The Nocturnal Council in Plato's Laws

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Abstract

The paper discusses the problem of the formation and functions of the Nocturnal Council (NC) in
Plato’s Laws, the assembly of the highest officials who have attained advanced philosophical and scientific
education. Against the currently prevailing interpretation of the NC (G. Morrow) as the center of scientific
and philosophical studies and education in these disciplines, which possesses expert knowledge in the field
of laws but does not have legal powers and acts informally through the authority of its members, the senior
nomophylakes, the author of the paper argues that 1) there is no textual evidence for the NC as the body that
is engaged in studies or performs educational functions: this role is assigned to the school that should be instituted
according to 968 c 2 — e 4; the treatment of this piece by some scholars as pointing to the “temporary”
formation of the NC should be rejected — the only way of its formation that the text points to is by occupying
the highest offices; the NC would be founded in the future and it stands and falls with its taking on persons
who have the reputation of philosophically enhanced virtues; 2) the debatable passage 968 c 2 — 7 points
not only to the law that should regulate the program of the highest scientific and philosophical studies (as
according to Cherniss and Morrow), but also to the law granting legal powers to the NC; 3) these powers
are the same as are granted to the NC by the law that constitutes it as the philosophical Guardian of the state
(968 a 4- b2), having the task of keeping the laws and the officials aligned with the permanent goal of the state,
virtue; 4) the corresponding legal prerogatives of the NC entail the powers of changing the laws (as well as
prohibiting persons who do not have philosophically enhanced virtues from being elected as nomophylakes
and euthynoi). This interpretation’s seeming contradiction to the provisions made earlier according to which
only minimal changes of laws are envisaged and these are assigned to the nomophylakes, not to the NC, can
be resolved once it is taken into account that the NC is not part of the constitutional mechanism in the usual
sense, but the extraordinary means of making the state permanently follow the philosophical principles on
which it is built, the optional provision for the future. Lacking an NC, the city of Magnesia should keep the
code of laws as rigid as possible; it will nevertheless be open to danger of imminent moral deterioration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-222
JournalPhilologia Classica
Volume11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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