Jowett: Laws — Plan

The plan of the Laws is more irregular and has less connexion than any other of the writings of Plato. As Aristotle says in the Politics (ii. 6, § 4), ‘The greater part consists of laws’; in Books V, VI, XI, XII the dialogue almost entirely disappears. Large portions of them are rather the materials for a work than a finished composition which may rank with the other Platonic dialogues. To use his own image, ‘Some stones are regularly inserted in the building; others are lying on the ground ready for use’ (IX. 858 B). There is probably truth in the tradition that the Laws were not published until after the death of Plato. We can easily believe that he has left imperfections, which would have been removed if he had lived a few years longer. The arrangement might have been improved; the connexion of the argument might have been made plainer, and the sentences more accurately framed. Something also may be attributed to the feebleness of old age. Even a rough sketch of the Phaedrus or Symposium would have had a very different look. There is, however, an interest in possessing one writing of Plato which is in the process of creation.

We must endeavour to find a thread of order which will carry us through this comparative disorder. The first four books are described by Plato himself as the preface or preamble. Having arrived at the conclusion that each law should have a preamble, the lucky thought occurs to him at the end of the fourth book that the preceding discourse is the preamble of the whole. This preamble or introduction may be abridged as follows:—

The institutions of Sparta and Crete are admitted by the Lacedaemonian and Cretan to have one aim only: they were intended by the legislator to inspire courage in war. To this the Athenian objects that the true lawgiver should frame his laws with a view to all the virtues and not to one only. Better is he who has temperance as well as courage, than he who has courage only; better is he who is faithful in civil broils, than he who is a good soldier only. Better, too, is peace than war; the reconciliation than the defeat of an enemy. And he who would attain all virtue should be trained amid pleasures as well as pains. Hence there should be convivial intercourse among the citizens, and a man’s temperance should be tested in his cups, as we test his courage amid dangers. He should have a fear of the right sort, as well as a courage of the right sort.