10 March 2005

On the Other Hand...

One might object: if Pradeau is right, and the purpose of a prelude is to give inducements to follow the law, then why should Plato use the analogy of free and servile doctors to illustrate that point? Wouldn’t some less elaborate comparison serve equally well—say, likening a true legislator to a caring father or mother (which Plato does elsewhere)? Isn’t Bobonich correct that the analogy has more content than would be necessary, except on his hypothesis? Moreover--one might urge--it’s not fair, in delicate matters of interpretation, to treat each bit of evidence as though it stand on its own. A variety of passages, none decisive in its own right, can nonetheless cumulatively and corporately work to establish a thesis. And sometimes, too, we become capable of seeing the upshot of a passage, only when it is placed in the proper, overall context. And isn’t this just what Bobonich succeeds at in his book? As he summarizes it:

Stepping back, what we have found in the case of the preludes is an instance of a recurring pattern in the Laws. The Athenian begins by deferring to tradition and by accepting a divine foundation, and correspondingly high status, for the laws of Crete and Sparta. What gradually emerges is that legislation can have a divine origin only insofar as it expresses reason, and this necessity of expressing reason leads to a radical criticism of all previous legislation on two related grounds. First, all existing constitutions fail to recognize the true value of virtue and thus fail to establish the proper goal for the laws. Second, all existing constitutions and legislators treat their citizens as slaves, not as free people, insofar as the citizens do not receive an account of the reasons justifying the laws. We should expect from what we have seen so far that these criticisms have a common basis: it is because citizens must be educated so as to be virtuous that this new way of treating them is required (Laws 718B-C). The aim of the laws in Magnesia is to make all the citizens virtuous and the preludes along with the rest of the citizens’ education express Plato’s continued commitment to the idea that rational understanding is necessary for genuine virtue. The lawgiver should aim to give the citizens the sort of grasp of the fine and the good that is analogous to the grasp of health that a free doctor should give to a free person. Such a doctor should use arguments that ‘come close to philosophizing’ and go back, in his explanation, to ‘the whole nature of bodies’ (Laws 857D2-4). (Plato’s Utopia Recast, p. 105)

This seems an effective reply. Can a defender of Pradeau's position say anything against it?

Perhaps, but one would need to supply, it seems, a satisfactory explanation of the free/servile doctor analogy, and some alternative account of the relationship between reason and law.
(To be continued...)