Pleasures in Republic IX
My dissertation is on Plato’s view on pleasure. I focus on the Republic, where Plato
offers his first systematic treatment of pleasure and pain. Plato’s thought on pleasure,
and in particular his view on the truth and falsity of pleasure, has received no small
degree of attention in the secondary literature during the past few decades. Despite the
amount of work that has been done, however, Plato’s thought on pleasure and pain has
not been adequately understood, as scholars have persistently underappreciated the
treatment offered in Republic IX.
The account and evaluation of pleasures in Republic IX has often been criticized as fraught with serious problems and inadequacies. It has been argued that the account not only fails to describe the role of pleasure in our lives accurately, but is also inconsistent and full of ambiguity. The inconsistency attributed to the account in essays by Dorothea Frede is supposedly between two distinct criteria that the account employs for the evaluation of pleasures. Dorothea Frede also claims, with Gosling and Taylor, that Plato’s account contains fatal ambiguities. I argue that all of the above charges are false. I show that a careful examination of Plato’s text reveals his account of pleasure to be consistent, coherent, and compelling. Since Plato offers his account of pleasure by way of proving that the pleasures of the rational part of the soul are most pleasant, dismissing the charges also requires a close reading of the passages in Book IV concerning the Platonic division of the soul into three parts. I show that Plato’s view on pleasure and his division of the soul are mutually corroborative. The interpretation I develop allows us to see that Plato’s view on the best life is much less austere and much more livable than critics have claimed.