25 March 2005

What 's Really At Issue

Let's grant (which we shouldn't) that the distinction between a philosopher and a non-philosopher is as sharp and as clear as could be. Philosophers grasp the Forms; non-philosophers don't. Philosophers have genuine virtue; non-philosophers lack virtue entirely. Let's accept the picture of the Phaedo that Bobonich wishes to draw part and parcel.

But so far we are talking about philosophers and non-philosophers 'in a state of nature', so to speak, or as private persons living in some larger society.

Now suppose, however, a relationship of authority between these two classes: philosophers have authority, and non-philosophers live under their authority. Even more, suppose that the non-philosophers recognize:

  1. that the philosophers know something that they don't;
  2. that knowing this is important for achieving human welfare;
  3. that the philosophers, in their authority, genuinely aim at the good of those under their authority.
Suppose that, as a consequence of these beliefs, the non-philosophers are duly subservient to the laws that the philosophers, in their authority, set down.

Now what do we say about the virtue, or lack of virtue, of the non-philosophers? Certainly the non-philosophers will act in virtuous ways. Certainly too there will be reasons why they act as they do--which they recognize, even if they don't grasp them themselves. Call this sort of virtuous-like behavior 'participated' virtue (following traditional Platonic usage) .

That is, take the view of the Phaedo, introduce a structure of authority as described, and then pose the question: Given this adjusment, would Plato speak of the virtue of the non-philosophers as he speaks of the virtue of citizens in the Laws? That's the crucial question, I think. If the answer is 'yes', then no change between the dialogues; if the answer is 'no', then change.

But there is nothing in the Phaedo to decide this, and therefore no basis for claiming that the view of the Phaedo is different. (If anything, 1.-4. of the previous post indicate that Plato would be inclined at least to regard participated virtue as in some sense virtue.)


Anonymous said...

I understand that we want to stay focused on Bobonich's claim about a change in the virtuosity of non-philosophers, but I worry that that developmental claim in isolation is overlooking some perhaps more important changes in Plato's views on who the philosopher is, how it is possible to know, and what virtues like courage & temperance really involve. Plato's views on these topics are evolving & changing as well, complicating the story considerably.
Let me just offer two conjectures.
1. In the Phaedo the philosopher is still the Socratic philo of the earlier dialogues. He does not KNOW (what virtue is, etc) except that he knows that he doesn't know and he is earnestly trying to find out, practicing virtue as he understands it. This creates a huge degree of separation from non-philosophers who either distain virtue or practice it only as "shadow virtues". But Socrates himself remains a proficient, not claiming wisdom or virtue in the Phaedo.
2. By the time of the MENO's, thanks to a new appreciation of possibility of knowing by Recollection and of the true belief/knowledge distinction, Plato is now comfortable with representing the philosopher as someone who knows. This is developed fully in REP IV-V, where the philosophers know and have virtue, and the military class, having only stable true belief, practice only a kind of "participating" virtue.(REP 429b-30c)

I guess I'm suggesting that Bobonich's developmental theory is at least easier to evaluate as a REP vs LAWS claim, because those dialogues more or less agree ( I think) on the key notions of who the philosopher is, how we can know, etc. But PHAEDO vs LAWS is a much more difficult & problematic comparison.

By the way, I think the view that I just ascribed to REP IV, that all non-philos lack virtue, is itself quite arguable. But that is a topic for another time.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I agree: the Republic  vs. Laws comparison is not as problematic. It's time to put the Phaedo aside, I think, for reasons I've stated and others besides, and look at whether non-philosophers in the Rep. lack virtue, and, if so, on what grounds precisely. 

Posted by Michael Pakaluk