“Things are never so bad, nor so good, as they seem.” Does the maxim hold also of both ends of Plato’s philosophical career?
Recall the Claim: that Plato changes from holding, in the Phaedo and Republic, that no non-philosophers can be virtuous, to holding in the Laws that citizens generally can have all the virtues.
So far I’ve been trying out, as it were, the ‘not so good’ part of the maxim. That citizens generally could be fully virtuous seemed to depend on an unsupported interpretation of the preludes. The preludes, it seemed, were introduced by Plato not for autonomy, nor for knowledge of the foundations of law for its own sake, but rather for ready obedience to law, merely.
But what about the ‘not so bad’ side of things? Does Plato early on think that there is some limited but real sense in which people generally can be virtuous? If so, maybe we can pull the two ends of his career together, and make them meet. Then there’s no big change, and no need of a theory to explain it.
But how bad could things seem? Very, very bad, Bobonich maintains. Here’s what he says about the Phaedo:
We saw that in the Phaedo Plato holds that all non-philosophers are radically ethically defective. All non-philosophers lack genuine virtue and they lack genuine virtue because they have the wrong ultimate ends. They are oriented towards sensible objects and not towards genuine non-sensible value properties. As a result, their lives fail to be happy and, in fact, do not seem to be worth living (41-42)His view seems to be based on the plain meaning of Socrates' words in the Phaedo.
But could Plato have really been so...extreme, so fanatical? And this notion of a 'life not worth living' is intriguing. What does it mean, and where does Plato talk about it? (More later.)