Thursday, February 11, 2016

Laws (Book X) - Plato

This concerns only Book X from Plato's 'Laws'.

Book X begins with a discussion of blasphemy laws and how the men of Athens would convince outsiders that they are just.  If the outsiders don't believe in the gods, how could they believe they should be punished for speaking out against them.  This idea, that there must be some 'buy-in' from those judged by the law, is an important one.  The idea that there must be some consent from the governed, to borrow a phrase, is an idea that comes and goes and still can't be reliably counted on.  That Athenian men of nearly 2500 years ago thought it important is a key to understanding why we still read the ancient Greeks.

The first step, they agree, is to prove that the gods, do indeed, exist.  I wasn't very impressed with this effort.  The reasoning works like this:
  • Living things have souls.
  • Living things move around on their own.
  • Things that move around must have souls.
  • The greater the moving thing, the greater the soul.
  • The sun, moon, planets and stars are the greatest movers, so they must have the greatest souls.
And of course, those souls must be gods.  This sounds utterly bizarre to modern science.  I don't know that it would have been passable even back then.  ("Wait, the wind moves.  Does it have a soul?  What about water boiling in a pot?")  Still, credit should be given for the effort. 

I don't know much about 'Laws' as a full text but I'm curious about it.  Last year I felt like I gained quite a bit by reading all of Plato's 'Republic'.  I don't doubt that 'Laws' would also be of great benefit to read in it's entirety.

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