A Likely Fable

Can we know nature through a poem or a book?  We have been left with examples of this, like in Plato's Timaeus-Critias, but also in the more basic idea of there being a "book of nature" that initially stems from Pythagoreanism, according to which it was assumed that the book of nature was written in the language of mathematics.  We note that in the Timaeus-Critias, a knowledge of mathematics is inextricably linked to the knowledge that may help man to become a better person, i.e., one not diseased by an excessive drive towards pleasure (including gluttony and exaggerated carnal activities) but who studies in order to learn what is good and how to reach it.
Hadot, in The Veil of Isis (HUP, 2006) pp. 156, writes that the Timaeus is "presented as a poeisis, that is, as both discourse and a poem, or an artistic game that imitates the artistic game of the poet of the universe, the divinity". Timaeus is scientific, philosophical, and artistic but above all it is about a beautifully-ordered universe planned and constructed by a Craftsman whose Intellect mankind is encouraged to emulate.  Perhaps one does not agree that behind the universe is a Good Idea - but who can argue with this premise when presented as a likely fable? Timaeus says that should anyone refute his discussion, "we begrudge him not the prize" (54b).  Still, the man who does not see the singularity of vision behind the universe is to be allowed to "pass" (55d).  Such is "unversed" - a play on words implying also "unskilled".
In this way, if one prefers traditional orderly narrative, one is making a political statement: preferring order and symmetry to Other.  The Other in Timaeus represents the principle of plurality.  May it be noted that plurality has its place in this universe: such as at the connection of the joints, for its presence allows for movement (74a).
Everything has its place in this account, despite man only being able to arrive at what is reasonable or likely (29c): man can at best try to unveil the meaning of the universe by composing a poem of the poem of the universe by acting with it, through mimesis.
This poetic endeavour is addressed by Aristotle in Poetics, where he writes that it is the poet's object not to tell what actually happened but what could and would happen (1451a).  Hadot cites those who consider the Timaeus ahead of its times for having a "starting point in axioms that are indemonstrable in themselves but are capable of helping to construct a reasonable and likely representation of the universe; that is, ultimately, to 'invent' it" (159).  It may not represent the world as it is but as it would appear if it were made rationally (158).  If that is true, fair enough, but we are still left with the idea that the rational is good and requires discipline (of the pleasures, etc.) and education to reach.  The former is particularly relevant for Timaeus notes that "what is good merits description more than what is evil" (87c) but who among us consistently cultivates their attention to focus on the good?  Do we dislike a good fable?


Book: Amy Butler's Midwest Modern; Brush from Lauren Harrison.

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