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The Minos and the Socratic Examination of Law


  • I thank Robert A. Goldberg, David Fott, and the anonymous referees of the AJPS for their helpful suggestions.

Mark J. Lutz is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Box 455029, Las Vegas, NV 89154-5029 (


The Minos is said to initiate the natural law tradition because it claims that an unjust law is not truly a law. But the dialogue also shows that reason cannot recognize that a given statute, as such, is a law. Along with this criticism of law, the Minos shows why the Socratic inquiry into law must consider whether divine law is based on a kind of knowledge through which law can be recognized as authoritative. Thanks to the Minos, we see that Plato's Laws begins by examining the kind of knowledge that underlies divine law and that throughout the dialogue the Athenian Stranger is testing whether human reason can know and establish divine law. In the end, the Minos and Laws establish a once influential but now neglected Socratic tradition of inquiry into law.