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The Laws (Classics) [Paperback]

Plato , T. Saunders
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Paperback, 25 Jun 1970 --  

Book Description

25 Jun 1970 Classics
In the Laws, Plato describes in fascinating detail a comprehensive system of legislation in a small agricultural utopia he named Magnesia. His laws not only govern crime and punishment, but also form a code of conduct for all aspects of life in his ideal state from education, sport and religion to sexual behaviour, marriage and drinking parties. Plato sets out a plan for the day-to-day rule of Magnesia, administered by citizens and elected officials, with supreme power held by a Council. Although Plato's views that citizens should act in complete obedience to the law have been read as totalitarian, the Laws nonetheless constitutes a highly impressive programme for the reform of society and provides a crucial insight into the mind of one of Classical Greece's foremost thinkers.


Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (25 Jun 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442227
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442229
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 408,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laying down the law 21 Dec 2005
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
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.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This is like a follow on to The Republic 27 April 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
In the Laws, Plato goes into the nitty gritty details of the day to day running of the ideal society, as first outlined in the republic. Although, on the surface, it seems like a technical work concentrating on details, it is really the ethics of these details that are being looked at. Some even bear thinking about as relevant to our modern society.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 20 Aug 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A classic in this field
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laying down the law 10 Oct 2005
By FrKurt Messick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foundational to the study of the history of political and philosophic thought 8 Jan 2007
By Jesse Rouse - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is not an exciting book. It is not fun to read, and you will probably be tempted to stop reading in many times as you slog through it. But it is an incredibly important book, one that needs to be read. And it is worth reading, despite the effort it takes. This translation by Trevor Saunders is somewhat disappointing, but it is the best that I have seen. It is too modernized in many places. I am very annoyed when he has Plato saying things like "Bon Voyage" or "poppycock." I fail to see why this is necessary at all.

The book itself is split into twelve books. The first deals with the inadequacy of the current political systems in Athens and Sparta. Plato rejects both complete democracy and oligarchy. He moves on to discuss the educational benefits of drinking parties, which is one of his most eccentric ideas.

Book two deals with the educational purpose of the arts, and continues to support his drinking parties. In this section Plato shows that he very much supports censorship by the state.

Book three in a lesson in history. First Plato gives the history of mankind (which is rather interesting), and then he gives his history of political systems, showing how monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy arose, and how they changed over time.

Book four begins to discuss how the colony that they will be creating will work. It discussus the supremacy of Law, and how we should legislate.

Book five gives the preamble to the laws, and discusses personal morality, emotion, the distribution of land, monetary systems, and classes of citizens.

Book six lists all of the positions which will need to exist (i.e. police officers, judges, etc.), and how courts will work. He then moves into a discussion of marriage, which he purposely selects as the first thing to legislate because he considered it foundational to the state.

Book seven outlines Plato's ideas about education, going through various disciplines and discussing what should be taught. There is a rather humerous section where he is discussing what literature should be taught. He concludes that the book he is currently writing is by far the greatest literature ever produced, and should thus be the only required reading. Such a humble man he was.

Book eight deals with sports, the military, sexual conduct, agriculture, economics, and foreign trade (which he strongly discourages).

Book nine lists crimes which merit capital punishment, distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary crimes, and deals with crimes committed in anger and cases of homicide by insane people. He also discusses some non-capital crimes like assault.

Book ten discussus religion, and attempts to prove three things. First, the gods exist. Second, they are active in the world and care for mankind. And third, that they cannot be persuaded by humans to change their minds. He also discussus impiety and punishments dealing with religion.

Book eleven deals with laws of property ownership, commercial law, family law, and many miscellaneous laws.

Book twelve has many more miscellaneous laws, and finishes with a section on the Nocturnal Council, which is a group of men who would have the power to update the laws in case some of them turned out to be impractical.

As you can see, Plato discussus an enormous amount of material. His breadth of knowledge is nothing short of amazing. His impact on the development of politics and philosophy cannot be underestimated, making this a book very much worth reading.

One final thing I want to comment on are the claims of those who say that this book, being the last that Plato wrote, shows that Plato had changed his mind about education and politics, since this book is far less idealistic than his discussion in the Republic. This is simply missing the purpose of each book. The Republic was discussing the ideal political system. The Laws was discussing the best reasistic political system. Plato's thought did not change (much), but rather the purpose of the two books was different.

Overall grade: A
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and refreshing 6 Sep 2001
By Joel Hartcher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is a must for anyone mildly interested in philosophy, greek history, and the beginnings of western culture.
We see in this work a much more matured Plato, than compared to the Republic.
I recommend this title for anyone who is tired of the modern semantic battles of todays philosophy and wants to get back to some good old thinking!
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Must read 24 May 2000
By Jamal Nazir - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you think you know what Plato thought of society after reading 'Republic' wait and read this first. You will realize its the opposite of whats in the republic what Plato believed. He did this to avoid complications such that Socretes faced.
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