POLI 347 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Practical Reason, Natural Justice, Immanence

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8 Aug 2016
Topic 2 (Sept 9 & 11) The Rule of Law and the Idea of Constitutionalism as the Second Best: Plato’s Philosopher-Ruler and
Aristotle’s Polity
Reading/s Shirley Letwin, On the History of the Idea of Law, pp. 9- 20 (Plato), 21-41 (Aristotle).
Plato:pp 9-20
Law and Tyranny
defines a tyrant as a ruler who is at liberty to do what he pleases, to kill, to exile, to follow his own pleasure
in every act, and he condemns tyranny in a number of different contexts
In the Laws, the Athenian Stranger says that rulers should be called “ministers of the law” because “the
preservation or ruin of a society depends on this more than on anything else.
olaw consists of rules that are framed when the wrongdoer and his victim are equally unknown that
the law secures the stability of the city.
ootherwise, whoever achieves power could not be restrained from governing in his own interest,
which would provoke others to try to replace him, thus producing endless turmoil. Written because
“legal enactments, once put into writing, remainalways on record
Tyranny after tyranny.
Law must be distinguished from custom. law replaces custom; law makes a definitive selection out of a
variety of conflicting customs.
Law and Obeying it
Having a membership within a community means you have thereby undertaken an obligation to obey its
oCitizen must obey law even if it conflicts with their own interests.
polis exists only insofar as its members observe its laws. Once its members cease to subscribe to the law, the
polis ceases to exist.
oIf citizens disobey the law, they would thereby destroy the polis.
The Crito: (Plato’s dialogue about his three points about the law)
1. First, the law shapes an association (the polis)
a. The rules of law are designed to secure the order and peace on which the life of the city depends,
instead of being designed to pursue any particular substantive projects.
2. the connection of law with an association of people of different families and tribes, whose only necessary
connection is their subscription to the same rules. (don’t actually get the point though..)
3. Everyone must observe the law regardless of whether one likes the consequences.
a. Although the polis is an association that its members may choose to leave, if they remain within the
polis they must have no choice but to obey
Statesman (by Plato)
Plato draws attention to the disparity between the stability and generality of rules of law and the changing
variety of the human world.
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