Timaeus and Critias (Oxford Worlds Classics)
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Plato, then, asked similar questions of the cosmos itself. The integrity of the cosmos and indeed of all the celestial bodies is explained by their having souls, so no bracing is required, and as these souls are immortal, there is no degeneration. So too, the motions of the cosmos and the celestial bodies are generated by their souls.
There are further contrasts to be made, concerning the regularity of circular motion and the stability of the cosmos. In Timaeus the cosmos is unageing and free from any disease, and indissoluble unless the demiurge wills otherwise, which he will not. But then the helmsman departs. In the period immediately following this release, the universe continues to keep everything going excellently, but as time goes by it forgets his injunctions more and more. Then that primeval disharmony gains the upper hand and, towards the end of this period, the universe runs riot and implants a blend of little good and plenty of the opposite, until it comes close to destroying itself and everything in it.
The cosmos of Timaeus, then, is more stable in its nature and more sophisticated in its conception. Plato indeed considers the heavenly bodies to be gods, to be animate, to be intelligent, and to have souls, and so too for the cosmos as a whole. Matter, on its own, will not, by chance and necessity alone, exhibit the sort of regularity we see in the heavens. As it needs neither hands to defend itself nor feet to stand on, and has no need of legs or feet to propel itself, it has no limbs, and at 34b we are told it is a god. To say the least, this is a somewhat strange animal, and certainly could not be considered anthropomorphic, even if it does have intelligence and soul.
What does this god do, though? All it does is revolve uniformly in one place 34a. The stars are spherical and intelligent like the cosmos 40a , and are divine and living creatures 40b. Apology 26cd, Laws e; cf. Hippolytus, Refutatio 1. Laws b and Epinomis b on intelligence and regularity. The essential point here, then, is that the celestial bodies have no freedom of action or no desire to deviate from regular circular motion.
They have the intelligence to carry out their assigned duties, and not to do anything else. It is their intelligence which explains their regular and orderly behaviour. That they move, and do so without any external compulsion, is explained by their having souls. For Plato, the soul is a principle of motion. If this is describable as vitalism, it is a highly depersonalized version, where the attributes of animate beings that are required for the description of the cosmos have been carefully sorted from those that are not.
This allows us to distinguish quite sharply between Plato and the mythological and magical traditions. They always act for the best, and so will always act in the same manner. There is nothing unpredictable or irregular about their behaviour. As we now express physical laws in terms of equations, we slip very easily into a mathematical model of physical law. That is, we consider physical laws to be unbreakable in a manner analogous to mathematical or geometrical laws. So while physical law ought to be upheld, it is conceivable that it will not be, and then The heavenly bodies have intelligence, understand what they ought to do for the best, and, being good souls, carry that out.
While it is conceivable that the heavenly bodies will deviate from the intelligent course, due to their nature they will not in fact do so. We might compare here the fate of the cosmos in Timaeus. There is also a question of resources here. What ancient physical explanation could be given of the heavens?
The atomist notion of a vortex sweeping the heavens around may account for the simple motion of the stars, but as becomes evident in the astronomy of Timaeus, it cannot account for the more complex motions of sun, moon, and planets. As the Greeks held that the earth is central and stable, they had to treat all the movements of the heavens as real motions. We understand many of these to be apparent, due to the motion of the earth. We think in terms of a force emanating from the sun controlling geometrically relatively simple, elliptical orbits, but this was not an option for the Greeks, as they had to explain the highly complex motions of the heavens as seen from the earth as if they were real.
The key question is whether these entities are law-abiding or not, and for Plato they most certainly are. Nor is Plato alone in the ancient world in using biological analogues for physical processes. Aristotle is perhaps a good example of how biological analogues can intrude into physics in a more subtle manner, and this is something which is continued by the Stoics. With modern science having moved away from the use of biological analogues, the essential question is: is it evident, in the context of fourth-century Greece, that one should be using mechanical rather than biological analogues?
The answer to that is quite clearly no. There are several reasons for this. If one wishes to explain order and regularity, mechanisms are not a good option for the Greeks. While mechanisms, and particularly clockwork, are paradigms of regularity and predictability to us, the mechanisms available to the Greeks, such as the cart and the winch, cannot serve as such models.
