The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws

The Argument and the Action of Plato's Laws, University of Chicago Press, 1975.  Reprint: University of Chicago Press, 1998.


In the traditional order of the Platonic dialogues the Laws is preceded by the Minos, the only Platonic dialogue in which Socrates raises the question What is law?  It appears that not all laws are good or, at any rate equally good.  The Cretan laws were given by Minos, who was not only a son of Zeus but the only hero educated by Zeus; no one was ever celebrated as highly by Homer and Hesiod as Minos.  We are thus led to believe that the Cretan laws, and next to them the Spartan laws, are the best laws.  Minos was indeed regarded by the Athenians as savage and unjust, but for no other reason than that Minos had waged victorious war against Athens.  The best legislator was an enemy of Athens.  The most ancient good legislator was the most ancient enemy of Athens.  The quest for the best laws seems to compel the Athenians to transcend the laws of Athens and to become pupils of an enemy of Athens–to act in a way which could appear to be unpatriotic.

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