11 April 2007

Corrupted Revolutions in Our Heads

I've been reading, to write a review, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, summer 2003, and in that volume Timothy A. Mahoney's, "Moral Virtue and Assimilation to God in Plato's Timaeus" raises a point of translation that is perfect for this blog.

Mahoney disputes David Sedley's reading of a passage in the Timaeus. Today I'll give Mahoney's main arguments; tomorrow I'll give Sedley's rejoinder; and the next day I'll give Mahoney's final reply. There's a flaw, I think, in Mahoney's final reply, and my question for you will be whether you can spot it and, if so, whether the flaw is fatal to his position.

The background for the dispute: Sedley and Mahoney differ over what a human being's assimilation to God amounts to for Plato. Sedley has maintained that, for Plato, such assimilatio requires that we put aside all practical matters and enter a state of pure contemplation; Mahoney disagrees and thinks that it involves our having and using the moral virtues, especially justice.

The specific point of dispute concerns a phrase in
Timaeus 90d1-2:

...ta_j peri\ th_n ge/nesin e0n th|~ kefalh|~ diefqarme/naj h(mw~n perio&douj e0corqou~nta...
Mahoney follows Zeyl and translates in the received way:
"We should redirect the revolutions in our heads that were thrown off course at the time of birth."
Sedley suggests a clever change and wishes to translate:
"We should correct the corrupted revolutions in our head concerned with becoming."
That translation fits better with Sedley's view of assimilatio, because then the passage seems to be recommending that that we turn completely away from any occupation with becoming, and thus with those things that moral virtue would govern.

Mahoney objects to Sedley's translation on two grounds:
1. "The phrase peri\ th_n ge/nesin is naturally taken as adverbial with diefqarme/naj." (He acknowledges Zeyl for this argument.)
2. 90d1-2 should be understood as referring back to 43c-e, where Plato seems to say that the disturbances of the revolutions in our heads began at birth.
Tomorrow I'll give Sedley's rejoinder, which perhaps you anticipate, if you've looked at that earlier passage, also here.