13 March 2005

The Bigger Bigger Picture

Discussion in this blog has centered on only one aspect of Chris Bobonich's Plato's Utopia Recast, namely, its interpretation of the preludes in Plato's Laws. This selective look was determined by Pradeau's lecture, which claimed that Plato's conception of law was the same in the Laws as in the Republic. We focused on the preludes on the grounds that Plato makes much of this innovation, hence a change, if it were to be found anywhere, would likely be found here.

Readers of this blog who wish, however, to get a sense of the much wider scope of Plato's Utopia Recast may usefully consult an online review by Hendrik Lorenz, forthcoming in Philosophical Review, available here.

Chris Rowe has a review in NDPR here, and gives this thumbnail sketch:

But B’s thesis also has a distinct beauty about it, insofar as it finds the justification for the Laws’ unphilosophical aspect in the very sophistication of the philosophical ideas that underlie it. The basic question B asks is this (for reasons of brevity, I put it rather less circumspectly than does B himself): how is it that Plato can propose that the citizens of Magnesia, most of whom will be non-philosophers, will be happy, when it seems to have been his earlier view – as expressed in Phaedo and Republic – that philosophy is, without exception, the sine qua non of human happiness? Answer: because of changes in his epistemology and psychology, the most important such change being the abandonment of the parts-of-the-soul doctrine advanced in the Republic and (according to B) prefigured in the idea of the opposition between soul and body in the Phaedo, and the substitution for that doctrine of a more unified conception of human agency and motivation.
A sign of the wide scope of the book is that neither Lorenz nor Rowe gives attention to the preludes. It's unclear to me how much of the larger argument of the book depends on the interpretation of the preludes that has been disputed here--but I shall look into that.

I don't believe a review has yet appeared in BMCR.


David said...

That's a bit of an unphilosophical answer ie. "he changed his mind." A difference in tone and content does not necessarily mean a difference in one's thinking. I tell my son certain things that I wouldn't tell a full grown adult, and vice versa. I think that it's probably far more likely that Plato is sceptical of the possibility of true happiness for anyone but the philosopher. We aren't comfortable with that answer so we try to explain the problem away.

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, it's a non-explanation, unless one gives good reasons for the change. But one thing else Rowe maintains in the review, not quoted here, is that Bobonich gives such a philosophically unappealing reading of the parts of the soul doctrine in the Republic , that it's not interesting (and therefore not an explanation?) to say that Plato later rejected that.  

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

david said...

How can one give good reasons for a change when it's difficult to demonstrate that such a thing ever even took place? Differences in expression and content in the dialogues can easily be explained by the context of the discussion and the dispositions of the interlocutors. Futhermore, the Phaedo is a work filtered through the lense of a forgetful Pythagorean so we are trying to posit a change in Plato's thinking by relying upon an unreliable narrator who has philosophical commitments of a different sort than Socrates. That's a bit like pointing to the words of Puck to explain a change in Shakespeare's thought.

Anonymous said...

Your comparison seems overstated. Nonetheless, it would be a fair complaint to make against a developmental interpretation of Plato, that it fails to take into account the context, or dramatic significance, of the ideas it tries to explain. Rowe makes that complaint in his review as well. Gavin Colvert, the commentator on Pradeau's lecture in BACAP, offered a similar objection to Pradeau's approach. It must be something about the Laws , that it discourages the standard approach to Plato, which is attentive to irony and dramatic purposes. 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk