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Ancient Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Plato's Laws

Plato's Laws and its historical Signifiance edited by Francisco L. Lisi (Academia Verlag) Excerpt The understanding of the largest work written by Plato has substantially improved in the last decades thanks to increasing research. Today it is no longer considered the unfinished nachlass of an old philosopher, which had lost the vigour that characterised his thought in his mature age, but one of the major works in the Platonic corpus. There remains α lot of work to be done, but the following papers will show, Ι hope, the force of the Platonic studies on the Laws. This selection from the papers presented at Salamanca in November 1998 tries to offer a panoramic vision of the work, which is being done at present in the main fields. Therefore, the reader will find in it different, even contradictory approaches, that reflect the manifold methods and interpretations existing nowadays.

The first set of contributions is related to the new notion of law that Plato shapes in the Laws and its connection to the dialogue as genre. J. WAUGH's paper considers the peculiar relationship between oral and written communication in the new notion of law. According to WAUGH, Plato in the Laws stresses the opposition between dialectic paideia and the traditional forms of public discourse, which have α pathological effect.`He adopts α middle way between the traditional and the Socratic approach. Laws will not work as ethical statements independent of a narrative nor as written commandments as in the usual codes. The preambles incorporate the characteristics of the oral dialogical speech, since they try to persuade. On the other side, the harsh commandment evokes the characteristics of the monological speech without response of the traditional written code. The Laws thus emerges as α combination of narrative and the propositional syntax sought by philosophy.

The function of persuasion in Plato's politics has been α controversial matter in relation with the polemic about the totalitarian character of Plato's philosophy. L. VERSENYI (1961) accuses Plato of using the preambles as irrational and rhetorical means for imposing his totalitarian ideas. CHR. J. BOBONICH (1991) defended the rational character of the persuasion the preambles exerted and, consequentlyl refused that Plato's proposal could have α totalitarian character. Ά. VALLEJO CAMPOS in his paper chooses α middle way. He concedes that according to the explicit formulations of the text persuasion has to be rational, because it is based on the rational essence of political art. However, α closer examination of the means Plato uses for persuading and the consideration of the whole work show that the Magnesian State is far from fulfilling the ideal expressed in the physician metaphor.

Persuasion plays α role not only in the legislation, but also in the Laws as α whole. The Athenian has to convince the Doric partners and the potential reader as well. Persuasion in this double sense plays an important role in every Platonic dialogue, and especially in the Republic. There it is the basis of the constitution, in spite of the radical measures Socrates proposes in it. As J. WAUGH points out the Platonic dialogue tries to surpass the monological character of the written logos. Ε. JOUST - PASTRE analyses Plato's view on the written word in the Laws, by confronting it with the final criticism to the written work in the Phaedrus. In the Phaedrus, Socrates considers writing α sort of recollection, which has less value than the oral communication, while in the Laws the Athenian states that not only the laws of the new State should be written, but also the whole dialogue (VII, 811 c-d). JOUST - PASTRE finds α change of perspective in the Laws that explains the revaluation of the written text, especially of the written law. The laws of the city now have their source in political science and express the order of nature. JOUST-PASTRE's paper points to α central aspect for the comprehension of Plato's attitude to the written work and continues the path that Α. Α. ROIG (1960) began forty years ago in α paper that unfortunately has had very little impact on research (cf. F. L. LISI 1985, 257­278).

