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Kenneth Royce Moore
Abstract: This article undertakes to examine the reception of Platonic theories of
falsification in the contemporary philosophy of Leo Strauss and his adherents. The
aim of the article is to consider the Straussian response to, and interaction with,
Platonic ideas concerning deception and persuasion with an emphasis on the argu-
ments found in the Laws. The theme of central interest in this analysis is Platos
development of paramyth in the Laws. Paramyth entails the use of rhetorical language
in order to persuade the many that it is to their advantage to obey certain laws. It does
so without explaining in detail why a given law is ethically correct and its use assumes
that the audience, on the whole, is not capable of understanding the finer philosophical
underpinnings of the law. The so-called noble lie of the Republic is also considered
in this context. The crucial issue, for Plato if not for Strauss, is whether or not an
instance of falsification, however minor, for the purposes of persuasion contains
truth-value, that is, whether it is morally justifiable in terms of ends and means. In
terms of Strausss reception of Plato, such issues as ancient Hebrew mysticism,
Medieval Jewish and Islamic scholarship and Heideggerian Phenomenology figure in
the argument. Ultimately, the article finds that Strauss and his followers have con-
structed a particular view of Platonic ideas that, while unique, is not compatible with
their original signification.
Introduction: Virtuous Fictions
In the Republic and the Laws, Platos narrators discuss the prospect of official
story-telling for the purposes of moral edification. The so-called noble lie is
one example of this. The use of legal preambles, or paramyth, is another.
These will be explored in detail along with the poetic and other influences on
the dialogue formitself. Integral to the modern reception of Plato is Leo Strausss
interpretation of these phenomena, with its inherent assumptions and influ-
ences, along with the further interpretation of them by the Straussians, based
on the teaching and writings of Strauss. The latter read every text as dialogic,
entailing both argument and action.
Leo Strauss advanced the somewhat unusual position that Thrasymachos
argument to the effect that Justice is the interest of the stronger was in fact a
major theme of the Republic. He also maintained that Platos philosophy was
expressed in an exoteric manner but guided by an esotericism that differed
intrinsically in character. Strauss apparently regarded Thrasymachos, and not
Socrates, as the official spokesman for Plato in the Republic. He saw this
fictional antagonist as speaking the truth to the effect that there is no such
thing as natural justice only the right made by might, as Drury indicates,
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apparently Socrates tells him (off stage) that his views are true but too
dangerous for public dissemination.
The so-called noble lie, then becomes
a ready means of smoothing over dangerous truths that the populace may not
be prepared to accept. They are thus permitted to go on believing in such
things as natural rights and justice.
This interpretation of the Republic and of Plato is not typically upheld by
classicists and it earned Strauss ridicule from his peers. There is, nonetheless,
evidence of his narrators various recourses to esotericism in Platos dramatic
dialogues and especially in the Republic and the Laws. The so-called noble
lie (or virtuous fiction) is the example that springs readily to mind and one
that most interested Strauss. The legal preambles of the Laws are another.
Both Platonic utopian visions entail an esoteric society in charge, e.g. the
Philosopher Kings/Queens of the Republic and the Vigilance Committee, of
the Laws who are comparable in many ways to their counterparts in the
The second-best polis of Magnesia, outlined in the Laws, reveals
degrees of esotericismat all levels of society and even appears to refer to more
potential esoteric connections, in a meta-dramatic way, outside the text itself
and involving other Platonic dialogues.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Strauss, who advocated the applica-
tion of ancient political theories in modern politics, also considered the Laws
to be the most political of all of Platos works. As he says:
The Republic and Statesman reveal, each in its own way, the essential limi-
tation and therewith the essential character of the city. They thus lay the
foundation for answering the question of the best political order But they
do not set forth that best possible order. This task is left for the Laws. We
may then say that the Laws is the only political work proper of Plato.
S.B. Drury, Leo Strauss and the American Right (London, 1997), p. 101. For
Strausss (exoteric) view on Thrasymachos, see Leo Strauss, City and Man (Chicago,
1964), pp. 75 ff.
Laws 908a, 909a, 951d ff., 961a ff. and 968a. Unless otherwise specified, all ancient
texts are cited from the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard, 2002) and all translations are
my own. For a similar Nocturnal Council of Atlantis, see Critias 120a ff. Cf. Rep. 484,
537b ff., where dialectics are described, as R.G. Bury says, as a kind of induction
(ouvoyeyg) whereby the mind ascends fromthe many particulars to the one univer-
sal concept or idea: a comprehensive view of the whole that marks the dialectician
(o ouvoatixo oiorxtixo) (Plato, The Laws, vols. 12, trans. R.G. Bury (Suffolk,
1999), p. 555, n. 3). See too K. Moore, Sex and the Second-Best City (London and New
York, 2005), ch. 2.
Laws 811a1b5, 957cd. See K.R. Moore, Ers, Hybris and Mania: Love and
Desire in Platos Laws and Beyond, Polis, 24.1 (2007), pp. 11233, pp. 124 ff; and also
cf. C. Bobonich, Compulsion and Freedom in Platos Laws, Classical Quarterly, 41.2
(1991), pp. 36588, p. 370.
L. Strauss, Plato: Laws, in History of Political Philosophy, ed. L. Strauss and
J. Cropsey (Chicago, 2nd edn., 1972), pp. 5163. Strauss repeats this statement of the
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Strauss sees Platos political philosophy as evolving toward the best possible
order which culminates in Magnesia, in the Laws, a planned society like the
kallipolis of the Republic but with marked differences.
Before turning to Platos usage of lying or storytelling in these texts, it is
first necessary to draw some distinctions about their Straussian reception. In
doing so, it would be remiss not to differentiate between Leo Strauss, the clas-
sicist and political philosopher, and those Straussians who are comprised of
his immediate students, their students and adherents.
And we must also bear
in mind that what has been said or done in Strausss name, comparable to the
state of affairs concerning Plato and many other notable teachers, is not his
own doing nor even necessarily an accurate representation of his ideas.
In any case, the application of Straussian philosophy entails there to be a
public salutary teaching and behind it an acknowledgement of an unspeakable
The Straussian line of reasoning goes like this:
The philosopher-
statesman possesses an enlightened understanding of the correct ways that
society ought to function along with that which is best for it as a whole. The
majority of people do not possess this enlightened understanding. In order
to preserve the good of society, the knowledge held by the philosopher-
statesman is expressed in both an inner, or esoteric, manner, for and by the
philosopher-statesmen amongst themselves, and an exoteric, or outer manner,
for the benefit of hoi polloi. This is because hoi polloi are not able to fully
appreciate the esoteric version (the whys and wherefores entailed by illumi-
nated philosophical reason) and require a message that is appropriate to their
level of understanding. In the course of pursuing the enlightened good of the
state, the philosopher-statesman may be required to present a fictional version
of events to hoi polloi in order to justify the undertaking of some action
deemed necessary from their enlightened perspective. The necessary action
in question might include the engagement of military activities with another
state in war or some kind of forceful intervention of which hoi polloi may not
Laws politicality in L. Strauss, The Argument and the Action of Platos Laws (Chicago,
1975), p. 1.
See K. Weinstein, Philosophic Roots, the Role of Leo Strauss, and the War in Iraq,
in I. Stelzer, The Neocon Reader (New York, 2004), pp. 20112, pp. 2056; and
A. Norton, Leo Strauss and the Politics of the American Empire (New Haven and Lon-
don, 2004), p. 6; see pp. 14 ff. for a more complete list of prominent Straussians.
This distinction is a major subject of Nortons Leo Strauss and the Politics of the
American Empire and is well discussed therein. As she says (p. 2) there is the story of the
Straussians, which is properly two stories: the story of the philosophical lineage of Leo
Strauss, and the story of a set of students taking that name, regarded by others and
themselves as a chosen set of initiates into a hidden teaching.
Ibid., p. 64.
See T. Pangle and N. Tarcov, Epilogue: Leo Strauss and the History of Political
Philosophy, in History of Political Philosophy, ed. Leo Strauss and J. Cropsey (Chi-
cago, 1987), pp. 90738.
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readily approve. The focused purpose of the exoteric message in such circum-
stances is to persuade the populace that this apparently questionable action is
in fact correct.
Leo Strauss was acquainted with Husserl and was a student of Heidegger.
His approach, influenced by the latters phenomenology, was not the assess-
ment of mere objects of perception; rather the full thing which entailed both
primary and secondary characteristics as well as values such as the sacred or
the profane.
Society, he thought, had failed to recognize the significance of
such an approach. Strauss considered Western civilization as he understood it
to be in a state of crisis. He identified some of the main causes of this crisis
with Moral Relativism, Nihilism and Historicism.
He evidently blamed
these dangerous -isms for the turmoil of Weimar Germany, where he spent his
youth, and the Nazi terror that followed. He fled to the USA before the perse-
cution of Jews could reach him.
As an antidote for this crisis, Strauss made
recourse to the ancient philosophers of the past not assuming that their ideas
were shaped or limited by the times in which they lived.
