In this preview, we return to look closely at the beginning of the dialogue where Plato argues for differences between the perceived, created, impermanent world and its perfect model.
In the full discussion, we get into time, space, and the character of the Craftsman in Timaeus’ account. Is it anything like later conceptions of God? How similar is this story really to Leibniz’s story about God creating the best possible world?
Also, ware the alternatives to this principle of creation? Plato mentions Empedocles, who had a more “atoms in the void” picture of the universe, where creation somehow occurs just through principles like “like attracts like.” Plato thought this view was totally inadequate; even if the Craftsman doesn’t end up having a personality in any recognizable sense, its principle of making the universe based on a perfect model seems much more fruitful in deriving the way the world actually appears to us, given that figures like Empedocles didn’t have Darwinian concepts at their disposal to explain why a universe that is random at its root might appear ordered.
So how literally should we take the creation story that Timaeus articulates? Does it express Plato’s literal view? If the world we experience is ever-changing, then strictly speaking, words can’t even refer to it. They only refer to stable, eternal things (Forms for Plato, human-created abstract concepts for an empiricist like Locke). So a theory about nature must according to this Platonic picture of language be literally false. It must instead be some kind of poetry to raise our eyes to eternal things and so orient us ethically.