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Plato on Pure Pleasure and the Best Life

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AbstractIn the Philebus, Socrates maintains two theses about the relationship between pleasure and the good life: (1) the mixed life of pleasure and intelligence is better than the unmixed life of intelligence, and: (2) the unmixed life of intelligence is the most divine. Taken together, these two claims lead to the paradoxical conclusion that the best human life is better than the life of a god. A popular strategy for avoiding this conclusion is to distinguish human from divine goods; on such a reading, pleasure has merely instrumental value, and it benefits human beings only as a result of their imperfect nature. I argue that certain ‘pure’ pleasures are full-fledged, intrinsic goods in the Philebus, which are even worthy of the gods (thus Socrates ultimately rejects thesis 2). This positive evaluation of pure pleasure results from a detailed examination of pleasure, which reveals that different types of pleasures have fundamentally different natures.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-MadisonMadison, WI


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