21st September, 2006 Metaphysics and Epistemology Plato’s “Timaeus” Reading for Today

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21st September, 2006

Metaphysics and Epistemology

Plato’s “Timaeus”
Reading for Today:

  • Plato, Timaeus, Coursepack pp27-28.

Upcoming Readings:

  • Tuesday: Timaeus

  • Plato, (C.P.) p.27-28

  • Thursday: Eve:The Mother of All Living, Baring and Cashford, (C.P.) pp 13-22.

  • Note: precise sections of this article to be assigned on Wednesday


  • 427-347 B.C.E.

  • Athenian

  • Student of Socrates, teacher of Aristotle.

The Dialogues:

  • Plato can be a bit of a tricky read.

  • Written as a conversation between Socrates and Timaeus.

  • Expression of Plato’s philosophical commitments comes from discourse and providing an account.

  • Knowledge for Plato requires that a belief be justifiable, true, and ultimately communicable to others.

Useful but Brief Definitions:

  • METAPHYSICS: what is there? What kind of objects are there in the universe?

  • EPISTEMOLOGY: how do we know about those objects, what can we know about them?

  • ONTOLOGY: study of what ‘is’ and what ‘is not’, what kind of status do different objects have?

  • ETHICS: what is good and what is bad?

Platonic Presuppositions:

  • That which is real is better than what is not.

  • That which is true is better than what is false.

  • Knowledge is only of true things.

  • Knowledge and opinion are different.

  • Knowledge is better than opinion.

Plato’s First Distinction:

  • The premises we just read form for us an initial distinction.

  • What is ‘real’ and what is ‘coming to be’ are utterly different things.

  • The real and the becoming have a different ontological status.

  • The real is, the becoming is not.


  • Plato (and others) held that for something to be really real it must be unchanging.

  • If something changes, we can only know it as a certain kind of thing at a particular time, and cannot make claims about what IT is in all ways and at all times.

Why does that matter?

  • Scientific Knowledge (episteme) is acquired and proven by way of rational argument.

  • An argument must be valid at all times and in all circumstances to be a useful tool in Plato’s science.

  • The terms of an argument must always represent the truth for knowledge of ‘x’.


  • TRUTHFUL arguments of any sort must represent unchanging things, not temporary states of affairs.

  • Plato held that there were unchanging truths.

  • Truths were not apprehended by the senses, but were rather apprehended by reason alone.

An Application: Tim.28a4-b4

  • “Now, whenever the maker of anything looks to that which is always unchanging and uses a model of that description in fashioning the form and quality of his work, all that he thus accomplishes must be good.

  • “If he looks to something that has come to be and uses a generated model, it will not be good.”

What are the Forms?

  • Things that come-to-be (are changing, mutable, temporary) are imperfect copies of the things that are real.

  • The things that are real are the true forms of the things that are copies of them.

  • The real things exist in a different way than the copies.

  • The Forms are Ideas of things.

The Cosmos, or Ouranos:

  • Q: Has it always been, or has it come to be, starting from some beginning?

  • A: It has come to be, for it can be seen and touched and it has body, and all such things are sensible (perceptible).


  • Objects of sensation are grasped by belief [(Hackett 1997:Zeyl) ‘opinion’ - 28c1], not the understanding.

  • Perceptible things are changeable, therefore the opinions built upon them may also change.

  • Plus, the senses themselves can be tricked.

What else is there?

  • There are still the real things - which is to say anything that does not come-to-be, or is caused by the agency of something else.

  • Candidates:

  • 1) Objects of Reason (ideas, Forms)

  • 2) The Author of the Universe, ‘God’

Finding the Maker:

  • “Now to find the maker and father of this universe [to pan] is hard enough, and even if I succeeded, to declare him to everyone is impossible.” (Hackett 1997, Zeyl)

  • to pan - Gr.(Attic) ‘this everything’.

  • Notice, it is only hard to find, but it is impossible to describe.

What was the Model - Tim.28c5...

  • Q: After which of the two models (the changing or the unchanging) did its builder frame the Universe?

  • A: The unchanging, eternal, and real.

Quote: Tim.29a3-6

  • “Everyone, then, must see that he looked to the eternal; for the world is the best of things that have become, and he is the best of causes. Having come to be, then, in this way, the world has been fashioned on the model of that which is comprehensible by rational discourse and understanding and is always in the same state.”


  • This world is the best one possible, due to the fact that it was modeled after The Eternal.

  • It still contains within it things that are imperfect, and unintelligent.

  • Therefore: imperfect things are a part of the universe’s perfection.

Can We Even Reach Conclusions?

  • What reality is to becoming, so is truth to opinion.

  • Reality :: Becoming

  • Truth :: Opinion

  • It is not surprising that we cannot provide accurate accounts of many things. It is fitting that we look to the likely story and for nothing further.

Summation - Epistemology:

  • What is real and what is apparent are different.

  • The real is knowable, but harder to find.

  • The apparent is not knowable, but easily learned about via sensation and opinion.

Summation - Cosmogony:

  • Our Cosmos is a created body.

  • It was created by something prior to it.

  • It was modeled after the REAL and eternal.

  • Objects within it are imperfect copies.

  • The maker was GOOD, the good and the real are associated with each other.

  • Imperfect parts add to the perfection of the whole.

Remember Plato’s Presuppositions:

  • That which is real is better than what is not.

  • That which is true is better than what is false.

  • Knowledge is only of true things.

  • Knowledge and opinion are different.

  • Knowledge is better than opinion.

That was the Preamble

~The Point on Tuesday~

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