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69 Posts

Posted - 14 Sep 2011 :  13:54:29  


I don't speak Greek. I am linguistically challenged. Nor do I have any Greek or Latin training (only one semester in Latin). So this forum is a big help to me. I appreciate Elpenor. I have used what I have learned here in other places.

I am currently writing a paper titled "The Logos of the Natural Order, the real, original Natural Law or Laws of Nature". I need technical help. I am not a college student, nor a professor and I would greatly appreciate any advice here.

First is my title right? Can I say "Logos of the Natural Order"? The Stoics used the word "logos" for the reason embedded in nature.

Second, the laws of nature.
Xenophon writes:

"Yet again, the earth willingly teaches righteousness to those who can learn;…" (Oeconomicus v, 12)

Now, he is not using the phrase "law of nature" here. He says, "nature teaches" and because the earth teaches righteousness, Righteousness is a Law of Nature.

To clarify the history of the laws of nature in Greek history, here is a section from my paper:

After mentioning places where Plato uses the term 'law of nature', he writes of the corresponding instance in Aristotle, "Closely allied terms occur in the Aristotelian texts at De Caelo 268 a 10, where the order of beginning, middle, and end is referred to as one of the 'laws of nature';…. (pg 136) Here is the quote from De Caelo:

"For, as the Pythagoreans say, the world and all that is in it is determined by the number three, since beginning and middle and end give the number of an 'all', and the number they give is the triad. And so, having taken these three from nature as (so to speak) laws of it…" (McKeon, De Caelo 268 10)

So here a specific law of nature is referred to as a 'law of nature'. Interestingly, going to that reference refers you to where it is used by Plato! But Plato does NOT use the phrase 'law of nature', he uses another term to label that law:

"My friends! This is what I would say to them-God, who as the old saw has it, holds in his hands beginning, end, and middle of all that is, moves through the cycle of nature, straight to his end, and ever at his side walks right, the justicer of them that forsake God's law." (715 e)

Notice the phrase 'the old saw'? Whereas Aristotle uses the term 'law of nature', Plato refers to this as 'the old saw'. This is the other half of the puzzle! The 'old saw' can also be referred to as 'apophthegms', 'adage', 'proverbs', 'maxims', etc. Ancient Wisdom was composed in apophthegms! They were not labeled with the phrase 'law of nature'! Everybody is looking in the wrong direction and looking at the wrong philology! Plato makes a point about God be recalling an 'old saw'; some thirty or so years later, Aristotle uses the same maxim but calls it a 'law of nature'. Was it a 'law of nature' when Plato used it? Most certainly!

Here I point out that the 'laws of nature' were once just maxims, apophthegms. The term 'law of nature' was not used by Plato. Now in the dialogues of Plato I have found four such usages of the term from the translator (from my paper):
The specific term "law of nature" is only used once in Plato (Lewis {Wild proposes two places, i.e. Gorgias 484, Timaeus 83e [there may be a third at Phaedo 71e (Hamilton) and another one at Plato's Eighth Letter 355]})

I found the one at Phaedo, where he says "Death is a law of nature" and the one in Plato's Eighth Letter.

MY QUESTION. The Stoics coined the term "natural law" to talk about the ethical part of man and a "natural law that guided all men".

In the Greek, technically speaking, is there a difference between 'natural law' and 'laws of nature'. I find the phrase 'natural law' as not right due to nature being turned into an adjective. Does it change the meaning? Do you think there is a difference between the two phrases? Socrates was very anal about 'Define and Divide', this is a very important component of philosophy, Definition. I got to get this right, or get slammed. Can you apply the term 'natural law' to the 'laws of nature'? Or is this not right? Are these terms interchangeable in the Greek?

My tending right now, in my investigations, there is no such thing as a 'natural law', men have an instinct for justice but no specific moral law. The Stoics knew about this but labeled it a 'natural law' when it is for humans an instinct.

My thesis is that the Stoics messed up the transmission of the Laws of Nature and made it solely an ethical issue. I am trying to straighten out the mess and I have discovered the real laws of nature that the Greeks saw, and correcting the misconceptions of them. The Laws of Nature are not the laws of physics.

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615 Posts

Posted - 14 Sep 2011 :  16:06:21  


The phrases (law of nature and natural law - in Greek: νόμος τῆς φύσεως, φυσικὸς νόμος) are interchangeable.

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69 Posts

Posted - 14 Sep 2011 :  16:42:54  


Thanks. That is helpful.

Next, there is a discrepancy in the translation in the Eighth Letter.

My text is from Edith Hamilton's Collected Dialogues of Plato and it reads "Since the law of nature in regard to these things is as I have stated them..." (pg 1600)

And the text you link to has this "Since these things are naturally ordained thus, ..."

One has 'laws of nature' and the other has 'naturally ordained'.

Is that 'phesios nomos' or 'kata pheseios'? Translators do have some liberty. And I have read a few articles that some translators translated 'kata pheseios' as either 'according to nature' or as 'law of nature' as the context dictates.

