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The concept of written laws and their place in government is one of the key points of discussion in the Platonic dialog the Statesman. In this philosophical work, a dialog on the nature of the statesmanship is discussed in order to determine what it is that defines the true statesman from all of those who may lay claim to this title. This dialog employs different methods of dialectic as Plato begins to depart from the Socratic method of argumentation. In this dialog Socrates is replaced as the leader of the discussion by the stranger who engages the young Socrates in a discussion about the statesman. Among the different argumentative methods that are used by Plato in this dialog division and myth play a central role in the development of the arguments put forth by the stranger as he leads the young Socrates along the dialectic path toward the nature of the statesman. The statesman is compared to a shepherd or caretaker of the human “flock.” The conclusion that comes from division says that the statesman is one who: Issues commands (with a science) of his own intellect over the human race. This is the first conclusion that the dialog arrives at via the method of division. The dialog, however, does not end here as the stranger suggests that their definition is still wanting of clarity because there are still some (physicians, farmers, merchants, etc…) who would lay claim to the title of shepherds of humanity. For this reason a new approach to the argument must be undertaken: “then we must begin by a new starting-point and travel by a different road” (Statesman 268 D.)
This new approach that is taken in their search for a definition of the statesman leads the stranger to use myth in order to show young Socrates what it is that the shepherd of the human flock does. It is in the development of this myth that it is shown why the statesman can be separated from many of those who would lay claim to his title. The myth that is used by Plato in this dialog revolves around the idea of the world as being a living creature.
In the myth that is introduced the existence of the world is divided into two epochs, the Age of Kronos and the Age of Zeus. As the myth goes the world is endowed with motion, but alone it cannot move eternally.
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The use of this myth serves the purpose of explaining what the statesman does as a Shepard of the human flock. In the Age of Kronos the need for statesman is met by the guidance provided by the divine shepherd. In the age of Zeus the world can no longer depend on divine intervention and guidance, and thus its inhabitants must provide for themselves and rule themselves, on account of the new found autonomy they have been endowed with “… and they had to direct their own lives and take care of themselves” (274 D.)
Without a divine ruler politics came to the forefront as an issue that had to be addressed by the citizens of the world; because of this the need of a statesman arises in the age of Zeus, which is the age of our existence. The arrival of the age of independence from divine guidance meant that one had to look for guidance elsewhere, namely to ourselves. The divine shepherd is replaced by our statesmen who are to take the responsibility of leading the “flock.”
In the search for the best form of governance the stranger (or Plato as author) puts before the young Socrates Six possible forms of government which come in the following combinations: rule by one, rule by a few, and rule by many. Each one of these forms can follow to distinct paths one in which its rule is guided by law and one in which it is not. From the dialog it is determined that all of the possible forms of government during the age of Zeus are merely imperfect imitations of the rule experienced in the Age of Kronos under the guidance of the divine; the task that is undertaken at this point is to determine which of the possibilities is the best and closest match to the kingly art seen in the Age of Kronos.
The form of government that closest matches the ideal is rule by one under the law; and for Plato the only law that is of any true importance and value is law derived from the science of statesmanship and not written law “ This rule with episteme is what is seen in the Age of Kronos. As a the divine shepherd, the deity that rules during the age of Kronos is perfectly capable of ruling over the world and its inhabitants without the need for written precepts or the guidance of custom and/or historical tradition. The ruling god in the Age of Kronos is able to apply the law of his kingly art to each and every individual situation as it arises.