The Dialogues of Plato, vol. 3 (The Republic, Timaeus, Critias) - Online Library of Liberty
The Timaeus and Critias have been produced photographically from sheets of .. titles of the Platonic Dialogues, may therefore be assumed to be of later date. Timaeus is one of Plato's dialogues, mostly in the form of a long monologue given by the title Some scholars believe that it is not the Critias of the Thirty Tyrants who is appearing in this dialogue, but .. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Persons of the Dialogue SOCRATES CRITIAS TIMAEUS HERMOCRATES . and reckoning up the dates, tried to compute how many years ago the events of.
When Thrasymachus has been silenced, the two principal respondents, Glaucon and Adeimantus, appear on the scene: At first sight the two sons of Ariston may seem to wear a family likeness, like the two friends Simmias and Cebes in the Phaedo. But on a nearer examination of them the similarity vanishes, and they are seen to be distinct characters. He is full of quickness and penetration, piercing easily below the clumsy platitudes of Thrasymachus to the real difficulty; he turns out to the light the seamy side of human life, and yet does not lose faith in the just and true.
His weaknesses are several times alluded to by Socrates iii. He is a soldier, and, like Adeimantus, has been Edition: The character of Adeimantus is deeper and graver, and the profounder objections are commonly put into his mouth. Glaucon is more demonstrative, and generally opens the game; Adeimantus pursues the argument further. Glaucon has more of the liveliness and quick sympathy of youth; Adeimantus has the maturer judgment of a grown-up man of the world.
In the second book, when Glaucon insists that justice and injustice shall be considered without regard to their consequences, Adeimantus remarks that they are regarded by mankind in general only for the sake of their consequences; and in a similar vein of reflection he urges at the beginning of the fourth book that Socrates fails in making his citizens happy, and is answered that happiness is not the first but the second thing, not the direct aim but the indirect consequence of the good government of a State.
In the discussion about religion and mythology, Adeimantus is the respondent iii. It is Adeimantus again who volunteers the criticism of common sense on the Socratic method of argument vi. It is Adeimantus who is the respondent in the more argumentative, as Glaucon in the lighter and more imaginative portions of the Dialogue.
For example, throughout the greater part of the sixth book, the causes of the corruption of philosophy and the conception of the idea of good are discussed with Adeimantus. Once more Adeimantus returns viii. Thus in a succession of characters Plato represents the successive stages of morality, beginning with the Athenian gentleman of the olden time, who is followed by the practical man of that day regulating his life by proverbs and saws; to him succeeds the wild generalization of the Sophists, and lastly come the young disciples of the great teacher, who know the sophistical arguments Edition: These too, like Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, are clearly distinguished from one another.
Neither in the Republic, nor in any other Dialogue of Plato, is a single character repeated. The delineation of Socrates in the Republic is not wholly consistent. In the first book we have more of the real Socrates, such as he is depicted in the Memorabilia of Xenophon, in the earliest Dialogues of Plato, and in the Apology.
He is ironical, provoking, questioning, the old enemy of the Sophists, ready to put on the mask of Silenus as well as to argue seriously. But in the sixth book his enmity towards the Sophists abates; he acknowledges that they are the representatives rather than the corrupters of the world vi. He also becomes more dogmatic and constructive, passing beyond the range either of the political or the speculative ideas of the real Socrates. In one passage vi. There is no evidence that either the idea of good or the conception of a perfect state were comprehended in the Socratic teaching, though he certainly dwelt on the nature of the universal and of final causes cp.
The Socratic method is nominally retained; and every inference is either put into the mouth of the respondent or represented as the common discovery of him and Socrates. But any one can see that this is a mere form, of which the affectation grows wearisome as the work advances. The method of enquiry has passed into a method of teaching in which by the help of interlocutors the same thesis is looked at from various points of view. The nature of the process is truly characterized by Glaucon, when he describes himself as a companion who is not good for much in an investigation, but can see what he is shown iv.
Neither can we be absolutely certain that Socrates himself Edition: His favourite oath is retained, and a slight mention is made of the daemonium, or internal sign, which is alluded to by Socrates as a phenomenon peculiar to himself vi.
The composite animal in Book IX is an allegory of the parts of the soul. The noble captain and the ship and the true pilot in Book VI are a figure of the relation of the people to the philosophers in the State which has been described. Other figures, such as the dog ii.
