What exactly is "not good enough"?

Letters to a Law Student: A Guide to Studying Law at University. 2017 4 edn. p 361.

Letter 1. What is law?

Law as a conversation. This section is heavily influenced by Scott Shapiro’s ‘planning theory of law’ as set out in his book Legality (Harvard University Press, 2010), according to which law can be seen as a plan for achieving social goals. If in the text I have avoided the language of ‘plans’, that’s because we tend to see plans as final, whereas law is much more open-ended and ever-changing. The idea of law as a conversation is intended to convey that idea. Socrates’ mysterious definition in the pseudo-Platonic dialogue Minos that ‘Law wishes to be the discovery of what is’ (315a) actually fits very well with the idea of law being advanced here. If we see law as a conversation targeted at determining what sort of society we should live in, then law is animated by a desire to discover something objective – what sort of society of society we should live in. The dialogue Minos is notable for its rejection of the positivist identification of law with a set of laiddown or socially accepted rules. I referred to the dialogue as pseudo-Platonic as most Plato scholars think that the dialogue is not good enough to have come from Plato [emphasis mine]. However, Leo Strauss argues that it is by Plato, and was intended as a preface to Plato’s Laws: Strauss, ‘On the Minos’ in Pangle (ed), Roots of Political Philosophy (Cornell University Press, 1987). For some recent discussions of Minos, see V. Bradley Lewis, ‘Plato’s Minos: the political and philosophical context of the problem of natural right’ (2006) 60 Review of Metaphysics 17 and T. Lindberg, ‘The oldest law: rediscovering the Minos’ (2007) 138 Telos 43.

  • "The main arguments against the authenticity of Minos typically say that it is too stylistically crude, philosophically simplistic and too full of poor argumentation to legitimately be Plato's... The tension between the first half, which extols law as the "discovery of reality," followed by the praising of the mythical figure Minos, who is typically described in tradition as a brutal despot, has been viewed by some as reason to doubt the dialogue", Wikipedia, Minos. – Conifold Jan 12 at 9:48

Taking Wikipedia's citations as a starting point, I looked for the judgments of Minos in the secondary literature that I was able to locate.

The stylistic criticisms are that Minos is "too stylistically crude, philosophically simplistic, and too full of just plain bad argument to be a work of Plato" (Lewis, "Plato's Minos", summarizing the case against Platonic authorship); not well-ordered, abrupt, contains words and phrases that are hard to attribute to Plato (Shorey, What Plato Said). Minos depends on Alcibiades I (of course this argument presupposes that Alcibiades I is inauthentic), is pervaded by the spirit of the Alexandrian age and syncretism (Socrates insists that good men are sacred), has a preference for monarchy by praising King Minos, and displays un-Platonic "pedantry" (apparently referring to when Socrates asks a long question and then criticizes his interlocutor for a long speech) (Heidel, Pseudo-Platonica).

More serious criticism of apparent contradictions: The author of Minos relies on Euphorus (Ephorus?) that the laws of the Spartan Lycurgus were derived from those of Minos (318d), whereas in the Laws (624a), Plato says that the Lacedaemonians say that Apollo is their law-giver (Chroust, "Anonymous Treatise on Law"). The author of Minos approves of King Minos, while Plato in the Laws (630d) censures him (Taylor, Plato: The Man and His Work).

Defences of authenticity admit that Minos is inferior and displays less genius than Plato's other dialogues, but that this is no point against authenticity (Grote, Plato and the other companions of Sokrates); or that the apparent abruptness is because the dialogue is unfinished, and that many elements that were criticized as "un-Platonic" do have parallels in Plato (Morrow, Plato's Cretan City).

The abrupt beginning and end of the dialogue are unmistakable; the alleged problems in language and argument are less clear to me. However, to me, the stylistic arguments against authenticity and apparent contradictions with Laws are vague and far from convincing.

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  • +1. I think Lewis is rather hard on the dialogue; the arguments aren't that bad. Shorey was a very exact scholar; his judgement on the Gk is pretty sure to be correct. A.E. Taylor, himself a Gk scholar, considered the language to be post-Platonic. The discrepancy between Minos and Laws on the (mythological) law-giver is important; it is hard to see how Plato would not have noticed it if he wrote both dialogues. The Minos is spurious; I think you make good the case for that. The author of MInos seems to have some knowledge of the Laws; I wouldn't pitch any claim higher than that. – Geoffrey Thomas Jan 12 at 18:14
  • @GeoffreyThomas True, but an (apparent) contradiction between two Platonic dialogues isn't much less of a problem than a contradiction between Plato's Laws and a Platonist who studied Plato's Laws (who studied the very page that the lawgiver statement appeared on - the Homer exegesis in Minos is right there in the first page of Laws) – b a Jan 12 at 21:46
  • @b a. Offhand I wouldn't regard a contradiction, an inconsistency, between Platonic dialogues as a problem. Some inconsistencies are developmental as when the best form of political society varies between the Republic, the Statesman and the Laws. Plato is a fluid not a fixed thinker, and so inconsistencies are almost to be expected. – Geoffrey Thomas Jan 12 at 22:08

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