The difficulty in
overcoming the crisis of modernity lies in the nature of modernity as a con-
structed reality, a second cave, borrowing from Platos myth of the cave in
the Republic.
This approach was a rather significant departure fromthe stan-
dard scholarly procedure of Strausss day which gave credit where due to the
past but regarded the then modern prevailing theories to be an improvement
over it.
Strauss was especially interested in the medieval Islamic philosopher al
Farabi (c.870950) and the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides
Both used esotericismin their philosophies and both learned it
frommore ancient sources. In his commentary on Plato, al Farabi asserted that
Mary Wakefield, at that time editor of the Spectator, in an article in the Daily Tele-
graph (9 January 2004), wrote: Strauss was a champion of the noble lie the idea
that it is practically a duty to lie to the masses because only a small elite is intellectually
fit to know the truth. Politicians must conceal their views, said Strauss, for two reasons:
to spare the peoples feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.
L. Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (Chicago and London, 1983),
p. 31; cf. too Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tbingen, 1949), sect. 21, pp. 989.
As Robertson indicates: Strauss follows Nietzsche and Heidegger in seeing a cri-
sis of nihilism at the heart of modernity which opens up the possibility of a return to a
principle forgotten or lost the recovery of the lost principle involves a return to the
ancients who are now able to speak to us free from the distorting effects of modern
assumptions. N. Robertson, Leo Strausss Platonism, Animus: A Political Journal of
Our Times, 4 (1999), pp. 19, p. 1 (
Weinstein, Philosophic Roots, pp. 2049.
Ibid., p. 209.
Robertson, Leo Strausss Platonism, p. 2.
See in particular L. Strauss, The Literary Character of the Guide for the Per-
plexed, in Essays on Maimonides: An Occidental Volume, ed. S.W. Baron (New York,
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Plato did not reveal his fullest teaching to everyone, choosing instead to con-
ceal his most important secrets.
The need for, and practise of, exoteric/
esoteric doctrines in antiquity could be seen with regard to the politically
charged atmosphere of Athens in the wake of the Peloponnesian wars and
especially around the time of the trial of Socrates, but not limited by any
means to these. Esotericism also had its uses in the Middle Ages when schol-
arship could be regarded with suspicion. Keeping their innermost ideas a
secret known only to a select group could perhaps protect philosophers from
public persecution and superstition, since the public lacked a deeper under-
standing of philosophy, whilst securely training the fewindividuals who were
deemed capable of dealing with it. Or, to put it more cynically in Mary
Wakefields turn of phrase, the philosopher cum politician lies in order to
spare the peoples feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.
Strausss reception of Plato was deeply coloured by the influence of these
medieval philosophers as well as by ancient Hebrew esoteric conventions. He
seems to have sought to unify the ancient Greek and Hebrew traditions,
symbolically joining Jerusalem and Athens, though clearly not unaware of
their differences too, saying:
On the divine concern with mens justice and injustice, the Platonic teach-
ing is in fundamental agreement with the biblical teaching; it even culmi-
nates in a statement that agrees almost literally with biblical statements.
He does acknowledge that Athens and Jerusalem are ultimately at odds on
account of the opposition of the God or gods of the philosophers to the God
of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the opposition of Reason and Revelation.
However, he asserted that the truth is the synthesis of the teaching of Plato
and that of the prophets.
Athens and Jerusalem are thus unified, albeit with
caveats and necessary restrictions. The argument has been taken up recently
that Strauss needed to assert an unbridgeable chasm between Athens and
1941), pp. 3792. On Maimonides use of secret teachings, see pp. 48 ff.; on the use of
repetition in Plato and Maimonides to convey true teachings, see p. 62, n. 79.
Weinstein, Philosophic Roots, p. 209; see too Robertson, Leo Strausss Platon-
ism, p. 3.
See note 10 above.
Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, p. 166. He cites Laws 905a4b2,
where the Athenian Stranger discusses metaphysical justice, saying: Make yourself
ever so small and hide in the depths of the earth, or soar high into the sky; this sentence
will ever be at your heels, and either while you are still alive on earth or after you have
descended into the House of Hades or been taken to some even more remote place, you
will pay the proper penalty for your actions. Strauss then compares it with Amos 9:13
and Psalms 139:710. He goes on to discuss some of the more significant differences
between the Platonic tradition and the biblical.
Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, p. 166.
Ibid., p. 167, emphasis in original.
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Jerusalem since they would thereby both be united, as it were, in equal oppo-
sition to National Socialism.
Strauss was also heavily influenced by the Kabbalah, which maintained
that the secrets of the Torah were dangerous and had to be kept from those
unfit or unworthy to receive them. Strauss Persecution and the Art of Writing,
according to Drury, insists that all the great authors of the Western tradition
are esoteric writers for exactly the same reasons as the Kabbalists.
He also
held that certain ancient philosophers, and a few modern ones, had received
some kind of divine revelations akin to those of the Old Testament prophets.
By way of Spinoza, as Pangle puts it, he learned from Maimonides and
eventually from Farabi that the heart of revelation is the phenomenon of the
prophet, the human lawgiver who orders the community and the nation
or nations in the name of divine authority.
The difficulty of refuting
Strausss hermeneutic is comparable to the difficulties of refuting psycho-
analysis. Both point to an object only accessible to those who practise an art
that requires as its premise the prior acceptance of the existence of that object,
that is, the hidden text or the unconscious mind.
Or, as Trevor Saunders, a
renowned expert on Plato in general and the Laws in particular describes it,
Strauss confusing and deplorable habit is due to his treacherous assumption
that what is not in the text is as much a part of the subject matter as what is.
One can seen some similarity between the Straussian position and the
divine authority of Platos philosopher kings/queens who have supposedly
experienced the Formof the Good and are thus capable of rendering Just deci-
Certainly there are elements of Platos writing that seem to allude to a
hidden agenda. The dialogue form lends itself well to esotericism. The set-
ting, characters and actions, amongst other features, all provide a backdrop
against which the authors intent can be gauged.
They also provide a ready
This is taken from an unpublished article titled The Disappearance of Davos: An
Adventure in the History of Ideas, by an independent American scholar on Strauss by the
name of Will Altman with whom I have had some correspondence on this. He writes
(p. 43) that Strausss irrational choice for Athens over Jerusalem, on the other hand, is
precisely the reciprocal annihilation of both; it is the triumph of the will, the crest of
modernitys third wave, and the last word in decisionist nihilism.
Drury, Leo Strauss and the American Right, pp. 601.
T. Pangle, in his introduction to L. Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philoso-
phy (Chicago and London, 1983), p. 21.
Robertson, Leo Strausss Platonism, p. 3.
T. Saunders, review of The Argument and the Action in Platos Laws by Leo
Strauss, Political Theory, 4 (1976), pp. 23942, p. 241, emphasis in original.
See Strauss, The Literary Character, p. 87, n. 155, on a contrast between ancient
Hebrewprophets as statesmen and the philosopher kings/queens of Platos Republic and
cf. p. 39, n. 9, on the use of official secrecy in terms of the metaphysical truths underlying
law in Moses Maimonides with which Strauss contrasts passages in Laws X.
Weinstein, Philosophic Roots, p. 209.
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means of literary obfuscation that can conceal the authors actual intent. How-
ever, Platos narrators are especially concerned with lies and their relative
truth- or logos-value.
In order to explore this further, with regard to Straussian
lying, I shall now turn to Platos usage of fiction, first in a broader literary and
mythological sense, before returning to the subject of paramyth in the Laws.
Of course, what many modern readers (and translators) forget about the so-
called noble lie in Plato is that it is not necessarily a lie per se in the con-
temporary sense of the word.
It has more in common with the archaic English
lay, which is the origin of the modern term lie, and is more appropriately a
story, fiction or myth.
Platonic Myths and Paramyths
Throughout the Platonic corpus, myths in various forms are employed by
Platos narrators toward specific philosophical ends and effects. Yet there is
something peculiar about a philosopher inserting mythical elements into his
equally peculiar, and not to mention fictional, dramatic dialogues. The latter
represent a literary genre which has its own rules and conventions. The dramatic
dialogue is intimately connected with myth. The range of mythologizing in
Plato includes both traditional myths, typically in a variant form from that of
the mainstream, along with historical interpretations of these and with other
events comparably related. This section considers some of the salient exam-
ples of the deployment of this topos in the Laws and other dialogues and
examines the ends for which they were conceived.
The subject and treatment of myth in the works of Plato is complex. One
might ask, in a manner rather like that of Socrates, what is meant by the term
and how, therefore, should one discuss it? Graves gives a list of that which he
considers to be not true myths, amongst which are philosophical allegory,
political propaganda, moral legend and realistic fiction.
This is a con-
servative reckoning and excludes any would-be myths about whose literary
inception, as works of fiction, something is known. It also accepts and
includes a number of myths whose origins are historically obscure and appar-
ently the definition is based in no small part on that obscurity itself.
A more
inclusive version may be obtained. Burkerts definition of myth considers it to
Strauss is not unaware of logos-value in the Laws, but omits it from his discussion
of the legal preambles; see Strauss, The Argument and the Action in Platos Laws, pp.
