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The Laws of Plato (356 BC)

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The Laws by Plato are the final and lengthiest dialogue written by the renowned Ancient Greek philosopher.

Considered something of a magnum opus by scholars of classical philosophy, in this book Plato sets out the principles of legal theory, and how each principle comes to be applied in civilized, organized society. The lengthy text is divided into twelve distinct books, with a variety of legal topics discussed in considerable depth in every one.

Unusually for a Platonic dialogue, the character of Socrates - who in life was one of Plato's mentors in philosophy - is not present. Instead, the conversations take place between a Greek citizen, a Spartan named Megillos, and a Cretan politician and legal scholar by the name of Clinias.

The definition of law is already assumed at the beginning, with the three characters instead preoccupied with who is responsible for its creation and development in a given society. The dialogue proceeds to discuss and detail the purpose of law in everyday realms of existence, from how it is related to art, religion or philosophy. The essential role of law in education, be that of music, drama or otherwise, is also given due discourse. Finally, Plato discusses the notion of natural law and whether there are rights which can be taken as natural.

Quote:

THE “NOBLE LIE”

ALSO IRONIC IS Plato’s public-relations image as a philosopher who personified the ideals of truthfulness and honesty as the highest virtues. In fact, Plato believed that government was only possible on the basis of a lie, and he “devoted his life to the elaboration” of that lie.To uphold that falsehood, Plato urged that the books of the Ionian materialists be destroyed and “that his own fraudulent book [the Laws] should be imposed by the State as the one and only obligatory source of doctrine.” For dissenters who objected to his plans, he advocated the death penalty. This was Plato’s idea of a political utopia, as he spelled it out in the Republic. “Who,” Farrington asked, “with any sense of the human tragedy of the twenty-three centuries that separate us from Plato can read his proposals without a sense of horror?”

What was the famous “noble lie” that Plato wanted to impose as the official doctrine of the state? Here is how he described it. Writing in dialogue form, he had one of his interlocutors ask him: “How then may we devise one of those needful falsehoods of which we lately spoke—just one royal lie?” He answered:

I propose to communicate [the audacious fiction] gradually, first to the rulers, then to the soldiers, and lastly to the people. . . . Citizens, we shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently. Some of you have the power of command, and in the composition of these he has mingled gold, wherefore also they have the greatest honor; others he has made of silver, to be auxiliaries; others again who are to be husbandmen and craftsmen he has composed of brass and iron; and the species will generally be preserved in the children.

Plato’s “noble lie,” then, was the ultimate ideological justification of elitism: that social hierarchies are immutable because they were created by God, and that the ruling class deserves to rule because God made its members out of superior material. The aristocrats are the Golden Men, whereas the farmers and artisans are composed of brass and iron. As part of this ideological program, Plato promoted two separate religions—a sophisticated, abstract one for the intelligentsia, and a cruder one, with the traditional anthropomorphic gods and goddesses, for the masses. To ensure the continued observance of the latter, Plato proposed sentencing disbelievers to five years in prison for a first offense and death for a second. Farrington commented, “Thus the advocacy of persecution for opinion made its first entry on the European scene.” Plato’s successor, Aristotle, likewise understood the political usefulness of religious tradition; he called it “a myth” that was propagated “with a view to the persuasion of the multitude and to its legal and utilitarian expediency.”

Platonic elitism, unfortunately, is not merely a matter of ancient history; it is still drastically afflicting the human race even in the twenty-first century. The architects of American foreign policy who carried out the imperialist assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq are known to be zealous disciples of political philosopher Leo Strauss, an admirer of Plato. “The effect of Strauss’s teaching is to convince his acolytes that they are the natural ruling elite,” said Shadia Drury, who has written extensively on Strauss’s ideas and their consequences. “Leo Strauss,” she continued, “was a great believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics” who “justifies his position by an appeal to Plato’s concept of the noble lie.” Straussian influence was all too apparent in the Bush administration’s use of deception and blatant falsehoods to convince the American public of the need to go to war against Iraq. “The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty, and that giving them these sublime treasures would be like throwing pearls before swine.”

Clifford D. Conner A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF SCIENCE MINERS, MIDWIVES,AND “LOW MECHANICKS”

Comments

and he figured this all out 1400 years ago.

He probably used sources from other cultures, too.

He's saying some people are more naturally inclined to accumulate power than others.

I think that's true. Some people make better leaders. Some make good bureaucrats, etc

Jordan Peterson also talk about it. Harari talk about two distinct human species which will emerge because of the AI. If you implement rigid caste system, you are wasting human resources, your poor and smart people will invent for other countries.

Is a caste system noble?

I’m glad to see Clifford Connor cited here!

That said, FYI, Plato wrote that he believed democarcy was the worst form of government. A lot has happened since classical Greece…or has it?

All western intellectuals consider Plato as founder of European philosophy. The first thing we learned in primary school from history classes - European culture begin with ancient Greece.

Quote:

Is a caste system noble?

It depends where you live and who you are. If you are lower caste member, it's awful. If you are representative of the country which have colonies with caste system, you are doing great job.

didn't Plato invent the plate and Scorates invent football? *

*shamelessly nicked from "Red Dwarf"