BMCR 2005.04.34

Die Beseelung des Kosmos: Untersuchungen zur Kosmologie, Seelenlehre und Theologie in Platons Phaidon und Timaios. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Band 199

, Die Beseelung des Kosmos : Untersuchungen zur Kosmologie, Seelenlehre und Theologie in Platons Phaidon und Timaios. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde ; Bd. 199. Leipzig/München: Saur, 2004. 293 pages : 1 illustration ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3598778112. €89.00.

The task that Karfik (henceforth K.) has set himself in this monograph is to examine the relation between the soul, the world and God in Plato’s thought, with special reference to the Phaedo and the Timaeus. The book is divided into two unequal parts, the first (pp. 19-84) dealing with the Phaedo, the second (pp. 87-251) with the Timaeus — though the last 32 pages of this actually contain a series of three ‘Beilagen’, covering topics in the Phaedrus. the Laws and Plato’s followers, including Philip of Opus, Aristotle, Speusippus and Xenocrates.

The first part is in turn divided into two sections, ‘Seelenlehre und Kosmologie’ and ‘Die Lebenden und die Toten.’ In the first of these, K. focusses primarily on the passages 95e-107b, covering Socrates’ autobiographical excursus and the final proof of the soul’s immortality, and 107d-114c, the final myth. In analysing both these passages, it is K.’s (most interesting) contention that the portrayal of the cosmos in the myth is intended by Plato as a sort of response to the Anaxagorean system and its misuse of the concept of Nous (criticized, of course, in Socrates’ ‘intellectual autobiography’ at Phd. 97Dff.); the cosmos of the Phaedo myth is a world guided for the best by Nous — and in this respect it looks forward to the Timaeus.

His second section (pp. 52-84) focusses on the nature and the value of the first argument for the immortality of the soul (70C-72ἐ, the ‘argument from opposites’. This has, reasonably enough, attracted a fairly consistently bad press over the centuries, but K. finds some interesting points to make on its behalf. Building on two recent critiques in particular, those of Jonathan Barnes (in a review of David Gallop’s annotated translation of the dialogue, in 1978) and Anna Greco, in an AGPh. article of 1996, K. argues, soundly, that the argument becomes more reasonable if one bears in mind Plato’s principle that the cosmos cannot be allowed to become ‘lame’: that there is a certain quantum of life that must remain constant, so that if there is a ‘death’ anywhere, a corresponding amount of life must pop up somewhere in compensation. This does not serve to validate the argument, admittedly, but it explains how Plato could have felt that it had any force at all.

The second philosophical issue that arises from it he draws attention to by dwelling on a significant objection raised at 103A by an anonymous participant (Phaedo can’t remember who!), which serves to draw a distinction between opposites being generated from opposites in particular things and opposites themselves becoming opposites. This in turn directs attention to the body as a substrate for opposite qualities, something that K. sees as looking forward to the deeper analysis of the role of body, and the material substratum in general, in the Timaeus, particularly 48E-52D.

K.’s contention, then, is that there is a cosmological theory underlying the Phaedo that should not be ignored, just because the dialogue is customarily presented as concerning the immortality of the individual soul, and this theory, as one would expect, points forward to the Timaeus.

Of the Timaeus he selects two aspects, one quite particular (though it acquires ramifications) and the other pretty general, and he has interesting points to make about both. He begins (pp. 87-148) with the (linguistically troublesome) address of the Demiurge to the Young Gods at 41a7, Theoi theôn, and he makes this the basis for a wide-ranging discussion of the nature of divinity in the work. He begins with a useful survey of the various ms. readings of the opening sentence and the various views on the interpretation of the salutation itself. On that, I must say that I have been in the past unable to accord a plausible meaning to the genitive theôn if it is assumed to qualify theoi. K., however (pp. 119-46), makes the possible meanings of the genitive the occasion for a series of interesting investigations into the status of the planetary gods and the traditional gods, before plumping for a partitive genitive as the best bet, and then assuming erga, in apposition to theoi, as antecedent of hôn, the whole to be translated ‘Ihr Götter unter den Göttern, ihr Werke, deren Hersteller und Vater ich bin …’ Not a bad solution, I think.

He continues with an in-depth investigation of the varieties of motion set out in the dialogue and the theory behind them (pp. 149-220), covering the movements of bodies, of the Soul, and the circular movement of Intellect, all in exhaustive detail. What emerges from all this which is of particular interest is his analysis of the relation between the self-motion of the soul and the actions of the Demiurge. As he analyses the situation, the Demiurge himself must be an intellect, with the paradigm as its contents, but the soul also must have an intellect, which is a projection of Intellect itself (pp. 188-92). K.’s analysis seems to me perfectly sound, but I am tempted to go one step further, and wonder if perhaps what Plato is seeking to present to us is after all nothing but a rational World-Soul.

K. himself does entertain this possibility, as at least an interpretation of the Timaeus in the later Academic tradition, in the second and third of his Beilagen, on the Theory of Motion in Book X of the Laws, and on Nous and Soul in the Laws and among Plato’s pupils (including Aristotle), where he grants that, whatever Plato himself intended in Book X, Philip of Opus in the Epinomis certainly sees a rational World-Soul as the supreme cosmic principle. At any rate, he brings out well the fact that the relation between a Nous and a World Soul remains a lively subject of discussion among Plato’s immediate followers.

This is a book full of sound analysis and stimulating insights and should be essential reading for anyone now embarking on a study of Phaedo or the Timaeus, or indeed of Plato’s later theory of the nature of the supreme principle in general.