Laws: Plato

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Plato's fascinating dialogue about legislation and governance in an ideal state supposedly takes place among three travellers passing the time during a long journey by foot through the countryside of Crete. The participants in the conversation are an Athenian visitor, the dominant speaker; a citizen of Knossos, who along with nine other citizens has been commissioned by the state of Crete to found and administer government in a new colony; and a Spartan.

After preliminary discussions about the education of youth; the means of instilling citizens with the cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, wisdom, and courage; and the necessity of basing laws on these virtues, the focus of the conversation turns to an elaboration of the particular laws that should be enacted in the new Cretan colony. Much of the remainder of the work consists of monologues by the Athenian, who is clearly Plato's spokesman, in which the details of setting up the government and of laws governing every aspect of life are painstakingly laid out. Plato covers a great deal of philosophical ground in this dialogue ranging from mundane, everyday affairs (marriage laws, sexual habits, crime and punishment, trade, slavery, and many other topics) to deep questions about the existence of the gods, the nature of the soul, and the problem of evil.

In the final analysis he envisions a political state described as a mean between monarchy and democracy ruled by a council of the most virtuous elders who are the guardians of the law. This classic work by one of the towering thinkers of Western civilization is indispensable for students of both political science and philosophy, and anyone interested in the perennial human quest to establish a just society.

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Prometheus Books
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