Essay / Philosophy

A Marathon through Plato

I am live blogging the intellectual high point of the year. Today Al Geier of the University of Rochester is leading thirty-some Torrey students in a slow read through Plato’s Timaeus. We opened in prayer, giving our discussion over to the Divine Logos who guides all. I cannot express my delight to see Al leading a class here again.One cannot write down what happens in a great conversation. I will simply note key questions and thoughts. The anticipation in the room is not something that can be repeated in words.The reading begins at 17: “One, two, three. . .Where is the fourth?What general bearing could sickness have on the general bearing of the dialogue?A missing person can be a catastrophe, but it seems here that the three make up the missing fourth. The imperfections can be made up. Is it just to make up the missing? Should they wait?The philosopher king is missing in the recapitulation of Republic that occurs at the start. Socrates asks again and again if something is missing, perhaps hoping that Timaeus will bring it up.Is this the fourth? Is philosophy missing? Or is it the case in this dialogue without a dialectic that philosophy cannot be here? Can one love wisdom without the dialectic? This is hard to imagine.Socrates builds a city in words in Republic. (Note the classic error to try to relate the discussion of Republic to the politics of an actual city without remembering the thought experiment that is involved.) Now at 18C Socrates wants to see this city in deed and in motion, but in Republic 473A he rejects the reality of the city in words.This is a difficult moment in the text. Having worked long and hard to free us from a desire for the city in words to be “real,” now Socrates seems to be asking for a picture of utopia.The Atlantis story comes next. It is odd to realize that when this is posted that my use of the word “Atlantis” will draw more people here by searching than any other word. It is attractive, powerfully so. People waste their entire lives trying to find this city that is unreal. They miss the deeper cosmology that is to come as a result. Why is this story here? Perhaps it is a trap to catch the unwary before the deeper things to come.The profound distinction at 27D5 between Being and Becoming is crucial. It is not always possible to distinguish between the two, but there is an absolute difference. We also have here the first mention of necessity. Everything that comes to be must have a cause. It is this sort of reasoning that undergirds the modern Intelligent Design movement, making obvious the slander that ID is merely religiously motivated.Timaeus does not set out to convince the skeptic. He makes a series of reasonable assertions, if one does not want to follow them, then it is of no importance to Timaeus. This is the way he sees the cosmos.It is here that we begin, far away, to see why creation. It is a way of seeing the perfect in motion. Why in motion? That we still do not know. Dante would know or Moses. What does Plato think?I have written little of the deeper thought here.

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