23 March 2005

Crito Revisited

In an earlier post, Crito--Quia Absurdum, I said that if we did want to reconstruct the political theory implicit in the Phaedo (a dubious enterprise), we should look to the Crito, on the grounds that the Phaedo was meant to be continuous with that dialogue, and that the Crito would reveal the view of law that Plato took into his middle period (on the usual view of Plato's development).

I said that three passages were important, and here I'll say why.

Recall what is at issue. We are evaluating Bobonich's Claim, in Plato's Utopia Recast, that the Phaedo holds that non-philosphers lack virtue entirely or can't at all be happy, but that the Laws holds that non-philosophers generally can be made virtuous and happy by the laws, and that this marks a real change in Plato's view.

I have been asking, in effect: How do we know that Plato did not always hold, in an ordinary sense, as has often been thought, that laws are meant to make citizens virtuous and happy, and that it's just this ordinary sense that gets unfolded in the Laws--so that there is no philosophical change?

And the Crito supports this latter suggestion.

Passage 3 takes virtue above all to be the goal of the law: "Ah, Socrates, be guided by us who tended your infancy. Care neither for your children nor for life nor for anything else more than for the right, that when you come to the home of the dead, you may have all these things to say in your own defence."

Passage 2 suggests that living under good laws, in the ordinary sense, can make a life worth living: "Will you then avoid the well-governed cities and the most civilized men? And if you do this will your life be worth living? "

Passage 1 (along with several similar passages) suggests that law itself, because it is resonable, is open to persuasion and inherently has an aspect of persuasion: "We say that he who does not obey does threefold wrong, because he disobeys us who are his parents, because he disobeys us who nurtured him, and because after agreeing to obey us he neither obeys us nor convinces us that we are wrong, though we give him the opportunity and do not roughly order him to do what we command."


David said...

How can the laws make us happy if the primary spur to our activity is eros and that doesn't subside save when we die? Do the laws somehow satisfy our eros without killing us?

Anonymous said...

I don't see that eros  has much to do with the Crito. I think we have to allow that Plato wishes to portray Socrates as being lawful in some ordinary sense. 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

David said...

All men are erotic, however, so the law must take that into consideration if it is supposed that the law is to make men both virtuous and happy. You're right to say that the Crito is silent about this question but that silence seems to say something about the dialogue and its purported objective. How can Soc have the laws claim that they are to make men virtuous and happy if the laws are silent about the essential nature of men?