© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE Last updated November 21, 1998
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Cephalus and the Timæus

June 15-21, 1998

This page is part of the "e-mail archives" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "e-mail archives" section includes HTML edited versions of posts that I submitted on various e-mail discussion lists about Plato and ancient philosophy.

From: "Anthony F. Beavers"
To: plato <plato@evansville.edu>
Date: Mon, 15 Jun 1998 15:54:21 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Cephalus and the Timaeus

Hi Bernard,

I was reading the beginning of the Timæus today and I noticed that the passage at 19a includes, "Then have I now given you all the heads of our yesterday's discussion." The word for head is kephalaios, a kin to Cephalus. What I find interesting is that the passage comes after a recapitulation of many of the most problematic ideas of the Republic, the selection of guardians, women and children in common, and so on.

It is clear that the Timæus begins with Plato trying to recall in the mind of his readers the discussion of the early middle books of the Republic. It is interesting that in the Timæus these ideas are characterized as the "heads" of the discussion. This, of course, reminds me of your tendency to read the dialogues on the model of the three-part soul, and I was wondering if you have been able to work this observation from the Timæus into your schema. If the topics raised at the beginning of the discussion in the Timæus are the "heads" of the Republic, then which ideas are the bodies and which are the souls?

To: plato <plato@evansville.edu>
Date: Wed, 17 Jun 98 23:02:33 +0200
Subject: Re: Cephalus and the Timaeus


Your post raises so many questions that I am not sure I can answer them all in one post nor in what order to proceed.

Let me start with your question about the bodies and souls of the Republic as opposed to its "heads". The first point I want to make is that, when Plato uses the analogy between speech and body (eg: Phaedrus, 264c), it seems to me he is suggesting that a speech must have an "organic" structure fitted to its purpose. In that respect, body and soul are not on a par. He is talking about the "parts" of the speech as if they were its "members", but the soul is not a "member" of a living being, it is something quite different from the body and its parts. It is what the body is made for, and the Timæus, precisely, shows us how the body is built to host the soul. Thus, in the case of a speech, oral or written, I would think that the "soul" is the meaning the author wants to convey, and the speech is the material media he uses to do that, a material stuff that has to have an appropriate organization, a structure, a "plan", built to contribute to the purpose of the author.

So much for the "soul" of the speech. Now, if we assume that, in using the Greek word "kephalaion", Plato has present in mind the root "kephalè" and sees what he is talking about as the "head" of his speech, it may be worth mentioning that, out of the 39 uses of the word in the corpus, only three are in the plural :

This raises the question, how good a sign is it that a speech might have several "heads" !... Neither Lysias speech (or Phædrus' rendition of it) nor Critias speech to come (which will be shut up by Plato in the middle of it) are good candidates for commendable speech... So, could Socrates switch, between the start and the end of his summary, from singular to plural be a "test" of Timæus, and his inability to see the difference a warning about his own speech ?...

Then, the fact is, the two places where Plato warns us explicitely that he is about to give a head to his speech, namely Timæus, 69b and Laws, VI, 752a, suggest that the head comes at the end. In fact, in the case of the Laws, the mention of giving a head to the speech comes pretty close to the middle of the dialogue and suggests the second half as the head. Yet it is precisely exactly the second half of the Republic which is left out of the "heads" mentioned by Socrates in his summary to Timæus !... Another bad mark !...

So, along these lines, let me suggest that the prologue to the Timæus and its reminder of something that looks like the Republic has a dual purpose : a positive one with regard to the overall purpose of the Timæus and its display of several candidates to the title of "form/idea/ideal of man", and a more negative one with regard to the trust we should have in Timæus, who is after all nothing more than a "scientist", not a true philosopher, as his name, Mr Proud, makes clear...

But because it is late already, and in order to keep posts within acceptable length, I will develop these two sides in two more posts later.

