Colloquium 3

Plato's Theory of Goods in the Laws and Philebus

in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

Colloquium 3

Plato's Theory of Goods in the Laws and Philebus

in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy


1 For translations from the Laws, I draw on, with modification, Bury 1926 and Pangle 1980; for the Republic on Shorey 1978; for the Philebus on Fowler 1975, Frede 1993, and Gosling 1975; for the Nicomachean Ethics Irwin 1985.

2 Strictly, some care is necessary since the Dependent Goods when pos- sessed by the just person are good for her; common sense might be so far off in its classification of goods that some of these are indifferent or bad even for a just person, e.g., intense sexual pleasures.

3 Cf. Brickhouse and Smith 1994, 134-5 and Ferejohn 1984, 111-20. See Point #1 in the Appendix. 4 "Entirely distinct from" excludes compound goods which include justice as a proper part. For a refinement in this characterization of Dependent Evils, see Point #2 in the Appendix. 5 For Aristotle, see, e.g., Eudemian Ethics vm 3, Nicomachean Ethics v 1, 1129bl-6, Politics vn 13, 1332al9-27; for analysis, see Whiting 1996. Also see Korsgaard 1983 and 1986.

6 I leave aside the question of whether the Rep. n passage identifies final goods and Independent Goods. 7 In this paper, I shall, in general, leave sufficiency on one side and concen- trate on the claim of necessity.

8 E.g., Annas 1994, Brickhouse and Smith 1987 and 1994, Ferejohn 1984, Irwin 1986, Santas 1994, Striker 1994, and Vlastos 1991. Also, see Char. 173A-175A. 9 It makes no difference for these purposes whether each virtue is identical with some distinct part of the knowledge of good and bad or is identical with the whole of knowledge of good and bad. Stylometric evidence suggests that both the Euthydemus and the Meno precede the Rep., see Brandwood 1976, xvi- xvii ; Brandwood 1990, 249-52; Irwin 1994, 362 n.l and Ledger 1989, 217-24. This fits with the fact that the Rep. does not explicitly endorse the Dependency Thesis (nor, I think, does it do so even implicitly). My interpretation, however, is independent of the question of dating and of the Republic's position. 10 As does Alcinous in Didaskalikos 27.4. As Dillon 1991, 9, notes, Laws i, 631BC was a favorite passage for Platonists, see, e.g., Arius Didymus ap. Stobaeus 54.10-56.7 and Apuleius de Dogmate Platonis 2.1-2.2, both of which link the Laws' position with that of the Philebus. I am indebted to an anony- mous referee for drawing my attention to some of these passages. Any full ac- count of the earlier theory would have to show how it avoids the aporia at Euthd. 288D-292E. 11 I leave aside here the question of how the value of Dependent Goods de- pends on the non-wisdom virtues of courage and moderation.

12 This article appears in several different versions (see Vlastos 1991, 200 n. 1); I cite the final version, which is in Vlastos 1991. 13 Vlastos 1991, 225. The thesis that virtue is the sole component of happi- ness is open to a stronger objection. Since virtue is identical to knowledge of the good, the thesis that virtue is the only intrinsic good or component of hap- piness is equivalent to the claim that knowledge of the good is the only compo- nent of happiness or intrinsic good. This idea, although not, I think, incoherent, results in an oddly empty account of virtue and happiness. Virtue and happi- ness would be knowledge of the good, but the only possible good would be this very knowledge of the good and whatever instrumentally contributes to it.

Another way of putting this, is that the only thing good by itself would be the knowledge that everything except this very knowledge is at best instrumentally valuable insofar as it contributes to this knowledge. Without modification or supplementation, such a theory is implausible and fails to be action-guiding. (I am indebted to Alan Code for discussion of this issue.) The possibility which Vlastos intends to consider (cf. 1991, 232 n.100), I think, is the different idea that virtue and happiness are identical and consist in knowledge of what is morally good and acting (or, perhaps, trying to act) in accordance with such knowledge. 14 See n.25. IS It is no solution to hold that the distinction between wisdom or virtue and other goods is in itself a distinction between moral and non-moral value, since we still must answer the question of whether wisdom consists only in knowl- edge of the moral good. Since Vlastos thinks that if virtue were the only com- ponent of happiness, we would have reason to act only in cases in which states of affairs are differentiated by their moral values, it seems that he does not in- clude knowledge of non-moral good in the knowledge that comprises virtue. Holding that wisdom is the only thing that is morally good leads to a variant of the problem described in n.13.

