06 March 2005

Counterarguments from Bobonich

Pradeau's case looked strong, didn't it? One might wonder what Bobonich could say in reply.

We should be clear first of all on what exactly Bobonich holds in contrast. Fortunately for us, Bobonich gives a useful summary of his view on p. 104 of his book (Plato's Utopia Recast). He says there:

  • The role of the preludes is to teach. This involves giving "good epistemic reasons for thinking that the principles lying behind ...legislation are true".
  • The preludes are "instances of rational persuasion, that is, attempts to influence the citizens' beliefs through appealing to rational considerations".
  • "The preludes are meant to give quite general ethical instruction", including "a true and reasoned account of what is good for human beings".
Teaching; rational persuasion; instruction--that is what the preludes are about, according to Bobonich.

But what is his evidence? He gives five arguments.

1. Plato says that the preludes are meant to teach. Bobonich points to Plato's use of the verbs dida/skein and paideu/ein in talking about the preludes:

[A free doctor] investigates these [maladies] from their beginning and according to nature, communing with the patient himself and his friends, and he both learns something himself from the invalids and, as much as he can, teaches [dida/skei] the one who is sick. He does not give orders until he has in some way persuaded: once he has on each occasion made the sick person gentle by means of persuasion, he attempts to lead him back to health (720d-e, Bobonich translation)
...tau=ta e)ceta/zwn a)p' a)rxh=j kai\ kata\ fu/sin, tw=| ka/mnonti koinou/menoj au)tw=| te kai\ toi=j fi/loij, a(/ma me\n au)to\j manqa/nei ti para\ tw=n nosou/ntwn, a(/ma de\ kai\ kaq' o(/son oi(=o/j te/ e)stin, dida/skei to\n a)sqenou=nta au)to/n, kai\ ou) pro/teron e)pe/tacen pri\n a)/n ph| sumpei/sh|, to/te de\ meta\ peiqou=j h(merou/menon a)ei\ paraskeua/zwn to\n ka/mnonta, ei)j th\n u(gi/eian a)/gwn, a)potelei=n peira=tai;
See also 857e, paideu/ein; 885d, 888d, 899c, dida/skein. (The latter three occurrences are from book 10.)

2. Plato says that the preludes are meant to provide explanations, reasons, or accounts (lo/goi) of the laws. As regards the servile doctors, Plato says that "None of these doctors gives or receives any account [ou)/te tina\ lo/gon...di/dwsin ou)d 0 a)pode/xetai]" of the maladies afflicting their patients (720b). Servile doctors practice medicine without being able to give an explanation (a)/neu lo/gou, 857d)

3. Generally, Plato's comparison of the preludes with the practice of free doctors (as opposed to servile doctors) shows that the preludes are meant to instruct: whereas a servile doctor merely gives a course of treatment, a free doctor instructs the patient before giving the treatment.

4. The content of the preludes is sophisticated and argumentative; on their face they are giving instruction. The prelude to the laws about theft, in book 9, is "detailed and philosophically sophisticated" (101); the prelude which constitutes the bulk of book 10 contains "several elaborate and philosophically sophisticated arguments" (102).

5. Plato views the preludes as continuous with the general course of education of the citizens. But if education instructs and gives the reasons of things, then the preludes do as well. The preludes are "part of the citizens' education" (107). "The entire text of the Laws itself will be read by all the citizens" (106-7). Thus: "Plato does not, and need not, draw a sharp line between stretches of text that are explicitly designated 'preludes' and those parts of the text that also explain the purpose of the laws, but are not officially designated as 'preludes'" (106).

All of this seems convincing.

So what is it? Do the preludes cajole, exhort, and threaten (Pradeau) or do they give reasons and instruct (Bobonich)?

Tomorrow, I'll give my resolution--and I'll invite comments on other ways of resolving the issue.