09 March 2005

How I See It

Readers can resolve this one as they wish. But since I’ve constructed this imaginary debate, in my own mind I should finish it, at least provisionally. I’ve tried to set out the chief arguments pro- and con-, Pradeau’s from his lecture, Bobonich’s from his book. Which view is correct?

It looked at first as though it was a split contest. Bobonich seemed right in saying that some preludes give arguments and aim to teach. Pradeau seemed right when he maintained that many preludes lack serious arguments and seem rather to exhort, cajole, or frighten.

But then we sharpened the question. What was at issue, it became clear, was the value and purpose of the preludes. Pradeau’s view was that the preludes are intended to make citizens better compliant with the law—we might say, to help them be lawful. Bobonich’s view was that the preludes, insofar as they give arguments and reasons, are simply appropriate for the exercise of authority among free and equal persons.

And then it seemed that there was an asymmetry in their positions, and that Pradeau could account for what Bobonich was pointing to, but not the reverse. Pradeau could maintain that teaching and argument have their place in a prelude, when this contributes to lawfulness. But Bobonich, it appeared, could not as easily explain why some preludes fail to teach, or why some lack argumentative content.

Of course it was then open to Bobonich to claim that the Laws as a whole, meant to be read by all the citizens of Magnesia, and continuous with the preludes, supplied argumentative content, even when that was missing from particular preludes, or when no prelude was to be given at all. And he could base this claim broadly, in turn, on his interpretation of the analogy of the ‘free doctor’ that Plato uses to explain the preludes.

But when we looked in detail at those passages where Plato uses this analogy, and is most explicit about the purpose of the preludes, in each case Plato seemed to say that their purpose, rather, was to promote compliance with the law and lawfulness; and nothing that Plato said gave direct support to the view that a legislator’s giving reasons is simply appropriate and due, when free and equal persons are involved. This seemed the case even in that passage (857c-d) where Plato has most in mind the comprehensive character of the explanations that he is providing in the Laws.

From my point of view, then, and wishing to reach a provisional judgment, I regard Pradeau’s view as correct. But of course I may be wrong, as I frequently have been in the past, and, in particular, I haven’t yet seen how Bobonich might wish to respond to the points I’ve put forward. It’s the nature of a good reply that it’s not anticipated.


And yet, one might think, all of this is not yet entirely satisfactory. To decide the matter in this way is to look at it only locally, without giving any big picture, or an indication of what is at stake—that, at least, Bobonich’s interpretation does. So can something be said along these lines also? Might one sketch, perhaps, an alternative, or suggest on deeper grounds why Bobonich’s view is (as I think) mistaken?

Yes one can, I think--and I'll attempt this, in the next post.