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It is not surprising, then, that even where the Greeks might be described as materialists, they are not mechanists. Indeed, the demiurge can reasonably be described as a geometer god. One of the odd aspects of this from a modern point of view is that Plato employs a theory of harmony in cosmology: the spacing of the orbits of the planets is related to the musical scale.
Musical notes can be expressed as the ratio between xxviii. Why does Plato do this? First, when we express physical laws now, we often write them as equations, but has it always been evident that we should express physical laws in this manner? Prior to that, many possibilities of how mathematics in general might relate to the world were open. The relationship might be arithmetical, the world itself consisting of numbers, as the Pythagoreans suggested; or it might be based on harmony, as there is clearly some relation between harmony and number string-lengths for musical instruments, and so on ; or the relation might be geometrical, the world being constituted from shapes, or shapes playing an important role in the ordering of the world.
One reason why Plato does not express the motions of the heavens as equations, then, is that this is not really a resource that is open to him. Another is an extension of the idea of civil law being applied to the intelligences that guide the celestial bodies. There is no question here, for instance, of there being a force impressed and there being a resulting action in proportion to the size of that force, nor any question of an expenditure of energy or fuel.
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The heavenly bodies simply manage their own motions. In order to illustrate what Plato may be doing here, let us take a short digression via Johannes Kepler — , the great astronomer famous for his three laws of planetary motion. Kepler was an ardent Platonist, and an avid reader of Timaeus. Kepler attempted to derive the size and number of the xxix. It is then possible to calculate a ratio, r : R, of the radius of the inner sphere and the radius of the outer sphere. This is most easily illustrated in two dimensions for a square face of a cube of earth and a triangular face of a tetrahedron:.
It is then possible, given some assumptions about how planetary orbits nest together, to generate ratios for the relative spacings of the orbits of the planets visible to the naked eye. In one of the most remarkable phenomena of the history of science, this process can be made to give very good results, certainly by the standards of seventeenth-century observation. With some mathematical processing, Kepler could then produce the harmonies expressed by the planets. The more pronounced the ellipse as with Mercury , the more notes a planet produces; the more nearly circular as with Venus , the more monotonous it is.
Why do Plato and Kepler approach cosmology in this manner? In a cosmos generated by a benevolent demiurge there is nothing which is produced arbitrarily, and the demiurge has a reason for all that he does. Plato and Kepler recognize the need for criteria here. Possibilities open to them, but closed by the developments of the seventeenth century, are forms of geometrical or harmonic ordering. Kepler himself is adamant that there is nothing mystical in his work, and I would agree with him.
At no stage does he say that anything is inexplicable; rather, he is always seeking some form of mathematical explanation. He too wished to know why the xxxi. The Demiurge The demiurge, the primary god, plays an important role in Timaeus, though we are told frustratingly little about him. He is a craftsman god, which is not how one would describe the gods of Greek myth. There is no sense in Timaeus that it is an act of hubris to try to become intellectually as like god as possible. For these arts damage the bodies of those who work at them or supervise them, by compelling the workers to a sedentary life.
But mortals think that the gods are born, Wear their own clothes, have voices and bodies. He is the only god of his type, and prior to his ordering of the cosmos he is the only god at all, although then he produces demigods to aid him in ordering the cosmos and, in particular, in forming mankind. There is still some distance, though, between Plato and a Christian conception of God, and we must be careful not to attribute later theological ideas to Plato.
It is an important theme in Timaeus that the demiurge does as well as he can with the materials available to him, but that reason can only persuade necessity so far and no further. In early Christianity there was considerable debate about whether god created the universe from nothing, or from some pre-existing matter, the former view eventually winning. Timaeus is not really a religious work, at least in the sense that it does not say that we should worship god, nor does it lay down how god should be worshipped, nor give any structure for the organization of a religion.
Rather, it tells us how we can embark on a programme of intellectual improvement, based on an analysis of the relation between the cosmos and god. We should strive to become like god. Timaeus was much discussed in antiquity in relation to two related theological issues, both stemming from the idea of the creation of the universe by a benevolent deity.
