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Plato's Rejection of Thoughtless and Pleasureless Lives

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image of Phronesis

In the Philebus Plato argues that every rational human being, given the choice, will prefer a life that is moderately thoughtful and moderately pleasant to a life that is utterly thoughtless or utterly pleasureless. This is true, he thinks, even if the thoughtless life at issue is intensely pleasant and the pleasureless life at issue is intensely thoughtful. Evidently Plato wants this argument to show that neither pleasure nor thought, taken by itself, is sufficient to make a life choiceworthy for us. But there is some disagreement among commentators about whether or not he also wants the argument to show why. Is the argument designed to establish that we should reject thoughtless and pleasureless lives because some pleasures and some thoughts are goods? Or is it silent on this issue? Many interpreters take the first option, claiming that Plato uses the argument to attack both the hedonist view that only pleasures are goods and the intellectualist view that only thoughts are goods. My aim in this paper is to show that the second option is at least as attractive as the first, both exegetically and philosophically.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA


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