CONF/CfP – Philosophy: Restoring the Soul, 21-23 June 2013, Ivy House, Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

Publish Date: Jan 12, 2013

Deadline: Apr 30, 2013

Event Dates: from Jun 21, 2013 12:00 to Jun 23, 2013 12:00

The Prometheus Trust’s Eighth Annual Conference
Philosophy: Restoring the Soul

Friday to Sunday, 21-23 June 2013
Ivy House, Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

Philosophy’s original practitioners understood its primary purpose as that of restoring the soul to its divine likeness through the cultivation of wisdom. Platonic philosophy especially explored right action, reason, contemplation and divine inspiration as the interconnected means through which the inherent excellencies of an immortal soul could be made actual. 

In modern times this original view has, to a large extent, been abandoned – indeed the very notion of the self as an immortal soul is usually considered as a affirmation of non-rational religions, rather than thoughtful philosophy. Without the reality of an essential soul, ethics cannot be based on its powers, and thus the development of the virtues, too, is brought into question. The direction of human energies, in this worldview, becomes a more or less arbitrary matter – one more relative activity in a relativistic universe.

This conference is invited to consider three main areas of interest:

Firstly, the original purposes of philosophy, and how its best thinkers and practitioners sought to restore the soul. 

Secondly, how we shape our present practice of philosophy in order to draw upon the best of ancient and modern insights into the nature of the self and the universe in which we live.

Thirdly, how the notion of the immortal soul can be restored to mainstream philosophy in the future.

Papers addressing these and related areas will be welcome from professional and amateur, academic and non-academic philosophers.

Abstracts should be no more than 300 words and should be with us at the latest by Saturday, 30 March 2013.  Acceptance of these will be confirmed as quickly as possible.

Papers should be around 2500-3000 words or 20 minutes’ presentation (we usually allow a further 20 minutes for a question and answer session after each presentation).

Bookings should be received by us not later than Monday, 30 April 2013.

We are delighted that Professor John M Dillon has agreed to be our keynote speaker.  His address is entitled Becoming like to God.

The later Platonist ethical ideal of ‘becoming like to God’ has generally been accepted without much demur as a reasonable ambition for mortals, but it is in truth a rather problematic one. In what respect are we to liken ourselves to God? In respect of immortality? Or of omnipotence? Or of omniscience? Or, if none of the above, then what? And yet Plotinus, in Enn. I 2,7, says that our aim is not to be good men, but to be gods. Professor Dillon suggests, taking his cue from this tractate, that the points of likeness with the gods towards which we are being exhorted are rationality and impassivity, and that these are quite reasonable aims — which, if achieved, will lead, no doubt, in an afterlife, to immortality, omnipotence and omniscience (though only in union with the rest of the intellectual realm).

John Dillon graduated in Classics from Oxford in 1963, and gained a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1969, after which he joined the faculty of the Department of Classics at Berkeley, where he remained until 1980, serving as Chairman of the Department from 1977-80.  He then returned to Ireland, to assume the Regius Professorship of Greek at Trinity College Dublin, where he remained until his retirement in 2006. He is the author or editor of a series of books in the area of Greek Philosophy, in particular the history of the Platonic tradition.

We are extremely pleased that Dr Gregory Shaw has agreed to give our Thomas Taylor lecture this year.  The title of his lecture is Platonic Tantra: The Theurgists of Late Antiquity.

Scholarship on Iamblichean theurgy has changed profoundly in the last 30 years.  No longer dismissed as a distortion of Greek philosophy, theurgy is now recognized by most scholars as a complement—even culmination—to the disciplines of rational reflection.  Yet resistance to recognizing the full implications of living in a theurgic cosmos continues.  Although the gods of theurgy penetrate the material realm and theurgists embodied these gods in ritual and aesthetic experience, we continue to imagine the goal of theurgy as escaping from matter and ascending to the noetic fire.  A residual and often unconscious dualism influences our thinking.  Theurgists were athletes of divine fire, but this fire is here, on earth, and the gods are revealed, Iamblichus says, “by our physical eyes.”  Iamblichean theurgy represents a radically non-dual orientation that incorporates the body into divine experience.  In this sense theurgy closely resembles the tantric non-dualism of South Asian yoga traditions. Dr Shaw will explore the consequences of living in a non-dual cosmos and will present Platonic theurgy as the Tantra of the West.

Gregory Shaw is Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College, Massachusetts.  He is the author of Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus (Penn State Press, 1995) and a number of articles on the later Neoplatonists and on Iamblichus in particular.  He has recently written on the role of the chôra in Plato’s Timaeus and its relation to the practice of theurgy.  He is now working a comparison between South Asian tantric traditions and the theurgic rites of later Platonism, both of which visualize the liberation of the soul through the deification of the physical body and material world.  


The conference will take place at Ivy House, a retreat centre in Warminster, which is comfortable and well appointed.   Residential prices are for full board for the weekend (from Friday supper to Sunday tea) and are £135 (£95 for students).  Students are requested to share a bedroom if there are no single rooms available when they book.  Please contact the Treasurer if you cannot afford these fees as it may be possible to offer you a bursary.

For those who wish to attend the conference but who do not wish to stay or eat at Ivy House, there are inexpensive residential pubs in Warminster and several take-aways/cafes/restaurants.  It would be your responsibility to arrange accommodation and food; attendance at Ivy House on a non-residential basis costs £25 per day (to include refreshments and lunch) plus the conference fee.  We can forward a list of local accommodation.  

Conference fee:  This charge is £40 and is payable with your booking.  It is non-refundable in the event of cancellation.  Accommodation fees are payable by end of May.   Ivy House has its own cancellation policy – details if required from the Conference Secretary.  

Booking forms are available from the Conference Secretary at the above address, phone or email.  Completed forms with your deposit of £40 should be returned by MONDAY, 30 APRIL at the very latest, and before if possible as places are limited.

Travel: Warminster is on the main train line from South Wales and the South Coast and is easily reached from London via Bath or Salisbury.  Buses run from Bath, Bristol and Salisbury and coaches from London.

The Prometheus Trust

28 Petticoat Lane, Dilton Marsh, Westbury, Wilts BA13 4DG

Tel: 01373 825808 Registered Charity no. 299648


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