16 March 2005

Autonomy Not Independent (It Seems)

As we saw, on the basis of his interpreation of the preludes, Bobonich attributes to Plato in the Laws the principle of Autonomy:

"In the case of two free persons, even when the first possesses knowledge of what is good for the second that the second lacks, it is ethically appropriate that the one try as far as possible to persuade the other rationally; because of the [other's] status as a free person, he deserves to be rationally persuaded" (105).
I concluded, provisionally, that Bobonich's interpretation of the preludes was not well grounded; and that there was no reason to attribute Autonomy to Plato, and weighty reasons against.

But would the main argument of Plato's Utopia Recast survive nonetheless? Is the argument independent of Bobonich's reading of the preludes?

This requires some careful study. But a preliminary view of the matter is not encouraging. When Bobonich gives what he calls "a brief sketch of the argument" in the opening pages of the book, after pointing out that only philosophers can be virtuous, according to the Phaedo, Bobonich then says:
But when we turn to the Laws, one of Plato's late dialogues, we find signs that something quite new is going on. Near the end of the fourth book of the Laws, the Athenian, Plato's spokesman in the Laws, asks whether the legislator for their new city of Magnesia should, in making laws, 'explain straight away what must and must not be done, add the threat of a penalty, and turn to another law, without adding a single bit of encouragement or persuasion to his legislative edicts' (Laws 720A1-2). Plato goes on to condemn such a procedure as 'the worse and more savage alternative' (Laws 720E4) [sic]. ...(8)
After quoting from a couple of more passages in which Plato uses the servile/free doctor analogy, Bobonich says:
In these passages, Plato requires that a good city aim at imparting to all its citizens--and not only the philosophers among them--some reasoned grasp of basic ethical truth. This requirement goes well beyond what Plato required or thought possible in middle-period dialogues such as the Phaedo and Republic. This difference, I shall argue, is a sign of new and significant developments in the Laws (9).
Bobonich then goes on to say that Laws rejects the view of the Phaedo that only philosophers can be virtuous.

This summary makes it seem as though Bobonich's interpretation of the preludes is the main evidence in favor of (what we called) his Claim, and thus a major support for the basic argument of the book.