To him, as to other great teachers both philosophical and religious, when they looked upward, the world seemed to be the embodiment of error and evil. The common sense of mankind has revolted against this view, or has only partially admitted it. And even in Socrates himself the sterner judgement of the multitude at times passes into a sort of ironical pity or love.
Men in general are incapable of philosophy, and are therefore at enmity with the philosopher; but their misunderstanding of him Edition: Their leaders have nothing to measure with, and are therefore ignorant of their own stature. This moderation towards those who are in error is one of the most characteristic features of Socrates in the Republic vi.
In all the different representations of Socrates, whether of Xenophon or Plato, and amid the differences of the earlier or later Dialogues, he always retains the character of the unwearied and disinterested seeker after truth, without which he would have ceased to be Socrates.
Leaving the characters we may now analyse the contents of the Republic, and then proceed to consider 1 The general aspects of this Hellenic ideal of the State, 2 The modern lights in which the thoughts of Plato may be read. The Republic opens with a truly Greek scene—a festival in honour of the goddess Bendis which is held in the Piraeus; to this is added the promise of an equestrian torch-race in the evening. The whole work is supposed to be recited by Socrates on the day after the festival to a small party, consisting of Critias, Timaeus, Hermocrates, and another; this we learn from the first words of the Timaeus.
When the rhetorical advantage of reciting the Dialogue has been gained, the attention is not distracted by any reference to the audience; nor is the reader further reminded of the extraordinary length of the narrative. Of the numerous company, three only take any serious part in the discussion; nor are we informed whether in the evening they went to the torch-race, or talked, as in the Symposium, through the night.
The manner in which the Jowett Yes, replies Socrates, but the world will say, Cephalus, that you are happy in old age because you are rich. Cephalus answers that when you are old the belief in the world below grows upon you, and Jowett Socrates, who is evidently preparing for an argument, next asks, What is the meaning of the word justice? To tell the truth and pay your debts? No more than this? Or must we admit exceptions? Ought I, for example, to put back into the hands of my friend, who has gone mad, the sword which I borrowed of him when he was in his right mind?
The description of old age is finished, and Plato, as his manner is, has touched the key-note of the whole work in asking for the definition of justice, first suggesting the question which Glaucon afterwards pursues respecting external goods, and preparing for Edition: What did Simonides mean by this saying of his? Did he mean that I was to give back arms to a madman?
He meant that you were to do what was proper, good to friends and harm to enemies. He is answered that justice does good to friends and harm to enemies. But in what way good or harm? The answer is that justice is of use in contracts, and contracts are money partnerships. Yes; but how in such partnerships is the just man of more use than any other man?
And there is another difficulty: And still there arises another question: Are friends to be interpreted Jowett And are our friends to be only the good, and our enemies to be the evil? The answer is, that we must do good to our seeming and real good friends, and evil to our seeming and real evil enemies—good to the good, evil to the evil.
But ought we to render evil for evil at all, when to do so will only make men more evil? Can justice produce injustice any more than the art of horsemanship Edition: The final conclusion is, that no sage or poet ever said that the just return evil for evil; this was a maxim of some rich and mighty man, Periander, Jowett Thus the first stage of aphoristic or unconscious morality is shown to be inadequate to the wants of the age; the authority of the poets is set aside, and through the winding mazes of dialectic we make an approach to the Christian precept of forgiveness of injuries.
Similar words are applied by the Persian mystic poet to the Divine being when the questioning spirit is stirred within him: We may note in passing the antiquity of casuistry, which not only arises out of the conflict of established principles in particular cases, but also out of the effort to attain them, and is prior as well as posterior to our fundamental notions of morality.
Here Thrasymachus, who has made several attempts to interrupt, but has hitherto been kept in order by the company, takes advantage of a pause and rushes into the arena, beginning, like a savage animal, with a roar. At first Thrasymachus is reluctant Jowett Do you mean that because Polydamas the wrestler, who is stronger than we are, finds the eating of beef for his interest, the eating of beef is also for our interest, who are not so strong?
Thrasymachus is indignant at the illustration, and in pompous words, apparently intended to restore dignity to the argument, he explains his meaning to be that the rulers make Jowett But suppose, says Socrates, that the ruler or stronger makes a mistake—then the interest of the stronger is not his interest.
Thrasymachus is saved from this Jowett The contradiction is escaped by the unmeaning evasion: Of course this was not the original assertion, nor is the new interpretation accepted by Thrasymachus himself. But Socrates is not disposed to quarrel about words, if, as he significantly insinuates, his adversary has changed his mind.
