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The Journal of the History of Philosophy Monograph Series

Edited by Richard A. Watson and Charles M. Young

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Stephen Light
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Ronald Hamowy
The Dream of Descartes
Gregor Sebba
Kant's Newtonian Revolution in Philosophy
Robert Hahn
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The Philosophical Orations of Thomas Reid

D. D. Todd
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Plato On God As Nous Journal of the History of

Philosophy Monograph Series
Menn, Stephen Philip.
Southern Illinois University Press
Plato--Contributions in concept of God, Plato-Contributions in concept of Nous, God--History of
doctrines, Noos (The Greek word)
B398.G6M46 1995eb
Plato--Contributions in concept of God, Plato-Contributions in concept of Nous, God--History of
doctrines, Noos (The Greek word)

Plato on God as Nous

Stephen Menn
Published for The Journal of the History of Philosophy, Inc.
Carbondale and Edwardsville

Copyright 1995 by
The Journal of the History of Philosophy, Inc.
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Edited by Carol M. Besler
Production supervised by Natalia Nadraga
98 97 96 95 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Menn, Stephen Philip, 1964
Plato on God as nous / Stephen Menn.
p. cm.(The Journal of the history of philosophy monograph series)
"Published for The Journal of the History of Philosophy, Inc."
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. PlatoContributions in concept of God. 2. PlatoContributions in concept
of Nous. 3. GodHistory of doctrines. 4. Noos (The Greek word). I. Title.
II. Series.
B398.G6M46 1995
ISBN 0-8093-1970-5
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of
American National Standard for Information SciencesPermanence of Paper for
Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.

Page vii

The Journal of the History of Philosophy
Monograph Series




1. Platonic Hypotheses of Nous

2. Who Is the Demiurge?

3. What Does "Nous" Mean?


4. Can Nous Exist Apart from Soul?


5. Nous in Anaxagoras and Other PreSocratics


6. Plato on Soul as Mediator


7. How Does Nous Cause?






Page viii

Works Cited


Index Locorum


Page ix

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Page xi

This book began in an attempt to understand not only Plato's theology but also
the long tradition of Greek philosophical theology. An immediately striking and
puzzling feature of this tradition is the central role it assigns to the concept of
nous, a term and a concept for which we have no good equivalent. 1
The Greek doxographers give us a history of theology under the heading "What
is God?" Although "there are many gods and many lords" (1 Cor. 8:5), the
doxographers try to give each philosopher's answer to the question by saying
what being or beings that thinker most characteristically regarded as divine or
what he declared to be "the highest god." Over and over again, their answer is
nouswe can translate the word provisionally as "Reason"perhaps qualified by
various adjectives or supplemented by other descriptions of the divine. The
pseudo-Plutarchan Placita give nous (however qualified or supplemented) as
the answer of Thales, Democritus, Pythagoras, Plato, and the Stoics; Stobaeus
ascribes the same answer also to Archelaus, Anaxagoras, Speusippus,
Critolaus, Diodorus of Tyre, Zeno the Stoic (considered apart from his school),
and Xenocrates (Diels, pp. 3016).2 Oddly, neither pseudo-Plutarch nor
Stobaeus describes Aristotle's highest god as nous; but the Epicurean Velleius
in Cicero's De Natura Deorum, following a different branch of the doxographical
tradition, says that Aristotle ''attributes all divinity to mens" (Diels, p. 539),
though Aristotle contradicts himself by saying that the world and the heavenly
bodies are also gods; and Velleius also attributes the same doctrines to
Theophrastus and Heraclides Ponticus, and similar doctrines to Cleanthes and
Clearly the doxographers are over-systematizing: no one will take at face value
the assertion of pseudo-Plutarch and Stobaeus that "Thales [made] God the
nous of the cosmos" (Diels, p. 301). At the same time, it is clear that many
Greek philosophers really did use "nous" as a name for some divine being, and
that, for some thinkers at least, this name acquires a privilege over other
names, as a canonical way of naming this divine being. Thus, pseudo-Plutarch
and Stobaeus, summarizing (quite wrongly) Plato's doctrine of God, say that
"Plato [made God] the One, the unique [monophues], the unitary
[monadikon], the really real, the Good, and he applies all these names to nous:
so God is nous" (Diels, p. 304). These doxographers seem to feel that

describing God as nous is more lucid than describing him as One or Good: nous
is what it is that is one and good, and there is no further question what it is
that is nous.

Page xii

We might find it easiest to understand what the Greek philosophers meant by

"nous" if nous were a special kind of soul. But this will not do, at least not for
many of the Greek philosophers, since many of them insist that nous is not a
soul at all. The Platonist tradition, from Xenocrates on down, assigns a higher
ontological status to nous than to soul: Plotinus, expressing the dominant view
of the school, says that "nous is other and superior to psuch, and the superior
is first by nature" (V.9.4). This does not mean simply that nous is the mind or
rational soul, while "psuch" refers more properly to the sensitive and
vegetative souls; on the contrary, the neo-Platonists think that ''psuch" refers
most properly to the rational soul, and that although this rational soul can
broadly be called nous, nous in the strict sense is superior even to rational
souls. So Plotinus says that nous, "if we are true to the name" (V.9.5), is an
eternally unchanging substance, identical with the world of forms; Proclus and
the later neo-Platonists will say that the rational soul is nous kata methexin,
receiving this name by participating in a nous kath' huparxin, which is not a
soul. Proclus and his school, manically multiplying entities, describe a plurality
of noes or noi above the soul, but before them the plural is so rare that we
cannot say whether "noes" or "noi" was the classical nominative formno
nominative plurals are extant before Plotinus. Indeed, there seems to have
been a broad consensus that "nous," in the proper sense, names only one
being, and that this being is the highest, or very near the highest, god.
None of this explains what a Greek philosopher would have meant by asserting
that God is nous (or that nous is a god), or when this became a canonical thing
to say, or why a philosopher would have wanted to say it. But both Plato and
Aristotle do say that nous is a god, either (for Aristotle) the highest god, or at
least (for Plato) a very important god, and in either case the cause of order in
the physical universe. In the following study I will try to elucidate the origins of
the theology of nous by examining what Plato meant by saying that nous is the
cause of order to the physical universe, and what role this statement plays in
his philosophy. In the process, I will bring out some philosophical themes that
unite the dialogues of Plato's last period, especially the Philebus and Timaeus
but also the Statesman and Laws: I hope thus to help anchor the Timaeus in
its proper period and to show what status it had in Plato's philosophy. By
bringing out the meaning of nous for Plato, its distinction from souls and its
relations both to souls and to bodies, I hope to have explained a crucial part,
not only of the origins but also of the meaning and motivation of the cosmo-

theology that became the common property of Old Academics, Peripatetics,

Stoics, middle- and neo-Platonists, and other ancient thinkers.
I would like to thank Princeton University and the American Council of Learned
Societies for leave support in academic year 199192; McGill Univer-

Page xiii

sity for its hospitality during that year and since; and David Furley, Mary Louise
Gill, Rachana Kamtekar, Richard Patterson, Tom Robinson, and Steve Strange
for comments on earlier versions of this study. The comments of Patterson and
Strange on chapter 7 were particularly useful in helping me to clarify my
thoughts on the ways in which nous is a cause. Raymond Klibansky persuaded
me to keep referring to the author of the Didaskalikos as "Albinus."

Page 1

Platonic Hypotheses of Nous
therefore teaches philosophy not by asserting metaphysical doxai but by
proposing metaphysical hypotheses and exploring their consequences. Often
Plato describes the hypothesis he is entertaining as being believed or even
known to be true by some (often ancient or legendary) sage or sages. This
allows Plato to pose the question: what else would we be able to know or do if
we, like the ancient sages, could know this hypothesis to be true?
Sometimes a hypothesis proposed in a Platonic dialogue does not seem
essential to Plato's project, and we doubt that Plato is seriously committed to
it. Other hypotheses, however, seem so necessary for the results Plato hopes
to derive and recur so insistently from dialogue to dialogue that we confidently
assert that Plato believes them to contain an important truth; and in asserting
this we are following Plato's students, Aristotle included.
One such hypothesis is that nous is the cause of the physical world. By seeing
how Plato presents this hypothesis in various dialogues, we may better
understand both what it means to posit nous as a cause and why Plato or
Platonists would find this hypothesis attractive.
Plato first mentions the hypothesis in the Phaedo, where he ascribes it to
Anaxagoras. Cebes has asked a question that, according to Socrates,
necessarily involves the broader question concerning "the cause of the
generation and corruption" and also of the existence of things (95e9, 96a910).
Socrates tries to indicate and justify his own attitude toward this question by
giving a (fictional) intellectual autobiography. Socrates had begun with high
expectations for the study of causesthat is, for natural historybut he had
become so perplexed that he gave up, regarding himself as unsuited for the
task. Socrates makes it clear that his "perplexity" is in fact a rejection of the
physicists' method of assigning (what Aristotle will call) the material cause as
the true cause on account of which a thing is as it is. But then he heard that
Anaxagoras had said ''that the orderer [diakosmn] and cause of all things is
nous"; and

Page 2

"this explanation [aitia] 1 pleased me, and I thought it somehow good that
nous should be the cause of all things" (97c14). Socrates tells Cebes that he
was as disappointed in Anaxagoras as in the other physicists, and for the same
reasons; Socrates has settled instead for the "second-best method" of
hypothesis, and specifically for the hypothesis of the forms. But from Socrates'
account of how Anaxagoras failed to meet his expectations, we can learn a
good deal about what it would have been to know nous as the cause of things
and about why this would be better than knowing that S is P because it
participates in the P-itself.
When Socrates first heard it said that the orderer and cause of all things is
nous, he assumed that "if this is so, then nous, when it orders [kosmounta],
orders all things and puts each one of them where it is best for it to be"
(99c46). And in the remainder of the discussion of nous, in this and other
dialogues, Plato preserves this connection between nous and the best (to
beltiston). "For I would never have thought that he [Anaxagoras], saying that
[the heavenly bodies] have been ordered by nous, would offer any other
explanation for them than that it is best for them to be as they are" (98a6b1).
To know that S is P because of nous depends on knowing that it is best for S to
be P, and indeed this dependence is analytic: if something is done by nous,
then to say that it is not done by choosing the best "would be a very great
laxity of speech" (99b12). Thus Socrates eagerly takes up Anaxagoras' book "in
order that I might know as soon as possible the best and the worse" (98b56).
Socrates, of course, was disappointed. But I want to single out an aspect of his
disappointment that sheds more light on what it would be to know nous as a
cause. As we can see from the passages already cited, Plato repeatedly
connects nous' status as a cause with its activity of ordering (kosmein,
diakosmein); this is as characteristic of nous' causality as is the fact that it
produces the best. To put things in order is to put each of them where it is
best for it to be; or conversely, the reason why one arrangement of things is
better than another is that it is more orderly. Socrates' complaint against
Anaxagoras is that he, like the other physicists, does not show why it is best for
S to be P, but instead gives an explanation through material components. But
Socrates' first expression of this complaint is that "the man makes no use of
nous, nor does he cite any causes for the ordering of things [andra t(i) n(i)
ouden chrmenon, oude tinas aitias epaitimenon eis to diakosmein ta
pragmata], but rather he cites as causes [aitimenon] airs and aethers and

waters and many other irrelevant things" (98b8c1).2 It is not that Anaxagoras
fails to use the word "nous" in his account; the point is rather that so long as
Anaxagoras does not explain why the different material components of the
world are in their proper order, he is making no real use of nous as a cause.
Conversely, it seems that unless we recognize nous as a cause, we cannot
account for the diakosmsis of the kosmos: Plato never suggests that anything
besides nous might be the cause of order.

Page 3

Since Socrates does not now have an explanation of the world through nous,
and since he can neither find this for himself nor learn it from anyone else, he
settles for his second-best method; but he would still prefer to have the
explanation through nous and would gladly become the disciple of anyone who
could teach it (99c69). Now in a long series of dialogues after the Phaedo Plato
makes little or no mention of a possible mode of explanation superior to
explanation through forms; but in his last dialoguesthe Statesman, Philebus,
Timaeus, and Lawshe returns to the hypothesis of a better explanation through
the causality of nous, and he ascribes such an explanation to various sages. In
Laws XII he speaks approvingly of those who said "that it is nous that has
ordered [diakekosmks] everything in the heaven" (967b56); he says in the
Philebus that "all the wise agree . . . that nous is king [basileus] for us of
heaven and earth" (29c68). The Philebus also gives useful elaborations of what
it means for nous to be king. Socrates commends "those who were before us"
for having said that the universe is not directed by the irrational power of
chance but "governed [diakubernan] by a certain marvelous coordinating
[suntattousa] nous and phronsis" (28d79); and Protarchus agrees that it is
worthy of belief that ''nous orders [diakosmein] all these things" (28e3), the
heavenly bodies in particular. Socrates asserts, agreeing with the ancient
thinkers (cf. 30d78), that nous belongs to "the kind [genos] of the cause of all
things" (28el); he had earlier posited this kind, not simply as the class of
causes in general, but specifically as the cause which "crafts" (dmiourgein,
27b1) composite things by introducing limit into the unlimited (23d58), so
producing harmony, health, proportion, and order (taxis) where there would
otherwise be disproportion and conflict (cf. 25d1126c1). To say that nous is
king is to assert that there is such a cause effective at the cosmic level: "There
is in the universe a great unlimited and a sufficient limit, and no mean cause
among them, ordering [kosmousa] and coordinating [suntattousa] years and
seasons [hrai] 3 and months, most rightly called sophia and nous" (30c47).
Why is Plato interested in positing such a cause? How would it explain the
sensible world any better than the "second-best" explanation through forms?
As long as we do not possess the god-given intellectual intuition of the forms
(and the Platonic Socrates will not claim such a knowledge, though he may
attribute it to remote sages), explanation through the forms must remain
imperfect because hypothetical. In this respect, however, the explanation
through nous is no better: Socrates posits nous, but he does not know it any

more than he knows the forms. The hypothesis of nous must be better than
the hypothesis of the forms not because we know it better but because it will
yield better consequences if and when someone comes to know it.
The problem with explanation through forms is ultimately the same as the
problem with explanation through matter: it does not explain the order of the

Page 4

universe. The fiery parts of the universe are fiery because they participate in
fire, and the earthy parts are earthy because they participate in earth; but this
does not explain why it is this region of the universe here that participates in
fire and that region there that participates in earth. The explanation through
forms, like the explanation through matter, cannot explain why the different
types of body should be arranged in a kosmos instead of occurring randomly at
different places and times. Since the forms are eternal, immutable, and
nonspatial, it seems that they must at all times be equally disposed toward all
regions of space: they cannot be inclined, of themselves, to incarnate
themselves now here rather than there. Thus, the cause or explanation of this
particular participation (if there is any such cause) cannot lie in the nature of
the form. But neither can it lie in the matter. One piece of matter X may have a
disposition to receive one particular form F in preference to others, while
another piece of matter Y is disposed to receive form G; but in this case X and
Y must already possess distinct properties, disposition-to-F and dispositionto-G, which must be explained by their already participating in distinct forms F'
and G'. If we want to explain why different parts of matter should come in the
first place to participate in different forms, not randomly but in an orderly and
rational way, then neither the form nor the matter will be a sufficient cause of
the form's being received in the matter; if there is such a cause, it must be a
third principle distinguished equally from form and matter.
At the time he wrote the Phaedo, Plato may have been ready to forgo any such
explanation beyond the limits of formal causality. If Socrates began as a
student of natural history, he is now a student of the forms, working to lead us
up from thoughts about the sensible world to knowledge of intelligible reality
(cf. 83alb4). It may suit him to argue that to know the sensibles we must know
their intelligible causes; but once he has directed us up there he has little
interest in bringing us back down. But the Socrates of the Philebus is no longer
satisfied with knowing only the divine circle-itself; this is still the most
important thing, but it is better to know human circles as well (62a7b9). To
kno anything other than purely intelligible reality, he needs an additional
principle, a cause of the imposition of form and order on an intrinsically chaotic
matter, which will explain why this sensible world is ordered as intelligibly as it
is. If, as the sages have said, nous is the diakekosmks of all things within the
heaven, then nous will provide such a principle. 4 The mathematical sciences of
harmonics and astronomy have as their primary objects things separate from

the sensible world; but because nous imposes numerical proportions on the
magnitudes and motions of physical bodies, the mathematical sciences will also
apply, however imperfectly and approximately, to these sensible things. The
empirical success of astronomy, in particular, gives the best evidence that this
world, at least in its superior outer portion, is indeed a kosmos governed by
nous (so Plato reasons at

Page 5

Laws 966e2967b6): in the Philebus, the "no mean cause" among the limit and
the unlimited of the universe, which is "most rightly called sophia and nous,"
makes its presence felt by "ordering and coordinating years and seasons
[hrai] and months," units of time marked by the regular circuits of the
heavenly bodies and their divisions (Philebus 30c47).
The later dialogues in general share the Philebus' concern to account for
sensibles as well as for intelligibles; and in the two dialogues most closely
linked to the Philebus, Plato proposes an account closely parallel to the
Philebus' hypothesis of nous as a cause of order. Both in the Statesman
(probably written just before the Philebus) and in the Timaeus (probably
written just after the Philebus) 5 Plato again ascribes views about the origins of
cosmic order to mysterious and semidivine sages. The Eleatic Stranger, at his
first introduction, was conjectured to be a god and agreed to be a divine
man;6 in the Statesman, in seeking the true statesman (politikos) or king
(basileus), he tells a likely muthos7 describing the rule of the divine king.
Similarly in the Timaeus, in seeking the best state, Timaeus tells a likely muthos
(29d2), "beginning with the generation of the kosmos and ending with the
nature of men" (27a56); Timaeus is said to have received this story, through
an obviously fictional chain of transmission, from Solon, who learned it from the
Egyptian priests, who had it in their sacred writings (27b4). Since "all the wise
agree that nous is king for us of heaven and earth" (Philebus 29c68), and
since Solon was "the wisest of the seven [sages]" (Timaeus 20d8), Solon's
story about the divine ruler of the world must be an elaboration of the
hypothesis of nous. The myth of the Timaeus and the shorter but similar myth
of the Statesman elaborate how the causality of nous might be discovered to
operate in detail, if someone could succeed where Anaxagoras had failed, and
describe how nous imposes some degree of intelligible order on the sensible
world. In what follows, I will concentrate on the Timaeus (universally accepted
in antiquity as Plato's official statement on physics), noting parallels or
divergences with the Statesman in passing. The main burden of my argument
will be to confirm, from the texts of the Timaeus and Statesman, that the
divine cause they describe is indeed to be identified as nous. In the process I
will try to show how these texts can be used to gain further precisions of
Plato's thought to what nous is; on how its causality operates in the world; and
on how it can solve the problem, unsolved in the middle dialogues, of the
partial intelligibility of the sensible world.

Page 6

Who Is the Demiurge?
The Timaeus disclaims as impossible the task of naming (legein) to all men the
"maker and father of the universe" (28c35); this god is accordingly not named
in the text, but is merely referred to in general and relational terms as maker,
father, craftsman (dmiourgos), composer (sunistas), and the like. But as we
will see, both parallels to the Philebus and assertions in the Timaeus itself make
it clear that Plato intends "the wise" to recognize this god as the nous they
know. 1 Indeed, many scholars have noticed at least some parallel between
the Timaeus and the Philebus; but in recent times, they have generally resisted
a straightforward identification of the "craftsman" or "demiurge'' of the
Timaeus with a divine nous governing the world. It will help to begin by
discussing this resistance and its reasons.
It is often said that the difficulty arises from the "mythical" nature of Timaeus'
speech and that interpreters divide over how far to take the myth literally or in
some other way (allegorically?); thus some interpreters might take the
demiurge as real, and others might take him as merely a symbol. But in fact
this is a misleading way of describing past disputes about the Timaeus and
tends to obscure the real interpretive issues and the real difficulties.
Everyone agrees that Timaeus' speech is a myth, but Plato wants it to be an
eiks muthos, and this means that it is a likeness of the truth: it represents
approximately what the knowledge of the cosmos would have to be like, if
some wise man were found to have this knowledge (and even a sage's
knowledge of the sensible world could not be exact epistm). Plato certainly
thinks that anyone who had knowledge of the cosmos would have to know the
cause that is responsible for diakosmein ta pragmata and that he would know
that and how this cause acts to produce the best possible result. What
Timaeus says about this cause gives an image of what knowledge of this cause
would be like. There is no dispute about whether Plato thinks this cause of
order is something real; the dispute is about what he thinks it is. Early in this
century it was common to believe that the forms were the only sources of
intelligible order for Plato and that Timaeus' description of the demiurge
personifies the forms in general.2 But

Page 7

this is obviously wrong: the Timaeus posits the demiurge, as the Philebus
posits nous, to explain what the "second-best" hypothesis of forms cannot
explain. More recent scholars have recognized that the demiurge cannot
belong to the Philebus' class of limit or form and must belong instead to its
class of the cause imposing limit on the unlimited; and often they have
recognized that the Timaeus' description of the demiurge fits closely with the
Philebus' description of nous. But they have found difficulties in saying that the
Timaeus and Philebus posit a single being, nous, as the ordering cause of the
universe: the difficulties arise from questions about the ontological status of
nous for Plato. Almost all twentieth-century scholars (the only prominent
exception is Hackforth) think that Plato did not regard nous as a single being
that could exist apart from the multiplicity of rational souls: either they think
the Greek word "nous" simply means a kind of soul (or something inseparable
from soul) or they think Plato himself denies the possibility of a nous existing
apart from soul. 3 So if the demiurge of the Timaeus is nous, he would have to
be a soul or something inseparable from souls; thus, Cornford says that he is a
"mythical reduplication of the world-soul," or rather of the rational element in
the world-soul. Cherniss, objecting to the identification of the demiurge with
any one particular soul (even the world-soul), says that he is a symbol for the
class of rational psychic agents in general. Against these scholars, I will argue
that the demiurge of the Timaeus and Statesman is, as he seems to be, a
single substantial unity, identical with the nous of the Philebus (and Phaedo
and Laws), distinct from the worldsoul and from all other souls, superior to
souls as he is to bodies. But the issue is not how literally or symbolically the
Timaeus is to be read; the Timaeus is not, any more than any other dialogue, a
statement (either encrypted or open) of Platonic doxa, but a document that
can be used, carefully, to show Plato's hopes and expectations of what
knowledge might be. I will use the Timaeus, the Philebus, and other dialogues
to uncover Plato's thought on nous: I am concerned to discover what the word
"nous" means for Plato, how he thinks nous is related to the world-soul and
other souls, and how he thinks nous operates as a cause. Whether the results
constitute a ''literal" or a "symbolic" interpretation of the demiurge, I do not
I will first draw some connections between the Timaeus and Statesman and
the Philebus' account of nous of the Philebus; I will then go on to discuss the
more difficult problem of the relations between nous and soul and, in

particular, the question of whether nous can exist in separation from souls.
The main point to note is that all the attributes and functions that the
Philebus, Phaedo, and Laws assign to nous recur in the Timaeus and
Statesman. The Philebus speaks interchangeably of the class of the cause
(aitia, aition) in general or of the poioun (26e68) or dmiourgoun (27b1); both
Timaeus and Statesman describe their gods as dmiourgos (Statesman 273b1,
Timaeus 28a6

Page 8

and following, also Republic 530a6 and Sophist 265c4), the Timaeus also as
aition (28a45) and Poits (28c3). The Philebus describes nous in particular as
basileus (28c7), and as governing or piloting (diakubernan, 28d9) the world;
the Statesman describes its god both as basileus (cf. 274e10275a2) and as
kubernts (272e4, 273c3). Nous is repeatedly described as ordering the
heaven or the world (with suntattein [Philebus 28d9, 30c5], kosmein [Phaedo
97c5, 98a7; Philebus 30c5], and especially the Anaxagorean verb diakosmein
[Phaedo 97c2; Philebus 28e3; Laws XII.966e4, 967b56]), and it is not just an
orderer but the orderer (ho diakosmn te kai pantn aitios, Phaedo 97c12; ho
diakekosmks panth' hosa kat' ouranon, Laws 967b56); there can be no room
for another. But the god of the Timaeus is also described as ordering the
heaven (diakosmn . . . ouranon, 37d56) or setting the primeval materials in
order (diakosmsen, 69c1); they are ordered, plainly by him (diakosmthen,
53a7; kosmeisthai, 53b1); the god of the Statesman, too, is he who has
ordered (ho kosmsas 273d4) the world. Again the Phaedo suggests that nous
is the orderer of the world if and only if each part of the world is put where it
should be for the good of the whole; but over and over again the god of the
Timaeus is described as acting "for the best," 4 and he decides for this reason
to bring the world "into order [taxis] out of disorder [ataxia]" (30a5).
Stepping back from the particular words Plato uses, we may say that the gods
of the Timaeus and Statesman, like the nous of the Philebus, Phaedo, and
Laws, all introduce limit, and thus some degree of intelligibility, into a sensible
totality, which without their causality would not reflect the intelligible forms in
any orderly way. These dialogues differ chiefly in that where Plato is speaking
of the accounts of the sages in general, as in the Philebus and Laws, he
describes nous as a cause of order, without saying that it has intervened at
some time to impose order on a previously chaotic world.5 The Timaeus and
Statesman, by contrast, show us wise men attempting what Anaxagoras had
tried and failed, to tell a determinate story about the origin of order in the
world: both Timaeus and the Eleatic Stranger describe their gods in the act of
taking charge over a world that had stagnated in chaos under its own power
until the god reduced it to order, by persuasion but also by violence.6 Their
accounts are therefore stories or myths, elaborating the more general and
dialectical account given in the Philebus. That these accounts are myths does
not imply that Plato does not believe them to be true (he cannot believe both
the Timaeus myth and the Statesman myth, since they are not consistent, but

perhaps he believed that the Timaeus myth or something like it was true); but
to understand Plato's philosophical teaching we do not have to know which of
the different likely stories Plato believed to be true. We do have to understand
why he thought that the stories of the Statesman and Timaeus were likely; and
they are likely chiefly because, if they were hypothesized to be true, they
would explain the existence

Page 9

of the sensible world as a bodily kosmos exhibiting some degree of intelligible

order alongside the contrary conditions of disorder and change. They can
explain the existence of such a world only inasmuch as they posit nous as a
cause distinct from form and matter and elaborate how the causality of nous
might operate. The Timaeus, in particular, emphasizes that the existence of
intelligible forms on the one hand and a material substrate on the other do not
suffice to produce a kosmos: the receptacle of becoming "participates . . . in
the intelligible" (Timaeus 51a7b1) even before the god takes it in hand, but it
remains a chaos: the images of the forms appear and disappear in it without
order, and it is shaken in all directions by "dissimilar and unbalanced powers"
(52e2). This mass cannot become an ordered world until the god begins to
remold it into a likeness (however imperfect) of the intelligible pattern: he is
said equivalently to "order'' it (kosmeisthai, passive, 53b1) or to "shape it with
forms and numbers" (53b45). The god is not himself the forms and numbers
any more than the nous of the Philebus is the equal or the double: both in the
Philebus and in the Timaeus, the cause is needed to unite the numbers with an
indeterminate recipient and to explain why a magnitude should receive these
numerical proportionsnot merely such accidental proportions as it might pass
through on its own (e.g., 384:517), but the harmonious proportions that are
its best condition and that preserve it by balancing the contending powers.
In describing the production of these harmonies, the Timaeus is only
elaborating how the principles of the Philebus might operate to produce a
world. Although Plato may not mean to claim in the Philebus that number
exhausts the class of the limit, his language does suggest this, and the
examples he cites when he introduces the class of the limit (25a6b2, d11e2)
are all numerical ratios. Plato favors the example of musical harmonies as a
compliment to the Pythagoreans but also as an especially clear case of the
presence of mathematical "limit" in sensible things; both in the Philebus and in
the Timaeus he uses musical terms, harmonia and sumphnia, to describe the
objects of medicine and ethics and astronomy, sciences he would like to
assimilate to music. Timaeus attempts throughout to fill in the details of his
account as arithmetically and musically as possible. In the Philebus the
presence of limit "stops the contraries from conflict with one another, and, by
introducing number, renders them well-proportioned [summetra] and
harmonious [sumphna]" (25d11e2); the god of the Timaeus carries out this
plan when he harmonizes (sunarmottn, 35a8) the different elements in the

world-soul and divides them into the numerical proportions of a musical scale
(35b236b6); this is reasonable because musical harmonia (47d2), "having
motions akin to the circuits of soul within us" (d23), can, "when the circuit of
soul within us has become anarmostos" (d5), restore "katakosmsis and
sumphnia" (d6). For the Philebus, proportion brings on health by eliminating
conflict (25e8, the

Page 10

first application of the passage on harmony previously cited; 25d11e2); so the

god of the Timaeus makes the world "free from age and disease" (33a2) by
bringing its elements into proportion and agreement (c2). Finally, and most
importantly, the nous of the Philebus is king of heaven (and thus of earth)
because it is the cause among the limit and unlimited of the universe,
"ordering [kosmousa] and coordinating [suntattousa] years and seasons
[hrai] and months" (30c56); so too the god of the Timaeus produces "days
and nights and months and years" (37e1) through the motions of the heavenly
bodies, moving according to numerical ratios so that the parts of time will have
a Great Year as their common multiple. It is especially the god of the
Statesman who is the pilot (kubernts) of the universe, taking control of the
steering mechanism himself and moving the heavenly bodies in the better
direction, contrary to their own connate appetite (269c4270a8, 272e46,
273e14); but the god of the Timaeus too gives the motion that is the best and
the most rational (peri noun kai phronsin malista ousan) to the body of the
world (34a13), and "leading it around in the same way and in the same place
and in itself, he made it move turning in a circle" (a34). This description of
nous as the ultimate cause of the regular celestial motions (perhaps with
celestial souls, rationalized by nous and so producing rational and constant
motions, as the immediate moving causes of bodies), is recognizable as the
source of Aristotle's description of nous as the unmoved mover of the heavens.