First, there is the question of divine providence. If god has created a good world, as far as possible, and continues to care for that world, how exactly does that work? How do we understand the nature of the world as the product of providence? Why is it, if god is entirely good, that human beings do bad things and there is evil in the world?
Timaeus does not just assert the existence of a god, a world-soul, and so on, but assigns important function to each of these things. It can mean any oral account, or any tale, story, or narrative. One of the important metaphysical themes of Timaeus is that the cosmos is in some sense a copy or a likeness. The demiurge looks to an unchanging original, and makes our changeable cosmos as much like that original as possible. So an account of the forms,22 which are stable, secure, and manifest to the intellect, should itself be stable and reliable. An account of what is a likeness, on the other hand, can only be likely.
Certainly this is not just one story among many, as several times we are told that this account is second to none in its likelihood. We can, for instance, make entirely correct calculations about the motions of the heavenly bodies. It is reasonable to say, though, that there is a distinction between a form and what participates in a form e. A form is non-physical, non-spatial, and atemporal, and can only be thought of, not perceived with the senses.
A form can be known and is entirely unchanging. Plato was highly critical of the physiologoi, the presocratic natural philosophers, particularly in his earlier work Phaedo. This should not be taken to indicate that he was hostile to natural philosophy, but rather that he had his own conception of how natural philosophy should be done. That, of course, involves the sort of teleology that Timaeus supplies.
Phaedo does not argue that the shape and position of the earth or the constitution of the body are matters of no interest, but rather that purely material explanations of these phenomena are inadequate. Phaedo 99a. Plato still talks of two sorts of causes, but no longer is one a real cause and the other not.
Plato has the reputation of being rather anti-empirical. In part this is deserved, as he often emphasizes that forms are intelligible entities and not the subject of sense-perception. This attitude is easy to exaggerate, though, and the best antidote is perhaps to quote xxxvi. As things are, however, the visibility of day and night, of months and the circling years, of equinoxes and solstices, resulted in the invention of number, gave us the concept of time, and made it possible for us to enquire into the nature of the universe.
These in their turn have enabled us to equip ourselves with philosophy in general, and humankind never has been nor ever will be granted by the gods a greater good than philosophy. Typically for the ancient world, these stars are all presumed to be equidistant from the earth and to undergo no change of position relative to one another.
The angle required is around If one plots where the sun sets through the year, it sets due west at equinox when day and night are of equal length and at If you observe which stars rise at the point where the sun sets, you get a line called the ecliptic. The sun changes position relative to the stars by about 1 degree a day the earth completes an orbit of degrees in around days. The planets also appear close to the ecliptic.
Timaeus and Critias
The reason for this is that, if we draw a line from the sun through the earth, the orbits of the other planets are relatively close to this line. Plato also has Timaeus tell us that the moon completes its second revolution in a month, the sun in a year, but that few have taken note of the other celestial bodies 39c.
In Timaeus, all the celestial bodies move in a perfectly regular manner. At 34a Timaeus tells us that the universe itself revolves uniformly and has no trace of any other motion. Timaeus tells us that the motions of the planets constitute time 39c. If so, their motion must be regular or time will be irregular. But Plato mentions no irregularity in relation to time, nor is there any need for time to be irregular in Timaeus.
This is a calculable amount of time, so the motions of the planets must be regular. The general idea that the visible heavens are amenable to calculation proliferates throughout the Timaeus e. The motions of the heavens are also the visible manifestations of the movements of the world-soul, and these motions are entirely regular 47c. That the heavens move in a perfectly regular fashion is very important. And what about the relations of the heavenly bodies in general to these phenomena or to one another? Republic a — b. For each of these bodies always travels on one path, and not many, although this may not seem so.
There is a tradition that Plato set problems in astronomy for others to solve. The concentricsphere astronomies of Eudoxus, Callippus, and Aristotle all developed from this, as did the epicyclic astronomies of Ptolemy and his followers. Even as late as , Copernicus, supposing the earth to be in motion around the sun, stayed with combinations of regular circular motion.
