Changing the Laws of the Laws

Ancient Philosophy 41 (2):413-441 (2021)
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Abstract

Did Plato intend the laws of the Laws to change? While most scholars agree that there is to be legal change in Magnesia, I contend that this issue has been clouded by confusing three distinct questions: (1) whether there are legal mechanisms for changing the law in Magnesia, (2) what the attitudes of Magnesian citizens towards innovation and legal change are, and (3) whether Plato thinks the law is always the ultimate political authority. Once we separate these issues and look at the relevant texts more closely, we see that the Athenian Visitor is primarily concerned with supplementing the original lawgiver’s laws and that any innovation that occurs should be consistent with this lawcode. This does not settle the question about whether it is always right to act in accordance with the existing laws, though it does provide a valuable framework for understanding a central aspect of Platonic political philosophy. Thus, although Plato’s ideal places knowledge above the law, in practice the laws of Magnesia will be fixed and authoritative for those people living under them.

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Jeremy Reid
San Francisco State University

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