- Timaeus (dialogue)
"Timaeus" (Greek: Τίμαιος, Timaios) is a theoretical treatise of
Platoin the form of a Socratic dialogue, written "circa" 360 BC. The work puts forward speculation on the nature of the physical world. It is followed by the dialogue "Critias".
Speakers of the
dialogueare Socrates, Timaeus of Locri, Hermocrates, Critias. Some scholars have argued that it is not the Critias of the Thirty Tyrantswho is appearing in this dialogue, but his grandfather, who is also named Critias. [See Burnet, John (1914). "Greek Philosophy, Part 1: Thales to Plato". London: Macmillan, p. 328 — Taylor, AE (1928). "A commentary on Plato's Timaeus". Oxford: Clarendon, p. 23.]
The dialogue takes place the day after Socrates described his ideal state. In Plato's works such a discussion occurs in the Republic. Socrates feels that his description of the ideal state wasn't sufficient for the purposes of entertainment and that "I would be glad to hear some account of it engaging in transactions with other states" (19b). [The quotings are in the
Hermocrates wishes to oblige Socrates and mentions that Critias knows just the account (20b) to do so. Critias proceeds to tell the story of
Atlantis, and how Athens used to be an ideal state that subsequently waged war against Atlantis (25a). Critias believes that he is getting ahead of himself, and mentions that Timaeus will tell part of the account from the origin of the universeto man. The history of Atlantis is postponed to "Critias". The main content of the dialogue, the exposition by Timaeus, follows.
ynopsis of Timaeus' account
Nature of the physical world
Timaeus begins with a distinction between the physical world, and the
eternalworld. The physical one is the world which changes and perishes: therefore it is the object of opinion and unreasoned sensation. The eternal one never changes: therefore it is apprehended by reason (28a).
The speeches about the two worlds are conditioned by the different nature of their objects. Indeed, "a description of what is changeless, fixed and clearly intelligible will be changeless and fixed," (29b), while a description of what changes and is likely, will also change and be just likely. "As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief" (29c). Therefore, in a description of the physical world, one "should not look for anything more than a likely story" (29d).
Timaeus suggests that since nothing "becomes or changes" without cause, then the cause of the universe must be a
demiurgeor God, a figure Timaeus refers to as the father of the universe. And since the universe is fair, the demiurge must have looked to the eternal model to make it, and not to the perishable one (29a). Hence, using the eternal and perfect world of "forms" or ideals as a template, he set about creating our world, which formerly only existed in a state of disorder.
Purpose of the universe
Timaeus continues with an explanation of the creation of the universe, which he ascribes to the handiwork of a divine Craftsman. The
demiurge, being good, wanted there to be as much good as was the world. For Plato, the demiurge lacked the supernatural ability to create " ex nihilo" or out of nothing. Not being omnipotent the demiurge was able to only organize to a limited extent the "ananke" (αναγκη) or necessity. The demiurge is said to bring order out of substanceby imitating an unchanging and eternal model (paradigm). The ananke was the only other co-existent element or presence in Plato's cosmogony. This is a major point of contrast between Plato's explanation of the origin of the world and the Bible account of creation (in its twelfth-century interpretation) in which God created from nothing and was the only eternal being.
(Later in history the term "demiurge" became a term of vilification by
Gnosticswho purported that the demiurge was a fallen and ignorant god creating a flawed universe, but this was not how Plato was using the term.)
Properties of the universe
Timaeus describes the substance as a lack of homogeneity or balance, in which the four elements (earth, air, fire and water—see
Platonic solids) were shapeless, mixed and in constant motion. Considering that order is favourable over disorder, the essential act of the creator was to bring order and clarity to this substance. Therefore, all the properties of the world are to be explained by the demiurge's choice of what is fair and good; or, the idea of a dichotomy between good and evil.
First of all, the world is a "living creature". Since the unintelligent creatures are in their appearance less fair than intelligent creatures, and since intelligence needs to be settled in a soul, the
demiurge"put intelligence in soul, and soul in body" in order to make a living and intelligent whole. "Wherefore, using the language of probability, we may say that the world became a living creature truly endowed with soul and intelligence by the providence of God" (30a-b).
Then, since the part is imperfect compared to the whole, the world had to be one and only. Therefore, the demiurge did not create several worlds, but "one and unique" world (31b).
The creator decided also to make the perceptible body of the universe by four elements, in order to render it "proportioned". Indeed, in addition to fire and earth, which make bodies visible and solid, a third element was required as a mean: "two things cannot be rightly put together without a third; there must be some bond of union between them". Moreover, since the world is not a surface but a solid, a fourth mean was needed to reach harmony: therefore, the creator placed water and air between fire and earth. "And for these reasons, and out of such elements which are in number four, the body of the world was created, and it was harmonised by proportion" (31-33).
As for the figure, the demiurge created the world in the geometric form of a "globe". Indeed, the round figure is the most perfect one, because it comprehends or averages all the other figures and it is the most omnimorphic of all figures: "he [the demiurge] considered that the like is infinitely fairer than the unlike" (33b).
The creator assigned then to the world a rotatory or "circular movement", which is the "most appropriate to mind and intelligence" on account of its being the most uniform (34a).
Finally, he created the soul of the world, placed that soul in the center of the world's body and diffused it in every direction. Having thus been created as a perfect, self-sufficient and intelligent being, the world is a "God" (34b).
