Next to Godliness: Pleasure and Assimilation in God in the Philebus

Apeiron 45 (1):1-31 (2012)
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According to Plato's successors, assimilation to god (homoiosis theoi) was the end (telos) of the Platonic system. There is ample evidence to support this claim in dialogues ranging from the Symposium through the Timaeus. However, the Philebus poses a puzzle for this conception of the Platonic telos. On the one hand, Plato states that the gods are beings beyond pleasure while, on the other hand, he argues that the best human life necessarily involves pleasure. In this paper, I argue that the solution to this puzzle lies in the fact that the processes by which we assimilate to god, learning and becoming virtuous, are restitutive and hence pleasant. Thus, the reason why the best human life necessarily involves pleasure is that we can never become fully divine and perfect, but must constantly strive to become like the divine, through pleasureful restitutive processes. In this paper, I also provide a close examination and taxonomy of the different models that Plato presents throughout his corpus of assimilation to god. Note: "Fleeing the Divine" (Philebus: Selected Papers from the VIII Symposium Platonicum) is an earlier, shorter version of this paper.
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