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Plato supposes that there is a strong correlation and interdependence between astronomy, philosophic wisdom and mythology. In his writings, he (2) the placed the study of astronomy on the mythological background trying to explain the nature of physical and biological events and processes. According to Plato, effective application of astronomy can help philosophers to understand universal wisdom as it allows to find solutions to a problem and to explain the very existence using movements of the planets. For Plato, astronomy is the main science which could help to explain events and philosophic wisdom through effective application of astronomic concepts and processes.
Plato underlines that there is a great value of astronomy as it attains to philosophical wisdom, “for above all the passing phenomena of the world stood the timeless perfection of the heavens, whose manifest intelligence could inform the philosopher’s life and awaken wisdom in his soul”. This suggestion follows from the more general conviction that nature forms a system, so that different specialized sciences and subject matters are related to one another, and can be understood better when philosophers see their systematic connection than they can if they merely examine them separately. Beyond this, Plato combined the insights mythology into the idea that nature is governed by general laws which can be stated mathematically, and which imitate the beautiful and the good by having maximum simplicity. The original motif reflected important discovery that aesthetics and astronomy rest on quantitative ratios of small whole integers, and their products, to one another. Plato supposes that things have the laws and numbers they do because things are beautiful, and the economy and simplicity of the underlying laws and periods of the universe give them their beauty. The degree of approximation of actual observed phenomena to these underlying, limiting laws varies with type and scale. Studying the cosmos as a whole, it appears close, though certain planetary aberrations remained unexplained by Plato’s approximation, and left.
For Plato, the very organization of astronomy illustrates an idea of considerable importance for science and philosophy: for it seems that the section on mental and physical diseases at the end of the study can be understood only if one already knows something about cosmology, God, space, and inorganic chemistry. All nature is interrelated on Plato’s view, and the living organism, particularly man, lies at a point of very complex intersection of the over-all cosmic plan and the mechanical accidents of history which deviate from the ideal order. It is still suggestive to ask whether a modern school of medicine ought to adopt this notion of education. For Plato, common sense is associated with practice sufficiently so that at first the notion that a physician will practice his own art better if he knows something about astronomy and something about the traditional problem of evil seems nonsensical. Plato sees “nature as an impersonal phenomenon whose laws of chance and necessity bore little concern for human affairs. The evidence of unbiased common sense suggested that the world was constituted by visible matter, not invisible deities”(Tarnas 29).
Mythological nature of the world has a great impact on Plato and his understanding of astronomy and philosophical wisdom. The cosmology — a central terrestrial or sublunary region where there was coming to be and passing away, and an outer celestial region whose spheres generated the cyclic movements of the fixed stars and planets was dominated during this period of time. Its inflexibility and the resulting gap between theory and observation gained significance almost immediately, Plato conquered much of the known world and geometrical astronomy began to merge with the arithmetical and observation-based astronomy. Uniform circular motions continued to be seen by Greek astronomers as the key to understanding the universe, but now they were to be employed with more flexibility and with greater concern for observational fact. “Similarly, in the Timaeus, when Plato sets forth his views on the creation and structure of the universe, he does so in almost entirely mythological terms; so too in his many discussions of the nature and destiny of the soul” (Tarnas 14).
For Plato, it was difficult to overcome century old traditions and world order but he applied his own vision to already existed knowledge. He supposes that smaller regions of space and time, such as individual persons or societies, are not isolated systems: they are not self-sufficient and are in constant interaction with an environment which varies; as a result, small scale phenomena present more difficulty to the scientist anxious to trace the role of the ideal in the actual. A further Platonic idea, that there is a God who has created this world from an ideal plan, actually involves two distinct notions, one of which has been widely accepted throughout the history of Western thought (Tarnas 19). Plato’s deity is powerful and good–and so far Christianity in its orthodox form would agree–but Plato’s God is already given the raw material of a “chaos” of fluid space, and His power is limited by the fact that this plastic medium will not accept or retain form perfectly. The result is, that evil results from failures of the cosmos to imitate the perfect plan properly; there is a certain slippage, erosion, and interference which is the necessary consequence of space-time existence. God is not responsible for disease, death, war, and similar phenomena, and presumably disapproves of them; but He is not all-powerful, and our cosmos is the most beautiful, unified, yet varied world which can be created in the field of becoming.
Plato It recognizes the complex character of “causal” explanation in his lecture. “Plato often criticized poets for anthropomorphizing the gods, yet he did not cease from teaching his own philosophical system in striking mythological formulations and with implicitly religious intent” (Tarnas 14). First, one must distinguish “causes” from “conditions”; a creative God will have some reason for making the world as He does, and that reason will be to realize some good. This good is “the true cause”; the number and assembly of spacetime components is rather an “auxiliary cause.” Thus, animals have vision because this is a good; but in order to realize it, they need organs properly designed (Tarnas 18).
In sum, for Plato astronomy represents a unique science which helps to find solutions and solve problems of other sciences such as philosophy or biology. In his writings, Plato pays special attention to universal order and its relation to philosophy and wisdom. Plato cannot overcome mythological nature of science and placed his concepts and ideas on the ancient mythological world order and the role of God in life of the universe.
Tarnas, R. Passion of the Western Mind. Ballantine Books, 1993.