It was not until that Kepler suggested that planetary orbits are simple ellipses about the sun. There are, of course, problems with the astronomy of Timaeus. As it is one of the earliest models of the cosmos that makes a serious attempt at accommodating the phenomena, it would be very surprising if there were not. Plato was aware of at least some of these. This overtaking and being overtaken cannot be generated by a combination of two regular circular motions, so the tendency opposing the sun must involve some other motion.
That may be some further regular motion that Plato leaves out of the account for simplicity, or it may be that he has no answer for this problem as yet. The backward movement is known as retrograde motion, and though Plato is aware of it, he cannot account for it, as on his model the planets move with a uniform speed along the ecliptic. If the sun, moon, and planets were all permanently in the same plane, along with the earth, there would be a lunar eclipse every full moon, and a solar eclipse every new moon.
One problem with thinking that the earth does not move is that then all the motions of the heavenly bodies must be real and not apparent motions. It is wrong to assume that ancient thinkers believed that their models could solve all the problems of astronomy. It is an advance on previous theories, including the model put forward in the Myth of Er in Republic, but it is not as good as later theories.
Timaeus and Critias (eBook, ) [ybotumafar.tk]
We might 25 Depending on its distance from the earth, the moon sometimes covers the entire sun, while sometimes a small rim of the sun is visible around the moon. The latter is an annular eclipse. The moon has to be in the same plane as the earth and sun as it passes in front of or behind the earth for an eclipse to occur. Cosmogony Timaeus gives us an account of the origins of the cosmos. Prior to the intervention of the demiurge, there is a chaos.
There is no order to the constituents of the cosmos, in two senses: what there is in this chaos is not distributed through space in any orderly fashion, and it is not properly formed into orderly elements. Prior to the ordering of the cosmos, there are only accidental traces of these. Matter itself has no order, as well as being randomly distributed. There is also, in an important sense, no time prior to the ordering of the cosmos.
There is no measurable time because time is bound up with the movements of the sun, moon, and planets. It is their regular motions which constitute measurable time, and this sort of time comes into existence with the establishment of the heavens. The pre-cosmic chaos is non-progressive, a dead end. In modern cosmogony there is the chaos of the Big Bang, then gravity does the work. We can then give an account of the formation of stars, the sun, earth, and the solar system without recourse to a designer.
For Plato, though, the pre-cosmic chaos is non-progressive and will remain a chaos unless there is an intervention to generate order, and that is the task of the demiurge. That order will not come about by chance. Timaeus does give us a like-to-like principle, but it would be wrong to think of it as a principle of attraction, as with gravity. Rather, when many xliii. This like-to-like principle will not produce a cosmos from a chaos, however. There is an important passage in Laws where Plato says: Let me put it more clearly.
Fire, water, earth, and air all exist due to nature and chance, they say, and none to skill, and the bodies which come after these, earth, sun, moon, and stars, came into being because of these entirely soulless entities. In this way and by these means the heavens and all that pertains to them have come into being and all of the animals and plants, all of the seasons having been created from these things, not by intelligence, they say, nor by some god nor some skill, but as we say, through nature and chance.
There is a need for the demiurge to intervene in order to establish a cosmos, and the demiurge has considerable work to do. Not only must he create an orderly distribution of the elements; he must form those elements themselves. The creation of the soul takes place on a more metaphysical level. This mix is then split up according to harmonic principles and bound together to form the cosmos and the paths of the sun, moon, and planets.
The demiurge must act on a non-progressive chaos. He has to generate the elements, the cosmos, and the soul of the cosmos, as well as humans and animals. Soul, Macrocosm, and Microcosm Timaeus develops an analogy between the nature of the world-soul and the nature of our own soul. Our own souls, the microcosms, have very strong similarities to the world-soul, the macrocosm. We too have a pair of mental revolutions.
Ours, though, do not move in a perfectly regular manner. Plato may not mean all of this quite literally, but it is of great importance for what we should be doing with our lives. Our goal should be to correct our mental revolutions and try to bring them as far as possible to resemble those of the world-soul.
