26 March 2005

The Best Non-Philosophers Can Do

I owe readers of this blog a posting of the passage that Bobonich is referring to when he talks about 'non-philosophic virtue' in the Phaedo (82a-c).

- “And those who have chosen injustice and tyranny and robbery pass into the bodies of wolves and hawks and kites. Where else can we imagine that they go?”

- “Beyond a doubt,” said Cebes, “they pass into such creatures.”

- “Then,” said he, “it is clear where all the others go, each in accordance with its own habits?”

- “Yes,” said Cebes, “of course.”

- “Then,” said he, “the happiest of those, and those who go to the best place, are those who have practiced, by nature and habit, without philosophy or reason, the social and civil virtues which are called moderation and justice?”

- “How are these happiest?

- “Don't you see? Is it not likely that they pass again into some such social and gentle species as that of bees or of wasps or ants, or into the human race again, and that worthy men spring from them?”

- “Yes.”

- tou\j de/ ge a)diki/aj te kai\ turanni/daj kai\ a(rpaga\j protetimhko/taj ei)j ta\ tw=n lu/kwn te kai\ i(era/kwn kai\ i)kti/nwn ge/nh: h)\ poi= a)\n a)/llose/ famen ta\j toiau/taj i)e/nai;

- a)me/lei, e)/fh o( Ke/bhj, ei)j ta\ toiau=ta.

- ou)kou=n, h)= d' o(/j, dh=la dh\ kai\ ta)=lla h(=| a)\n e(/kasta i)/oi kata\ ta\j au)tw=n o(moio/thtaj th=j mele/thj;

- dh=lon dh/, e)/fh: pw=j d' ou)/;

- ou)kou=n eu)daimone/statoi, e)/fh, kai\ tou/twn ei)si\ kai\ ei)j be/ltiston to/pon i)o/ntej oi( th\n dhmotikh\n kai\ politikh\n a)reth\n e)pitethdeuko/tej, h(\n dh\ kalou=si swfrosu/nhn te kai\ dikaiosu/nhn, e)c e)/qouj te kai\ mele/thj gegonui=an a)/neu filosofi/aj te kai\ nou=;

- ph=| dh\ ou(=toi eu)daimone/statoi;

- o(/ti tou/touj ei)ko/j e)stin ei)j toiou=ton pa/lin a)fiknei=sqai politiko\n kai\ h(/meron ge/noj, h)/ pou melittw=n h)\ sfhkw=n h)\ murmh/kwn, kai\ ei)j tau)to/n ge pa/lin to\ a)nqrw/pinon ge/noj, kai\ gi/gnesqai e)c au)tw=n a)/ndraj metri/ouj.

- ei)ko/j.

Bobonich's argument seems to be: this is the best that non-philosophers can do; but it's bleak and holds no hope of improvement; so the lives of all non-philosophers are not worth living.

But (among other difficulties):

1. Why would Plato use the term 'happiest' in the very passage where, on Bobonich's interpretation, he was denying that these people could be happy at all?
2. Why say that the plight of these persons is without hope? If they can get reincarnated as 'worthy' human beings, won't they have a chance at becoming philosophers in a future life?