Virtue Ethics, Politics and the Functions of Laws: The Parent Analogy in Plato's Menexenus.

Sandrine Berges

Dialogue XLVI 2 2007


This paper addresses a challenge presented to virtue ethicists, namely, does virtue ethics have anything worthwhile and distinctive to say about political philosophy? I suggest how a virtue ethicist might respond to the challenge by focusing on one central question which a virtue politics must address: what is it for a law to be just? I argue that a compelling answer is to be found in Plato's Menexenus in an argument which relies on an analogy between parents and laws. Section One argues that a plausible answer to the question 'what would a virtue ethical account of just laws look like?' can be found in Plato's parents' analogies in the Crito and the Menexenus. In Section Two, I will show that the Menexenus gives us a philosophical argument to the effect that laws are just only if they enable citizens to flourish. In Section Three, I will argue that the resulting virtue ethical account of just laws is not viciously paternalistic. In Section Four, I will refute the objection that the virtue ethical account I am proposing is not distinct from a consequentialist account.