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STATEMENT OF THE ARGUMENT.
As a dramatic work, The Laws is far inferior to the Republic, The speakers are three : namely, Clinias, a Cretan, Megillus, a Lacedæmonian, and a stranger, who passes by no other name than the Athenian. The latter is the Socrates of the dialogue. The first two are either mere listeners, or only brought in as suggestive helps in the various transitions of the discourse. After nine books occupied with varied and extended schemes of legislation, and where laws are mingled with reasonings and introductory preambles, which need not here be specified, the author comes, in the tenth book, to treat of offences against the public worship and religion, which it is supposed, of course, the State must possess, if it would be a state indeed, and not a mére herding together of men and women in a political congregation, having no other bond of union than the temporary consent of individual wills. Previously, however, to the enactment of laws for the punishment of sacrilege and other offences against religion, the chief speaker proposes that there should be laid down, by way of foundation, a preamble or hortatory statement, containing the reasons of the laws; which preamble, although concisely expressed at first (page 3), is subsequently expanded into an argument which occupies nearly the whole book, the few last pages only being taken up with the laws and the penalties annexed.
The argument is divided into three parts; 1. Against those who denied the Divine existence ; 2. Against those who, while they admitted the existence of a God, denied a providence; and, 3. Against those who, while they admitted both a God and a providence, maintained that the Deity was easily propitiated, or would not punish sin severely. The first part is introduced by a declaration of Clinias, that it must be easy to prove the existence of the Deity. He appeals at once to the most obvious phenomena of nature, the sun, the earth, and stars, &c., as conclusive evidence, especially if taken in connexion with the universal sentiments of mankind. This gives occasion to the chief speaker to suggest that the subject is involved in greater difficulties than the other, in his simplicity, had imagined; difficulties, however, not intrinsic, but arising from the perverseness of those who imposed upon themselves by the words chance, nature, art, &c., referring to the old Atheists of the Ionic or Materializing school (page 4 to page 15). After a short digression, in which it is