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Plato's Timaeus

Plato's Timaeus

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by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Section 5.

The soul of the world is framed on the analogy of the soul of man, and many
traces of anthropomorphism blend with Plato's highest flights of idealism.
The heavenly bodies are endowed with thought; the principles of the same
and other exist in the universe as well as in the human mind. The soul of
man is made out of the remains of the elements which had been used in
creating the soul of the world; these remains, however, are diluted to the
third degree; by this Plato expresses the measure of the difference between
the soul human and divine. The human soul, like the cosmical, is framed
before the body, as the mind is before the soul of either--this is the
order of the divine work--and the finer parts of the body, which are more
akin to the soul, such as the spinal marrow, are prior to the bones and
flesh. The brain, the containing vessel of the divine part of the soul, is
(nearly) in the form of a globe, which is the image of the gods, who are
the stars, and of the universe.

There is, however, an inconsistency in Plato's manner of conceiving the
soul of man; he cannot get rid of the element of necessity which is allowed
to enter. He does not, like Kant, attempt to vindicate for men a freedom
out of space and time; but he acknowledges him to be subject to the
influence of external causes, and leaves hardly any place for freedom of
the will. The lusts of men are caused by their bodily constitution, though
they may be increased by bad education and bad laws, which implies that
they may be decreased by good education and good laws. He appears to have
an inkling of the truth that to the higher nature of man evil is
involuntary. This is mixed up with the view which, while apparently
agreeing with it, is in reality the opposite of it, that vice is due to
physical causes. In the Timaeus, as well as in the Laws, he also regards
vices and crimes as simply involuntary; they are diseases analogous to the
diseases of the body, and arising out of the same causes. If we draw
together the opposite poles of Plato's system, we find that, like Spinoza,
he combines idealism with fatalism.

The soul of man is divided by him into three parts, answering roughly to
the charioteer and steeds of the Phaedrus, and to the (Greek) of the
Republic and Nicomachean Ethics. First, there is the immortal nature of
which the brain is the seat, and which is akin to the soul of the universe.
This alone thinks and knows and is the ruler of the whole. Secondly, there
is the higher mortal soul which, though liable to perturbations of her own,
takes the side of reason against the lower appetites. The seat of this is
the heart, in which courage, anger, and all the nobler affections are
supposed to reside. There the veins all meet; it is their centre or house
of guard whence they carry the orders of the thinking being to the
extremities of his kingdom. There is also a third or appetitive soul,
which receives the commands of the immortal part, not immediately but
mediately, through the liver, which reflects on its surface the admonitions
and threats of the reason.

The liver is imagined by Plato to be a smooth and bright substance, having
a store of sweetness and also of bitterness, which reason freely uses in
the execution of her mandates. In this region, as ancient superstition
told, were to be found intimations of the future. But Plato is careful to
observe that although such knowledge is given to the inferior parts of man,
it requires to be interpreted by the superior. Reason, and not enthusiasm,
is the true guide of man; he is only inspired when he is demented by some
distemper or possession. The ancient saying, that 'only a man in his
senses can judge of his own actions,' is approved by modern philosophy too.
The same irony which appears in Plato's remark, that 'the men of old time
must surely have known the gods who were their ancestors, and we should
believe them as custom requires,' is also manifest in his account of

The appetitive soul is seated in the belly, and there imprisoned like a
wild beast, far away from the council chamber, as Plato graphically calls
the head, in order that the animal passions may not interfere with the
deliberations of reason. Though the soul is said by him to be prior to the
body, yet we cannot help seeing that it is constructed on the model of the
body--the threefold division into the rational, passionate, and appetitive
corresponding to the head, heart and belly. The human soul differs from
the soul of the world in this respect, that it is enveloped and finds its
expression in matter, whereas the soul of the world is not only enveloped
or diffused in matter, but is the element in which matter moves. The
breath of man is within him, but the air or aether of heaven is the element
which surrounds him and all things.

Pleasure and pain are attributed in the Timaeus to the suddenness of our
sensations--the first being a sudden restoration, the second a sudden
violation, of nature (Phileb.). The sensations become conscious to us when
they are exceptional. Sight is not attended either by pleasure or pain,
but hunger and the appeasing of hunger are pleasant and painful because
they are extraordinary.





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