This book takes on two main tasks. The first is to argue that anti-hedonism lies at the center of Plato's critical project in both ethics and politics. Plato sees pleasure and pain as our sole sources of empirical evidence about good and bad. But as sources of evidence they are highly fallible; contrast effects with pain intensify certain pleasures, including most pleasures related to the body and social standing. This leads us to believe that the causes of such pleasures (e.g. (...) food, drink, sex, status) are greater goods than they are, and greater goods than other, more important goods (e.g. virtue, knowledge). As a result, hedonic error produces the belief that vice, including injustice, can be prudent. Hedonic error leads to other misconceptions of virtue as well, such as that wisdom is weak and can be ruled by the passions. These cognitive distortions can only be corrected by reference to some non-hedonic standard, so hedonists reliably fall prey to them. This entire system of attitudes—hedonism and its associated misconceptions of virtue—is widely held and constitutes popular morality. Popular morality's basic source is hedonic error, but it is also transmitted and sustained in society through shame and fear of punishment. However, avoiding shame and punishment requires a sort of double-think: adherents of popular morality must accept certain views that they cannot acknowledge too clearly or too publicly. For example, they must hold that injustice can be prudent and must be willing to wrong out-groups (e.g. another city), but openly acknowledging this same view threatens in-groups (one's own city) by implying willingness to wrong some in the city to benefit a closer in-group (e.g. one's class, clique, or family). // -/- The book's second task is to tackle a seeming outlier to Plato's anti-hedonism: the _Protagoras_, where Socrates appears to defend hedonism. I argue that the _Protagoras_ actually perfectly illustrates Plato's anti-hedonism, as explained above. Protagoras and other sophists think they shape public opinion, but in fact they have internalized popular morality through shame and fear. As a result, Protagoras accepts but refuses to openly endorse three parts of popular morality: that injustice can be prudent (333c), that pleasure is the good (351c-d), and that wisdom is weak and can be ruled by the passions (352c-d). Each time, his concealed view is (aptly!) attributed to "the many". So, when Socrates appears to endorse hedonism in the _Protagoras_, he actually introduces and develops the view as part of his examination of Protagoras' covert ethical commitments. (shrink)
In the Gorgias, Socrates argues that just punishment, though painful, benefits the unjust person by removing injustice from her soul. This paper argues that Socrates thinks the true judge (i) will never use corporal punishment, because such procedures do not remove injustice from the soul; (ii) will use refutations and rebukes as punishments that reveal and focus attention on psychological disorder (= injustice); and (iii) will use confiscation, exile, and death to remove external goods that facilitate unjust action.
This paper argues that Socrates does not claim to be a political expert at Gorgias 521d6-8, as many scholars say. Still, Socrates does claim a special grasp of true politics. His special grasp (i) results from divine dispensation; (ii) is coherent true belief about politics; and (iii) also is Socratic wisdom about his own epistemic shortcomings. This condition falls short of expertise in two ways: Socrates sometimes lacks fully determinate answers to political questions, and he does not grasp the first (...) principles of politics. (shrink)
This paper reads Republic 583b-608b as a single, continuous line of argument. First, Socrates distinguishes real from apparent pleasure and argues that justice is more pleasant than injustice. Next, he describes how pleasures nourish the soul. This line of argument continues into the second discussion of poetry: tragic pleasures are mixed pleasures in the soul that seem greater than they are; indulging them nourishes appetite and corrupts the soul. The paper argues that Plato has a novel account of the ‘paradox (...) of tragedy’, and that the Republic and Philebus contain complementary discussions of tragic and comic pleasure. (shrink)