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PLATO AND THE NEED FOR LAW
B A W
Was there a major change in Plato’s views on the role and importance of law? It can be argued that he held in both ‘Republic’ and ‘Laws’ that law and administrators are essential to a state of the best kind, but legislators are not, since legislation has been done by the founders. This interpretation seems to be incompatible with passages in ‘Statesman’, in which the status and role of law appear to be positively downgraded. The appearance of a contradiction between such passages and the insistence in ‘Laws’ on the importance of law is created by failure to recognize diﬀerent uses of ‘nomoi’, as guiding rules of skill or as rules of law. What Plato says about the contrast between ideal and actual rulers commits him to the distinction, whether or not he had clearly formulated it for himself. An afterword recommends Plato’s way of handling laws dealing with criminal attempt. [Explanatory note. This essay was among the philosophical papers left by Anthony Woozley when he died in April . It was written some time between and ; Woozley is plainly thinking of Nixon and Watergate in some of his remarks on the rule of law. His typescript included two footnotes; there was an attached scrap of paper showing that he intended to add a third note, with information about the current state of the law of attempt. I have provided such a note, and have added four other notes. The ﬁrst two notes are his; the abstract and the other ﬁve notes are mine. Cora Diamond.]
It is, at ﬁrst sight, surprising that a philosopher should both have written as much about law as Plato did, and have shown so little interest in the philosophy of law. But further reﬂection should make us less surprised. For one thing, his concern with law was practical, rather than philosophically inquisitive, even although it was the practical concern of a utopian. Plato conspicuously displayed a characteristic unsurprisingly common among utopians, that of conservatism. He had his vision of the new society; in the Republic he provided a folio of architect’s sketches for it, and in the Laws the modiﬁed and detailed working drawings. But in both cases it was to be a static society. The great work would have been done by the founders, and the role of the state’s administrators was that of preservation. Anybody wondering just how deep Plato’s conservatism was should read Laws –, where, with some psychological insight, he denounces any alterations which children may want to make in the rules of their games: the attitude which will allow this, as being not important enough to matter and © The Author Journal compilation © The Editors of The Philosophical Quarterly Published by Blackwell Publishing, Garsington Road, Oxford , UK, and Main Street, Malden, , USA
unable to do serious harm, is the attitude which allows and encourages change, and by encouraging it will produce a generation wanting a diﬀerent style of life and diﬀerent laws. In the Republic the legislation is essentially constitutional, and has been essentially completed by the founders (, ), leaving to the Guardians the task of running things in such a way as to protect and nourish the city’s tripartite harmony, and to prevent the degeneration to which the institutions of human society are naturally prone. Their wisdom and knowledge would enable them to do whatever tinkering was needed, by way of regulations, to maintain the city’s unity and stability; and their disinterestedness (achieved by Plato through the simple, salutary and insuﬃciently copied device of entrusting political power only to those who both were competent to wield it and could be persuaded to accept it only if it was for a limited time and was the price to be paid for being allowed otherwise to pursue their...