17 March 2005

Extent of Autonomy

Okay, now I'm confused. Help me out.

I posed the question yesterday: to what extent does the argument of Plato's Utopia Recast depend upon Bobonich's interpretation of the preludes, and, in particular, to what extent does his Claim depend on this, viz. that in the Laws Plato comes to think that citizens generally might be completely virtuous?

Bobonich's interpretation of the preludes depends, as we have seen, upon his interpretation of those passages (in books 4 and 9) in which Plato uses the free/servile doctor analogy. I thought, then: consult the index locorum, for places where Bobonich refers to these passages.

The index suggests that Bobonich refers to these passages in basically two places: at the beginning of the book, where he gives a sketch of the argument, and at pp. 97-105, where he gives his exposition of those passages, concluding with his statement (on p. 105) of the principle of Autonomy. We've looked at all these places already. So apparently we now see the role that these passages play in his interpretation.

Or do we? Well, not quite, because--as I also found--sometimes Bobonich refers to 'the medical analogy', without citing any passages.

Here's a puzzling instance of that. Near the end of the book, Bobonich is arguing that, in the Laws unlike the Republic, Plato thinks that citizens' participation in government is inherently good. Why does Plato come to think this? Is it perhaps that Plato holds to a principle of autonomy, according to which it is simply good that persons govern themselves? Bobonich tests out this idea:

There is more than one way in which such autonomy might obtain. To begin, we might return to the Laws' medical analogy. There Plato appeals to the status of the patients to justify the doctor's treatment. Because the patients are free people, they should be brought to understand and accept the principles governing their treatment. One way of understanding this is as appealing to the intuition that it is better for the individual to be self-ruled than to be ruled from without. Something like this intuition may account for the immediate attractiveness that the Athenian's interlocutors find in the proposal that the legislator in Magnesia should do what has never been done before and treat the citizens as free people. On such an account, the value of political activity consists in its being an expression of one's capacity to be a self-governing agent (447-8).
I'm puzzled first of all by the qualifications : 'one way of understanding this', 'something like this intuition may account...'. Why should a later discussion in the book be qualified, when the earlier discussion was not? Shouldn't a crucial thesis become confirmed over time, not weakened? Recall that, when he first gave his interpretation of the medical analogy earlier, Bobonich added no comparable qualifications: 'These passages also give a first answer...', 'As Plato presents the analogy...' (105).

But what confuses me even more is that Bobonich, it seems, next denies that Plato accepts Autonomy. Here is the immediately following sentence from p. 448:
But as we have also seen, such an account is not sufficient for Plato. Self-governance is valuable for the individual only if it is self-governance in accordance with the right principles.
So it looks as though Bobonich is maintaining that Plato puts forward, in the medical analogy, a view of autonomy that he does not elsewhere accept and which is not generally consistent with his philosophy (or what am I not seeing?).

But then two remarks:

1. If Plato does not accept Autonomy, then shouldn't we attribute it to the medical analogy passages only if we're absolutely bound to do so? (But we're not so bound, as we saw--far from it.)

2. We should perhaps distinguish between a strong view, viz. that Plato asserts Autonomy in the medical passages, and a weak view, viz. that Plato asserts merely that citizens should be instructed about the basis of the laws for its own sake. From now on, let's consider the latter view only, not the former, which seems misguided.

(Btw, in case you were wondering: it doesn't help to look in the book's general index, which is very incomplete. For instance, under 'autonomy' one finds only: '203-5, 488 n.37'. The discussion on p. 448, and several others, is not referenced.)