It should be clear that the demiurge of the Timaeus is indeed the same as the
nous of the Philebus, that he is not a mere myth but a metaphysical hypothesis
as dear to Plato as the forms, and that he is not himself a part of the middle
dialogues but rather the solution of Plato's last period to the problem of the
cause of participation. It is thus not surprising that Timaeus seems occasionally
to slip from his resolution not to name the divinity, when he calls the
demiurge's works ta dia nou dedmiourgoumena (47e4), personifies nous as
persuading and overruling anak (48a2), and describes the demiurge's model
as what "nous . . . contemplates" (39e79).
There remains the more difficult problem of the relation of nous to soul: it is
this (besides the habitual refusal to take the "mythology" of the Timaeus
seriously) that has prevented most scholars from understanding how the
Platonic doctrine of nous could be a real doctrine of God and the source of
Academic and Aristotelian theology. So far we have avoided translating the

word "nous," but the issue inevitably arises of what it means; the most
commonly offered English equivalents, "mind" and "intellect" (and the German
"Geist''), seem to imply that it is either just a rational soul or anyhow something
that cannot exist except within some rational soul. Further, Plato seems to say
in several parallel texts that nous cannot exist apart from soul. Most
importantly, when the demiurge of the Timaeus deliberates on how to make

Page 11

world of becoming as good as possible, he finds "that of all things that are
visible by nature, no work which is anoton would ever be better as a whole
than that which has nous, and that it is impossible for nous to come-to-be-in
anything [paragenesthai t(i)] apart from soul" (30b13); he therefore
"establishes nous in soul and soul in body" (b45), making "this kosmos . . . an
animal having soul and nous [z(i)on empsuchon ennoun]" (b78). The
assertion that nous cannot come-to-be-in anything apart from soul occurs
again in an almost identical form at Philebus 30c910, and there are parallel
texts in the Euthydemus (287d7e1) and Sophist (239a48), and elsewhere in
the Timaeus (37c25, 46d56). Cornford, Cherniss, and many others have taken
Plato to imply that nous cannot exist apart from soul: and they have inferred
that if (as Cornford and Cherniss agree) the demiurge of the Timaeus does
represent nous, then he cannot be anything separate from souls. If this is
right, then the demiurge, as nous, is not a separate entity with a special role to
play in Plato's philosophy, and in interpreting Plato it is enough for us to speak
of bodies and souls, the receptacle and the forms, without adding any separate
Cornford is representative here. Although he continually repeats that the
demiurge is "a mythical symbol" not to be interpreted literally, be does grant
that this symbol must stand for something; but he is more concerned to deny
that the demiurge is the God of revealed monotheism than to offer any
alternative interpretation. Cornford agrees that the demiurge stands for a
divine Reason, 8 but he asks (p. 39) whether this Reason should simply be
identified with the Reason immanent in the soul of the world. Cornford
recognizes here that the text does not require this interpretation; but he is
constantly tempted to suppose that, when he has refuted attempts to
harmonize the Timaeus with Genesis, he has thereby also shown that the
demiurge "is not really a creator god, distinct from the universe he is
represented as making" (p. 38). By page 197 "it becomes more than ever
difficult to resist the inference that the Demiurge is to be identified with the
Reason in the World-Soul," and Cornford, succumbing, cites Willy Theiler as
calling the Demiurge a "Verdoppelung der Weltseele" in its ''knstlerisch
wirkenden Seite."
This interpretation of the Timaeus is seriously objectionable. We may say that
Timaeus' speech is a myth, but this does not license us to throw out whatever
we please; what the demiurge is described as accomplishing must be

accomplished by something, and this something is what the demiurge is. The
demiurge is said to form not just the body but also the soul of the world; the
soul is genomen (Timaeus 37a2), and all gignomena belong to the class of
the mixed (Philebus 27a13 with 26d79) and require a cause to harmonize
them by mixing limit in with the unlimited element. The demiurge of the
Timaeus is such a cause, mixing together the elements of the world-soul,
imposing harmonic proportions on the whole, and subordinating its irrational to
its rational motion. If the

Page 12

demiurge is simply the rationally moving element of the world-soul itself, there
is no action in reality corresponding to the demiurge's construction and
rationalization of this soul. Besides being dangerously arbitrary, this runs
counter to Plato's intention in positing the demiurge as a cause imposing limit
on the unlimited: if the demiurge were himself one of the contending elements,
the problem would simply recur, and it would be unexplained how the rational
element of the world-soul comes to master and pacify the irrational element.
The formation of the rationalized world-soul is the eldest and best of the
demiurge's works, but it is only one of a number of works, superior only in
degree and not in kind to the production of other souls. 9 The demiurge
himself must be sought outside this work: nothing authorizes us to override
Plato's contrast between the world-soul, "which has become the best of the
generated things," and the god who has made it such, "the best of the
intelligible and eternally existing things" (Timaeus 37a12).
Cherniss, whose work on the Timaeus has been the most influential since
Cornford's, avoids some but not all of the difficulties Cornford falls into. Like
Cornford (and rightly) he identifies the demiurge with nous; like Cornford (and
wrongly) he insists that since "the work of the demiurge is the work of nous,
and nous can exist only in soul . . . the demiurge must be a soul" (ACPA, p.
425).10 Cherniss refuses to reduce the demiurge to a double of the world-soul,
but his alternative is to make the demiurge even more mythical than Cornford
had suggested: he does not represent any one being, but "is rather a
personification of the logical abstraction, 'intelligent causation' in general," that
is, of the whole genos of the cause from the Philebus, each of whose members
is a rational soul.11 This interpretation is less arbitrary than Cornford's, it makes
some sense of the parallels with the Philebus, and it helps to avoid the
spectacle of the demiurge creating himself; but Cherniss, too, tampers with the
myth in such a way as to reduce its explanatory power. Indeed, Cherniss'
interpretation is worse than Cornford's in one important respect: it dismembers
the myth in such a way that Plato will only be invoking one universal class of
principles acting upon another. On Cherniss' account, there will be no
individual being taking these materials in hand and working them into an
ordered universe (if "intelligent causation" is a thousand uncoordinated
intelligent causes, they will not combine to produce anything very intelligent),
and Plato will be back in the impasses of explanation through matter and
explanation through forms. Cherniss' interpretation would leave Plato, unlike

Aristotle or Xenocrates, without a doctrine of a divine first cause of the

universe: this is implausible enough as regards Plato, and would leave it very
obscure where Aristotle and Xenocrates got the idea for their own theologies of
It would surely be preferable to accept with Hackforth that the demiurge is a
single being, nous, existing apart from the bodies and souls he creates,

Page 13

from their conflicts and capable of imposing order upon them. But this
interpretation must be ruled out if, as Cornford and many others maintain,
Plato himself denies, at Timaeus 30b3 and parallel passages, that nous can
exist apart from soul. Hackforth read these passages, not as denying that nous
eternally exists by itself apart from soul, but merely as denying that nous can
come-to-be in anything else apart from soulthat is, that anything without soul
can participate in nous; but Cherniss has argued against Hackforth (ACPA, pp.
6067) that at least some of these passages do not admit this weaker meaning
and must be taken to deny that nous can exist apart from soul in any sense at
all. Cherniss' arguments seem to have been accepted as decisive by almost
everyone since; but I will argue that these arguments are in fact very weak
and that Hackforth's claims can be vindicated. 12 The more urgent task,
however, is to refute the common opinion that the meaning of the Greek word
"nous" immediately implies that nous cannot exist apart from soul. Cherniss
and Cornford do not themselves say this, but they probably believe it, and
certainly it is this preconception about the meaning of "nous," rather than a
few ambiguous passages in Plato, which has made the immanentist
interpretation of the demiurge almost universally accepted. Once we have
clarified the linguistic question about the meaning of "nous," it will be easy to
interpret the disputed passages of Plato, to show that they not only permit but
require a transcendent interpretation of nous, and to get at the quite deep and
interesting points Plato is really making about the hypothesis of nous as a
principle and the status of soul on such a hypothesis.

Page 14

What Does "Nous" Mean?
One reason why many readersof Plato think that "nous" means something like
"mind," and therefore refers to something that cannot exist apart from souls, is
simply that earlier readers had chosen "mind" as the conventional translation of
"nous," at least in many of its uses. But all parties recognized this translation as
misleading. While no English word will be equivalent to "nous'' in all of its
occurrences, the word that works most frequently is not "mind" but "reason":
both Hackforth and Cornford adopt "Reason" as the translation for "nous" in
cosmological contexts, and Cherniss offers no objection. 1 We may start, then,
by saying that nous is reason, and go on to ask what kind of reason it is.
Nous is not, of course, reason in the sense of cause or motive, which is aitia,
nor reason as argument or account, which is logos, but reason as a kind of
understanding or knowledge, German "Vernunft." Kurt von Fritz and others
have tried to clarify what kind of understanding this is by investigating the uses
of the noun "nous" and of the cognate verb "noein": as they have noted, noein
is not primarily the act of reasoning from premises to conclusions (this is
properly dianoia or logismos) but rather a kind of recognition or intuition, used
more broadly in early writers but often reserved in Plato and Aristotle for an
infallible direct intellectual intuition.2 But even if we know the meaning of the
verb "noein," this does not determine the meaning of "nous": for although
"nous" is grammatically the nomen actionis of "noein," a nomen actionis
derived from a given verb may have one or several of a range of possible
meanings. Sometimes "nous" denotes the act that occurs when someone noei
something; but very often it is not an act at all. If we translate "nous" by
"mind" or the like, we are suggesting that when nous is not a cognitive act it is
the power or faculty by which this act is performed, or the substance that
possesses this power, the rational soul.3 But this is often, and indeed usually,
wrong. Often nous is the internal object of noein, the thought or meaning or
intention or plan: this sense is presupposed in the common idiom "kata noun
einai tini," "to be pleasing to someone, in accord with his plan," and seems also
to be re-

Page 15

flected in the phrases "en n(i) echein" and "ton noun prosechein," "to have
something in one's thought" and ''to turn one's thought or attention toward
something." 4
But more significant, and of frequent and emphatic use in Plato, are other
idioms in which nous is not an act nor a power nor an object but the habit or
virtue of noein.5 The basic and most common expression is "noun echein," to
have nous; from this is derived "noun ktasthai," to acquire or come-to-have
nous, whose perfect, "noun kektsthai," is equivalent to "noun echein." Noun
echein or noun kektsthai is to possess reason, to know, to be intelligent: so
nous here is reason in the sense of rationality, that by possessing which
someone thinks rightly or is in accordance with reason.6 "Noun echein" has the
structure of English "to have sense" or French "avoir raison," but it means
something stricter: "avoir raison" is to be right about a particular belief or to be
on the right side of a dispute, not to possess reason in general; and having
sense is more common than noun echein, as sense is more common than
reason. Heraclitus says that learning many things does not teach noun echein,
his argument being that otherwise it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras
and Xenophanes and Hecataeus (frag. 40); his point is not that these people
believe too many extravagant stories (Xenophanes?) but that they fail to grasp
the unitary logos behind the phenomena, the perception of which constitutes
wisdom (frag. 41). Plato correctly reproduces Heraclitus' thought when in the
Timaeus he contrasts true opinion with nous and says that "all men must be
said to share [metechein] in the former, but in nous the gods share, and the
race of men just a little" (51e56). As this example shows, instead of "noun
echein" we may say "nou metechein," to participate in or receive a portion of
nous; similarly the soul lanchanei courage or temperance or nous at Philebus
55b4. Either with these verbs or with "echein," we may ask how much of nous
someone hasnot because it is a substance that is divided but because people
have it to different degrees, and anything that several people possess may
loosely be said to be portioned out among them.7 Again, something may be
done sun n(i) (as in Heraclitus frag. 114) or meta nou, rationally and rightly,
or aneu nou, irrationally; here, too, nous is imagined as being present in or as
accompanying the agent or his soul, as at Laws X. 897b13, where the soul is
noun proslabousa or sungenomen with its opposite anoia.8 Finally, someone
who possesses the virtue of nous within himself is ennous, as someone who
possesses the virtue of phronsis is emphrn. Thus when the demiurge of the

Timaeus puts soul in the body of the world (30b45) and nous in its soul
(30b4), he is giving the world a share in the virtue of nous; by this action it
becomes noun echon (30b2) and a z(i)on empsuchon ennoun (30b8), just as
it makes a beginning of an unceasing and emphrn life for all time (36e45).
Plato draws consciously and consistently on the sense of nous as a virtue
implied in these expressions. Nous in the virtue sense is either the same thing

Page 16

at least the same sort of thing as phronsis, and Plato frequently conjoins nous
with phronsis or other virtues in "doublets"that is, in chains of two or more
words connected by kai (or te or ), which are, ambiguously, lists of different
realities traveling in company or strings of names for the same reality conceived
in different terms. This is clearest in the Philebus, the dialogue most explicitly
concerned with nous. The Philebus originally sets out to answer the question
whether the life of pleasure or the life of phronsis is the good for human
beings, or if the good is some third thing, whether it is more akin to pleasure or
to phronsis (11d1112a4). But Plato's intention is to compare not two narrowly
defined conditions of the soul but two more broadly conceived "families"; thus
he varies his terminology, and in particular introduces nous as a synonym or
quasi-synonym of phronsis. At the very beginning of the dialogue, the life that
Socrates champions includes "phronein and noein and recollecting and things
akin to these" (11b78), and at 21d67 he refers to this simply as "the life of
nous." Far more often, however, Plato mentions nous in conjunction with other
names of virtues: thus we find phronsis te kai epistm kai nous at 13e4 and
again at 28a4; phronsis kai nous kai epistm kai mnm at 21d910
(immediately after the passage on the life of nous); nous kai epistm at 28c3,
again at 55c5, and in a similar form at 59b7; nous kai phronsis at 28d8,
59d1, 63c56, again 63c7, and 66b56; sophia kai nous at 30c6 and again
30c9; and andreia sphrosun nous at 55b34. Similarly the Phaedrus gives
us nous kai sphrosun at 241a3 and nous te kai epistm at 247d1, and
Timaeus 34a2 says that rotary motion is peri noun kai phronsin; nous is the
"chief'' of the "four virtues" at Laws XII.963a69, where, since these virtues are
andreia kai sphrosun kai dikaiosun kai phronsis at 965d2, nous must be
identical with phronsis. These phrases make no sense if nous is an act of the
rational soul or a power of this soul or the soul itself; nous is a virtue that some
souls possess and some do not, as in the Laws' contrast between the soul noun
proslabousa and the soul sungenomen anoi(i) (897b13, cited previously).
Certainly "nous" can also have other meanings in Plato; but the special
philosophical use he wishes to make of nous, in the Philebus above all, is a
philosophical develoment of the common sense of nous as a virtue. Though
Plato uses the word "nous" some 350 to 400 times (depending on how many
texts are authentic), he never once uses the word in the plural; this would be
bizarre in a word whose primary meaning was "mind" or "rational soul," but in
a name for a virtue is no more surprising than the corresponding absences of
"sophiai" or "phronseis." 9

These passages on nous as a virtue are significant for our purpose, because
they help us to see that the nous that is king of heaven and earth is the virtue
of nous. At Philebus 28c68 the wise all agree that nous is king of heaven and
earth; then only a few lines later, at 28d59, we are urged to accept the view of
"those who were before us" that "all things and this so-called universe . . . are

Page 17

governed by a certain marvelous coordinating nous and phronsis," and to

reject the contrary view that they are directed "by the power of irrationality
and randomness and by however-it-chances [tn tou alogou kai eik(i)
dunamin kai to hop(i) etuchen]." Although nous may in some contexts be not
a virtue but the soul or its reasoning faculty, phronsis is surely a virtue; and
nous kai phronsis here are clearly a single entity. So the nous that all the wise
agree to be king of heaven and earth, since it is the same as this nous kai
phronsis, is not an individual soul (however divine this might be): it is rather
the universal principle or virtue antithetical to the universal power of
irrationality and randomness. A bit further on, at Philebus 30c47, there is
among the limit and unlimited of the universe "a certain cause not slight,
ordering and coordinating years and seasons and months, which would most
rightly be called sophia and nous." Here, even more clearly than before, it is
one and the same entity that is called by the doubletted names sophia and
nous: this nous or sophia is surely a virtue, not a soul and not (as Cherniss
would have it) a class of souls (how could a class coordinate the units of
time?). 10
Although the Philebus speaks more fully than any earlier dialogue about the
nature of nous, it seems that from the beginning, when Plato considered the
possibility of explanation through nous, he had intended nous as a virtue. This
is presupposed in the Phaedo, in Socrates' disappointment with Anaxagoras:
for Anaxagoras to say that nous orders all things and yet to explain things
through their material causes and not through their being best as they are, is
as if he were to say "that I do what I do through . . . bones and sinews . . .
and that I perform these things by nous [kai tauta n(i) pratt], but not by
choosing the best" (99a561),11 which Socrates treats as an absurdity. Since
n(i) prattein in human actions is not to do something with one's mind but to
do it by choosing the besti. e., prudently, with the virtue of nousit seems that
in the cosmos too nous is not a mind but the virtue; this is why Socrates has
been so expectant all along that Anaxagoras would explain why the earth and
the stars are best where they are and so little concerned with Anaxagoras'
description of any immortal ensouled being.
The world-governing nous, which is implicitly a virtue in the Phaedo and
becomes explicitly a virtue in the Philebus, remains a virtue in the Laws. The
Laws do give a prominent place to a divine soul or souls in the governance of
the universe, and some scholars have claimed that Plato in this, his latest work,

if not in earlier dialogues, made soul the highest principle and the first cause of
the physical universe: this is the view that Hackforth set out to refute, I think
successfully, in "Plato's Theism." In reality the difference between the Laws
and the Philebus or Timaeus is no more than a shift of emphasis, appropriate
to the more practical and exoteric purpose of the Laws. Plato does not try to
develop in the Laws any account of the ontological status of nous (or of the

Page 18

forms), but he says enough to make it clear that nous is not a soul but a virtue
in which souls participate. Laws XII praises those who said "that it is nous
which has ordered all the things which are in the heaven" (967b56); but the
context carefully distinguishes between "two things which lead to belief in the
gods" (966b67, the twoness restated 967d5), one that nous is the
diakekosmks of the universe (966e24, restated 967d8e2), and the other that
"soul is the eldest of all things which partake of birth [i. e., of all things which
come-to-be], and is immortal and rules over all bodies" (967d67, restating
966d9e2). The relation between these two claims is complicated, and I will
examine the problem in detail in chapter 6; for now, it is enough to see that
Plato is not identifying soul and nous, and that he says different things about
them. And although this passage of Laws XII by itself might not make it clear
how nous (if it is not a soul) is to be interpreted, this does become clear when
we compare other passages. Laws XII is recapitulating the results of Laws X,
and although the larger part of that book was devoted to proving that soul is
older than body, and that some divine soul or souls are responsible for the
movements of the heavenly bodies, Laws X did also contain a discussion of
nous: and its nous, to which Laws XII refers back, is clearly not a soul but the
virtue. 12 As we have seen, Laws X.897b13 says that a soul may be either
noun proslabousa or anoi(i) sungenomen; souls in these contrary conditions
will produce contrary kinds of motion in the bodies they govern, so that by
examining the motions of the heavenly bodies, we can determine "which kind
of soul has come to be master of heaven and earth and of the whole circuit"
(897b78). These two kinds of soul are ''the one that is prudent [phronimon]
and full of virtue, and the one that has acquired neither prudence nor virtue"
(897b8c1), where "prudent and full of virtue" means the same as "noun
proslabousa": the good soul produces in the bodies it governs a motion "similar
to the motion and rotation and reasonings of nous" (897c56), while the bad
soul yields a motion proceeding "madly and without order" (897d1). Since the
motions of the heavenly bodies are uniform rotations, the motions that are the
best imitations of nous (897e4898b3), while other motions are akin to anoia
(898b58), Plato concludes that the heavenly bodies must be moved by "either
one or several souls possessing all virtue" (898c78). Laws X, while asserting
that "soul" is prior to and dominant over "body," leaves open the question
whether there are one or several divine souls in the heavens; what is certainly
one is nous, the virtue that the celestial soul or souls possess. So when Laws
XII refers back to the conclusion of Laws X and asserts that nous is the

diakekosmks of the universe, it means that Reason orders the universe,

using celestial souls as its instruments: the nous that God is is just the nous
that these souls have when they act according to reason.

Page 19

Can Nous Exist Apart From Soul?
Having seen that "nous" can mean a virtue and that the world-ordering cause
is nous in the sense of the virtue, we can understand why Plato would think
that nous exists apart from souls, and we can respond to Cherniss' argument
that Plato is committed to the contrary thesis (ACPA pp. 6067). Using our
understanding of what it is to have nous and what it is to be nous, we can
defend Hackforth's claim that, in passages that seem to deny that nous can
exist apart from soul, "Plato is speaking of the Universe, not of its 'Creator' or
cause, of that which has nous, not of that which is nous" ("Plato's Theism," p.
The issue turns chiefly on three passages: Timaeus 30b13 (the demiurge
recognizes "that of all things that are visible by nature, no work which is
anoton would ever be better as a whole than that which has nous, and that it
is impossible for nous to come-to-be-in anything [paragenesthai t(i)] apart
from soul"), its parallel Philebus 30c910 (having said that the cosmos is
governed by a cause that would most rightly be called sophia and nous,
Socrates adds that "sophia and nous would never come-to-be [genoisthn]
without soul"), and a more difficult text embedded in a longer argument at
Sophist 248e6249d4. But it is easy to show, to begin with, that Hackforth's
reading is right at least for the Timaeus and Philebus passages.
The text from the Philebus is easiest: the doublet "sophia and nous," naming a
single being, makes the meaning plain. Sophia-and-nous is a virtue, and Plato
is not saying that this virtue cannot exist apart from souls: Plato notoriously
believes that the virtues exist themselves by themselves, independent of
whether any human or divine soul ever participates in them. Plato is saying not
that the virtue cannot exist without soul but that it cannot come-to-be without
soulthat is, that although the virtue eternally exists by itself, no temporal thing
can participate in it except a soul, or something that has a soul. So having said
that sophia and nous are present in the cosmos, Socrates concludes that the
cosmos must have a soul through which it can be wise: he is not commenting
at all on the status of nous-itself.

Page 20

The text from Timaeus 30b13, and other parallels from the Timaeus (37c25,
46d56), mean much the same. In the first passage, the demiurge is
considering how to make the world noun echon (30b2): because he recognizes
that "it is impossible for nous without soul to come-to-be in anything
[paragenesthai t(i)]" (30b3), he does not attempt to impose nous directly on
the world's body, but instead "places nous in soul and soul in body" (b45),
producing a z(i)on empsuchon ennoun (b8). We can see, first, that nous here
is the virtue, and second, that Plato is not restricting the conditions under
which the virtue can exist but the conditions under which something can
participate in the virtue. Nous must be the virtue (and not a mind or the like)
because the terms "noun echon" and "ennoun" can only mean ''prudent,"
"having the virtue of rationality," never "having a mind"; and the verb phrase
"paragenesthai t(i)" shows that Plato is describing the conditions under which
something can come to be prudent. "Paragignesthai" with the dative is "to
accrue," to come-to-be present somewhere or available to someone: it serves
as a passive of ktasthai, to acquire, and is used in particular to signify a virtue's
being acquired by an agent. So Meno asks Socrates how virtue paragignetai to
menthat is, whether they acquire it by teaching or by practice or by nature or
in some other way (in the opening lines of the Meno 70a14); the question
recurs, with paragignesthai, four more times in the dialogue (71a46, 86c9d2,
99e5100a1, 100b25). After Socrates has argued that our allegedly virtuous
statesmen perform their actions noun m echontes (99c8), he concludes that
such virtue as theirs is "neither by nature nor taught, but by a divine allotment
paragignomen aneu nou to those to whom it paragignetai" (99e5100a1). So
"nous paragignetai to X" means that X acquires intellectual virtue (Socrates is
surely not denying that Themistocles had a mind): Timaeus 30b is simply
asserting that the world cannot acquire intellectual virtue unless it acquires a
soul. The parallel passages in the Philebus and elsewhere in the Timaeus mean
the same, and they, too, use the standard terms for acquiring virtues: "sophia
and nous could never come to be [genoisthn] without soul" (Philebus
30c910); "if anyone says that the being in which . . . nous and epistm . . .
engignesthon is anything but soul, he will say anything but the truth" (Timaeus
37c25), and very similarly, "we must say that the only being to which it is
proper noun ktasthai is soul" (Timaeus 46d56). We may wonder what Plato
means by making such apparently trivial assertions (as we will see in chapter 6,
he means something important); but there should be no doubt about what
they mean grammatically.

