Essay / Philosophy

A Marathon through Plato II

It is after nine. The room is packed and very warm, but the conversation is warmer. We are pressing forward as hard as we can, but it is difficult for the text is difficult. Is there anything finer than to watch very bright students like Matt Anderson or Rebecca Schmitt press forward? We are all keen.Where I have failed my students in the past, Lord have mercy on me a sinner.It seems odd that we are hearing a speech, a set piece, on an image in motion. The Republic which is a dialogue is itself in motion, but is about a paradigm. The city in words in the Republic does not move, but the conversation and the souls of the men do. This is disturbing.I have often thought (and even written a book arguing!) that the Timaeus is the key to Plato’s thought. Now I am full of doubt. Unless somehow, Timaeus is the philosopher-king, unless he incarnates the virtues of the dialectic within himself, the Timaeus seems flawed. And yet, as Dr. Geier points out, Timaeus corrects himself during the speech.Does the cosmos have a soul? It would have one, if it is a good imitation of something higher. If it does have a soul, as Timaeus suggests, then it can understand, even if we cannot understand it. This soul seems to be a bridge between Being and Becoming. This is vital, it seems to me.My own soul acts as a bridge between my material body and the world of the Divine.The cosmos is known to be the way it is because of Beauty. Beauty acts as a guide for Timaeus, as I think it should for all thought. Why not? Why not assume that the cosmos is designed to be beautiful?In one of my favorite passages in Plato, Timaeus 29D2 Timaeus urges his listeners to not try to go beyond a “likely story.” Socrates speaks for the last time in the dialogue and says that this approach is excellent. Of course, it is most excellent. In this way, Timaeus has made his account tentative and limited. In this way, perhaps, this non-dialectic dialogue can be justified. It is not mere rant. It is tentative as all “opinions” about this shadow-land must be.It might be that the world says, “No dialectic!” The world must be addressed and Timaeus does it in his way. While not attacking science, it is interesting to see that Timaeus is limiting the importance of science. Science (in our modern sense) cannot be the most important thing. That place is left for philosophy (or in a deeper way theology as understood by Plato).The dialectic gets at the things that are. Philosophy (and theology) deal with existence. However, the cosmos is only open to opinions. We can opine well and we can opine badly. Good opinions are beautiful and make sense of the world as we know it at the moment.Or of course there is the harder thought: Socrates does not intervene after 29C, because he is demonstrating the folly that results if Timaeus is allowed his head. Lord have mercy.It is the opening prayer that give us hope. Does Socrates concede that only with divine help or revelation.We are now turning to Republic.

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