Life lessons in Plato’s universal truths

Raphael's famous fresco in the Vatican depicting the School of Athens, Plato (R) and Aristotle appear at the centre. Plato is presented with his most famous work, the Timaeus, under his arm.

Philosophers Plato (L) and Aristotle. Plato is presented with his most famous work, the Timaeus, under his arm.

When asked to nominate philosopher Plato’s greatest work, most people would suggest The Republic. But that answer reflects a very modern view. The verdict of the past was that it was the Timaeus.

Associate Professor Dirk Baltzly, from Monash University’s School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, will be discussing the Timaeus, at his upcoming lecture ‘Plato’s Timaeus, a quasi-scientific explanation of the Creator’s activities’.

“In the Timaeus, Plato depicts the Pythagorean philosopher Timaeus giving an account of the creation and nature of the cosmos,” Associate Professor Baltzly said.

During the Renaissance, Plato’s dialogue gave impetus to new scientific ideas. The Timaeus presents a picture of a visible world whose underlying nature is best understood in terms of mathematics.

“In addition to these broadly scientific ideas, Plato’s dialogue also contains some odd theological notions. In particular, it claims that the entire universe is a single living thing, and therefore is a visible god,” Associate Professor Baltzly said.

“As much as they might admire the seeds of mathematical physics in Plato’s Timaeus, few contemporary scientists would believe Plato’s theological claims.

“But even if we don't believe that the universe is itself a god, it might turn out that there is something morally or spiritually uplifting about understanding what makes the universe tick.”

Associate Professor Baltzly’s talk is part of the ‘History of Science, Mathematics, Philosophy and Technology’ lecture series, organised by Dr Alan Dorin from the Monash Faculty of Information Technology.

“This talk will look at some of the connections that Plato’s dialogue posits between understanding the universe and having a genuinely fulfilling life,” Associate Professor Baltzly said.

“Being involved with science might not make you god-like, but it might nonetheless afford the inquirer a kind of satisfaction that is essential to any good life.”

Most of Associate Professor Baltzly research is on Ancient Greek philosophy. He has published several volumes of translation and notes on antiquity’s most influential commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, by the pagan Platonist Proclus who died in 485 CE.

His next project will tackle Proclus’s Commentary on The Republic.

‘Plato’s Timaeus, a quasi-scientific explanation of the Creator’s activities’ will be held from 2-3pm on Wednesday, 3 October 2012 in Seminar Room 135, Building 26, at Monash University’s Clayton campus.