|290-1||Graduate Seminar: Plato’s Timaeus||Corcilius/Clarke||M 2-4||234 Moses|
In his dialogue Timaeus Plato presents his philosophy of nature. Roughly speaking, the dialogue tells a ‘likely’ or ‘reasonable’ story about how intelligible structure comes to be present in the physical world. The story consists of a teleological creation myth in which we are told how the Demiurge, Plato’s divine master-builder, endows the world with order, structure and regularity because it is good. The result is the Cosmos, a divine living being distinctively marked by harmony and proportion. However, Plato’s craftsman does not create the universe out of nothing. Like every other craftsman he has to work with given materials. But the resistant nature of the still unformed and chaotic material imposes significant constraints on the process of the creation of the physical world. Thus, the Demiurge arranges everything in the best way as far as this is possible, which means, as far as the character of the found materials permits. The Timaeus provides a fairly complete picture of the Cosmos from the creation of the heavenly bodies down to the affairs of humankind. For Plato, the description of the Cosmos is not a purely theoretical project. The dialogue does not distinguish between science and value statements and it appears that this is intentionally so: for Plato, the story of the origin of the universe seems to be directly related to the question of the right human life.
We will use the English translation of Donald Zeyl, in J. M. Cooper (ed.), Plato: Complete Works (Hackett, 1997). There will be an optional Greek reading group for those interested.
Reading for the first session: (1) Timaeus 17a1-27d4; (2) T. K. Johansen, Plato’s Natural Philosophy (Cambridge, 2004), Chapter 1; (3) Sarah Broadie, Nature and Divinity in Plato’s Timaeus (Cambridge, 2012), Chapter 5.