21 March 2005

Phaedo 113d-e

Isn’t the language of the Phaedo generally that of approximation to an ideal? Socrates regards the philosophical life as a successive purification; he says that souls differ in how 'corporeal' they are; he describes a philosopher as someone who lives 'as much as possible' detached from the body. You can't become more purified, less corporeal, or more detached, if you weren't less so earlier.

Moreover, the entire scheme of reincarnation seems to presuppose variation in degree of virtue. To be sure, true philosophers are set apart: they’ve attained the ideal and, upon death, manage to escape cycles of reincarnation and become united with the gods. But everyone else becomes reincarnated within a hierarchy of animals, depending, it seems, upon the goodness of their lives. What could determine ranking here, except approximation to virtue and thus (in some sense) degree of virtue? If all non-philosophers were not virtuous and had only shadow virtues, how could they be ranked?

This question becomes pointed if we consider Phaedo 113d, precisely where Socrates describes judgment in the afterlife for 'average' (me/swj) people:

When the dead arrive at the place to which each has been led by his guardian spirit, they are first judged as to whether they have led a good and pious life. Those who have lived an average life make their way to the Acheron and embark upon such vessels as there are for them and proceed to the lake. There they dwell and are purified by penalties for any wrongdoing they may have committed; they are also suitably rewarded for their good deeds as each deserves (Grube).

e)peida\n a)fi/kwntai oi( teteleuthko/tej ei)j to\n to/pon oi(= o( dai/mwn e(/kaston komi/zei, prw=ton me\n diedika/santo oi(/ te kalw=j kai\ o(si/wj biw/santej kai\ oi( mh/. kai\ oi(\ me\n a)\n do/cwsi me/swj bebiwke/nai, poreuqe/ntej e)pi\ to\n )Axe/ronta, a)naba/ntej a(\ dh\ au)toi=j o)xh/mata/ e)stin, e)pi\ tou/twn a)fiknou=ntai ei)j th\n li/mnhn, kai\ e)kei= oi)kou=si/ te kai\ kaqairo/menoi tw=n te a)dikhma/twn dido/ntej di/kaj a)polu/ontai, ei)/ ti/j ti h)di/khken, tw=n te eu)ergesiw=n tima\j fe/rontai kata\ th\n a)ci/an e(/kastoj:

It’s the ‘being suitably rewarded’ which suggests degree of virtue. If non-philosophers were entirely non-virtuous, because they lacked the requisite perception of the Forms, then how could they do meritorious good deeds at all? (Rowe in his commentary says that the passage seems to suggest ‘some kind of hierarchy’ among the inhabitants of Hades, that is, degrees of virtue.)

A similar problem is raised by Plato’s saying next (113e2) that especially bad people are given special punishments because of ‘the enormity of their crimes’ (dia\ ta\ mege/qh tw=n a(marthma/twn). If all non-philosophers were not virtuous, because all of them lack the requisite perception of the Forms, then it’s hard to see how some of them could be especially bad.

The relevance of this is the following. If Plato in the Phaedo thinks that only philosophers can be virtuous in a strict sense, but others can have various degrees of virtue, in some looser sense, then he could easily hold that strict virtue alone is important for 'salvation' (the topic of the Phaedo), but that virtue in some approximating sense, too, is important for political theory.

It’s in the spirit of Dissoi Blogoi to counterpose arguments on a question. So in a subsequent post I’ll give Bobonich’s arguments against this, that the difference between virtue and non-virtue in the Phaedo is indeed all-or-nothing.

(Btw, Phaedo 113d-e is not discussed in Plato's Utopia Recast, although the book does comment on other eschatological passages in the dialogue.)

13 comments:

philebus said...

Why can't we read this part of the myth as a joke? Indeed, it's rather funny.

Anonymous said...

The notion of degrees of virtue is of course intuitively attractive, but does Plato show any signs of flirting with it in the Phaedo?
In the first version of the myth of the afterlife we hear that the some men are suitably rewarded for their euerga, and others punished for their vicious deeds. Well, my question is whether Plato has to think that all euerga must arise in some way from virtue? Surely, to argue the negative case, some men do good works instinctively or because they have been taught/trained to act that way.
Aren't the Spartans "brave" according to the many, but still lacking in the virtue of andreia?
So, commendable and worthwhile euerga, indded some heroic acts, but no degrees of virtue.

Anonymous said...

Philebus--I don't see why just this passage should be read as a joke. Can you say more (or were you just joking)?

Anonymous--Sure, one can do virtuous looking deeds automatically, or out of pure self-interest. But then why should these be rewarded? How do such deeds have merit? (How are they 'commendable', except for instrumental purposes?) It's not merely that average people do good deeds, but also that these deeds are rewarded 'according to their merit' (kata ten axian), which is hard to explain without degrees of virtue. Don't you agree? 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

David said...