589, 60.
See G. Liddell and R. Scott, AGreek-English Lexicon (Oxford, 1992) s.v. ruoo.
R. Graves, The Greek Myths (London, 1960), p. 12. All of which fit the spectrumof
Platos mythologizing.
Homer and Hesiod apparently qualify as true myths since the authors seem to
have fashioned their literary works based on pre-existing myths and presumably did not
originate the mythic tales themselves.
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be a traditional tale with a secondary, partial reference to something of
collective importance.
This is broad enough to include Platonic mytholo-
gizing. However, it hinges on precisely when a fable or tale becomes tradi-
tional. The collective importance of Platonic myths may be taken as a given,
but even this is not beyond equivocation.
Instances of Platonic mythologizing occur at points where he has chosen to
adapt certain traditionally cultural tales by modifying them according to a
philosophical agenda. There are also some myths that Plato appears to have
originated (whether unique creations or peculiar adaptations) specifically for
his own ends. Those that he originated or modified may not have been tradi-
tional when he composed his dialogues. The fact that many Platonic myths
(such as that of Atlantis) have become traditional since Platos lifetime further
problematizes the issue of defining what is meant by a traditional tale. But
we may grant that his myths are now certainly part of an existing tradition.
Plato himself has also played a role in the definition of myth. He drew the
distinction between a story that may or may not contain relevant philosophical
or truth value and stories with an essential quality that determines their
philosophical worth.
Plato may thus be said to have taken significant steps
towards systematizing the distinctions between muthos and logos. Muthos is
regarded as unverifiable discourse and logos as verifiable. Muthos is a story
and logos is a rational argument.
However, Platos method for classifying
myths according to their value does not appear entirely consistent. For exam-
ple, the types of tales that are to be banned from the kallipolis in the Republic
are referred to as logoi. But these also include the sort of muthoi that are told
to children under the broader designation of logoi.
More on this will follow.
Given the nature of the dialogue form, Plato is under no obligation to be
totally systematic across diverse dialogues.
The techn of mythologizing for Plato the writer and philosopher amounts
to a sort of tool with which he can shape an argument and deploy it for specific
reasons. In the Laws for example, this technique is deployed purposely to
affect Magnesian social values. Many myths that belong to the traditional
canon of the ancient Greeks find their way into the Platonic corpus and, as
such, serve a variety of philosophical ends. These often come from the works
of Homer or Hesiod and Platos narrators frequently have some critical com-
Quoted in Interpretations of Greek Mythology, ed. J. Bremmer (London, 1987),
p. 1.
See Phaedrus 275b3c2 for a discussion of this principle of veracity as a touch-
stone for determining the difference between logos and muthos.
R. Buxton, Imaginary Greece: The Contexts of Mythology (Cambridge, 1995),
p. 12. Cf. L. Brisson, Platon, les mots et les mythes (Paris, 1982), pp. 11112.
Rep. 376e6377a8.
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ment to make about themor through them.
Such poets are deemed to lack the
appropriate understanding to correctly utilize their myths. The philosopher,
as Murray says, is aware of the approximate status of his myths, whereas the
poet is not.
Platos Sokrates criticizes the use of myths that miss the mark in
terms of truth-value e.g. that portray the gods and divine heroes as ugly or
The perceived danger of such myths is that they present potentially
harmful models for ordinary people who lack the proper philosophical train-
ing to make the necessary distinctions. Here is an example of Platos recourse
to a kind of esotericism as picked up by Strauss. The imitation of these harm-
ful models must be curbed. In short, as Morgan says, only myths conducive
to virtue will be allowed, as when Odysseus commands his heart to endure in
difficult circumstances.
There are myths that Plato appears to have originated himself for the
express purpose of forwarding his philosophical agenda. Some of these
include, for example, the Fable of the Cave, the Divided Line, the Metals, the
ancestor of Gyges of Lydia (the tale of the ring of invisibility), the metaphysi-
cal Myth of Er, the Two Horses of the Phaedrus, the Myth of the Age of
Kronos and the Puppets of the Gods in the Laws.
Some of these (e.g. the
Myth of the Metals) may be considered noble lies or exhortatory fables
designed to persuade. They represent another pharmakon, a deceit that sup-
plements the partially or fully deceitful drugs of philosophys many competi-
It is clear in all of these instances of tale telling that certain situations
make lying a moral necessity for Platos narrators.
This is justifiable since
they are designed not only to persuade, but also to affect moral correction.
A broader type of Platonic mythmaking may also be seen in the undertak-
ing of such works as the Republic or the Laws. The whole business of produc-
ing an artificial, utopian society in literature is itself a sort of mythologizing
on a grand scale. The creation of the Republic was so vast and complex a pro-
Such as his modification of the myth of Ganymede at Laws 636d as well as
Sokrates critique of the myth of Kronos and Zeus at Rep. 378a2.
P. Murray, What is Muthos for Plato?, in From Myth to Reason? Studies in the
Development of Greek Thought, ed. R. Buxton (Oxford, 1999), p. 261.
Rep. 377d9e3.
K.A. Morgan, Myth and Philosophy from the Presocratics to Plato (Cambridge,
2000), p. 162.
See Republic 514 ff., 532b ff., 539e on the Cave; Republic 509d513e, on the Line;
Republic 41415 on the Metals; Republic 359d ff. on Gyges; Republic 614b ff. on Er;
Phaedrus 246 ff., 253c ff. on the Two Horses; on the Ages of Kronos, cf. Laws 713b ff.,
on the puppets of the gods, 644d ff., 658c, 803c ff.
M.A. Rinella, Revisiting the Pharmacy: Plato, Derrida and the Morality of Politi-
cal Deceit, Polis, 24.1 (2007), pp. 13456.
J.P. Hesk, Deception and Democracy in Classical Athens (Cambridge, 2000),
p. 152; cf. pp. 153201 on Platos use of so-called noble lies and see below.
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ject that it marked one of the major stylistic changes in Platos writing.
might be fair to regard the Republic and Laws as on a par with Homers Iliad
or Odyssey. They are all consequently epic-length fictions that, in describing
mythical events and persons, entail a comparable level of sophistication.
Whereas Homers myths belong to ages past, Platos transpire in a speculative
future. Both are vehicles of moral and metaphysical guidance.
Plato has appropriated myth from the hands of the poets and reconstructed
new myths that serve the interests of his philosophy.
The emphasis, as we
have seen, lies with logos-value (truth-value in terms of philosophical worth
and instructive potential) as opposed to muthos-value (story- or entertainment-
value or persuasive value devoid of acceptable instructive potential). These
Platonic myths might not be completely truthful, but they need not be. The
ends are deemed to justify the means. Platonic myths are intended to fulfil
their function of imparting higher, philosophical truths to those who are able
to accurately interpret them.
When employed on a hypothetical populace
(whether Magnesia of Kallipolis), they entail specific agendas and have been
calculated to inculcate these philosophical truths with effective persuasiveness.
Platonic myths fall into several recognizable categories.
According to
Morgan, there are three distinguishable classes: traditional myths such as
those told by the poets, educational myths that are designed to exercise some
specific level of social control and philosophical myths that are conjoined
with a given line of logical analysis.
Even these distinctions may be too
rigid. How, for example, might one label an instance of myth told by the poets
but altered or amended by Platos narrator? Are not all Platonic myths some-
how tied to logical analysis anyway? All of his myths appear to serve a dis-
tinct philosophical purpose. They also tend to traverse the boundaries of
artificially imposed categorization.
A prominent use of myth in Platos works concerns the theme of philosophi-
cal play. This can be a childish game, an educational tool, or a metaphor for
philosophical activity.
The educational programmes of the Republic and
the Laws depend on types of structured play (aoioio ) in order to ensure psy-
chic harmony and intellectual development along specific lines. The games
that Platos narrators propose that children should play are designed to pro-
mote the attainment of an idealized state of the psych. This is one level of
See below.
Murray, What is Muthos for Plato?, p. 257.
This also serves to distinguish Platonic (or philosophical) mythologizing fromthe
methods employed by the sophists. The contrast, says Morgan (Myth and Philosophy,
p. 166), is not between truth and falsity or verifiability and non-verifiability, but
between well-intentioned philosophical persuasion and sophistic browbeating.
Such as Frutigers context-driven categorization of allegorical, genetic and para-
scientific myths; see Morgan, Myth and Philosophy, p. 161.
Morgan, Myth and Philosophy, p. 162.
Ibid., p. 168.
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play as mythologizing inasmuch as it becomes a vehicle, like a myth, for
delivering a philosophical message.
At another level, not unlike noble lies or paramyth, play becomes a sort
of secondary metaphor concealing complex theoretical underpinnings. Role-
playing can be an effective method of philosophical argumentation.
sort of play may embody critical seriousness and examine an issue by utiliz-
ing a type of logical analysis. As Morgan says, in this respect it is analogous
to philosophical myth.
A prominent example occurs in the complicated
discussion on whether or not same-sex relations should be permitted in Mag-
The discussion appears to be largely hypothetical and it is worked out
through logical analysis but there is some question as to the Athenian Strangers
seriousness on the subject.
