Author ORCID Identifier
Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Arts and Sciences
Dr. Eric Sanday
My dissertation is a reading of Plato’s Timaeus that centers sexual difference and in particular femininity. I analyze the role of sexual difference in the framing of the dialogue as well as its accounts of body in the first and second discourse and its account of health in the third discourse. I argue that sexual difference, and, in particular, sexual reproduction, serves as a guiding paradigm of Timaeus’ entire project. I argue in each part of my dissertation that various aspects of the Timaeus depend on a certain notion of sexual difference—even aspects which are seemingly causally prior to the issue of sexual difference (e.g., the nature of cause itself, structure). The dissertation consists of three parts. In the first part of my dissertation, I give a new reading of the myth of the origin of women at the end of the Timaeus and bring it into conversation with the dialogue’s opening in order to give an interpretation of the dialogue’s framing. I analyze the concept of sexual difference presented in this myth and argue that its philosophical richness has been overlooked, with many considering it to be either a joke or a sexist account. Focusing on Timaeus’s account of the woman’s relationship with her womb, I argue that womanhood in this myth is constituted by features that are elsewhere characterized as essentially philosophical (e.g., collaboration, making room, recognizing the complex structure of things, and nurture). In the second part of my dissertation, I introduce the two paradigms for the origin and composition of the cosmos in the Timaeus: the first discourse’s craft paradigm that construes the cosmos as a crafted artifact, and the second discourse’s genetic paradigm that construes the cosmos as a birthed organism. I am especially concerned with each discourse’s account of body. Here, I argue that the second discourse’s genetic paradigm is a significant revision of the first discourse’s craft paradigm. While some scholars have found that Timaeus’s insights in the second discourse are a further development of the groundwork he lays in the first discourse, I argue that the genetic paradigm’s focus on femininity and the mutual collaboration of masculine and feminine capacities is incompatible with the craft paradigm’s androcentrism. Finally, in the third part of my dissertation, I analyze the way that the Timaeus centers women’s bodies in its account of health in body and soul. Here, I argue that the Timaeus characterizes health by drawing on ideas about women’s bodies that are framed as symptoms of feminine disease in the Hippocratic texts (e.g., disequilibrium, flux, and porosity). Taken together, the three articles of my dissertation constitute a reading of the role of sexual difference in each part of the Timaeus.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Cunningham, Mary, "The Role of Sexual Difference in Plato's Timaeus" (2022). Theses and Dissertations--Philosophy. 32.