Volume 60, Issue 4, December 2020
Cosmic Mathematics, Human Erōs: A Comparison of Plato’s Timaeus and Symposium
In her 2014 monograph, Sarah Broadie argues that Timaeus’s cosmology points to a radical Platonic insight: the full rationality of the cosmos requires the existence of individualized, autonomous, and finite beings like us. Only human life makes the cosmos truly complete. But can Timaeus do full justice to the uniquely human way of being and hence to his own insight? My paper argues that he cannot and that Plato means for us to see that he cannot, by showing how Timaeus treats a famous Platonic theme: eros. Timaeus describes human perfection as assimilation to the mathematical proportions of the cosmos, but by comparing Timaeus with the Symposium I show that, given his deeply mathematized conception of reason, Timaeus cannot provide what Diotima can: a phenomenologically satisfactory account of how we come to identify ourselves with this perfection. Such identification is a transformation in our self-understanding explicable only because of the desirous and reflexive character of the soul. Expressing this character, however, requires combining the mathematical with a poetic, or even mantic, register. Only these sensibilities together grant access to Plato’s cosmology in its fullness.