04 March 2005

The Case for Pradeau

I'm sorry, but this is still bugging me.

Here I extract and list Pradeau's arguments, and then, in another post, I'll counterpose against these arguments from Bobonich's book.

Recall: What is at issue is the nature of the preludes affixed to laws in Plato's Laws.

Pradeau claims that the preludes are rhetorical; that they praise and blame; and that their goal is to cajole and sometimes even threaten the non-rational parts of a citizen's soul into becoming receptive to the claims of law. Bobonich claims that the preludes are discursive and even philosophical; that they are rational considerations; and that their aim is to provide a rationally persuasive context or basis for the law.

For Pradeau, the preludes fit into a paternalistic conception of law; they help to persuade citizens to be lawful in the way a father might aim to win the cooperation of a child. For Bobonich, the preludes are part of a more fraternal conception of law; they help to establish a shared and equal understanding of the law as between lawgivers and citizens.

Why is the dispute important? It's of interest in its own right, of course, and as a matter of history of law. But also--one might suppose--if Bobonich is right, then Plato gives testimony of sorts to the vigor and power of the conception of political society thought to be implicit in liberal democracy (even Plato was attracted to it); also, we perhaps need to re-evaluate the meaning or intent of what Plato says about the kallipolis in the Republic.

Caveat: It's not fair to say that Pradeau is 'pessimistic' about the appeal that laws have, or that he regards the persuasiveness of the preludes as being 'non-rational'. A parent is not 'pessimistic' in thinking that a child might need to be cajoled before being told to clean up her room; and to cajole is an eminently rational activity, on the part of the person cajoled as well--even if its principal aim is to gain the cooperation of some part of us that is non-rational.

Here are Pradeau's arguments, as best I can discern, extracted out of his lecture (some reconstructed also from the discussion period):

1. That Plato describes the preludes as akin to musical incantations (see 720d-e) indicates that they are directed at the non-rational part of the soul. This becomes especially clear in his treatment of the prelude at 840b-e, where Plato says that the prelude to the law on sexual conduct is akin to the exhortations parents and trainers give to young men, to set their sights on competition and victory: "we'll charm them, you can bet, by telling them stories, speaking to them, and singing songs" (pro\j au)tou\j le/gontej e)n mu/qoij te kai\ e)n r(h/masin kai\ e)n me/lesin a)/|dontej, w(j ei)ko/j, khlh/somen)). Then fear too gets mentioned here, as in other preludes: "Furthermore, will not the dread that this is a thing utterly unholy give them power to master those impulses which men inferior to themselves have mastered?"(Jowett) (pro\j de\ tou/toij e)/ti fo/boj o( tou= mhdamh=| mhdamw=j o(/sion au)to\ ei)=nai du/namin h(mi=n ou)k a)/ra e(/cei kratei=n w(=n a)/lloi kekrath/kasi tou/twn o)/ntej xei/ronej;).

2. Plato repeatedly says that the preludes are similar to the admonitions that a parent might give a child. Here's one instance only, at 9.859a:

Are we to conceive that the written laws in our States should resemble persons moved by love and wisdom, such as a father or a mother, or that they should order and threaten, like some tyrant and despot, who writes his decree on the wall, and there is an end of it? (Jowett)

ou(/tw dianow/meqa peri\ no/mwn dei=n grafh=j gi/gnesqai tai=j po/lesin, e)n patro/j te kai\ mhtro\j sxh/masi filou/ntwn te kai\ nou=n e)xo/ntwn fai/nesqai ta\ gegramme/na, h)\ kata\ tu/rannon kai\ despo/thn ta/canta kai\ a)peilh/santa gra/yanta e)n toi/xoij a)phlla/xqai;

3. Plato also frequently says that if citizens were persuaded by the preludes, there would be no need for them to be given law at all--which indicates that the preludes express the right sorts of sentiments (common to a decent person, of the sort parents actually use) rather than the right sorts of philosophical arguments or teaching.

4. Plato says, with reference to the preludes, that a good legislator ought to mix in considerations of nobility and shame with the law--but that's just to say that rhetorical considerations aimed to cajole (and perhaps even frighten) should be mixed in.
Pradeau quotes 7.823a2-6:
...the true lawgiver must not only write laws, but in addition to the laws, he must blend into his writing of the laws what he takes to be admirable or not, and the perfect citizen must be bound by these writings no less than those that come with legal penalties attached.

to/n te nomoqe/thn o)/ntwj dei= mh\ mo/non gra/fein tou\j no/mouj, pro\j de\ toi=j no/moij, o(/sa kala\ au)tw=| dokei= kai\ mh\ kala\ ei)=nai, no/moij e)mpeplegme/na gra/fein, to\n de\ a)/kron poli/thn mhde\n h(=tton tau=ta e)mpedou=n h)\ ta\ tai=j zhmi/aij u(po\ no/mwn kateilhmme/na
5. Precisely the reason why, according to Plato, lawgivers should be concerned about a bad sort of rhetoric, is that this competes with the true rhetoric that lawgivers should use in the preludes. Pradeau cites 9.937e-938a as an instance.
None would deny that justice between men is a fair thing, and that it has civilized all human affairs. And if justice be fair, how can we deny that pleading is also a fair thing? But these fair things are in disrepute owing to a kind of foul art, which, cloaking itself under a fair name,claims, first, that there exists a device for dealing with lawsuits, and further, that it is the one which is able, by pleading and helping another to plead, to win the victory, whether the pleas concernedbe just or unjust; and it also asserts that both this art itself and the arguments which proceed from it are a gift offered to any man who gives money in exchange. This art--whether it be really an art or merely an artless trick got by habit and practice--must never, if possible, arise in our State; and when the lawgiver demands compliance and no contradiction of justice, or the removal of such artists to another country,--if they comply, the law for its part shall keep silence, but if they fail to comply, its pronouncement shall be this, Etc.
6. The legislator is for the same reason in competition with the poets, "who must," Pradeau summarizes, "be guided and censored so as not to impede legislative and governmental discourse". He cites 7.817a-e (cf. also 11.935c-936b):