These passages of the Timaeus and Philebus can therefore give no support to
Cherniss' claim that Plato denies that nous can exist apart from souls:
Hackforth's interpretation must be right at least for these passages. Indeed,
Cherniss concedes that the texts at Philebus 30c910 and Timaeus 30b "might
appear to

Page 21

admit this interpretation" (ACPA, p. 606); but he insists that in another

passage Hackforth had cited, at Sophist 249a:
Plato is not saying that the universe has nous and so must have a soul. On the
contrary, the argument of Sophist 248e249d is quite general. It is an attempt to
prove that the totality of the real includes motion, i. e. that kinsis is real; and it
reaches this conclusion by proceeding from the assumption that reality includes
nous through the steps that nous implies life, life implies soul, and soul implies
motion, an argument which Plato could not have formulated if he had believed that
there is any real nous which does not imply soul. (ACPA, pp. 6067)

This passage of the Sophist apparently bears the full weight of Cherniss'
argument. But the passage does not prove Cherniss' thesis; indeed, when it is
read in its proper context, it proves the contrary.
The passage Cherniss is immediately considering goes as follows. We are
considering the doctrine of the "gods" and of the friends of the forms, who
hold that all reality is immobile. But we refuse to admit that motion and life and
soul and phronsis are not present in complete being (t(i) pantels onti m
pareinai), 1 and that it (the totality of being) neither lives nor phronei but
stands unmoved, reverend and holy, not having nous (248e6249a2).2 If we
reject this assertion, however, we must say that it has nous, and therefore also
that it has life (249a45); but if nous and life are present in it (enonta aut(i)),
we must say that it has them in soul (or in a soul), since there is no other way
that it could have them (a68). Plato then draws the conclusion that since
complete being has nous and life, and thus must be ensouled, it will be in
motion, and motion will therefore exist. After reaching his conclusion, Plato
adds some reflections about what assertions we may and may not accept: the
basic principle is that "we must resist by every argument anyone who persists
in abolishing [aphanizn ischuriztai] knowledge or phronsis or nous about
anything whatsoever [peri tinos hop(i)oun]" (c68).3 But both the ''gods" and
the "giants" persist in abolishing nous: the "gods" because, if all beings were
immobile and thus soulless, it would follow noun mdeni peri mdenos einai
mdamou (b6) that nous will not be in anything (or anyone) anywhere with
regard to anything; the "giants" because, without uniformity and rest, we will
not discover noun onta genomenon hopououn (c34), nous being or comingto-be anywhere.
This passage does not prove Cherniss' point. Nous is repeatedly brought into
parallel with phronsis, and it is primarily a virtue, perhaps sometimes an act,

but never a power or the bearer of a power. Hackforth is right to say that Plato
is here requiring a soul "of that which has nous, not of that which is nous." In
this passage, as very often in Plato, the word "nous" occurs primarily in the
phrase "noun echein" (249a2, a4, a7, a9), then derivatively and by
transformation in phrases of the form "nous esti tini" or "nous gignetai tini,"
with either simple

Page 22

or compound forms of "einai" and "gignesthai" (eneinai 249a6; einai b6, c3;
gignesthai c3; cp. pareinai 249a1, where the subject includes phronsis
although not nous). Only by a further transformation could the dative replacing
the subject of ''echein" itself be eliminated, leaving an absolute "nous estin" or
"nous gignetai"; and no such transformation in fact occurs in the present
passage. Plato is insisting, as usual, that that which has nous, or in which nous
is or comes to be, must not be without soul and that it must have nous in its
soul and not otherwise. When Cherniss reports Plato as arguing that any real
nous implies life and that life implies soul, Cherniss is (at best) saying
something dangerously ambiguous. Plato argues that nous "implies" life and
soul only in the sense that anything that has nous or in which nous is present
also has life and has both of them in a soul: in the terms of the Timaeus, the
ennoun is also z(i)on and empsuchon. Plato does not say here or elsewhere
that nous has its being only in souls. Plato's first premise, that reality includes
nous, even if it does not mean that the universe has nous (and this is at least
suggested), surely does mean that something within the universe has nous:
the premise is formulated not as a rejection of the claim that there is no such
thing as nous (surely neither Parmenides nor the friends of the forms had ever
said this) but as a rejection of the claim that complete being ou phronei and
does not have nous, whether as a whole or in its parts. Plato reduces this claim
to absurdity in two ways: first by arguing that it would be a deinos logos
(249a3), that is, that it would blaspheme in making the world "holy" only by
being lifeless and stupid, 4 and then by pointing out the antinomy that would
result if we reasoned our own reason out of existence. The conclusion is that
the world of real being must be broad enough to include not only the nota
but also ourselves and the other possessors of nous, and therefore that soul
and motion must be really real. But the status of the separate intelligibles,
including nous-itself, is not altered when we admit into reality also the
changeable things that participate in them.
The wrongheadedness of Cherniss' reading is shown up by the mention
alongside nous of z, life. If Plato were saying that nous does not exist apart
from souls and things in motion, he would also be saying that z does not
exist apart from souls and things in motion; but Plato does not believe this, as
we know not just from the living-thing-itself of the Timaeus but also and
decisively from the auto to ts zs eidos of Phaedo 106d56. Plato says in the
Phaedo that soul is the thing such that, whenever it engenetai in a body, the

body comes to be alive (105c910); equivalently, whatever soul occupies

(kataschei), it comes to it bearing life (pherousa zn) (105d34). Thus it is
quite true that z cannot come to be in anything apart from soul, or that
nothing that is not empsuchon can possess z; but it would be quite false to
conclude that z does not also exist, itself by itself, apart from souls and the
things which have z. But the Sophist passage uses z consistently in
parallel with nous and phronsis and

Page 23

argues in the same way that if the world z(i), phronei, noun echei, zn
echei, then it also has soul. Soul's relation to nous is in fact much like its
relation to z: as it bears z into its sensible participants, so it is also the
bearer of nous. The only difference is that soul is a sufficient as well as a
necessary condition for participating in z, while it is necessary but not
sufficient for participating in nous.
But we can do better than this. Read in its full context, the Sophist passage
not only permits but requires that nous should be a separate intelligible being.
The passage we have been discussing is an argument against the "gods," that
reality includes some changing things and not merely one unchanging Being or
many unchanging forms; this argument is tightly coupled, in the larger scheme
of the Sophist, with an argument against the "giants," that reality includes
some unchanging and incorporeal things and not merely changing and
interacting bodies. The arguments proceed in strict antiparallel. 5 The giants
are first asked to grant that there is such a thing as a mortal animal; then,
since such an animal is an empsuchon body, they will admit that the soul must
itself be something real (246e5247a1). Then noting that the soul becomes
dikaia or adikos, phronimos or aphrn, through the presence (parousia) or
absence of dikaiosun or phronsis, Plato gets the giants to admit that the
virtues, since they can come-to-be-present (paragignesthai) and cease-to-bepresent (apogignesthai) in real souls, must themselves be something real
(247a210). But now the giants would or should admit that phronsis and the
other virtues are beings that are not bodies, even if they insist that the souls in
which the virtues come to be present are corporeal things. Clearly Plato has
taken the giants up, first from bodies to souls, and then from souls to the
separate forms of the virtues (with an emphasis on phronsis) in which they
participate.6 He takes the "gods" down by exactly the reverse steps: beginning
with the admission that complete being has phronsis and nous and z, Plato
wins the admission that it has these in soul; then, since being is empsuchon, it
will be moved, and thus the motion of the ensouled body, and the moved
object itself, will be real. Arguing against the giants, Plato ascends from bodies
to the souls that are present in the bodies and then to the forms of the virtues
that are present in the soul; arguing against the gods, he descends from the
forms of the virtues (and of life) to the soul in which they are present, and
then to the body in which it is present. Cherniss tells us that the nous (or the
presumably identical phronsis) of the argument against the gods is not a

being apart from the soul that has it; Cherniss tells us that the nous of the
Philebus is a symbol for the class of rational souls. If only the giants had
thought of this subtlety, they could have said that the dikaiosun and
phronsis of virtuous souls are not beings distinct from the souls themselves
and that dikaiosun and phronsis are merely symbols for the classes of just
and prudent souls; in this way they will not have to admit any real beings apart
from visible

Page 24

and tangible bodies, or from the soul which is itself (they think) a body. If, on
the other hand, the argument against the giants is to make good its claims, its
phronsis must be a separate form; and so are the phronsis, the z, and the
nous of the antiparallel argument against the gods.
It should thus be clear, against Cherniss, that Plato is willing and eager to posit
a nous that exists equally outside all souls, whether the world-soul or the souls
of particular animals within the world. Cherniss is right, against Cornford, to
refuse to tie nous too closely to the world-soul, and to insist that all rational
souls have the same ontological status in relation to nous; but Cherniss'
proposal that nous stands for the whole class of rational souls is oddly unPlatonic. Here more than in (almost) any other case, it is crucial for Plato that
there should be a one-over-the-many, a single supreme nous with the power to
coordinate the actions of the many rational souls, and so to impose a single
master plan on the universe.
But once we have spoken of nous as a one-over-many, the problem reemerges
of its relation to the forms. We can formulate two difficulties. First, it seems
that on the present account, the demiurge is a form or idea; but he seems too
active for an idea, and as we have seen, Plato posits him precisely to fill in the
deficiencies of explanation through formal causality. Second, even if Plato
himself might believe that the form of a virtue is the diakekosmks of the
universe, it seems implausible that he should attribute this doctrine to "all the
wise" or to "those who were before us": besides the fact that only Anaxagoras
(who may not, in Plato's view, have been such a great sage) explicitly ascribed
the ordering of the world to nous, it would seem that the pre-Socratics did not
believe in forms or in incorporeal agents, and that if they ascribed the ordering
of the world to any sort of nous, it was not a virtue but a mind, or an
intelligent, living body.

Page 25

Nous in Anaxagoras and Other Pre-Socratics
I will deal with the second difficulty first (in chapters 5 and 6), since this will
help in resolving the first difficulty when we return to it (in chapter 7). There is
a misleading aspect to the assertion that the pre-Socratics did not believe in
forms. It is not true that these philosophers did not regard abstractions (like
the virtues) as individuals with causal powers; what is true is that, when they
ascribe causality to such beings, they do not describe them as incorporeal but
tend rather to conceive them implicitly or explicitly as bodies. Plato is in fact
being much more accurate when he says that the pre-Socratics ascribed the
diakosmsis of the world to nous kai phronsis than he would be if he said that
they ascribed this diakosmsis to a mind or rational soul. None of the preSocratics believed that a mind ordered the world (the closest approach is the
god of Xenophanes, who at least shakes all things by the phrn of his nous,
though he may not order them); but the proposition that nous kai phronsis
(or something much like it) is the orderer of the world is a common theme
among the pre-Socratics, maintained not only by Anaxagoras (and after him by
Diogenes of Apollonia) but also by Heraclitus and by several other thinkers,
both philosophers and Hippocratic medical writers. I will not argue this here in
any great detail; I will concentrate on Anaxagoras, since he is obviously the
most important case, and after discussing him I will make only brief remarks
about some of the others, noting how Plato is able to syncretize their doctrines
into his picture of "all the wise."
Anaxagoras said "panta diekosmse nous"; but what did he mean by "nous"?
People assume he meant a mind, since they assume that this is what "nous"
means in Greek; but this is not what the word means, or not what it means
primarily. Plato does not attribute to Anaxagoras the doctrine that a mind
ordered all things, but rather the doctrine that Reason ordered all things;
Aristotle, who follows Plato in his treatment of Anaxagoras, also construes
Anaxagoras' doctrine this way, as Ross' translation is forced to admit. 1 And the

Page 26

evidence of the fragments, incomplete as it is, is sufficient to establish that

Anaxagoras' nous is Reason and not a mind.
We may begin by recalling the undeniable fact that Anaxagoras uses "nous" as
a mass term. "In everything there is present [enesti] a portion [moira] of
everything except nous, and there are some things in which nous too is
present [eni (= enesti)]," says fragment 11. That is to say: this thing here,
which mortal perception regards as water, is in fact not entirely water, but also
has within it portions of all other kinds of substance: earth and gold and flesh
and so on. It is conventionally denominated "water" just because it contains a
relatively large portion of water and relatively small portions of each of the
other substances; what is really water by nature is not this thing here, but that
a portion of which is present in this thing. Water never really becomes earth;
what is called water becomes what is called earth through a redistribution of
the parts. In all this, Anaxagoras is making a rather standard pre-Socratic point
about the contrary characters compresent in the objects that appear to the
senses (''this is called sweet but it is really also bitter, this is called water but it
is really also earth"), and he is also offering an explanation of the passage from
what really is to the objects of appearance, or at least a way of talking about
the relation between these two kinds of objects. This crown is said to be gold
because there is present in it a large portion of gold; this cake is said to be hot
because there is present in it a large portion of the hot; it is thus not entirely
arbitrary what things are denominated. But this sort of explanation implies a
conception of the different characters as mass terms. It is quite possible in
Greek to transform the sentence "this cake is hot" into a sentence like "the hot
is present in this cake" or "this cake participates [metechei] in the hot" 2 or
"this cake has acquired a portion of the hot"; but Anaxagoras is taking this
transformed expression seriously, and asserting that it captures the real
situation that we express improperly by saying "this cake is hot." Anaxagoras is
therefore committed to regarding the hotlike like flesh, and like waterwas a
uniform and indestructible substance present throughout the universe in
greater or lesser concentrations and responsible by its presence for the
apparent hotness of particular things.
So far this interpretation of Anaxagoras is not original or very controversial.3
But my point is that Anaxagoras treats nous in the same way that he treats
gold or the hot. This crown does not have present in it a portion of nous, as it
does of gold and silver; but this man Socrates does have present in him a

portion of nous, as he does of flesh and bone. He is said to be flesh and bone
rather than to be nous; this is because he has only a small portion of nous
within his body, but it is strong enough stuff that a little of it is sufficient to
control his actions, if not perfectly then at least to a fair extent. Because of the
existence of a certain amount of this one very special material substance within
the limits of Socrates' body, it would be correct to say that nous is present in
Socrates (nous enesti

Page 27

Skratei), that Socrates participates in nous (Skrats metechei tou nou), or

that Socrates possesses a portion of nous (Skrats echei, kekttai, eilche
moiran tou nou). But these Greek expressions are unambiguous: they cannot
mean that Socrates has a mind; they must mean that Socrates is rational, that
he possesses rationality or wisdom or prudence, to a greater or lesser extent.
The material substance that Anaxagoras calls nous is therefore the virtue of
rationality, existing in various parts of the universe, entirely absent from some
things, but present in some things in stronger and in some in weaker
concentrations: things will therefore become more or less rational in their
actions in proportion as they take in greater or smaller dosages of this one
special material substancethat is, as they acquire greater or lesser quantities of
reason. 4 When Anaxagoras asserts that nous has mastered not only "all things
which have soul, both the greater and the less" but also "the whole rotation" of
the universe (frag. 12), his meaning is well captured by the question of the
Xenophontic Socrates:
Although you know that you have in your body a small portion of the great [totality
of] earth, and that a little of the great moist, and a small portion of each of the
other great [bodies] have been put together to constitute your body, do you
suppose that nous alone is nowhere [outside you], but that you have had the good
luck to grab it all, and that these very great and infinitely numerous [bodies of the
cosmos] are well ordered as they are through aphrosun? (Memorabiia (I.iv.8)5

Here Xenophon, like Anaxagoras, construes "nous" as a mass term, parallel to

"earth" and "the moist," referring to a being present throughout the cosmos, of
which we receive a small portion in ourselves; and for Xenophon, as for
Anaxagoras, this nous is not a mind but the rationality that brings about good
order, whose contrary is the vice of aphrosun, foolishness.
Now a certain effort of imagination, a certain breaking of mental habits, is
needed to enter into Anaxagoras' world picture, which is at several points
tangent to Plato's, which is also suggestive of Stoicism, but which remains
decidedly archaic. Anaxagoras believes that nous, the virtue or power of
rationality, since it pervades the universe, and since, even in small
concentrations, it can move and control masses much larger than itself,6 is
what sets in order the totality of bodies. Fragment 12 tells us that nous
"dominated the whole rotation" of the cosmic vortex, imparting rotation to an
ever-widening mass, and centrifuging the original chaotic mixture into at least
some degree of separation; Anaxagoras asserts both that nous ordered

(diekosmse) and that it knew all things that were and are and are to bethat
is, the original mixture and the entire series of bodies that are precipitated out
of it. Anaxagoras is not saying here either that every individual mind has
knowledge and control over the universe, or that some one divine mind has
such knowledge and control, but

Page 28

rather that rationality as such, in opposition to anoia and tuch, has had
sufficient power to dominate the cosmic mixture, and has therefore acted to
impose order upon it. 7 It may seem puzzling to say that something as abstract
and universal as rationality itself can act in such a concrete way upon an
individual object. But for Anaxagoras the "abstraction" of rationality is a
substance just as concrete as air or fire or gold, present within all rationally
acting beings: "nous is even now where all the other things also are, in the
great mass which surrounds and in the things which have been collected and
the things which have been separated" (frag. 14), and there is nothing to
prevent it from acting wherever it is.
It seems that a deeper problem for Anaxagoras, and one that strains the limits
of his conceptions, is not the possibility of nous' action but rather the unity of
its action. Anaxagoras believes that nous is present in many places only by
being divided among them: but if the portion of nous that exists in Socrates
acts only in Socrates, and the portion of nous that exists in Diotima acts only in
Diotima, how can nous as such produce a single plan of action for the entire
universe? Anaxagoras seems to be aware of something like this problem, and
he tries to deal with it by insisting that nous must itself remain pure, free from
admixture with the other things, and "all alike, [in] both the greater and the
lesser [portions of it]" (frag. 12); this seems to secure the unity of nous with
itself, and its ability to impose a pattern on other things. "For if it were not by
itself [eph' heautou], but had been mixed with something else," then "the
things which had been mixed together with it would hinder it so that it could
not dominate anything as in fact it does, being alone by itself" (frag. 12). No
doubt Anaxagoras would, if asked, have accepted the Platonic formula that this
one thing shared by the many is some one entity existing itself by itself: this
would be true for nous, although not for the other kinds of substance. But for
Anaxagoras, of course, nous is all this while remaining corporeal and extended;
and he is forced to assert, none too coherently, that other things contain an
admixture of nous, while nous, even when it is in other things, does not
contain an admixture of them.8
There is a further point on which the archaic nature of Anaxagoras' cosmology
makes it difficult to grasp his thought. The substance of nous or rationality is
present in human beings, where it is, as Euripides says, the divine in us;9 other
portions of the same substance are present in the heavenly bodies and also in
nonhuman z(i)a, living things, apparently including plants as well as

animals.10 But it would be very strange to say that plants (or stones, like the
sun) have a soul capable of participating in prudence, and Anaxagoras does
not say this. Indeed, Anaxagoras never says anywhere that any soul
participates in nous; on the contrary, it is clear that Anaxagoras thinks that
rationality controls Socrates or the sun or a tree and produces regular patterns
of motion in them

Page 29

not by being present in their souls but by being present in their bodies. He
could hardly think otherwise: the assertion that one and the same soul can be
a subject now of nous and now of anoia depends on an idea of qualitative
change that Anaxagoras rejects. 11 If Anaxagoras were to maintain that a soul
can be the recipient of virtue, he would have to say that a wise person has two
grams of soul and a gram of nous, while a foolish person has only the two
grams of soul (or perhaps three grams of soul): the soul would not and could
not be altered in itself but would merely be "called" wise in one case and not
the other. But probably it never occurred to Anaxagoras that the soul and not
the body might be the recipient of wisdom. Thus, the author of the Hippocratic
treatise On the Sacred Disease accepts from Diogenes of Apollonia the
hypothesis that air is the governing principle and the bearer of intelligence in
man and in the world: since "air provides phronsis," it follows that "something
of phronsis comes to be in the whole body, inasmuch as it participates in air."
The brain has more phronsis than other parts of the body only because, when
we inhale, the air reaches the brain first, and it "deposits in the brain its akm,
and whatever is phronimos and possesses gnm" (chap. 19, in Jones' Loeb
Hippocrates 2:178): it never occurs to the author that the soul might acquire
We can now explain what Aristotle is drawing on when he says that
Anaxagoras sometimes identifies nous and soul. Aristotle begins by noting that
Anaxagoras "says in many places that nous is the cause of what is fair and
right [tou kals kai orths]" (De Anima I.2.404b2)that is, that Anaxagoras uses
"nous" in the proper sense; but Aristotle then complains that Anaxagoras also
says, inconsistently, that nous is the same thing as soul. It is clear that
Aristotle does not have a text of Anaxagoras in front of him where Anaxagoras
asserts that nous and soul are the same thing; rather, Aristotle is making an
inference, from the list of things in which Anaxagoras says nous is present, to
the sense in which Anaxagoras must be using the word "nous." Aristotle's
argument is that Anaxagoras describes nous as being "present in all animals
[z(i)a] both great and small, both noble and ignoble"; whereas, Aristotle
notes, "nous in the sense of phronsis [ho ge kata phronsin legomenos nous]
does not seem to belong in common to all animals, nor even to all men''
(404b26). Anaxagoras would doubtless reply that there must be at least some
small amount of nous and phronsis regulating all animals or plants or celestial
stones that repeat the same movements according to determinate measures of

time;12 "nous dominates all things which have soul, both the greater and the
less" (frag. 12), but it is not safe to infer, as Aristotle does, that nous and soul
are the same thing.
Most likely Anaxagoras never said what sort of thing soul was: otherwise
Aristotle should have been able to find the passage.13 But if Anaxagoras did
say, like Diogenes of Apollonia (frag. 4), that nous and soul are the same thing,
he would mean what Diogenes means: that one and the same substance, by

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presence, both causes things to be rational and causes them to move in a

lifelike way. 14 In the extant fragments Anaxagoras uses "psuch" just twice,
both times in the phrase "psuchn echein," "to be alive." The sould is not for
Anaxagoras what it is for Plato, the subject of sensation and thought and
action, the individual that always participates in z, sometimes in nous, and
sometimes in anoia; it is another hypostatized abstraction like nous, not
something that has life but life itself regarded as a material substance divided
among the living bodies. Soul is present in some rationally governed things:
people and animals and plants; it is apparently absent from other rationally
governed things: the heavenly bodies; but it plays no essential role in
Anaxagoras' cosmologyit is not the being that primarily participates in nous and
communicates rationality to the world of bodies.
This brings us some way toward solving the problem posed by Plato's assertion
that all the wise agree that nous is king of heaven and earth, if Plato's nous is
a virtue. We have seen that Anaxagoras, the pre-Socratic sage who can most
safely be credited with the doctrine that nous is king, interprets nous not as a
soul possessing the virtue of rationality, but as rationality itself. Anaxagoras
does not regard this virtue as a separate incorporeal substance; but the virtue
is a separate substance in that it exists in itself prior to the phenomenal objects
that participate in it, and it is the virtue itself, not its participants, that
exercises causal powers. Now Anaxagoras by himself can hardly be "all the
wise" or "those who were before us"; and apart from his disciple Archelaus,
Anaxagoras is the only pre-Socratic thinker who uses the word "nous" to
describe the source of order in the universe. But the word is not so important.
Other pre-Socratics also ascribe the ordering of the universe to virtues or
virtue-like powers; Plato assumes, with some degree of justification, that these
other sages meant the same thing as Anaxagoras did, and so he allows himself
to say that they all believe that nous is king. By quickly recalling the views of
some other philosophers, before and after Anaxagoras, on the origin of order,
we can see that these philosophers, too, assign a causal role to Reason-itself,
or something like it, but that they make no use at all of the causality of souls
participating in reason.
We may start at the end, with Diogenes of Apollonia. Diogenes is of course
influenced by Anaxagoras, and is syncretizing Anaxagoras' doctrine of nous
with Milesian and Heraclitean monism. But Diogenes is a valuable source, both
because Plato apparently takes him as a spokesman for "all the wise" and

because Diogenes' ability to syncretize Anaxagoras with his predecessors can

alert us to the real common elements that Plato finds in the different preSocratic philosophers. Diogenes asserts, in Milesian style, that "what is called
air by men" is the principle of all things (frag. 5). But Diogenes also insists that
this principle must possess nosis, and that it introduces rationality into

Page 31

whatever it enters and controls, like the nous of Anaxagoras; Diogenes does
not use "nous" as a name for his own governing substance, which is not a new
and rare entity but just what we have always called air, a superficially familiar
substance whose hidden powers must now be discovered. 15 Diogenes proves
that the principle must possess nosis by arguing from its effects: "For if it
were without nosis it would not be possible for it to be divided in such a way
as to possess the measures [metra] of all things, of winter and summer and
night and day and rains and winds and fair weather; and if someone wishes to
consider the other things too, he would find that they are disposed in the
fairest way possible" (frag. 3). This reasoning is much more explicitly
teleological than anything in the extant fragments of Anaxagoras, and it is
apparently the source of Plato's argument in the Philebus that the world must
be governed by a cause "ordering and coordinating years and seasons [hrai]
and months, which would most rightly be called sophia and nous" (30c57).
The unexpected word "hrai" gives us the clue to the pre-Socratic origins of
this assertion. That they are not simply sections of the sun's yearly course is
shown from the remark earlier in the Philebus that when the limit "comes to be
among winters and stifling heats, it takes away the excessive and unlimited,
and produces the emmetron and summetron'' (26a68), and that hrai (26b1)
therefore come to be out of a mixture of the limit and the unlimited. The hrai
that are governed by nous are in fact originally the winter and summer of
Diogenes, which were exclusively meteorological phenomena, as may be
gathered both from the fact that Diogenes lists them alongside rains and winds
and fair weather and from the Diogenian passage in On Breaths, chap. 3,
where pneuma or ar is "the cause of winter and summer, becoming dense
and cold in winter, mild and gentle in summer" (Jones 2: 230).16 It seems that
Plato is quietly reinterpreting "those who were before us" to bring them up-todate, by connecting the "measures" of pre-Socratic pneumatic meteorology to
the "measures" of mathematical astronomy.
Diogenes, then, explains the origin of order or measure in things by appealing
to nosis; Plato was apparently pleased enough with Diogenes' argument to
take it as the representative of the sayings of all the sages; and Diogenes, like
Anaxagoras, makes no mention of soul in this cosmological context, although
he elsewhere says that the substance that is essentially the principle of
rationality also serves in animals as a soul or principle of life. Now pre-Socratic
philosophers other than Anaxagoras and those he influenced will not describe

their principles as nous or nosis; but they, too, describe the universe as
governed and ordered by virtues or virtue-like powers, and they, too, describe
the rule of these powers without mentioning any cosmic soul that might
receive them. Diogenes evidently identifies his principle not only with that of
Anaxagoras but also with those of these earlier thinkers; Plato accepts this
harmonistic account. As Kirk-Raven-Schofield note, Diogenes' insistence

