Laws (dialogue)

Platonic dialogue

The Laws is Plato's last and longest dialogue.


  • The greatest penalty of evildoing is to grow into the likeness of bad men.
    • 728
  • Again, the practice of men sacrificing one another still exists among many nations; while, on the other hand, we hear of other human beings who did not even venture to taste the flesh of a cow and had no animal sacrifices, but only cakes and fruits dipped in honey, and similar pure offerings, but no flesh of animals; from these they abstained under the idea that they ought not to eat them, and might not stain the altars of the Gods with blood. For in those days men are said to have lived a sort of Orphic life, having the use of all lifeless things, but abstaining from all living things.
  • Of all animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.
    • 808
  • You are young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain therefore awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.
    • 888a
  • Not one of them who took up in his youth with this opinion that there are no gods ever continued until old age faithful to his conviction.
    • 888
  • Now I, as the legislator, regard you and your possessions, not as belonging to yourselves, but as belonging to your whole family, both past and future, and yet more do I regard both family and possessions as belonging to the state; wherefore, if some one steals upon you with flattery, when you are tossed on the sea of disease or old age, and persuades you to dispose of your property in a way that is not for the best, I will not, if I can help, allow this...
    • 923
  • Moreover, there is a victory and defeat—the first and best of victories, the lowest and worst of defeats—which each man gains or sustains at the hands, not of another, but of himself; this shows that there is a war against ourselves going on within every one of us.
    • Book I
    • Sometimes paraphrased as "The first and best victory is to conquer self".
  • Now death is not the worst that can happen to men; far worse are the punishments which are said to pursue them in the world below.
    • Book IX
  • Let us say to the youth: "The ruler of the universe has ordered all things with a view to the preservation and perfection of the whole, and each part has an appointed state of action and passion; and the smallest action or passion of any part affecting the minutest fraction has a presiding minister. And one of these portions of the universe is thine own, stubborn man, which, however little, has the whole in view; and you do not seem to be aware that this and every other creation is for the sake of the whole, and in order that the life of the whole may be blessed; and that you are created for the sake of the whole, and not the whole for the sake of you. For every physician and every skilled artist does all things for the sake of the whole, directing his effort toward the common good, executing the part for the sake of the whole, and not the whole for the sake of the part. And you are annoyed because you do not see how that which is best for you is, as far as the laws of the creation admit of this, best also for the universe."
    • Book X
  • Are we assured that there are two things which lead men to believe in the Gods, as we have already stated?
    What are they?
    One is the argument about the soul, which has been already mentioned — that it is the eldest and most divine of all things, to which motion attaining generation gives perpetual existence; the other was an argument from the order of the motion of the stars, and of all things under the dominion of the mind which ordered the universe. If a man look upon the world not lightly or ignorantly, there was never any one so godless who did not experience an effect opposite to that which the many imagine. For they think that those who handle these matters by the help of astronomy, and the accompanying arts of demonstration, may become godless, because they see, as far as they can see, things happening by necessity, and not by an intelligent will accomplishing good.
    • Book XII

Quotes about Laws

  • To say that Plato has only one concern in his political writings is unfair to the dogged and detailed emphasis of Laws on how to organize a second-best state if the utopia of Republic cannot be achieved. Laws is rich in institutional detail; some of it reappears in Aristotle’s work, although he was as critical of Laws as he was of Republic.
    • Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present (2012), Ch. 2 : Plato and Antipolitics
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