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It seems, then, that up to now our ancients' game of reason1 has been finely played.

You are showing, I think, how fine is the serious work of our citizens.

Very probably: but let us see whether you agree with me about another point.

What is it, and whom does it concern?

You know how, for instance, the painter's art in depicting each several subject seems never to get to an end, and in its embellishing it seems as if it would never stop [769b] laying on colors or taking them off—or whatever the professional painters term the process—and reach a point where the picture admits of no further improvement in respect of beauty and lucidity.

I, too, remember hearing something of the fact you mention, although I am by no means practised in that kind of art.

You are none the worse for that. We may still use this fact, which it has occurred to us to mention, to illustrate the following point. [769c] Suppose that a man should propose to paint an object of extreme beauty, and that this should never grow worse, but always better, as time went on, do you not see that, since the painter is mortal, unless he leaves a successor who is able to repair the picture if it suffers through time, and also in the future to improve it by touching up any deficiency left by his own imperfect craftsmanship, his interminable toil will have results of but short duration?

True. [769d]

Well then, do you not think that the purpose of the lawgiver is similar? He purposes, first, to write down the laws, so far as he can, with complete precision; next, when in the course of time he puts his decrees to the test of practice, you cannot suppose that any lawgiver will be so foolish as not to perceive that very many things must necessarily be left over, which it will be the duty of some successor to make right, in order that the constitution and the system of the State he has organized may always grow better, [769e] and never in any way worse.2

This, of course, is what everyone naturally desires.

Suppose then that a man knew of a device indicating the way in which he could teach another man by deed and word to understand in a greater or less degree how he should conserve or amend laws, surely he would never cease declaring it until he had accomplished his purpose.

1 i.e. the “game” of legislation, cp. Plat. Laws 685a, Plat. Laws 712b.

2 Cp.Polit. 298a ff.

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