What clued me onto all of this is the first book I read in philosophy other than Jacques Maritain's Introduction to Philosophy was Prof. Benjamin's translation of Plato's Republic. What a beautiful book. Well, Socrates begins a lesson, as Jowett translates it as "Birds of a feather flock together". As a farm laborer, that grabbed my attention. Of course that is something in nature. And Socrates is applying that to humans!

So, I am reading Edith Hamilton's translation of the Republic and I get this:

"the old saw of like to like" (Hamilton, 329a)

It is a principle in philosophy, which I got from scholasticism that "Like produces Like". There are different variations. But yes, this is a law of nature.

I find this all very interesting! So one has to plow thru all the texts of Xenophon and Plato to find the natural laws. But then it is confusing, does Plato use 'nomos' or 'kata' in the Eighth letter and what does the context mean.

I wish English translations of Greek texts would include major /important words of the Greek under the word the translator uses.

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615 Posts

Posted - 14 Sep 2011 :  18:36:56  


Can you give me two or three sentences of the translation (or the stephanus reference)?

You are very right to pay close attention to the original. When I was writing for Elpenor the Greek lessons, I was surprised how much even a good translation may betray the original. Since you don't know Greek, you have to, at least, examine carefully all your crucial interpretative decisions in the light of the original, in order to minimize, as much as you can, the possibility of letting a translation deceive you.

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69 Posts

Posted - 16 Sep 2011 :  09:12:25  


Sorry I could not reply sooner to your request; I didn't have my books with me.

I have Edith Hamilton's The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Including the Letters edited also by Huntington Cairns. It is Bollingen Series LXXI, Princeton University Press. The "Letters" are translated by L. A. Post.

At 354 b-c "He [Lycurgus] girded the kingship with a rope of safety, the senate, that is, and the efphorate --with the result that his people have been gloriously preserved through these many generations, because law was made rightful lord and sovereign of men, and men no longer ruled the laws with arbitrary power."

Plato then goes "It is my advice to everyone to take this same course now." ....

Plato: (and this is key) (354 d) "Again, I would counsel those who are seeking to establish free institutions and to avoid the yoke of servitude as being evil, to be on their guard lest by inordinately desring an unseasonable liberty they fall victims to the plague that visited their ancestors because the citizens of those days went to extremes in their refusal to be governed. Their passion for liberty knew NO BOUNDS."

The whole modern world is based on the teachings of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a cultural revolution that destroyed European culture. It was NOT about passing on classical culture! The Enlightenment was about breaking boundaries, limits, destroying all things 'that restrict'.

Plato now at 354 e. "That is the way they got their tyrants, for either servitude of freedom WHEN IT GOES TO EXTREMES, is an utter bane, while either in due measure is altogether a boon. The due measure of servitude is to serve God. The Extreme of servitude is to serve man. The god of sober men is law; the god of fools is pleasure".

Notice the words "due measure". That is the Golden Mean. There are two definitions of the Golden Mean, both valid, both tackle nuances in the principle. (1) where the Extremes meet. (2) the middle between the extremes. Both are valid.

By separate personal experience, making hay in Switzerland, I have come to the knowledge of the Golden Mean. Hay can not be too dry or too wet. Hay must be in the Golden Mean. It is therefore a Law of Nature, found in Nature! I lived it. I have experienced it. Apostolos Makrakis, in his theology, mentions that the Christian Trinity is the middle, (He does not mention the word 'Golden' or 'mean'); it is the middle between the extremes of Semitic strict monotheism and the excess of gods among the gentile nations. The Christian Trinity is the Golden Mean. The Golden Mean exists throughout reality. It is a Law of Nature for it has built the Natural Order.

Then Plato at 355, expressly says this at the end of the above quote:

"Since the law of nature in regard to these things is as I have stated it, I exhort the friends of Dion to publish my words of advice to all Syracusans as the joint consel of Dion and myself. I will at as interpreter of the message which he, if he were alive and able, would now address to you..."

The saying "Nothing too much" carved on the Apollo Temple at Delphi is about the Golden Mean or about Limits to all things; i.e. proportion in everything. (All of the Laws of Nature are interconnected.) A republic is a Golden Mean. It is the mean between the extremes as Plato says in his Laws. "Due Measure" naturally creates the Golden Mean.

That is how Mr. Post translated this.

George, classical scholarship of the last two hundred years is seriously damaged by preconceived notions. All scholarship and books are now suspect. Nothing is right. Not in philosophy departments and books, not in classical departments and their books. No one has a clue on the Laws of Nature and how this affected Greek culture.

So Mr. Post uses the term "law of Nature", which I agree with. It could also be "kata physios". This 'according to' (kata) has maybe a deep meaning that we are not aware of. "Kata" may mean "in line with", or "imitating nature". In this case it may be the Law of Nature which is "To Mimic". "To Mimic" is a Law of Nature. So "kata" may be similar to this, means this.

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