Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Minos: What is Law? - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4
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The Minos: What is Law? - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The Minos: What is Law?
“What is Law? The Minos Reconsidered.” Interpretation 8(May 1980):102–113.
Plato's Socratic dialogue, the Minos is wrongly neglected in jurisprudence courses despite its theme: the nature of law. Socrates seeks to isolate the one distinguishing trait of law as law. He pursues his inquiry by cross-examining the “Companion's” series of likely answers.
At first, the Companion captures law as binding opinion by defining it as “things loyally accepted.” Socrates is dissatisfied and raises questions based on an analogy. If the Companion's definition is correct, then we must identify speech with things spoken and sight with things seen—an obviously erroneous equation. The analogy highlights the relationship between process and product. Law, therefore, is the process through which things are loyally accepted (the product).
In a renewed attempt to define the process of law, the Companion assures Socrates that law is “a city's resolution,” an opinion loyally held by the polis. The Companion's answer is morally neutral and tainted with democratic prejudice. A city statute, popularly accepted, is not necessarily good. Law, on the other hand, is good opinion, true opinion. True opinion is knowledge or the discovery of reality.
But how can law embody the discovery of reality when statutes differ, often radically, from place to place? The framing of realities in civic decrees, however, is a highly practical art whose artisan is the statesman, characterized by his deep knowledge of the process of framing laws rather than by his individual products.
To the consternation of the Companion, Socrates goes on to say that the ideal statesman is the Cretan King Minos, a monarch enjoying a rather unsavory reputation among Athenians. He is a true statesman because “his laws are unshaken.” Though they originated centuries before, they are still loyally accepted in a vital, functioning state —Sparta. Is Socrates contradicting himself here? Is good law the product of true knowledge or is it merely tradition?
The laws of Minos are ancient only in point of origin. They are still in the process of use in Sparta, and the best of Spartan law originated in Crete. The ultimate test of a process is its product. Lawabidingness and the preservation of cities comprise the essential product of law, and Sparta enjoyed a reputation for the longevity of its regime and the lawabindingness of its citizens. Minos' laws thus fulfilled their function superbly.
Socrates' praise of the longevity of Sparta's laws also corroborates, but at a higher level, the Companion's first statement that law should be defined as “things loyally accepted.” The first statement rehabilitated by Socratic wisdom, expresses the coherent unity of the Minos.