The analysis of the philosophical principles that are the basis of the Magnesian State has been one of the most controversial issues in the last two hundred years of research on the text. In this volume, the reader will find α set of papers devoted to the relationship between virtue and state (Τ. CALVO, Τ. 1. SAUNDERS, CHR. BOBONICH), the nature of the state (Α. LAKS, TH. ROBINSON), and the metaphysics (J. CLEARY). CALVO analyses the order and hierarchy proposed in the Laws for the traditional virtues. In the Laws the andreia, contrary to the traditional view, has the lowest position in the hierarchy, while justice (closely related to sophrosyne and the other virtues) is the essential virtue for the political life. For CALVO this order is the conclusion of an evolution which is the consequence of the difficulties Plato had found for incorporating courage to his system of virtues. Courage does not appear as an absolute good and the goal of the political organisation, but it is included as an instrument that, subordinated to justice, is necessary for maintaining the political order and the rule of the mind. Plato's ambiguity to the virtue of courage has some similarity to his position with respect to one of the most valued among traditional virtues in Greek society, namely equity (epiekeia), which, strangely enough, plays practically no role in the Laws. The paper of T. J. SAUNDERS traces the history of the notion of equity from Homer up to the Attic orators in the fourth century in order to explain Plato's supposed hostility to the virtue of 'reasonableness'. In the second part of his study, he analyses the occurrences of equity in the Laws. Equity is mainly mentioned in relation to four areas: economics, politics, marriage of heiresses and penology. SAUNDERS discovers that equity is always submitted to tight restrictions and comprehensive public control. Plato transforms α traditionally private virtue into α public one. In his treatment of equity Plato follow the same pattern as in the rest of the Magnesian laws and institutions. He superficially adopts the concepts and language that are familiar to any Greek, but he fills them with α new, Platonic content. The significance of virtue to classical political philosophy is generally recognised, since it sees happiness as the goal of the social community and happiness requires virtue. CHR. BOBONICH's paper defends that the necessary link between this aim and the ability to share the end of the city's laws, which is characteristic of classical political philosophy, originates in the Statesman and, more specifically in the Laws, but not in the Republic. According to ΒΟΒΟΝICH in the latter dialogue the producer and the auxiliaries cannot have α strictly virtuous life, and therefore do not partake in the ends of the philosopher-rulers. For him the characteristic restriction of citizenship to the real capable of sharing the ultimate goal of the state originates in the Statesman and is decisively carried forward in the Laws, where those engaged in trade and manufacture are excluded from citizenship. Against the conception of the Republic in the Laws the political community makes radically higher demands on its members. For Plato's political philosophy α crucial question is surely the link between the virtue of the community and that of the individual. Only the community that warrants absolute virtue for all its members can attain absolute happiness in α Platonic sense. This question leads to the controversy about the character of the state described in the Laws. Α. LAKS devotes his paper to this matter, in order to elucidate in which sense the Athenian states that Magnesia is the second best. He refuses the usual interpretation that identifies the best State mentioned in the Laws with Callipolis. For LAKS, this ideal, which has features originating in the Republic, the Statesman and the Laws itself, is reserved for gods and not for human beings, while the city of the Laws is the best one that can be conceived for the present men. It is a 'legislative utopia', since Plato has considered his new concept of law as the essential feature of his state, that not only contains the norm, but also α prelude which tries to persuade the citizen to follow the norm. This approach is characteristic of the Laws and cannot be found neither in the Republic nor in the Statesman, and it means that the exclusively philosophical rule remains out of reach of common humanity. TH. ROBINSON considers that in the Laws, as opposed to the paradigm of the Republic, the eudaimonίa of the individual is not only considered qua member of the community. Its constitution allows α bigger measure of individual freedom: it is α mixture of Monarchy and Democracy and the emphasis lays on the virtue of good law rather than in good leaders. It is manifest that in the Laws Plato decidedly re­evaluated the concept of α democratic state and of the democratic individual. ROBINSON points to some features of the contemporary democratic state as public accountability, checks and balance of power, etc, which are congenial with the political theory as espoused in the Laws. He also makes some of the more important differences, mainly his attitude towards gender and his refusal of the ideological differences within the state.

The law against impiety that is promulgated in the tenth Book is used by the Athenian to make α broad exposition about the metaphysical principles of the world and to attack the atheists and the traditional believers as well. His defence of the astral religion has induced many scholars to see here α substantial change in Plato's thought. He was accused of dogmatism and intolerance and his critics have seen an evidence of Plato's totalitarianism.  CLEARY focuses on the theology exposed in the book and finds out that his significance surpasses the mere exposition of the Book: it also lays the foundation for human laws, which have to be α reflection of the rational structure of the universe. In α detailed analysis of the Book, CLEARY shows the role of persuasion in the argumentation and the relationship of the exposed theology to Plato's later work, especially the theory of movement in the Sophist and the Timaeus. The theory exposed by the Athenian stresses the role of providence in the world, but it also tries to make evident the responsibility of the human soul. Plato's response to the sophistic theories about the human origin of all law thus defends the prominence of reason as α force that drives all good legislation.

The specific organisation of the Magnesian State is also examined in the present volume. The section devoted to this question offers papers that investigate the Magnesian economy (in its modern sense), the nocturnal council, the laws about sexuality and the position of the slaves. G. DANZIG and D. SCHAFS underline the interest of Plato's Laws for the hundred years controversy between 'primitivists' and 'modernists' about the economical structures in the classical world. They observe that the fact that an adversary of market-trade as was Plato accepted the market-place in his project, retail trade and money-making, shows to which extent they had become deeply entrenched with Athenian society. In spite of the existence of other possibilities of economical organisation such as redistribution or reciprocity, Plato does not even mention them in the Laws. This impossibility for conceiving other economical relations makes evident the generalisation of the market-economy in the Athenian society. Therefore, Plato does not try to return to α pre-market society, but merely to reform and regulate the dominant form of economical organisation. The criticism of the wealth-distribution constitutes an essential part of the political theory of the V and the IV century Β. C. and is not an exclusive characteristic of the Platonic thought. J.-F. PRADEAU considers the system of allotments one of the most original features of Plato's proposal. The distribution of the land among the citizens was traditionally the first act when a colony was established. Plato redefines this act according to his ontological principles. The allotment constitutes the metron that serves as intermediate between the indefinite multiplicity of the material (land, wealth) and the ideal unity of the best state. However it does not merely have only the function of introducing α measure, which allows the political order in the city. Its inalienabilίty also warrants the continuity and immutability of the community.

