Plato on the Psychology of Pleasure and Pain

Phoenix 65 (2011)
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Plato’s account of pleasure in Republic IX has been treated as an ill-conceived and deeply flawed account that Plato thankfully retracted and replaced in the Philebus. I am convinced, however, that this received view of the Republic’s account is false. In this paper, I will not concern myself with whether, or in what way, Plato’s account of pleasure in the Republic falls short of what we find in the Philebus, but will rather focus on the merits of the former. My concern will be further narrowed down to the first half of the third proof: the proof involves two criteria for the evaluation of pleasures, the criteria of purity and of truth, both of which yield the result that the philosopher’s pleasures are the most pleasant (because it turns out that only those pleasures are pure and only they are true). I will be addressing the criterion of purity, which is based on a psychological/phenomenological account of pleasure and pain. This account has been harshly criticized as full of ambiguity and confusion, as I explain in detail below. I believe, however, that these criticisms result from misunderstanding, and failing to appreciate the complexity of, Plato’s account. In this paper, I will offer an interpretation of Plato’s psychological account of pleasure and pain in Republic IX, showing that this account is, contrary to its detractors, both interesting and persuasive on many points.

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Mehmet M. Erginel
Eastern Mediterranean University


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