31 March 2005

The Dependency Thesis

I said that there were four elements to Chris Bobonich's Plato's Utopia Recast:

  1. a Claim, about a change in Plato's view of the virtue and happiness of non-philosophers;
  2. a proposed Consequence of that change, namely, a new conception of political society as an association of free and equal persons;
  3. a postulated Cause of that change, namely, Plato's rejection of the tripartite theory of the soul, as that is formulated in the Republic;
  4. a discussion of (what Bobonich calls) the "Dependency Thesis".
This is my last day of posts on the book--although I will continue to welcome comments and criticisms at any point, and will respond to them.

Here I say something briefly about 4. above. In my next post I will say something about 3.

The Dependency Thesis is: whether anything besides virtue is good for person depends upon his having virtue.

A good portion of Plato's Utopia Recast is simply Bobonich's examination of Plato's different formulations and justifications for this principle in various dialogues. (In fact it is not a single principle so much as a moralistic insight, which Plato tries to underwrite in various ways.) Bobonich's discussion along these lines, which seems a useful contribution, to me seems independent of the rest of the book. It could stand on its own as a separate monograph, "The Dependency Thesis in the Dialogues of Plato"--or, at least, that's how it strikes me.

But Bobonich also uses the Dependency Thesis to derive a corollary to his claim about the lack of virtues of non-philosophers. If non-philosophers lack virtue; and if their having other goods depends upon their having virtue (Dependency Thesis); and if no one can be happy without having goods; then non-philosophers cannot be happy. This latter portion of Plato's Utopia Recast seems to me precisely as strong as the claim on which it rests, that non-philosophers, according to the Phaedo and Republic, are bereft of virtue. Since I regard that claim as in need of either qualification or support, I don't regard this use of the Dependency Thesis as now requiring further investigation.