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Str. Yes, quite right; for how can he sit at every man's side all
through his life, prescribing for him the exact particulars of his
duty? Who, Socrates, would be equal to such a task? No one who
really had the royal science, if he had been able to do this, would
have imposed upon himself the restriction of a written law.
Y. Soc. So I should infer from what has now been said.
Str. Or rather, my good friend, from what is going to be said.
Y. Soc. And what is that?
Str. Let us put to ourselves the case of a physician, or trainer,
who is about to go into a far country, and is expecting to be a long
time away from his patients-thinking that his instructions
will not be
remembered unless they are written down, he will leave notes of them
for the use of his pupils or patients.
Y. Soc. True.
Str. But what would you say, if he came back sooner than he had
intended, and, owing to an unexpected change of the winds or other
celestial influences, something else happened to be better for
them-would he not venture to suggest this new remedy, although not
contemplated in his former prescription? Would he persist in
the original law, neither himself giving any few
commandments, nor the
patient daring to do otherwise than was prescribed, under the idea
that this course only was healthy and medicinal, all others noxious
and heterodox? Viewed in the light of science and true art, would
not all such enactments be utterly ridiculous?
Y. Soc. Utterly.
Str. And if he who gave laws, written or unwritten,
determining what
was good or bad, honourable or dishonourable, just or unjust, to the
tribes of men who flock together in their several cities, and are
governed accordance with them; if, I say, the wise legislator were
suddenly to come again, or another like to him, is he to be
from changing them?-would not this prohibition be in reality quite
as ridiculous as the other?
Y. Soc. Certainly.
Str. Do you know a plausible saying of the common people
which is in
Y. Soc. I do not recall what you mean at the moment.
Str. They say that if any one knows how the ancient laws may be
improved, he must first persuade his own State of the
improvement, and
then he may legislate, but not otherwise.
Y. Soc. And are they not right?
Str. I dare say. But supposing that he does use some
gentle violence
for their good, what is this violence to be called? Or rather,
before you answer, let me ask the same question in reference to our
previous instances.
Y. Soc. What do you mean?
Str. Suppose that a skilful physician has a patient, of
whatever sex
or age, whom he compels against his will to do something for his
good which is contrary to the written rules; what is this compulsion
to be called? Would you ever dream of calling it a violation of the
art, or a breach of the laws of health? Nothing could be more unjust
than for the patient to whom such violence is applied, to charge the
physician who practises the violence with wanting skill or
his disease.
Y. Soc. Most true.

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