The authority of pleasure and pain: moral psychology in Plato's Philebus
Evans, Matthew Lyall
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I interpret, analyze, and defend Plato’s views about the nature and value of pleasure and pain, with special attention to the way he develops these views in the Philebus. The core of Plato’s position, I argue, is that pleasure as such is not a bearer of final value, but a fallible mode of perceiving final value. If Plato is right, then the claim that pleasure as such is the ethical goal is akin to the claim that belief as such is the epistemological goal. What makes this version of anti-hedonism exciting, to my mind, is that it can concede that pleasure has authority in itself—in that it always gives us a reason to act as it bids—without conceding that pleasure is good in itself. Moreover, an account of this sort is refreshingly free of the asceticism that pervades so much of both ancient and modern anti-hedonism, including some of Plato’s own earlier work. After establishing that Plato advances this view in the Philebus, I argue that the view itself yields genuine insight into the psychological role and ethical status of pleasure and pain.