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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 13 September 2017
Plato's The Laws is a classic masterpiece. Although it would be cumbersome to give a description of every section of the book, here are some highlights: Plato starts off talking about the inadequacy of Spartan and Cretan legislation, in that they are geared up completely to the aim of War. He then discusses drinking parties and how they can be beneficial or educational to citizens, as kind of test of self restraint. He discusses music, dance and singing to quite some extent, mainly in the form of three choruses, which include children, men to the age of thirty and men from the age of thirty to sixty. He discusses which kinds of music should be suitable or censored in the hypothetical new state to be founded on Crete called Magnesia. He discusses the preferred locality and the type of terrain Magnesia should be established on, he then divides the territory in to twelve districts radiating from the city and corresponding to twelve tribes. This is then divided further in to hearths or farms for each individual citizen or family, the exact number being 5040, which can neither increase nor decrease. He discusses what type of people should colonise Magnesia, what political offices there should be in the new state, and precisely how the offices are to be filled, whether by election or lot. There are four classes in Magnesia, ranging from wealthy to poor. Although farms are assigned to the citizens, property and produce are to be held in common, the state ultimately owns the land. This book is like a legislation for an early communist society. There is to be limited money and wealth in Magnesia, a man can only own up to four times the value of his lot. There are also restrictions on how much money a citizen can own, (all this is to curb the greed and avarice of profiteering). There are three goals of the city-state and the citizens, in order of importance, they are: virtue and that of the soul, the health of the body, and finally external goods, such as wealth. Virtue has four parts, courage, restraint, wisdom and justice, and the ultimate goal of the state and legislator is virtue. Plato discusses, common meals, education and military training and how women should be given equal inclusion and training in these institutions and fields. Plato then discusses capital offences, with surprisingly mild and severe punishments for homicide, woundings and assault. In a riveting chapter he then discusses religion and makes arguments against complete atheists, as well as those who believe the gods are indifferent to human affairs, and those who think the gods are venal and can be bribed. Surprisingly some of these punishments for these acts of impiety are harsher than those for homicide. In fact the death penalty occurs more frequently towards the end of the book, under miscellaneous legislation. The Laws is a riveting and essential read for anyone with an interest in legislation, statecraft or politics. I highly recommend it to anyone.
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HALL OF FAMEon 21 December 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.
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HALL OF FAMEon 21 December 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.
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on 23 February 2013
But - many fascinating insights from this neglected last of Plato's texts - which is repetitive, and sometimes lunatic. It consists of the first attempt in the Western World to set out in detail a set of laws. Plato's distopian theocracy attempts to capture the most trivial details of people's lives - exactly when, for example they may harvest grapes for keeping (after the rising of Arcturus), but his system however eccentric captures many intimate details of the customs and lives of the period. I like one particular law which it would serve us well to adopt - that at the conclusion of a civil case, the judge should attempt to reconcile the parties. Amusingly, secret scrumping is to be lawful - provided the culprit is not caught. Laws is more specific than The Republic - and even more despotic. A notable feature is an exposition of Plato's religious views. His gods are not Homeric and anthropomorphic, but omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. There are even hints of monotheism - of the Judaeo-Christian G-d. The work contains a version of the cosmological argument for the existence of G-d. The proposed laws in relation to slaves are notable for their brutality, and imply accepted mores which should correct uncritical admiration for the society of this period. It was useful to read this text concurrently with Xenophon's Memorabilia (recollections of Socrates,) thus juxtaposing the views of Socrates as independently recalled, and those of his pupil and publicist. I give the book 4 stars not for its intrinsic merit, but for its interest as an historical text.
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I have been trying to familiarise myself with some of the classics, thinkers, philosophers and great writers of our time. So I thought I would give this a try to see what it was about. Unfortunately I wasn't ready for this book. It isn't something for a novice literary lay person like myself. To be honest I had no idea what to expect and initially I thought it was a reading book of sorts, so straight away I showed my ignorance. This is more about an education in old law which no doubt has shaped our modern legislature. I'll have to revisit this, but for now it is way over my head.

However, I would recommend it if you are trying to broaden your horizons or even if you are tuned to the subject - the e-book costs nothing and so you have nothing to lose. Download it, give it a go and thanks to those who have made it free. It is well written, not difficult to read in terms of wording and the conversion to e-book is very good with no split sentences etc.
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on 21 January 2016
Excellent -easy to read (if not so easy to understand!) and easy to find my place.
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on 31 March 2016
Good information cheaply obtained
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on 31 January 2016
Interesting book
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on 11 August 2014
great book
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on 4 September 2012
This edition is the translation by Jowett. This is not identified in the book itself or on the details here at Amazon. There are no notes or an introduction just the Jowett translation. Not worth the money.
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