Item description for Plato's "Laws": The Discovery of Being by Seth Benardete...
Plato's Laws was his last and one of his most difficult works. This work offers an analysis and commentary on this work - a treatise offering guidelines for the establishment and maintenance of practical order in the real world. Each chapter corresponds to one of the 12 books of the Laws.
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Studio: University Of Chicago Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.33" Width: 6.4" Height: 1.21" Weight: 1.61 lbs.
Release Date Feb 1, 2001
Publisher University Of Chicago Press
ISBN 0226042715 ISBN13 9780226042718
Availability 0 units.
More About Seth Benardete
Seth Benardete is a professor of classics at New York University. His many books include The Argument of the Action, published by the Universoty of Chicago Press.
Reviews - What do customers think about Plato's "Laws": The Discovery of Being?
Laying down the law... Oct 21, 2005
When one thinks of Plato and his ideas of politics, one naturally gravitates toward his best-known work, the Republic. In that book, Plato set up the ideal city-state, with classes born and bred to specific functions and roles in society, and a sense of philosophical outlook consistent across the board. However, such a society was unlikely to be brought out, in Plato's time and, as it turned out, in any other.
Plato tried at different times to persuade rulers to become his envisioned philosopher-king; the last attempt was with a tyrant of Syracuse, who in the end imprisoned Plato rather than following his directions. Plato wrote this work, 'The Laws', as the last of his dialogues. Its difference from the Republic is immediately apparent in the absence of Socrates as a character - Plato at the end of his life has finally taken to working in his own right and not through a proxy.
Just looking at the contents will show the breadth of this work - it involves practically every aspect of civil society: legislative bodies (and Plato has some scathing commentaries on some that he has known); education and its proper role and method (including even drinking parties as part of the educational process); ideas of monarchy, democracy, and the balance of power (some American constitutional ideas were generated from a reading (and occasional misreading) of this work); civil administration; arts and sciences; military and sports training; sexual conduct; economics; criminal law, torts, and judicial process; religion and theology; civil law, property and family law; Plato even argues for the need of a 'nocturnal council', one that delves not only into the practical aspects of the law, but also their philosophical bases.
According to translator and editor Trevor Saunders, 'The reader of the Republic who picks up the Laws is likely to have difficulty in believing that the same person wrote both.' Saunders speculates that Plato in his older years changed from optimism to pessimism, from idealism to realism, but that this is not all there is to the assumption, because in actual fact the transition from the Republic to the Laws involves transitioning unattainable ideals to attainable realities.
Plato describes the construction of a utopian society in great detail, down to the number of citizens permitted to live in the city (5040) and the length of time foreigners might reside in the city (20 years). This shows that Plato considers politics to be an exact science (indeed, despite the inclusion of the 'nocturnal council', he did see his system of laws being essentially unalterable through history). Plato is not averse to the use of force and coercion to set up and maintain the utopian society. Finally, Plato sees a self-contained kind of society that is likely to become xenophobic to the extreme, with less tolerance toward its own citizens than toward those foreigners permitted to live and work in the city. Indeed, for the virtuous citizens to be free to pursue their virtue, the majority of the manual work and crafts must be done by a worker class composed of slaves or immigrant workers, or both.
Plato's Laws suffer from much greater criticism in the modern world than the Republic, in part because it is a more 'realistic' work, with a reality that no longer applies. However, many of his insights are worthwhile, and the overall structure of his society reflected in the Laws is worth discussion as much as is that of the Republic. One of the problems with this work vis-a-vis the Republic is its length (the Laws is considerable longer); another problem is that it lacks the dramatic reading possible from the Republic, rather the difference between a political debate and a legal seminar. Still, it is an important work, showing how Plato's thought had shifted in his lifetime.
Complex but worth the effort Jan 24, 2002
The hardback coverleaf tells us that Plato's Laws was his "longest, and one of his most difficult". It is the same with this work. It is clear from the opening pages that the author is writing from a position of immense knowledge on the subject matter and what is essentially a critical reading of Plato is, in itself, almost as intellectual. It is a book that requires every single line to be read and even re-read to understand what is being intimated. The opening chapter on the Eidetic and the Genetic draws on the conversation between Clinias Megillus and an unknown Athenian.. Where it immediately becomes difficult is in comprehending the smenatics behind the author's statement that if Plato's Laws is a prelude to laws then the first three books are a prelude to the laws of Magnesia and the Athenian's initial proposal is a prelude to the prelude that is Plato's Laws. You see how precise the language becomes and how clarity of meaning is essential to undestand the book as a whole, as it continues in the same vein. The author has produced a work of astonishing intellectual depth and, as such, it is clearly intended for the classical philosophical student of Plato. It is a book that will become a reference text, for to read it in one go would invariably mean losing the true meaning of the critical work, in the same way you shouldn't attempt to read the Laws in one sitting. Highly recommended for any Platonist.