Translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Critias, Timaeus, Hermocrates.
SOCRATES: One, two, three; but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth of those who were yesterday my guests and are to be my entertainers to-day?
TIMAEUS: He has been taken ill, Socrates; for he would not willingly have been absent from this gathering.
SOCRATES: Then, if he is not coming, you and the two others must supply his place.
TIMAEUS: Certainly, and we will do all that we can; having been handsomely entertained by you yesterday, those of us who remain should be only too glad to return your hospitality.
SOCRATES: Do you remember what were the points of which I required you to speak? Continue reading
Introduction & Analysis by Benjamin Jowett
Of all the writings of Plato the Timaeus is the most obscure and repulsive to the modern reader, and has nevertheless had the greatest influence over the ancient and mediaeval world. The obscurity arises in the infancy of physical science, out of the confusion of theological, mathematical, and physiological notions, out of the desire to conceive the whole of nature without any adequate knowledge of the parts, and from a greater perception of similarities which lie on the surface than of differences which are hidden from view. To bring sense under the control of reason; to find some way through the mist or labyrinth of appearances, either the highway of mathematics, or more devious paths suggested by the analogy of man with the world, and of the world with man; to see that all things have a cause and are tending towards an end—this is the spirit of the ancient physical philosopher. He has no notion of trying an experiment and is hardly capable of observing the curiosities of nature which are ‘tumbling out at his feet,’ or of interpreting even the most obvious of them. He is driven back from the nearer to the more distant, from particulars to generalities, from the earth to the stars. He lifts up his eyes to the heavens and seeks to guide by their motions his erring footsteps. But we neither appreciate the conditions of knowledge to which he was subjected, nor have the ideas which fastened upon his imagination the same hold upon us. For he is hanging between matter and mind; he is under the dominion at the same time both of sense and of abstractions; his impressions are taken almost at random from the outside of nature; he sees the light, but not the objects which are revealed by the light; and he brings into juxtaposition things which to us appear wide as the poles asunder, because he finds nothing between them. He passes abruptly from persons to ideas and numbers, and from ideas and numbers to persons,—from the heavens to man, from astronomy to physiology; he confuses, or rather does not distinguish, subject and object, first and final causes, and is dreaming of geometrical figures lost in a flux of sense. He contrasts the perfect movements of the heavenly bodies with the imperfect representation of them (Rep.), and he does not always require strict accuracy even in applications of number and figure (Rep.). His mind lingers around the forms of mythology, which he uses as symbols or translates into figures of speech. He has no implements of observation, such as the telescope or microscope; the great science of chemistry is a blank to him. It is only by an effort that the modern thinker can breathe the atmosphere of the ancient philosopher, or understand how, under such unequal conditions, he seems in many instances, by a sort of inspiration, to have anticipated the truth. Continue reading
Artwork by Matt Kish
Mark Anderson, Professor of Philosophy at Belmont University, has written and blogged his entire book about Melville, Plato, and Nietzsche. You can read the book online, free. It includes commentary for every chapter in Moby-Dick — way cool for readers of Melville and gluttons for philosophy. As Anderson says,
“This site is home to a book too unusual to interest your typical risk-averse publisher. Moby-Dick as Philosophy: Plato – Melville – Nietzsche blurs the disciplinary boundaries between literary criticism, history of philosophy, and philosophical meditation. It is a work of original creative philosophy.”