The creation of the soul of the world
Timaeus then explains how the soul of the world was created. The demiurge combined three elements: Sameness (indivisible and unchangeable, also called Being), Difference (divisible and changing, also called Change), and Existence, a reality which is intermediate to the first two (otherwise known as Becoming). One substance resulted, which he divided following precise mathematical proportions. He then cut the compound lengthways, fixed the resulting two bands in their middle, like in the letter Χ (chi), and connected them at their ends, to have two crossing circles. The demiurge imparted them a circular movement on their axis: the outer circle was assigned Sameness and turned horizontally to the right, while the inner circle was assigned to Difference and turned diagonally and to the left (34c-36c).
The demiurge gave the primacy to the motion of Sameness and left it undivided; but he divided the motion of Difference in six parts, to have seven unequal circles. He prescribed these circles to move in opposite directions, three of them with equal speeds, the others with unequal speeds, but always in proportion. These circles are the orbits of the heavenly bodies: the three moving at equal speeds are the Sun, Venus and Mercury, while the four moving at unequal speeds are the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (36c-d).
Then, the demiurge connected the body and the soul of the universe: he diffused the soul from the center of the body to its extremities in every direction, allowing the invisible soul to envelop the visible body. The soul began to rotate and this was the beginning of its eternal and rational life (36e).
Therefore, having been composed by Sameness, Difference and Existence (their mean), and formed in right proportions, the soul declares the sameness or difference of every object it meets: when it is a sensible object, the inner circle of the Diverse transmit its movement to the soul, where opinions arise, but when it is an intellectual object, the circle of the Same turns perfectly round and true knowledge arises (37a-c).
The term "elements" ("stoicheia") was first used by the Greek philosopher
Platoin about 360 BC, in his dialogue Timaeus, which includes a discussion of the composition of inorganic and organic bodies and is a rudimentary treatise on chemistry. Plato assumed that the minute particle of each element had a special geometric shape: tetrahedron(fire), octahedron(air), icosahedron(water), and cube(earth).
Plato's "Timaeus" conjectures on the composition of the four elements which the
ancient Greeksthought made up the universe: earth, water, air, and fire. Plato conjectured each of these elements to be made up of a certain Platonic solid: the element of earth would be a cube, of air an octahedron, of water an icosahedron, and of fire a tetrahedron[ [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plat.+Tim.+53c Plato, Timaeus, 53c] ] . Each of these perfect polyhedra would be in turn composed of triangles. Only certain triangular shapes would be allowed, such as the 30-60-90 and the 45-45-90 triangles. Each element could be broken down into its component triangles, which could then be put back together to form the other elements. Thus, the elements would be interconvertible, so this idea was a precursor to alchemy.
Plato's "Timaeus" posits the existence of a fifth element (corresponding to the fifth remaining Platonic solid, the
dodecahedron) called quintessence, of which the cosmositself is made. "Timaeus" also discusses music theory: e.g. construction of the Pythagorean scale. The last part of the dialogue addresses the creation of humans, including the soul, anatomy, perception, and transmigration of the soul.
"For whenever in any three numbers, whether cube or square, there is a mean, which is to the last term what the first term is to it; and again, when the mean is to the first term as the last term is to the mean—then the mean becoming first and last, and the first and last both becoming means, they will all of them of necessity come to be the same, and having become the same with one another will be all one"; thereby he implies the aesthetically perfect proportion known as
Golden ratioor Golden mean. (31c - 32a).
The "Timaeus" was translated into Latin by
Ciceroand again by Calcidius. Cicero's version can be found at [http://www.forumromanum.org/literature/cicero_timaeus.html Forum Romanum] ; Calcidius' survived and was one of the few works of classical natural philosophyavailable to Latin readers in the early Middle Ages. Thus it had a strong influence on medieval Neoplatoniccosmology and was commented particularly by 12th centuryChristian philosophers of the Chartres School, such as Thierry of Chartresand William of Conches, who, following the official Christian doctrine, refused the original idea of eternal matter co-existing with God and introduced the creation ex nihilo. [cite book | author=Stiefel, Tina | title=The Intellectual Revolution in Twelfth Century Europe | publisher=St. Martin's Press |location=New York | year=1985 | id=ISBN 0-312-41892-2 ]
* Johannes Kepler
*cite book |author=Cornford, Francis Macdonald |authorlink= |title=Plato's Cosmology: the Timaeus of Plato, Translated with a Running Commentary |origdate= |origyear=1935 |year=1997 |publisher=Hackett Publishing Company, Inc |location=Indianapolis |id=ISBN 0-87220-386-7
*cite book |author=Derrida, Jacques |authorlink= |title=On the Name |origdate= |origyear=1993 |year=1995 |publisher=Stanford University Press |location=Stanford |id=ISBN 0-8047-2555-1
*cite book |last=Martin |first=Thomas Henry |authorlink= |title=Études sur le Timée de Platon |origdate= |origyear=1841 |year=1981 |publisher=Librairie philosophique J. Vrin |location=Paris |id=
*cite book |last=Taylor |first=Alfred E. |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=A commentary on Plato's Timaeus |year=1928 |publisher=Clarendon |location=Oxford |id=
* K. Sarah-Jane Murray, "From Plato to Lancelot: A Preface to Chretien de Troyes," Syracuse University Press, 2008. ISBN-10 081563160X
* [http://timaeus.baylor.edu/ Digby 23 Project at Baylor University]
*Plato's "Timaeus" Translated by
Project Gutenberg[http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1572 edition] (includes Jowett's introduction)
York University[http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Plato/Timaeus edition]
** [http://www.doc.ic.ac.uk/~rac101/concord/texts/timaeus/ Jowett text] with all words linked and concordance
* [http://www.mathpages.com/home/kmath096.htm MathPages - Kevin Brown's discussion of Plato's "Timaeus"]
* [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-timaeus/ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry]
* [http://platogeek.com/work/30 Timaeus Bibliography]
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