To: plato <plato@evansville.edu>
Date: Thu, 18 Jun 98 22:11:33 +0200
Subject: Re: Cephalus and the Timaeus (part 2)

To continue yesterday's post about Timæus and Republic, let us look first at the "positive" side of the prologue.

The way I read the Timæus, it offers several contenders for the qualification of "Form/Idea/Ideal of Man", in an attempt to show how the created world may "participate" in the "world of forms". But it does that without almost ever using the "traditional" vocabulary of "forms", so that many scholars have come to the conclusion that, by the time of the Timæus, Plato had abandonned his former "theories" !... Whereas, as I see it, he is just putting in application the principles developed in the Sophist about the "participation" of Forms with one anther and with the material "world".

The first contender to the role of "Form of Man" is the Form of matter that is described at length throught the first "mathematical model" of matter, which describes it as made up of "triangles", that is, of pure forms. It should be noted that the only occurrences of the vocabulary of Forms in the Timæus is about these ones, about the form of matter. This "Form of Matter" is the "Form of Man" for one who looks at him from a purely materialistic point of view, such as a physicist, man then being nothing more than a bunch of atoms and molecules : spheres and eliptical paths have nowadays replaced triangles, pyramids and regular solids, but the result is the same, itdeprives man of all freedom and all responsibility in his acts. It leads to a world of pure "necessity", "anagkè".

Then there is the "Biological Form of Man", the one described as the work of the lesser Gods to host the immortal soul handed them by the Demiurge. Note that this description is a "plan" of men, not the building of an individual man, thus it is still a "Form", not an instance. It provides "rationales" for the way man's body is built, not the actual moulding of a first individual like in the story of Adam and Eve. It exhibits the Form of Man as seen by the physician, whereas the previous one was the form of man as seen by the physicist.

Then there is the soul itself, and especially the immortal soul manufactured by the Demiurge with the leftovers from the soul of the world. Again, we see here a "Form", not a specific instance, though in the end, each man has his own soul. We are told how a soul is manufactured and what it partakes in : same (logos), other (matter, many faced passions), mixed (thumos, realm of choice and of growth in time), all of it in "harmony" with the world it is supposed to live in, as made of the same stuff.

These three "Forms" move us from the level of matter, the level delt with by the lower part of the soul, up to the level of the intelligible, the level grasped by the soul, and especially its higher, immortal, part, the "logos", through the intermediate level of the body, the "battlefield" in which man has to decide by himself whether he wants to look upward toward the intelligible, or downward toward matter and its laws, its "form", its "necessity" (anagkè) with which even the Demiurge has to make do.

But then the logos (as the higher part of the soul) is not the end in itself, and he has to make himself participant to a still higher "Idea" to reach his own end, to become what he is meant to be. All three Forms so far are within the "myth", within Timæus' story. And there comes the fourth "Form", the ultimate "Idea(l)" of Man, the "Idea of Justice" depicted at length in the Republic, the center of all the dialogues, the harmony to be built between the parts of a compound soul as a foundation for the harmony between men in their cities. So, to bring this "Ideal of Man" in the Timæus, Plato starts, before the myth, with a reminder of what is the idea, the immaterial subject-matter of the Republic, though it is not its "materiality" : not the same time, not the same location, not the same cast of characters. This is Plato's way of telling us that this "Idea(l)" is outside time and space (outside the time and space of Timæus' myth), prior to even the creation of time and space, that it is not located here or there (in Cephalus' house or wherever the discussion with Timæus et al. takes place), not the property of this or that man (Glaucon and Adeimantus or Timæus and Critias, or even Socrates), that it is indeed an "Idea", not a material speech, be it the Republic, that it is to be searched in the "soul" of the dialogue (and in our souls of readers, who all recognize the tenets of the Republic in the prologue despite all the obvious differences in setting), not its setting and wording (though this "materiality" is necessary to convey the "soul" of the dialogue to us).

But then, why is it that the summary reflects only the first half of the "heads", of the"Ideas", developed in the Republic ? This will be the topic of the next post...

