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Plato on Laws - Dictionary of Arguments

Höffe I 39
Laws/Plato/Höffe: In Greek antiquity, laws are rigidly prescribed rules, so that, as Plato criticises, they are incapable of recognising the best in individual cases and adapting to changing circumstances.
Solution: According to Plato's undoubtedly innovative demand, laws should be written with the addressee in mind and should also be revisable, which in his opinion requires someone who has the appropriate insight, (...) the êpistemê politikê. >Politics / Plato.
Plato sees laws as only a second-best instrument. Their generality offers a welcome simplification, since the legislator cannot constantly stand next to every citizen and command him what is appropriate to the situation. Laws make possible a temporary absence of the insight-led ruler, but in their rigidity and immutability they do not permit individual case justice. Consequently, the actual sovereignty is left to the "royal man gifted with insight". But since such a community is in reality highly improbable, it needs a second-best, nevertheless good option, just the rule of laws.
Höffe I 40
Nomoi: The Nomoi praise the law as divine or as a god and declare it "Lord (despotês) over the authorities", thus the actual sovereign.
Rule of the law: They also grant the rule of the law that salvation (sôtêria)(1) which the Politeia(2) reserves for the rule of the philosophers. The nomoi also subject the rule of law to an absolute, moral purpose, which is stated in the preambles of the laws.
God: While the Politeia is reserved regarding the religious implications of the purpose, the idea of good, the Nomoi explicitly declare God to be the measure of all things. The rebuttal of three errors about the gods, a task corresponding to the poet's criticism of the Politeia, is one of the main purposes of the legislation (Nomoi, Book X). Incidentally, the Politeia also declares the regulation of the cult to be the most beautiful legislation, admittedly left to the Delphic Apollo.


1. IV 715d
2. V 473c-e


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Höffe I
Otfried Höffe
Geschichte des politischen Denkens München 2016


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