30 - A Likely Story: Plato's Timaeus

Peter looks at Plato's Timaeus, focusing on the divine craftsman or demiurge, the receptacle, and the geometrical atomism of Plato's elemental theory.

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Further Reading: 

• M.F. Burnyeat, “Eikôs Mythos,” Rhizai 2 (2005), 143-165.

• M.F. Burnyeat, “Plato on Why Mathematics is Good for the Soul,” in T. Smiley (ed.), Mathematics and Necessity: Essays in the History of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

• A. Gregory, Plato's Philosophy of Science (London: Duckworth, 2000).

• T.K. Johansen, Plato's Natural Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

• S. Menn, Plato on God as Nous (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995).

• G. Reydams-Schils, Plato's Timaeus as Cultural Icon (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003).

• A. Silverman, “Timaean Particulars,” Classical Quarterly 42 (1992), 87-113.

• S.K. Strange, “The Double Explanation in the Timaeus,” in G. Fine (ed.), Plato 1: Metaphysics and Epistemology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Stanford Encyclopedia: Plato's Timaeus

Matt's picture

Have you heard of the theory

Have you heard of the theory of Jay Kennedy (University of Manchester) that Plato's works have a hidden musical/mathematical message?  If so, do you think he's on to something or not?  Is there some connection between the mathematics in the Timaeus and hidden meaning in Plato's works?

Peter Adamson's picture

Hidden mathematical message

Hi -- Yes, in fact, Prof Kennedy gave a paper on this to us in London last year. My feeling is that Plato may well have sought to structure his dialogues in a mathematical, even musical way. That makes sense given what we know about him. I'm skeptical though that this would radically revise what we know about Plato already: after all the Timaeus, among other dialogues, already shows his intense interest in (Pythagorean) music and mathematics. So I'm extremely skeptical about the more "subversive" aspects of Kennedy's reading (e.g. that Plato had "reserved doctrine" that he needed to keep secret because of supposed persecution of Pythagoreans -- this part is clearly hogwash). Rather I think it would confirm what we already know from the "surface" of the dialogues, by and large. However Kennedy's book on this is not yet out so I only know his position so far from one article and his presentation to us.