16 We could avoid this problem by claiming that Plato is an ethical egoist, i.e., holds that each person is morally obligated to do what is all things consid- ered best for herself, but this would give moral value to states of affairs that Vlastos says are non-moral.

17 For the view that in the Euthydemus wisdom is only of instrumental value, see Irwin 1986 (i.e., instrumental to the distinct end of happiness which Irwin identifies with the complete satisfaction of the person's desires); for criti- cism of this view, see Brickhouse and Smith 1994, 114-7. It will be more plausible to see knowledge of the good as itself an Independent Good, if we construe this as the knowledge of what makes all good things good rather than as knowledge of how to produce benefit for myself, or even for human beings in general. 8 Although I think that the Euthydemus and Meno hold that knowledge of the good is non-instrumentally good and that this is the position of the early di- alogues, my interpretation of the Laws is independent of this issue.

19 I agree with Irwin's analysis of the general logical structure of the argu- ment (1986, 93-4). But, unlike Irwin, I take correct use to be necessary for benefiting from a Dependent Good and not merely necessary for happiness. The stronger reading is supported by Euthd. 280E4-281AI, 281B4-6 and 281D5-El.

20 Brickhouse and Smith 1994,130,133. This also seems to be the view of Penner1991,162-4.

21 If we deny this, it seems that we have to locate the benefit to the agent of acting virtuously either in the action's causal consequences or simply in per- forming a certain sort of bodily movement. The former is inconsistent with vir- tuous action being a non-instrumental good and the latter seems quite implausi- ble. This is one odd consequence of Brickhouse's and Smith's separation of the action performed from its motivation. 22 For Plato, the case of morally virtuous action is simply a special case of the more general requirement that every virtuous action must spring from an appreciation of the value at stake.

� The Euthydemus holds that, in addition to possession, correct use is nec- essary to benefit from a Dependent Good (e.g., 280D4-7, cf. Meno 88A4-5), but it draws heavily on simple productive examples and does not consider hard cases such as pleasure or the welfare of others. Even if we accept the Euthyde- mus principle, we could hold that, although some use is necessary for any ben- efit, once some use is made, the Dependent Good has some additional value apart from use. Rep. 357AC claims that some of the things the Euthydemus and Meno classify as Dependent Goods are good apart from what comes from them, but this is not obviously sufficient to show that they are good apart from use, since we might argue that this is a contrast between the use of a thing and the causal consequences of such use. But some of the goods mentioned in the Re- public passage (e.g., harmless pleasures, Rep. n, 357B7-8) seem to have more than use value. 24 This is not to require that using x always results in some product separate from x; e.g., I use my body in dancing, but dancing is not a separate product.

25 Plato is not as explicit on this issue as some later philosophers, but this does not obviously indicate hesitation on his part. Ordinary intuitions so strongly support the view that 'external goods' have more than use value that we might expect a philosopher who rejected such a position to make her rejec- tion explicit and to provide grounds for it (as, for example, the Stoics do). Pla- to's discussions of goods other than virtue are more naturally read as attribut- ing, at least to some of them, more than use value: e.g., Rep. x, 612B-614A; Laws n, 662E-663A and IV, 705E-706A with Saunders' note 1972, 15. 26 One might think that 'use' in the Euthydemus and the Meno is to be un- derstood sufficiently broadly that it avoids these problems and that it also in- cludes the Knowledge Condition. For my present purposes, I do not need to decide whether this is the correct account of these dialogues. My point is that the need for the Knowledge Condition has not been clearly recognized. Once it is, a number of significant philosophical questions, as well as some important connections between the Laws' Dependency Thesis and the Philebus, come into clearer focus.

