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Title: Everlastingness in the Timaeus
Author: Johns, Jeffrey Matthew
ISNI:       0000 0004 6500 3210
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2017
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My aim in this thesis is to show how Plato differentiates the everlastingness of eternity from the everlastingness of time in the cosmogony of his Timaeus, where time is classified as the everlasting ‘moving image’ of ‘eternity-remaining-in-unity’ (Tim. 37c 6-d 7). Of course, as many scholars know, this distinction between eternity and time follows from his distinction between unchanging Being and ever-changing Becoming, so much so that our understanding of what it is that makes time the ‘image’ of eternity—and yet also something other than eternity—proves fundamental to our understanding of Platonic ontology. However, our understanding of Being and Becoming and the relation between them is complicated by the view that what exists in time was and is and will be, whereas what exists in eternity ‘is’ alone (Tim. 37e 4-38a 8). Does this mean that eternity is temporal, given that it ‘is’ in some sense? Or is eternity atemporal, given that it is itself distinguishable from time? Also, if eternity is atemporal, how should one conceive of atemporality in this particular respect? Does this entail existing altogether apart from time? Or can one speak of eternity as just another type of time, a timeless time, as it were? Not surprisingly, it has long been a matter of controversy among scholars whether the eternal ‘is’ is actually tensed or tenseless, temporal or timeless. So too, the very fact that eternity is said to be ‘remaining in unity’ has led some scholars to conceive of eternity as durational, and thus temporal in some sense, on the assumption that duration entails temporality. But then again, still other scholars speak of eternity as an ‘eternal present’ which is non-durational, precisely because it has its being ‘in unity’. By contrast, I argue that the Platonic distinction between Being and Becoming entails a twofold notion of everlastingness, the one temporal, the other extra-temporal, where the latter is signifying timelessness unqualifiedly. For I show that Plato conceives of time and temporal passage as the imperfectly everlasting image (aiônios eikôn) of eternity whilst understanding eternity to be perfectly everlasting (diaiônios), since eternal Being is subject to no passage from its essential being. Only in this way can one explain how the temporality of Becoming is akin to—yet also distinguishable from—the extra-temporality of Being, and then again why it is that both should be thought of as durational. Hence the scholarly assumption that duration entails temporality, an assumption commonly encountered in modern thought, is foreign to Plato. Nor again does it make sense to speak of an ‘eternal present’ apart from everlastingness, and thence apart from duration. So as to clarify this twofold notion of everlastingness it has proven necessary for my argument to touch upon another controversy surrounding the cosmogony of the Timaeus, namely, whether the universe, the realm of Becoming, has had a beginning at some time in the remote past (i.e., at the very first moment of time) or has had no single beginning, at least in a temporal sense (i.e., that it will have come into being ‘always’ (aei)). Scholars have given various arguments for both of these readings. However, I argue that one can resolve this issue by more closely analysing the possible meanings of the verb gegonen (viz. ‘It has come into being’), which is said of the universe as well as time (Tim. 28b 7, 38b 6). With respect to gegonen, the temporal ambiguity of its perfect aspect means that it might refer to a past event in the immediate past no less than in the remote past. Hence one can speak of the generation of time and the universe as everlasting, as a process of genesis having no single, distinct beginning at a time or even in time, but infinitely many beginnings, extending from the infinite past into the ever-emerging present. And that gegonen is ambiguous between past and present time is shown by the cosmological argument at Tim. 28b 2-c 2 and the status of god relative to creation. All in all, this reveals that time, being generate, is a feature of Becoming, not Being. It also reveals that time and the universe need not have had a beginning at some first moment of time.
Supervisor: Kupreeva, Inna ; Richmond, Alasdair Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: everlastingness ; eternity ; time ; cosmogony