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Study of Plato’s The Laws

Plato’s The Laws, written at the turn of the 4th century BC, is composed in dialogue form and opens with a questioning of who is given the credit for laying down the laws of the land. Unlike many of Plato’s writings, Socrates dos not participate in this philosophical discussion. However, this may be appropriate to the setting of this dialogue, as it occurs on the island of Crete, whereas Socrates appears in the region outside Athens in Greece. Instead of Socrates, the characters are the Athenian stranger and two other men, an ordinary Spartan citizen named Megillos and a Cretan politician and lawgiver named Kleinias from Knossos.

The Athenian stranger, who is similar to Socrates but whose name is never given, joins the other two on their religious pilgrimage to the cave of Zeus. The entire dialogue takes place over the course of this journey, which imitates the behavior of Minos, who is said by the Cretans to have created their ancient laws and who walked this path every nine years in order to obtain instruction from Zeus on lawgiving. The Athenian represents a figure of rational and natural authority, drawing on his intimacy with justice and apt methods of communication.

Kleinias announces that he has been honored with the duty of laying down laws for a new Cretan colony, and that he would like the stranger’s assistance. The dialogue proceeds with the three men journeying towards the cave, a metaphor of drawing closer to God, and creating laws for this new city which is called the city of the Magnetes. Action The Athenian Stranger opens the dialogue by asking the question, “Is it a god or some human being, strangers, who is given the credit for laying down your laws? ” (Pangle, 1988, 3) In response Kleinias says, “A god, stranger, a god—to say at any rate what is the most just thing.

” (Pangle, 1988, 3) This is a significant moment in the entire dialogue, perhaps one of the most significant philosophical statements ever uttered, in that a person is questioning the origin of the natural law and another person answers by saying that it is god and/or man, the correct speaker of justice. Megillos affirms that Zeus is considered to be the God of Greece and Crete and that Appollo is the God of the Lacedaimonians, and they all concur that Minos is considered to be the king of Crete, the son of Zeus, and the author of the laws of the cities.

In the second book, the Athenian Stranger goes on to assert that ethics in lawmaking and education is only safeguarded when it is directed by a “nobly directed institution” (Pangle, 1988, 32). He scorns lawmaking which is derived within “correctly managed wine parties” and calls attention to the fact that insight into the nature of man is worthy of very serious consideration (Pangle, 1988, 32). This point is very interesting, in that Plato makes an outright accusation of the ruling elite being less than serious about creating laws in which every person in society is served under righteous law.

The Athenian is seen as urging his companions to cease from their illiberal legal cultures and to open themselves and their laws to the gentle influence of philosophical statesmanship (Clark, 2003, x). Characters The characters within the philosophical dialogue are interestingly chosen, in that the Stranger, the main philosopher, is an Athenian from Greece, the second most influential speaker is Kleinias a politician and lawmaker from Knossos, Crete, and the third person Megillos is a common citizen from Sparta, Greece.

With Athens being the capital of Greece, it is assumed that the Athenian Stranger holds some kind of philosophical power, which he demonstrates by his firm wisdom and clever questioning and educating. Although he does not participate as much as the other two in the dialogue, Megillos himself declares his town of Sparta as being a kind of suburb to the city of Athens.

He even goes so far as to remark that by “a divine dispensation… they are truly, and not artificially, good”, calling attention to the idea that the city dwellers of Athens are graced by divine insight not yet matched by the surrounding regions (Pangle, 1988, 22). In his way, Megillos acts as a mediator between the Athenian stranger and Kleinias, in order to foster a sense of balance in understanding between the two, as the Athenian attempts to infuse Kleinias with a deeper sense of understanding of the divine and natural law.

Kleinias represents the ruling elite who are able to be swayed in unethical ways which affect the health of the entire society, and the Athenian represents the authority of the ethical lawmakers, who are consecrated by the authority of Zeus and who act in accordance with the divine plan and thus are able to build strong and flourishing communities. Setting The setting of the dialogue is located on the island of Crete, south of the mainland of Greece, where Athens and Sparta are located. The Athenian Stranger is from Athens, Megillos is from Sparta, and Kleinias is from Knossos, Crete.

The focus of the dialogue is to bring Kleinias and Megillos to a deeper understanding of what it means to create ethical laws which are aligned with natural and divine law, in order to bolster the ruling institutions of Crete and Sparta and infuse these regions with a deeper sense of true ethics. The philosophical dialogue makes references to the three regions, to their Gods and policy makers, in an effort to illustrate the best measures in proceeding with creating laws for communities.

As the men proceed on their walk to the cave of Zeus, as Minos has done so many times before, Plato underlines the journey of humankind to the realm of the divine, the yearning in the heart of man in his search for God. This long day and this long journey is truly a pilgrimage to the heart of what is means to be human, a voyage in search of the natural and divine plan for man in his lawmaking endeavors. The men are reaching out to Zeus, led by the Athenian, in their focused determination to seek out the best methods of governance for the new city of Magnetes.

Conclusion Plato’s The Laws is an incredible and timeless discussion of what it means for humanity to seek the best methods of governing a community. Clark asserts that Plato displays the balance between reason and rhetoric which informs the discussion of those people who assume the responsibility of governing the community (2003, 4). The ability of the Athenian to lead the discourse of ideas in reference to establishing a divine code of ethics and ruling laws for communities and the new colony of Magnetes is done in a gentle and humanitarian manner.

Many times, Plato uses the method of questioning to illicit responses from the learners Kleinias and Megillos, a calm and reassuring method of allowing for another person to share one’s thoughts while also serving as a guiding mechanism. The Athenian serves as an authority figure with rational and tender suggestions surrounding the appropriate methods of governance and lawmaking and appeals to the insight of God as a source of knowledge and a tool for community lawmakers.

The discussion between the three men and their journey together in Crete marks a significant point in time when Athens assumed the authority of the nearby regions and served as a moral guide for the surrounding communities. Plato suggests a paternal and kind power of the Athenian over Kleinias and Meggilos, and the Athenian draws attention to the vital importance of virtues such as justice, prudence, and sobriety. References Clark, R. The law most beautiful and best: medical argument and magical rhetoric in Plato’s Laws. Lexington Books, 2003 Pangle, T. The Laws of Plato. University of Chicago Press, 1988.

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