Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias

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History of Philosophy

The first appears at the end of the Story of Intellect 40d—47e. It begins with the demiurge creating the human soul from a mixture—not the same mixture from which the cosmic soul came to be, but a different one using the same ingredients blended less purely. Having combined these ingredients, the demiurge distributes bits of the mixture to the various stars for example, lesser gods like a farmer sowing seeds 42d. At this point, the lesser gods take over and begin fashioning the human body.

It is worth noting here the difference in approach. Whereas the demiurge sows seeds, the lesser gods insert rivets. Whereas the demiurge creates with an eye to balance and beauty, the lesser gods simply get the job done by pasting things together. The demiurge uses art and agriculture to create; the gods appear to be workers on an assembly line. It tells how vision comes about, but not why it does beyond that it allows us to keep our soul in tune with the movements of the heavens 45b—46a, 47b.

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The creation of man, as related in the Story of Intellect, is much akin to the work of the lesser gods: it is practical, but not particularly meaningful. It relates the origin of man, but not his nature. In fact, it seems to serve as little more than a bridge between the Story of Intellect and the Story of Necessity.

From the start, however, the account is decidedly more lively and detailed.

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Notice that they do not rivet or glue the soul to the body, but sculpt the body around the soul. Already these lesser gods approach their job with more grace and flair than they did before. Moreover, they have enough sense to separate the two souls so that the mortal soul will not contaminate the immortal soul. They do this by placing the mortal soul within the chest and separating the chest from the head with an isthmus namely, the neck within which the spirited part of the soul resides.

Next to be made is the heart, which communicates to other organs when an unjust deed has been committed, and after that the lungs, which cool the heart, enabling it to be more subservient to reason. The lungs, however, are not merely placed within man; they are implanted enephuteusan , 70c. It is remarkable how the image of the gods from one story to another has changed. The Story of Intellect underplays their artistry, emphasizing instead their efficacy. The Story of Man, by contrast, draws them closer in nature and purpose to the demiurge: they are not only sculptor-like in how they shape the body around the soul, but also farmer-like in how they plant organs within the body.

Also worth noting is the image of man himself. He is no longer an inert machine assembled with glue and rivets, but a dynamic organism animated by passions and emotions. Continuing his story, Timaeus shifts his attention to the liver—one of his seemingly favorite organs. Reason and emotion have been physically separated—reason being located in the head and the appetites in the abdomen. Because the appetites cannot understand reason—evidently because they speak different languages—there was a need for a mediator to convey messages from the higher faculties to the lower 71a.

This becomes the purpose of the liver. From the intellect, the liver receives images, which it projects onto its surface to frighten and restrain the appetites 72b. Just as those images keep the prisoners pacified, the images projected by the liver keep the appetites at bay.

Individual Soul, World Soul and the Form of the Good in Plato’s Republic and Timaeus

Apart from helping the intellect control emotion, the liver also serves as the source of divination 71e, 72b. No one in his right mind, Timaeus says, has access to divine reason; yet when asleep or overcome by some inspiration, man receives divine messages, which must be reflected upon and interpreted. At no point does Timaeus condemn divination as a form of superstition or subterfuge, treating it instead with respect and sincerity—at least for those who think deeply and reason slowly about their divinations.

But why does Timaeus treat divination with respect at all? Why not like the Saisian priest explain divination away naturalistically as either hallucination or huckstery? Perhaps the reason is that for Timaeus—and by extension Plato—man is not simply a patchwork of physical parts: cells, tissues, organs, and systems. Man is not a god, but he does have divine origins, a divine element within himself, and the ability to be divinely inspired. Whereas the Saisian priest ridiculed the idea of myth shedding light on the nature, Timaeus wants to preserve the link between the natural and supernatural.

Consider how they make bone and flesh. Planted within the marrow are various kinds of souls 73c. The gods then take some of this marrow and form it into a spherical shape.

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This spherical field aroura receives the divine seed to theion sperma and becomes the brain 73d. Bone likewise comes to be through an intricate, creative process 73e. First, earth is sifted by the gods to be pure and smooth. Next, it is kneaded and soaked with marrow, baked in fire, dipped in water, placed back into the fire, and dipped once again in water.

