Plato's Inquiry Into the Good Life and 'the Good' in the "Philebus"

Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania (2002)

Abstract
Plato's discussion of the main topic of the Philebus, namely, the good life and the good, has been poorly understood, in spite of its great importance to Platonism. I argue that this late dialogue retains basic views on the good life and the good similar to those presented in the Republic, yet approaches them from a perspective that is typical of Plato's late philosophy. This interpretation of the dialogue helps us understand the nature of its central discussions. The basic views on happiness that are common to the Republic and the Philebus are that pleasure does not suffice to make a life happy, and that only the virtuous can live well. Unlike the Republic, however, the Philebus emphasizes that a life must contain pleasure in order to be attractive. Moreover, this late dialogue pays much closer attention to the concrete forms of familiar psychic experiences and activities such as pleasure, sensation, memory, belief, imagination, and knowledge. It is by appealing to concrete, down-to-earth analyses that the Philebus argues for the soul's independence of the body. With respect to the good, both the Republic and the Philebus maintain that comprehension of the good through dialectic is crucially important for living well, and that it is nonetheless extremely difficult to comprehend the good fully. However, the Philebus no longer bases the transcendence of the good on the transcendence of Forms to perceptibles, but instead conceives of the good as immanent to a good life. This explains the importance of the notions of mixture and measure in the dialogue. In this manner, Plato attempts to avoid potential problems with the theory of Forms pointed out in Part I of the Parmenides. On the whole, I emphasize the interest and appeal of the Philebus ' central discussions
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