98 - For a Limited Time Only: John Philoponus

Posted on 14 October 2012

John Philoponus refutes Aristotle’s and Proclus’ arguments for the eternity of the universe, and develops new ideas in physics.

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Further Reading

• F.A.J. de Haas, John Philoponus’ New Definition of Prime Matter (Leiden: Brill, 1997).
• J.F. Phillips, “Neoplatonic Exegeses of Plato’s Cosmogony (Timaeus 27C-28C),” Journal of the History of Philosophy 35 (1977), 173-97. 
• Philoponus, Against Aristotle on the Eternity of the World, trans. C. Wildberg (London: 1987).
• Philoponus, Against Proclus on the Eternity of the World, trans. M. Share and J. Wilberding, 4 vols (London: 2005, 2005, 2006, 2010).
• Proclus, On the Eternity of the World, trans. H.S. Lang and A.D. Macro (Berkeley: 2001).
• R. Sorabji (ed.), Philoponus and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science (Ithaca: 1987, new ed. 2011).
• G. Verbeke, “Some Late Neoplatonic Views on Divine Creation and the Eternity of the World,” in Neoplatonism and Christian Thought, ed. D. O’Meara (Albany: 1982), 45-53.

Stanford Encyclopedia: Philoponus

Comments

John Stamps 16 October 2012

Why a limited time only? Is this a telemarketer trick to get us to listen?
Nevertheless, I liked the lecture. And I look forward to hearing Richard Sorabji!

Well as usual the title is supposed to be funny, or at least wryly amusing. In this case it refers to the fact that he denies the eternity of the world (i.e. the world exists for a limited time only... get it? Hilarious!). Or maybe you knew that and you are just teasing me! Anyway glad you liked the episode.

Thanks,

Peter

Nicholas Marinides 22 July 2013

Hi Peter, although you of course mention the importance of Philoponus' Christianity in his philosophical project, it might be worth adding (in the written version) that he was a theologian too, and quite controversial at that. I don't in fact know how much of his theological work survives, but he was known as a champion of "Tritheism," a branch of Monophysitism that claimed that God was not one essence and three hypostases, but rather three essences and three hypostases. He also speculated on the nature of the resurrected body and wrote an explanation of the relation of the Jewish to the Christian Passover.

Nick

Hi Nick,

Good point, you actually have spotted something I meant to do but didn't because of lack of space when I got to the Church Fathers. My original intention was to cover this side of Philoponus when I did the Trinity debates but I couldn't squeeze that in. Adding something in the book version is a good idea, thank you for reminding me!

Best,

Peter

I just came across a recent article on Maximus Confessor vs. Philoponus that might be useful to you when you get around to the revision: Grigory Benevich, "Maximus Confessor’s polemics against Tritheism and his Trinitarian teaching," Byzantinische Zeitschrift 105/2 (Dec. 2012): 595-610.

Aaron Estis 30 July 2014

I found this podcast most interesting because it has always intrigued me how western civilization transitioned to Christianity. Although I don't think I yet fully understand it, this philosopher, whom I learned about for the first time here, seems to me a key to gaining a better understanding of that transition. I get from what has gone before that the philosophical traditions of western civilization prepared the western mind to embrace Christianity, but it was not necessarily destined from the start (with apologies to the determinists among your readers.)

And while I'm here and fired up, you make mention of the need of the pagan philosophers to compete with Christianity but it seems from the direction pagan philosophy took up to this period, its major motivation was in fact staying relevant in an era of Christian ascendancy - Theurgy / liturgy, pagan gods as manifestation of one god, the one, etc, etc. I expected more emphasis on the role of competition in affecting the course of pagan philosophy during this period.

Yes, that is an important issue. I tried to cover it to some extent in episode 97 but the would be more to be said. I think that the Platonist pagans to some extent actually defined themselves in deliberate opposition to Christianity, which might be why we see ever greater emphasis on the traditional gods in figures like Iamblichus and Proclus. With some colleagues I am running a workshop on this and other philosophical issues around paganism, in Munich this winter. Some of that will be made available online with links here on the site!

Steve 4 July 2020

Great podcast. 2 questions.

1. Philoponus' argument against Aristotle's claim that a substance's coming into existence is impossible would, if correct, show that only creation is possible, not that it's true. Right?

2. How did Galileo know of Philoponus' work?

Peter Adamson 6 July 2020

In reply to by Steve

Yes, I agree about 1, but he does also have other arguments to show that the world cannot already have existed for an eternal time (e.g. that an infinity of time cannot elapse, so as to reach the present moment). Thus his work as a whole does give us arguments that the world was in fact created not only that it may have been.

And on Galileo, as it happens in the next few episodes of the Renaissance podcast I'm covering the expansion of Aristotelianism in the Italian Renaissance part of which is that ancient commentaries like those of Philoponus were re-discovered, studied, and printed. So this is how Galileo could have known Philoponus' Physics commentary, which was printed in 1535 and translated into Latin twice in the mid-16th c. Worth bearing in mind that Galileo was at Padua which was a hotbed of Aristotelianism as we'll be covering soon.

Steve 6 July 2020

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Thanks. Did you ever put up those links you mentioned above to the conference on pagan philosophers?

Peter Adamson 7 July 2020

In reply to by Steve

Ah good point, must remember to get those up finally as bonus episodes.

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