Hedonism and the Pleasureless Life in Plato's Philebus

Phronesis 45 (4):257-283 (2000)
This paper re-evaluates the role that Plato confers to pleasure in the "Philebus." According to leading interpretations, Plato there downplays the role of pleasure, or indeed rejects hedonism altogether. Thus, scholars such as D. Frede have taken the "mixed life" of pleasure and intelligence initially submitted in the "Philebus" to be conceded by Socrates only as a remedial good, second to a life of neutral condition, where one would experience no pleasure and pain. Even more strongly, scholars such as Irwin have seen the "Philebus'" arguments against false pleasures as an actual attack on hedonism, showing -- in Irwin's words -- "why maximization of pleasure cannot be a reasonable policy for the best life." Against these claims, I argue that the mixed life of pleasure and intelligence is presented in the "Philebus" as a first best and not just as a second best for humans, and that, accordingly, Socrates proposes to incorporate -- rather than reject -- pleasure as one of the intrinsically desirable aspects of the happy life. Thus, I offer alternative readings of controversial passages that have given rise to the prevalent interpretation criticized here, and advance positive evidence that at least some pleasures are seen by Plato as inherently good. In addition, I demonstrate that Plato's arguments against false pleasures do not by themselves constitute an attack on hedonism. Rather, they can be seen as a strategy to show the hedonist that, in order to be a maximal, or even a consistent, hedonist, he should go for true, and not fake pleasures, if after all pleasure is the object of his pursuit. But, since this cannot be achieved without intelligence, then the mixed life of pleasure and intelligence is to be accepted even by hedonist themselves
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DOI 10.1163/156852800510225
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Joachim Aufderheide (2013). An Inconsistency in the Philebus? British Journal for the History of Philosophy 21 (5):817 - 837.

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