In what follows Thrasymachus does in fact withdraw his admission that the ruler may make a mistake, for he affirms that the ruler as a ruler is Jowett Socrates is quite ready to accept the new position, which he equally turns against Thrasymachus by the help of Jowett Every art or science has an interest, but this interest is to be distinguished from the accidental interest of the artist, and is only concerned with the good of the things or persons which come under the art.
And justice has an interest which is the interest not of the ruler or judge, but of those who come under his sway. Thrasymachus is on the brink of the inevitable conclusion, Jowett Why do you ask? For you fancy that shepherds and rulers never think of their own interest, but only of their sheep or subjects, Edition: And experience proves that in every relation of life the just man is the loser and the unjust the gainer, Jowett But the others will not let him go, and Socrates adds a humble but earnest request that he will not desert them at such a crisis of their fate.
Is not the reason, that their interest is not comprehended in their art, and is therefore the concern of another art, the art of pay, which is common to the arts in general, and therefore not identical with any one of them?
The satire on existing governments is heightened by the simple and apparently incidental manner in which the last remark is introduced.
There is a similar irony in the argument that the governors of mankind do not like being in office, and that therefore they demand pay. Thrasymachus had asserted that perfect injustice was more gainful than perfect justice, and after a little hesitation he is induced by Socrates to admit the still greater paradox that injustice Jowett Socrates praises his frankness, and assumes the attitude of one whose only wish is to understand the meaning of his opponents.
At the same time he is weaving a net in which Thrasymachus is finally enclosed. The admission is elicited from him that the just man seeks to gain an advantage over the unjust only, but not over the just, while the unjust would gain an advantage over either.
Socrates, in order to test this statement, employs once more the favourite analogy of the Jowett The musician, doctor, skilled artist of any sort, does not seek to gain more than the skilled, but only more than the unskilled that is to say, he works up to a rule, standard, law, and does not exceed itwhereas the unskilled makes random efforts at excess.
Thus the skilled falls on the side of the good, and the unskilled on the side of the evil, and the just is the skilled, and the unjust is the unskilled. There was great difficulty in bringing Thrasymachus to the point; the day was hot and he was streaming with perspiration, and for the first time in his life he was seen to blush.
But his other thesis that injustice was stronger than justice has not yet been refuted, and Socrates now proceeds to the consideration of this, which, with the assistance of Thrasymachus, he hopes to clear up; the latter is at first churlish, but in the judicious hands Jowett Is there not honour among thieves?
Is not the strength of injustice only a remnant of justice? Is not absolute injustice absolute weakness also? Not wickedness therefore, but semi-wickedness flourishes in states,—a remnant of good is needed in order to make union in action possible,—there is no kingdom of evil in this world.
Is the just or the Jowett To this we reply, that every art has an end and an excellence or virtue by which the end is accomplished. And is not the end of the soul happiness, and justice the excellence of the soul by which happiness is attained? And yet not a good entertainment—but that was my own fault, for I tasted of too many things.
First of all the nature of justice was the subject of our enquiry, and then whether justice is virtue and wisdom, or evil and folly; and then the comparative advantages of just and unjust: Thus the sophistical fabric has been demolished, chiefly by appealing to the analogy of the arts. Among early enquirers into the nature of human action the arts helped to fill up the void of speculation; and at first the comparison of the arts and the virtues was not perceived by them to be fallacious.
They only saw the points of agreement in them and not the points of difference. Virtue, like art, must take means to an end; good manners are both an art and a virtue; character is naturally described under the image of a statue ii.
The next generation cleared up these perplexities; or at least supplied after ages with a further analysis of them. And yet in the absurdities which follow from some uses of the analogy cp. Nor is it employed elsewhere either by Plato or by any other Greek writer. It is suggested by the argument, and seems to extend the conception of art to doing as well as making.
Another flaw or inaccuracy of language may be noted in the words i. That the good is of the nature of the finite is a peculiarly Hellenic sentiment, which may be compared with the language of those modern writers who speak of virtue as fitness, and of freedom as obedience to law. Ideas of measure, equality, order, unity, proportion, still linger in the writings of moralists; and the true spirit of the fine arts is better conveyed by such terms than by superlatives. The harmony of the soul and body iii.
