laws (books 7 - 12)
Cle. Consistent in what?
Ath. I think that I have clearly stated in the former part of the
discussion, but if I did not, let me now state-
Ath. That all bad men are always involuntarily bad; and from this
must proceed to draw a further inference.
Cle. What is it?
Ath. That the unjust man may be bad, but that he is bad against
his will. Now that an action which is voluntary should be done
involuntarily is a contradiction; wherefore he who maintains that
injustice is involuntary will deem that the unjust does injustice
involuntarily. I too admit that all men do injustice involuntarily,
and if any contentious or disputatious person says that men are unjust
against their will, and yet that many do injustice willingly, I do not
agree with him. But, then, how can I avoid being inconsistent with
myself, if you, Cleinias, and you, Megillus, say to me-Well, Stranger,
if all this be as you say, how about legislating for the city of the
Magnetes-shall we legislate or not-what do you advise? Certainly we
will, I should reply. Then will you determine for them what are
voluntary and what are involuntary crimes, and shall we make the
punishments greater of voluntary errors and crimes and less for the
involuntary? or shall we make the punishment of all to be alike, under
the idea that there is no such thing as voluntary crime?
Cle. Very good, Stranger; and what shall we say in answer to these
Ath. That is a very fair question. In the first place, let us-
Cle. Do what?
Ath. Let us remember what has been well said by us already, that our
ideas of justice are in the highest degree confused and contradictory.
Bearing this in mind, let us proceed to ask ourselves once more
whether we have discovered a way out of the difficulty. Have we ever
determined in what respect these two classes of actions differ from
one another? For in all states and by all legislators whatsoever,
two kinds of actions have been distinguished-the one, voluntary, the
other, involuntary; and they have legislated about them accordingly.
But shall this new word of ours, like an oracle of God, be only
spoken, and get away without giving any explanation or verification of
itself? How can a word not understood be the basis of legislation?
Impossible. Before proceeding to legislate, then, we must prove that
they are two, and what is the difference between them, that when we
impose the penalty upon either, every one may understand our proposal,
and be able in some way to judge whether the penalty is fitly or
Cle. I agree with you, Stranger; for one of two things is certain:
either we must not say that all unjust acts are involuntary, or we
must show the meaning and truth of this statement.
Ath. Of these two alternatives, the one is quite intolerable-not
to speak what I believe to be the truth would be to me unlawful and
unholy. But if acts of injustice cannot be divided into voluntary
and involuntary, I must endeavour to find some other distinction
Cle. Very true, Stranger; there cannot be two opinions among us upon
Ath. Reflect, then; there are hurts of various kinds done by the
citizens to one another in the intercourse of life, affording
plentiful examples both of the voluntary and involuntary.
Ath. I would not have any one suppose that all these hurts are
injuries, and that these injuries are of two kinds-one, voluntary, and
the other, involuntary; for the involuntary hurts of all men are quite
as many and as great as the voluntary? And please to consider
whether I am right or quite wrong in what I am going to say; for I
deny, Cleinias and Megillus, that he who harms another involuntarily
does him an injury involuntarily, nor should I legislate about such an