ γὰρ τὸ συστεῖλαι εἰς ἕν, ἀλλὰ τὸ δεῖξαι πολὺ τὸ θειόν, ὅσον ἔδειξεν αὐτὸς, τοῦτό ἐστι δύναμιν θεοῦ εἰδότων …): Enn. II.9[33]9.36-7, italics mine.

Proclus: the henads are ‘around’ the one: Platonic Theology III 3, 12.2-13.4, in Chlup’s translation (Proclus: An Introduction. The University Press, Cambridge, 2012, p. 115): ‘The first plurality (arithmos), which shares the same nature with the One, is one-like, ineffable, supra-essential and altogether similar to its cause. For in the realm of the very first principles there appears no otherness that would separate the products from the producer, transferring them to another level of reality … No, the cause of all things transcends all motion and differentiation in a unitary manner, and it has established the divine plurality around itself (peri heauto), having unified it with its own simplicity.’


Edward Butler. Polytheism and Individuality in the Henadic Manifold. Dionysius, 23:83-104, 2005. We quote p. 98.

Idem. Essays on the Metaphysics of Polytheism in Proclus. Phaidra Editions, New York, NY, 2014 [the collected volume, gathering a number of seminal articles and pieces on Proclean metaphysics from about a decade of work].

Idem. Plotinian Henadology. Kronos, 5:143-59, 2016 [on Plotinus’ critique of the Gnostics and related matters].

Patricia Curd. The Legacy of Parmenides: Eleatic Monism and Later Presocratic Thought. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1998.

Alexander P. D. Mourelatos. The Route of Parmenides: A New Revised Edition with a New Introduction, Three Additional Essays and a Previously Unpublished Paper by Gregory Vlastos. Parmenides Publishing, Las Vegas, NV, 2008.

Recommended Reading:

SHWEP Recommended Reading for Edward Butler on Proclus and the One