It is perhaps a rather monolithic role-playing game in which Plato engages,
but not perhaps role-playing in the modern sense of Dungeons & Dragons or
corporate strategizing; rather, the participants engage in a philosophical game
of what ifs? led by the narrator in which an important issue is explored. The
theme of play as a kind of philosophical exercise, especially in contrast to
the seriousness that such play might imply, may be seen throughout the
Platonic corpus.
In fact, play as a means of approaching a problem or
administering philosophical pharmaka has much in common with other
instances of mythologizing in Plato.
Not unlike the creative works of the
Republic or the Laws, in Platonic play at large an imaginary something is
called into existence and then used to advance a philosophical agenda.
The Myth of the Metals in the Republic provides a well-known example of
Platonic mythologizing, being the major instance of the so-called noble lie.
It is a lie that serves the ostensibly beneficial purpose of exercising positive
social control of a specific type. Myths of this category, as Hesk says, are not
to be criticised if the untruth of the story conveys a deeper moral truth.
the narrative Socrates says in the Republic:
The pseudos in words does no more than imitate what the pseudos does in
the soul. It bears only a shadowy resemblance to the pseudos in the psych
and is not altogether false.
The fouler pseudos is not that in words, but that which is present in the psych.
That is to say, [l]ies in words are imitations, shadows, resemblances; lies in
See Laws 887e8888a7.
Morgan, Myth and Philosophy, p. 169.
Laws 636c16. He says: whether one ought to regard these things in a playful way
or seriously (aoiovto ritr oaouooovto); this passage is discussed in considerable
detail in Moore, Sex and the Second-Best City, ch. 7.
See e.g. Rep. 424e5425a1, Meno 79a7, Crito 46d45.
See Hesk, Deception and Democracy, pp. 151 ff.
Ibid., p. 154.
Republic 382bc.
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the soul, in contrast, have every appearance of being indelible.
What miti-
gates a pseudos in words is its logos-value. Beneath the Myth of the Metals
there is a meaningful philosophical argument, grounded in dialectic analysis
and inspired by the Good, on the manner in which an idealized human com-
munity ought to be governed. The myth may be little more than a clever
encouragement designed to persuade people to follow the rules based on the
merits of a fable, yet it has logos-value inasmuch as the ends that are antici-
pated are identified as virtuous and therefore are considered to justify the
somewhat duplicitous manner of their implementation. It is not moral relativ-
ism if the guiding principle is no less than the unchanging, metaphysically
sound Good itself, however it may be known.
Fables of one particular sort play a prominent role in the Laws. They will
be employed propagandistically as a means of social control to effect mass
persuasion. The use of fables in this way, akin to the noble fictions of the
Republic, corresponds both to known (or at least reputed) Athenian and Spar-
tan practices from which Plato may have taken his cue.
It becomes the chief
business of the Magnesian government to mould the characters of its subjects
and the Laws interlocutors deem the employment of logos-laden fables to
this end as morally justifiable. In this utopian vision, as Strauss indicates, the
perfect legislator will persuade or compel the poets to teach that justice goes
with pleasure and injustice with pain [the] perfect legislator will demand
that this salutary doctrine be taught even if it were not true.
It is nowhere suggested that Plato has overturned the basic tenet, elsewhere
espoused and extolled, that only the one who knows what Justice is can be
just. The Athenian Strangers policies, however totalitarian they may seem to
a modern audience, are said repeatedly throughout the Laws to aim for the
hypothetical Magnesians maximum attainment of aret and, thereby, happi-
ness. Behind the moral fables, which are informative, is the threat of compul-
sion for those who disobey the law. As Bobonich says, Lawstill has a penalty
or sanction attached to it and Plato is willing to use force and the threat of
100 K.R. MOORE
J. Mitchell, Platos Fable: On the Mortal Condition in Shadowy Times (Princeton,
2006), p. 38. Apseudos in words, with logos-value, may be used out of necessity in order
to inculcate the young or uneducated into the correct manner of behaviour; see Rep.
378de on the malleability of young minds.
A. Powell, Plato and Sparta: Modes of Rule and Non-Rational Persuasion in the
Laws, pp. 273322, in The Shadowof Sparta, ed. A. Powell and S. Hodkinson (London,
1994), p. 284. He says that Spartan official deceit included not only lying to helots as to
whether they would be rewarded or killed, and misleading other enemies in wartime (a
practice which Xenophon commended explicitly to non-Spartans), but also lying to their
own citizens about the outcome of battles involving Spartan forces. See Hesk, Decep-
tion and Democracy, pp. 136, 15762 on this and see below.
Strauss, Plato: Laws, p. 54.
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force on those who are not rationally persuaded to obey.
Subtler methods
are preferable, however, and milder, effective persuasion is deemed more
desirable in civilized society than coercion. The Athenian Stranger insists on
relying on persuasion rather than repression because to use the latter is to
admit defeat, which is implied by a lack of respect for the law.
Enter paramyth. Platos narrator uses this term to describe preambles to the
citys laws that will be regularly read aloud to the Magnesians. Paramyth,
aoou0io, may be loosely defined as encouragement or persuasion, and
its use here combines philosophical, rhetorical and mythical qualities.
legal preambles possess a kind of mythological resonance and thus fall into
the broader category of Platonic mythologizing.
The Athenian Stranger
indicates that the lawgiver should not threaten the populace with rules or
merely prescribe his philosophically sound decrees, but that he should give
encouragement (aoou0io) backed by appropriate degrees of legal force.
The legislator will deliver a convincing fiction that is grounded in a truth. It
differs from a work of pure fiction (muthos) inasmuch as the discourse of the
Magnesian legislator, unlike that of a poet, must be non-contradictory and
based on logos.
In addition to its mythic qualities, paramyth is also a special
type of rhetoric to which I shall presently turn.
Paramyth is seen to have a positive effect inasmuch as it is undertaken for
the good of the subjects in question and the society as a whole. Many of these
subjects will be unable to engage in the more complex philosophical discus-
sions that underpin the laws. Non-citizens, such as slaves and resident aliens,
will be affected by the oral recitation of the preambles in a way different from
that of the citizens. The Magnesian citizens will study the text of the laws in
school, along with their preambles, and will be expected to have gained an
albeit limited comprehension of the inner mysteries of philosophy and civic
ideology that underscore them by the time they reach adulthood.
Platos method of presenting his philosophical discourses in dramatic dia-
logues connects significantly with his uses of myth and poetry. He establishes
these fictional dialogues in a purely dramatic form, and sometimes in quasi-
dramatic form, enclosed within a narrative framework.
He has borrowed
C. Bobonich, Persuasion, Compulsion and Freedom in Platos Laws, Classical
Quarterly, 41.2 (1991), pp. 36588, p. 382.
L. Brisson, Plato the Mythmaker, ed. and trans. G. Naddaf (Chicago, 1994), p. 120.
See Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. aoou0io.
Brisson, Platon, les mots et les mythes, pp. 2002. They are also reminiscent of
philosophical exhortations found in the Republic.
720a12. See Bobonich, Persuasion, Compulsion, pp. 365 ff., for a broader dis-
cussion of many of the linguistic issues represented by this passage.
Laws 719bc. See Brisson, Plato the Mythmaker, pp. 1201.
See Bobonich, Persuasion, Compulsion, p. 370.
K. Dover, The Greeks (London, 1980), p. 105.
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from a number of literary and dramatic traditions in formulating the genre.
As with many of the myths that he employs, he did not originate the dramatic
dialogue. Precedent for it may be found in Homeric dialogues, the Melian dia-
logue and others of Thucydides, the Dissoi Logoi of the sophists and Athenian
stage drama. There is every reason to believe that these were all important
Thucydides dialogues express what Immerwahr calls philosophical truths
couched in historical theories and interpretations.
The Dissoi Logoi does so
even more self-consciously.
Both package their messages in the accessible
medium of the dialogue form. The feature of accessibility is an important
aspect of it. Drama has a much wider appeal than dry dialectic. It also has
advantages in terms of producing a more formal approach to philosophy. The
dramatic dialogue allows Platos narrators to deal with a problem from many
angles. They are able to set out opposing theories, showing that neither side is
wholly right, and often conclude that the matter needs more thought.
represents a major stepping-stone to more sophisticated levels of philosophi-
cal analysis.
The Platonic dialogues demand certain imaginary concessions on the part
of the reader or auditor to the effect that a fictional event, related to drama,
epic and myth, is transpiring. It is within the imposed context of such a fic-
tional event (the dialogue) that Platos narrators and characters undertake to
philosophize. The Platonic tradition of employing myths and parables in
order to provide reasoning by analogy may therefore be extended to the
mythic framework of the dialogue itself. It is a kind of fictional episode out of
which one is invited to derive some philosophical experience. One may inter-
act with a Platonic dialogue through ones own independent thoughts as well
as by imitation (mimsis) of the methods and virtues presented. It is left to the
audience to take away what they will, although their thoughts are typically
encouraged, as we have seen, along specific lines.
