The De Wulf–Mansion Centre carries out research in Ancient philosophy, in particular on the transformation of Platonic thought in late Antiquity.
In the beginning of the history of interpretation of Plato (until 2nd c. AD), authors tended to emphasize the aporetic character of Platonic philosophy. From the 2nd c. AD onwards, however, the attitude towards Plato was undergoing a thorough modification. The ‘Neo-Platonic’ thinkers, as the philosophers of this era are called, pay almost exclusively attention to a systematic (or systematizing) reading of Plato. In a great number of treatises and commentaries they develop a doctrine which tries to cover all possible aspects of reality. It is not surprising, then, that in this period (200-600 AD) the most important way of doing philosophy is by writing commentaries on the past masters, Plato and Aristotle. While the later is seen as subsidiary to the understanding of Plato, the works of Plato himself have acquired the status of unassailable truth, which needs to be clarified on the basis of exegetical and hermeneutical principles.
Neoplatonic commentaries are not just ‘commentaries’, or ‘secondary literature on Plato and Aristotle’, as we might understand these today. Owing to their formal aspect and genre, the innovations and originality of the commentaries have often been misjudged. It was easily assumed that they did not do much more than to reproduce the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, without any new achievement. This judgment, however, is false. Although they endorse philosophical opinions derived from Plato and Aristotle, and indeed from all periods of Greek thought, the commentaries stand as testimony to the originality of the Neoplatonic school. The commentary is the medium by which the Neoplatonists advanced their views on all philosophical and scientific disciplines. This entailed the necessity of a creative approach, forcing the authors to adjust the strategies of interpretation to the ever growing finesses of the Neoplatonic doctrine. Thus, the commentators represent a ‘missing link’ between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. They do not so much reproduce the theories of Plato and Aristotle, but rather they embody in a unique way the transformation of the entire civilisation at the beginning of the Middle Ages. They do so in the fields of philosophy, theology, and in the natural sciences.
The De Wulf–Mansion Centre has established several research projects to make Proclus’ and Damascius’ writings accessible to the modern scholarly public. Proclus’ Commentary on the Parmenides has been edited in the series “Oxford Classical Texts”. Damascius’ Commentary on the Philebus has been edited in the “Collection des Universités de France” (Les Belles Lettres, France). The completion of these new editions already has shed much needed new light on Platonic theology and Neoplatonic epistemology, and will hopefully continue to do so.
Another recently established research project is entitled ‘The methods of natural science. Late ancient philosophy of nature and the ontology of the sciences’. This research program is dedicated to late ancient philosophy of science and natural philosophy, more particular the theory of the elements and their transformations, the properties of physical bodies and their categorial analysis, the hierarchy of principles of motion and different types of indivisibility, the status of physics and the methodological as well as epistemological issues it involves. It takes shape in the form of three sub-projects: (a) Geometric atomism and the theory of elemental properties; (b) Methodology and ontology of the sciences; and (c) Neoplatonic theory of motion: a study of Proclus’ Elementatio physica.
(Text by the organizers)
Proclus Bibliography : https://hiw.kuleuven.be/dwmc/ancientphilosophy/proclus/proclusbiblio.html
Damascius Bibliography: https://hiw.kuleuven.be/dwmc/ancientphilosophy/damascius/damasciusbiblio.html