John Wolfe
University of South Florida
Plato's Timaeus is traditionally read as a work dedicated to the sole purpose of describing the origin and nature of the cosmos, as a straightforward attempt by Plato to produce a peri phuseos treatise. In accord with this reading, the body of Timaeus' monologue is then seen as nothing more than an attempt by Plato to convey his own cosmological doctrines. I propose an alternative to the view that the Timaeus is nothing more than a textbook of Platonic physics. The Timaeus is rather squarely focused on the human being, in her moral and political dimensions, and on her relation to the natural world as a whole. Ultimately, this account of the human being is intended to provide part of the answer to the question of how society can produce good citizens and leaders, and thus serves to provide a theoretical basis for the practices of paideia. When viewed in this light many of the curious features of the Timaeus appear less strange. The various parts of the dialogue: the dramatic introduction, Critias' tale of the Ancient Athenians, and Timaeus' monologue can be seen as each contributing to an investigation of a single topic. It further allows us to understand why Plato chooses to employ Timaeus the Locrian as the principle speaker of the dialogue rather than Socrates. Finally, when read in this way, the Timaeus no longer appears as an outlier in the Platonic corpus, as a work devoted to a radically different subject matter than the rest of his writings. It can be seen as dedicated to the same issues which preoccupied Plato throughout his entire life, as about the determination of the best life and providing the tools with which to realize it.
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