Some causal factor for Platos choice of literary style may be derived out of
Socrates preference for dialogic discourse in his pursuit of wisdom. Socrates
had employed oral discussion as his characteristic mode of philosophical
activity. As a Platonic character, he has variously expressed the limitations of
the written word inasmuch as it cannot answer questions or engage in interactive
102 K.R. MOORE
See R. Blondell, The Play of Character (Cambridge, 2002), who deals in greater
detail with many of the literary aspects in Platos dialogues discussed below.
H.R. Immerwahr, Pathology of Power in the Speeches in Thucydides, in The
Speeches in Thucydides: A Collection of Original Studies With a Bibliography, ed.
P.A. Stadter (Chapel Hill, 1973), pp. 1631, p. 23. See C. MacDonald, Plato, Laws
704a707c and Thucydides II.3546, Classical Review, 9 (1959), pp. 1089, for a com-
parison between these two passages.
See R. Thomas, Herodotus in Context (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 88 and 1301.
W. Guthrie, The Greek Philosophers: FromThales to Aristotle (NewYork, 1978),
p. 16.
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discussions with a living audience. This sort of interaction was the living Soc-
rates philosophical modus operandi.
Unlike his teacher, Plato devised a
more formal means of getting his messages across. His approach is striking.
Even the earlier dialogues, which are largely conversations with Socrates,
indicate Platos involvement with philosophy in a more technical sense.
Other philosophers such as Parmenides, Solon, Pythagoras and Empedokles
of Akragas had utilized the artistic medium of poetry in order to convey their
Platos dramatic dialogue form would appear to represent a quantum
leap beyond the methods of these others.
As indicated, the dialogue form has the advantage of involving and engag-
ing the reader/auditor in a very direct way precisely because of its dramatic
qualities. This aids in its persuasiveness. The vividness of the scenes (i.e. two
or more persons in a setting having a discussion) draws the observer into the
dialogue in much the same way that one is vicariously drawn into a play being
performed or, today, a film being screened. Philosophy presented this way,
as Rutherford says, is more accessible, more enticing, than formally pre-
sented system-building or ex cathedra exposition.
Platos method contrasts
sharply with the oracular style of Heraklitos, the divinely inspired utter-
ances of Empedokles or the mind-teasers of Zeno of Elea while incorporat-
ing certain elements fromall of them. There are oracular pronouncements of
a sort in Plato. These come as philosophical truths and the higher virtues
imparted by metaphysical entities such as the Forms. There are also a number
of poetic influences in Plato as well as a fair share of mind-teasers.
The dramatic dialogue form reveals other literary borrowings that contrib-
ute to its total effect. Plato has incorporated other works and genres apart from
those already mentioned. Examples include the transplantation of texts in
whole or in part (as in the funeral speech in the Menexenus which echoes other
examples of this genre and the many quotes from Homer and other poets
throughout the Platonic corpus) along with incorporation by allusion (as in
the many allusions to Euripides Antiope in the Gorgias). Plato can target a
specific genre by incorporating the language, topoi, or themes that are pecu-
liar to it and clearly identified as such. For example, when Callias slave slams
As Thomas indicates, Platos authoritarian scheme in the Laws, intended to con-
trol every aspect of citizens lives, does not, so far as I can see, think entirely in terms of
written laws (R. Thomas, Literacy and the City-State in Archaic and Classical Greece,
in Literacy and Power in the Ancient World, ed. A. Bowman and G. Woolf (Cambridge,
1994), pp. 3350, p. 37). See Laws 822d ff., 788b, 793ad.
C.H. Kahn, Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of the Liter-
ary Form (Cambridge, 1996), p. 53.
Some of the most influential of those whom we now categorise as early Greek
philosophers wrote in verse (P. Murray, Plato on Poetry (Cambridge, 1996), p. 18).
R. Rutherford, The Art of Plato (London, 1995), p. 8.
See e.g. the closing passages fromthe Euthyphro as well as the slave boys geom-
etry lesson in the Meno.
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the door in Socrates face at the beginning of the Protagoras, we are con-
fronted by a topos fromthe genre of comedy.
Numerous poets are quoted in
the dialogues as authorities on ethical matters.
When cited, Platos charac-
ters metapoetically recite the piece in question as part of their dialogue.
This technique of incorporating literary borrowings appears to play an
important and practical role in the presentation of Platos philosophy. It may
be the case that the audience or reader is meant to hear both a version of the
original utterance as the embodiment of the speakers point of view (or
semantic position) and the second speakers evaluation of that utterance
from a different point of view.
A probable end of such novelistic hybridiza-
tion, as Nightingale and others call such intertextual borrowings, is the
illumination of one literary discourse by means of another. As usual, his
incorporation of works of poetry, speeches and comedic techniques are
employed in order to advance a philosophical agenda and, crucially, to per-
suade. Strauss sees the poetic influence as more profound. He states that in
the sub-Socratic context of the Laws, the only kind of wise men apart from
the legislators are the poets and he further asserts that the poet does not con-
tradict himself by making different characters contradict one another.
difference is that the legislator, unlike the poet, must not speak with irony.
However, this alleged subtext remains to be demonstrated. It undoubtedly is
the case, as Strauss also says, that the Magnesian legislators must learn cer-
tain things from the poets, especially about the great variety among the
natures and habits of the souls.
This brings us back to the subject of paramyth and legal preambles. In addi-
tion to these other poetical borrowings, the dramatic dialogue form in the
Laws also adapts and incorporates certain techniques from rhetoric.
appears in the preambles to Magnesias code of laws that, as discussed above,
are to be read before the assembled public largely as a means of persuasion.
All speeches, writes Strauss, need artfully composed preludes which move
the audience toward the reception and acceptance of the speeches themselves
104 K.R. MOORE
A.W. Nightingale, Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the Construct of Philosophy
(Cambridge, 1997), p. 6.
Murray, Plato on Poetry, p. 18. Such instances include, but are not limited to,
Republic 331a, 331d, 334ab; Protagoras 339a341e, 343d347a; Meno 95c96a.
Nightingale, Genres in Dialogue, p. 6.
Strauss, The Argument and the Action in Platos Laws, p. 61.
Ibid., p. 62; cf. Laws 650b69.
Statesman 303e304e. Rhetoric is described as a subsidiary aspect of the science
of politics but it persuades through mythological speeches and not through instruction.
The Laws would seem to represent a new level to which this sort of mythologizing has
been taken.
Laws 718b723a.
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and this applies in particular to laws.
The Athenian Stranger indicates that
he obtained the idea for these legal preambles fromthe practice of delivering a
proembefore a main musical piece or oratorical speech.
He says that, as with
both music and rhetoric, the preamble serves as a kind of artistic preparation
useful for the further development of the subject.
Why should the subject require preparation in order to be more receptive
to the dictates of the laws? Written law, and perhaps bald philosophizing too,
as the Athenian stranger says (and Strauss agrees), is a tyrannical prescrip-
tion (722e); it orders and threatens like a tyrant or despot who writes his
decrees on the wall and is done with it.
The lawgiver can soften the impact
of these with recourse to persuasive preambles the language of which is
more exhortatory than prescriptive.
Strauss describes the functions of the
legal preambles saying that the proper mixture of coercion and persuasion, of
tyranny and democracy, of wisdomand consent, proves everywhere to be
the character of wise political arrangements.
The basic structural differ-
ences between Magnesia and the kallipolis of the Republic perhaps reveal the
necessity for this recourse to rhetoric in the Laws.
As in the Republic, only a
small minority will meet the criteria of philosophical illumination.
will, however, be more educated than the denizens of the Republic and this is
out of necessity. Magnesia is to be a limited democracy; however, the major-
ity of people will be directed and exhorted to followthe laws without question
rather than making or changing them. The rhetorical qualities of the legal pre-
ambles are designed to aid the Magnesian government in keeping the popu-
lace in order and presumably to encourage their democratic decision making
along certain lines.
Each preamble represents a piece of calculated rhetoric. Failure to take the
advice offered in the preamble and, thence, breaking the law will incur
severe penalties of a punitive as well as psychological nature. A Magnesian
lawgiver will address himself/herself to the hypothetical populace, reciting
Strauss, The Argument and the Action in Platos Laws, pp. 645.
722d, 723cd.
859a46. Strauss, The Argument and the Action in Platos Laws, p. 64, says: Is
therefore not, as Aristotle understood Socrates to have meant, the correct regime a
mixture of tyranny and democracy? See Aristotle, Politics 1266a13, and cf. Laws
693d25 and 712d5.
See A. Nightingale, Platos Lawcode in Context: Rule by Written Law in Athens
and Magnesia, Classical Quarterly, 49.1 (1999), pp. 10022, p. 117, for comparisons
with the Statesman; and G. Morrow, Platos Cretan City: A Historical Interpretation of
the Laws (Princeton, NJ, 1960), pp. 55260 for more on this aspect of the preambles.
Strauss, Plato: Laws, p. 58. Cf. Aristotle, Politics 1266a, 13.
Murray, Plato on Poetry, p. 212.
