On the Timaeus

"On the Timaeus." Lecture at The Hannah Arendt/Reiner Schurmann Memorial Symposium in Political Philosophy: "The Philosophy of Leo Strauss," New School for Social Research, 1999. In The Argument of the Action, 2000.


Thirty years ago, when I submitted a paper to Leo Strauss on Timaeus’s science fiction, he wrote back to say that Plato’s Timaeus for him has always been sealed with 7 seals, but he thought he saw two things clearly: Timaeus’s account of the human soul is in agreement with Socrates’ imprecise and political understanding of the soul in the Republic, and Timaeus’s denial of eros to the original constitution of man is a necessary consequence of that agreement. He might have added as well that the the abstraction from the body, which he discerned to be the necessary trace of nonbeing in Socrates’ anatomy of political idealism, has its counterpart in Timaeus’s own procedure, whereby he begins, mistakenly as he says, with visible and tangible body, only to end up, after he has put soul first, with the five Platonic solids, which are neither visible nor tangible, in order to account for the physics of change, in what follows, I wish to look at the connections between the Timaeus  and the Republic insofar as Strauss’s interpretation of the Republic gives one a way, not to pry open the Timaeus, but to decipher some of its seals and read them as questions.