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that the principle must possess the measures of all things is derived from
Heraclitus. Heraclitus says that the kosmos is "an ever-living fire, kindled
according to measures and quenched according to measures" (frag. 30), and
these measures regulate the motions and transformations of things according
to a virtue, namely cosmic Justice: "The Sun will not go beyond [his]
measures; otherwise the Furies, the guardsmen of Justice [Dik], will find him
out" (frag. 94). Thus, Heraclitus, like Diogenes, takes the world's periodic
alternations between the dominance of the different opposing powers, seen
especially in the course of the seasons, 17 to be governed by a single allpervading divine principle; Heraclitus, unlike the more Panglossian Diogenes,
stresses that this governance is needed to prevent any of the opposing powers
from establishing an unjust dominance without retribution.18 In different
fragments Heraclitus calls the governing principle "justice," "divine law'' (frag.
114), and logos; but it is clearly the same principle. By any name, it is a
principle of measure or proportion that is both effective and normative,
providing the actual proportions that occur in bodies at all times, but also
measuring them against the standard of due proportion exemplified in fire, and
ensuring that they balance out in the end. Logos appears as a normative
measure not only on a cosmic level but in each individual soul; the soul is a
fiery body and as such is subject to the series of transformations of the
elements, but it is only when it keeps its proper proportion and remains fiery
that it is virtuous and wise: souls that have become wet, such as those of
drunkards, are no longer in conformity with reason. Logos is thus among other
things a virtue, which is certainly one of the possible meanings of the word:19
we become wise by listening to logos (frag. 50) or by breathing it in and
becoming noeroi and logikoi;20 since logos is one common thing for all, the
many are wrong to live as if they each had a phronsis proper to themselves
(frag. 2). Heraclitus' logos thus plays much the same role as Anaxagoras' nous,
even though Heraclitus believes that things can be transformed into one
another and Anaxagoras does not; it was easy enough for Diogenes, as also for
the Hippocratic On Regimen I, to syncretize the two philosophies. Heraclitus'
logos, unlike Anaxagoras' nous, does serve to guide souls that would otherwise
be irrational; but there is not the least hint of a worldsoul as a means of
rationalizing the cosmos, and the way logos is present in psychic fire does not
seem to be privileged over the way it is present in fire generally.
We may conclude, a bit more speculatively, by nothing two more ancient sages

whom Plato seems to include in the consensus that the virtue of nous is a
principle, namely Parmenides and Empedocles. Parmenides' favored virtue is
justice, dik; Empedocles' is philia, love or friendship. Dik in Parmenides holds
the world tight, not releasing the fetters to let it perish or come-to-be (frag. 8,
lines 1315);21 but in addition to being the source of cosmic stability,

Page 33

she is also the source of wisdomthat is, of parmenides' knowledge about this
stability: she guards the gates of day and night (frag. 1, line 14), she has
brought Parmenides on his journey to receive the revelation (lines 2628), and
she is in all probability the goddess (line 22) who actually delivers the
revelation. Empedocles' philia, during the periods when it governs the world,
plays a similar function to Parmenides' dik, holding the world unmoving and
spherical and instilling harmonia (frag. 27). When Socrates tells Callicles in the
Gorgias that "the sages say that heaven and earth and gods and men are held
together by koinnia and philia and kosmiots and sphrosun and dikaiots"
(507e6508a2), and also "geometrical equality" or proportion (508a6), the
philia of this syncretic mixture is surely that of Empedocles, which is not only a
virtue among gods and men, but also holds heaven and earth together; philia
in the Timaeus (32c2) also has the function of harmonizing the elements of the
cosmos in mutual proportion, and holding them within a spherical limit, which,
unlike that of Empedocles but like that of Parmenides, is permanent. Finally,
we may note Socrates' complaint in the Phaedo (99c16) about Anaxagoras and
the other physicists, that they do not think that the bestness of the
arrangement of things has any daimonic strength, and that they look for a
material bond, a new Atlas, to hold all things together; "they do not think in
truth that the good and binding [deon] binds [sundein] and holds together
[sunechein]." So Plato thinks that a true sage, such as Parmenides and
Empedocles and the others claim to be, will be able to explain the dispositions
of heavenly and earthly bodies through the governance of virtue, knowing that
what is morally binding is binding in fact, that (as Parmenides says) justice
binds all being together. As Parmenides or Empedocles do not invoke a cosmic
soul that possesses this virtue, so neither does Plato make soul a principle in
the Gorgias or the Phaedo.

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Plato on Soul as Mediator
The review of these earlier philosophers allows us to solve a problem we had
posed near the beginning of chapter 4: what does Plato mean to be doing in
making the seemingly trivial assertion that nous cannot exist in something
without soul? Plato is in fact making a great advance over the pre-Socratic
cosmologies, a difficult advance that he made only in his later period, by
positing an incorporeal soul as a mediator between body and nous. When the
demiurge of the Timaeus, in trying to make the bodily world as good as
possible, discovers that "of things visible by nature no work that is anoton will
ever be better as a whole than the noun echon" (30b13), he is merely
confirming the findings of earlier divinities; but when he further reflects that "it
is impossible for nous to come to be in anything apart from soul" (30b3), he is
making a great advance over his predecessors. He contrasts, in particular, with
the dik of Parmenides, who makes (or rather keeps) the world as it should be
by binding it within its limits so securely that it cannot stretch beyond them,
and under such compression that it cannot shift its mass within them. This
illiberal policy yields a world of being that is entirely complete (tetelesmenon)
and an inviolate sanctuary (asulon), but it is a ripe target for Plato's satire in
the Sophist: "Shall we really be so easily persuaded that motion and life and
phronsis are not present in complete being, and that it neither lives nor
phronei, but stands unmoved, august and holy, not having nous?"
(248e6249a2). This would be a deinos logos (249a3), a blasphemy against the
world; the demiurge of the Timaeus has better plans for ''the god who was
sometime to be" (34a89). Parmenides might say that his Being has nous and
phronsis as it has dik, present in it and keeping it in order; but certainly it
does not have motion, nor soul, which is a principle of vital motion; if it does
have nous, this is not by thinking or acting rationally but only by being
passively governed in a rational way.
Against his predecessors, Plato insists that the sensible world must have a soul
in order to be rational. Since soul moves itself and produces motion in the body
it animates, the world will be inferior to the eternally unmoved intelligi-

Page 35

bles; but the world's soul, noun proslabousa, will move in a constant and
rational way, and it will produce a constant and rational motion in bodies,
namely the uniform rotation of the heavenly bodies, which is the best imitation
to eternity that sensible things can achieve. Because Plato's world has nous in
a soul, it can act rationally, move itself or remain at rest, without having to be
restrained. The world as a whole remains where it is, not because it is held
"within the limits of great bonds," but because it has everything it needs within
itself, and there is nothing outside that it would want either to pursue or to
flee. Again the world moves within itself because a circular motion is the best
imitation of eternity and the outcome of intellectual contemplation. Parmenides
had not even considered the possibility of circular motion, since it had not
occurred to him that motion might come from an intelligent soul: Parmenides
assumes that any motion would arise mechanically from inequality between
condensed and rarefied matter, and so he thinks he has excluded motion by
proving that the world is a plenum. 1
Plato was quite conscious that, in positing soul as a mediator between nous
and the cosmos, he was improving on his predecessors. He says so in Laws
XII.966d and following. In this passage, referring back to the argument of
Laws X, Plato puts forward, and carefully distinguishes, two different
theological considerations:2
One of them is what we have said about the soul, that it is the eldest and most
divine of all the things whose motion, having taken generation, supports an everflowing existence; and the other is the [consideration] about motion [phora], that it
possesses order [taxis]the motion both of the stars and of all other things which
nous, having ordered the universe [to pan diakekosmks], has mastered.

Next Plato, as usual, attributes the doctrine of nous as diakekosmks of the

heaven to an indefinite group of ancient sages; but he also tells us that these
thinkers did not accept the consequence to which this first doctrine implicitly
committed them, namely, that the heavens are animated by souls. Plato
contrasts the present day (or the dramatic date of the Laws) with an earlier
time, when those who thought about the heavenly bodies thought that they
were without souls (apsucha, 967a78).
But even then wonder about them arose, and there was suspected what has now
indeed been decided: whoever of them attained to precision [wondered] how these
things, if they were without souls, could ever follow such wonderfully precise

calculations, if they had not acquired nous [hops mpot' an apsucha onta houts
eis akribeian thaumastois logismois an echrto, noun m kektmena]. Indeed, some
dared to hazard this conjecture even then, saying that it was nous which had

Page 36
ordered all things within the heaven [hoti nous ei ho diakekosmks path' hosa
kat' ouranon]. But then they fell into error again about the nature of the soul, and
about its being older than bodies: for they thought that it was younger, and so, in a
word, they overturned everything again, and most of all themselve. For they
thought that all the visible things which move in the heaven were full of stones and
earth and many other soulless bodies, and that these furnished the causes of the
whole cosmos. (967a8c5) 4

It is this last conclusion, Plato adds, that led to the attacks of the comic poets,
and to the general prejudice against philosophers from which Socrates had
struggled to extricate himself. Plato says here what he had said in the Phaedo,
that the charges of impiety had some justification against the old philosophers
like Anaxagoras; but nowadays those philosophers who study the heavens
come to the most pious conclusions about the gods. Anaxagoras and other preSocratics who ascribed the ordering of the world to nous or other virtues were
not atheistic in their intentions, and they possessed one of the two
philosophical reasons for believing in gods, namely, the recognition that the
celestial motions are ordered in a way that must proceed from nous. But they
did not recognize the second point, that soul is prior to body and that souls,
rather than bodies themselves, are the primary causes of motion in bodies: by
ascribing causality to inanimate bodies rather than to souls, they "overturned
everything again, and most of all themselves"that is, they undermined their
own doctrine that the world is governed by nous and began to speak and
reason atheistically in practice. Only the more recent philosophers ascribe souls
to the heavenly bodies and make the causality of souls prior to the causality of
bodies: in this way they avoid both the impiety of making the sun a stone
blown about by a vortex and the absurdity (as Plato sees it) of saying that the
heavenly bodies, apsucha onta, have acquired nous and are governed by it in
their motions. Plato does not actually name himself as responsible for this
innovation; but those who philosophize about the heavens nowadays and
attribute their motions to souls cannot be any known pre-Socratic or the
nonphysicist Socrates: they can only be Plato and his students and colleagues
in the Academy.
Although the later Plato finds it important to assert that soul is a cause, not
only in men and beasts but also in the cosmos, the souls of stars or of the
world do not threaten the status of nous as the one first generator and orderer
of the world. There is no confusion between the primary theological claim
about nous and the second and supporting theological claim about soul. The

theology of the Laws is supposed to be general and popular, and Plato tries to
avoid controversies about the status of particular divine principles; but in the
Laws, as in the Timaeus, soul is merely "the eldest of all things that have
received birth" (967d67), a thing in motion (or even itself a motion) that is
"the eldest and most powerful change of all" (895b56).5 Soul is the first motion
that would

Page 37

arise "if all things, having come to be together, could somehow be at rest [ei
stai ps ta panta homou genomena, using Anaxagoras' phrase panta homou],
as most of these people [who deny the soul's priority to body] dare to say"
(895a67). It is thus inferior to nous, which is not generated or moved at all:
soul is simply the thing that is moved first (temporally or logically) when nous
sets the world in order, which can then transmit motion to other things, and
which can also transmit order to them if it is noun proslabousa and not anoi(i)
sungenomen (897b13). Soul thus mediates between strictly eternal intelligible
realities and sensible objects subject to generation and corruption.
Though Plato continues to regard nous as the proper cause of order, he is
willing to say that soul is the primary cause of motion. Soul is "the first cause of
generation and corruption of all things" (891e56); because it is "a motion
which is capable of moving itself" (896a12) as well as of generating other
motions, we need seek no further proof "that the soul is one and the same as
the first generation [genesis] and motion of all things which are or have cometo-be [gegonotn] or will yet be, and also of all the opposites of these, since it
has been discovered to be the cause of all change and motion to all things"
(896a6b1). So the Athenian Stranger suggests; and Cleinias agrees, perhaps
slightly overshooting the mark, that "it has been shown most sufficiently that
soul is the eldest of all things, since it has come to be [genomen ge] the
principle of motion" (896b23).
When Plato declares that soul is the first cause of motion, and the firstborn of
anything that is born at all, he is making these assertions against the phusikoi,
who put one or more of the sensible bodies in the place Plato assigns to soul,
holding "that these things, fire and water and earth and air, are the first of all
things (these things they call nature), and that soul arises afterwards out of
these" (891c24). Against these people, Plato wishes to show "that soul is first,
not fire or air," and that if "nature" means the first generation of things, then
soul rather than these other things is most properly natural (892c25). Although
Plato suggests that his opponents deny the first theological principle that nous
is the orderer of the world, he is at least equally concerned to criticize, not
those who deny the causality of nous outright but those who verbally accept
this first principle and then undermine it in practice by denying the second
principle of the priority of soul to body. The common-denominator philosophers
of the late fifth century, syncretizing Anaxagoras with Heraclitus and other
phusikoi, choose some particular body and declare that this is the possessor of

nous and the cause transmitting motion and order to the rest of the world of
bodies. Plato mentions two bodies, fire and air, as things that might be
thought prior to soul, and indeed these are the most plausible principles: the
author of On Regimen I takes fire as the active principle ordering bodies, 6 and
Diogenes of Apollonia, Plato's most obvious target, chooses air. Plato wishes to
show that only an

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incorporeal soul can properly fill the role these philosophers assign to fire or air:
of mediating the rationalization of the cosmos. 7
It has not been recognized before that Plato is criticizing Diogenes of Apollonia;
this is well worth noting because it helps to show how Plato thought he was
improving on his predecessors, and it throws in sharper relief the relations
between the first theological principle about nous and the second principle
about soul.
The text of the Laws does not prove, by itself, that Plato has Diogenes in mind;
but this is proved by a parallel passage at Timaeus 46c747a1. Plato has been
describing the bodily powers that the demiurge uses as sunaitia for making
things the best he can; Plato then complains that these "are thought by most
people to be not sunaitia but aitia of all things, by cooling and heating and
solidifying and liquefying and whatever else of this kind they do" (46d13). But,
says Plato, we must not consider them to be truly aitia: for
they are not capable of having any logos or nous to any effect [eis ouden]: for that
being to which alone it is proper to acquire nous must be said to be soul, and this is
invisible, while fire and water and earth and air have all come-to-be visible bodies.
But the lover of nous and epistm must first pursue the causes belonging to the
emphrn nature, and [only] secondly those which are moved by other things, and
thus by necessity become movers of others. (46d4e2)

Plato's account of the generation of the cosmos and of man will therefore
assign the dominant role to the first kind of causes, namely souls, "which,
accompanied by nous, are dmiourgoi of good and beautiful things" (46e4);
only when these are understood can we explain the subordinate role played by
bodily causes, aitia more properly called sunaitia or summetaitia, "which,
isolated from phronsis, in a disorderly fashion produce whatever chances at
any given time" (46e56).
I claim that this passage is an imitation of a passage of Diogenes: Plato is
reproducing considerations that Diogenes had adduced to support the positing
of air as the cause, but he transforms the argument, mockingly, to show that
Diogenes' arguments really support not air but soul. I may first note two points
in the text that should rouse suspicion that Plato is arguing not against those
who believe the universe is irrational but against those who believe that it is
rationalized through fire or air. The first is the order in which the elements are
cited: fire-water-earth-air; this is the same order given at Laws 891c2 (cited

previously), but it does not represent a natural progression of the qualities of

the elements. This order puts fire in the emphatic position at the beginning
and air in the even more emphatic, climactic position at the end: at Laws
892c3, Plato sums up the whole list in the words "fire or air," asserting that
soul is prior to

Page 39

these. 8 Plato thus seems to be asserting that even these are not the first:
even fire and air are visible bodies (surely a debatable claim in the case of air)
and so cannot play the role Plato wishes to reserve for soul. The second point
is Plato's emphatic assertion just before the list of elements that none of these
things have logon oudena oude noun eis ouden; he seems to be asserting this
against someone who thinks that they do have logos or nous, namely the
Heracliteans who think the first-mentioned element, fire, has logos, and
Diogenes, who thinks that the last-mentioned element, air, has nous.
These points might suggest that Plato is arguing against Diogenes and the
Heracliteans, outbidding them to find some principle, higher than theirs, to be
the true bearer of nous and logos. But the decisive clue comes from the
unusual word "sunaition" (expanded at 46e6 to "summetaition"), a concurrent
cause or auxiliary, which Plato distinguishes from the true aition. The dictionary
lists no philosophical uses of "sunaition" before Plato (and no uses of
"summetaition" except the present use, and no philosophical uses of
"metaition'' anywhere); the standard earlier use of "sunaition" is to mean an
accomplice in a crime, and apparently everyone assumes that Plato was the
first person to give the word a philosophical sense. This seems plausible, since
even Plato seems not to have the word at Phaedo 99b34, where he is forced to
paraphrase it instead as "that without which the cause could not be a cause."9
But this plausible assumption is false: I will cite an extant pre-Platonic use of
the word in its philosophical sense; I will then argue that this use must derive
from a lost passage of Diogenes of Apollonia and that Plato is imitating this
same passage of Diogenes at Timaeus 46ce.
The extant pre-Platonic use of "sunaition" is in the Hippocratic treatise On
Breaths: this is a Sophistic exercise from the last decades of the fifth century,
which, basing itself (like the treatise On the Sacred Disease) on Diogenes'
hypothesis that air is the principle of things and the source of intelligence and
life, attempts to prove that modifications of air are the causes of all diseases. It
is clear that the treatise borrows heavily from Diogenes, and Diels and Kranz
print almost the whole of chapter 3 of the treatise as a C-fragmenti.e., an
imitationof Diogenes. There the author tells us that what is called "air" and
"breath" and "wind" is "the greatest among all things and the ruler of them
all"; he illustrates its power by reciting the dramatic effects of violent gusts of
wind, by noting that no living thing can remain alive without air, and by
claiming that the changes of the seasons and even the course of the heavenly

bodies are caused by air. Most people do not recognize the power of air,
however, because "it is unmanifest to sight, but manifest to reason" (Jones
2:230). All this is in chapter 3, which Diels and Kranz rightly print as stemming
somehow from Diogenes; but they fail to print the conclusion of the treatise,
chapter 15, which says, "breaths are the most influential [polupragmeousai]

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things in all diseases: the other things are all sunaitia and metaitia, but this
thing I have displayed as the aition of diseases" (Jones 2:252). This hitherto
unnoticed passage 10 is (as far as currently appears) the only extant Greek text
before Timaeus 46ce to use the word "sunaition" in a philosophical sense, as
concurrent cause opposed to true aition; and it uses "metaition" (not found
elsewhere in a philosophical sense) in parallel with "sunaition," as Timaeus
46ce uses "summetaition'' (not found elsewhere in any sense at all). The
relation between On Breaths and Timaeus 46ce is too close for coincidence,
especially when chapter 15 of On Breaths is taken in conjunction with the texts
of chapter 3 cited previously. But it is obvious that the crude and archaic
physics of On Breaths is not influenced by Plato, and it is inconceivable that
Plato should be drawing his account of causality-in-general from a sophistic
description of the causes of diseases; Plato and the Hippocratic writer must
have a common source. We can safely say that this is the source from whom
the Hippocratic writer took his hypothesis that air is the principle of intelligence
and life: Plato and the Hippocratic writer are both following the same passage
of Diogenes of Apollonia.
It seems safe to say that there is a passage of Diogenes that both Plato and
the Hippocratic writer are following; it does not seem safe to try to reconstruct
what this passage said. But we may guess at Diogenes' meaning, without
guessing at his specific words, by putting together the witness of On Breaths
with other things we know Diogenes said; and this will help elucidate how
Plato is trying to improve on Diogenes and the other phusikoi.
Whatever he said in this passage, Diogenes thought something like the
following. Most people think that the visible things that they can see acting on
one another are the principal causes of things. But it is not so: the different
visible things could not act on one another at all unless they proceeded from
some one cause (frag. 2), and they would not act in a regular way unless this
first cause possessed nosis (frag. 3). This cause is what surrounds us all the
time, what men call air; but because it does not present itself to their sight,
they think that it has little power. Reason, however, shows that this is really
the ruling cause: we can infer this, at the cosmic level, from the visible effects
of invisible winds, and from the course of the seasons, which are simply the
effects of different modifications of air; from the fact that the seasons pass into
one another according to uniform periods, we can also infer that their common
principle, air, possesses sufficient nosis to govern the transformations of the

world (frag. 3). That air has this power is also shown by its effects in supplying
life and nosis to animals: people do not ordinarily think that air contains life or
prudence, but we may infer that it does because when it is removed, animals
quickly lose whatever life and intelligence they possessed. One and the same
thing, air, is the governing cause in men and animals and in things universally;

Page 41

does not always produce the same effect because it takes on different forms,
being sometimes hotter and sometimes colder, and so on (frag. 5).
Nonetheless, this one thing, that which possesses nosis and is therefore able
to govern the changes of things, is the true cause of all actions performed in
the world it governs: hot and cold and the other things that differentiate it are
merely sunaitia and metaitia, influencing the ways in which the one cause
realizes its causality in different things. 11
At Timaeus 46ce, Plato is going Diogenes one better. Plato has just given an
account of vision relying on a favorite theme of the Heracliteans and of
Diogenes, namely, the contact of a principle in man (here, fire) with a
conspecific principle in the universe.12 But Plato says that even such principles
as he has described are merely sunaitia, and as the reason for this conclusion
he asserts that they are incapable of possessing nous or logos. Plato says that
"the lover of nous and epistm must first pursue the causes belonging to the
emphrn nature" (46d7e1), and Diogenes would agree; Plato says that the
only being that possesses nous is something invisible, and Diogenes again
agrees. But Plato then asserts that even fire, and even air, are visible bodies,
and therefore cannot possess nous. Since air is not (on the account of vision
Plato himself has just given) a visible body, Plato must mean that it is on the
same level with visible bodies, that it shares their common nature and will be
incapable of possessing nous for the same reasons that they are. It is not
enough to posit air as an invisible cause possessing nous: we must (Plato says)
posit a higher invisible beingnamely, soulas the true cause and possessor of
Why soul rather than air? Plato gives the reason when he says that we must
distinguish the emphrn nature from "those which are moved by other things,
and thus by necessity become movers of others" (46e12). Plato takes it as
obvious that air and the other bodies are moved only by other things, whereas
he thinks he can show that souls move themselves because souls are precisely
the principles of self-motion to ensouled beings. Although Plato does not spell
this out, he is implicitly arguing that things that move only when they are
moved by other things cannot be rational causes because they will move not
when it is best for them but only when circumstances external to them dictate.
At best, an externally moved mover could move according to the rationality
that something else possesses by transmitting a rational pattern of motion from
an initial rational mover; but Plato expects that a vortex full of bodies jostling

each other would rapidly degrade an originally rational motion into a chaotic
motion unless they are governed continuously by something that is not moved
from without. Plato does not infer that every self-moved mover possesses nous
in itself; but souls, because they are self-moved, will be the kind of beings that
could possess nous and so could be the causes bringing order into the visible

Page 42

By invoking such a self-moving principle, Plato can avoid the embarrassment of

Anaxagoras and other pre-Socratics, whose explanations of celestial and other
particular phenomena undermined their assertion that nous orders the
universe. If we imagine, with Anaxagoras, that all things could rest panta
homou, then the first movement to be generated would be the one that moves
itself (Laws 895a6b1), and this, Plato says, is soul. This is not a repudiation of
Anaxagoras' program of explanation, but a way of carrying out the program
without getting caught in irrational mechanical sunaitia: nous will display its
influence not, as Anaxagoras thought, through the vortical motion of bodies,
but through the self-moving motion of soul. This is the primary motion, and it is
the only motion that can be governed directly by nous and can impart to the
heavens their rotation peri noun kai phronsin. If body were older than soul,
then the primary motions of the world would be chaotic and irrational and the
causality of reason would be posterior to the causality of nature and more
limited in scope; nous would be only the titular and not the effective ruler of
the universe. But Plato thinks he can prove the priority of soul by his argument,
in Laws X, that all motion moved by another ultimately derives from a first
motion moved by itself. Diogenes thought that by starting from the
phenomena of life he could isolate the true aition, the ambient air, as the only
possible bearer of life and of reason; Plato, analyzing deeper, will ignore air as
a mere sunaition of life and go to the principle of self-motion that distinguishes
human beings and other z(i)a from inanimate and non-self-moving things,
including air and fire. The true aition of self-motion in humans and animals,
and indirectly also the aition of motion in other things, is soul. Since soul is the
principle of motion in the world, nous can govern the world by influencing the
way soul acts to move itself and other things; it will no longer be obliged, like
the nous of Anaxagoras, to separate bodies out by violent motion, 13 nor, like
the dik of Parmenides, to "fetter" body together, to hold it so tight that it is
unable to move.14

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How Does Nous Cause?
I have argued in the foregoing chapters that the hypotheses of the Timaeus,
Philebus, and other late dialogues should be understood as asserting that the
separate virtue of Reason is the diakekosmks of the physical world. I noted
at the end of chapter 4 that two difficulties seemed to follow from this
ascription: first, it seemed implausible for Plato to suggest that "all the wise"
before him made a virtue rather than a virtuous soul the maker of the universe;
second, it seemed that Plato himself should not make a virtue responsible for
the order of the universe, since a virtue is a form, and since Plato had
hypothesized a diakeosmks of the kosmos precisely to supply the deficiencies
of explanation through forms. Have these difficulties now been resolved?
We have resolved at least the first difficulty. As we saw in chapter 5, several
pre-Socratic thinkers propose distinct but related doctrines, each ascribing the
ordering of the world to some virtue or virtue-like principle, without any
mention of a cosmic soul in which this virtue might have its seat; and although
some pre-Socratics are silent about the ontological status of this virtue, at least
Anaxagoras and Diogenes describe it as a body interpenetrating the grosser
bodies that make up the cosmos and governing the cosmos by regulating the
motions of these other bodies. Obviously Anaxagoras and Diogenes cannot fully
agree with Plato's description of nous because they do not have the concept of
an incorporeal substance; but they are both propounding doctrines that fall
within the range of accounts Plato attributes to "all the wise"that is, accounts
describing how Reason-itself imposes some ordered pattern on the cosmos.
Anaxagoras, Diogenes, and others dogmatically maintain different detailed
accounts of how this has happened. Plato himself does not propound
dogmatically any particular account of how nous imposes order, either an
account received from some past thinker or one newly constructed by Plato
himself; he is interested in examining the whole family of more or less likely
stories (old or newly invented) about the origin of order in the universe
because these stories are hypothetical beginnings for a "science" of sensible
things. Often Plato hypothesizes these physical accounts to draw conclusions
for questions of