If we are able to control our sensations and to bring our mental revolutions under control, we will live justly; if we do not, we will live unjustly. While we should not neglect the health of the body, it is the health of our minds that is really important. Our goal should be to become as much like god as possible, in having perfect mental revolutions. What happens if we do not lead a good life? A good life is an end in itself for Plato, but there are consequences in subsequent incarnations for wrongdoers. If a man should lead a poor life, on the next incarnation he will have the body of a woman.
Men who take no part in either philosophy or astronomy become land animals, and the most stupid of these become snakes, or even sea creatures 90e—92c. If this seems harsh, remember that in Timaeus humans are responsible for their own mental condition. Everyone is capable of improving his or her condition by study, or of allowing his or her mind to deteriorate through laziness or folly. It is an important principle of Timaeus that god is blameless and man generates his own evil.
It is up to us, then, to correct the revolutions in our heads that are so badly disrupted when we are given bodies. These revolutions do settle down of their own accord, to a certain extent, but we must do all we can to encourage this. The housing of the soul in the body has its own problems. The higher part of the soul is placed in the head, in order to keep it as far away as possible from the baser passions of other parts of the body.
There is a skull to protect it, but this skull cannot be so thick that it seriously hinders perception. The demiurge favours a short, intelligent, well-lived life over a longer life lived at a lower level, and this informs the disposition of the body around the soul when the demiurge generates humans. The receptacle shakes what is in it, and this shaking helps to keep the elements in their order. Similarly, we should keep our bodies in motion, that is, we should take some exercise, in order that the movement of our bodies keeps the elements in their proper places.
Giordano Bruno, in the latter xlvi. Intelligence and Necessity After he has described what he calls the works of intelligent craftsmanship, at 47e Timaeus switches to discussing what comes about by necessity. Timaeus tells us that intelligence persuaded necessity for the most part to produce good results. As reason scores only a partial victory over necessity, there is some residual chance and disorder. Now, it seems strange that necessity should be associated with these things. However, one might take both chance and disorder in two separate senses, depending on what they are contrasted with: 1 An event might be said to occur by chance because there is no causal chain that leads to its occurrence, contrasting chance with causal determinism.
If we were to blindly throw paint at a canvas, in an attempt to generate a portrait, it would be mere chance if anything good were the result, though no causal chain need be broken if such an event were to occur.
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We can take the same sort of approach with disorder. The order that it is contrasted with might be that of physical law, or that of a teleological arrangement of phenomena. The ordinary emission of light, for instance, might be law-like but disorderly with no order to wavelength or direction , relative to a stimulated emission of light and its ordering into a laser beam ordered in wavelength and direction.
An ancient analogue here might be that the xlvii. There are, then, a number of possibilities for how intelligence persuades necessity: 1 There is only a partial imposition of causal determinism. Although these are the best possible bodies, they still have limitations for instantiating the best possible world. A good example of this might be the question of the human skull, discussed at Timaeus 75bc. In order for us to have acute perception, the skull ought to be as thin as possible; in order for it to protect our brains and ensure a long life, it should be as thick as possible. If we think of necessity in this manner, then reason can only persuade it as far as logical possibility will allow.
So while mortal appetite and immortal soul cannot be completely separated, the action of intelligence is to separate them as far as is possible, given that they are to be housed in one body. There are examples of the other four possibilities for intelligence persuading necessity. How is necessity persuaded by intelligence?
Primarily this must be down to the actions of the demiurge, who is able to order the pre-cosmic chaos into the elements and sort those elements into a good order. The demigods and the world-soul must also play a part, though, as their souls direct the motions of the heavens and it is the demigods who produce human beings. The Receptacle The receptacle is probably the hardest and most philosophically challenging concept in Timaeus. Plato introduces a third thing, apart from the forms and whatever participates in forms.
The receptacle is that in which phenomena occur, and out of which they are formed. So the receptacle seems to be space and also to be matter: it provides the space in which perceptible phenomena can occur, and also is the substrate from which phenomena are generated. The problem which introduces the receptacle is how we refer to changing phenomena. It appears that all four elements can change into one another.
Why should we consider one element out of the four to be primary? A related question is: what stays the same when something changes? If all the perceptible characteristics change, can we say that the thing we started with is the same thing we end up with? So perhaps xlix. Another related question is how we refer to things that are changing. Ought we to give names that imply stability to things that change?
