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Happiness in the Euthydemus

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Departing on a demonstration which aims to show to young Cleinias how one ought to care about wisdom and virtue, Socrates asks at 278e2 whether people want to do well (ευ πραττειν). Eυ πραττειν is ambiguous. It can mean being happy and prospering, or doing what is right and doing it well. Socrates will later exploit this ambiguity, but at this point he uses this expression merely to announce his conviction that every human being (pathological cases aside, perhaps) desires to be happy (278e2-7). He does not examine how this desire figures in the psychology of action. Instead, and more fundamentally, he seeks to identify the things that would make us happy, or the good things as he calls them (279a2-4). In this passage, only those things are said to be good that make their possessor happy.

Socrates does not present his view on what it is to be happy. But he goes on to advance confidently controversial claims about which things are good for us to possess and which are not. In and of itself, this implies that he has a view on happiness which enables him to identify these things, even though he does not offer an explicit statement of it. Here, I attempt to articulate the conception of happiness that is presupposed by Socrates in this passage. Since he does not reveal it explicitly, I will have to use the information he offers in which it is revealed implicitly. More precisely, I am going to ask what sort of a conception of happiness and unhappiness we need to attribute to Socrates in order to explain adequately his claims about what makes us happy and unhappy. To test the adequacy of the articulation I develop, I examine whether it can help us make sense of these claims and his defence for them. The same test of adequacy I apply also to some influential interpretations already on offer.

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/content/journals/10.1163/156852802760075684
2002-02-01
2016-09-27

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