A Counterpoint to Modernity: Laws and Philosophical Reason in Plato's Politicus

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The modern rationalist idea of rule of law, and modern rationalism in general, owes much to Plato and to Platonism. However, Plato's stance towards the laws of the city is all but clear. On the one hand, we have the seemingly 'totalitarian' Plato of the Republic, a dialogue which defends the absolute authority of philosophical wisdom over all prescriptions that are ensuing from existing cities and their laws. On the other hand, we have the 'more liberal-democratic' Plato of the Laws, a dialogue which promotes a combination of philosophical wisdom with rule of law. This ambivalence as to the issue of laws permeates one of the most enigmatic of Plato's works, the Politicus, a dialogue that was written after the Republic and before the Laws. The present essay rejects both the 'totalitarian' and the 'liberal-democratic' understanding of Plato's stance towards the laws of the city. The author defends the thesis that laws in the Politicus do not constitute a static Form that works against or with philosophical wisdom and/or democratic self-legislation, but a factor that generates a series of inescapable philosophical and political ambivalences. This approach corresponds with many of the findings of the so-called 'post-modern jurisprudence'. That is, it brings to the fore the immanent aporias of philosophical dialectics, it emphasises the irreducible un-decidability between violence and consent as foundational elements of the law, and it stresses the adiakrisia (our inability to discriminate) between the poisonous and the healing effects of laws as regards the attainment of conditions of social and political justice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-37
Number of pages23
JournalLaw and Critique
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


  • Consent
  • Laws
  • Plato
  • Statesman
  • Violence


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