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10 - The theology of the Laws

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 December 2010

Christopher Bobonich
Affiliation:
Stanford University, California
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Summary

INTRODUCTION

The opening word of the Laws is “god” (theos). The existence and nature of the gods is of central importance in this dialogue, and the focus of attention in Book 10. Yet much of what Plato says about them is imprecise or incomplete.

The Laws is a difficult work presented in relatively difficult Greek. Book 10 – arguably the most philosophically challenging of the dialogue's twelve books – is especially dense and (at times, it seems) unfathomable. This may in part be the result of its unfinished state. Diogenes Laertius famously reports that “some say that Philip of Opus transcribed the Laws, which was in wax” (III 37). It is not unreasonable to conclude that the Laws may have been in a less than polished state when Plato died. Further, to mention a problem not limited to the Platonic corpus, of course, the centuries-long transmission of this work from the fourth century bc to the medieval period doubtless left its marks on the text we possess.

Some of the ambiguities or uncertainties surrounding Plato's account of the gods in the Laws are likely the result of such causes. For example, one passage in his description of the atheistic conception of reality (10. 889b–e) is aptly described by Trevor Saunders as “stuffed with vague words of uncertain reference” (1972: 91).

The way in which the supervision of the universe by the gods would be easy – this is what I seem to be explaining. […]

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Chapter
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Plato's 'Laws'
A Critical Guide
, pp. 197 - 216
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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