I had asked why Plato's Laws is important, and Pedro de Blas, in a pleasing coincidence, gives four distinct answers. I mean his review today in BMCR of J-F Pradeau and Luke Brisson's annotated translation.
(1) The Laws is not important at all, but "the late work of a worn-out mind".
Admittedly, I don't know anyone who has actually read the dialogue, who thinks this. On the other hand, by a well-known law of psychology, anyone who had expended the time and effort necessary to study the Laws, would be disposed to presume that his, and Plato's, effort was not wasted.
(2) (a very common view) The Laws is important, because of what it tells us about the unity or development of Plato's thought.
de Blas expresses a certain disdain for this approach, which he traces to the "mouthpiece" method of reading a Platonic dialogue, viz. the approach which "seeks to attribute to Plato himself what is said by Socrates, or the main speakers of the dialogues in which Socrates is merely an onlooker or is altogether absent":
This ["mouthpiece"] theory, despite its obvious textual hurdles, has nevertheless governed the interpretation of the Platonic dialogues for a long time, and has arguably forced Plato students to approach the study of the dialogues in a way that constantly requires the explanation of different and contradictory philosophical positions between dialogues. Even though Plato does not give conclusive evidence for the "unity" or "development" of his thought, the grip of the theory on many scholars is so strong that it can still be considered mainstream. I can only reference again, as Blondell also did in her review cited above [ BMCR 2003.07.02 ], some of the recent attacks on that theory that deserve urgent consideration [e.g. Press, G. A. (ed.) Who Speaks for Plato? Studies in Platonic Anonymity]. Perhaps the "mouthpiece" theory is responsible for the problem that B-P themselves allude to concerning the apparent obsession with the general aspects of the Laws and with the question whether or not this dialogue "fits" with the previous ones, especially with the Republic and the Statesman.I can't accept de Blas' attempt to blame the "mouthpiece" theory for developmentalism: surely one might hold that Plato's view is something other than that expressed by any character in a dialogue, yet still wonder whether that view changes or develops. (Or does de Blas hold that we should resist attributing any doctrine to Plato at all?)
de Blas' real objection, I take it, is against developmentalism itself: a concern with developmentalism, he wishes to say, naturally leads one to consider the dialogue above all in relation to something else--other dialogues--rather than as a worthy object of study in its own right, and therefore to consider only the "general aspects" of the Laws, because its points of overlap with other dialogues are relatively slight.
(3) (de Blas' own view) The hidden assumptions and limitations of the legal code of the Laws are worth investigating:
... we should be less concerned with other dialogues, and we should stop trying to elucidate any Platonic system or unity of thought (tempting as it may be in the case of the Laws because of the thoroughness of the material, which seems to relate to so much else that Plato wrote). In my view the most productive reading of the dialogue would be a study the legal code itself that asks questions about its normative topics out of the order in which they are presented, in order to reveal its hidden assumptions and its limitations. It is not really possible to elaborate further on this point within the scope of this book review.Yet de Blas doesn't tell us why it would be important to uncover these "hidden assumptions and limitation". (And did you note the contradiction?: de Blas now concedes that a developmental study of the Laws need not, after all, confine itself merely to "general aspects" of the dialogue.)
(4) (Pradeau and Brisson) ??
Here de Blas' review falls short, as he does not succeed in telling us what Pradeau and Brisson think. He states a few themes from the introduction, but without enough precision for us to assess their merits:
"...the dialogue evinces a strong theoretical ambition and is in fact the first work of political philosophy stricto sensu (pp. 13-14)" --It's strange to learn that Republic is not strictly a work in political philosophy. I'd like to hear more about this. (And in using "first", is de Blas committing himself to developmentalism after all?)
"...the law is for Plato a means to regulate life to its most minute detail, and in this sense it is both a prescriptive and a pedagogical discourse (p. 18-19)" --Okay, and why is this important?
"...Book V is a treatise on practical ethics that seeks to establish virtue in a political community in an enduring manner by means of human intellect alone, as shown by the rest of the dialogue (p. 23-26)". --Is "intellect alone" meant to be contrasted with "force" or "emotion"? (I haven't a clue what de Blas means.)
"...the preambles to the laws seek to enhance compliance with the law by creating an inner conviction in the citizens about the goodness of the norms and the unavoidable harm that will ensue from their contravention, thereby combining persuasion and compulsion in a new way, according to the Athenian (pp.45-50)". --This point I appreciate and accept, yet how is it important other than as a reply to Bobonich?