laws (books 7 - 12)
the best? and should not other writings either agree with them, or
if they disagree, be deemed ridiculous? We should consider whether the
laws of states ought not to have the character of loving and wise
parents, rather than of tyrants and masters, who command and threaten,
and, after writing their decrees on walls, go their ways; and whether,
in discoursing of laws, we should not take the gentler view of them
which may or may not be attainable-at any rate, we will show our
readiness to entertain such a view, and be prepared to undergo
whatever may be the result. And may the result be good, and if God
be gracious, it will be good!
Cle. Excellent; let us do as you say.
Ath. Then we will now consider accurately, as we proposed, what
relates to robbers of temples, and all kinds of thefts, and offences
in general; and we must not be annoyed if, in the course of
legislation, we have enacted some things, and have not made up our
minds about some others; for as yet we are not legislators, but we may
soon be. Let us, if you please, consider these matters.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. Concerning all things honourable and just, let us then
endeavour to ascertain how far we are consistent with ourselves, and
how far we are inconsistent, and how far the many, from whom at any
rate we should profess a desire to differ, agree and disagree among
Cle. What are the inconsistencies which you observe in us?
Ath. I will endeavour to explain. If I am not mistaken, we are all
agreed that justice, and just men and things and actions, are all
fair, and, if a person were to maintain that just men, even when
they are deformed in body, are still perfectly beautiful in respect of
the excellent justice of their minds, no one would say that there
was any inconsistency in this.
Cle. They would be quite right.
Ath. Perhaps; but let us consider further, that if all things
which are just are fair and honourable, in the term "all" we must
include just sufferings which are the correlatives of just actions.
Cle. And what is the inference?
Ath. The inference is, that a just action in partaking of the just
partakes also in the same degree of the fair and honourable.
Ath. And must not a suffering which partakes of the just principle
be admitted to be in the same degree fair and honourable, if the
argument is consistently carried out?
Ath. But then if we admit suffering to be just and yet
dishonourable, and the term "dishonourable" is applied to justice,
will not the just and the honourable disagree?
Cle. What do you mean?
Ath. A thing not difficult to understand; the laws which have been
already enacted would seem to announce principles directly opposed
to what we are saying.
Cle. To what?
Ath. We had enacted, if I am not mistaken, that the robber of
temples, and he who was the enemy of law and order, might justly be
put to death, and we were proceeding to make divers other enactments
of a similar nature. But we stopped short, because we saw that these
sufferings are infinite in number and degree, and that they are, at
once, the most just and also the most dishonourable of all sufferings.
And if this be true, are not the just and the honourable at one time
all the same, and at another time in the most diametrical opposition?
Cle. Such appears to be the case.
Ath. In this discordant and inconsistent fashion does the language
of the many rend asunder the honourable and just.
Cle. Very true, Stranger.
Ath. Then now, Cleinias, let us see how far we ourselves are
consistent about these matters.