This is an utterly fantastic account—one that emphasizes the intelligence and imagination behind the creation of man and of his seemingly most mundane parts. Bone is created as if by a potter and flesh as if by a wax-modeler 74c. Man is not the product of necessity or blind chance; he arises from a series of deliberate actions.

Critias by PLATO - FULL Audio Book - Ancient Greek & Western Philosophy & Philosophers

The gods—whether the demiurge or lesser gods—emerge as agents who care not only to complete their work, but to introduce into their products a sense of style and value. They care about what they make. Their artistic fingerprints can be found on everything from the cosmic soul to human skin, hair, and nails. But they also know how best to manipulate materials. Owing to their different shapes, the elements behave differently. Thus, by combining an artistic sensibility with a knowledge of how to engineer things given the materials at their disposal, the gods are able to imbue the cosmos and man with beauty, structural stability, and purposefulness.

To be sure, man is well-formed and beautiful, but he is also able to grow and flourish. In several passages, the gods act as farmers, planting organs within the human body. Marrow literally allows man, like a tree, to take root 73b. This naturally prompts the question: Why is so close a connection drawn between man and plants? One may think it is a joke. Anyone can tell the difference between humans and plants.

Plato's Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias

Maybe Timaeus wanted to get a rise from his companions. But if it is a joke, it is not a very good one; for as most would agree, there are few things less amusing than an oft-repeated joke. Since plants are intended to be eaten 77c , this cannot be a solemn plea for vegetarianism.

Sometimes, because of our egocentric and homocentric concerns, we lose track of our place in the world. It would be an overstatement to suggest that Timaeus is advancing an environmentalist ethics ; but his holistic view of creation, if taken seriously, does raise important questions 1 about the relationship between creator and created, that is, between planter and planted 87b , 2 about the kinship between man and nature, and 3 about how the good for man relates to the good for other living things.

Rarely has Plato been considered a philosopher with ecological concerns, but perhaps a careful study of the Timaeus would help to change this opinion. Although man is capable of flourishing, he is also subject to collapse and decay. For this reason, Timaeus pivots to the origin and nature of diseases. Is the implication that the gods have a hand in creating diseases? Was this to ensure the imperfection of man? Timaeus, unfortunately, leaves these questions unanswered. Instead, he launches into a discussion of diseases that specifically afflict the body.

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These arise from an excess, deficiency, or misplacement of elements 82a—b. After bodily diseases, Timaeus turns to diseases of the soul, giving special attention to folly, which comes in two varities: stupidity and madness.

Stupidity, he says, is the greatest disease, arising when a body becomes too large and the intellect too weak 88a—b. When this happens, bodily motions gain mastery, causing the soul to become dull, slow, and forgetful. But does this mean that only large people are stupid? Are small folk immune to this disease? It seems an obvious question to ask, but Timaeus does not consider it. It is Socratic in that it affirms that no one performs wrongful acts willingly; however, it is un-Socratic in that rather than attributing wrongdoing to ignorance, as Socrates does, Timaeus roots it in bodily disease.

In fact, physical causes are responsible for madness and stupidity. As for treating disease, Timaeus prescribes physical exercise and an avoidance of medicinal drugs 89a—c. Idleness and inactivity will only make matters worse; the body must mimic the cosmos and stay in motion. In addition, a person should tune the motions in his soul by applying himself to the liberal arts and all philosophy 88c. At this point, one might wonder: Would the silent Socrates be nodding in agreement or shaking in disagreement?

Perhaps he would be doing both. This would seem like a good place for Timaeus to stop. Timaeus has clearly gone above and beyond. Not only has he explained the origins and nature of man, but he has also given his companions lessons in human anatomy and physiology and human pathology.

But Timaeus is not finished yet. There is one topic left to cover: the invention of sex.

Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias
Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias
Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias
Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias
Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias
Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias Platos Natural Philosophy: A Study of the Timaeus-Critias

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