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Pages of laws (books 1 - 6)

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laws (books 1 - 6)   

of legislation; whereas you ought to regard all virtue, and especially
that which comes first, and is the leader of all the rest-I mean
wisdom and mind and opinion, having affection and desire in their
train. And now the argument returns to the same point, and I say
once more, in jest if you like, or in earnest if you like, that the
prayer of a fool is full of danger, being likely to end in the
opposite of what he desires. And if you would rather receive my
words in earnest, I am willing that you should; and you will find, I
suspect, as I have said already, that not cowardice was the cause of
the ruin of the Dorian kings and of their whole design, nor
ignorance of military matters, either on the part of the rulers or
of their subjects; but their misfortunes were due to their general
degeneracy, and especially to their ignorance of the most important
human affairs. That was then, and is still, and always will be the
case, as I will endeavour, if you will allow me, to make out and
demonstrate as well as I am able to you who are my friends, in the
course of the argument.
Cle. Pray go on, Stranger;-compliments are troublesome, but we
will show, not in word but in deed, how greatly we prize your words,
for we will give them our best attention; and that is the way in which
a freeman best shows his approval or disapproval.
Meg. Excellent, Cleinias; let us do as you say.
Cle. By all means, if Heaven wills. Go on.
Ath. Well, then, proceeding in the same train of thought, I say that
the greatest ignorance was the ruin of the Dorian power, and that now,
as then, ignorance is ruin. And if this be true, the legislator must
endeavour to implant wisdom in states, and banish ignorance to the
utmost of his power.
Cle. That is evident.
Ath. Then now consider what is really the greatest ignorance. I
should like to know whether you and Megillus would agree with me in
what I am about to say; for my opinion is-
Cle. What?
Ath. That the greatest ignorance is when a man hates that which he
nevertheless thinks to be good and noble, and loves and embraces
that which he knows to be unrighteous and evil. This disagreement
between the sense of pleasure and the judgment of reason in the soul
is, in my opinion, the worst ignorance; and also the greatest, because
affecting the great mass of the human soul; for the principle which
feels pleasure and pain in the individual is like the mass or populace
in a state. And when the soul is opposed to knowledge, or opinion,
or reason, which are her natural lords, that I call folly, just as
in the state, when the multitude refuses to obey their rulers and
the laws; or, again, in the individual, when fair reasonings have
their habitation in the soul and yet do no good, but rather the
reverse of good. All these cases I term the worst ignorance, whether
in individuals or in states. You will understand, Stranger, that I
am speaking of something which is very different from the ignorance of
Cle. Yes, my friend, we understand and agree.
Ath. Let us, then, in the first place declare and affirm that the
citizen who does not know these things ought never to have any kind of
authority entrusted to him: he must be stigmatized as ignorant, even
though he be versed in calculation and skilled in all sorts of
accomplishments, and feats of mental dexterity; and the opposite are
to be called wise, even although, in the words of the proverb, they
know neither how to read nor how to swim; and to them, as to men of
sense, authority is to be committed. For, O my friends, how can
there be the least shadow of wisdom when there is no harmony? There is
none; but the noblest and greatest of harmonies may be truly said to
be the greatest wisdom; and of this he is a partaker who lives
according to reason; whereas he who is devoid of reason is the
destroyer of his house and the very opposite of a saviour of the
state: he is utterly ignorant of political wisdom. Let this, then,

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