The passage strikes me as rather funny because, in a myth concocted by a philosopher, we get a statement in rather graphic language that only philosophers are virtuous. Of course, non-philosophers would never see it that way so it's simply the word of the philosopher; ipse dixit, in other words. In this case, the philosopher is telling his myth to the disciples of another philosopher so there is a certain affinity between them insofar as they acknowledge the superiority of philosophy to other pursuits. I see this as a joke by Plato. I see little reason to take the myth seriously as a depiction of how things really are, considering that its overarching themes of the denigration of the body and the denigration of the in which we reside are consistent with similar themes sounded--perhaps a bit obviously--in the Phaedo (eg. body:prison::Soc:prison).

Anonymous said...

Reply to MP--Correct please if I'm wrong, but souls that lack some sort of direct acquaintance with the Forms of Courage or Temperance can't possess those virtues, according to Plato's rather exalted sense of arete. Thus we can have the spectacle of soldiers performing extraordinarily heroic acts ( for whatever reasons) or men like you and I perhaps performing exemplary enkratic deeds, but in neither case do these measure up and amount to Platonic ( or Aristotelian ) fully virtuous deeds. OK, but why aren't these exemplary deeds commendable and praiseworthy in themselves--not just instrumentally--even if they aren't fine & noble deeds by the philosophers' very exalted standards? I don't have space here to try to spin out some persuasive examples, but I think it's true that some of us on occasion manage what the many will count as "courageous" and "temperate" acts, valuable in their right, but with no-one pretending that these come up to Platonic or Aristotelian andreia or sophrosune.

My problem with degrees of andreia or sophrosune is I don't see how to make sense of it on Plato's model of virtue as requiring knowledge of the forms. You know them or you don't. You don't sort of know them or dimly know them or partially know them. Those are states of not knowing, hence lacking virtue. I don't know of any discussion of this thorny issue in Plato.
If you want me to believe in half andreia or 2nd degree andreia or lesser andreia or some such, please explain to me how we are going to fit these notions into Plato's account of virtue as knowledge of the forms.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Something  must be varying, if there is to be a hierarchy in merit and reincarnation. You seem to be right, that it's not knowledge. (Knowledge *does* seem to be all or nothing.) But what this is (right belief?) nonetheless approximates knowledge, because there are some who just fail to attain the virtues of philosophers, and others who fail by a long shot.

I suppose I'm not prepared to say that Plato himself had a theory of this other meritorious thing as 'secondary' or 'qualified' virtue. I'm willing to believe that Aristotle's *pros hen* analysis was devised precisely to handle this sort of problem.

But I can full well believe that Plato had two hats, and when he was interested in 'salvation', he spoke of virtue in his precise sense only, yet when he did political theory, he countenanced it in a broader and more ordinary sense. 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

Anonymous said...

I suppose it's strange to comment upon one's own comment--a 'staircase comment', I suppose. But after writing the above, it occurred to me that perhaps there is little difficulty in accounting for degress of knowledge in the Phaedo , because in that dialogue Plato uniformly, I believe, likens knowledge to intellectual perception, to a kind of seeing. And just as we can see something with our eyes more or less clearly and distinctly, then, presumably, we could do the same with the eye of the mind.

Of course, this is one of those issues that one wants to consider by going back and rereading the entire dialogue, with just this question in mind. 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk

Anonymous said...

If Plato has changed his mind about courage by Rep IV -- as Irwin and some others argue -- and to be courageous one no longer needs knowledge but only a natural boldness stabilized by true opinion, then a notion like degrees of courage seems quite possible. Firmness and grounds for belief vary considerably.
The key passage in Rep IV is the very difficult one at 309b-e.
But if courage requires knowledge of Courage Itself, gained by some sort of direct intuition (recognition?) of the Form, I wonder how any kind of dim or partial or impaired recognition is going to count as knowing rather than just failing to know or recognize. We get to think here about just what it is to intuit a Form like Courage Itself.

David said...

What in the world would the form of courage look like? Does it even make any sense to speak of courage outside of its human instantiations?

Anonymous said...

Consider this strange passage from Republic 5 (472c), this after  definitions of the virtues have been given:

"If we do discover what sort of thing justice was by itself, and looked for the perfectly just man, if he existed, and asked what he would be like if he did exist, what we were looking for was a model. The same with injustice and the unjust man. We wanted to look at the perfectly just and unjust man, see how we thought they were placed with respet of happiness and its opposite, and be compelled to agree, for ourselves as well, that whoever came closest to those examples would have a share of happiness which came closest to theirs. It wasn't our aim to demonstrate that these things were possible."

Justice 'by itself' seems to be a Form, and any 'just person' is so only by approximation. 

Posted by Anonymous

David said...

The specific word being utilized in this passage is "paradeigma," not "idea." Furthermore, the person who is said to depict this, in speech I assume, is called a "zographos" which seems to indicate that this paradeigma is really a construct. Lastly, Soc gets his interlocutor to accept that the paradeigma would be no less kalon even if such a paradeigma could never come to be (dunaton genesthai). Does it make any sense to speak of an inhuman model of human justice? Can we charge Soc with holding to this model if his immediate response to his interlocutor's curse is to switch from a model of human virtue to a model of a polis? Is an impossibly perfect model of an imperfect creation of men good? Remember that Soc got his charges to agree to the absurd comparison between dogs and men at the beginning of Bk 5. Are we going to charge him (and by extension Plato) with the failure to know the serious differences between the two?

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