One last word before leaving : could it be that these four "Forms of Man" are at the root of the four causes of Aristotle : matter = material cause ; body = instrumental cause ; soul = formal cause ; justice = final cause (or maybe the reverse as far as the last two go : soul = final cause and justice = formal cause) ?...

To: plato <plato@evansville.edu>
Date: Sun, 21 Jun 98 18:40:38 +0200
Subject: Re: Cephalus and the Timæus (part 3.1)

If indeed the prologue of the Timæus is here to remind us of the idea, the "head(s)" of the Republic, rather that its "materiality" (setting in time and space, cast of character, actual words), then, there is something strange to the fact that it leaves aside the most important tenet of them all, the heart of Plato's thoughts, the logical center of all the dialogues, the principle of the philosopher-king !... True ! A "materialistic" reader concerned with only "facts" and written words might say : "Look ! We all agree that what Socrates and Timæus are talking about is not the discussion reported by the Republic, but another one. Thus we have no way of knowing what was said that previous day but what Socrates and Timæus tell us. And if they agree the summary was accurate and complete, why not trust them and simply assume that the principle of the philosopher-king was no part of this discussion ?!..." That may be so. But the fact is, and it is a "fact" as well, that most people reading the Timæus after the Republic cannot help but think of the Republic when they read the prologue of the Timæus, so much so that already in the time Thrasyllus' tetralogies were devised, it led whoever conceived them to group the Republic with the Timæus and Critias in that order. And it is difficult to admit that Plato didn't expect this to happen when he wrote the beginning of the Timæus. So, to me, it is a legitimate question to ask : "Why did Plato went to such lengths to remind us of the Republic only to leave aside the truly 'kephalaion' principle of it all and to stop at the second wave ?..."

And the answer "Because this topic was not part of the discussion the day before the Timæus" won't do, because, so long as we agree that the dialogues are not journalistic reports of actual conversations having taken place in "real" life, but artistic creations of Plato, the question simply becomes now : "why did Plato assume as background to the Timæus a conversation that had so much in common with the Republic but letf aside its most important proposition ?..." And even if he did, the question might then be : "why would Socrates discuss with such distinguished guests his ideas about 'politeias' (the original title of the Republic, by the way) and 'through which men it could become as good as possible' (Tim., 17c) and not mention the principle of the philosopher-king ?..."

So, in what follows, I will work on the assumption that Plato wanted us to wonder why the principle of the philosopher-king was not mentioned in the prologue to the Timæus and suggest possible meanings of such an omission, trying to show their consistency with my overall interpretation of the dialogues. Accordingly, I will also work on the assumption that Plato didn't change his mind about the importance of this principle between the time he wrote the Republic and the time he wrote the Timæus, and thus didn't assume a different Socrates on these matters in those two dialogues. Indeed, I take the 7th and last tetralogy as guiding us toward implementing in real life the principles of the Republic in light of the principles of true dialectic developed in the 6th tetralogy.

So, how could it have happened that the principle of the philosopher-king was omited ? It could be that Socrates didn't mention it, but I don't believe this to be consistent with my assumptions : I can't picture Socrates going through so much of the "theories" known to us through the Republic, especially with such guests, and not giving them a complete account of his ideal "politeia" ! Or we may assume that, precisely with such guests, he might not have been as emphatic on the weird character of his proposals as he was with youngsters such as Plato's brothers and Cephalus' kids, that he might not have used the image of "waves" to stress his suggestions. After all, even in the Republic, the distinction betweer guardians and leaders is not that obvious and the discussion moves surrepticiously from the ones to the others, as the leaders are indeed chosen out of the guardians starting at age 50. The program of education detailed in the second part of the Republic as a development of the one outlined in the first part is indeed a program for guardians as well intent on making the best of them philosophers and the word "philosopher" may seem for elders who look at themselves as wise men as no more than another word for those wise guardians so educated. In other words, it may be that Timæus and his companions didn't deem that last "principle" so important, or so "revolutionary", after all and could sincerely from their point of view see it implied clearly enough by the mention of the program of education for guardians and the reminder of their nature, indeed qualified of "philosophon" at 18a5, whereas the equality of men and women, and the community of wives and children was odd enough even for them to deserve explicit mention.

