Akrasia and Self-Rule in Plato's Laws

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 43:25-53 (2012)
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In this paper I challenge the commonly held view that Plato acknowledges and accepts the possibility of akrasia in the Laws. I offer a new interpretation of the image of the divine puppet in Book 1 - the passage often read as an account of akratic action -- and I show that it is not intended as an illustration of akrasia at all. Rather, it provides the moral psychological background for the text by illustrating a broader notion of self-rule as a virtuous condition of the soul (and lack of self-rule as a vicious condition). I examine key discussions in the Laws in order to show how Plato makes use of this broader notion of self-rule throughout the dialogue, and I argue that nothing Plato says in the Laws commits him to the possibility of akrasia. One significant consequence of my interpretation of the puppet passage is that it avoids the need to posit developmentalism in Plato's late views about the embodied human soul, as some recent commentators have done: the moral psychology of the Laws, on my reading, is not incompatible with the Republic's tripartite theory of the soul.

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Joshua Wilburn
Wayne State University


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