The law of nature in Plato
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This dissertation presents an interpretation of Plato's political philosophy, particularly as articulated in the dialogues Gorgias, Statesman, and Laws, in light of the neglected theme of natural law. The introduction situates Plato's thought within the contemporary debate over the antithesis between nature (phusis) and law/convention (nomos), and argues that, given his general commitments, it should be expected that Plato's response to these issues would be in the form of a natural law theory. Chapter One develops the concept of natural law organically from a reading of the Gorgias. The apparently immoral antinomianism of Callicles is shown to be itself a moral position presenting the form of natural law. Furthermore, Socrates accepts this form of argumentation while rejecting Callicles' premises in favor of a conception of human nature as orderly and part of a larger natural order. Chapter Two examines this conception of natural order further through the myth in Plato's Statesman, which presents schematically the various ends of human life as responding to the human being's place in, and imitation of, the order of nature. In light of the tension articulated in the Gorgias between the demands of security or mere living, and those of living virtuously, Chapter Three presents the Statesman's account of the rule of law as the imperfect but most secure form of rule according to Socrates' standard of natural law. Most importantly the cause of law's imperfection, but also of its necessity is shown to be most fundamentally the gap between philosophical knowledge and popular opinion. Finally, Chapter Four argues that the Laws, in presenting the concrete realization of a comprehensive legal code written in light of natural law, attempts to partially overcome the failings of law by reconciling knowledge and opinion. The Laws presents the philosophical understanding of natural law in a way that is accessible to a non-philosophical audience. Thus Plato attempts to show concretely that nomos and phusis, while distinct, are not antithetical, for human law must be framed and evaluated in light of the standard of human nature.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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