Philosophy at St Andrews

Mind and Cosmos in Ancient Philosophy and Science: The Reception of Plato’s Timaeus in Hellenistic Times

Fri 1st April 2016 to Sun 3rd April 2016

University of Edinburgh


This conference has two main aims:
(1) For two millennia Plato’s Timaeus has arguably been the most important text on the relationship between Mind and World. Our conference will investigate this relationship as discussed in the Platonic text.
(2) The conference looks at the earliest reception this work, and in particular the topic of Mind and World, had in the history of philosophy, that is in the Hellenistic period broadly construed (including Aristotle and early post-Hellenistic authors). During this time a lot of new philosophical thinking was done in a new way, namely in the form of commentaries, and we want to investigate what influence on philosophical thinking this new genre of expressing philosophical thoughts had on the discussion.

The Timaeus is Plato’s dialogue on the creation of the universe, the nature of the physical world, and the place of human beings in the cosmos. And it is the first philosophical work which presents a consistent teleological view of the world, with the divine mind as the cause of the cosmic design. The exact interpretation of the nature and force of Plato’s teleology is controversial today; a controversy that in fact goes back to the Old Academy of Plato, when the first differences were registered between Aristotle and Xenocrates. In the Hellenistic period every single philosophical school felt it needed to come up with its own discussion of and response to Plato’s teleological theory. Different interpretations of Timaeus emerge in the commentaries produced in the Old Academy itself, in the Epicurean and Stoic schools, in the Neopythagorean, Middle Platonist and Neoaristotelian literature, each of them providing support to the view of their respective school on the problem of the role mind plays in the cosmos. 

This conference is meant to take stock of these arguments and their sources, in order to get a better understanding of the ancient discussion of the problem of the relationship between mind and cosmos and to develop a more systematic view of the variety of teleological and anti-teleological approaches professed by different philosophical thinkers of this period. Focusing mostly on the commentaries on the Timaeus will allow us to see how these different approaches speak to each other in giving different readings of the same Platonic argument. Although several recent projects dealt with various aspects of the reception of the Timaeus (Reydams-Schils 2002, Sharples and Sheppard 2003, Tarrant and Baltzly 2006, in part Mohr and Sattler 2010, Ulacco and Celia 2012), none of them focused on the topic of mind and world and on the reactions Plato’s treatment of this topic evoked in the philosophers immediately succeeding him. We want to shed light on many texts from the Hellenistic times dealing with the Timaeus which have escaped scholarly attention, but which are nevertheless central in order to reconstruct the key arguments of the ancient discussion about the place of mind in the universe. We hope that results of the conference may be of interest also to philosophers within modern debates about mind and cognition.

Provisional Conference programme

Day 1

9:30 -11.00: Sattler: “The receptacle and beyond: Aristotle’s reception of Plato’s Timaeus

11.15- 12:45: Wynne: “What nature seems to have hidden": why Timaeus tantalised Cicero

12:45 -14.15 Lunch

14.15-15:45: White: “Hegemonic Discourse: Timaeus and the Stoic Soul” 

16-17:30: Sedley: The Epicureans and the Timaeus/The Timaeus as Plato’s voice?

17:30-18:00: Tea

18.00-19.30: Petrucci: “Centres of Gravity. The Methodological Economy of Middle Platonist Exegesis of the Timaeus

 

Day 2

9:30 -11: Kupreeva: “Adrastus’ commentary on the Timaeus

11.15- 12:45: Ulacco: “Pseudopythagorica on causes and principles of the physical world”

12:45 -14.15: Lunch

14.15-15:45: Opsomer: “An early chapter in the reception history of the Timaeus: the pseudepigraphic authors Ocellus and Timaeus Locrus”

16.00-16:30: Tea

16:30-18:00: Das: on Galen’s Arabic epitome of the Timaeus

18:00-19.30: Koetschet: on Galen’s Arabic epitome of the Timaeus

 

Day 3

9:30 -11: Schifsky: “Galen on the Timaeus

11.15 - 12:45: Hoenig: “The influence of Philo of Alexandria on Calcidius”

 

Conference Organisers:

Dr Barbara Sattler, University of St Andrews, bs21@st-andrews.ac.uk

Inna Kupreeva, University of Edinburgh, inna.kupreeva@ed.ac.uk


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