09 March 2005

Plato's Initial Presentation of the Free/Servile Doctor Analogy

Here are two details from Plato’s first introduction of the comparison between legislators and doctors, at Laws 719e-720a, which seem important to me. I wonder what readers think of them.

The passage is as follows:

Should, then, our appointed president of the laws commence his laws with no such prefatory statement, [720a] but declare at once what must be done and what not, and state the penalty which threatens disobedience, and so turn off to another law, without adding to his statutes a single word of encouragement and persuasion? Just as is the way with doctors, one treats us in this fashion, and another in that: they have two different methods, which we may recall, in order that, like children who beg the doctor to treat them by the mildest method, so we may make a like request of the lawgiver (Jowett).

(In SPIonic)

po/teron ou)=n h(mi=n o( tetagme/noj e)pi\ toi=j no/moij mhde\n toiou=ton proagoreu/h| e)n a)rxh=| tw=n no/mwn, a)ll' eu)qu\j o(\ dei= poiei=n kai\ mh\ fra/zh| te, kai\ e)papeilh/saj th\n zhmi/an, e)p'

[720a] a)/llon tre/phtai no/mon, paramuqi/aj de\ kai\ peiqou=j toi=j nomoqetoume/noij mhde\ e(\n prosdidw=|; kaqa/per i)atro\j de/ tij, o( me\n ou(/twj, o( d' e)kei/nwj h(ma=j ei)/wqen e(ka/stote qerapeu/ein a)namimnh|skw/meqa de\ to\n tro/pon e(ka/teron, i(/na tou= nomoqe/tou dew/meqa, kaqa/per i)atrou= de/ointo a)\n pai=dej to\n pra|o/taton au)to\n qerapeu/ein tro/pon e(autou/j.

Presumably these remarks set the context and indicate Plato’s motivation in drawing the analogy at all. They are Plato's first attempt to get across his point. But:

(1) It's striking, I think, that the very first word Plato uses, to refer to the sort of thing that a prelude is, is paramuqi/a, an ‘encouragement’ or ‘exhortation’, i.e. a statement that supplies a motive for following a command (the ‘carrot’), rather than a motive for not disobeying (the ‘stick’). A paramuqi/a draws someone to the right action; a zhmi/a (‘penalty’), in contrast, repels someone from the wrong action.

(2) It seems remarkable, also, that the very first subjects of a command that Plato mentions, to make his point, are children: he likens a prelude to the way a doctor might encourage and reassure a child.

Side points:

  • We might wonder, even, whether children, free or servant, are what Plato has principally in mind, in his development of the analogy 720c-e. (The translations supply ‘men’, as if Plato has adults in mind, but--correct me if I'm wrong--I don’t see that that’s necessary.)
  • Plato’s mention of children might lead us to wonder, too, whether Plato understands the 'teaching' that a doctor might engage in, as an expression of his equality with the patient (both ‘free’), or rather of his inequality. Isn’t teaching (dida/skein), in fact, typically regarded by Plato and Aristotle as a relationship of inequality?

And now a Bayesian consideration: these details, it seems, would be quite unexpected, on Bobonich's hypothesis--that Plato uses the analogy to draw attention to the type of command that is appropriate to free and equal persons--but on Pradeau's hypothesis, they are likely.