05 June 2007

Why is Plato's Laws Important?

I raised the question earlier: When is a mistaken interpretation fruitful, and when not?

Here's a dilemma for ancient philosophers: We wish that our scholarship be fruitful. Some of us therefore wish that it be 'relevant'. But then in arguing that it is, we risk imposing an alien set of questions and concerns.

(An aside: Suppose we show that something in ancient philosophy is relevant to contemporary philosophy. That only postpones the problem, since it remains to be shown that that bit of contemporary philosophy is itself in the right way 'relevant.')

(Task: Show that most expressions of more recent philosophy depend upon the presumption that philosophy derives its worth from something other than itself, such as mathematics, natural science, the hope of political progress, or the promise of resolving ethical cases.--The suspicion is that, if we limit our consideration to the question of whether some philosophical activity is itself valuable, then ancient philosophy will fare as well as anything else.--"But surely recent philosophy is better off by way of truth!" --Yet recent philosophy can hardly give an account of what it is true of; and its account of truth itself is empty.)

Now as regards Plato's Laws, an interpretation is likely to be fruitless, I think, to the extent that it distracts from our discovering and attending to what is important about the work.

And so my question becomes: Why is the Laws important? What valuable lessons does it teach? What should we above all hope to gain from a careful study of it?

How would you answer that question?

Malcolm Schofield has some interesting remarks along these lines in his Plato: Political Philosophy, which arrived yesterday. I'll share these with you in subsequent posts.


Anonymous said...

How long will it take you to find yourself thanked in the footnotes? You're in there!

Michael Pakaluk said...

Did you mean at the end of chapter 2?

I did see that, and believed that the mention there was with a view to comments in discussion of a paper which M. Schofield had presented at Brown University.

Admittedly, it would be a special pleasure to see this blog cited!

Thomas Johansen said...

Done! See the Proceedings of BACAP, vol.XXI, p.276, n.81.

Michael Pakaluk said...

Very cool! Thanks, Thomas!