One Book, The Whole Universe: Platos Timaeus Today
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Start using Yumpu now! Because sensible things are images of intelligible forms, they must resemble them. By introducing mathematics at the level of the world soul and at the level of the world's body, the demiurge gives things enough permanence and regularity so that virtuous behavior, associated with adequate knowledge and language, becomes possible in this world.
The sensible world is a living being that has as its model the complete Living Being Timaeus 31b1 , whose unity is found in our world as well Timaeus 30cc. There is, moreover, an intelligible form for each thing Timaeus 51c This being can be perceived by the senses, and it has been begotten.
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It is constantly borne along, now coming to be in a certain place and then perishing out of it. It is apprehended by opinion which involves sense perception. Zeyl modified. As a divinity, it must be immortal, insofar as nothing indicates that it has been engendered by another entity, whereas the demiurge himself engenders the other gods, whose immortality he ensures Timaeus 41a-d.
Zeyl The demiurge does not behave like a god of the Greek pantheon, Zeus, for instance, who can feel jealous envy 11 with regard to another god 12 , and even with regard to a mortal who is too happy, too rich, or too beautiful, and goes so far as to take vengeance on him for that reason. Since the demiurge is good, he is not jealous or envious, and he will make the world that is the best and the most beautiful possible.
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This is why he can only carry out what is best insofar as is possible This relative impotence of the demiurge is in accord with the traditional representation of the divinity in Greek mythology. He has feelings 16 , and tries to persuade necessity What is more, the demiurge's action is a one-time affair.
After the departure of the demiurge and his assistants, it is the world soul that takes over, guaranteeing the maintenance of an order that is primarily mathematical in the course of incessant change. When he tries to describe what a god is in the Phaedrus , Plato shows himself to be very prudent.
Yet what is the role of this divinity? This decision gives rise to a large number of metaphors and comparisons connected to work. The demiurge accomplishes a series of operations that were typical of specific artisanal activities. When he fashions the universe, the demiurge behaves like a metal-worker, a builder, and a painter. He is a metal-worker and a blacksmith, as one can see if one follows attentively the description Timaeus 35ad of the fashioning of the armillary sphere to which the world soul is assimilated.
The demiurge prepares and melts the alloy that constitutes its material; he molds, fashions, and arranges the plates that are used for constituting the circles along which the stars and the planets move, etc. He is also a builder, whose main activity consists in assembling things, either when he establishes a proportion between the elements that enter into the composition of the body of the world Timaeus 32 b , or when he places the world soul in relation to its body Timaeus 34 b, 36 d.
Again, he is a painter, when he arranges the signs of the zodiac on the celestial vault Timaeus 55 c. When he creates mankind, the demiurge behaves like a potter, a modeler of wax, and a basket maker. He is a potter who prepares the clay of which the osseous substance is constituted Timaeus 73 e , who fashions it Timaeus 73 e - 74 a to make the skull and the vertebrae, and fires it. He is a modeler in wax, when he arranges flesh on this skeleton Timaeus 74 c-d ; and he is a basket-maker when he fashions and adapts mankind's respiratory system. It should be noted, moreover, that the demiurge is assimilated to a farmer when he sows the souls Timaeus 41 e, 42 a, 73 b, c and when he constitutes the circulatory system Timaeus 77c , which is akin to a networks of canals intended for irrigation.
Finally, the demiurge behaves like a peasant when he implants the three parts of the human soul in accordance in the various locations of the body Timaeus 69 e - 70 a, 70d-e. It seems, however, that agricultural work must be added to artisanal labor. Jean-Pierre Vernant 22 gave a good description of the devaluing of work in ancient Greece. Insofar as he works, the tradesman does not have the use of what he does. His labor is thus alienated in its use value; it is therefore reduced to the service of others and becomes akin to slavery. Aristotle was to criticize the consequences of applying a technical model to the production of the world, and would substitute for it a natural model.
Nature is opposed to art or to technique on the following two points: art or technique is not interested in the end, but seeks to discover the means intended to make something whose principle is in the producer come into being. The existence of an artisanal or technical object, particularly the one constituted by the sensible world, is therefore not necessary, but contingent, since, as such, it depends on a decision made within time.
It follows that the world has a temporal origin, and therefore that it can be destroyed, since all that is born must die. Yet neither Aristotle nor Plato can accept this consequence; in the Timaeus 41a-d , as we have seen, it is the demiurge who guarantees the immortality of all he has fashioned.
2. An Interpretive Question
In short, it is not plausible for a god to practice a trade. But an image must be simultaneously similar to its model and different from it. However, it is filled by the elements, in the form of traces or in their fully developed form , which are animated by an erratic motion that the demiurge will try to bring to order. The program is announced from the beginning of the dialogue:.
What the intellect did 29ce. The role of necessity 47ea. The intellect's cooperation with necessity 69ae [81ec].
One Book, the Whole Universe
But I need to match this account by providing a comparable one concerning the things that have come about by necessity. For this ordered world is of mixed birth: it is the offspring of a union of necessity and intellect. Intellect prevailed over necessity by persuading it to direct most of the things that come to be towards what is best, and the result of this subjugation of necessity to wise persuasion was the initial formation of this universe. He is an intellect, a good divinity who tries to fashion the best world and the most beautiful possible by working.
The difficulty attached to the description of this figure explains the diversity of interpretations. In this regard, Sarah Broadie makes an interesting distinction:. For Sarah Broadie, in contrast, the intelligible is not outside the intellect, as seems to be indicated by the passages from the Timaeus quoted above, but is present within him.
In short, we are in the perspective of a god who takes himself as his object of thought, and fashions the world according to a precise plan. He is Father through being the cause of all things Timaeus 28c and bestowing order on the heavenly Intellect and the soul of the world in accordance with himself and his own thoughts. Dillon, see Burnyeat In fact, all these interpretations seek to render otiose any reference to intelligible forms that are located outside the demiurgic intellect.
We thus end up with an interpretation akin to that of Middle Platonism, for which the intelligible forms become the thoughts of a god who occupies the first rank. Cherniss 34 , who follows F. Cornford 35 , and G. Carone 36 for book X of the Laws , think that this demiurge could be identified with the world soul. This interpretation is based on the following passage, which distinguishes between two types of causes which, in the case of the Timaeus , correspond to the demiurge and to necessity:.
The soul is an invisible thing, whereas fire, water, earth and air have all come to be as visible bodies. We would then have to do with a case of self-fashioning, which would be strange, to say the least. This is why everything points toward considering that the demiurge is an intellect separate from the world and hence independent, despite the multiple problems entailed by this position. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book.