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3. The Long and Winding Road Impediments to Inquiry in Book 1 of the Laws

Gregory Recco Indiana University Press ePub

3    The Long and Winding Road: Impediments to Inquiry in Book 1 of the Laws

Eric Salem

It is dawn or perhaps just before dawn—a good time, we later learn, for discussing regime change, nation building, and legal reform (722c; 951d; 961b). The day promises to be hot and sunny, and since it is, as we also later learn, just around the summer solstice, the day will certainly be very long—long enough, say, for a very long conversation (625b; 683b). Three old men, a Cretan, a Spartan and an Athenian, stand outside the walls of Knossos and ponder the day ahead of them. They will hike together to the cave of Zeus—the well-spring of Cretan laws—and as they hike (and rest, as needed) they will pass the time talking and listening to talk about “regime and laws” (625a–b). Three grand old men, representatives of three great Greek powers, have already taken their stand together outside the walls of the city. And they will now make their way, in speech as well as deed, into the dawning light. They will ascend together from Knossos to the source of Knossos, from effect to cause, from convention to nature.

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Introduction

Gregory Recco Indiana University Press ePub

Introduction

This volume embodies a cooperative, intensive, and comprehensive interpretation of Plato’s Laws, a single, massive dialogue that challenges even the hardiest reader. In general, it is useful to focus on a single dialogue because of the sort of thing a Platonic dialogue is. While Plato’s works certainly deal with common themes in common ways, each dialogue also has something like the integrity of a work of art; it has, so to speak, its own rules. An elaborate dramatic conceit, unique and well-drawn characters, novel images and arguments, all contribute to making the individual dialogue an appropriate object for study. It seemed to us especially appropriate in the case of the Laws—whose mere length sets it apart, as do its unique setting, principal speaker, and fresh take on politics—to undertake a reading in common calculated to bring out what is distinctive about the dialogue.

Sharing the end of reading in common, our essays cover the whole dialogue book by book, and several reflect on it as a whole. Forgoing the aim of complete commentary, the authors were invited to highlight whatever aspects of the text they judged most salient and fruitful. Finally, before final versions were due, authors had access to draft copies of one another’s essays and, to greater or lesser degrees, incorporated responses to one another’s work. All these features, we think, lend the volume an even higher degree of cohesiveness than would come from merely working from a common text. The authors come from diverse backgrounds and even disciplines: philosophy, political science, classics, history, each charting a different path through the vast wilderness of the Laws. While their essays are at least as diverse as their backgrounds, there is nonetheless a theme common to most if not all that can serve as a starting point for introducing the material in this volume.

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9. Being True to Equality Human Allotment and the Judgment of Zeus

Gregory Recco Indiana University Press ePub

9    Being True to Equality: Human Allotment and the Judgment of Zeus

Gregory Recco

At the beginning of Laws Book 6, the Stranger turns to the establishment of the administrative apparatus of the new city, identifying the number and kinds of official positions that are required, as well as the procedures for filling them. While the lawmakers still have as their primary goal to make the citizens good, they must also strive to ensure that the city should be free of faction. Accordingly, after detailing the procedure for selecting the 360 citizens who are to make up the council, the Stranger concludes that “the selection made in this way would achieve a mean between a monarchic and a democratic constitution” (756e9–10). There follows a digression concerning two kinds of equality, already alluded to in Book 5 when the class system of property qualifications was introduced. The thought about proportional equality, giving all their due rather than the same amount, is familiar enough from its various articulations in Plato and Aristotle and elsewhere, but the Stranger’s treatment of the distinction is nuanced and in some ways unclear, and his way of weaving the concerns that motivate it into nearly every corner of the web of official regulations attests to the complexity of the issue. In what follows, I will present the discussion of the distinction; follow out its use in the establishment of the various offices, in the enumeration of their duties, and in the procedures for selecting them; and investigate how the treatment of equality in the city responds to the imperative to keep the constitution to a mean between monarchy and democracy as a means of avoiding faction. The way that these issues are handled raises questions about the meaning of civic friendship, particularly, about whether it is to be understood in the end as a stabilizing necessity or a substantial good.

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4. Education in Plato’s Laws

Gregory Recco Indiana University Press ePub

4    Education in Plato’s Laws

John Russon

The basic story of Book 2 of Plato’s Laws is easy enough to tell. The Athenian Stranger, who is discussing the establishment of a good state with Cleinias the Knossian and Megillus the Spartan, argues for the primary importance of education and discusses the importance of song and dance in this context.1 Specifically, he maintains that children will have their adult perspectives formed through their early experiences of pleasure and pain, and that good education primarily involves training children to align their experiences of pleasure and pain with what wise adults would in fact recognize to be noble and ignoble behaviors respectively. Since children are playful by nature, it is through controlling their play that this education will be accomplished. Games, songs, and dances in particular are the structured forms of play in which children will participate in order to become educated into good citizenship (2.659e).2 The communal experience of song and dance, which is the focus of Book 2, will primarily be enacted through three choruses—a children’s chorus, led by the muses, a young men’s chorus led by Apollo, and a Dionysian chorus of adults, including especially old men (2.664c–d). It is the oldest men who, being wisest, will appreciate what the children should learn, and it is their insights—which should be the equivalent of the needs of virtue—that will determine the implicit content of the songs, dances, and games learned by the children (2.659d; 7.797a). The message being communicated will mostly express the importance of maintaining the existing social order, and its central message (its “noble lie,” so to speak—2.663d–e) will be the unity of justice and happiness (2.664b; also, 660e).

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6. It Is Difficult for a City with Good Laws to Come into Existence On Book 4

Gregory Recco Indiana University Press ePub

6    It is Difficult for a City with Good Laws to Come into Existence: On Book 4

Michael P. Zuckert

I. Prologue

The subtle action of Book 4 can be appreciated only when it is seen in relation to Book 3. Only at the end of Book 3 does Cleinias divulge to the Athenian that he and nine others have been charged to form a new colony. This is perhaps the most decisive and surprising moment of the dialogue. He seeks the Athenian’s aid in his enterprise. It is an amazing coincidence that one of these three idle talkers about laws actually has the opportunity to legislate. But more amazing is the observation we cannot help but make that Cleinias has been walking with this apparently knowledgeable Athenian since dawn and it is only now, three-quarters of the way to noon, that he divulges to the Stranger his task and only now attempts to enlist the Athenian in the enterprise. That new task sets the tone for the rest of the Laws, but most immediately for Book 4.

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