The Laws

We have finished reading the Laws in my independent study. It is a strange dialogue. We’re left with many unanswered questions: what is the Athenian’s relationship to Plato? Is the Athenian a stand-in for Socrates? If he is, then why not use Socrates? If not, who is the Athenian supposed to be? We know that Socrates had an account of the ideal state in the Republic, but the Athenian gives a very different account of the perfect state. They seem to part ways, but why? Why did Plato give two accounts of the perfect state? What was Plato up to?

The various laws seem to be morally repugnant at times. Death comes swiftly to those who are judged as “incurable” of their vicious states. The vicious cannot be allowed to live in such a virtuous state, since even being around the vicious infects the virtuous like a disease. The tumor must be removed. People are judged very readily to be incurable throughout the laws. The human lives here seem devalued to a disturbing extent. What was Plato up to here?

The Laws are all kinds of virtuous training. Everyone under the laws is being trained to be virtuous. The Athenian sees the law givers as doctors, curing the people of their viciousness. The law givers are going to heal the patient even if the patient is unwilling. The doctor knows better than the patient about his own health. This is interesting, and counter to our conceptions of what healing looks like. What right does someone have to cure me if I do not want to be cured? Plato doesn’t address this, it is simply a brute fact that we must be cured no matter what the cost. A strange and interesting account.

We entertained the idea that the Laws are supposed to be a handbook for the perfect state. It delivers the truth of politics to the person reading it. Interestingly enough, at the end of the dialogue, the two other men the Athenian speaks with decide that the Athenian must be the one who establishes the laws, not them. It seems that the Laws then cannot deliver the sufficient conditions for the perfect state and the person just needs to follow it out. The Laws shows that the right person must be the giver and protector of the laws, the person must be of a certain kind. Only the just know justice.

I’m reminded of the Phaedrus here as well. Socrates claims that written works cannot deliver truth, because words cannot defend themselves. They are silent to us. It cannot be the case that the Laws is going to deliver the truth of the state to us if Plato believes this. Whether the Athenian diverges from Socrates on this point I do not know. There are many questions here. Where is Plato amongst all of this?

A very worthwhile read, but there are many dry areas to get through. There is an interpretive essay at the end of the work we read, I may read this and see what the author has to say about this strange dialogue. More to come.

~ by Barky on December 10, 2011.

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