In what may be called the epilogue of the discussion with Thrasymachus, Plato argues that evil is not a principle of strength, but of discord and dissolution, just touching the question which has been often treated in modern times by theologians and philosophers, of the negative nature of evil cp. In the last argument we trace the germ of the Edition: The final reconcilement of justice and happiness and the identity of the individual and the State are also intimated.
Online Library of Liberty
Nothing is concluded; but the tendency of the dialectical process, here as always, is to enlarge our conception of ideas, and to widen their application to human life. He then asks Socrates in which of the three Jowett In the second class, replies Socrates, among goods desirable for themselves and also for their results. Socrates answers that this is the doctrine of Thrasymachus which he rejects. Glaucon thinks that Thrasymachus was too ready to listen to the voice of the charmer, and proposes to consider the nature of justice and injustice in themselves and apart from the results and rewards of them which the world is always dinning in his ears.
He will first of all speak of the nature and origin of justice; secondly, of the manner in which men view justice as a necessity and not a good; and thirdly, he will prove the reasonableness of this view. As the evil is discovered by experience to be greater than the Jowett No one would observe such a compact if he were not obliged. Let us suppose that the just and unjust have two rings, like that of Gyges Edition: And he who abstains will be regarded by the world as a fool for his pains.
Men may praise him in public out of fear for themselves, but they will laugh at him in their hearts. Imagine the unjust man to be master of his craft, seldom making mistakes Jowett I might add but I would rather put the rest into the mouth of the panegyrists of injustice—they will tell you that the just man will be scourged, racked, bound, will have his eyes put out, and will at last be crucified [literally impaled]—and all this because he ought to have preferred seeming Jowett How different is the case of the unjust who clings to appearance as the true reality!
His high character makes him a ruler; he can marry where he likes, trade where he likes, help his friends and hurt his enemies; having got rich by dishonesty he can worship the gods better, and will therefore be more loved by them than the just. He considered that the most important point of all had been omitted: And other advantages are promised by them of a more solid kind, such as wealthy marriages and high offices. There are the pictures in Homer and Hesiod of fat sheep and heavy fleeces, rich corn-fields and trees toppling with fruit, which the gods provide in this life for the just.
And the Orphic poets add a similar picture of another.
The heroes of Musaeus and Eumolpus lie on couches at a festival, with garlands on their heads, enjoying as the meed of virtue a paradise of immortal drunkenness.
Some go further, and speak of a fair posterity in the third and fourth generation. But the wicked they bury in a slough and make them carry water in a sieve: Appearance is master of truth and lord of happiness. To appearance then I will turn,—I will put on the show of virtue and trail behind me the fox of Archilochus. Only from the poets, who acknowledge Jowett Then why not sin and pay for indulgences out of your sin? For if the righteous are only unpunished, still they have no further reward, while the wicked may be unpunished and have the pleasure of sinning too.
But what of the world below? Nay, says the argument, there are atoning powers who will set that matter right, as the poets, who are the sons of the gods, tell us; and this is confirmed by the authority of the State.
Add good manners, and, as the wise tell us, we shall make the best of both worlds. Who that is not a miserable caitiff will refrain from smiling at the praises of justice?
Even if a man knows the better part he will not be angry with others; for he knows also that Edition: And please, as Glaucon said, to exclude reputation; let the just be thought unjust and the unjust just, and do you still prove to us the superiority of justice. The thesis, which for the sake of argument has been maintained by Glaucon, is the converse of that of Thrasymachus—not right is the interest of the stronger, but right is the necessity of the weaker.
Starting from the same premises he carries the analysis of society a step further back;—might is still right, but the might is the weakness of the many combined against the strength of the few. There have been theories in modern as well as in ancient times which have a family likeness to the speculations of Glaucon; e. All such theories have a kind of plausibility from their partial agreement with experience.
For human nature oscillates between good and evil, and the motives of actions and the origin of institutions may be explained to a certain extent on either hypothesis according to the character or point of view of a particular thinker. The obligation of maintaining authority under all circumstances and sometimes by rather questionable means is felt strongly and has become a sort of instinct among civilized men.
The divine right of kings, or more generally of governments, is one of the forms under which this natural feeling is expressed. Nor again is there any evil which has not some accompaniment of good or pleasure; nor any good Edition: We know that all human actions are imperfect; but we do not therefore attribute them to the worse rather than to the better motive or principle.
Such a philosophy is both foolish and false, like that opinion of the clever rogue who assumes all other men to be like himself iii. And theories of this sort do not represent the real nature of the State, which is based on a vague sense of right gradually corrected and enlarged by custom and law although capable also of perversionany more than they describe the origin of society, which is to be sought in the family and in the social and religious feelings of man.
