02 June 2007

Autonomy without Equality?

Another ingenious line of criticism offered by Luc Brisson, very much worth mentioning, proceeds as follows:

1. Autonomy (in the sense in which we value it) implies equality.
2. Plato in the Laws shows no concern for equality.
3. Thus, Plato in the Laws shows no concern for autonomy (in the sense in which we value it).
As regards 1., Brisson contends that autonomy is properly speaking a characteristic of the will (as in Kant), but:
First, it is practically impossible to speak of 'will' in Plato's time. Second, unlike will, reason varies from individual to individual, which implies hierarchy and dependence: for instance, when it comes to steering a boat, the pilot is not on the same level as the passenger, which implies that the passenger is dependent on the pilot. Plato consistently applies the consequences of this viewpoint throughout both the Republic and the Laws (117)
As regards 2., Brisson claims that the basic approach of both the Republic and the Laws is "to reserve power for those who know":
...the principle of autonomy implies an equivalence between all citizens in terms of rationality. Yet in the Laws, Plato never believes in arithmetical equality among citizens, which is the presupposition on which universal suffrage is based. For him, equality is proportional (6, 756E-758A). This is natural in a political context where power is assigned to those who possess knowledge (118).
Brisson concludes with a global rejection of any attempt to find a notion of 'autonomy' in Plato:
The historical context of Plato's work being what it is, it seems to me dubious to wish to find in it similarities to our own time. On the contrary, it is by measuring the profound differences that separate us from it that we can appreciate the specificity of our own situation (119).
So much, then, for autonomy in its relation to liberty and equality.

Now wouldn't it be appropriate if Brisson also had an argument that it requires fraternity....


Mokawi said...

I don't know to which extent Brisson would actually identify himself as a French, though. He was born and raised in Canada, and really looks like it--but again, I met him when he was touring in Montreal.