18 April 2005

Forward-Looking Phaedo

John Dillon has a review out today in BMCR of Filip Karfik, Die Beseelung des Kosmos: Untersuchungen zur Kosmologie, Seelenlehre und Theologie in Platons Phaidon und Timaios. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Band 199. Leipzig/München: K.G. Saur, 2004.

The book seems noteworthy, according to Dillon's review, especially for its claims that "there is a cosmological theory underlying the Phaedo that should not be ignored, just because the dialogue is customarily presented as concerning the immortality of the individual soul" and that "this theory, as one would expect [says Dillon], points forward to the Timaeus."

That there is a cosmological theory in the Phaedo, of sorts, is clear enough and uncontroversial. That it 'points forward' (a vague enough phrase) to the Timaeus is not so clear. I haven't read the book, but I don't find the two considerations offered in the review very compelling.

Dillon writes, first:

K.'s (most interesting) contention [is] that the portrayal of the cosmos in the [Phaedo] myth is intended by Plato as a sort of response to the Anaxagorean system and its misuse of the concept of Nous (criticized, of course, in Socrates' 'intellectual autobiography' at Phd. 97Dff.); the cosmos of the Phaedo myth is a world guided for the best by Nous--and in this respect it looks forward to the Timaeus.
But I wonder what details of the myth might support Karfik's contention. Even bringing his view to the myth, I can't see what might serve as evidence for it: I don't see Nous at work in it, or any critique of Anaxagoras. (Have any readers of Dissoi Blogoi read the book? Or are you better than I at guessing what the bases might be for this contention?)

The second consideration involves the brief discussion of opposites at Phaedo 103A, which according to Karfik (as Dillon reports):

...serves to draw a distinction between opposites being generated from opposites in particular things and opposites themselves becoming opposites. This in turn directs attention to the body as a substrate for opposite qualities, something that K. sees as looking forward to the deeper analysis of the role of body, and the material substratum in general, in the Timaeus, particularly 48E-52D.

It seems a stretch to take this passage to look forward to the Timaeus. (Or is it only that Karfik 'sees it' as looking forward to the Timaeus?) And one wants to know how this passage can look forward to the Timaeus, when the view that the Phaedo proposes--namely, that fire is a substance that can't but be hot--is plainly at odds with the view of the Timaeus that fire is merely the quality hot as existing in a neutral substratum.

When reading Dillon's review, I was worried about method. Take any myth in any dialogue; take any remarks bearing on the physical world in any dialogue: If we look at them in a certain way, couldn't we understand them as similarly 'looking forward' to the Timaeus? But, if so, what content can that claim have?

Yes, it's only a brief review. But one wants a review to give indications, at least, as to the confidence one might have in the main claims of a book.