The Intellectual Context of Solon’s Dike

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
John Lewis
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Solon is our only primary source for the intellectual context of archaic Athenian political thought. Dike is central to that context. The primary question of dike is the degree of abstraction it denotes. To Solon dike is neither an abstract principle with metaphysical proportions, nor merely the concrete procedures of dispute mediation.

Solon understands Dike in a polis that is ordered by the thoughts and actions of particular human beings, not by divine dispensations. This re-alignment of political authority from vertical authoritarianism to horizontal citizen relationships is directly related to the views of nature found in the Milesian philosophers. Solon’s dike is immanent from the thoughts and actions of the citizens; it is not a divine power pushing down on the polis.

Solon’s dike has three distinct functions. First, it is the inevitable result of unjust thoughts and actions; this is ‘natural dike’. Second, dike is a process of dispute mediation; this is ‘procedural dike’. Third, dike is a nascent ordering principle in the polis, found in one passage in Solon as distinct from the consequent retribution. Dike is an archaic concept standing for a comprehensive inevitability in the interactions of the citizens.

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