Persuasion, Compulsion and Freedom in Plato's Laws

Classical Quarterly 41 (2):365-388 (1991)
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One of the distinctions that Plato in the Laws stresses most heavily in his discussion of the proper relation between the individual citizen and the laws of the city is that between persuasion and compulsion. Law, Plato believes, should try to persuade rather than compel the citizens. Near the end of the fourth book of the Laws, the Athenian Stranger, Plato's spokesman in this dialogue, asks whether the lawgiver for their new city of Magnesia should in making laws ‘explain straightaway what must and must not be done, add the threat of a penalty, and turn to another law, without adding a single bit of encouragement or persuasion [παραμυθας δ κα πειθος … ν] to his legislative edicts’ . A few lines later, the Athenian Stranger himself condemns such a procedure as ‘the worse and more savage alternative’ . The better method is for the laws themselves to try to persuade the citizens to act in the manner that they prescribe. And as a means of doing this, Plato proposes attaching preludes to particular laws and to the legal code as a whole: such preludes will supplement the sanctions attached to the laws and will aim at persuading the citizens to act in the way that the laws direct for reasons other than fear of the penalties attached to the law. Such a practice, Plato believes, is an innovation: it is something that no lawgiver has ever thought of doing before . And we have no reason to think that Plato is here excluding his earlier self, e.g. the Plato of the Republic and the Politicus, from this criticism



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Chris Bobonich
Stanford University

Citations of this work

Justice in the Laws, a Restatement: Why Plato Endorses Public Reason.Samuel Director - 2018 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 4 (2):184-203.
Philosophical Rule from the Republic to the Laws 1 : Commentary on Schofield.Rachana Kamtekar - 1997 - Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium of Ancient Philosophy 13 (1):242-254.
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The Open Society and Its Enemies.K. R. Popper - 1946 - Philosophy 21 (80):271-276.
Plato's Moral Theory.Terence Irwin - 1979 - Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung 33 (2):311-313.
The Theaetetus of Plato.Myles Burnyeat & M. J. Levett - 1993 - Phronesis 38 (3):321-336.

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