Thursday, July 11, 2019

Timaeus: The Platonic View of God and Creation

The Timaeus is part of the group of dialogues that Plato composed in the last 20 years of his life. It offers an enigmatic account of the nature of the physical world and human beings. This dialogue, between Socrates, Timaeus, Hermocrates, and Critias, takes place after Socrates has described his ideal city-state (the Republic) and he inquires about the situation in other city-states. Then Critias talks about a lost civilization on the island of Atlantis.

However, the thrust here is not on Atlantis, but on the Platonic view of God, creation of the universe, birth of mankind, and nature of afterlife. Socrates takes a back seat in this dialogue and Timaeus, who was once was a high public servant and is now a wandering astronomer and scholar, acts as the spokesperson for Plato. Timaeus’s description of the universe as the creation of a rational God, acting as a Supreme Creator, is strikingly similar to the view propagated by several modern religions.

According to Timaeus, the ideal Forms, from which God has crafted the universe, are actually numbers. Plato’s doctrine is heavily influenced by the teachings of Pythagoras and offers a grand vision of the ordered way—a purely mathematical way—in which the universe was created by a Supreme God. Here’s an excerpt from Timaeus’s explication:
“Now when the Creator had framed the soul according to his will, he formed within her the corporeal universe, and brought the two together, and united them centre to centre. The soul, interfused everywhere from the centre to the circumference of heaven, of which also she is the external envelopment, herself turning in herself, began a divine beginning of never ceasing and rational life enduring throughout all time. The body of heaven is visible, but the soul is invisible, and partakes of reason and harmony, and being made by the best of intellectual and everlasting natures, is the best of things created.” 
Timaeus is the one of the most fascinating Platonic dialogues—it is certainly the most influential. A parallel of macrocosm and microcosm runs throughout the conversation and Plato points out that human morality is not a matter of human wills; it is based on cosmic order.

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