Plato (427–347 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A088-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 19, 2024, from

17. Laws

The vast Laws is in its way the most extraordinary of all Plato’s later writings, not for its inspiration (which flags) but for its evidence of tireless fascination with things political. Its relation to Republic and Statesman has been much debated. What is clear is that Plato is legislating – through the last eight of its twelve long books – for a second best to the ideal state and ideal statesman of Republic, with greater zeal than Statesman might have led one to expect. Is this because he has lost faith in those ideals, which still seemed alive in Statesman at least as ideals? That view is in danger of overlooking Republic’s own indication that it would be wrong to expect in practice anything but an approximation of the ideal.

Philosophers do not often read Laws. But book X presents Plato's natural theology, as the background to laws dealing with atheists. And perhaps the most interesting proposal in the dialogue concerns the very idea of legislation. It is the notion of a 'prelude' to a law, which is the attempt the legislator should make to persuade citizens of the necessity of the prescriptions of the law itself. Here is a theme which relates interestingly to conceptions of reason, necessity and persuasion found in several other dialogues, notably Republic and Timaeus.

Citing this article:
Schofield, Malcolm. Laws. Plato (427–347 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A088-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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