Yet, by wording the summary the way he did, following so closely the order of developments in the Republic, Plato leads us into frustration at not finding the philosopher-king at the end ! And the question is now "why is it Timæus and his friends don't bother not to see it explicitely mentioned by Socrates in his summary ?" What does it tell us about them and should we then draw conclusions from this about the value of their speeches ?...

Indeed, I see Socrates' "quizz" in the prologue as a test of Timæus and his companions that preludes to the test the reader himself will be submitted to by the Critias and its (deliberate to my mind) interruption when "Zeus, the god of gods, who reigns by laws", is about to talk. The test is put to Timæus because, of the three present, he is the only one who will be allowed to bring his speech to completion and it is all the more important that we realize that he is not giving us the last word on all there is and that we keep our critical mind alert. And the fact is, Timæus fails the test ! To some, he might still deserve a B, but not to Socrates. He has missed the most important part of Socrates' speech. He has not seen what holds his proposals together, the true "head" of Socrates' construct (a "kephalaion" may be a head, but not all "heads" have "logos", as Cephalus shows in the Republic, and besides, real bodies usually don't have multiple "heads", "kephalaioi"...) !

In fact, he has missed even more than that : he accepts as faithful and complete a summary that almost completely ignores the psychological dimension of Socrates' approach, and keeps only the "social", "political", part of it. He doesn't care for the philosopher-king because he doesn't care for the "logos" (the word is totally absent from the prologue except for the initial mention by Socrates of his former "logôn" at 17c2, a "materialistic" view of the "logos" as speech), and he doesn't care for the "logos" because he has a "physical" view of the soul : in the "quizz" (17c-19a), the word "phusis" occurs 5 times(17c10, 18a1, 18a4, 18c2, 18d8) while the only mention of the soul, at 18a4, is to talk about its "nature (phusin)" in the guardians, a nature that is seen as dualistic, split between a "thumoeide" dimension to fight wars and a "philosophon" dimension toward those it oversees. And there is no mention of "paideia", schooling, education in the noble sense of the word, dealing with the soul more than with the body, and ultimately with the upper part of the soul, but of "trophe" (18a9 ; and the associated verb "trephein" : traphentas, 18b1 ; threpteon, 19a1), a word that initially means nourishment and only later rearing, and then, rearing in a basically "physical" manner. And after all, this is consonent with what Timæus will talk to us about !... He is a physicist more than a psychologist, and, when he talks about soul, he has a very materialistic view of the soul, describing its "manufacture" from various "ingredients".

This is not to say that there is nothing good in Timæus' speech, far from it ! But Timæus himself warns us from the outset that it is only a "likely myth" (29d). And, though the speaker is worthy of consideration, as the name Timæus implies, we should remember that "timocracy" is only the second best regime, the first of the not so good ones (Rep., VIII, 544c ; 544e-545a ; 545c), and that "philotimia" is the beginning of the fall... It is thus of the utmost importance that we understand how to make use of Timæus' speech and what he lacks.

To: plato <plato@evansville.edu>
Date: Sun, 21 Jun 98 18:56:57 +0200
Subject: Re: Cephalus and the Timæus (part 3.2 and last)

