Social Philosophy and Policy



FREEDOM, LIBERALITY, AND LIBERTY IN PLATO'S LAWS a


André  Laks  a1
a1 Ancient Philosophy, Université Charles de Gaulle–Lille 3/Institut Universitaire de France

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Abstract

This essay aims at establishing that the word “free” (eleutheros) and related terms are used by Plato in the Laws in two main senses. There is, first, the constitutional meaning of “freedom” which is put to work in book 3 in order to analyze moderately good and degenerate forms of historical constitutions. Strikingly enough, this meaning does not play any subsequent role in the shaping of the Platonic constitution itself—a fact which requires some kind of explanation. There is, then, scattered throughout the work, the behavioral meaning of “freedom” according to which the citizens of Magnesia, who are free in the sense that they are free men, are supposed to behave as such and to be educated accordingly, that is as “gentlemen.” One important aspect here is that a free education will appeal to rationality. The philosophically interesting fact, however, is that there appears to be no intrinsic link for Plato between freedom and rationality, as we might expect on the basis of modern philosophical assumptions whereby freedom is grounded on rationality. Rather, freedom is the condition for exercising rationality, because this exercise takes time. True, there is in the Laws a unique occurrence of yet another conception of “freedom” according to which one is free when one's reason masters one's desires. One might speculate why Plato did not develop this specific conception of freedom, which is in some sense closer to some modern views about liberty, as is shown, for example, from I. Berlin's concept of “positive liberty.”



Footnotes

a I would like to thank the editors for revising the English of this paper, as well as for a further series of useful suggestions.



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