16 March 2005

The Basic Idea

As I said in an earlier post, I want to settle my mind over the thesis of Chris Bobonich's Plato's Utopia Recast.

What is that thesis? From Bobonich's own summary (pp. 6-13), it consists of three elements, which I shall call the Claim, the Cause, and the Consequence:

Claim: In earlier works Plato holds that only philosophers can be virtuous and happy; in later works, especially the Laws, he comes to think that citizens generally can have all the virtues and be happy.

Cause: The cause of this change is that Plato rejects the tripartite account of the soul of the Republic and comes to regard the soul as something of a unity.

Consequence: A consequence of this change, is that Plato formulates a rich notion of political community as involving the common pursuit of virtue among all citizens.

Now there are two other items that loom large in the book, Autonomy (as I shall call it) and Dependence (Bobonich calls it the 'Dependency Thesis').
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).

Dependence: The goodness of things other than virtue depends upon the goodness of virtue, so that they are good for a good person, but not good for a bad person.
Bobonich thinks that Plato holds to Autonomy in the Laws and that he toys with various versions of Dependence throughout his career.

That's it, as far as I can tell. The book involves these five things.

It's not clear what role Autonomy and Dependence play in Bobonich's main argument. In earlier posts I argued that in fact there are no good grounds for thinking that Plato accepted Autonomy, that Bobonich's arguments all failed and that there was a more elegant and more conservative explanation of those passages in which Bobonich claimed to discern it. But is this claim about Automony independent of the main argument? If so, we can put it aside without much loss.

Similarly, it's unclear what role Dependence plays in the argument. Lorenz says that, according to Bobonich, the "Laws' concern to promote the acquisition of comprehensive virtue by all of Magnesia's citizens" is 'underwritten by' Plato's acceptance of Dependence. But this phrase, "underwritten by", is vague. Implied by? Consistent with? It's not yet clear to me what Bobonich maintains.