Minos as an Introduction to Plato’s Laws

Written by on July 11th, 2013. Subject: Philosophy. Filed in Politics, about Plato Minos Laws Greek

|||Plato, and Thomas L. Pangle. Minos in The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues Translated, with Interpretive Studies. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987.|||

Plato Discussing Philosophy Is there some way in which law differs from law in regard to this very thing, in regard to its being law? For just consider what I now happen to be asking you. I am asking this just as if I had asked, “What is gold?”–if you thus asked me what sort of gold I was speaking of, I think you would not be asking a correct question. For presumably gold doesn’t differ from gold, or stone from stone, at least in regard to being stone and in regard to being gold. And thus netiher does law, presumably, differ at all from law, but they are all the same thing. For each of them is law to the same degree–not one more so and another less. Thisis the very thing I am asking: what is law as a whole? Minos 313a-b. p. 53.

The Minos and the Laws of Plato ask two related but very distinct questions. The Minos begins by asking the question “what is law for us”2 and the Laws by asking “who is given the credit for laying down your laws”3. The first is a question about what a law is and the second about where it comes from. While the question of the Laws is prior logically, we must encounter and answer the question of the Minos first. That is, as men who live in communities, the question of what is lawful is answered before the further and more important question of by what authority such a law is enacted1. Hence, the purpose of the Minos is to understand in what way a law can come about, particularly considering that laws seem to differ among cultures. This question leads, by degrees, to the question asked in the Laws–what is the source of law–but through a discussion not of causes (the causes of law) but of effects (these are some such laws). Thus the important turn in the Minos is from “neither does law, presumeably, differ at all from law,”4 to “Law, then, wishes to be the discovery of what is”5, from which we encounter the question “how is it…if law is the discover of what is, that we don’t at all times use the same laws in the same matters?”6 To which the reply ultimately is given that the reason why cultures have had various laws which seem to contradict each other is first that they “are not at all times capable of discovering what the law wishes–what is”7 and second because we have not learned yet from what source the authority of law comes. We are told “[there is] nothing more to be guarded against, than to err in speech and deed regarding the gods and, second, regarding divine human beings. Nay, it is necessary to exert very great foresight every time you go to blame or praise a man, so that you won’t speak incorrectly.”8 and also, at the end regarding an answer to the question of what it is that the law gives us we are “ashamed of ourselves and of our years”9 for not having an answer to the question of whether Minos or any other has become a good pasturer whose “laws are unchanged, since they belong to one who discovered the truth of what is”10. And it is the purpose of The Laws to determine whether we are able to discover such a thing.

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  1. I mean by this that the questioning of a law, whether justified or not and by what source, comes about most often not prior to the enactment of the law, but as a justification of a law already enacted. 

  2. Minos 313a. 

  3. Laws 624a1. 

  4. Minos 313b4. 

  5. Minos 315a4. 

  6. Minos 315a5. 

  7. Minos 315b2. 

  8. Minos 318e7-319a2. 

  9. Minos 321d3. 

  10. Minos 321b2.