The general account of pleasure in Plato's Philebus

Journal of the History of Philosophy 34 (4):495-513 (1996)
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The General Account of Pleasure in Plato's Philebus THOMAS M. TUOZZO 1. INTRODUCTION DOES PLATO IN THE Philebus present a single general account of pleasure, applicable to all of the kinds of pleasure he discusses in that dialogue? Gosling and Taylor think not;' Dorothea Frede has recently reasserted a version of the contrary, traditional view. 2 The traditional view, I shall argue in this essay, is correct: the Philebus does contain a general account of pleasure applicable to all pleasures. Nonetheless, Gosling and Taylor have pointed to a real difficulty with the traditional view, a difficulty that has never been adequately ad- dressed. To show how it can be overcome will involve showing that Plato's account of pleasure, and his analyses of other phenomena of moral psychol- ogy in the Philebus, are more complex and subtle than has often been realized. Gosling and Taylor offer two considerations in support of their view: Socrates insists against Protarchus that different pleasures can be "most oppo- site" to each other, which suggests that no single account can apply to them all,s and Socrates does not indicate how the most likely candidate for a general account of pleasure, one involving the restoration of a natural har- ,j. c. B. Gosling and C. C. W. Taylor, The Greeks on Pleasure , 14o: "It seems clear that in the Philebus Plato has no general formula to encapsulate the nature of pleasure .... " So, too, C. Hampton, Pleasure,..



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Thomas M. Tuozzo
University of Kansas

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