I first noticed that the notion, ‘life not worth living’, was carrying weight in Bobonich's argument when I saw it in a passage I’ve quoted already:
We saw that in the Phaedo Plato holds that all non-philosophers are radically ethically defective. All non-philosophers lack genuine virtue and they lack genuine virtue because they have the wrong ultimate ends. They are oriented toward sensible objects and not towards genuine non-sensible value properties. As a result, their lives fail to be happy and, in fact, do not seem to be worth living (41-42).
This is where Bobonich summarizes his interpretation of the Phaedo and begins to discuss the Republic. By claiming that non-philosophers do not ‘live lives worth living’, whereas philosophers do, Bobonich aims to sharpen the distinction between them.
But to what in Plato does this phrase, ‘life not worth living’ correspond? I couldn't think of something, when I first saw it. Or does it correspond to nothing at all—and, rather, it reflects a judgment that Bobonich is making about non-philosophers, as he takes Plato to describe them?
There’s no entry in the index for ‘life not worth living’. So here is my own collation of the relevant passages. I’ll give them in reverse order, to show dependence.
The first earlier passage also refers back to an earlier result:
…it remains the case that the lives of non-philosophers are not worth living and [sic] there is nothing which suggests that any sort of education or training which does not make its recipient into a philosopher can provide him with a life worth living (37)
The ‘as we have seen’ in the following passage indicates that it too depends on something earlier:
[The Phaedo’s] conception of the nature of non-philosophers commits Plato to a radically pessimistic understanding of the possibilities of political association. ‘Popular and political’ virtue might be inculcated in citizens by actual states that are comparatively well-governed. But, as we have seen, this sort of virtue is not sufficient to make the citizens’ lives worth living. Such a problem, however, does not arise only for existing polities; in fact, no possible reorganization of the political and social structure of the city seems capable of solving it. Given Plato’s account of their ethical psychology, non-philosophers must pursue goods which are not capable of making their lives worth living and [sic] the Phaedo does not make room for any sort of education for non-philosophers that could make their lives worth living without making them into philosophers (36).
The next passage gives an argument:
Plato holds that goods such as wealth, health, honor, political office, and various other bodily and psychic qualities are Dependent Goods, that is, they are only good for a person who possesses wisdom or knowledge of the good. Wisdom itself is an Independent Good. For those who lack wisdom or knowledge of the good, Dependent Goods are either not good or bad. Since non-philosophers clearly do lack wisdom or knowledge of the good they could not be benefited by any of the goods that they possess (and may be harmed by them). Even if non-philosophers are merely not benefited by the Dependent Goods they possess, a life with no goods does not seem to be worth living (32).
But from this passage, it seems as if the ‘not worth living’ judgment is Bobonich’s: Bobonich himself is maintaining that a life without any goods would be a life not worth living, and he maintains that, according to the Phaedo, non-philosophers have no goods at all. (But apparently, then, philosophers also would lack goods entirely, since they fail to attain wisdom in this life, as we have seen—but let’s put that problem aside.)
Next there comes another passage that depends on an earlier one:
Although we can now better see their basis in Plato’s psychology and epistemology, the claims that no non-philosopher thinks that virtue is good for its own sake, and that none has a life worth living, are still in sharp contrast with our ordinary understanding of human beings (31).
And then finally we come to the passage which is the origin of the notion. I’ll quote it in full. Bobonich is discussing the eschatological passages at Phaedo 69b-d and 82a-c. (Strangely he does not, here or elsewhere, consider the eschatological passages at 107d-108c and 113d-c, which, as we have seen, seem to affirm degrees of merit.)
Here, joining the company of the goods requires having wisdom as an ultimate end. Non-philosophers will either lie in the mud in Hades or will be reincarnated as a non-human animal (in the best case, as an ant or a bee). Three points are worth particular attention. First, in both pictures of the afterlife all non-philosophers are cut off from contact with the gods. Lying in the mud or reincarnation as an animal leaves them far removed from the divine. Only philosophers actualize the capacities of the human soul that are themselves divine and that bring their possessors into a divine state. Second, there is no possibility of significant improvement for non-philosophers in the afterlife. On the earlier picture, lying in the mud seems to be a permanent condition. But the later picture that allows reincarnation is no more optimistic. The best of non-philosophers pass from respectable people into various animal reincarnations and back again, but while some reincarnations are worse than others, none is a worthwhile life for a human being. Although individual souls that lead a non-philosophic life can, on the later picture, make significant progress, this would require that in one of their future reincarnations they pursue philosophy. Insofar as they do not, they cannot make significant advances in virtue or in happiness. Third, even if we do not take literally the details of the post-mortem fate of the non-philosophically virtuous, Plato presents their lot as what their lives and the condition of their souls entitle them to. Since the happiness of one’s life depends primarily on the condition of one’s soul, the post-mortem fate of non-philosophers should not be seen as marking a genuine and radical change in their happiness. Cashing out the eschatological imagery, Plato is claiming that non-philosophic virtue here and now is not sufficient to provide its possessor with a human life worth living. This is a remarkable conclusion and one that deserves emphasis. Plato is denying not merely that non-philosophers can have happy lives, but that even the best of non-philosophers can have lives that are worth living (22).
So that’s what Bobonich claims. Thoughts? Reactions? Observations?
The argument seems to be that 'close doesn't count'. If someone fails to join the gods upon death, he's lost the entire game.