Only things that do not change can have names which imply stability.
Timaeus struggles to say anything positive about the receptacle, and of course there will be serious epistemological problems with anything so utterly characterless. Something that cannot be explained in terms of anything more basic and has no character seems in itself inexplicable. Is the receptacle supposed to be space, or matter, or some combination of the two? Plato uses a range of metaphors to describe it, without being entirely clear. So too it is referred to as a plastic base 50c or soft material 50e , and as mother 50d, 51a and nurse 49a, 52d.
It is like an odourless base for perfumes 50e. A further question here is whether this collection of material metaphors can be made to yield a consistent account of a material receptacle. It is also referred l. This is a particularly strong spatial metaphor, as it would suggest that the particles are independent of, but contained by, the winnowing-basket. Whether all the descriptions that Plato uses for the receptacle are compatible with one another is an open question.
It is possible to fuse matter and space together in this way, as Descartes did in the seventeenth century when he argued for an equivalence of matter and extension. That something beyond forms and their likenesses is required is relatively easy to argue for. Geometrical Atomism Timaeus provides us with a new take on atomism.
The size and shape of the basic particles is not accidental, as it was for the early atomists, Leucippus and Democritus. It is a matter of intelligent choice and design by the demiurge. He imposes order on chaotic matter by generating shapes and number 53b. The solids which constitute them can come apart, as can the planes which constitute the solids.
So an octahedron of water can come apart into eight triangular planes, and each of these too can come apart into six basic triangles. Plato seeks to explain the characteristic of an element in terms of the properties of its particles. Hence the phenomenon of burning is due to the cutting action of sharp, rapidly moving particles. The idea was not original to Plato, though he developed it in interesting ways. That is an idea which is absent from Leucippus and Democritus. The Pythagoreans treated geometry arithmetically, by attempting to treat geometrical problems as part of the theory of natural numbers; that is, as numbers composed of indivisible monads.
Thus every geometrical length ought to be expressible as the ratio of two natural numbers. If these numbers represent a length, then if we ask how long something is, rather than measure the distance we count the number of monadic lengths involved. So too, according to Aristotle, the Pythagoreans treated physical entities as in some way constituted out of number. See e. Aristotle, Metaphysics b11 — Why do they join edge to edge, rather than edge to surface, or surface to surface like a pile of sheets of paper?
Critias Critias follows directly on from Timaeus, with Timaeus beginning the work by commenting on the account he has just given in the previous work. Critias then begins to tell the full tale which he had given in outline in the introduction to Timaeus. He tells us something of the political order of the city of Atlantis, and gives a description of the city. There are two sorts of question that we can ask about the origins of the Atlantis myth. First, is it true that Atlantis once existed, or is there at least a basis of fact which Plato has embellished for his own purposes?
As far as Atlantis itself is concerned, there is no basis in fact. There is no sunken city in the place he indicates, nor is there any geological remnant volcanoes, shallow muddy part of the Atlantic , although there are shoals just beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. As far as we are aware, it is not. There is no source for this legend prior to Plato, and no later source that is independent of Plato.
Given the ubiquity of the Atlantis story, this may come as a surprise, but it is nevertheless true: Plato is our sole There was a massive volcanic eruption on Thera, km north of Crete, but this has now been accurately dated to around bc and cannot have anything to do with the decline of Minoan Crete some years later.
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Should we take the account given by Plato at face value? Was there a record of the demise of Minoan Crete in the written Egyptian records, which somehow came down to Plato? There is nothing in the extant Egyptian records to support this, though it is always possible that the relevant material has been lost.
More of a concern is why this information should come to Plato and only to him. The world is presented as a battlefield of forces that are unified only by the will of God, who had to do the best he could with recalcitrant building materials. The unfinished companion piece, Critias, is the foundational text for the story of Atlantis. It tells how a model society became corrupt, and how a lost race of Athenians defeated the aggression of the invading Atlanteans.
This new edition combines the clearest translation yet of these crucial ancient texts with an illuminating introduction and diagrams.