Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
If the ideal city described at length in Plato’s Republic is a perfect and philosophically attractive encapsulation of Plato’s political philosophy, why does Plato go on to write the Laws – which also describes an ideal city, albeit one very different from the Republic? The fundamental challenge of scholarship concerning the Laws is to supply a comprehensive account of the dialogue that explains all aspects of it while also distinguishing the Laws from the Republic in a way that does not devalue the Laws as a mere afterthought to the Republic. Past attempts at meeting this challenge, I argue, can be classified under the headings of the democratic, legal, and demiurgic approaches. Although each is prima facie plausible, each also faces its own set of problems. Furthermore, none are truly capable of explaining the Laws in its full specificity; the intricate array of customs, regulations, and practices making up the life of the city described form a complex totality not reducible to the concept of democracy, the rule of law, or demiurgy. Instead, I propose a fundamentally new approach to interpreting the Laws, the systematic approach, which I claim is responsive to the deepest and most innovative tendencies within the dialogue. Specifically, the proper way of conceiving the shift from the Republic to the Laws, I argue, lies in Plato replacing the concept of “cadre” in the former with the concept of a self-governing “system” in the latter. As I deploy these notions, a cadre is a small group of specially qualified individuals, while a system is a large population whose members or constituents affect, and interact with, one another in orderly ways. Each of these concepts gives rise to a corresponding model of government. Under the cadre model, all power is assigned to a small minority of specially qualified individuals, and under the system model, power is periodically rotated between members of a group in accordance with both laws and the extra-legal patterns of social and cultural norms. I use this framework to mount a series of linked investigations into various aspects of the society described in the Laws.
Parker, Harold, "Why Does Plato's Laws Exist?" (2017). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 2515.