Proportion: Science, Philosophy, Architecture

By Richard Padovan | Go to book overview

Chapter six

PLATO: ORDER OUT OF CHAOS

Desiring, then, that all things should be good and, so far as it might be, nothing imperfect, the god took over all that is visible—not at rest, but in discordant and unordered motion—and brought it from disorder into order, since he judged that order was in every way the better.1


6.1THE ORIGINAL AND THE COPY

I have presented the later Presocratics, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus and Democritus, as builders of bridges across the gulf that had opened up between the extreme positions of Parmenides and Heraclitus. They tried to reconcile the view that the world, however complex and changing it appears, must in reality be completely intelligible, with the doctrine that reality is ever moving, ever evading the grasp of the human mind, and that its order, if it exists, is a hidden one. The two great thinkers who are the subject of this and the following chapter, Plato (427-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC), forged more powerful and more comprehensive syntheses of these opposed views, but their solutions differed radically from each other. Both recognized that neither the intellectual nor the sensible aspects of our experience can be denied, and that they must be brought into some kind of relation with each other. Plato gave pre-eminence to the intellectual, mathematical side of this relationship (the world of pure Forms or Ideas) whereas Aristotle identified what he called substances, that is the basic realities, with individual, perceptible things: animals and plants, heavenly bodies, and human artefacts. Plato’s philosophy, being more mathematical, has had the more direct impact on architectural proportion. He is a pivotal figure in this story, connecting Pythagoras with Alberti and Palladio,

1. Plato, ‘Timaeus’, in F.M. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1937, p. 33.

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