Page 44

ethics (as in the Philebus) or of politics (as in the Statesman and in the
projected political dialogues that were to follow the Timaeus); since the ethical
and political conclusions are unlikely to be sensitive to the fine details of the
physical hypothesis, Plato is willing to cite different members of the same
family of physical accounts, selecting and adapting whichever of his
predecessors' doctrines best illustrates the point at hand and going so far as to
construct two different and contradictory eikotes muthoi in the Statesman and
Timaeus. But Plato also investigates members of this family of stories to isolate
the general principles that any such story must presuppose if it is to account
for the degree of intelligible order present in sensible things. Plato's conclusions
are that intelligible order resides primarily not in sensible things but in separate
intelligible substances; that this order must somehow be communicated (with
losses and distortions) from intelligibles to sensibles; and that this order can be
communicated only by some power so connected with the intelligibles that it is
intrinsically rational, and so connected with the sensibles that it can impose
order on them from without. When Anaxagoras and other philosophers claim to
have explained the true origin of order in the universe, their claims (whether or
not they are true) help to reveal the kind of principles that would have to be
involved, and suggest ways these principles might operate. Each philosopher
invokes some virtue or virtue-like principle, called nous or something else, that
controls the whole sensible world and is able to impose order on it; and
Anaxagoras' and Diogenes' descriptions of how this principle orders the world
give Plato paradigms to consider in assessing what are the possible ways, or
what is the most likely or the most fitting way, in which this might be
accomplished. Certainly the accounts of Anaxagoras or Diogenes will not be
fully adequate by Plato's standards because they do not conceive nous as
incorporeal, because they do not describe a realm of nota for this nous to
contemplate, and because they fall back on mechanical and violent means in
explaining how nous is supposed to operate. But even if Anaxagoras represents
nous and its activity in crudely corporealistic terms, at least his account gives
Plato a first approximation to an eiks muthos about the origin of order; Plato's
task, in elaborating his own muthoi or in formulating the principles implicit in
any acceptable muthos, is to eliminate the crudities as far as he can without
losing the explanatory value of Anaxagoras' hypothesis.
This gives some help on our second difficulty. The problem was: if nous is a
separate virtue, and therefore a form, how does Plato suppose that invoking

the causality of nous will help him escape the limitations of accounts that
explain physical phenomena merely by invoking forms as causes? Our
discussion of the pre-Socratics, and of Plato's attitude toward pre-Socratic
accounts of nous, helps to show roughly how he supposed nous might operate
as a cause: it would operate roughly as the pre-Socratics say it does, with
emendations to make its

Page 45

operation less violent and more in accordance with the Good as a goal and the
intelligibles as a model. This sort of causality is quite different from the causal
status that the form of fire (say) has with regard to a sensible exemplification
of fire, and Plato might well hope that explanation through the causality of
nous could achieve what explanation through participation in the form of fire
cannot. Here he is only following Anaxagoras: for Anaxagoras, too, nous had
been a cause in a different way than fire or gold or flesh, and it was supposed
to explain what explanation through the presence of the homoeomeries could
not: nous is not a mere constituent of things but a moving and ordering cause
that (to cite only its cosmogonic function) introduces a rotary motion into the
initially confused mass of the homoeomeries and centrifuges them out into a
more or less ordered arrangement so that there is more earth down here and
more air up there. Socrates in the Phaedo makes no complaint about
Anaxagoras' program of explanation through nous: his complaint is that
Anaxagoras does not carry out this program and explains the characteristics of
things merely through the presence of the homoeomeries without assigning
any cause for their diakosmsis in the different parts of the universe. If we can
carry out Anaxagoras' promise of explaining how nous orders the universe for
the best, this will be better than explanations merely through material or
formal causality: it is of course true that the Earth is called Earth because there
is lots of earth in it, and that it is called a sphere because it participates in the
sphere-itself, but the explanation through nous will also explain why so much
earth has been concentrated in one place and why the form of a sphere has
been imposed on it.
But is nous itself also a form? Since it is a virtue, it seems fair enough to call it
a form; but this terminology is potentially misleading and should be used with
caution. Plato himself does not say "nous is a form"; this is hardly surprising,
since he generally does not make such assertions as "X is an eidos" or "X is an
idea.'' In Plato's own usage, "eidos" and "idea" seem to function not as names
for one definite class of beings as opposed to others but simply as blank labels
for whatever class of beings we are positing in any given passage:
There are in each of us duo tine idea ruling and leading, which we follow wherever
they lead, one an innate desire for pleasures, the other an acquired opinion seeking
after the best. (Phaedrus 237d69)
It would be strange if there should be many senses established in us as in a wooden
horse, and yet all these things should not connect to mia tis idea, whether soul or

whatever it is to be called, by which we sense sensible things through the senses as

instruments. (Theaetetus 184d15)
Perhaps we must posit that the syllable is not the letters but hen ti eidos that has
been generated from them, having mia idea of its own, and other than the letters.
(Theaetetus 203e25)
Taking these things, which were three, he blended them all together into mia idea
[the world-soul]. (Timaeus 35a67)

Page 46
Then we distinguished two eid [the eternal model and the temporal image], but
now we must display another, third, genos [the receptacle] . . . now the argument
seems to compel us to try to express a difficult and obscure eidos [the receptacle] in
words. (Timaeus 48e34, 49a34) 1

We may still legitimately use "form" as a technical term and ask whether Plato
thinks that nous is a form; but since we cannot be asking whether Plato would
be willing to say "nous is an eidos or idea" (even a soul or the receptacle is an
idea in the right context), we must specify more precisely how we intend the
term "form." There are two plausible meanings. If "form" means "incorporeal
substance existing eternally itself by itself,'' then nous is certainly a form. But if
"form" means "formal cause," that which other things receive and participate
in, whose attributes they share and whose name they are called by, then we
must be more cautious about calling nous a form. Nous can be a formal cause
of some things, but Plato invokes it in his physics as an efficient cause, and it is
not a formal cause of the same range of things of which it is an efficient cause.
Here again we may compare Anaxagoras. For Anaxagoras nous is one of the
many homoeomerous substances present in bodies, but what is important
about nous is that it is also a cause in a different way from the other
homoeomeries, that operating from within the few things in which it is present,
it also imparts motion to the many things in which it is not itself present and so
imposes order on the arrangement of the other homoeomeries in the different
parts of the universe. For Plato, too, nous is "present" (incorporeally, by being
participated in) in some few things, namely, some souls and no bodies; but
what is important about nous is that it is also a cause in a different way from
the other forms, that operating from within the souls in which it is present, it
also imparts motion to the bodies in which it is not itself present, and so
imposes order on the pattern in which the different parts of matter (or different
regions of space) participate in the different forms. For Anaxagoras nous is a
material cause of some few things but a corporeal efficient cause of many
more; for Plato nous is a formal cause of some few things but an incorporeal
efficient cause of many more. It is only materialist prejudice to suppose that a
form, in the sense of an eternal incorporeal substance, cannot be also an
efficient cause. Plato is most insistent on describing nous as a cause precisely
in the Philebus (30d10e1), where he is referring back to a classification that
establishes "cause" in the sense of "efficient cause." Plato had said that "the
nature of the poioun differs from the cause in nothing but name, and poioun
and cause would rightly be called one" (Philebus 26e68), then added that their

correlate the poioumenon means the same as gignomenon (27a12), so that

"cause" is the same as "what serves as a cause for coming-to-be" (27a89); he
could hardly be clearer that by "cause" he means aition poitikon, efficient
But there is a natural objection. As we have seen, the nous of the Philebus

Page 47

brings about the ordering of bodies by being present in rational souls that
directly act on the bodies; and this raises a problem about the sense in which
nous is said to be an efficient cause. It looks as if "nous is an efficient cause to
bodies" is really shorthand for "nous is a formal cause to souls and souls are
efficient causes to bodies": this soul acts on bodies in the particular way it does
because it participates in nous and not in anoia, but only the soul, not nous, is
really posited as an efficient cause. If this is right, then there is no bond of
efficient causality between nous and the physical world: bodies would still have
incorporeal efficient causesnamely, soulsbut there would be no connection to
an eternal (timeless and thus unchanging) efficient cause.
This conclusion would be unfortunate for Plato, since it means that he would
face again at a deeper level the old problem of explaining why a given subject
should participate in a given form at a given time. The world of bodies is
arranged as it is because bodies in various different places participate in
various different forms: true but unsatisfactory. These bodies participate in
these forms because powerful and rationally acting souls induce the
appropriate motions in the bodies: better. But why do these souls act
rationally? Because they participate in nous to varying degrees, and the most
powerful soul (the soul of the world) to the highest degree: true but
unsatisfactory. We also need an explanation of why these souls should
participate in nous, and formal causality by itself does not explain this.
In fact, however, Plato understands nous to be a cause to souls in two
different ways: it is a formal cause in which souls can participate, but it is also
as an efficient cause that acts on souls as much as it does on bodies (indeed, it
may act on souls in a stronger sense than it acts on bodies if its action on
bodies is mediated by its action on souls). In the first place, it is easy to see
that the Timaeus describes the demiurge as an efficient cause both of bodies
and of souls, and indeed, that it describes his causality in very similar terms in
the two cases. This does not entirely settle the question of how Plato
understands nous' causality on souls, since it might be thought that the
descriptions of nous' efficient causality on souls are due to the mythical and
imperfect character of Timaeus' speech and that a more precise account would
reduce nous to a merely formal cause of rationality in souls. But we will see
that although in a more precise account Plato would have to modify some of
Timaeus' descriptions of the causality of nous, he need not, and should not,
modify the fundamental claim that nous is (besides being a formal cause to

souls) an efficient cause both to souls and to bodies.

The Timaeus represents the demiurge as being an efficient cause of the worldbody and of the world-soul, first by composing these things out of preexisting
elements (and by composing body and soul together into an animate whole),
and then by "harmonizing" the body or the soul, imposing what are described

Page 48

numerical proportions on their constituents, to preserve them against internal

discord. The descriptions are closely parallel, using the same verbs for the
demiurge's activity on body and on soul. The demiurge first tries to "compose
[sunistanai] the body of the universe out of fire and earth" (31b67), then
decides to add air and water; very similarly he "composed [sunestsato]" the
world-soul (35a1) out of "sameness," "difference,'' and "existence"each of
which he has composed (sunestsen, 35a5) out of an indivisible and a divisible
variety. In each case the god preserves what he has composed and keeps it in
the best possible state by "fitting together" (sunarmottein) the different
constituents according to harmony and numerical proportion, in each case
overcoming the resistance of the naturally contrary constituents. So in the case
of the world-body, he produces internal stability and philia by fitting in air and
water as geometric means between fire and earth, with the same whole
number ratio between the measures (whatever these are supposed to be) of
each two successive terms (31b832c4, sunarmottein at 32b3); very similarly,
after fitting together (sunarmottn, 35a8) the resistant "nature of the
different" into the world-soul, he establishes harmony in the soul by dividing it
into portions in the geometric progressions 1248 and 13927 and then also
interpolating arithmetic and harmonic means between the terms of these series
(35b136b5). The god makes the world's body a sphere, since this is "the most
perfect of all figures and the most similar to itself" (33b6), and he "assigns to it
the motion appropriate to its body," namely, uniform circular motion around its
own center, which is the motion "most according to nous and phronsis"
(34a12); he makes the world-soul also in the shape of a sphere concentric with
and containing the world-body (34b34, 36d8e5), and he makes the portions
into which he divides this soul in the shape of circles moving in the uniform
circular motions of the "same" and the "different" (36b6d7). In all of these
actions, the demiurge of the Timaeus is doing just what the nous of the
Philebus is supposed to do, namely mixing limit with the unlimited, resolving
the conflict of contraries, imposing limit and proportion in the most rational way
the substrate will allow. The action of nous on body and the action of nous on
soul are described in the same terms: nous is an efficient cause operating on
body to produce an ordered whole out of disorder and to preserve it from
relapsing into disorder, and by parallel reasoning, nous must be an efficient
cause operating on soul to the same effect.
Is it then Plato's considered opinion that, as these passages of the Timaeus

imply, nous is an efficient cause both to bodies and to souls; or does he think,
when he is not speaking in mythical terms, that nous is a poioun only by being
a formal cause to souls, which are efficient causes to bodies?
Certainly Timaeus' speech is a muthos, presented not as Plato's doxa but as a
hypothesis to be entertained provisionally until something better appears; the

Page 49

dialogue itself shows that Plato is making no stronger claim. Timaeus is

presenting a hypothetical account of how nous may have imposed order on the
world; this account is supposed to be more likely or more fitting than the
accounts of Anaxagoras and other pre-Socratics (and Hesiod), because it
represents the divine mover and orderer as acting for the best in his works,
and as achieving these works by persuasion rather than by violence. But
Timaeus cautions his hearers, once before he begins his speech and then at
several points within it, that his account will be only likely and not certain:
If we should be unable to give logoi [saying] many things about many things, the
gods and the generation of the universe, which [sc. the logoi] have been rendered
precise and entirely consistent with themselves on everything, you should not
wonder; but if we provide [logoi] which are as likely as any, you must be pleased,
remembering that I the speaker and you the judges are of [mere] human stock, so
that it behooves us to accept the likely muthos about these things and to seek no
more than this. (29c4d3)

Timaeus is not simply saying that all human accounts are inadequate from the
divine standpoint, and he is not (as he might be) asking his hearers to remain
content with his particular likely story and to seek no further: he is telling them
that they cannot expect anything more than a likely story, but there is no
guarantee that any given likely story is the most likely story we can discover,
and Timaeus reminds us later in the dialogue that his account is provisional,
that it may not be the best even of those within the range of human ability.
Timaeus is especially hesitant about his choice of different polygonal and
polyhedral figures to correspond to the different kinds of bodies (53d47,
54a4b2, 55a756a6, 57d36, 59c5d3). Thus he says that we must choose some
one determinate figure (or perhaps several) out of the infinite variety of
scalene right triangles, to use alongside the isosceles right triangle in
constructing the bodies of earth, air, water and fire, and that we should choose
the "best" or "most beautiful" (kalliston) of such triangles (54a23). He chooses
the 306090 triangle, but without pretending to establish that this is necessarily
the right choice:
If anyone is able to speak, having chosen better [kallion] for the construction of
these [bodies], he will conquer not as an enemy but as a friend; passing the others
by, we posit out of all the triangles one best [kalliston], out of which the equilateral
triangle is formed in the third generation [ek tritou]. Why [we should posit this one]
would be a longer argument, but to anyone who puts this to the test and discovers
that it is not so [elenxanti kai aneuronti m houts echon], we yield the prize in

friendship. (54a4b2) 2

Timaeus is thus allowing that someone else may surpass his account as he has

Page 50

surpassed those of Anaxagoras and the others; and it is quite proper for him to
make this allowance. Timaeus has surpassed the pre-Socratic accounts
because his world-ordering divinity acts "for the best" more consistently than
theirs and achieves his works with more persuasion and less violence; but he
still falls short of the ideal of acting always for the best, and always by
persuasion and never by violence. When Timaeus invokes particular
geometrical figures or particular arithmetic ratios, he does not prove that these
are the best but merely assumes that proportion in general is good and
suggests one plausible way in which proportion might be realized; and there is
no suggestion that the original imposition of these figures and ratios on a
chaotic matter would be achieved without violence. The not-yet-achieved ideal
account of the generation of the universe would expand the range of situations
in which nous is shown acting for the best, up to the limit that the
disorderliness of the receptacle necessarily imposes on all teleological
explanations; and the ideal account would diminish, and perhaps eliminate, the
range of situations where nous must accomplish its work by violence. These
improvements would certainly produce many changes in the details of the
account; the question is whether they would also change the basic relations
between nous, soul, and body as Timaeus depicts them, and in particular
whether in the ideal account nous would cease to be properly an efficient
The criterion of nonviolence does imply that the causal relations between nous,
soul, and body cannot be the same on the ideal account as they are in the
speech of Timaeus. In the first place, it seems that nous can act on bodies
without violence only if its action is mediated by soul, and Plato seems to
commit himself to accounting for the rationalization of bodies purely through
the presence of a soul that participates in nous, moves itself in a rational way,
and so imparts rational movement to bodies. But Timaeus' speech falls short of
this ideal. Certainly the presence of a rational soul is used to explain some
physical phenomena, especially the motions of the heavenly bodies, which are
for Plato the prime instance of orderliness in nature, but other phenomena
supposedly exemplifying rationality are not explained through soul: the
demiurge is not said to use soul as an instrument in the initial formation of the
bodily world, the initial imposition of proportion on it, or the initial imposition of
geometrical figures on the bodily elements, all works that (it seems) Plato
tacitly concedes to be violent; nor is it clear how having a uniformly self-moving

instrument could help the demiurge carry out any of these tasks. Thus, it
seems that a perfectly nonviolent account would differ from the account of the
Timaeus by channeling nous' action on bodies through the action of soul, and
that to do this it might have to make the world pre-eternal, eliminating the
need for a violent first formation. This seems to be a step toward denying that
nous is strictly an efficient cause; and we can also take one further step in this

Page 51

To make the Timaeus nonviolent, it is not enough to eliminate violence from

nous' action on bodies, since the Timaeus also represents nous as acting
violently on souls, especially in the initial formation of the world-soul: indeed,
apparently the only passage where Timaeus explicitly says that the demiurge
does something violently occurs in his description of the formation of soul. Here
the god, having prepared three mixtures representing being, sameness, and
difference, "blended them all together into one entity, forcibly fitting
[sunarmottn bi(i)] the nature of the different, which was resistant to mixing
[dusmeikton], in with the nature of the same" (35a78). Souls, unlike bodies,
can under some circumstances submit to the direct action of nous without
violence, but this is not always possible, and in particular it will not be possible
if the soul is not yet formed and must be constituted out of heterogeneous
components, or if the soul exists in a chaotic condition and order must be
imposed on it from without. Thus the ideal nonviolent account of the origin of
order in the world must describe bodies as receiving their rational ordering
from souls rather than directly from nous, and must also describe souls as
receiving their rationality from nous by nonviolent persuasion; and perhaps this
will require that both the world of bodies as well as all souls (the world-soul
and each of the others) be pre-eternal, eliminating the need for a violent first
On such a nonviolent account of the origin of order (if one is possible), nous
would not be as obviously an efficient cause as it is in the Timaeus. But it
would still be an efficient cause: we may eliminate some or all of the violence
by demythologization, but this affects only the manner in which nous acts on
other things and not the basic fact that it does act on them. 3 The speech of
Timaeus, positing a chaotic first condition of the universe and then showing
how nous might impose order on the chaos, indicates a fact about the world
that is not abolished even if we suppose that the world as an ordered system is
pre-eternal: the world could be lacking any or all of the features of order that
the Timaeus indicates, even if it never actually was disorderly, and there must
be something that originally (perhaps from eternity) brings it about that the
world is not disorderly and preserves it from relapsing into disorder. The formal
and material causes are insufficient to necessitate that the right form is
actually imposed on the right matter, and this is why we must posit nous as an
efficient cause; perhaps on a cleaned-up version of Timaeus' account, nous'
efficient causality on bodies will all be channeled through souls, but there is

nothing else through which nous' efficient causality on souls can be channeled,
and it will have to act on them directly. Timaeus obviously pictures nous as
acting on souls, since he pictures it as sometimes acting violently; and
eliminating the violence will not turn an efficient cause into a merely formal
There is opportunity for confusion here, since nous is also a formal cause to
souls, insofar as they are noun echousai. But formal causality is not sufficient

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here any more than it is anywhere else: if nous can succeed in imposing itself
on a soulthat is, in making a soul participate in itthis is because it is not merely
a formal but also an efficient cause. Furthermore, the action of nous on souls
does not consist merely in making them participate in nous but in bringing
them into order more generally, in analogy with the action of nous on bodies.
We can see this by noting what the demiurge of the Timaeus does in imposing
order on the world-soul. After he has constituted the world-soul out of a
mixture of simpler components and divided it into harmonic proportions, he
then orders its connate motions: the motion of the Same and the motion of the
Different; having stretched out the world-soul in the form of an X, and bent the
lines of the X back into circles, he
encompassed them in the motion which is carried around in the same way and in
the same place [i. e., uniform rotary motion], and he made one circle to be outside
and the other inside; and he ordained that the outer motion should belong to the
nature of the Same, and the inner motion to the nature of the Different. He carried
the motion of the Same around sideways toward the right, and the motion of the
Different diagonally toward the left, and he gave dominance [kratos] to the rotation
of the Same and the alike, for he left it one and undivided; but he divided the inner
rotation in six places into seven circles which were unequal according to the three
1:2 intervals and the three 1:3 intervals [i. e., in the ratios 1:2:3:4:9:8:27], and he
ordered the circles to go oppositely to one another, three moving at the same
speed, four at speeds different from each other and from the three, but in
proportion. (36c2d7) 4

Here the demiurge is not simply giving the soul some one good thing, such as
the motion of the Same; he is giving it a good ordering of several different
motions, both by establishing the appropriate numerical proportions and by
giving the motion of the Same "dominance" over the motion of the Different.
Plato makes it clear further down that the circle of the Same is concerned with
intelligibles, and that by its motion "nous and epistm are necessarily brought
about" (37c23), while the circle of the Different is concerned with sensibles
and yields doxa, which will be true when the circle is moving in the appropriate
uniform way. So the demiurge in ordering the soul is not just giving it nous but
also giving it the subrational perfection of true doxa about the sensibles and
keeping the subrational motions of soul in subjection to the rational motion.
Plato might not insist that nous does to souls precisely what the demiurge does
to the world-soul in the Timaeus, but he is serious in insisting that nous must
be the efficient cause of an ordering of different things in the soul, that it

cannot simply make the soul participate in nous, much less wait passively for
the soul to participate.
It is easy enough to see why Timaeus insists that the demiurge gives souls an
ordered hierarchy of motions. If he did not, then the soul's irrational motions

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would prevent it from participating in nous. This becomes clear from the
Timaeus' account of human souls: when the demiurge first forms these souls
they are rational much as the world-soul is rational, but when they descend
into mortal bodies, and are assailed from all sides by the disorderly rectilinear
motions of which the world-soul is free, then "they neither dominate nor are
dominated, but carry and are carried by violence" (43a67). The external
shaking the circuits of the soul, entirely obstructed the circuit of the Same by flowing
contrary to it, and they stopped it from ruling and from going; and they shook up
the circuit of the Different, so that the three 1:2 and the three 1:3 intervals and the
means and bonds of 2:3 and 3:4 and 8:9, although they cannot be entirely dissolved
except by him who bound them, were turned in all [possible] turnings, and so that
they [the external motions] broke and corrupted the circles in however many places
it was possible, so that [the circles] barely held together, and were carried [or
moved], but irrationally [alogs], sometimes backwards, sometimes obliquely,
sometimes upside down. (43d1e4)

This indicates that nous (which, being simple, can be present or absent but
cannot be distorted) must be entirely absent from a soul in such a condition
and that the subrational activity of the soul becomes distorted so that its doxa
is false and so that it cannot support the presence of nous. The demiurge does
not respond to this violent disruption of his work by simply reimposing the
motion of nous on the soul and overriding the contrary motions, since this
would be answering the violence of matter with an equal violence. Instead (as
we would expect from what Plato says elsewhere about education) the human
soul is restored to rationality by a peaceful process, beginning with the right
habituation of the subrational motions: first, the violence of the movements
from without must be diminished, so that "taking advantage of the calm, the
circuits again go in their own path and are better established as time goes on,
and the revolutions are corrected toward the figure in which each of the circles
naturally go" (44b26). We can then be completely restored to rationality by a
process of education, through the ears perceiving "harmony, which has
motions akin to the circuits of the soul within us . . . for the ordering and
concord of the circuit of soul which has become unharmonized within us"
(47d26), and through the eyes perceiving the heavenly bodies "so that, seeing
the circuits of nous in the heavens, we might use them for the circuits of our
own dianosis, which are akin to them as the disturbed to the undisturbed, so
that by learning them and coming to share in rightness of reasoning according

to nature, and imitating the entirely unwandering motions of the god, we

might stabilize the wandering motions within ourselves" (47b6c4). When nousitself brings order into the soul's rational and subrational motions, it does so
not only as a formal but as an

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efficient cause: sometimes it may be a remote efficient cause making use of

intermediary causes, as when it orders a human soul by displaying to it the
motions of the heavenly bodies, which it has ordered and rationalized already;
but at least in some cases, at least in the case of the world-soul (and, it seems,
in the initial rationalization of human souls), nous must be the immediate
efficient cause of the rationality of motion and of the harmonization of the
subrational motions and their subjection to the rational motion.
To understand how Plato thinks that a separate eternal substance can be the
cause of motions in souls, it helps to compare the Timaeus with other texts
where Plato considers similar ideas in myth-free contexts. The Sophist, in a
purely dialectical discussion, strongly suggests that forms themselves may be
efficient causes, not of the things of which they are formal causes but of
events in souls, and in particular of the souls' knowledge of the forms. The
giants had been made to agree that something is real if and only if it has a
power either of poiein or of paschein, and they had been forced to
acknowledge that some incorporeal things, namely the virtues, are real by this
standard. Plato then turns to the friends of the forms, who distinguish between
realms of being and of becoming, and who maintain that "we are in
communication [koinnein] with becoming by the body through sensation, and
with real being by the soul through reasoning" (248a1011). The Eleatic
Stranger proposes to the friends of the forms the same criterion for reality that
he had proposed to the giants, starting from the question of what
"communication" consists in: is it not "a pathma or poima generated out of
some power from two things coming together?" (248b56). The friends of the
forms apparently accept something like the theory of sensation ascribed in the
Theaetetus to Heraclitus and Protagoras (accepting it not as a theory of
knowledge but only as a theory of sensation), and they are willing to accept
the description of sensation as involving a poiein and a paschein, but they have
difficulties with an analogous description for intellection: ''They say that some
power of poiein and paschein is present in becoming, but that power for either
of these does not fit with being" (248c79). But, as the Eleatic Stranger says,
this response poses a problem: since the soul knows and the forms are known,
what are knowing and being known if not kinds of poiein and paschein? "What
then? Do you say that knowing or being-known is a poima or a pathos or
both? Or is one a pathma and the other the opposite? Or does neither partake
of either of these at all?" (248d47). Theaetetus answers that the friends of the

forms could not accept any of these identifications (so that they will be in
aporia about what knowledge could be), but the Stranger agrees only in part:
This one at least [they cannot consistently accept]: if knowing is poiein something,
then what is known must undergo paschein; but according to this account [sc. that

Page 55
knowing is poiein], when being is known by knowledge, then inasmuch as it is
known it is moved on account of its paschein; but we say that this cannot happen to
what is at rest [sc. as real being is, according to the friends of the forms].

