Monday, February 23, 2004


Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen comments on the ten books university professors think undergraduates should read. Number three on the list (after the Bible and the Odyssey) is Plato's Republic. Sticking in my own 2 cents (what else are blogs for?): I have always been more taken with Plato's Timaeus than The Republic.

Everybody says The Timaeus is a hard book (some call it "obscure and repulsive"). It is a tough book, in part because it's short and about well, pretty much everything. As a result it's dense; "dense" in the sense that it's crowded with ideas, packed into conversations that need to be decoded like mathematical proofs. I read it a long time ago so my memory of its difficulty has faded, like my recollection of childbirth, leaving one line behind:
Matter is recalcitrant.
This is Plato's explanation for why, despite that fact that it is working from those oh so perfect blueprints the Platonic Forms, it was not possible for the Creator (or "Demiurge") to reproduce them faithfully when creating our sensible world.

I like the line and remember it because the principle stretches well to cover far less profound contemporary misses. Plus, it makes its point with only three words. It is elegant, again like a mathematical proof--or the Form of one.

Now I just need to figure out the original Greek of the line and find myself a tattoo parlor.


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