Laws 691cd, 713c, 874e875d and see above. However, they will be educated in
the workings of political theory, see below.
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the preambles and stating the laws and injunctions and these will then be pub-
licly inscribed.
Strauss lays out some of the difficulties that the lawgiver will
have to address:
He will preface the laws with preambles or preludes setting forth the rea-
sons for the laws. Yet different kinds of reasons are needed for persuading
different kinds of men, and the multiplicity of reasons may be confusing
and thus endanger the simplicity of obedience. The Legislator must then
possess the art of saying simultaneously different things to different kinds
of citizens in such a way that the legislators speech will effect in all cases
the same simple results: obedience to his laws. In acquiring this art he will
be greatly helped by the poets.
This recourse to poetry is reflected in the literary and rhetorical nature of
the preambles. However, as we have seen, they are not merely there to per-
suade. They are also to instruct and function as one of many forces in the mass
education and inculcation of the citizens.
The fact that the Laws itself is
required reading for the hypothetical Magnesians underscores the persuasive
effects of the written text, in concert with living speech, as a kind of drug
(pharmakon) acting on their psychai.
Platos narrator describes the legal preambles with recourse to an analogy
to a doctor of slaves who prescribes his treatments without explanation
and the doctor of a free man who provides an adequate (albeit incomplete)
explanation as to why the medicine or treatment is beneficial to the patient.
This analogy breaks down somewhat as the lawgiver does not engage in a
one-to-one dialogue with the citizens, but addresses themen masse. As Night-
ingale says, the good lawgiver creates his preludes and his legal prescriptions
long before he comes across any patients.
Through his deeper compre-
hension of the science of medicine, the free doctor is at once instructing and
persuading the patient. The Magnesian lawgiver, with his/her deeper under-
standing of the science of politics, delivers the preambles as persuasive pieces
of instructive advice to a populace that, on the whole, lacks the lawgivers
specialized techn. There is even a sense in which the majority of the
106 K.R. MOORE
Laws 822e823a.
Strauss, Plato: Laws, p. 57. Cf. Laws 719b720e.
H. Yunis, Taming Democracy: Models of Political Rhetoric in Classical Athens
(Ithaca, NY, 1996), p. 214. See too Moore, Sex and the Second-Best City, ch. 3.
See Nightingale, Platos Lawcode in Context, pp. 11718 and Hesk, Deception
and Democracy, p. 1524 on Platos pharmacy and cf. Moore, Sex and the Second-Best
City, ch. 3.
Laws 719e723c. What he is actually favouring is a combination of the two. The
Magnesian lawgiver will dispense justice just as surely as the slave doctor prescribes his
treatments (and the populace will be equally subject to them) but, like the free doctor, the
Magnesians receive some persuasive explanation as to why the treatment must be
Nightingale, Platos Lawcode in Context, p. 118.
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Laws itself, given more to discussion about law than actual laws themselves,
represents a kind of preamble for the purposes of preparing the Magnesian
Despite lengthy discussions on the nature of paramyth by the Athenian
Stranger, he gives few concrete examples of its use, preferring instead to
leave such details to later Magnesian lawgivers to develop. However, there is
one notable instance that strikes a particular chord with current Straussian
philosophy which argues for the naturalness of a human institution.
It con-
cerns the laws and customs of marriage. Marriage in Magnesia, as in the real
world, is an artificial construct of society designed largely, though perhaps
not exclusively, to promote specific norms of sexual behaviour and to pro-
duce an economic effect in terms of the transmission of property and inheri-
tance. In encouraging monogamous, mixed-sex marital relationships (very
unlike the model of breeding centres in the Republic),
Platos narrator
makes recourse to examples from the behaviour of animals in his proposed
speech to the Magnesians. The Athenian Stranger suggests an ideal mode of
conduct for his hypothetical populace in terms of marital fidelity. He asserts
that the citizens standards should not be lower than those of the beasts and
birds that are, apparently, all monogamous.
Whether this analogy reflects true conditions of nature or only common
beliefs about it is not the point.
It is a pharmacological model propa-
gandistically embraced by Magnesias authorities.
Citizens are expected to
See Norton, Leo Strauss, pp. 837; she quotes Hadley Arkes, a prominent
Straussian, who insists that Marriage cannot be detached fromwhat some might call the
natural teleology of the body; namely, the inescapable fact that only two people, not
three, only a man and a woman, can beget a child, p. 84.
Republic 416d ff., 420a, 422d, 464b ff., 543b.
when they arrive at the appropriate age, a husband is wedded to a wife, as a
matter of personal preference (xoto oiv), and a wife to a husband, and for their
remaining time they live piously and justly, being staunchly true to their first love-
contracts (840d6e1). Cf. Euripides, Helen, 190.
See Herodotus, Histories, 2.64 and 4.180 for a contrasting animalistic analogy. At
2.64 he indicates that only the Egyptians and the Greeks do not behave like animals
since they forbade sexual intercourse in temples (e.g. unlike the Babylonians and other
barbarians). At IV.180 he discusses the savage Machyles and Auses (tribes near Libya)
who share their women in common like animals. See M. Rosellini and S. Sad, Usages
de Femmes et Autres NOMOI Chez les sauvages dHrodote: Essai de Lecture
Structurale, in Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, classe di lettere e
filosofia (series 3), 7.3 (1978), p. 965, on Herodotos slanted ethnography of savage
promiscuity amongst foreign peoples; and cf. Moore, Sex and the Second-Best City, ch.
7, for more on this analogy in Plato. One interpretation of Egyptian archaeology suggests
that they placed less emphasis on virginity and same-sex intercourse than the Athenians
of Platos era.
See Hesk, Deception and Democracy, pp. 1536, 15962 on Platonic pharmaka.
In contrast to Plato, Diogenes the Cynic, in his hypothetical constitution, considered
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engage in proper sexual relations only within state-approved marriages between
members of the opposite sex.
Consider Philebus 67b, where Platos Socra-
tes states that the many prefer to use such arguments from the natural world
as authoritative fact rather than divining deeper truths from philosophy.
The many are seen to look on animal behaviour, perceived through com-
mon sense, as in some ways paradigmatic of how they ought to behave.
Platos use of this argument from animal nature in the Laws is a powerful
rhetorical device that will have a serious effect on his citizens and possibly
nothing more.
To this he adds another persuasive tale. The Athenian
Stranger exhorts his hypothetical citizenry to marry saying that one must nat-
urally hold onto the everlasting by always leaving behind children and grand-
children after one that they may render services unto the gods.
It is
yrvroi, the primal force of reproduction that grants humankind a necessary
foothold on immortality.
It should be noted, still, that this concern of
Platos narrator is almost obsessively dictated by the need to preserve a stable,
fixed population and, as such, it may be less (metaphysically) moral than
108 K.R. MOORE
promiscuity with mutual consent to be the most satisfactory sexual arrangement and he
regarded the sexual act (as with eating, masturbation and excretion) as not especially pri-
vate (Diogenes Laertes VI.72, 97). On comparable modes of sexual propaganda see
Xenophon, Constitution of the Spartans, 1.79, for alleged Spartan wife-swapping and,
again, on Herodotus who portrayed barbarian cultures as being sexually promiscuous, cf.
1.203, 3.101, 4.180 and also Rosellini and Sad, Usages de Femmes et Autres, pp.
Ideally no man, says the Athenian Stranger, would dare to have sexual relations
with a respectable free-woman other than his wedded wife, nor would he dare to sow
unacceptable and bastard seed among concubines, nor sterile seed in males contrary to
nature, Laws 841d15. Cf. Moore, Sex and the Second-Best City, ch. 6, on the issue of
same-sex liaisons.
In the Philebus passage cited above, Socrates is discussing pleasure and argues
that one ought not to derive ones way of thinking on the matter fromthe beasts and birds.
This does not necessarily exclude the possibility that one might drawlogical conclusions
about pleasure from animals should their actions happen to be in accord with philoso-
phy but this is not what is said in the text in this instance.
M. Nussbaum, Platonic Love and Colorado Law, Virginia Law Review, 80.7
(1994), pp. 15151651, p. 1631.
The Athenian Stranger says that yrvroi is the principal process whereby human-
kind may render service to the Good, the supreme object of religious worship (to
aovtev oiotov 728d1). He indicates that those who render service to the Highest
have contact with tg 'oriyrvou uore, which corresponds to true, indestructible
Being. At 903c, he says that every yrvroi fashions an instrument for helping to secure
the happiness of the universe as a whole. This would seem consistent with Diotimas
thesis at Symposium 206e25 where ers is described as both a longing for offspring in
accordance with the Good and, at 207a34, as the longing for the Immortal. See
Moore, Sex and the Second-Best City, chs. 4 and 5.
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material in its design.
If the exhortation based on yrvroi has purely
material motivations and no real metaphysical basis, then it would appear to
uphold the Straussian position on Platonic exotericism. However, this remains
to be seen.
The preambles are clearly meant to render the audience favourably disposed
toward the speaker and to instruct, in albeit a superficial way thus facilitating
general acceptance, about the virtue of the particular law being introduced.
