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International Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 56, Issue 3, September 2016

James Wood
Pages 265-282

The Goodness of Pleasure in Plato’s Philebus

This paper takes a nuanced stance against an intellectualist position that is strong in the literature on the Philebus by arguing that pleasure’s goodness is inherent but not independent. Pleasure is worth pursuing together with intellectual activity in the mixed life because pleasure is the sensual manifestation, direct or indirect, of growth in goodness. Pleasure as the expression of this growth is the sensual component of the mixture that Socrates in this dialogue defends as the good for human beings. But if pleasure’s contribution to the overall goodness of a human life is not to be outweighed by some corresponding badness, it must reflect an accurate assessment of the goodness of our experiences and either proceed directly from the right kind of intellectual or psychic activity or else be subordinated to the rational ordering activity of intellect according to the standards of virtue, moderation, and health.

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