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Pleasure, falsity, and the good in Plato's "Philebus"

Ciriaco Medina Sayson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The argument in Plato's Philebus presents three successive formulations of the hedonist principle. Commentators often take Socrates' argument in the dialogue to be dealing solely with the third formulation, which states that pleasure, rather than intelligence, is closer in nature to the good. I argue that, nonetheless, in the dialogue Socrates remained concerned to provide a direct refutation of the first formulation, that is, of the straightforward claim that pleasure is the good for all living beings. Chapter One ascribes to the Philebus a conception of intrinsic good, which is then shown to underlie the dialogue's notion of true pleasures. Chapter Two examines in detail the problem of the “one and many” concerning pleasure, and argues that this is the problem of forms in relation to other forms, rather than that of forms in relation to particulars. This interpretation is the one that is consistent both with Protarchus' understanding of hedonism in the dialogue, and with the dialogue's methodological passages, i.e., the passages on the “god-given method” and on the four ontological kinds. In Chapter Three, it is shown how division into forms is required by Socrates' conception of the nature of pleasure. Some of the forms of pleasure are ways in which falsity is admitted into the nature of pleasure. Three accounts of false anticipatory pleasures—those of Kenny and Gosling, Mooradian, and Penner—are examined in some detail.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Classical studies

Recommended Citation

Sayson, Ciriaco Medina, "Pleasure, falsity, and the good in Plato's "Philebus"" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950207.