Nor do they represent the average character of individuals, which cannot be explained simply on a theory of evil, but has always a counteracting element of good. And as men become better such theories appear more and more untruthful to them, because they are more conscious of their own disinterestedness. A little experience may make a man a cynic; a great deal will bring him back to a truer and kindlier view of the mixed nature of himself and his fellow men.
The two brothers ask Socrates to prove to them that the just is happy when they have taken from him all that in which happiness is ordinarily supposed to consist. Each of the four kinds has properties that are determined by the constitution of their respective corpuscles, and these properties in turn determine how the particles act upon and react to one another.
These actions and reactions are ongoing and perpetuate a state of non-uniformity which itself is a necessary condition for motion, i. Although each of the four kinds has a tendency to move toward its own region of space, their being squeezed together in a spherical universe without any gaps leads to the inevitable transformations that occur when their various corpuscles cut or crush one another.
Thus it is assured that these migrations are never completed in the sense that there would be a complete separation of the four elements into separate regions.
The account proceeds to explain the various varieties of each of the four kinds, and the sensible properties that they and their compounds manifest.
An account of sensible properties calls for a preliminary account of sensation including pleasure and painand it is with that preliminary account that this section of the discourse concludes. The third main section of the discourse—about the cooperation of Intellect with Necessity—focuses primarily on the psychophysical construction of the human being. While the Craftsman has created the individual souls, he delegates the creation of the human bodies to the lesser, created gods.
These parts are assigned their respective locations in the body: The various organs in the trunk—the lungs and heart in the chest and the liver in the belly—support the functions of their resident soul parts. The account proceeds to describe the formation of the various bodily parts, setting out in each case the purpose of the part in question and showing how its construction out of the appropriately selected materials serves that purpose.
For the most part, Necessity serves the purposes of Intellect well, but this is not always the case. A notable example of them coming apart is the covering around the brain. That covering needs to be massive to provide maximal protection, but that very massiveness would impede sensation, and so a preferential choice must be made between the conflicting demands.
This is preparatory to an exhortation to properly exercise both the soul and the body to recover or maintain physical and psychic well being. The well being of the soul in particular is emphasized: The discourse concludes with an account of the generation of women and non-human animals.
The question of how literally the creation story is to be interpreted remains an intriguing one that continues to interest and divide scholars to this day: Key questions raised by this issue include the following: These questions are at the center of much current discussion of the dialogue. Such a developmental approach to the dialogues has been called into question in recent years, and is currently out of fashion in some circles.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to deny many lines of continuity, and sometimes discontinuity, in the questions that are explored in the dialogues and in the answers—however tentative—suggested by its primary characters. Owen claimed to see in the Timaeus a reassertion of several metaphysical views familiar from the Republic but on the reading proposed by Owen subsequently exposed for refutation in these two dialogues, both of which on the orthodox view precede the Timaeus.
Owen called into question the assumptions and the results of these studies. Cherniss in defense of the traditional view Cherniss Over time the orthodox view appears to have held its own.
Both a more nuanced examination of the texts and more recent computer-assisted stylometric studies have done much to reinforce it. Fashioned after an unchanging and eternal model—a possible subject of a definitive and exact account—the universe as a thing that becomes is shifting and unstable, and hence any account given of it will be similarly lacking in complete accuracy and consistency 29c4—7.
This may be read as lowering our expectations—the account is no more than likely. The account, then, is presented as reasonable, thus meriting our belief, but neither definitive nor complete cf. A definitive account of these matters eludes humans 29d1 and is available only to a god 53d4—7. This, however, is a mistake; it is not easy to see how the distinction between an exact and definitive versus a reliable but revisable account maps on to the distinction between a literal versus a metaphorical account.
The contrast should rather be seen as one between apodeictic certainty about intelligible matters and plausibility[ 11 ] about empirical matters. To the extent that the subject of the account is a thing that becomes rather than a thing that is, as well as a thing that is perceptible rather than a thing that is intelligible, the account will be no more than likely.
To the extent that it is beautiful and ordered, modeled after a perfect reality and fashioned by a most excellent maker, the account will be no less than likely. Introducing the subject of his discourse, Timaeus posits a distinction between what always is and never becomes and what becomes and never is 27d5—28a1. He goes on to connect each with its familiar epistemological correlate 28a1—4: Although Timaeus does not here name the types of entity that satisfy these descriptions, the reader familiar with the Republic will call to mind the distinction between forms and sensibles c, a.
