Department of Classics

Plato, Timaeus 29b-d

All are invited to the first of two colloquia, coming up within the next ten days and sponsored by the Joint Classics-Philosophy Graduate Program in Ancient Philosophy

Mon, September 8, 2008 | WAG 316

3:30 PM


The presentation tracks M. F. Burnyeat's analysis of the passage at issue in Rhizai, 2 (2005), 143-65, a widely discussed and influential article, the chief points of which will be summarized in the colloquium. (Copy of Burnyeat's article is on reserve at the Brogan Reading Room.) While I agree with many details of Burnyeat's analysis-and in particular that the key term eikôs mythos is misleadingly translated "probable account"-I take issue with, and I seek to qualify, two of Burnyeat's theses: that the cosmological mythos of the Timaeus is "far from . . . the metaphysical downgrading of the sensible world in the central books of the Republic"; and that the methodological reticence evident in Plato's formulation of the standard of the eikôs mythos has nothing in common with the cautiousness of "modern empiricist philosophy of science."

My own analysis shows that Plato studiously avoids setting the standard of the eikôs mythos any higher than "no worse than any alternative." A significant parallel for Plato's adoption of a reticent standard for the eikôs mythos is found in the methodological stance of multiplicity-in-explanation. Dominant in, and characteristic of, the ancient tradition of meteorology, the stance also has pre-Platonic antecedents, notably in the natural philosophy of Xenophanes.

Sponsored by: Joint Classics-Philosophy Graduate Program in Ancient Philosophy

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