But the Stranger does not try to refute the other option, that (although
grammatically "to know" is an active verb and "to be known" is passive)
knowing is a paschein and being known is a poiein. Instead he goes on to
argue (in a passage we have already considered) that if intellection is to occur,
motion must exist somewhere in the totality of real beings: the motion is not in
the object of intellection, for the Stranger insists that nothing can have nous of
any object unless that object is at rest; rather, there must be motion in what
has nousthat is, in the knowing soul. Plato's implicit conclusion is that the
nota cannot undergo paschein but can exercise poiein and that the soul, in
knowing, paschei under the influence of the intelligible objects. 5 Here
apparently the nota act directly on soul to produce knowledge of themselves;
and after all, this description is naturally suggested by metaphors of the soul's
"vision of" or "contact with" the forms. But we might also, with Aristotle in De
Anima III.5, describe (not the nota but) nous-itself as acting on soul to
actualize the soul's capacity for nosis. And as Plato himself had pointed out in
Republic VI, the analogy with vision suggests that something besides the nota
may be a cause of intellectual perception: "The sense of seeing and the power
of being seen are yoked together'' by light, and by some source of light, or no
act of seeing results (Republic 507e6508a2). The sun is the "cause" of sight
(508b9), and sunlight "makes" (poiei, 508a5) sight see and the visibles be
seen: if the Good is the analogue of the sun for intellectual perception, then
the Good must be a cause of nosis, and it seems that it must be an efficient
I have no particular theory to propose of the causalities of nous, of the nota,
and of the Good in intellectual perception: how these causalities were to be
understood, and how they function together, were difficult and controversial
questions for ancient Platonists. My point here is simply that Plato, in nonmythical contexts, is willing to admit that forms can be efficient causes
(although not of the same range of things of which they are formal causes)
and that there is no reason he should not be willing to admit this. The main
reason for reluctance to admit forms as efficient causes comes from an unduly
restrictive view of what efficient causality must consist in. It might be thought

that the nous of the Philebus and Timaeus should not itself bring about the
harmonizations of bodies and souls, and that the nota of the Sophist should
not themselves bring about the souls' perceptions of them, because this would
amount to a mythological "intervention" of eternal substances within the world
of change. But the reason such "intervention" is objectionable is that it makes
eternal things subject to change by ascribing to them arbitrary inclinations to
exercise their

Page 56

causality at some places and times rather than others. However, we can
consider eternal things as efficient causes without ascribing to them
"intervention" in this sense: each eternal thing always retains the same causal
inclinations toward changeable things, but changeable things are at different
times better or worse disposed to receive this causality, or disposed to receive
it in different ways. This is the conclusion suggested by the Republic's analogy
of the sun: our eyes perceive the sun not whenever the sun is shining but
when the sun is shining and our eyes are appropriately disposed to receive its
light (we must be above ground, our heads must be turned toward the sun,
and our eyes must be healthy and strong). In fact, the sun is always shining
(the sun is not turned off at night, the earth is merely interposed as an
obstacle between us and it, and this is equally true whether it is the earth or
the sun that moves): the sun does not "intervene," it does not bestow "grace"
on specially favored eyes, but it is nonetheless genuinely an active or efficient
cause of vision.
The Timaeus seems to go out of its way to emphasize that the demiurge's
causality, and especially his causality on rational souls, is in this way both
efficient and constant, varying only according to the receptivity of the patient.
The demiurge himself asserts that whatever he directly produces will endure
forever, since, although he could dissolve his compositions if he wished, "it
would be [the act] of an evil being to wish to dissolve what has been well put
together and is in a good condition" (41b12): so, he assures the celestial gods,
"you have received in my will a greater and more powerful bond than the
bonds with which you were bound together when you came-to-be" (41b46).
And indeed the stars, and the circles of the world-soul, remain forever
undisturbed as the demiurge has made them; but the circles of the human
soul, which are likewise the demiurge's direct products (though the astral gods
"interweave" these with the mortal bodies and the irrational parts of the
human soul), become blocked or distorted, not because the maker's will has
changed, but because the irrational motions which overwhelm the soul make it
incapable of receiving undistorted the causality of nous. As we have seen, the
circuits of the same and the different are not entirely destroyed (since ''they
cannot be entirely dissolved except by him who bound them," 43d67), and the
causality of nous is able to reassert itself, assisted by the motions of the
heavenly bodies, when the disturbances subside.
It might be objected that nous-itself is not an efficient cause in the soul's

recovery of rationality, except to the extent that nous governs the motions of
the heavenly bodies, which are instruments in re-rationalizing the human soul:
rather, it is simply the nature of the human soul to participate in nous, and the
soul itself (perhaps accompanied by external bodily instruments) is a sufficient
efficient cause in its own recovery of rationality. This is suggested by the
language in which Plato describes the soul-circles' return to regular motion:

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"The circuits, taking up the calm, go again in their own paths" and their
revolutions return "to the shape each circle has when it goes naturally [to kata
phusin iontn schma hekastn tn kukln]" (Timaeus 44b25). This text does
not seem determinate enough to infer that Plato ascribes to the soul a (quasiAristotelian) "nature'' that will produce its characteristic natural motion unless
obstructed. But even if Plato does think this, this does not mean the demiurge
has ceased to act: the demiurge (whose unwavering will "binds" his works) is a
constantly acting cause, not an acting-and-then-resting cause, and any
revision of the Timaeus that represents nous' causality in less temporal terms
will only strengthen this point. But even if the demiurge did only act once, in
producing the soul's rational "nature" in the beginning, he would still be an
efficient cause of the soul's return to rationality: as Aristotle says, when a
heavy body falls in accordance with nature, the per se efficient cause of its
motion is what originally made it a heavy body, and the per accidens efficient
cause is what removes the obstacle that had stopped it from falling before. 6 If
we say that, for Plato, the soul is essentially rational, we mean not that it
necessarily participates in nous but only that it participates in nous unless
obstructed; and nous, besides being a form in which souls participate, is also
the efficient cause that gives them their tendency to participate in nous. Since
nous also acts, by means of heavenly souls, to produce the regular motions of
the heavenly bodies, it is also an efficient cause as helping to remove the
obstacles to our souls' participating in nous.
How then, in the end, is this one special form, nous, able to resolve the aporiai
of explanation through forms by acting on souls and bodies to make them
participate in nous and in the other forms? We can gain perspective on this
question by comparing the causality of nous with the causality of the form of
fire and seeing why the objections against explanation through the form of fire
do not succeed against explanation through nous. The problem with the forms
of fire, water, air, and so on, was that these separate substances contain no
reference to their instantiation in any particular place at any particular time;
unless we refer to something other than the form of fire, we cannot determine
how many instantiations of fire there will be at any given time, how these many
fires will be spatially arranged in relation to each other or to the instantiations
of other forms, or how perfectly or imperfectly each of them will imitate the
form of fire. Nous, however, is different from the form of fire, in that it is
essentially a cause of order. If there are many uncoordinated fires participating

to varying degrees in the form of fire, this does not subvert the causality of the
form of fire, but if there were many uncoordinated orders displaying to varying
degrees the ordering effects of nous, this would subvert and nullify the
causality of nous. It is essential to nous that it should be primarily the
diakekosmks of the whole kosmos, of to pan, and that it should produce
order within the particular things

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inside the world only so far as their internal ordering is a part of, and serves
the end of, the best ordering of the world as a whole. Nous is thus essentially a
cause of an individual sensible being (namely, the world) and not merely of a
universal family of sensible beings (although it is also this). Nous' essential
connection with this individual, the world, allows it to retain quality control over
the product, whereas the form of fire cannot retain quality control over all the
different things which fall more or less into the family of fires. If at least some
fire (say the fire of the stars) is pretty good fire and not too badly
contaminated with other types of body, the explanation can only be that nous
imposed the form of fire in that degree on those parts of matter or of space;
whatever means nous uses to impose the form on the matter with a minimum
of violence, its end can only be to produce the degree of fire in this position
that serves the best ordering of the world as a whole.
This is why the Timaeus emphasizes the uniqueness, and the necessary
uniqueness, of the world: this is a necessary consequence of the causality of
nous. After the demiurge has determined that the world should be something
alive and intelligent, and made in the likeness of some eternal model, he
considers which model he should make it after, for it to be the best; since it is
the nature of nous to consider the good of the whole, and thus its
completeness, the demiurge makes the world in the likeness of that intelligible
living thing that "contains and embraces within itself all the intelligible living
things" (30c78). So "the god, desiring to liken it to the most beautiful and
entirely complete of the intelligible living things, established it as one visible
living thing containing within itself all such living things as are naturally akin to
it [i. e., are sensible rather than intelligible]" (30d131a1); this means that the
physical world imitates its intelligible model in being complete after its kind,
and thus in being the only one of its kind. Of course, every intelligible form is
the only one of its kind, and usually this quality of uniqueness is not
communicated to the sensible things that the demiurge produces in the
likeness of the form. But the case of the world is different, not just because its
intelligible model is a complete totality but because in this case the demiurge
aims at imitating this quality of completeness and uniqueness: he is trying to
make this individual product, the world, as perfect and complete and similar to
its model as possible, because in this case he evaluates the goodness of the
individual product as a whole in itself and not as a part of some larger whole.
Plato thinks that because the world is necessarily (through the causality of

nous) the unique individual in its species, the causality of nous can bridge the
gap between universals and individuals, the gap that makes incomplete any
explanation through formal causes alone. The form of fire cannot determine
that all fire should be as perfect as possible or that the totality of sensible fire
should display any particular arrangement; but nous, taking the appropriate
intelligible totality as its model, can determine that the

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unique sensible world should be as perfect as matter allows, and that the
different uniquely specifiable parts of this unique world should be ordered
according to a particular plan; the soul of this world is also unique in its kind,
and nous can impose order on it and use it as an instrument to order the rest
of the world, whether or not the world-soul is nous' only immediate instrument.
The unique world-body and the unique world-soul, both special objects of
nous' action, are essential to the transmission of order from the intelligible to
the sensible realm: they are not accidental features of the Timaeus but would
necessarily be preserved in any less mythical account of the ordering of the
world. 7

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Thus far I have been inquiring into the features of an "ideal" account of the
origin of order in the universei.e., of an account that would be better than the
Timaeus by the standards of the Timaeus itself, in the same way that the
Timaeus is better than Anaxagoras and other pre-Socratics. My main intention
has been to show how similar to the Timaeus such an account would remain
on the fundamental question of the causal status of nous. But I would like to
reflect in conclusion on the consequences of the attempt to work out such an
ideal account.
It seems to me that much of post-Platonic natural philosophy can be seen as
attempting to provide this ideal account. This project could be undertaken in
different spirits. A philosopher might present himself as criticizing Plato in the
same way that Plato criticizes Anaxagoras; but he might also claim to be
interpreting Plato, to be explaining the inner meaning behind the mythology of
the Timaeus. In reality, there is no reason to believe either that Plato was
committed to the details of the Timaeus or that he had worked out any
superior myth-free physics. The myth of the Timaeus is an imperfect provisional
hypothesis, and it performs its function well if it stimulates the construction of
superior hypotheses.
Starting from the Timaeus, it would be natural to develop roughly the following
set of principles for an ideal cosmology. The ultimate source of order in the
bodily world is a being outside this world, best described as nous-itself. Nous is
the ultimate poioun of the world, but it acts immediately only on souls, perhaps
only on the world-soul, perhaps on other souls as well; through the mediation
of a soul or souls, it acts on other things and orders them. The world-soul is
immediately responsible for bodily motion only in the heavens (the only place
Timaeus explicitly cites it as acting), so that it might be called the soul of the
heaven rather than of the world; the world-soul orders things in the interior of
the heaven not by acting on them directly but by producing uniform motions in
the heavenly bodies, which in turn act on the corruptible bodies (and thus on
the souls inhabiting them) so as to produce down here an imperfect imitation

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the order prevailing in the heavens. Nous' action on things must be eternal
because any transition to activity on the part of nous and order on the part of
the world from a prior period of inactivity and disorder could only be violent.
Nous eternally acts on the world-soul by making its thoughts rational, rationally
ordered, and eternally constant: because the world-soul's cognitive activity (or
"motion," as it may be called by analogy with bodily motion) is constant, it also
produces an eternally constant motion in the heavenly bodies, of which it is the
immediate moving cause. Because nous acts to preserve a constant motion in
the world-soul and thus in the heavenly bodies, it can be called the mover of
the soul or of the bodies, but not in the same way that the soul is the mover of
itself and of the bodies: nous is the regulator of motion or the source of the
eternal constancy of the motion rather than the source of motion as such.
Perhaps, in addition to influencing corruptible things by way of the heavens,
nous also acts immediately on other souls as it acts on the world-soul: once the
celestial influences have done their work to harmonize the subrational activities
of a human soul and to make it receptive of nous, nous-itself may impose itself
without violence on the psychic "nous"that is, on the part of the soul receptive
of rationalitybeing not only a formal and a remote efficient cause of rationality
but also an immediate efficient cause of the soul's contemplation of intelligible
reality. Nous' immediate action on a soul (celestial or terrestrial) will consist in
persuading the soul, in displaying the intelligibles or nous-itself to the soul as a
model that the soul will desire to imitate in its own activities or motions.
The speech of Timaeus does not state all these doctrines, and indeed it
contradicts some of them, but it sets standards (which it only partially meets)
of explanation through nous, which suggest that this set of doctrines or
something like it must be incorporated in any ultimately acceptable account of
the origin of order in the universe. If Aristotle holds all of these doctrines, this
is not simply the result of bias in my exposition of Plato, but neither does it
show that Plato and Aristotle are in harmony, that the Timaeus allegorically
contains all these Aristotelian doctrines. It simply shows that Aristotle (like
every other Old Academic), formulated his cosmological and theological
doctrines by way of response to the Timaeus, attempting to replace Plato's
mythical account with an account that would be recognized as superior by
Plato's own standards, the only standards by which he could expect his Old
Academic audience to judge him. Xenocrates, in the same situation, seems to
have formulated a very similar cosmo-theology, although his remains are too

scanty for us to be sure of many of the details. Xenocrates apparently chose to

read the Timaeus "charitably" at every opportunity, while Aristotle always
chose to read it "uncharitably," but both options are equally arbitrary and may
have been chosen for external reasons. Simplicius, in his commentary on the
De Caelo, found it convenient to turn Aristotle around and read Aristotle so
"charitably" that Aristotle turned

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out to have been reading the Timaeus "charitably" himself and to be

presenting his own doctrines as the inner meaning of the Timaeus. An honest
modern scholar has neither Simplicius' interest in making Plato and Aristotle
agree nor Aristotle's interest in making Plato and Aristotle disagree; but he can
note the ways in which the Timaeus, by what it says and by what it fails to say,
gave Aristotle the starting point for his own account of God as nous, of souls,
and of the ordering of the world of bodies. 1
It seems to me that these reflections give the best point of departure for
understanding Aristotle's cosmology and theology and also for understanding
much of middle- and neo-Platonism. Writers from Albinus through Proclus and
Simplicius, in trying to harmonize Plato and Aristotle on a narrower or broader
range of questions, are trying in part to show that the Timaeus, properly
interpreted, meets the standards of a scientific physics. The Timaeus does not,
in truth, meet the standards of a scientific physics. But much of later Greek
physics and theology is a development of ideas the Timaeus set in motionand,
above all, of the idea of nous as a self-subsistent virtue, the cause of order to
souls and bodies. This later history is a subject for further work.


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1. I continue the investigation of the Greek theology of nous in a partial sequel
to the present study, "Aristotle and Plato on God as Nous and as the Good,"
Review of Metaphysics 45 (March 1992). I treat later parts of the story, from
different perspectives, in "Descartes and Some Predecessors on the Divine
Conservation of Motion," Synthese 83 (May 1990), where the predecessors
include neo-Platonic harmonizers of the Platonic and Aristotelian doctrines of
nous as a cause of celestial motion; and in Descartes and Augustine
(Cambridge, forthcoming), emphasizing Plotinus' doctrine of nous as the
starting point for Augustine's (and thus for Descartes') understanding of God.
2. In this paragraph and the next, page references are to Hermann Diels,
Doxographi Graeci (Berlin, 1879). The texts of pseudo-Plutarch and Stobaeus
(which Diels arranges in parallel columns) are often verbally identical or almost
identical, but sometimes one includes information that is not in the other. Diels
identified the common source as Aetius (Diels, pp. 4569), but nothing here
depends on this identification.
1. Platonic Hypotheses of Nous
1. The Phaedo seems to distinguish between the adjective aitios (responsible
for), with its neuter aition (cause), and the abstract noun aitia. I will
sometimes translate the latter as "explanation" when "cause" is impossible, but
we must beware of importing modern theories of explanation: "explanation"
must be interpreted as "assigning a cause,'' while "cause" is a primitive.
2. This passage is usually misinterpreted: of all the modern translators and
commentators I have checked (about two dozen), only Schleiermacher and
Jowett get it right. The passage is felt to be difficult, and at least three other
interpretations have been tried. Most often (as by Burnet and Hackforth),
epaitimenon is taken with t(i) n(i) in close parallel with chrmenon, so that
it would mean "ascribing causality to nous"; but this is strained at best and
seems to be grammatically impossible. Epaitiaomai is a verb of accusation, and
thus (like all such verbs except those compounded with kata) it always takes
an accusative of the person accused, not a dative. LSJ, s. v. epaitiaomai, cite

the present passage "t(i) n(i) ouden chrmenon oude tinas aitias
epaitimenon" and give the English "nor ascribing any causes to it," but they
cite no parallels and give no explanation for the construction. Even if
epaitimenon could take t(i) n(i) as its object, we would still have to take
care of the accusative plural tinas aitias: LSJ-Burnet-Hackforth must either
make tinas aitias redundant or else take epaitimenon as "saying that Y
belongs to X," rather than "saying that X is causally responsible for Y"; but
there seems to be no parallel for epaitiaomai in so weak a sense, and I see no
explanation for a redundant epaitiaomai X tinas aitias. Seeing these difficulties,
some scholars (like Fowler, in the Loeb Phaedo) have correctly taken tinas
aitias as the object of epaitimenon, but then they have trouble explaining why
Anaxagoras here cites no causes, when immediately afterward we see him
aitimenon airs and aethers and waters; the usual solution is to say that
Anaxagoras cites no true causes, but only those material conditions that Plato
will further down call "that without which the cause could not be a cause"
(Phaedo 99b34), and that he will in the Timaeus call sunaitia (46c7d3). But
this distinction has not yet been introduced, and it seems too much to expect
Simmias and Cebes to anticipate it and to recognize that Anaxagoras epaitiatai
something other than an aition. Seeing the difficulties of the two preceding
interpretations, Archer-Hind proposed to bracket oude tinas aitias
epaitimenon as an "unmeaning interpolation," a drastic measure that would at
least leave a coherent sentence. Once the true interpretation has been seen,

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however, the difficulties vanish. Fowler's solution is the closest to being right,
but Plato is saying not that the things Anaxagoras epaitiatai (airs, aethers,
waters) are not true causes, but rather that these things are not causes eis to
diakosmein ta pragmata: when Anaxagoras said panta diekosmse nous, he
raised hopes that he would explain why the constituents of things are ordered
as they are, and when instead he invoked only the material constituents
themselves as causes, he dashed these hopes of an explanation of order. From
such fragments of Anaxagoras as we have, this seems like a reasonable
criticism to make.
3. Hrai may be either seasons connected with the weather or regular divisions
of time more generally, doubletted with specific units like years and months. As
I will suggest further down, Plato is sliding between these two senses: his
source (apparently Diogenes of Apollonia) meant hrai as seasons in a
meteorological sense, but Plato reinterprets them in terms of mathematical
4. It is one of Aristotle's criticisms of the doctrine of ideas that it offers no
explanation for why a given piece of matter should at a given time come to
participate in a given form: cf. especially Metaphysics .10.1075b1620 and On
Generation and Corruption II.9.335b1824. Aristotle is aware (though these
texts might not suggest it) that Plato himself had raised this problem and had
proposed nous as the desired cause; Aristotle in principle agrees with this
solution but thinks that Plato, because of his other commitments, cannot give a
satisfactory explanation of how nous is a cause. I have some discussion of
these points in "Aristotle and Plato on God as Nous and as the Good" and will
elaborate on them elsewhere.
5. It is clear on many grounds that the Timaeus and Philebus are very closely
linkedthe denial of this connection was one of the more absurd consequences
of Owen's attempt to redate the Timaeus into the middle period ("The Place of
the Timaeus in Plato's Dialogues," in his Logic, Science and Dialectic, Ithaca,
1986), although Owen in his unwritten doctrines apparently offered the bizarre
proposal that the Philebus is a patchwork of middle-period and late-period
materials, cf. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness (Cambridge, 1986), p. 460,
n. 21, and p. 462, n. 38. It is much less clear whether the Timaeus or the
Philebus is the earlier. But, as many scholars have suggested, the Philebus
seems to be a kind of replacement for the unwritten Philosopher, which should

have followed the Sophist and Statesman; and the Laws seems to replace the
abandoned Critias and the unwritten Hermocrates, which should have followed
the Timaeus. Thus Sophist, Statesman, Philebus, Timaeus, Critias, Laws seems
to be the most likely order for the last group of dialogues. While stylometric
tests have established beyond reasonable doubt that these dialogues belong
together as the last group, they do not seem to have given decisive results on
ordering within this group. The tests reported by Gerard Ledger in Re-Counting
Plato (Oxford, 1989) would suggest that the Philebus is quite early and the
Timaeus quite late within the last group.
6. Socrates conjectures that the Stranger is really a god, Sophist 216a5b6;
Theodorus denies that a man (which the Stranger is, a4) can in any way be a
god, but he asserts that the philosophers (among whom the Stranger, a4) are
divine (b9c1); and Socrates agrees (c2).
7. Muthos: 268d9, 274e1; likely: 270b1.
2. Who Is the Demiurge?
1. The Epicurean in Cicero De Natura Deorum (Diels, Doxographi Graeci, p.
537) reports the Timaeus passage as denying patrem huius mundi nominari
posse; this correctly captures the sense of legein. Plato is presumably referring
to cult prohibitions against revealing the secret name of a divinity: but his point
is that even if someone comes to know the essence of the god (and this is, as
he says, "a task"), this will be a simple essence that cannot be expressed in
terms of anything else and so cannot be communicated to someone who does
not already know it. (It is a serious mistake to treat "demiurge" as if it were a
proper name for this god, or as if it expressed his nature: it simply serves as a
placeholder until we come to know who he is.) The Statesman calls the god
Kronos, or (at any rate) it claims to be offering the true cause behind the
myths of the golden age under Kronos' rule. This is naming and not
namingnaming in a mythical way without attempting to describe the essential
nature of the god; at the same time, Plato is passing a hint as to the correct
name of the

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essence of the god, since the name "Kronos" was derived etymologically from
"nous" at Cratylus 396b3c3.
2. This view is well criticized by Skemp, The Theory of Motion in Plato's Later
Dialogues (enl. ed.; Amsterdam, 1967), p. ix and following: Skemp says that
(as of 1942) it is "a typical modern continental view" that "the Forms-doctrine
incorporates all that is truly philosophical in Plato" and that everything else is
''myth brought in to relieve the strain" (Skemp seems to be thinking especially
of Natorp). This view may be not be dead yet: Gaiser, explicitly crediting
Natorp, says that the demiurge is "manifestly nothing other than the intuitively
depicted dunamis-aspect of the idea" (Platons Ungeschriebene Lehre
[Stuttgart, 1963], p. 193). There is also a persistent view that would identify
the demiurge with the idea of the good. Although this view has a long pedigree
(it is in Albinus [or Alcinoos], Didaskalikos, chap. 10, and in the texts of
pseudo-Plutarch and Stobaeus that I cited in the Preface), it has no real
support anywhere in Plato, and it contradicts what the Timaeus tells us about
the demiurge. The idea of the good is superior to, and somehow the cause of,
the world of intelligible forms (Republic 508e1509b10, esp. 509b610); the
demiurge, by contrast, looks to an already existing intelligible world and causes
the sensible world to come-to-be in its image.
3. Hackforth is the only modern scholar I know who clearly maintains the
position I regard as correct, namely, that the demiurge is just the nous-itself,
existing separately from soul, which souls participate in: Hackforth works this
out, although not at adequate length, in his article "Plato's Theism" (reprinted
in Studies in Plato's Metaphysics, ed. R. E. Allen, London, 1965, pp. 43947),
and in his commentary on the Philebus (Plato's Examination of Pleasure,
Cambridge, 1945). Richard Mohr, in a short article ("The Relation of Reason to
Soul in Plato's Cosmology: Sophist 248e249d," reprinted in his The Platonic
Cosmology [Leiden, 1985], pp. 17883), has recently maintained a similar
position, but he does not spell his view out in much detail. Mohr asserts, with
Hackforth, that the demiurge is not a soul; he also says that the demiurge is "a
necessary existent whose essence is rationality," but it is not clear whether
Mohr thinks (as I do) that the demiurge is just that rationality that other things
possess (he does not discuss the interpretation of the word "nous"). A position
similar to Mohr's is also taken by Luc Brisson in Le mme et l'autre dans la
structure ontologique du Time de Platon (Paris, 1974), pp. 7684.

4. The principle is stated in general at Timeaus 30a23: "The god wanted all
things to be good and nothing bad, as far as possible." Timaeus is repeatedly
at pains to show how each particular feature of the world is a result of the
god's taking thought for the best; he is trying to show that he is better than
Anaxagoras at explanation through nous.
5. The Philebus does give us a picture of the element of the "unlimited,"
lacking in proportion and tending of itself to excess, and so lets us imagine
what the world would be like if nous were not present to impose limit and
order. The unlimited is dramatized as tending to escape beyond limits around
24cd; when limit is added it "puts an end" to the conflict of contraries,
25d11e1; it removes excesses of hot and cold, 26a67. There is a brief picture
of a preexisting disorder at Philebus 26b7c1, where haut h theos imposes a
limit on human pleasures, thus preserving mankind from moral and political
chaos: h theos is Athena, the legislatress of ancient Athens, as in Timaeus
23d6, 24b5, and especially 24c4d3 (h theos at Athens means Athena, as LSJ
say under theos, meaning II). The Philebus uses temporal terms for nous'
action much less than the Timaeus and Statesman: in particular illustrative
examples, more globally only insofar as the Philebus too mythologizes, as in the
passage on Athena's legislation.
6. From Plato's programmatic statements, Timaeus 48a25, it seems that nous
rules over necessity purely by persuasion. But the demiurge, like his human
counterpart the philosopher-king, sometimes ends up, despite these laudable
principles, imposing order and rationality by violent means: just once Plato
admits this explicitly, when at Timaeus 35a8 he describes the demiurge as
"violently fitting in" (sunarmottn bi(i)) the "nature of the different" in the
world-soul (its irrational part, cp. 37b68 connecting the different in the worldsoul with doxa), which was resistant to union with the "same" (the rational and
dominating part). I discuss this text in chap. 7.
7. For the connection between the Platonic and Aristotelian doctrines of nous
as the source of the celestial motions, see my articles, "Aristotle and Plato on
God as Nous and as the Good" and "Descartes and Some Predecessors on the
Divine Conservation of Motion," and the suggestions about Aristotelian and Old
Academic cosmo-theology in the Conclusion to this study. For the role of

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soul on Plato's account in mediating the causality of nous, and in particular in

mediating the rationalization of the celestial motions, see chaps. 6 and 7.
8. Cornford prefers "Reason," with a capital R, as his translation for "nous"; as
we will see, this is correct, at least in those contexts where "nous" refers to the
divine fashioner of the cosmos. References to Cornford on the Timaeus are to
Plato's Cosmology (London, 1937).
9. The Timaeus describes the production and original harmonization of human
souls as an independent parallel to the production of the world-soul; also, it
does not seem to give the world-soul a role in the demiurge's harmonization of
the elements of the universe or in his fitting particular elements into triangles
and polyhedra. Indeed, the world-soul does not seem to be credited with any
particular works except the motions of the heavenly bodies.
10. I cite Cherniss, Aristotle's Criticism of Plato and the Academy (Baltimore,
1944) as ACPA (all references are to vol. 1, the only volume that was
published). It is not immediately clear from the passage on p. 425 whether
Cherniss is saying this propria persona or merely as part of a reductio ad
absurdum of a literalist reading of the Timaeus, but at p. 606 he reaffirms the
point and refers back to the previous passage.
11. For Cherniss' criticism of the interpretation of the demiurge as a mere
double of the world-soul, see his Selected Papers (Leiden, 1977), p. 458; the
quote I give occurs in identical form there and at ACPA, p. 607.
12. As Mohr remarks, The Platonic Cosmology, p. 178, "Cherniss' view on this
point has been accepted by a wide range of critics," and "there has been
nearly universal agreement among critics that Plato's God or divine Demiurge is
a soul" (Mohr himself rejects Cherniss' conclusion, as does Brisson). The
Tbingen school sometimes seem to be willing to place nous among the world
of ideas; but they seem to prefer (strangely) to put soul among the world of
ideas than to admit that nous can exist without soul.
3. What Does "Nous" Mean?
1. Cherniss simply leaves the word in the Greek, as I have been doing; since
the translation "Reason" (rather than "mind" or "intellect") helps to support
Hackforth's position, Cherniss would certainly have criticized this translation if
he could. Even translators who would prefer to render "nous" by "mind'' or

"intellect" often feel themselves forced to write "reason" instead in precisely

these contexts where some ancient sage is said to have posited nous as a
cause; thus Ross, who speaks of Aristotle's own doctrine of a divine nous as a
doctrine of mind, writes "reason" at three passages of Aristotle's Metaphysics
where Anaxagoras' doctrine is in question (984b15, 1072a5, 1075b8). Note
also Vlastos, Plato's Universe (Seattle, 1975) p. 26: "That he [the demiurge of
the Timaeus] is Reason personified is taken for granted; Plato alludes to this
from time to time, but feels no need to say so formally." This is right.
2. Von Fritz reports his researches in "Noos and Noein in the Homeric Poems"
(Classical Philology 38 [1943]: 7993), "Nous, Noein, and their Derivatives in
Pre-Socratic Philosophy (excluding Anaxagoras), Part I: From the Beginnings to
Parmenides" (Classical Philology 40 [1945]: 22342), "Nous, Noein, and their
Derivatives in Pre-Socratic Philosophy (excluding Anaxagoras), Part II: The
Post-Parmenidean Period" (Classical Philology 41 [1946]: 1234), and "Der
Nous des Anaxagoras" (Archiv fr Begriffsgeschichte 9 [1964]: 87102). There
are useful treatments of the occurrences and meanings of "nous" in Plato,
Gerhard Jaeger, "Nus" in Platons Dialogen (in Hypomnemata, 17 [Gttingen,
1967]), and in pre-Platonic writers, David Claus, Toward the Soul (New Haven,
3. At least it seems to me that this is the meaning of "mind" in contemporary
English. Perhaps it was not so for Jowett, in the very different intellectual and
linguistic atmosphere of British Idealism. Perhaps what Jowett meant to
indicate by "mind" when he translated the Anaxagorean nous of the Phaedo in
that way was not a rational soul but Reason itself (compare the title of the
philosophical journal Mind, once idealist). If this is what Jowett meant, I do not
think he has been understood. (Note that Jowett contrasts true opinion with
mind at Timaeus 51de.)
4. For a discussion with references and some statistics, see Claus, pp. 1920,
50, and 56.