The role of what is as the model after which the Craftsman designs and constructs the universe 29a recalls the role of the forms as models for the philosopher-rulers to imitate in exercising their statecraft Rep. And the identification of what becomes with sensibles in this case the universe as an object of sense is readily made at 28b7—c2 see 5. For that reason the latter reading should be preferred. The metaphysical being-becoming distinction and its epistemological correlate are put to work in an argument that establishes the framework for the cosmology to follow.
The conclusion of that argument is that the universe is a work of craft, produced by a supremely good Craftsman in imitation of an eternal model. The reasoning may be represented as follows: Some things always are, without ever becoming 27d6. Some things become, without ever being 27d6—28a1. If and only if a thing always is, then it is grasped by understanding, involving a rational account 28a1—2. If and only if a thing becomes, then it is grasped by opinion, involving unreasoning sense perception 28a2—3.
The universe is visible, tangible and possesses a body 28b7—8. If a thing is visible, tangible and possesses a body, then it is perceptible 28b8. If a thing is perceptible, then it has become 28c1—2; also entailed by 4. Anything that becomes is caused to become by something 28a4—6, c2—3. The universe has been caused to become by something from 5 and 6.
Timaeus (dialogue) - Wikipedia
The cause of the universe is a Craftsman, who fashioned the universe after a model 28a6 ff. The model of the universe is something that always is 29a4—5; from 9a—9e. Either the model of the universe is something that always is or something that has become 28a5—29a2, also implied at 28a6—b2.
If the universe is beautiful and the Craftsman is good, then the model of the universe is something that always is 29a2—3. If the universe is not beautiful or the Craftsman is not good, then the model of the universe is something that has become 29a3—5.
The universe is supremely beautiful 29a5. The Craftsman is supremely good 29a6. The universe is a work of craft, fashioned after an eternal model 29a6—b1; from 8 and 9. Given familiar Platonic doctrines and assumptions, the argument up to the intermediate conclusion that the universe has a cause of its becoming 7 presents no particular difficulties. But 7 by itself gives only partial support to 8.
Once the conclusion that the universe is teleologically structured is settled, the explanatory methodology of the discourse changes accordingly. The question that frames the inquiry henceforth is not the question: What best explains this or that observed feature of the world? It is rather the question: Given that the world as a whole is the best possible one within the constraints of becoming and of Necessity, what sorts of features should we expect the world to have?
Furthermore, the answers to these questions are not open to empirical confirmation. But clearly the inquiry is also constrained by features of the universe that are actually observed, and this gives rise, secondly, to questions about the good purposes that are being served by these features for example, the motions of the heavenly bodies, the psychophysical constitutions of human beings, etc.
For the most part there is a happy coincidence between the features that are required in answer to the first questionand the features that are actually observed in answer to the secondand it is part of the genius of the discourse that these are so well woven together.
It is the Ideal or better: The Craftsman does not—indeed logically cannot—copy by replicating the Living Thing; his challenge rather lies in crafting an image of it that is subject to the constraints of becoming: The imitative activity of the Craftsman is unlike that of a builder who replicates a larger- or smaller-scale three-dimensional structure as model, but like that of a builder who follows a set of instructions or schematics.
That set is the intelligible, non-material and non-spatial model that prescribes the features of the structure to be built; it is not a structure itself. As invisible, intangible, and non-spatial entities forms are excluded from possessing properties that only visible, tangible and spatial object may possess. He apologizes for the obscurity of the concept, and attempts to explicate its role by means of a series of analogies: These images suggest that it is devoid of any characteristics in its own right except those formal characteristics necessary to its role, such as malleability.
The receptacle is posited as the solution to a problem: We observe the very thing that is fire at one time becoming air, and subsequently becoming water, etc. Thus the thing that appears as fire here and now is not fire in its own right: What, then, is that thing in its own right?
In a difficult and controversial passage Timaeus proposes a solution: This is the receptacle—an enduring substratum, neutral in itself but temporarily taking on the various characterizations. The observed particulars just are parts of that receptacle so characterized 51b4—6. The above analogies suggest that the receptacle is a material substratum: There has been considerable discussion about whether the receptacle is to be thought of as matter, or as space, and whether it is possible to think of it coherently as having both of those roles.