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of the state? According to 
historicist methods, this fundamental question of sociology must 
be r
 and the individual are thus interdependent. The one 
eformulated in this way: what is the origin of society and of the 
state? The reply given by Plato in the Republic as well as in the 
Laws24, agrees with the position described above as spiritual 
naturalism. The origin of society is a convention, a social contract. 
But it is not only that; it is, rather, a natural convention, i.e. a 
convention which is based upon human nature, and more precisely, 
upon the social nature of man. 
This social nature of man has its origin, in the imperfection of 
the human individual. In opposition to Socrates25, Plato teaches 
that the human individual cannot be self-sufficient, owing to the 
limitations inherent in human nature. Although Plato insists that 
there are very different degrees of human perfection, it turns out 
that even the very few comparatively perfect men still depend upon 
others (who are less perfect); if for nothing else, then for having 
the dirty work, the manual work, done by them26. In this way, even 
the ‘rare and uncommon natures’ who approach perfection depend 
upon society, upon the state. They can reach perfection only 
through the state and in the state; the perfect state must offer them 
the proper ‘social habitat’, without which they must grow corrupt 
and degenerate. The state therefore must be placed higher than the 
individual since only the state can be self-sufficient (‘autark’), 
perfect, and able to make good the necessary imperfection of the 
s its existence to the other. Society owes its existence to human 
nature, and especially to its lack of self-sufficiency; and the 
individual owes his existence to society, since he is not self-
sufficient. But within this relationship of interdependence, the 
superiority of the state over the individual manifests itself in 
various ways; for instance, in the fact that the seed of the decay 
and disunion of a perfect state does not spring up in the state itself, 
but rather in its individuals; it is rooted in the imperfection of the 
human soul, of human nature; or more precisely, in the fact that the 
race of men is liable to degenerate. To this point, the origin of 
political decay, and its dependence upon the degeneration of 
human nature, I shall return presently; but I wish first to make a 
few comments on some of the characteristics of Plato’s sociology, 
especially upon his version of the theory of the social contract, and 
upon his view of the state as a super-individual, i.e. his version of 
the biological or organic theory of the state. 
Whether Protagoras first proposed a theory that laws originate 
ves a list of 
 nature, no two of us are exactly alike. Each 
h a social contract, or whether Lycophron (whose theory will be 
discussed in the next chapter) was the first to do so, is not certain. 
In any case, the idea is closely related to Protagoras’ 
conventionalism. The fact that Plato consciously combined some 
conventionalist ideas, and even a version of the contract theory, 
with his naturalism, is in itself an indication that conventionalism 
in its original form did not maintain that laws are wholly arbitrary; 
and Plato’s remarks on Protagoras confirm this27. How conscious 
Plato was of a conventionalist element in his version of naturalism 
can be seen from a passage in the Laws. Plato there gi
various principles upon which political authority might be 
based, mentioning Pindar’s biological naturalism (see above), i.e. 
‘the principle that the stronger shall rule and the weaker be ruled’, 
which he describes as a principle ‘according to nature, as the 
Theban poet Pindar once stated’. Plato contrasts this principle with 
another which he recommends by showing that it combines 
conventionalism with naturalism: ‘But there is also a .. claim 
which is the greatest principle of all, namely, that the wise shall 
lead and rule, and that the ignorant shall follow; and this, O Pindar, 
wisest of poets, is surely not contrary to nature, but according to 
nature; for what it demands is not external compulsion but the truly 
natural sovereignty of a law which is based upon mutual 
In the Republic we find elements of the conventionalist 
contract theory in a similar way combined with elements of 
naturalism (and utilitarianism). ‘The city originates’, we hear there, 
‘because we are not self-sufficient;.. or is there another origin of 
settlement in cities?.. Men gather into one settlement many .. 
helpers, since they need many things ... And when they share their 
goods with one another, the one giving, the other partaking, does 
not every one expect in this way to further his own interest?’29 
Thus the inhabitants gather in order that each may further his own 
interest; which is an element of the contract theory. But behind this 
stands the fact that they are not self-sufficient, a fact of human 
nature; which is an element of naturalism. And this element is 
developed further. ‘By
 his peculiar nature, some being fit for one kind of work and 
some for another ... Is it better that a man should work in many 
crafts or that he should work in one only?.. Surely, more will be 
produced and better and more easily if each man works in one 
occupation only, according to his natural gifts.’ 
In this way, the economic principle of the division of labour is 
introduced (reminding us of the affinity between Plato’s 
historicism and the materialist interpretation of history). But this 
principle is based here upon an element of biological naturalism, 
namely, upon the natural inequality of men. At first, this idea is 
introduced inconspicuously and, as it were, innocently. But we 
shall see in the next chapter that it has far-reaching consequences; 
indeed, the only really important division of labour turns out to be 
aimed to be based upon the natural 
uality of masters and slaves, of wise and ignorant. 
that between rulers and ruled, cl
We have seen that there is a considerable element of 
conventionalism as well as of biological naturalism in Plato’s 
position; an observation which is not surprising when we consider 
that this position is, on the whole, that of spiritual naturalism 
which, because of its vagueness, easily allows for all such 
combinations. This spiritual version of naturalism is perhaps best 
formulated in the Laws. ‘Men say’, says Plato, ‘that the greatest 
and most beautiful things are natural .. and the lesser things 
artificial.’ So far he agrees; but he then attacks the materialists who 
say ‘that fire and water, and earth and air, all exist by nature .. and 
that all normative laws are altogether unnatural and artificial and 
based upon superstitions which are not true.’ Against this view, he 
shows first, that it is not bodies nor elements, but the soul which 
truly ‘exists by nature’30 (I have quoted this passage above); and 
from this he concludes that order, and law, must also be by nature, 
since they spring from the soul: ‘If the soul is prior to the body, 
then things dependent upon the soul’ (i.e. spiritual matters) ‘are 
also prior to those dependent upon body ... And the soul orders and 
directs all things.’ This supplies the theoretical background for the 
doctrine that ‘laws and purposeful institutions exist by nature, and 
not by anything lower than nature, since they are born of reason 
and true thought.’ This is a clear statement of spiritual naturalism; 
and it is combined as well with positivist beliefs of a conservative 
kind: ‘Thoughtful and prudent legislation will find a most powerful 
help because the laws will remain unchanged once they have been 
laid down in writing.’ 
From all this it can be seen that arguments derived from Plato’s 
spiritual naturalism