Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Daniele Manni

Loyola University Chicago



Despite the fact that the Laws are almost twenty four hundred years old, their reserve of philosophically and politically interesting points is still copious and relevant for the contemporary reader. The present work is an initial attempt to analyze the nature of law as treated in the Laws and to highlight especially the reliance of the legislative sphere on the ethical sphere.

In spite of the many, and often painfully detailed, laws posited by the Athenian in the course of books VIII-XII, the Laws offer an interesting analysis of the nature of law, one that may be subsumed under the label "Natural Law Theory." There are two main points of this analysis: the first discusses a dependency of the legislative system on the ethical sphere and it is the focus of this essay; the second examines an analogical connection between the positive laws of a state and the astronomical laws of the cosmos, which are ultimately a matter of theology, and it will be the treatment of a later work. As a consequence of the prevalence of ethics over legislation, the Laws address also the political value of education and art to a degree that is rarely approximated in Plato's opera. Education in all its forms, that is, in every way it may create and influence public opinion, has to be considered as the fundamental means for obedience to or rejection of the legal system.

The essay is divided in five sections, beginning with the relationship of the sphere of ethics and that of legislation and ending with the political relevance of theatrical production. In the first section, I discuss the dependency of the legal system on ethics by showing how the ethical principle of measure and proportional equality is at the basis of the process of election of Magnesian magistrates. This process grants freedom and wisdom in the state which, in turn, yield philia and political cohesion. In the second section, the prevalence of ethics over law is discussed and proved from two perspectives: in the first place, a look at the genesis of law will show that its origin is to be discovered in the ethical sphere; secondly, observing the laws of the state, it will be discovered that the ethical sphere sustains the legal system even when the codes are approved and recognized by the body politic. In the third section, I discuss the means by which a lawgiver assures continuity between the ethical and the legal system of the polis; I focus on the role that the education of children plays in Magnesian politics and on the philosophical understanding of pleasure that lies at its basis. In the fourth part, I discuss the continuous moral education which the whole citizenry of Magnesia undergoes. Firstly, Magnesians are educated by legal norms, through the institution of preludes, that is, explanations of the laws; secondly, they are educated by means of public festivities. In the last section of the essay, I discuss what Plato calls `theatrocracy,' the power that theatrical productions hold over legislation, and I show why it is considered anti-ethical.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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