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5. When I say that nous, in the sense of the virtue, is not a power, I mean that
it is not the human faculty of thought but rather that in which we participate
when we use that faculty correctly. A virtue might of course be called a power
in other senses, but it is not in the ordinary sense a "power of the soul." Nous,
as a power, would mean "mind"; nous, as a virtue, means "reason,''
"rationality," "intelligence." To call intelligence or temperance a habit (hexis) is
simply to say that it is what we have (echein) whenever we are intelligent or
temperate, whether or not we are using or exercising (chrsthai, energein) the
virtue in any particular way at a particular moment. This analysis is entirely
neutral about the ontological status of the virtues in themselves. For a
discussion of Aristotle's terminology of hexis and chrsis or energeia, see my
"The Origins of Aristotle's Concept of Energeia: Energeia and Dunamis,"
Ancient Philosophy 14 (Spring 1994).
6. There is also an expression noun echein (or more usually ton noun echein)
pros ti, equivalent to ton noun prosechein, to have one's thought directed
toward a given object: here nous is an internal object of noein; but noun
echein by itself is a different expression, and nous here is the virtue.
7. As people may still be heard to ask, "Where were you when they handed out
8. The text of the Laws is corrupt in this passage, but the words I cite here will
not be endangered in any case, nor (I think) their plain sense. Note also that
kata noun, in addition to the usual sense "according to someone's intention,"
can have a sense like sun n(i) or meta nou, "according to reason." Plato
deliberately puns in several passages on these two senses of kata noun. At
Timaeus 36d the world is completed kata noun t(i) sunistanti, and at 27cd we
pray to the gods that our account should be kata noun to them and therefore
also to us: Proclus picks this up in both these passages, but I am not sure
anyone else has since; Festugire, in his translation (Proclus, Commentaire sur
le Time [Paris, 196668]), complains about Proclus' behavior here. Similarly
but more obviously, at Phaedo 97d Socrates thinks he has found in Anaxagoras
someone who can give a causal account of things kata noun emaut(i).
(Burnet in his edition of the Phaedo goes out of his way to deny that Plato
intends the pun he obviously does intend: "Such a joke," says Burnet, "would
be very frigid.")
9. In fact Plato does use these words in the plural once or twice each, like

epistmai and technai. But a plural of nous is extremely rare: it is not even
clear whether the nominative plural would have been noes or noi (according to
a search of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, Plotinus is the first extant writer to
use a nominative plural of nous, and he is undecided between these two
forms). The only plural of nous I have been able to discover before the imperial
period is an accusative plural tous nous in Aristophanes fragment 471
Edmonds; there the word means something like "opinions" or "intentions"
(certainly not "minds"), and the phrase may well be a parody of Euripidean
diction, cp. Euripides fragment 1114 Nauck.
10. Socrates says immediately after this that "sophia and nous would never
come to be without soul" (30c910), but this does not mean that nous is a soul
any more than sophia is; the statement means that nothing has the virtue of
sophia or nous except in a soul. I will discuss this text and its parallels in chap.
11. Translating the text of the manuscripts reported in the OCT; if we accept
Heindorf's emendation of kai tauta n(i) pratt to kai tauta n(i) prattn in
99a8 (accepted by Burnet in the OCT, and supported by the manuscript P
reported in Vicaire's Bud edition [not in the original Bud edition of Robin],
though rejected by Vicaire himself), then the phrase will mean "that even
though I am acting by nous, I do what I do through . . . bones and sinews . . .
and not through choosing the best." My point holds either way.
12. Also Laws XII itself explicitly calls nous a virtue, just a little above the text
now under discussion, although not in a cosmological or theological context:
nous is called the "chief" of the "four virtues" at 963a69 (cited previously),
where, since these virtues are listed as andreia kai sphrosun kai dikaiosun
kai phronsis at 965d2, nous must be identical with phronsis.
4. Can Nous Exist Apart from Soul?
1. Most scholars take to pantels on as "that which entirely is"; Cherniss takes
it as "the entirety of being," which makes good sense in the context, but which
seems impossible to parallel as

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a meaning of pantels (it would be legitimate if Plato had written instead the
adjective panteles). My translation "complete being" is intended to be neutral,
since this is not the issue I wish to contend with Cherniss about. It seems to
me that it does not matter very much who is right about the construal of to
pantels on (and, therefore, that we should adopt the linguistically easier
construal). In either case we are talking about to onts on, not just about
anything that might be a subject of predication; and in either case we are
talking about all of it. Plato's goal is to show that the totality of true being
includes not only the intelligibles but also the sensibles; if elsewhere in Plato
"that which entirely is" might mean specifically the intelligibles, it is natural that
here it should be stretched to include the sensibles as well. (The neo-Platonist
interpretation, which restricts to pantels on to the forms, is certainly wrong
and would undermine the agreement achieved between the gods and the
giants; the same objection holds against Cherniss' interpretation, which would
have to pantels on extend down to souls but not to bodies.)
2. This is a moderately good impressionistic sketch of Parmenides' world of
Being; Parmenides, and the philosophers of Elea in general, have been strongly
associated with the gods in this dialogue, and it is such gods whom Plato
wishes to criticize (however gently) in this dialogue, getting them to admit that
the human realities are also realities alongside the divine ones. To the extent
that Plato is criticizing his own earlier self in this dialogue, he is criticizing his
Parmenidean exclusivism. There is no criticism in the Sophist of the hypothesis
of separate forms, but only of the claim that these are the only real beings; the
necessity of the forms is stressed in the Sophist and throughout the later
dialogues, and their separation from sensible things is never called into
question. (Note that on Owen's view, Plato would have to be criticizing, among
other things, the Timaeus, where the intelligible paradigm of the world, far
from being devoid of life, is the animalitself, possessing the plenitude of life
through the different living forms it contains.)
3. The person whom we must resist is usually translated by "anyone who tries
to maintain any assertion about anything at the same time that he suppresses
knowledge or understanding or intelligence" (so Cornford, Plato's Theory of
Knowledge (London, 1935) ad locum), or something equivalent. On this
construal, aphanizn and ischuriztai are separated, the former meaning
"suppresses" (knowledge or phronsis or nous), the latter meaning "tries to
maintain any assertion'' (Cornford) or "ventures to speak confidently" (Jowett)

(about anything whatsoever). The point would then be that these people
contradict themselves in asserting anything at the same time they deny the
possibility of knowledge. Plato seems to be implicitly making this point, and I
would be perfectly happy for the passage to say this explicitly, but I do not see
how the Greek can mean this. Cornford and others assume that ischurizetai
peri tinos means "maintains an assertion about something," and indeed this is
what LSJ say it means. But the situation seems to be the same as with
epaitimenon in Phaedo 98b9: LSJ cite only the present passage in this sense,
no other sense of the verb that they cite is closely related, and no parallels can
be found. The basic relevant sense of ischurizesthai is, as LSJ say, "persist or
continue obstinately in doing something"from which we find ischurizesthai
tauta, "insist on these things," and ischurizesthai hs or hoti, "insist that"; but
"ischurizesthai peri X" does not seem to be attested as a way of saying
"maintain some assertion about X," nor would it make sense, unless it were
elliptical for "insist upon [doing something in particular] about X," with the verb
supplied by the context. Furthermore, even if a parallel can be found for
ischurizesthai peri tinos, it would be pragmatically wrong in this context:
ischurizesthai is a strong, rather violent word, and it would be strange to say
"we must resist anyone who, while suppressing knowledge, violently insists on
anything at all"; what would we do about someone who just calmly asserts a
belief? But if ischurizesthai is taken in its more basic meaning, the sentence
makes sense: ischurizesthai takes a participle, here aphanizn, "persists in
abolishing," and the pragmatics work just right. For a similar expression of a
similar idea, compare lsetai tn phusin autn aphanisas, "unwittingly
abolishes their nature," sc. of dialectic and rhetoric, while attempting to carry
on those disciplines, at Aristotle Rhetoric I.4.1359b14.
4. I take it that this is what Plato means. Cornford renders "deinon" by
"strange," which is certainly a possible meaning; but then Cornford should
explain why Theaetetus finds it so strange; and I think his reasons must be
religious. To be sure, quite apart from religious sentiment, healthy common
sense protests against the assertion that all reality is immobile; but this is
beside the point. If Plato were going to pay attention to the protests of healthy
common sense, he would have started

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long before now. Theaetetus is protesting not against the assertion that reality
is immobile, but at the apparent consequence that it is lifeless and stupid. We
may note that when the Stranger poses his rhetorical question to Theaetetus,
he says not just "shall we be so easily persuaded" but "what then, by Zeus?
Shall we be so easily persuaded?" Cf. Jowett's translation of the passage: "O
heavens, can we ever be made to believe that motion and life and soul and
mind are not present with perfect being? Can we imagine that being is devoid
of life and mind, and exists in awful unmeaningness an everlasting fixture?That
would be a dreadful thing to admit, Stranger." This is overdoing it a bit, but it
captures the basic religious point Plato is scoring, and ''dreadful" for deinon is
correct. (There may seem to be a problem, in that Plato seems to suggest that
what is best and most holy must be intelligent, alive, ensouled, and in motion,
so that the forms themselvesall the forms, not just Motion but also Restshould
be in motion. But Plato emphatically denies this, especially that the form of rest
can be in motion, cf. Sophist 255a4b1. I suppose his answer, given in the
Timaeus, will be that the intelligible world is life-itself or the living-thing-itself,
and that the demiurge, who is at least akin to the intelligible world, is nousitself, and that they do not need soul or motion in which to receive themselves.
But really Plato is just taking a potshot at Parmenides here in the Sophist; the
serious argument is the second one, that we cannot consistently deny that
both the subjects and objects of knowledge are really real.)
5. Plato is formally neutral between the two parties of the gigantomachia peri
ts ousias, and he argues symmetrically in order to reconcile them, to get them
both to agree that each other's favorite kind of reality has some existence; this
serves the general skopos of the Sophist, which is to show that the existence of
sensibles or images or falsehood or opinion or change alongside the eternal
world of intelligible truth presupposes that there must be multiplicity and
composition within this intelligible world itself. Since moving things as well as
unmoving things really exist, Being cannot be identified either with Motion or
with Rest but must be a third thing alongside them, and Sameness and
Difference will be two more kinds again: Plato is arguing especially against the
natural tendency of the gods and the friends of the forms to identify Being =
Sameness = Rest, and to reject their contraries Motion = Difference = NotBeing. Only by making these distinctions and discovering this multiplicity within
the intelligible world can Plato distinguish between indefinite-multiplicity-andincommensurable-magnitudes-and-chaotic-motion on the one hand and finite-

multiplicity-and-numerical-proportion-and-regular-motion on the other, and

explain why the sensible world exhibits the latter features at least to some
extent. This is what the later dialogues in general are about. But while this
attitude leads Plato to be formally neutral between gods and giants, it also
leads him to be much more sympathetic to the gods; if he were not, he would
hardly have called them gods. The giants are large and ugly and dangerous,
and they are too violent to talk to, so we get a more peaceful spokesman for
them instead; the gods, on the other hand, are not elenctic but moderate and
agreeable (cf. Sophist 216b58), and when they admit that some changing
things are real this is almost a good-humored concession to our human
weakness. The very artificial set-up of the Philebus exactly corresponds in
ethics (where the more reasonable Protarchus stands in for Philebus much as
Theaetetus stands in for the giants): there is a formal neutrality between the
claims of nous and pleasure, but the party of nous are obviously favored, and
nous turns out to be more akin to what makes the mixture of nous and
pleasure best as a whole; it is a good-humoured concession when we allow
some carefully chosen pleasures into the good life for man, and when we admit
a knowledge of human circles alongside our knowledge of divine circles, to
keep us from bumping into things or falling into wells. A bit more remotely, the
Timaeus too involves a cooperation between two opposing forces, nous and
anank; nous persuades anank, so they can be said to be somehow in
dialogue. But while nous does not get everything it might wish for, clearly
(besides being intrinsically better) it is the master of the situation and pacifies
anank on terms favorable to nous, persuading anank to subserve nous'
goals. It is presumably not a coincidence that the whole story is credited to
(Plato's ancestor) Solon, who, as a member of the Athenian aristocracy, had
become a neutral mediator in the conflict between the aristocracy and the
masses, and had worked out a just peace preserving some privileges of the
aristocracy while granting civil rights to the masses. If only Solon had had more
time for his poetry, he might have given us a whole account of the universe
and the place in it of the Athenians' heroic ancestors, based on these same
principles, and this poem would have replaced Homer and Hesiod as the
encyclopedia and

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ideological charter of the Athenian state (this is the point of Timaeus 21c4d3);
but Solon never got around to it, so Plato will try to fill in the gap. If we had
the whole group of dialogues of which the Timaeus was supposed to be the
beginning, all this might be much clearer. Compare some lines Solon did get
around to writing: "Fitting force and justice together [homou bin te kai dikn
xunarmosas] I accomplished these things by might [kratos], and I completed
what I had undertaken; and I wrote laws alike for the bad and the good [i. e.,
common and noble], fitting straight justice to each [eutheian eis hekaston
harmosas dikn]" (Solon frag. 36 West, lines 1520; details of the text are
contentious, but the main point will not be affected).
6. Richard Patterson objects that the Stranger's argument against the giants
does not prove that there are separate forms of the virtues, even though Plato
apparently believes that it proves this. Patterson suggests that "the giants
could concede the existence of a bodily property of bodily soulsa property that
amounted to phronsis, say (like fieriness in a soul), without admitting any
separate forms." I mostly agree: Plato is not considering sophisticated ways
that the giants might try to defend their corporealism to make it cover the case
of the virtues. All I need for my argument against Cherniss is that Plato thinks
the argument concludes to separate forms of the virtues and that the
argument is antiparallel to the argument against the gods and the friends of
the forms. But the giants would have to say more than that phronsis is a
"bodily property": their admissions, that the virtues are present in bodies and
act on bodies, seem to imply (given the giants' corporealist commitments) that
the virtues are themselves bodies, not merely that they are properties of
bodies. If the giants want to keep their strict corporealism, their best hope is to
say, as the Stoics said that virtue is not present in the soul (or not present in
the ruling part of the soul) but simply is the corporeal ruling part of the soul
when that soul is moved in a certain, complicated way. But the giants, who
readily agree that virtues are present in souls, have not thought of this
sophisticated response; and later Platonists spend much energy arguing that
the Stoics are not entitled to it either. Another group of more reformed giants
might suggest that the virtues are Aristotelian immanent forms or qualities,
thus admitting that they are not bodies, but not that they are separate from
bodies. This would block Plato's inference to unmoved beings, at least in the
sense in which Plato wants this conclusion: an Aristotelian form is (as Aristotle
says of the soul) moved per accidens when the composite is moved, but not

moved per se; but (as Aristotle makes clear when, in Physics VIII, he argues
much more elaborately for a more elaborate version of the Eleatic Stranger's
conclusions) the problem is to establish the existence of a being that is
unmoved even per accidens and that must therefore be eternal.
5. Nous in Anaxagoras and Other Pre-Socratics
1. I discuss Aristotle on nous (as Reason-itself, not a soul) in "Aristotle and
Plato on God as Nous and as the Good"; I hope to discuss these issues at
greater length in a future study of the Metaphysics. Aristotle standardly
assimilates Anaxagoras' nous to Empedocles' philia, and says that these
philosophers intended these principles as the causes of goodness and order, or
simply as "the good"; cf. Metaphysics A.10.1075a38b11, and parallel
discussions in Metaphysics A and N. Here nous, like philia, is certainly not a
soul, but a virtue or something like a virtue. One passage of Aristotle that
points the opposite way will be dealt with below.
2. Anaxagoras uses metechei in this way at the beginning of fragment 12.
3. For my general inspiration on Anaxagoras see Furley, "Anaxagoras in
Response to Parmenides," in his Cosmic Problems (Cambridge, 1989), pp.
4765, especially the section entitled "Anaxagoras Compared with Plato," pp.
6265. The Anaxagorean and Platonic accounts of participation are compared
and contrasted at greater length in Russell Dancy, "Predication and
Immanence: Anaxagoras, Plato, Eudoxus and Aristotle," in his Two Studies in
the Early Academy (Albany, 1991).
4. As a witness to the conception that nous can be given in different dosages,
we may cite the phrase of Plato, who cannot believe that nous literally varies in
quantity, but who is willing to use the popular expression that "pleasures, like
children, have acquired noun oude ton oligiston," not even the smallest
quantity of reason (Philebus 65d12). There are also some nonserious passages

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Plato, which must reflect popular conceptions at least to some degree, where
virtues seem to be decribed as if they were divisible material substances: at
Charmides 159a13, if temperance is really present inside Charmides he should
have some aisthsis of it and so he should be able to describe it; at Symposium
175d47 Socrates wishes that "wisdom were the sort of thing that would flow
from the fuller to the emptier of us if we touched each other, like the water in
two cups which flows from the fuller to the emptier through a piece of wool";
most striking, and most difficult to say or understand from a modern point of
view, at Euthydemus 285c7d1 Ctesippus will allow Euthydemus and
Dionysodorus to skin him alive if they will turn his skin "not into a wineskin, like
Marsyas', but eis aretn""into a piece of virtue," as Jowett correctly translates.
5. Plato seems to be drawing on some text like this at Philebus 29a930d8 but
develops the point rather differently, so that nous or wisdom is not described
as being itself divided among the bodies of the universe but only as contriving
soul and other good things both for the great and for the small bodies
(30a9b7). But soul is still described in quasi-materialistic language, our soul
coming to us (apparently as a fragment) from the soul in the world, as the fire
in us comes from the fire in the world (30a38, cp. 29a9e7).
6. Compare Gorgias' Helen (= DK frag. 11), no. 8, on the power of logos,
which "accomplishes the most divine works by means of the smallest and least
apparent body"namely, air; rhetoric becomes a solution to the problem of
mechanicsnamely, to move a great body by means of a small given force.
7. Malcolm Schofield in his Essay on Anaxagoras (Cambridge, 1980), pp. 1222,
claims to detect a systematic ambiguity in Anaxagoras' talk of nous: when
Anaxagoras predicates something of nous, does he mean to predicate this of a
single divine mind, or of "mind in general"i.e., of each and every individual
mind? Schofield is on the track of something important; but it is impossible to
make sense of Anaxagoras' statements about the cosmogonic function of nous
on the assumption that nous refers to every individual mind. Once we see that
nous means not mind but rationality, the total body of rationality of which we
each possess a portion (although this portion is not our "mind"), we can do
justice to Schofield's insight without finding any real ambiguity in Anaxagoras,
and without forcing Anaxagoras to make absurd statements about the powers
of each individual mind. (Schofield seems to be on the verge of seeing the
solution on p. 18, but it escapes him.)

8. Richard Patterson suggests that Anaxagoras' description can be saved, if

there are little nuggets of pure nous present in (and controlling) the gross
bodies of things: it could then be said that the other things have nous in them,
and yet that nous itself is unmixed with anything else. This may be right. But
then either there is also some nous distributed outside the nuggets of pure
nous, in which case it is only some nous that is unmixed; or else bodies (other
than bits of pure nous) can be rationally governed only by being mechanically
impelled by bits of nous in contact with parts of them, not by having nous
present throughout them and immediately controlling their motions. Either
consequence would be embarrassing, and either seems to frustrate the goal of
allowing nous, unadulterated and undivided, to impose a unified order on
9. Cf. Aristotle Protrepticus B110 Dring.
10. Cf. DK Anaxagoras A116117.
11. The one pre-Socratic who does seem to believe that a soul can become
more and less rational is Heraclitus, for whom the soul can be dry and virtuous
or wet and intemperate (fragments 117118).
12. Thus Diogenes of Apollonia, fragment 3, cited and discussed below.
13. Pseudo-Plutarch says (Diels, Doxographi, p. 387) that "some philosophers,
following Anaxagoras" (hoi d' apo Anaxagorou, contrasted with a previously
cited group) said that the soul was an airy body; Stobaeus (ibid), apparently
following the common source more closely, ascribes the same doctrine to
"Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Archelaus and Diogenes." It is conceivable that
Anaxagoras said this; he would then be identifying the soul with the vital
breath. But more likely Anaxagoras has been dragged into the list by
association with Diogenes.
14. There is a passage of Plato that seems to imply, like the De Anima 1.2
passage, that Anaxagoras identified nous and soul. I have held off mentioning
it, both because I think there is no reason to take it seriously and because the
same points I have made with regard to the De Anima

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passage hold equally here. In the Cratylus, on the way to etymologizing psuch
as phusech, "nature-holding," Socrates asks Hermogenes, "Do you not believe
Anaxagoras that nous and soul is what orders and holds the nature of all things
[tn diakosmousan kai echousan . . . tn tn alln hapantn phusin]?"
(400a810). Here nous is associated (as usual) with diakosmein, and soul is
associated with holding things together. Probably Plato has simply invoked the
usual Anaxagorean tag noun panta diakosmein, sticking in the extra words
pusch, echein and phusis to insinuate his proposed etymology. But if
Anaxagoras did say something like this and did identify nous and soul, then he
meant that one and the same substance is both nous, the source of order, and
soul, which holds living bodies together; nous still means Reason, not a mind.
15. Similarly in Aristophanes, the Clouds are discovered to be not just dew and
mist and smoke, but goddesses (Clouds 32930); they "provide us with nous"
(317); but they are still called Clouds. The cosmological doctrines that
Aristophanes ascribes to Socrates seem to be derived chiefly from Diogenes of
Apollonia, subject to liberal amounts of syncretism and parody.
16. This does not mean that the sun's motions play no part in the seasons: but
the sun is itself an atmospheric phenomenon, a fire nourished by air and blown
along its course by air-power. So On Breaths, chap. 3; so Anaximenes; so,
doubtless, Diogenes.
17. Implicitly in the "Sun" fragment just quoted (frag. 94), and elsewhere;
explicitly in fragment 67, which mentions winter and summer as alterations of
one and the same god.
18. Heraclitus is here following Anaximander, whom Diogenes and Plato would
no doubt be happy to include in their lists of all the wise; but while
Anaximander says a great deal about the material substrate and the opposites
that are separated out of it, he says nothing that we know of about the nature
of Justice itself as a being present among, and dominating over, the others. In
this Anaximander is similar to the other Milesians (as far as we know them) and
different from Heraclitus and Anaxagoras and other post-Milesian thinkers.
Both Anaximander and Heraclitus (and Solon in the fragment cited previously)
are surely influenced by Hesiod's description of how Zeus perpetuates his rule
by winning over potential opponents and allotting them their domains. But
Zeus, the father of the hrai in Hesiod (Theogony 9013), has been replaced by
a divinity more like their mother, Themis, Law.

19. Thus Plato doublets logon echein with noun echein at Timaeus 46d4, in an
important passage on which I will comment again below. Similarly Aristotle, in
Nicomachean Ethics I.13, says that the appetitive part of the soul "participates
somehow in logos" (1102b3031) in a derivative way when, in acting according
to moral virtue, it obeys that part of the soul that "possesses logos" primarily
20. DK Heraclitus A16, from Sextus Empiricus; this whole passage gives a
picture of logos as the rationality in our surroundings through which we also
become rationa, much like the nous of Anaxagoras, the air of Diogenes, and
other principles of other phusikoi.
21. Cf. also fragment 8, lines 3031 and lines 3638; the Moira and Anank of
these lines do exactly what Dik doesthat is, they hold being fast within its
limits; they are doubtless the same lady. (In Hesiod, Moirai in the plural are
sisters of Dik, daughters of Zeus and Themis, Theogony 9046.) Note also
that, according to Plato (Cratylus 413c57), Anaxagoras identified nous with
dik. Dik here is that through which things are dikaia: someone has said it is
the sun, someone else (Heraclitus?) that it is fire, and someone else that it is
the heat present within fire; Anaxagoras proposes that it is none of these, but
rather nous, which he says orders all things.
6. Plato On Soul As Mediator
1. Plato himself, who should know better, argues at Timaeus 57e258a1 that
motion arises only from the "unevenness" and "inequality" of the bodily
continuum; he has forgotten that, by his own account, the demiurge gives the
world circular motion because this is most peri noun kai phronsin (34a2), and
that the world-soul, which likewise has circular motion because this is best and
most rational (and not because of some psychic imbalance), communicates its
motion to the world-body.
2. Thus at 966d67: "So do we know that there are two things which lead to
belief in the gods, which we went through in the preceding [discussion]?"