An easy answer, after all I have already said, to the question "what does Timæus' speech lack ?" is that, as a "muthos", it lacks "logos". True, but the problem is to understand in what sense it lacks "logos". In fact, there is a way of reading the last three tetralogies as leading to the conclusion that there is a "logos" that is forever out of reach for our "logos", that our "logos" is not the end of it, and that we will never reach the ultimate answers in this life, so that we are till death condemned, as Socrates, to "know nothing". Indeed, as we move toward the end of the "program", there are more ad more "missing pieces" in what we are offered ! The 5th tetralogy gives us a taste for the various kinds of "logoi" man can produce : the poet's (Ion), the eristic's (Euthydemus) and the politician's (Menexenus) ; but all these are prior to a proper understanding of dialectic, a victory over Parmenides, that comes only with the 6th tetralogy (Parmenides/Theætetus, Sophist, Statesman). And all these logoi leave us with a bitter taste in the mouth when we realize that the best they can produce to help us in this life is a funeral oration ala Pericles, infinitely repeated with little changes by generations of leaders Plato makes fun of in the Menexenus.

The ensuing "dialectical" trilogy that should give us the key to a higher "logos" doesn't fullfill its promises, at least not completely : we are led to expect a Sophist, Statesman, Philosopher trilogy at the start of the second part of an already started trilogy, after a Theætetus that has presented us the "scientist" and his misconception of the philosopher (the central "digression" on "the one [Theodorus] calls philosopher" (175e1), who is no better than Thales falling in a ditch while looking at the stars), but we don't get the promised Philosopher, the one who should have known better, maybe. Besides, the first part of the existing trilogy, the Theætetus, ends in aporia about what kind of "logos" could give us "knowledge" !...

And now, in the last trilogy, we start with a missing fourth speaker (if we put in parallel the 6th and 7th trilogies, Timæus, corresponding to the Theætetus, is the scientist, Critias the sophist and Hermocrates, the politician ; so, could the missing fourth be the already missing philosopher of the 6th tetralogy ?), soon to be faced with the missing philosopher-king "head" principle, to continue with an unfinished Critias and a "missing" Hermocrates : Critias can't make it to the point where Zeus would talk to us and the one "endowed with the power of Hermes, messenger of the gods " (the meaning of the name "Hermocrates"), cannot even as much as start his own speech. Yet, what we get in exchange is a long walk toward the cave where Zeus was said to have been born, during which three elderly people try to figure out how to bring order to a city of men. The ultimate "logos" doesn't "talk" to us the way poets would have it. We have to climb toward "him", without even knowing for sure whether we will find him at the end of the road...

What this missing "piece" is, we should have known since the Republic ! Looking at its structure (see http://phd.evansville.edu/tetra_4/republic/plan.htm), we see that one way to look at it is in reference to the three parts of the soul : an outer core displaying the subject "matter" of the speeches and the "desires" of the listeners embeds a middle section describing the growth and decay of city and men at the call of their "thumos", their deciding will, itself embedding an inner section (the three "waves") providing the "logos" of a properly functioning man and city. But then, the inner section itself replicates this structure, as the three waves move us from the "phusis" (the equal "nature" of men and women") to the "logos" (the philosopher-king) through the sphere of action and decision-making proper to the will (wedding, chosing mates, generation of children, images of our "acts"). And again, the third wave, the "logos of the logos" (the missing part in the prologue of the Timæus !...), replicates the tripartite structure, only in a slightly different order : decision-making about truth and opinion, philosopher and philodoxe ; the "logos of the logos of the logos" (sun, line, cave) ; the "genetic" process of educating the philosopher in the material world of becoming by turning his desires toward the proper goal(s). One final time, the scheme replicates itself, as a fractal pattern : the image of the sun attempts to give us the ultimate "logos" of it all, the analogy of the line shows us the terms of the choice we are faced with and the allegory of the cave describes the "generative" process we have to follow in our material world where we are tied by the bonds of our bodily desires.

And in the end, the "logos of the logos of the logos of the logos" escapes us ! It is pointed at as "the good beyond being"... It is outside the scope of our faculties. We can only hint at it, only talk of it through images. Our "logos" cannot give complete "reason (logos)" of it. The climber of the hill outside the cave doesn't reach the "sun", he only reaches a point where he is closer and can look at it directly, but it is still at an "infinite" distance... The climbers in Crete on Mount Ida stop talking before reaching the cave of Zeus, and even if they have reached it, it is still a cave they are "returning" into and the best they can hope to find in that "material" location is the absence of a baby that once might have been there and was "thought" to be Zeus... But before they reach it, they have become rich of the laws they have devised to bring order to another "cave"... And that is all that is expected of us in this life...

