Placing Plato in the history of liberty

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6 Scopus citations


This paper explores and reevaluates the place of Plato in the history of liberty. In the first half, reevaluating the view that he invents a concept of ‘positive liberty’ in the Republic, I argue for two claims: (1) that he does not do so, insofar as this is not the way that virtuous psychological self-mastery in the Republic is understood, and (2) that the Republic works primarily with the inverse concept of slavery, relying on entrenched Greek ideas about the badness of the status of being a slave and the actions and dispositions associated with it. Turning in the second half to seek Platonic innovation not in the domain of ‘positive liberty’ but in reflection on liberty as a political value, understood as the liberty of action of citizens within the laws, I argue for two further claims: (3) that as such a political value, liberty is limited and reshaped in both the Republic and the Laws to be compatible with obedience to rule / willingness to be ruled, ideally willing obedience; and (4) that for this limited and reshaped value to be secured, such obedience must be manifested not only in regard to a constitution’s laws, but also to the magistrates who hold office within it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)702-718
Number of pages17
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 18 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Isaiah Berlin
  • Laws
  • Plato
  • Republic
  • freedom
  • slavery


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