Time as Nous

What is the monad of Time itself and how does it measure the circular activity of the Soul? According to Proclus, it is a nous which is unfolded and unrolled by the activity of things in Time, but primarily by the dianoetic activity of the Soul.

For as Nous is to the Soul, so is Eternity to Time, and inversely, so that Time is before the Soul, just as Eternity is before Nous. And Time should be participated by the Soul, and does not participate in the Soul, just as Nous does not participate in Eternity, but the inverse. So Time possesses a certain intellectual nature (noeran...tina phusin) which moves in a circle everything which participates in it, and particularly souls. (Proclus, In Timaeum III.27.20-26)

Time is an intellectual nous (nous noeros), i.e. a nous in the intellectual hebdomad of Nous as a whole situated below the Demiurge.

According to Proclus the essence (ousia) of the soul is a fullness of logoi (pleroma ton ousiodon logon) which are the soul's participation in Nous. However, the soul is not immediately conscious of its own essential logoi, and possesses them as if breathing, or like a heartbeat.16 In order to make this hidden content of its own ousia explicit to itself, the soul must draw them forth through what Proclus calls projection (probole). But because the soul is not able to grasp the entire intelligible world in one simple act, it cannot draw forth all of its logoi at once. Rather, it draws them forth one at a time in the divided motion which is discursive thinking (dianoia). Thus the divided motion of dianoia is what is measured by the monad of Time.

Because the logoi which constitute the Soul's ousia are its own participation in Nous, the dianoetic activity of Soul as an unfolding of its own ousia is also an unfolding of Nous itself. And because the particular Nous which the Soul unfolds is the monad of Time, this is the sense in which Time is a measure of the Soul's activity. The Soul unfolds and unrolls the nous which is the monad of Time, through a thinking activity which may be understood metaphorically as a circle, circuit, or period which has Time as its centre.

And so, Time is eternal, and a monad, and a centre by its essence and its activity which has remained at rest in itself; and at the same time it is continuous, and is a number, and a circle by its procession and what participates in it. [Time] then is a certain proceeding nous, since it could not bring to perfection the resemblance of encosmic beings to their paradigms unless it itself were first suspended from [these paradigms], but it also proceeds and flows en masse towards the things (ta pragmata) over which it keeps guard. (Proclus, In Timaeum III.26.30—27.08)

The Soul partakes of Time, but not in its ousia. Rather, it is the changing energeia of Soul which participates in Time. The Soul unfolds its own unchanging ousia, but this ousia participates in Nous atemporally. It is only in the activity of unrolling and unfolding its own ousia, through the projection of the logoi which are its ousia (probole ton ousdiodon logon), that the Soul participates in Time. Why not identify the monad of Time with the ousia of the Soul? This is a complex issue, and amounts to the question "why is the ousia of the Soul not itself Nous?" The answer is likely that the Soul's ousia is not identical to Nous, but rather is a remaining in Nous, because Nous is the Soul's point of departure and that towards which its energeia strives in its return. We must resist thinking of ousia, dunamis, and energeia as three absolutely separate things. They are moments of the unfolding of Soul as a whole. So the ousia of the Soul is not identical to Nous in the same manner in which the point of departure is not identical to the first leg of a journey.

Time is at rest both in its ousia and its energeia while the Soul is at rest only in its ousia, and in motion in its energeia. However, Time proceeds in its participants, so the description of Time as at rest has to be understood in such a way that in itself Time is at rest, both in its ousia and its internal energeia, but is also in motion in its participants, or in its external energeia.17 Being at rest and being eternal are identified in Proclus, so both Time and the ousia of the Soul are eternal. As well, Time's presence in its participants and its external energeia must be identified. If we take the three terms—ousia, internal energeia, and external energeia—we are able to rank Eternity, Time, and the Soul with regard to a greater and greater share in motion. Eternity is at rest in its ousia, internal energeia, and external energeia. Time as Nous is at rest in its ousia, and its internal energeia, but it is in motion in its external energeia, i.e. in its participants. The Soul, on the other hand, remains in Nous, and so is said to have an ousia which is at rest and eternal. Yet neither its internal nor external energeia is at rest (Proclus, In Timaeum III.24.02ff; 25.11ff).