The lawgiver who will read the preamble is being cast in the role of a teacher.
He/she is compared to a loving and intelligent father or mother whom the
law also stipulates must be honoured.
The lawgiver may be seen as a paren-
tal figure (a sort of good shepherd) that, through the benefits of greater wis-
dom, seeks to help others. The evangelical connotations of this have not
been overlooked and are not purely the transference of modern prejudices.
Platos legal preambles, fictional though they be, have entered a fourth state
of rhetoric beyond the traditional modes of the deliberative, the judicial and
the epideictic. They might possibly represent the first systematized example
of preaching as a rhetorical form.
They do, in fact, exhort the Magnesian
subjects to obey the laws through the backing of religious authority.
unlike later Christian preaching, Platos employment of calculated, instruc-
tive discourse is also designed to communicate divine matters in common par-
lance. The need for mass-appeal directs their verbal packaging. This, along
with Platos adaptation of the dialogue form, constitutes a significant and
influential innovation.
Laws 745a ff. The law must encourage families to produce sufficient heirs to
inherit estates lest the number of households change from a stable 5040; cf. 457a ff. on
howhaving twelve artificially established kinship groups makes a convenient division
of the 5040. Aristotle, in the Politics (1265a13), criticizes Plato for suggesting such a
large number of citizens, saying that we cannot overlook the fact that such a number
would require the territory of Babylon or some other comparably large country to
accommodate. At 1276a29, he points out that Babylon was so large that it had been cap-
tured for two whole days before some of the inhabitants knew of the fact .
I posit here, as an aside, that Strausss statement in The Argument and the Action
in Platos Laws, p. 64, to the effect that by not marrying, Plato did what according to him
the poets do: he contradicted the lawand thus himself is itself immaterial to this discus-
sion. Like Strauss, Plato is not obliged to be consistent between or outside his texts
although the latter appears to be more so than the former. Also, we do not know for cer-
tain that Plato did not marry.
859a; see 923ac for this propagandistically parental theme and cf. too Moore,
Sex and the Second-Best City, ch. 5.
Yunis, Taming Democracy, pp. 22930.
Laws 715e716b.
The general impression, as Yunis, Taming Democracy, p. 236, indicates, is that
religious experience was conveyed through texts only among esoteric groups such as
Orphics and Pythagoreans.
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Myth, rhetoric and persuasion are interconnected in Platonic thinking both
within and without the Laws. By selectively deploying these devices, Plato
has made forays into new genres of literature and philosophy. This has
entailed the creative revision of myth and history, tailored to rhetorically pro-
mote specific values. The difference from the traditional usages of these
before and during Platos era is that he has re-combined themas a means to his
own ends not guided by the whims of poets or the expedients of a given
political moment, but as a scientifically organized method of affecting social
control along specific philosophical lines.
Straussian Lies
Recollect the Straussian argument in favour of Thrasymachos position in the
Republic to the effect that Justice is the interest of the stronger (338c2343c ff.).
Thrasymachos was regarded by the fictional Socrates as being deranged for
holding such a view. However, this position recurs in the Laws (714bd).
Here it is acknowledged that this is a political attitude that infects most
regimes and constitutions in existence. Actual instances from antiquity are
too numerous to recount but I will mention a couple. Spartan official deceit,
for example, included not only lying to the helots about whether they would
be rewarded or killed, misleading other enemies in wartime (which was a
practice that Xenophon commended explicitly to non-Spartans), but also mis-
informing their own citizens about the outcome of battles involving Spartan
Athens and other ancient Greek poleis most certainly followed suit
in their practices of official deceit. This was par for the course in a world
where, as Platos Cretan and Spartan interlocutors agree and Strauss summar-
izes, by nature every city is at all times in a state of undeclared war with every
other city.
Any government that accepts the Thrasymachean view would
not hesitate, ipso facto, to lie to its subjects whether as a pretext to war, to
protect criminals that might exist amongst its elite classes or in other ways in
like manner.
That is the state of the real world and the effectual basis of Machiavellis
later doctrine of Political Realism.
But it amounts to a rejection of Platos
views as they are generally understood. Asignificant difficulty with the asser-
tion that justice is the interest of the stronger is that it does not apply to cer-
tain specific political arrangements, namely, those in which the laws are
110 K.R. MOORE
Powell, Plato and Sparta, p. 284. See too Hesk, Deception and Democracy, pp.
136, 15762 on this. Cf. Thuc. 4.80.3 ff., Xen. Ages. 1.17, Hellenica, 1.6.36 ff., 4.3.13 ff.
On the so-called noble lie, again, cf. Plato, Rep. 398bd, 414bc, 415c and 459c.
Strauss, Plato: Laws, p. 52.
Strauss repeatedly defends the political realism of Thrasymachus and Machia-
velli; cf., for example, L. Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago, 1953), and esp.
p. 106.
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designed to reflect a common good that transcends sectarian rivalries and con-
sequently poses a moral reason to be obeyed.
Magnesia is envisioned as
a polis with precisely that type of legal system (715bd). While there can be
little doubt that the social arrangements of Sparta and Crete left a positive
impression on Plato, he seems to have regarded them as being, as Rawson
says, on the right lines but too obsessed with war.
Strauss himself makes
Platos case well, saying:
For if victory in war is the condition of all blessings, war is not the end: the
blessings themselves belong to peace. Hence the virtue of war, courage, is
the lowest part of virtue, inferior to moderation and above all to justice and
Magnesia is to be explicitly unwarlike. It is our object to avoid war entirely,
if we can, declares the Athenian Stranger, so soldiers must get their training
in sham-fights and the like (829a8b1). There is never any mention in the
entire discussion on paramyth, or in the Laws itself, about having to lie to the
people as a pretext for war. Magnesias laws and institutions are grounded in
Justice for the common good and presided over by truly Just individuals. It
will not need to manipulate its populace in morally questionable ways in
any Platonic sense, that is.
Still, Magnesias martial readiness is beyond doubt and the injunction to
avoid war entirely, if we can seems to beg the question: what if we cannot?
Might paramyth be used to convince the Magnesians to go to war? It will be up
to the nukterinos to interpret the ethical character of the lawunder such circum-
stances. The Athenian Stranger has not accounted for any eventuality that
might lead to that specific course of action. The nukterinos would have to be
convinced that the decision to lie to the people of Magnesia as a pretext to war
would itself be justified in terms of both its benefit to the common good and its
compatibility with actual Justice as they are meant to understand it. For a
non-imperialist, self-sufficient polis such as the one about which Plato has writ-
ten in the Laws, it is difficult to imagine that sort of scenario ever taking place.
It is difficult to reconcile the difference between the view, advanced by
Strauss, that the Thrasymachean doctrine to the effect that justice is the inter-
est of the stronger is correct and there is no such thing as natural justice or
inalienable rights, and the view, also explicitly maintained by Strauss, that
moral relativism is a danger to society and that true philosophy is divinely
C.J. Nederman, Giving Thrasymachus his Due: The Political Argument of
Republic I and its Reception, Polis, 24.1 (2007), pp. 2642, p. 37.
E. Rawson, The Spartan Tradition in European Thought (Oxford, 1969),
pp. 656.
Strauss, Plato: Laws, p. 52. See Laws 631bd.
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The latter is clearly an instance of a moral absolute, that is, if it is
really what Strauss believed. In addition to his Thrasymachean interpretation
of the Republic, he has also left a telling comment as to his own beliefs, via
Plato, in the form of a correspondence with Alexandre Kojve, the Russian-
born, French philosopher who read Hegels philosophy of consciousness
through the twin lenses of Marxist materialism and Heideggers temporalized
ontology of human being (Dasein), and can rightly be said to have initiated
existential Marxism. In their correspondence, Strauss writes to him that the
astrolatry of the Tim-<aeus>, Laws X, Epinomis is either purely ironical, or
forged (by the Eudoxian Speusippus), or preached to the people for rea-
sons of state.
This astrolatry refers to metaphysical statements about the
the soul and afterlife. Strauss is saying that this is an extension of the
official deceit espoused by Platos esoteric philosophy but excluded from the
exoteric teachings.
This Straussian interpretation begs a couple of questions at the least. Mag-
nesia of the Laws will have many religious ceremonies
and, as part of the
legal preambles, an encomium to the gods, ancestral spirits and parents is
We have seen that the citizens of Magnesia will study the Laws so,
presumably, they will come to understand the rhetorical effects implicit in
paramyth. It stands to reason, then, that paramyth must be aimed at Mag-
nesian citizen children prior to their educative induction, citizens whose edu-
cation is more limited, resident aliens and other foreigners who may not be
subject to the Magnesian education and, of course, the ubiquitous slaves.
