Rather than his typical discussion of the city-state in comparison to the human, in the Timaeus Plato discusses the creation of the universe in comparison to the human. With his use of the terminology of a ‘creator’, ‘father’, ‘demiurge’, etc., his description of the creation of the world continued in popularity with the church because it sounds very monotheistic at its core. As one of Plato’s later writings, it retains the dialogue format but really in form only because Timaeus and later Critias give extended speeches about their respective subjects.
[I'm working from the Penguin Classics version by Desmond Lee, 1977. It is divided into sections, which I mark with '#' as well as the line numbers of the Stephanus 1578 Edition.]
#1. Setting: a discussion by Socrates, Critias, Timaeus, and Hermocrates. Socrates begins by quickly summarising his view of the ideal city state. This includes having a separate ruling class who are only involved in leading in both internal and external affairs. They would have proper training and all property would be communally owned. There would be no husband-wife relationships, but all would be in communal relationships. Accordingly, all adults would be the parents of all children. The conclusion of this discussion comes when Socrates notes that this is just an ideal, but that it is incomplete because it has not been exhibited in a real city.
#2. Critias then brings up the story of Atlantis before it was destroyed in the sea. He gives a brief description and sets up the later speech by Critias that will show how the city-state described by Socrates did exist in Atlantis. However, they wanted to see how this city-state fit within the world, so Critias nominates Timaeus to describe the creation of the world up through the creation of mankind. Then Critias will then return to Atlantis. So Timaeus (T) describes the following:
#3. T gives the basic division between ‘that which always is and never becomes from that which is always becoming but never is. The one is apprehensible by intelligence with the aid of reasoning, being eternally the same, the other is the object of opinion and irrational sensation, coming to be and ceasing to be, but never fully real’ (27e-28a). The world came to be because it is visible, made by the ‘maker and father of this universe’ (28e).
Main Section I: The Work of Reason ~ focusing on the creation process
#4. The framer of this universe ‘was good, and what is good has no particle of envy in it; being therefore withoug envy he wished all things to be as like himself as possible’ (29e). ‘In fashioning the universe he implanted reason in soul and soul in body, and so ensured that his work should be by nature highest and best. And so the most likely account must say that this world came to be in very truth, through god’s providence, a living being with soul and intelligence’ (30c). There is one living universe that contains all things.
#5. The body of the world is spherical and it is composed of earth, air, fire, and water. #6-7. Like all motion, the motion of the world is caused by it having a soul. This soul is composed of rings of Same and Different that explain the motion of stars, sun, moon, and the planets. #8. There are four kinds of living creatures: gods, birds, water animals, and land animals. The gods include the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, etc.) and the gods of mythology.
#9. The gods are not by nature immortal because they are created, but they will never taste death because of the strength of the maker’s will. The gods then are the agents of mortal creation: ‘There are three kinds of mortal creature yet uncreated, and unless they are created the world will be imperfect, as it will not have in it every kind of living creature which it must have if it is to be perfect. But if these were created and given life by me, they would be equal to gods. In order therefore that there may be mortal creatures and that the whole may be truly whole, turn your hands, as is natural to you [the gods], to the making of living things, taking as your model my own activity in creating you’ (41d). Mortals then are a mix of immortal and mortal.
#10. The soul of a mortal is of the same substance of the world soul. A person starts as a man, but if he doesn’t lead ‘a good life’, he will return as a woman. Accordingly, women return as ‘some animal suitable to his particular kind of wrongdoing’. Good living is subduing irrational feelings. #11. When the gods made humans the mixture of soul with the mortal caused confusion and it was difficult for order to reign in the midst of chaos, causing evil. #12-14. The head is the seat of human soul, which we can see by it’s being the most spherical. And sensation of sight is in the head.
Main Section II: The Work of Necessity ~ focusing primarily on the physical aspects of the universe
#15. Not only is reason (or intelligence) directing the world, but necessity as an indeterminate cause (or something irregular or unpredictable) as influences the world. #16. There is not just the two realities: being and becoming, but also a third–the receptical of becoming.
#17-20. There was originally chaos until the maker brought things to order by the four elements. The four elements are not different substances but a substance with different qualities, as we can see by their changing from one to another (e.g., water freezes). These qualities are formed inside of Space (the receptical). So there are 1) the Forms, which are unchanging (‘being’), 2) the Copies, which are modeled on the forms (‘becoming’), and 3) Space, ‘which is eternal and indestructible, which provides a position for everything that comes to be’ (52b).
#21-26. The four elements are ultimately 3D shapes, made up of different combinations of different right triangles–showing Plato’s reliance on mathmatical concepts for his thought. And as the triangles break down and are reassembled, they form a different element. ‘Rest and equilibrium are always associated, and motion and equilibrium always dissociated.’ (57e). #27-36. Varieties of compounds and sensations are caused by the mixture of the different elements and their shapes.
Main Section III: Reason and Necessity Working Together ~ focusing again on human physiology and divine intention
#37. There are two kinds of cause: divine and necessity. ‘All these things [the nature of the physical described in MSII] were so constituted of necessity and teh maker of what is fairest and best in the realm of change took them over when he produced the self-sufficient and perfect god, using this type of cause as subordinant but himself contriving the good in things that come to be. We must therefore distinguish between two types of cause, the necessary and the divine. The divine we should look for in all things for the sake of the measure of happiness in life that our nature permits, and the necessary for the sake of the divine, reflecting that without them we cannot perceive, apprehend, or in any way attain our objective’ (68d).
#38. The human soul is made up of reason, emotion, and appetite. The first is element is divine, the latter two elements are mortal. ‘An since they [the god's who formed humans] shrank from polluting the divine element with these motal feelings more than was abolutely necessary, they located the mortal element in a separate part of the body’ (69e). Emotion is connected with the heart, and the appetites in the belly. ‘The part of the soul which is the seat of courage, passion, and ambition they located nearer the head between the midriff and neck; there it would be well-placed to listen to the commands of reason and combine it forcibly restraining the appetites when they refused to obey the word of command from the citadel’ (70a). Timaeus goes on to explain the functions of the differnt human organs and structures in #38-42.
#43-48. Speak of growth and decay, the cause of sicknesses, and the source of being fit. Essentially, balance in the elements within a person is the source of health and unbalance is a source of disease and sickness both phycially and mentally. For proper health, proportion between physical and mental training must be balanced and not one over the other. #48. With the three divisions of Soul, one is most encouraged to focus his thoughts on that of the immortal aspect.
#49. ‘The men of the first generation who lived cowardly or immoral lives were, it is reasonable to suppose, reborn in the second generation as women; and it was therefore at that point of time the gods produced sexual love…’ (90e). Other animals were formed from other men who produced certain faults. Fish are the lowest life form.
Critias begins to explain how the lost city of Atlantis exemplified the ideal city-state of Socrates, even though it was the enemy of Athens. He describes how it was created by Poseidon, who had children by a human woman. Much time is spent talking about the general structure of leadership and the structure of the city layout. Then the story stops abruptly in the midst of the discussion of how the Atlantis society began to degrade. It is thought that Plato decided this story wouldn’t capture his thought in the best manner so he gave it up to work on his Laws.