Time and Creation in the Timaeus

In the Timaeus, Plato claims that time came into being together with the heavens and is essentially connected to the revolutions of the planets. Time is an image of eternity that moves according to number, i.e. its movement is that of the circular rotation of the heavenly bodies. ‘Was’ and ‘will be’ are forms of time and therefore came into being together with the creation of the universe.

However, Plato also speaks about what was ‘before’ the heavens came to be. He speaks about disorderly motions in precosmic becoming out of which our world was created. Whether we interpret the creation of the world literally or metaphorically, Plato incites us to think about movements that occur outside created time.

There are two main strategies for dealing with this issue. Some propose that, according to Plato, there is a different form of time besides the created time of the universe. This other time is not based on numbers, and has no units of time or circular movements. This form of time is constituted by sequences of ‘before’ and ‘after’, which allows us to think about the linear motion of ‘moving away’ and ‘coming together’. Others think that there is no time besides created time. If we try to think about motion outside of created time, we find ourselves at odds, because no motion is thinkable without units, without the possibility of being measured. Therefore, there can be no movement outside the world, and Plato makes us realise this impossibility.

In this paper, I will present the pros and cons of these alternative interpretations of the Timaeus, and emphasise the interconnectedness between concepts of time and concepts of the creation of the world.