Philosophy and Law: An Interpretation of Plato’s Minos

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
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  • 1 Department of Political Science, Ouachita Baptist University, 410 Ouachita Street, Box 3752, Arkadelphia, ar 71998-0001, USA

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Plato’s Minos presents a twofold argument. In part it is a facile defense of law directed at a typical Athenian citizen. On another level it is a sophisticated teaching that ponders the question what is law for the would-be philosopher or student of Socrates. These arguments are made in three parts. First, it becomes clear that Socrates’ interlocutor has been influenced or corrupted by the teachings of sophists. Second, Socrates attempts to reform the interlocutor’s opinion of law by suggesting there is a science of law. Finally, Socrates argues that present day Greek laws are derived from the oldest Greek laws, which were revealed and taught by Zeus himself. With this twofold argument Socrates counters his interlocutor’s sophists’ influenced opinion of law and reveals to the careful reader the complexity of the question: what is law?

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    Glen Marrow, Plato’s Cretan City: A Historical Interpretation of the Laws (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1960), pp. 36, 35, 37-8. Other scholars who make this type of argument are: George Grote, Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates, Vol. 1 (London: Murray, 1865), p. 414; Paul Friedlander, Platon, Vol. 1 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1928), p. 47; Paul Shorey, What Plato Said (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1933), p. 145. Of these, Grote is the only one who took the dialogue seriously enough to comment on it separately. He considered it an ‘inferior’ dialogue, but nonetheless genuinely Socratic and consequently of significance for understanding Plato’s philosophy (pp. 414-5).

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  • 30

    Benardete, Plato’s Laws: The Discovery of Being, p. 140. Cf. Lewis, ‘Plato’s Minos: The Political and Philosophical Context of the Problem of Natural Right’, pp. 29-30.

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