Proclus describes the energeia of the Soul as a circle, circuit, or period around the centre which is Time. The circle metaphor is extremely important for Proclus, because it is his primary metaphor for describing the relation between dianoia and Nous. It may be thought of in two complementary ways. In one way of thinking, Nous is a point in which the Soul remains, and from which its activity begins. This activity circles forth, unrolls the concentrated content of Nous, and returns back to its beginning point in Nous at the end of its period. This point of view is used by Proclus when speaking about the generation of a lower spiritual entity by a higher, because it emphasises the aspect of remaining in, proceeding from, but returning to a given cause. However, in the context of the Soul's circuit around the monad of Time the complementary point of view is more important. Rather than an original point on the circumference of the circle which is the Soul's activity, Nous, as Time, is the centre of the circle, and the Soul's activity is the circumference. The distance of the circumference from the centre indicates that the Soul has proceeded from Nous. And the orientation of the circumference around the centre indicates the circling return by which the Soul tries to attain the unity of Nous, but makes itself many in its own thinking. The Soul circles around Nous, viewing it from different sides, and it is the various points of view which constitute the divided logoi which are the conceptions of the Soul's dianoia.

And so the procession of Time is a dividing and unfolding motion [kinesis] which makes appear part by part the power which remains partless, like a sort of number which receives in a divided manner all of the eide of the monad and which returns back towards itself and begins the circle anew. (Proclus, In Timaeum III.30.26-30)

The motion of Time, i.e. this dividing energeia of Soul which participates in Time, is measured by the Monad of Time, and even higher, by the Demiurge, and by Eternity. The sense of measure becomes clear here. These higher unities are a measure in the sense that they are the paradigm which the divided image in the thought of Soul seeks to reflect. They measure, because the term of the Soul's period, its metaphorical circuit or circumference, is oriented back towards an explication of the centre which is Nous. They measure, because they are the comprehensive source, and the originary touchstone for the divided energeia which is the activity of Soul.

Proclus states that the monad of Time and the dianoetic activity of the Soul which unfolds it is an image of Eternity and the intelligible genera in the autozoon. It is extremely important to take this statement seriously. Just like Eternity, Time is a principle of bringing to birth, or dynamic coming forth. It is a principle which divides up the unity of Nous and gives rise to the dynamic energeia which is the periodic motion of the Soul. Eternity gives rise to multiplicity as simultaneous presence. Time, on the other hand, gives rise to serial motion. We as souls do not have the entirety of the intelligible eide present to our minds. Rather, we strive erotically towards them through a divided thinking which sees them dimly, part by part. So while Eternity and Time are both principles of bringing forth multiplicity, of giving birth to a multiple image of a prior unity, they themselves differ from each other as paradigm and image. The whole of Eternity is present to the intelligibles, and so is the whole of Time present to its participants, but while Eternity is present to the autozoon all at once, Time is broken up in its participants into what Proclus calls the eide of Time: was, is, and will be (Proclus, In TimaeumIII.37.01; 50.22-51.22). This difference is expressed in a lovely way even in the names for Eternity and Time, according to Proclus. Eternity (Aiona) is to aei einai, i.e. the being which always is; while Time (chronos) is choronous, i.e. the Nous which dances in a circle like the chorus (Proclus, In TimaeumIII.9.16-18; 28.00).

Moreover, both Eternity and Time are principles not only of bringing to birth, but of unification. The intelligible genera in the autozoon are not simply a random collection of Forms. Rather, they are a complete totality of living Forms which are unified as a single reflection of the unity of the One-Being. The logoi which the Soul projects, as long as its self-motion (autokinesis) is not infected with the motion-from-without (heterokinesis) that arises from body, are not simply random thoughts about this or that. They are multiple, and in that sense are a descent from the unity of Nous. However, they are each of them vectors back towards the Nous which is the centre of their life. Hence the unfolding of logoi in dianoia allows the Soul eventually to leave behind dianoia by making more and more clear the Soul itself as image, and in doing so point more clearly the way towards Nous as the paradigm.

But as long as our thinking remains dianoia without passing over into Nous it will seek wholeness without achieving it. Jean Trouillard speaks of the philosophy of Plotinus, but his characterisation is equally true of the Procline conception of dianoia.

Nous does not infuse Soul with Ideas, but rather, through the irradiation of the intelligible and the sight which the soul directs towards Nous, we beget notions and logoi [raisons]1

The birth of these logoi will not cease until we leave behind dianoia altogether.

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