An Approach to the Laws
This dissertation is an approach to Plato’s longest political work, The Laws, with a view to the problem of the harmony of the goods. Since I understand the problem of the harmony of the goods as a universal one, i.e., as a problem stemming from human condition rather than from the reading of Plato, the first task is to present what it means to adopt a Platonic perspective on this problem. This is what I do in the first chapter through a discussion of the Euthydemus and the Statesman. This discussion leads me to these three questions: (1) What is the relation between the happiness of the individual and that of the city? (2) What is the model that guides the statesman’s work of harmonizing the goods in one whole? (3) How can the knowledge of harmonizing the various goods be passed to the citizens? Since these three questions concern the city, it is the city that I examine next. But since there are two cities in the Platonic corpus, I thus turn to a brief exposition of the Republic (Books I-VII) and the Laws (Books I-III). From my discussion of the Republic, in the first part of chapter two, I draw the conclusion that the happiness of the city and that of the individual may not necessarily coincide. This conclusion justifies my turn to the Laws in the second part of chapter two, for in the Laws the emphasis is more on individual happiness than on that of the city, as it is in the Republic. I then show that the first Books of the Laws provide an answer to the central question phrased at the end of chapter one, namely that it is by translating the natural hierarchy of the goods into a coherent and harmonized way of life that the good lawgiver can pass his knowledge to the citizens. Yet, since this solution is challenged in the sequel, I then move on in that dialogue. The third and last chapter is devoted to the Books IV and V of the Laws. The core of that chapter consists in a close analysis of the general prelude to the law code of the city to be built in the Laws. I show that the aim of the prelude is to educate the citizens and that the prelude is therefore the means by which the lawgiver passes on his knowledge to them. Yet, since the prelude is a twofold speech which conveys a teaching that can be understood in accordance with the power of the listener’s soul, I come to the conclusion that the answer to the question about the lawgiver’s solution to the problem of the harmony of the goods is inseparable from my own interpretation of the prelude. My interpretation of the prelude is that the harmony of the goods will always remain partly imperfect and that this is why the knowledge of the hierarchy of the goods is, ultimately, more important than that of the harmony of the goods. This I take to be Plato’s position.