17 March 2005

The Politics of Dualism

Here's a post on which I think many persons might wish to comment.

Section 1.8 of Plato's Utopia Recast is entitled 'The Phaedo: Political Implications'. It begins: "The Phaedo does not explicitly discuss political theory, but the dialogue offers a view of non-philosophers and we should consider its implications for what Plato's political theory could be."

Is this a misguided, or an interesting project?

Misguided: "That's like asking what are the political implications of Descartes' Meditations, or Dame Julian's Revelation of Divine Love. To raise that sort of question is to misconstrue the purpose of that sort of text. The Phaedo presents itself as an investigation among close friends of 'last things'. You can't but distort it if you take it as giving 'doctrines' which can be extracted out and treated as if they were part of a general philosophical system, with a political theory included. And all of this is not to mention the difficulties raised by possible irony and devices of distancing, if the dialogue is handled, properly, as literature."

Interesting: "A philosopher should mean what he says. The Phaedo maintains that only philosophers can be virtuous; only they can be happy; only they have the chance of reaching the goal of human life, that is, liberation from cycles of reincarnation. I admit it's a thought experiement: what kind of political theory might be offered by someone who thought that. The answer you come up with is: a political theory in which the ideal is a city-state which has the goal of producing philosophers; where the goodness of this project is more important than the welfare of any individuals; and where there is no real unity of purpose between philosophers, for whom society is constructed, and the rest, who live essentially to foster the well-being of philosophers. But now turn to the Republic, and--is it merely a coincidence?--that's much like the political theory one finds there. So the thought experiment turns out to be fruitful. It effectively predicts a theory of political society much like what Plato actually develops."

So which is it?


Mitch Jones said...

It seems misguided. The dialogue isn't about political regimes and how do we actually know that in this instance Plato would portray Socrates as presenting the political system desribed? Also, the other response seems to disregard the chance that the regime presented in the Republic should looked at as ironic.

Anonymous said...

Suppose Plato does have Socrates affirm in the Phaedo, without irony, that only philosophers can be virtuous. (As I believe he does.) Then are you suggesting there are no implications for this, as regards political theory? We may not 'know' what these are, but it can be instructive to think about what they might be. As regards irony in the Republic: it can't be that everything in the dialogue is ironic. Surely we can identify some broad claims in political theory that are not meant in that way.

Nick said...

TK Seung formulated a unifying theory of all the platonic texts in which he explicates the development of Plato's thought from Gorgias to the Laws. I recommended Seung's book "Plato Rediscovered" to Bobonich and he seemed genuinely interested in reading it himself.

Anonymous said...

Can you say something about the nature and relevance of this unifying theory?  

Posted by Michael Pakaluk