Legislating in accordance with nature in Plato’s Laws

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter looks at Plato’s take on the nomos-phusis antithesis in his Laws. He argues that the goal of the Laws, of legislating in accordance with nature, should be distinguished from the much-studied idea of 'natural law' in two ways. First, in the relevant parts of the Laws, the focus is primarily the right way to conduct an activity, legislation, rather than its product (laws or law). Secondly, the Laws draws a comparison with other specialised or technical activities that can be performed well or badly, such as medicine or building. Legislation is natural, among other things, when it is undertaken in a certain ‘natural’ order, from the starting point of life to death. This order ensures that no stage of life is ignored during the legislative process and thus guarantees its comprehensiveness. Plato’s comparison between the legislator and other craftsmen presents a view of natural procedure within an art or profession: the craftsman is not subjected to constraints that are external to the subject matter and he is able to give full attention to the objectives and questions that belong to his craft. Finally, the legislation considered here is ‘natural’ without being underpinned by theology.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAncient ethics and the natural world
EditorsBarbara M. Sattler, Ursula Coope
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781108885133
ISBN (Print)9781108839785, 9781108813723
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021


  • Nature
  • Law
  • Legislation
  • Art
  • Craft
  • Gods
  • Theology
  • Value


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