Greek Political Theory: Plato and His Predecessors

By Ernest Barker | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
The Earlier Dialogues of Plato

The three great dialogues of Plato which deal with problems of political thought are the Republic, the Politicus, and the Laws. Of these the Republic belongs to the first period of Plato's life, and may have been finished by the year 386 B.C. in which he founded the Academy; the Politicus may be dated about 360; and the Laws, the last work of Plato's pen, was published posthumously, after his death in 347. But there is a number of early dialogues, prior to all of these, and probably written before 386, which are largely concerned with matters of political theory. These are all Socratic dialogues proper, and they are all concerned with the exposition and vindication of the teaching of Socrates. The Apology and the Crito, in dealing with the life and death of Socrates, raise problems of the relation of the State to the individual. The Charmides and the Laches, the one immediately concerned with the virtue of self-control, the other with that of courage, both issue ultimately into larger questions: on the one hand the conception of the unity of virtue leads to the question of the relation of the virtues to virtue at large; on the other, the conception of the State as the promoter of every virtue leads to the question of the relation of moral life to political society and 'political science' -- a question also discussed, incidentally, in a passage in the Euthydemus. The Meno, in discussing knowledge and instruction, necessarily discusses the nature of political knowledge and the possibility of instruction in politics; and a similar problem is also discussed in the Protagoras. Finally, in the Gorgias Plato is concerned with the value of the study of rhetoric as a preparation for the life of politics; and he is led to attack the basis of false principle which underlies, in his view, the teaching and the practice of oratory.


1.
THE APOLOGY AND THE CRITO

The Apology is an attempt to justify Socrates. Suspected by the democrats of being the head of an aristocratic coterie, he had been accused of corrupting the youth and disbelieving in the gods of the State, and he had been brought to trial by his

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