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3. Plato comes back to the same two points a little further down, again
stressing that there are two of them, and elaborating their content somewhat
further: no man can be pious who does not "grasp these two things which are
now being asserted: first that soul is the eldest of all things which have
received birth, and is immortal, and rules over all bodies; and then, in addition
to these, what has now been said many times, the nous of beings [objective
genitive] which has been asserted [to be present] in the heavens, and the
mathematical studies [i.e., astronomy] which are necessary preliminaries to
these" (967d5e2). This is only a part of a complete sentence that, as it stands,
does not make sense; either a copyist has got confused in midsentence or
Plato himself has. But the sense of the bit I have translated seems clear
enough, and it is clear, comparing this passage with the passage at 966d9e4,
that the "two things which are now being asserted" are, first, the priority of
soul to body, and second, nous as the orderer of the celestial motions.
4. Here again I cannot construe the text to my satisfaction, particularly in the
last sentence of this passage; and Jowett and Taylor seem to have been in
much the same quandary. My translation of this sentence agrees with Jowett
against Taylor on one point, and with Taylor against Jowett on another. I think
my version does the least violence to the text as Burnet prints it in the OCT
(except that I read ta at c2, where Burnet prints to), but this is no guarantee
that my version is right. Fortunately, in this passage as in that cited in the
previous note, no great interpretive issue seems to hang on the precise text or
the precise construal.
5. Typical of the Laws' way of dealing with the status of soul and other divine
principles is the remark at 892a35 that the philosophers who put body before
soul are ignorant of what sort of thing soul is and what power it has, and that
they are especially ignorant of its genesis, "that it is among the first things [en
prtois], and generated prior to all bodies." It is clear that Plato is deliberately
avoiding saying that soul is the first thing, or that it is prior to everything, or
that it is ungenerated; but he also does not want to burst the bounds of the
self-limiting project of the Laws by getting into an explicit discussion of the
differences and relations between soul and the eternal immobile realities,
which are the first of all things. Note also that a bit further down Plato
suggests that soul is "first" (892c3) but then corrects to "having been
generated among the first things" (892c4), quickly spelled out as "older than
body" (892c6); in other words, the Laws is agreeing with the Timaeus. At

896a5b1, the Athenian Stranger asks Cleinias whether it has been sufficiently
shown that soul, since it is the first cause of all motion and change, is itself the
first genesis and motion; Cleinias responds, in a burst of enthusiasm, that ''it
has been most sufficiently shown that soul is the eldest of all things, since it
has come to be the source of motion" (896b23); but Cleinias is going well
beyond what the Athenian Stranger has argued or claimed, probably because
Cleinias has not got much of a conception of anything not subject to genesis.
(The Epinomis does make soul the first of all things, because it divides all being
into souls and bodies (981b37, 983d25). But there is no good reason for
reading this doctrine into the Laws: if Plato had meant it, he would have said it
and so simplified his argument, but in fact he deliberately avoids saying it.
What we have here is one more reason for thinking that the Epinomis is
spurious, and that the author was drawing on the Laws without fully
understanding it.)
6. "In a word, fire ordered [diekosmsato] in its own manner all the things that
are in the [human] body, in an imitation of the universe, small to great and
great to small" (On Regimen I.10, Joly ed., pp. 1112); fire works on water as
its material and nutriment, but it is always fire that is the source of motion and
order (see chap. 3 for the respective roles of fire and water, Joly ed., pp. 45).
Chapter 7 makes soul itself a blend of fire and water (Joly ed., p. 9), but what
"always steers all things [cp. Heraclitus frag. 41], both these [microcosmic]
and those [macrocosmic]" are "the hottest and strongest fire, which masters all
things, managing all things according to nature, inapprehensible by sight and
touch, in which are soul, noos, phronsis, growth, diminution, motion,
exchange, sleep, waking" (chap. 10, Joly ed., pp. 1213); soul, when it is taken
as a composite of fire and water, needs to be ordered in the same way that
bodies are (chap. 6, Joly ed., p. 7).
7. It may seem strange to say that for Diogenes air mediates the rationalization
of the cosmos: although he argues in fragment 3 that it is not without nosis,
and he says in fragment 5 that things have their nosis from it, fragment 4
says that it is nosis, and certainly he does not imagine any principle separate
from air that could be called nosis in a stronger sense. Nonetheless, although
Diogenes' air performs some functions that Plato assigns to a separate nous, it
also performs some

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functions that Plato assigns to soul. Because Plato separates nous from its
participants, he does not think that nous itself is moved in the same pattern of
motion that it produces in bodies and souls (or in any other motion); this
contrasts with (for instance) the air of Diogenes, which is itself moved and
"divided up . . . so that it possesses the measures of all things" (frag. 3), taking
on different modifications in the different bodies it governs and causing
different effects for that reason. But Plato's souls, like Diogenes' air and unlike
Plato's nous, are present in the bodies they govern and communicate motion to
and receive motion from these bodies. The heavenly bodies move in circles, for
Diogenes, because they are carried by currents of air; for Plato, because they
are carried by the circuits of soul. So we can say that the motions of air in the
one case or of soul in the other are the primary bearers of nous, and the
means for the rationalization of the rest of the cosmos. The pre-Socratics might
not have spoken of mediation because they did not separate their ordering
principles, but Plato's doctrine of soul as mediator is still in direct competition
with Diogenes on air or with the Heracliteans on fire.
8. Compare Aristotle Protrepticus B36 Dring: it does not matter for the
present discussion whether the principles are "fire or air" or something else.
Note that Plato's immediately preceding description of the sunaitia of vision has
made much use of fire and has also mentioned the air with which the fire of
daylight is intermixed. Plato lists the four elements at different places in quite a
few different orders: some of this is just variation to avoid monotony, or
variation for no reason at all. But in some passages Plato is trying to build to a
climax, as in the passage here under discussion and the parallel from Laws
891c2; also Timaeus 53c4, asserting that fire, water, earth and air are all
bodies, is a parallel to the present text asserting that fire, water, earth and air
are all visible bodies. Plato does say (53c5) that the proposition that all these
things are bodies "will perhaps be obvious to everyone [dlon pou kai panti]";
but if the point were as trivial as Plato suggests, he would not have had to
make it in this way.
9. However, it is possible that Plato has the word "sunaition" in his vocabulary
at the time of the Phaedo and chooses not to use it because he is trying to
stress that "that without which the cause could not be a cause" is not itself a
cause at all; calling it a sunaition might sound too much like making it an aition
alongside the principal aition. (I owe this point to Constance Meinwald.)

10. As I have remarked, it is not in Diels and Kranz under Diogenes, nor is it in
LSJ under the words sunaition or metaition, nor is it mentioned in G. E. R.
Lloyd's discussion of Hippocratic concepts of causality in his Magic, Reason and
Experience (Cambridge, 1979), nor in any of the standard commentaries on
the Timaeus or the Phaedo in the places where Plato discusses aitia and
11. At the end of fragment 5, after discussing the differentiations of air that
determine its varied effects, especially in the different z(i)a, Diogenes
reaffirms that "nevertheless they all live and see and hear through the same
thing, and they all have other nosis from the same thing." If Diogenes used
the contrast between aition and sunaition somewhere (as it seems he did), this
would be a very natural place for him to do it: to say that, despite apparent
differences, all the phenomena are through the same thing and from the same
thing, is to say that they all have the same aition, although different sunaitia
and metaitia.
12. Compare Diogenes' account of vision (and of sensation in general) as
described by Theophrastus De Sensu (DK Diogenes A19): all of the senses
proceed from the air within, when it is stimulated by the air without.
(Diogenes' air, best when pure and dry, often seems to be only nominally
different from the fire of the Heracliteans or from the fire mixed in with the air
of day in the Timaeus' account of vision.) Note that Diogenes supports the
thesis that it is the internal air that sees by arguing that the reflection of
objects in the pupil can take place without vision occurring if the passages are
blocked so that no contact is made with the internal air. Perhaps he added that
the reflection of objects in the pupil is a sunaition, while the air is the aition.
13. Anaxagoras fragment 9 stresses the violence (bi) of the motion by which
nous separates out the bodies from the initial mixture.
14. At Laws X.898e5899a4 Plato describes the three ways in which soul might
act to move (e.g.) the sun: either it is present within the visible body of the
sun and moves it the way our soul moves us; or "from somewhere outside [the
sun], having provided itself with a body of fire or of some kind of air (as is
some people's account), it thrusts the body violently [bi(i)] by a body"

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or finally, the soul does not have a body (psil smatos) and guides the body of
the sun by some more mysterious dunamis. Plato is willing in the Laws to let
the issue remain undecided, but he obviously has views on the subject. As we
know from the Timaeus, Plato favors the third view (the world-soul carries the
sun and all other heavenly bodies around by its own psychic power, not by
moving a whole solid animated body of which the different heavenly bodies are
parts, for Plato's cosmos is not solid in this way); Plato would be willing to
grant some truth to the first view, since the heavenly bodies are immortal living
things, and so have their own souls, which must be responsible for some
motion or other. But Plato is clearly concerned to reject the second view: he
does not want the heavenly bodies to be steered by violence but by rationality
and persuasion. It is important that Plato assumes that an account that
requires corporeal intermediaries will have to fall back on violence to explain
the motion of the heavenly bodies: only Plato's doctrine of soul as an
incorporeal mediator allows us to avoid the violence. Although it is sometimes
said (e.g., by Jaeger, Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His
Development, tr. R. Robinson, 2d ed. [Oxford, 1948], p. 142) that all the three
options Plato cites were views of different people in the Academy, it is in fact
obvious that Plato is attributing the second option to Diogenes of Apollonia and
similar thinkers, the sort of people who would invoke a body of "fire or some
kind of air" as a cause (tinos aeros looks sarcastic). And indeed it seems certain
that Diogenes (like Anaximenes and the author of On Breaths) thought that
the heavenly bodies are blown around in their courses by an external body of
air. This is the picture that the doctrine of cosmic soul is supposed to be
improving on.
7. How Does Nous Cause?
1. A high proportion of sentences where Plato uses "eidos" or "idea," even in
contexts where we automatically translate these terms by "form" or "idea," are
existential assertions positing hen ti eidos, "some one entity,'' or polla tina eid,
"several entities." The terms eidos and idea (and phusis and ousia) cover the
whole range of what some twentieth-century philosophers call "theoretical
entities." Since Plato is mostly interested in hypothesizing eternal intelligible
principles, eidos and idea are most often applied to this class of beings and
eventually become a shorthand way of referring to them. This development is
doubtless also influenced by other uses of eidos and idea, such as "the idea of
X," periphrastic for "X itself."

2. Two textual-grammatical notes. (a) The equilateral triangle is composed of

306090 triangles "ek tritou" because Plato, further down, groups pairs of the
306090 triangles into quadrilaterals and then groups triplets of these
quadrilaterals into equilateral triangles; it would have been easier to make the
equilateral triangles out of two of the primitive triangles instead of six, but
Plato prefers this way as more symmetrical and therefore kallion. Cornford
translates the passage here, without justification, as saying that the equilateral
triangles are formed from pairs of the primitive triangles, then he expresses
surprise that Plato does it differently later. (b) There are two textual disputes in
the last clause, 54b12: in b1 elenxanti or eklexanti, in b2 d (the traditional
reading, kept by the OCT), d m (a variant), m (Hermann's proposal,
adopted by Cornford; m [or conceivably d m] is also presupposed by
Schleiermacher, Jowett, and Taylor). Everyone agrees that elenxanti is right
against the much weaker eklexanti; but if Plato wrote elenxanti, he was
imagining someone who would refute Timaeus' proposal, not someone who
would supply a proof that Timaeus' proposal was right. As just above Timaeus
was willing to yield to someone who could do better, so now he is willing to
yield to someone who could examine and refute his proposal, in each case
stressing that this person is a friend and not an enemy. The sentence is
uncomfortable with elenxanti and d, and eklexanti is someone's attempt to
resolve the tension. It seems certain that Plato wrote m; d is an easy
corruption, and d m is someone's attempt to restore the sense.
3. I trust no one will suggest that Plato thinks that nothing poiei unless it does
so bi(i); when he says that the demiurge does something bi(i), this is surely
not pleonastic.
4. This passage is evidently supposed to give a model for the equatorial motion
of all the heavenly bodies and for the ecliptic motions of the sun and moon and
the other five planets; but it leaves many points obscure. Cornford ad locum
discusses some of the problems of fitting Plato's account to actual astronomy.

Page 78

5. Of course, the objects of intellection, unlike the objects of sensation in the

Theaetetus account, do not themselves develop in the event of interaction: as
Aristotle will say about the objects of both kinds of knowledge, since they act
on the soul without themselves thereby changing, their energeia is not a
kinsis. Aristotle also argues (in some places, though his terminology is not
consistent) that the soul itself is not changed in sensing or intellectually
perceiving; the soul nonetheless paschei, is acted upon by the objects of
perception and thus has a passive energeia corresponding to the active
energeia of the object, but this passive energeia, like the active energeia, is not
a kinsis.
6. This is the conclusion of the main argument of Physics VIII.4. The two
efficient causes of the natural motion of a heavy or light body are cited at
256a12; that the obstacle-remover causes the motion only per accidens is
made clear at 255b2429. Aristotle has said previously that "the light comes-tobe from the heavy, as air from water . . . and it is now light, and it acts [i.e.,
rises] immediately, if nothing obstructs it; the activity of the light is to be
somewhere, namely up, but it is obstructed as long as it is in the contrary
place" (255b812), just as the person who has acquired some knowledge
immediately exercises that knowledge (i.e., contemplates) unless something
obstructs it (255b15).
7. Aristotle, too, at Metaphysics .8.1074a3138, argues from the uniqueness
of nous as the first mover to the uniqueness of the outermost heaven that nous
immediately moves, and thus of the world contained within the heaven. He
also has a discussion, in De Caelo I.9, of how the world can be necessarily
unique in its species: this is clearly an important (though paradoxical) claim for
him, as it was for Plato.
1. For a sketch of a reading of Aristotle's theology as a response to Plato's, see
my "Aristotle and Plato on God as Nous and as the Good." But there is much
more to be done, in the same vein, on Aristotle's understanding of the ways in
which nous is a cause (in the heavens and to human souls), and of the nature
of the heavens and their role in mediating the causality of nous to the sublunar
realm. In all of this, the Timaeus, and Aristotle's criticism of the Timaeus by the
standards Plato himself had set, will be the key.

Page 79

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Aristophanes. Clouds. Ed. with notes K. J. Dover. Oxford, 1968.
Aristotle. De Anima. Ed. and comm. W. D. Ross. Oxford, 1961.
Aristotle. De Caelo. Ed. D. J. Allan. OCT. Oxford, 1936.
Aristotle. Ethica Nicomachea. Ed. I. Bywater. OCT. Oxford, 1894.
Aristotle. Metaphysics. Ed. and comm. W. D. Ross. 2 vols. Oxford, 1924.
Aristotle. Physics. Ed. and comm. W. D. Ross. Oxford, 1936.
Aristotle. Rhetorica. Ed. R. Kassel. Berlin, 1976.
Diels, Hermann, ed. Doxographi Graeci. Berlin, 1879.
Diels, Hermann, and Kranz, Walther, eds. Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. 6th
ed. 3 vols. Berlin, 1951-52. Cited as DK.
Dring, Ingemar. Aristotle's Protrepticus: An Attempt at Reconstruction.
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Edmonds, J. M., ed. and tr. The Fragments of Attic Comedy. 3 vols. in 4.
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Hesiod. Theogony. Ed. and comm. M. L. West. Oxford, 1966.
Hippocrates. Breaths. Ed. and tr. W. H. S. Jones. In Hippocrates, vol. 2. Loeb
Classical Library. London, 1923.
Hippocrates. Du Rgime. Ed. and tr. R. Joly. Bud. Paris, 1967.
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Joachim, Harold H., ed. and comm. Aristotle on Coming-to-be and Passingaway. Oxford, 1922.

Nauck, August, ed. Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. 2d ed. Teubner.

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Archer-Hind, R. D. The Phaedo of Plato. 2d ed. London, 1894.
Cornford, Francis M. Plato's Cosmology. London, 1937.
Cornford, Francis M. Plato's Theory of Knowledge. London, 1935.

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Hackforth, Reginald. Plato's Examination of Pleasure. Cambridge, 1945.

Hackforth, Reginald. Plato's Phaedo. Cambridge, 1955.
Kirk, G. S., J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield, eds. The Presocratic Philosophers.
Cambridge, 1983.
Liddell, Scott, and Jones. A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford, 1940, with
supplement 1968. Cited as LSJ.
Plato. Collected Dialogues. Tr. Benjamin Jowett. 3d ed. 5 vols. Oxford, 1892.
Plato. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus. Ed. and tr. H. N. Fowler.
Loeb Classical Library. London, 1914.
Plato. Phaedo. Ed. and comm. John Burnet. Oxford, 1911.
Plato. Phdon. Ed. and tr. Paul Vicaire. 2d ed. Bud. Paris, 1983.
Plato. Philebus and Epinomis. Tr. A. E. Taylor, ed. R. Klibansky. London, 1956.
Proclus. Commentaire sur le Time. Tr. A. J. Festugire. 5 vols. Paris, 1966-68.
Schleiermacher, Friedrich, tr. Platons Werke. 2d ed. 3 vols. in 6. Berlin, 180728.
Other Secondary Sources
Brisson, Luc. Le mme et l'autre dans la structure ontologique du Time de
Platon. Paris, 1974.
Cherniss, Harold. Aristotle's Criticism of Plato and the Academy. Vol. 1.
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Cherniss, Harold. Selected Papers. Leiden, 1977.
Claus, David. Toward the Soul. New Haven, 1981.
Dancy, Russell. Two Studies in the Early Academy. Albany, 1991.
Furley, David. Cosmic Problems. Cambridge, 1989.
Gaiser, Konrad. Platons Ungeschriebene Lehre. Stuttgart, 1963.
Hackforth, Reginald. "Plato's Theism." In Studies in Plato's Metaphysics, ed. R.
E. Allen. London, 1965.

Jaeger, Gerhard. "Nus" in Platons Dialogen. Hypomnemata. Vol. 17. Gttingen,

Jaeger, Werner. Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development. Tr.
R. Robinson. 2d ed. Oxford, 1948.
Ledger, Gerard. Re-Counting Plato. Oxford, 1989.
Lloyd, G. E. R. Magic, Reason, and Experience. Cambridge, 1979.
Menn, Stephen. "Aristotle and Plato on God as Nous and as the Good." Review
of Metaphysics 45 (March 1992).
Menn, Stephen. Descartes and Augustine. Cambridge, forthcoming.
Menn, Stephen. "Descartes and Some Predecessors on the Divine Conservation
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Dunamis." Ancient Philosophy 14 (Spring 1994).
Mohr, Richard. The Platonic Cosmology. Leiden, 1985.
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Skemp, Joseph. The Theory of Motion in Plato's Later Dialogues. Enl. ed.
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Page 83

Index Locorum
Loci Platonici
83a1-b4 4
95e9 1
96a9-10 1
97c1-5 1-2, 8
97d5-7 69n.8
98a6-b1 2
98a7 8
98b5-6 2
98b8-c1 2, 65-66n.2
98b9 70n.3
99a5-b1 17
99b1-2 2
99b3-4 39, 65-66n.2
99c1-9 2, 3, 33
105c9-10 22
105d3-4 22
106d5-6 22
396b3-c3 66-67n.1
400a8-10 73-74n.14
413c5-7 74n.21

184d1-5 45
203e2-5 45
216a4-c2 66n.6, 71-72n.5
239a4-8 11
246e5-247a10 23
248a10-11 54
248b5-6 54
248c7-9 54
248d4-7 54
248d10-e4 54-55
248e6-249d4 19
248e6-249a2 21, 34
249a1 22
249a3 22, 34
249a4-9 21
249a6 22
249b6 21, 22
249c3-4 21, 22
249c6-8 21
255a4-b1 70-71n.4
265c4 8
268d9 66n.7
269c4-270a8 10

270b1 66n.7
272e4-6 8, 10
273b1 7
273c3 8
273d4 8
273e1-4 10
274e1 66n.7
274e10-275a2 8
11b7-8 16
11d11-12a4 16
13e4 16
21d6-10 16
23d5-8 3
24c3-d7 67n.5
25a6-b2 9
25d11-26c1 3
25d11-e2 9, 10, 67n.5
25e8 9
26a6-8 31, 67n.5
26b1 31
26b7-c1 67n.5
26d7-9 11
26e6-8 7, 46
27a1-3 11, 46
27a8-9 46

27b1 3, 7
28a4 16
28c3 16

Page 84

28c6-8 8, 16
28d5-9 3, 8, 16, 17
28e1 3
28e3 3, 8
29a9-30d8 73n.5
29c6-8 3, 5
30a3-b7 73n.5
30c4-7 3, 5, 8, 10, 16, 17, 31
30c9-10 11, 16, 19, 20, 69n.10
30d7-8 3
30d10-e1 46
55b3-4 15, 16
55c5 16
59b7 16
59d1 16
62a7-b9 4
63c5-7 16
65d1-2 72-73n.4
66b5-6 16
175d4-7 72-73n.4
237d6-9 45
241a3 16
247d1 16

159a1-3 72-73n.4
285c7-d1 72-73n.4
287d7-e1 11
507e6-508a2 33
508a6 33
70a1-4 20
71a4-6 20
86c9-d2 20
99c8 20
99e5-100a1 20
100b2-5 20
VI 507e6-508a2 55
VI 508a5 55
VI 508b9 55
VI 508e1-509b10 67n.2
VII 530a6 8
20d8 5
21c4-d3 71-72n.5
23d6 67n.5
24b5 67n.5

24c4-d3 67n.5
27a5-6 5
27b4 5
27c6-d1 69n.8
28a4-5 8
28a6 7
28c3-5 6, 8
29c4-d3 49
29d2 5
30a2-3 67n.4
30a5 8
30b1-3 11, 13, 15, 19, 20, 34
30b4-5 11, 15, 20
30b7-8 11, 15, 20
30c7-8 58
30d1-31a1 58
31b6-32c4 48
32c2 33
33a2 10
33b6 48
33c2 10
34a1-3 10, 16, 48, 74n.1
34a3-4 10
34a8-9 34
34b3-4 48
35a1 48

35a5 48
35a6-7 45
35a7-8 9, 48, 51, 67n.6
35b1-36d7 48
35b2-36b6 9
36c2-d7 52
36d8-e5 48
36d8-9 69n.8
36e4-5 15
37a1-2 11, 12

Page 85

376b-8 67n.6
37c2-5 11, 20, 52
37d5-6 8
37e1 10
39e7-9 10
41b1-6 56
43a6-7 53
43d1-e4 53
43d6-7 56
44b2-6 53, 57
46c7-47a1 38, 39, 40, 41
46c7-d3 65-66n.2
46d1-3 38, 39
46d4 39, 74n.19
46d4-e2 38
46d5-6 11, 20
46d7-e2 41
46e4-6 38, 39
47b6-c4 53
47d2-6 9, 53
47e4 10
48a2-5 10, 67n.6
48e3-4 46
49a3-4 46
51a7-b1 9

51d3-e6 68n.3
51e5-6 15
52e2 9
53a7 8
53b1 8, 9
53b4-5 9
53c4-5 76n.8
53d4-7 49
54a2-b2 49
54b1-2 77n.2
55a7-56a6 49
57d3-6 49
57e2-58a1 74n.1
59c5-d3 49
69c1 8
X 891c2-4 37, 38, 76n.8
X 891e5-6 37
X 892a3-5 75n.5
X 892c2-6 37, 38, 75n.5
X895a6-b1 42
X 895a6-7 37
X 895b5-6 36
X 896a1-2 37
X896a5-b3 37, 75n.5
X 897b1-3 15, 16, 18, 37

X 897b7-c1 18
X 897c5-6 18
X 897d1 18
X 897e4-898b3 18
X 898b5-8 18
X 898c7-8 18
X 898e5-899a4 76-77n.14
XII 963a6-9 16, 69n.12
XII 965d2 16, 69n.12
XII 966b6-7 18
XII 966d6-967e2 35
XII 966d6-7 74n.2
XII 966d9-e4 8, 18, 35, 75n.3
XII 966e2-967b6 4-5
XII 967a7-c5 35-36
XII 967b5-6 3, 8, 18
XII 967d5-e2 18, 36, 75n.3
981b3-7 75n.5
983d2-5 75n.5
Other Ancient Writers
Didaskalikos, chap. 10 67n.2
Frag. 9 76n.13
Frag. 11 26

Frag. 12 25, 27, 28, 29, 72n.2

Frag. 14 28
A116 73n.10
A117 73n.10
Clouds 317 74n.15
Clouds 329-330 74n.15
Frag. 471 Edmonds 69n.9

Page 86

Physics VIII.4 255b1-256a2 78n.6
De Caelo 1.9 278a23-b8 78n.7
On Gen. and Corr. II.9 335b18-24 66n.4
De Anima I.2 404b2-6 29
De Anima III.5 430a10-25 55

8 1074a31-38 78n.7

Metaphysics . 10 1075a38-b11 72n.1

Metaphysics . 10 1075b16-20 66n.4
Nic. Ethics I.13 1102b30-1103a3 74n.19
Rhetoric I.4 1359b14 70n.3
Protrepticus B36 Dring 76n.8
Protrepticus B110 Dring 73n.9
De Natura Deorum I.xii.30 (Doxographi Graceci, p. 537) 66-67n.1
De Natura Deorum I.xiii.33 (Doxographi Graeci, p. 539) xi
Frag. 2 40
Frag. 3 31, 40, 73n.12, 75-76n.7
Frag. 4 29, 75-76n.7
Frag. 5 30, 41, 75-76n.7, 76n.11
A19 76n.12
new fragment? 38-41
Frag. 27 33

Frag. 1114 Nauck 69n.9
Helen (DK Frag. 11) #8 73n.6
Frag. 2 32
Frag. 30 32
Frag. 40 15
Frag. 41 15, 75n.6
Frag. 50 32
Frag. 67 74n.17
Frag. 94 32, 74n.17
Frag. 114 15, 32
Frag. 117 73n.11
Frag. 118 73n.11
A16 74n.20
Theogony 901-3 74n.18
Theogony 904-6 74n.21
On Breaths
chap. 3 (ed. Jones 2:230) 31, 39-40, 74n.16
chap. 15 (ed. Jones 2:252) 39-40
On Regimen
I.3-10 (ed. Joy, pp. 4-13) 75n.6
On the Sacred Disease

chap. 19 (ed. Jones 2:178) 29

1 Cor. 8:5 xi
Frag. 1 33
Frag. 8 32, 74n.21
V.9.4 xii
V.9.5 xii
[PLUTARCH] Placita, STOBAEUS Eclogae Physicae: cited from DIELS, ed., Doxographi
pp. 301-6 xi
p. 301 xi
p. 304 xi, 67n.2
p. 387 73n.13
Frag. 36 West 71-72n.5
Frag. 25 25
Memorabilia I.iv.8 27