29 March 2005

The Virtues of Non-Philosophers in the Republic

"Thus the Republic, like the Phaedo, rejects the claims of non-philosophers to possess any genuine virtue", Plato's Utopia Recast, p. 43.

What arguments does Bobonich give for this bold and unqualified conclusion?

1. His interpretation of the Phaedo: "...if Plato's view of non-philosophers is substantially more optimistic in the Republic, this will require deep changes in other aspects of his views" (42).

2. A deductive argument: virtue requires knowledge; the non-philosophers of the Republic lack knowledge; thus it must be the case that they lack virtue (43).

And that's it. (If you don't believe me, check the book.)

He then considers the objection:

One might object, however, that from the fact that non-philosophers fail to satisfy Book 4's accounts of the virtues, it does not follow that they are as badly off as non-philosophers in the Phaedo. Although they fail to have the 'highest grade' of virtue or 'perfect' virtue, that is, 'philosophical' virtue, non-philosophers might still have a lower grade or imperfect form of virtue (44).

How does Bobonich respond? "Plato never characterizes the virtues defined in Book 4 in any of these qualified ways" (44). Then he says, "The Republic does, however sometimes apply to non-philosophers virtue terms that are verbally qualified in some way. They might, for example, possess 'political courage' or 'moderation for the masses'" (44).

This apparently is an important concession. Doesn't it signal a recognition by Plato of some kind or degree of virtue? No, not at all, because: "...in the Phaedo, too, Plato was willing to attribute to non-philosophers verbally qualified forms of virtue such as 'popular', 'political', and 'slavish' virtue" (44)!!


Anonymous said...

There is a problem with Bobonich’s “ deductive argument.” It’s not at all clear that Rep IV continues to uphold the Socratic dictum “virtue requires knowledge”, at least as far as courage, temperance, and justice are concerned. Let’s just talk about courage. On a literal reading of 429a -430b, courage—not just “courage in the city”, but courage simpliciter ( 429d, and esp 430a)—is completely reliable true belief about what ought & ought not to be feared, ie., true belief that persists under all challenges from fear & desire, because it has been indelibly fixed in some men by their upbringing and training and education by the legislators.
The auxiliaries, then, are courageous, and not because they have knowledge, but because they have had a completely reliable set of true beliefs instilled them. We can’t claim that Plato doesn’t insist upon a sharp difference between knowledge & true belief ( Meno, Rep V). The problem here seems to be with Plato saying that the auxiliaries’ true beliefs are reliable under all circumstances. True belief, he’s argued elsewhere, can’t be completely reliable. So how can the auxiliaries have reliable belief? What stabilizes their beliefs, eg, in exceptional circumstances not anticipated in their education or training?
Answer: they still have recourse & access in those unusual circumstances, do they not, to the guidance and wisdom of the guardians? The courage of the auxiliaries is a matter of true belief, instilled by the guardians, whose wisdom is the source and continued guarantee of the complete reliability of their courage.
So, courage still requires wisdom, if you wish, but not wisdom in the courageous! Similarly for temperance & justice. The “deductive argument” fails.