There will be no masses in the second-best polis apart from these. If the
Athenian Strangers astrolatry then is interpreted as being purely rhetorical
and persuasive, the product of exoteric doctrine, and the Magnesians also
study the Laws and other Platonic texts, then the rhetorical effects of such
exercises will be lost on the citizen population. Why undertake the teaching of
this astrolatry unless it is regarded as being metaphysically beneficial and,
in a sense, genuine? It is not incompatible with knowledge of the Good, which
most people will not obtain, and may be the closest that they come to philo-
sophical illumination. There is clearly some level of esotericismworking here
and the religious ceremonies, as with paramyth, serve as agents of social
112 K.R. MOORE
To further complicate matters, he seems to come down in favour of natural
rights when he indicates that originally, one can say with some exaggeration the natural
and the genuine were the same (cf. Plato, Laws 642c8d1, 777d56; Rousseau, Du
Contrat Social 1.9 end and 2.7, third paragraph); Nietzsche prepares decisively the
replacement of the natural by the authentic, in Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Phi-
losophy, p. 186 and see too p. 139.
L. Strauss, OnTyranny, ed. V. GourevitchandM.S. Roth(Chicago, 2000), p. 289.
See Laws 896e ff.
On Magnesian religious festivals, see Laws 828c56 ff., on ceremonies honour-
ing deceased ancestors, 958e8960a2 and ff.
See Laws 717a6d4.
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control and moral inculcation, but it would appear that there is no need to
divorce Plato from his metaphysics here.
Strauss has been accused of being a closet Nietzschean or Heideggerian
and, while this remains to be proven, there is some evidence to suggest just
that sort of philosophical inclination on his part.
He appears to read Plato
phenomenologically, that is, without regard for his metaphysics. Strauss
either ignores Platonic metaphysics altogether or, as in the quote above,
seems to regard them as part of an exoteric programme of official deceit
designed to conceal the true teachings that are not for the masses. This
brings us back to Strausss reception of both al Farabi and Plato and the use
of official deceit. Whilst al Farabi never declared the esoteric position that
Platos theory of Forms and the immortality of the soul are exoteric teach-
ings, Strauss can discover this in Plato by a careful reading premised on
the esoteric/exoteric distinction which Strauss also discovers in Farabis
Strausss use of this exoteric/esoteric distinction parallels Hei-
deggers use of etymology. Both methods permit the interpreter to dis-
cover a contemporary concern in ancient texts.
Thereby Strauss can
produce a reading of Plato devoid of metaphysics and with the implicit
advocacy of official deceit.
What is missing fromthe equation is the esoteric part of Straussian philosophy,
namely, because it happens to be esoteric. Some have argued that there is no real
hidden teaching to which Strauss and his followers have recourse that it is a
Trojan horse or chimera concocted to fool the masses.
If one assumes that there
is a secret doctrine, then it could be the case that Strausss apparent agreement
with Thrasymachos in the Republic, along with his comments on astrolatry, are
part of the exoteric Straussian philosophy and the reasons behind upholding such
a view publicly fall within the esoteric realm. Strauss, like Plato, is not obliged to
present a systematic account of his philosophy in any extant text. It may be sur-
mised, however, based on the known interests of Strauss, that his esotericism is
connected with ancient Hebrew mysticism. He has been accused of blending
Jerusalem, and its tradition of divinely inspired prophets, with Athens and Platos
See S. Drury, The Esoteric Philosophy of Leo Strauss, Political Theory, 13.3
(1985), pp. 31537; and S. Drury, The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (NewYork, 1988);
L. Lampert, Leo Strauss and Nietzsche (Chicago, 1996); P. Levine, Nietzsche and the
Modern Crisis of the Humanities (Albany, 1995); on Strauss as a Heiddegerian see
L. Ferry, Political Philosophy I: Rights The New Quarrel Between the Ancients and
the Moderns, trans. F. Philip (Chicago, 1990).
Robertson, Leo Strausss Platonism, p. 3.
A. Slner, Leo Strauss: German Origin and American Impact, in Hannah
Arendt and Leo Strauss, ed. P.G. Kielmansegg, H. Mewes and E. Glaser-Schmidt (Cam-
bridge, 1995), pp. 12137, p. 126; also see above on Strauss as a closet Heideggerian.
For a particularly scathing viewon Strausss esotericism(or lack thereof), see M.F.
Burnyeat, SphinxWithout a Secret, NewYork Reviewof Books, 32.9(1985), pp. 306.
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philosopher kings/queens, also divinely inspired albeit in a somewhat different
manner. This may clarify his position to a point.
Strausss tack has been described as zetetic, in some ways like Socrates,
ever searching for alternative teachings. He is also dogmatically anti-
dogmatic, pointing to the need for movement beyond the cave but declaring
that this is ultimately unobtainable.
Therein may lie his Achilles heel,
though, since his claim to reject dogma has itself become a dogma of a kind.
His historical hermeneutic does not entail the interpretation of philosophers
of the past in their own context, however limited may sometimes be our
apprehension of that context. Rather, he is importing contemporary concerns
and assumptions into these in spite of ostensibly, perhaps exoterically, oppos-
ing just such an imposition.
It seems clear that Strauss, al Farabi, Moses Maimonides and probably
Plato all made recourse to esoteric doctrines. It remains unclear, in all cases,
what these doctrines actually entailed. All we have are their writings which, if
we acknowledge their supposed esotericism, are explicitly exoteric in nature
and do not reveal the whole truth. What does it mean to partake of the Form of
the Good? What does it mean to receive a prophetic revelation? In the words
of Thomas Pangle, a Straussian in the truer sense as well as a student and col-
league of Strauss:
Every attempt by any philosopher to refute the claim, and hence the com-
mands, of any revelation fails, or can be shown to relapse into logical fal-
lacy as Strauss was wont to point out, there is only one indisputable,
logical procedure by which the philosopher can achieve a decisive refuta-
tion of the claims of piety or revelation : he can show that in principle he
has a clear and exhaustive explanation of how and why everything in the
entire cosmos is as it is and behaves as it does.
Only then can the philosopher assert that there is no quarter of the entire cos-
mos for the miraculous, no room for philosopher kings/queens or revelatory
prophets. But the burden of proof cuts both ways and as yet there remains no
definitive proof that the miraculous ever did or does occur. Scepticism is the
default position of science and most academic philosophy and will remain so
until proven otherwise. Still, we have to accept that this morally and metaphysi-
cally absolutist position was one held by many in the past, is held by many in
the present and will be held by many in the future. It is a significant part of our
wider discourse and, whether we agree with it or not, is likely to remain so.
As for Platonic esotericism, there is every reason to believe that, whatever
he has not told us in his dramatic dialogues, his esoteric views must surely be
114 K.R. MOORE
Robertson, Leo Strausss Platonism, p. 5.
This is ostensibly contrary to Strausss stated position. See On a NewInterpreta-
tion of Platos Political Philosophy, Social Research, 13.3 (1946), pp. 32667.
Pangles introduction to Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy,
pp. 223.
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related to the process of becoming a philosopher king or queen and the
apprehension/partaking of the Good rather than its use as a bluff for the
masses to convince them of the philosophers higher authority. Given the in-
depth discussions on metaphysics in the Republic, Timaeus and elsewhere,
and the amount of significance placed on philosophical illumination, it appears
unlikely that all of it is merely an exoteric ruse calculated to mesmerise the
many whilst power is seized and exercised according to the interest of the
stronger. Plato, as we have seen, is certainly no stranger to calculated dis-
course and persuasive dialogic, but his narrators deploy these as tools to sway
the masses who are unable to grasp the deeper metaphysics underlying the just
actions of the philosophically enlightened. The argument that it has all been a
trick for the purposes of the attainment of political power undermines the
essence of Platonic metaphysics, on which his whole philosophy is based.
And yet, it is a tantalising position to consider, that the whole business of the
Good, the Forms and immortal souls was all a hoax that fooled countless gen-
erations, entangling the Neo-Platonists, Stoics and, later, Islamic and Chris-
tian mystics in its web. That is, unless Strauss and his followers sought to kill
Platonic metaphysics outright with their own noble lies because they felt
that such knowledge was too dangerous to be made public even if not gener-
ally taken in a serious manner. We may never know.
Their esoteric views can only be guessed at with any accuracy; however, it
is difficult to imagine that Strauss or Plato would agree with many of the poli-
cies of those who claim to be their followers. Having escaped the Nazi terror,
which cast a shadow of fear over his whole life, Strauss could scarcely
approve of internment camps in which, so it is reported, otherwise innocent
people are kept against their will, frequently without charges, in torturous
conditions, denied legal representation and owing their presence there mainly
to race or religion.
Neither would he seem to approve of a persistent and
intrusive state of fear, maintained by a regime in the interest of motivating its
citizens to war. It is even more difficult to imagine that Leo Strauss, inspired
by Plato, who wrote that if victory in war is the condition of all blessings,
war is not the end: the blessings themselves belong to peace,
would coun-
tenance the imperialist invasion, mired in official deceit, of a sovereign nation
that posed no real threat much less an ill-defined war without frontiers, evi-
dently contrived to make the rich richer, consistently purchased with the
blood of the poor and lacking any conceivable end in sight. The lie that leads
to such arguments and actions surely cannot be seen to possess any true
logos-value in the Platonic or even the original Straussian sense.
See J. Margulies, Guantnamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (NewYork,
2006), on this and especially pp. 16975 on the use of official deceit in this capacity.
Quoted above.
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