The order and the improvement of the Magnesian constitution repose on a very peculiar institution the nukterinos syllogos, which is usually translated as the 'nocturnal council'. In spite of its significance for the complete understanding of the Platonic proposal, the last research about this institution was published by G. R. MORROW. L. BRISSON's paper meticulously examines the different passages in the dialogue, where the nocturnal council is mentioned, explaining the apparent divergences about its composition and proposing to`translate its name as College de veille, α translation that he considers more in agreement with the functioning and the ends of the institution. It is indeed an instrument for preserving the unity of the city through the practice of virtue. Soul acts as the first principle of nature, and therefore if human law has to be according to nature, it must be based on astronomy and theology. The positive law should introduce an order that reflects the order of the universe into the human soul. The nocturnal council must be in possession of the necessary knowledge for preserving or modifying the existing legislation. BRISSON devotes the last pages of his paper to the analysis of this question, which is not answered in the Laws but in the Ερίinomis.

In the Laws Plato not only discusses the conditions α legislator should fulfill to make good laws, it also gives α great number of practical samples and methodical indications of the right method of law-making. KL. SCHÖPSDAU studies the main principles of this legislative art in the regulation of sexual behaviour (VIII, 835ε1­842α10). The specific aim of the norm (correct sexual behaviour) is deduced from the general aim of the code (virtue). The legislator also exposes the way in which this end can be attained. Further, the norm tries to achieve what is possible and not what is impossible. Finally, he also takes measures for the eventual replacement of the originally proposed law, in case conditions change. SCHÖPSDAU sees at work the same close relationship to reality in the justification that the Athenian gives for the proposed norm. He founds his arguments in previous existing regulations or, when this is not the case, makes use of comparable norms in other fields that could justify the proposed legislation. He also takes educational measures to assure the necessary preconditions for the acceptance and fulfilment of the law. SCHÖPSDAU distinguishes between three different levels in the passage from the point of view of the legislative art: (a) the methodological discussion in α meta-legislative level, (b) statements which correspond to the prelude, and (c) normative statements, which are not formulated as an independent law, but integrated in (a) and (b).

Since the comprehensive work of G. MORROW (1939), Plato's treatment of slavery received only sporadic attention in general works and in the polemic about the totalitarian character of his political philosophy. R. RADLE (1972) devoted α short paper to Plato's freedmen law. J.-M. BERTRAND approaches the matter not from this traditional comparative point of view, but analyses the position of the slaves in the Magnesian society looking at their role in the construction of the public discourse. He shows that they are essential for the creation and transmission of what he calls 'the good rumour', α powerful weapon for controlling the activity of the citizens in its different manifestations public or private. They are obliged to denounce every crime to the authorities and promote α lawsuit against the supposed criminal, and their actions are punished or rewarded in α similar manner as the actions of the citizens. According to BERTRAND, Plato shows how the slaves can be integrated and used for keeping the political system.

The section devoted to the relationship of the Laws to its historical context does not offer papers dedicated to α comparative analysis of the existing legislation, but contributions which try to explain the impact of the ideological (ROSSETTI) and historical (MUCCIOLI) situation on the work and its possible influence on the political circumstances of the`time (DUSANIC). According to the interpretation at use, Greeks have failed to have α scientific juridical thought like the Romans and, therefore, it is impossible to find any trace of α corresponding juridical literature. L. ROSSETTI tries to invalidate this traditional view and follows the traces of the juridical literature of the time in the text of the dialogue, in order to determinate its true originality. He starts with an analysis of the different passages in the Laws, which allude to the existence of α juridical literature, and finishes with α passage of Isocrates (V, 12), where the orator explicitly states the existence of laws and constitutions written by Sophists. Α detailed analysis of the coeval literature leads ROSSETTI to the conviction that Plato has probably taken the existing specialised literature into consideration, which, contrary to the common opinion, was quite copious at the time when he wrote the Laws.