Now as to what are called our “serious” poets, the tragedians,--suppose that some of them were to approach us and put some such question as this,--“O Strangers, are we, or are we not, to pay visits to your city and country, and traffic in poetry? Or what have you decided to do about this?” What would be the right answer to make to these inspired persons regarding the matter? In my judgment, this should be the answer, --“Most excellent of Strangerswe ourselves, to the best of our ability, are the authors of a tragedy at once superlatively fair and good; at least, all our polity is framed as a representation of the fairest and best life, which is in reality, as we assert, the truest tragedy. Thus we are composers of the same things as yourselves, rivals of yours as artists and actors of the fairest drama, which, as our hope is, true law, and it alone, is by nature competent to complete.Do not imagine, then, that we will ever thus lightly allow you to set up your stage beside us in the marketplace, and give permission to those imported actors of yours, with their dulcet tones and their voices louder than ours, to harangue women and children and the whole populace, and to say not the same things as we say about the same institutions, but, on the contrary, things that are, for the most part, just the opposite. In truth, both we ourselves and the whole Statewould be absolutely mad, were it to allow you to do as I have said, before the magistrates had decided whether or not your compositions are deserving of utterance and suited for publication. So now, ye children and offspring of Muses mild, do ye first display your chants side by side with ours before the rulers; and if your utterances seem to be the same as ours or better, then we will grant you a chorus, but if not, my friends, we can never do so.”

6. It might look as though Plato's image of servile medicine versus liberal medicine counts against this interpretation, but in fact Plato uses that image precisely to insist that legislation is not a matter of teaching (9.857c-e): just as a physician should heal the patient rather than teach medicine, so a legislator should require right conduct rather than teach what right conduct is.
Since Bobonich (as we shall see) interprets this passage for precisely the opposite conclusion, let's put it before us. Plato's thought is I think difficult to construe at one point. I'll use Jowett's translation for now:

You have reminded me of a previous reflection of mine, how that none of the attempts hitherto made at legislation have ever been carried out rightly--as in fact we may infer from the instance before us. What do I mean to imply by this remark? It was no bad comparison we madewhen we compared all existing legislation to the doctoring of slaves by slaves. For one should carefully notice this, that if any of the doctors who practice medicine by purely empirical methods, devoid of theory, were to come upon a free-born doctor conversing with a free-born patient, and using arguments, much as a philosopher would, dealing with the course of the ailment from its origin and surveying the natural constitution of the human body,--he would at once break out into a roar of laughter, and the language he would use would be none other than that which always comes ready to the tongue of most so-called “doctors”: “You fool,” he would say, “you are not doctoring your patient, but schooling him, so to say, as though what he wanted was to be made, not a sound man, but a doctor.”CLINIAS. And in saying so, would he not be right? ATHENIAN. Possibly, provided that he should also take the view that the man who treats of laws in the way that we are now doing is schooling the citizens rather than legislating. Would he not seem to be right in saying that, too? CLINIAS. Probably.

ou) kakw=j a)ph|ka/samen, o(/te dou/loij w(j i)atreuome/noij u(po\ dou/lwn a)ph|ka/zomen pa/ntaj tou\j nu=n nomoqetoume/nouj. eu)= ga\r e)pi/stasqai dei= to\ toio/nde, w(j ei) katala/boi pote/ tij i)atro\j tw=n tai=j e)mpeiri/aij a)/neu lo/gou th\n i)atrikh\n metaxeirizome/nwn e)leu/qeron e)leuqe/rw| nosou=nti dialego/menon i)atro/n, kai\ tou= filosofei=n e)ggu\j xrw/menon me\n toi=j lo/goij, e)c a)rxh=j te a(pto/menon tou= nosh/matoj, peri\ fu/sewj pa/shj e)panio/nta th=j tw=n swma/twn, taxu\ kai\ sfo/dra gela/seien a)\n kai\ ou)k a)\n a)/llouj ei)/poi lo/gouj h)\ tou\j peri\ ta\ toiau=t' a)ei\ proxei/rouj o)/ntaj toi=j plei/stoij legome/noij i)atroi=j: fai/h ga\r a)\n w)= mw=re, ou)k i)atreu/eij to\n nosou=nta a)lla\ sxedo\n paideu/eij, w(j i)atro\n a)ll' ou)x u(gih= deo/menon gi/gnesqai.

ou)kou=n le/gwn ta\ toiau=ta o)rqw=j a)\n le/goi;

ta/x' a)/n, ei) prosdianooi=to/ ge w(j o(/stij peri\ no/mwn ou(/tw diece/rxetai, kaqa/per h(mei=j ta\ nu=n, paideu/ei tou\j poli/taj a)ll' ou) nomoqetei=. a)=r' ou)=n ou) kai\ tou=t' a)\n pro\j tro/pou le/gein fai/noito;


Pradeau takes the passage to mean that a legislator should not aim to teach legislation or its basis (although the interlocutors in the dialogue may give themselves that sort of freedom, since they are not really engaged in legislation).

7. It might look as though the prelude which occupies most of book 10 of the Laws, with its cosmological argument directed against the natural philosophers, is definitely giving reasons and arguments rather than rhetoric--but here 'the exception proves the rule'. This prelude is designed especially to counter arguments which mislead the mind; therefore, it must be directed at the mind. But it's an exception; the other preludes--the typical instance of a prelude--is different.