In The Poet and the City, 114 Yale L.J. 1835 (2005), Kenji Yoshino argues that law, as a truth-seeking enterprise, must resist literature's inherent "falsity, irrationality, and seductiveness. The law's disciplinary function, as it were, must banish the poet from civic governance because the poet is inimical to the functions of the state.
Professor Yoshino thereupon distills Plato's philosophy on the relationship between poetry and politics into a three-pronged "Platonic paradigm" for evaluating the merger of literature with the law:
- Poetry will not be permitted with the core functions of the state.
- Poetry cannot evade being held accountable to those functions by asserting the defense that it is ineradicable.
- Poetry will only be permitted if it can affirmatively show that it can fulfill state functions. Often this affirmative showing takes the form of a demonstration that poetic virtues and doctrines are the same as or better than those of the state.
So it is here. The three tenets of Kenji Yoshino's Platonic paradigm bear an uncanny resemblance to Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics":
- First, a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- Second, a robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- Third, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such orders would conflict with the First or Second Law.
A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.Asimov's three (or four) laws of robotics have been subjected to deep, useful analysis in realms one degree closer to their original context. For our purposes here -- to wit, the enterprise of reconciling poetic seduction with civic governance -- it suffices for the moment to declare a zeroth law of poetics:
A poet may not injure the law, or through inaction, allow legal interests to come to harm.