As the former review of the status quaestίonίs has shown, many scholars have repeatedly tried to relate the Laws to Plato's Sicilian experience. In α well-known paper Α. POST (1929) sustained that many of the preludes now integrated in the dialogue were originally written by Plato for α supposed Siracusan new constitution. F. MUCCIOLI examines the dialogue in order to determine the possible echoes of the political circumstances in the Magna Graecia in the middle of the 4th century Β. C. For MUCCIOLI it is clear that the dialogue reflects in many details both specific features of Siracusan institutions and the general political circumstances ο£ Sicily. He points out possible influences on the political experiences of the Pythagorean circles lead by Archytas in Taranto, especially concerning to the solution of the social problem. However the political reality of the Italian colonies plays but α secondary role, because the dialogue points above all to Athens.

The close relationship of the Platonic proposal to Athens has been stressed by different studies. Another question is if Plato's Laws was mainly conceived to have an impact on Athenian politics. SL. DUSANIC thinks that the moderate reform of Eubulus was to some extent inspired by Plato's political conception. DUSANIC states that Eubulus' management of the Athenian foreign policy and those aspects of the Laws which concern international relations can be better understood if analysed together, as two sides of the same coin. Plato does not mention the post 355 events directly, but he gives many hints about contemporary political circumstances. Various passages in Book III allow drawing α picture that agrees with the Athenian foreign policy. Plato, as Eubulus, supported α Panhellenic opposition to the barbarian expansion. Different features of the Magnesian constitution reveal, according to DUSANIC, Plato's intention to influence the Athenian practical policy. interior as well as exterior.

The vast field of the reception of the dialogue is represented in this volume through two contributions, which consider its influence on the Neoplatonic philosophy (DILLON) and on John Locke (NESCHKE). J. DILLON focuses his analysis of the Neoplatonic reception on the use, which Plotίnus, Proclus, and Damascius made of the text, both by way of incidentally allusion and substantively. Like the Republic the Laws was left out of the lamblichean canon to be read in the basic course of Platonism. Nevertheless, DILLON's essay makes plain that the Neoplatonic philosophers had studied the Laws and absorbed its contents. In the first part of his paper he considers the passages of ethical or metaphysical significance in Books Ι, [V, V and VII. Later he comments on the reception of the theodicy of Book Χ, which is the part of the work that most attracted the attention of the Neoplatonist. He concludes that though the Neoplatonits knew the dialogue perfectly well, their use of it was very partial.

Α. NESCHKE-HENTSCHKE inspects the reception of the political Platonism in the work of John Locke. Locke's political theory was determining for the earliest formulations of the Human Rights in the 18th century. NESCHKE-HENTSCHKE starts with the analysis of Plato's political theory and its practical application in the Laws. Plato has based the order of the city in α transcendent and divine order, which is also the foundation of nature. In Book Χ the cosmic Nous is presented as the true fundament of human law. Though Plato did not use the expression 'natural law', his conception is the first formulation of this notion. Through Calcidius' mediation this model had α decisive influence on the formulation of the Christian doctrine of Natural Law. Finally, the paper shows the ways in which Locke re-interpreted Hobbes' State of Nature from the perspective of the Christian doctrine of Natural Law and built the law of human society on the fundament of the transcendent Natural Law. Like Plato, Locke sets the foundation of the civil norms in the Divine Law, since the former are the mimesis of the order prescribed by the latter.

The ultimate understanding of the significance of the Laws is intimately related to the exact knowledge of the history of the constitution of the text and of its transmission. LISI's paper analyses the existing evidence about the state in which the text was left by Plato and rejects the traditional interpretation. In his view, Plato has not left the dialogue unfinished and it was published at α relatively late date, with the rest of the Platonic corpus. Later he analyses the history of the text and tries to show the reasons that make necessisary α complete revision of POST's work on the manuscript tradition. He examines in particular the relationship between the Parisinus Graecus 1807 and the Vaticanus Graecus, remarking some of the data that invalidate the interpretation at use.

 Bibliography on Plato’s Laws by Trevor J. Saunders (Academia Verlag) Before Trevor J. Saunders's death he had conceived the project of publishing a third edition of his bibliography on the Laws (first edition 1976; second edition 1979). At his death, he left behind him a con­siderable amount of material for this new edition. It is on the basis of this material that Luc Brisson prepared the present volume. In view of the current surge of interest in Plato's Laws, which will be the theme of the VI Symposium Platonicum, this updating of the Bibliography seems especially timely.

The late Professor Trevor J. Saunders taught at the University of Newcastle (Department of Classics). He is particularly well known for his work on Plato's Laws. His translation in the Penguin series is highly respected, and has helped to present the Laws to wider audience. His other publications include Plato's Penal Code t (1991).

Luc Brisson is a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). He has translated several of Plato's dialogues into French, and is currently at work on the Laws. He also publishes a Plato Bibliography, which continues the one begun by Harold Cherniss, and which now covers the period from 1958-2000.

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