We can find a similar self-replicating pattern in the Theætetus, which is itself only the first part, and the lower part at that, the one at the level of the "feelings", "nature", of a trilogy, so positioned as to tell us that "science" is only the first, lower step toward wisdom, or rather, philosophia, love of wisdom, elicited by dialectic, a message confirmed by the similar location of the Timæus in its own trilogy. After "scientific knowledge" must come judgment (crisis, Critias) and political action (Laws).

So, the Theætetus is looking for the "logos" of "knowledge", hoping to give a foundation to scientific knowledge as the answer to all our questions about life and ourselves. And again, the tripartite structure of the soul gives us a key to investigate the structure of the dialogue that progresses through three successive definitions of knowledge. The first one, knowledge as sensation, stays at the level of the lowest part of the soul, its "bodily" dimension, its "material" connection. In fact, there is almost no need for a "soul" at that level to explain sensations, and it is percisely why it fails to account for knowledge. The soul comes into the picture in the transition (184b-187a) that moves us to the second and third definitions, along with the need for making judgments (the job of the intermediate part of the soul, the "thumos"). A second definition ensues, knowledge is right opinion. Yet, by offering two different images to explain the function of the soul in making opinions, Plato seems to move one step backward, so that we start all over again with the three parts of the soul. The dialogue as a whole was :
(1) knowledge as sensations = bodily functions = epithumiai,
(2) knowledge as right opinion = decision making = thumos,
(3) knowledge as "rational" opinion = logos ;
the subset of the dialogue including the last two definitions is :
(2a) soul as wax = material view of soul = epithumiai,
(2b) soul as aviary = dynamic view of soul making choices = thumos
(3) "rational" opinion = logos.
And the last definition itself, focusing on "logos", offers us three understandings of logos that again replicate the scheme ; Or do they ?!.. We are treated to three possible definitionf of "logos" :
(1) "logos" as a sequence of sounds leading to words and phrases ;
(2) "logos" as the enumeration of elements and
(3) "logos" as definition by difference.
Now, if it is clear that the first definition is a quite "materialistic" definition of "logos", bringing us back to the lowest part of the soul, feelings and desires, what about the other two ? I suggest that they oppose an "analytical" approach (def. 2) to a "synthetic" one (def. 3). And both together make up the two sides of dialectic as described in the Phædrus (265c-266b), but both are jointly part of our "critical" ability, our ability to judge. So, once again, in the end, the "logos of the logos of the logos" escapes us...

And now, what was said "analytically" in the dialectical Theætetus, that sciencific knowledge cannot reach the ultimate "logos" of things, and thus of man, is said synthetically in the Timæus, by staging a Timæus that hasn't caught the "logos of the logos" of things : he has made it to the "logos" of the Republic (the three waves), but only till the first two waves, the ones that deal with "nature" and action, not the third one that truly deals with "logos". Yet, his speech gives us food for thought, so long as we only take it for what it is, a "muthos", an image, indeed a set of images of man at various levels of understanding, and we understand that the ultimate "logos" of man, so far as we can know in this life, is "outside" the myth, in the ideal of the Republic that is summarized (in part) before the myth starts....

...And so long as we don't stop there, satisfied by all this "theorization/contemplation" of the world, and realize that what is expected of us is not to make an image of the image, as do poets and sophists such as Critias rewriting a new Iliad to outsmart Homer and Solon, but to take inspiration from the "muthos" to act in the world and contribute to its "kosmos" as we build our own self, our own soul, on our way toward god...

The end

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First published July 5, 1998 ; Last updated November 21, 1998
© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE (click on name to send your comments via e-mail)
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