Reading the Republic without reference to the less familiar Laws can lead to a distorted view of Plato's political theory. In the Republic the philosopher describes his ideal city; in his last and longest work he deals with the more detailed considerations involved in setting up a second-best 'practical utopia.' The relative neglect of the Laws has stemmed largely from the obscurity of its style and the apparent chaos of its organization so that, although good translations now exist, students of philosophy and political science still find the text inaccessible. This first full-length philosophical introduction to the Laws will therefore prove invaluable. The opening chapters describe the general character of the dialogue and set it in the context of Plato's political philosophy as a whole. Each of the remaining chapters deals with a single topic, ranging over material scattered through the text and so drawing together the threads of the argument in a stimulating and readily comprehensible way. Those topics include education, punishment, responsibility, religion, virtue and pleasure as well as political matters and law itself. Throughout, the author encourages the reader to think critically about Plato's ideas and to see their relevance to present-day philosophical debate. No knowledge of Greek is required and only a limited background in philosophy. Although aimed primarily at students, the book will also be of interest to more advanced readers since it provides for the first time a philosophical, as opposed to linguistic or historical, commentary on the Laws in English.
R.F. Stalley is Lecturer in Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.