27 See Point #3 in the Appendix. 28 I cannot here provide a full exploration of the Knowledge Condition. But consider the following argument for it. What makes anything good is in all cases the same, that is, there is only good-making property (cf. section 5 below and Phil. 64D3-65B2). Central cases of benefiting do require the person to have some appreciation of the good-making property in the relevant case. These central cases include 'aesthetic' benefit and benefiting from what we would think of as morally virtuous action. If appreciation is not required in other cases, then there are two radically different ways of benefiting a person and thus of standing in proper relation to the true good-making property. But if the notion of being benefited has a common content in all cases, then it is hard to think that it is instantiated by two radically different ways of standing in the right relation to the ultimate good-making property. 29 I cannot here discuss all the relevant cases, but one might think that the Knowledge Condition offers an implausibly stringent account of instrumental goods and of the improvements in ethical character which a person can enjoy without becoming wise. But, first, we can restrict the Knowledge Condition to non-instrumental goods and non-instrumental good-making properties. This is not an unprincipled restriction, since the value of instrumental goods is entirely

derivative from their causal consequences and the Knowledge Condition will apply, e.g., to both the possession and use of health. (Moreover, the Knowl- edge Condition is intended to require knowledge of the ultimate good-making property and instrumental goods do not instantiate this property.) Second, until ethical progress is well-advanced, a person will lack the knowledge necessary for recognizing the appropriate good-making features of things. Nevertheless, even the early stages of progress bring the person closer to the point at which she will actually be benefited. Since some mistakes about the good are worse than others, even small progress can move the person from worse states to states that are less bad.

3� See ad loc. Bury 1897, Frede 1993, and Hackforth 1972.

3t On Protarchus' relation to Eudoxus, see Gosling 1975, 139-42; Gosling and Taylor 1984, 157-64.

32 Phil. 6OD4-El claims that one would not wish to have anything at all, in- cluding, but not limited to, pleasure, without knowledge. Plato thus does ex- plicitly hold that all goods, and not just pleasure, are subject to a knowledge re- quirement. The weakest interpretation of such knowledge would require know- ing or believing that one does have the possession in question, but self-con- scious possession is hardly sufficient to make something even prima facie de- sirable. Interpreting this as the knowledge that whatever possession one wishes to have is also pleasant would render otiose Plato's proceeding to ask whether we wish to have the life of mind without the presence of any pleasure (Phil. 60E1-3). It is thus plausible to construe this knowledge as consisting in the awareness that what one has is good.

33 Plato's back reference, at Phil. 60D8-El, to the counterexample makes no reference to calculation about the future. This would be quite odd, if the reference to the future were making not just the point about projection noted above, but were, as some think, making a fundamentally new point about the value of practical rationality. 3a This resemblance is heightened by Plato's word choice; despite the epis- temic weakness of the mental activity the counterexample involves, Plato de- scribes it in terms reminiscent of the Dependency Thesis: (1nCíT��TJ, J�oyi�'s�9at, voeiv andpw7j

35 The literature on the issues surrounding 7ripag and èí7Tf.'POV is vast; Cooper 1977, Gosling 1975, Moravcsik 1979 and 1992, and Striker 1970 pro- vide useful starting points. 36 I accept here Cooper's 1977, 715 claims. On the controversial issue, which I leave aside here, of where the Forms fit into Plato's fourfold classifica- tion, see Frede 1993, xix-xxxix, Gosling 1975, 185-206, Hackforth 1972, 37- 43.

37 Cf. ad loc. Frede 1993 and Poste 1860.

3g Phil. 64C5-7 emphasizes that these are the cause of the goodness of the good life. The inclusion of truth at Phil. 64D9-65A3 is prepared for by the as- sertion at 64B2-3 that truth is a necessary condition of a mixture being a mix- ture at all. On the relation between measure and fineness, see Gosling 1975, 134-6 and Hackforth 1972, 133; on the distinction between fineness and pro- portion found at Phil. 66A4-C2 and the apparent absence of truth from this pas- sage, see ad loc. Bury 1897, Gosling 1975 and Hackforth 1972. For Aristotle, see Cooper 1996.

39 Cf. Murphy 1938, 117-8.

40 This passage does not make clear the relations among God or the Demi- urge and the created gods, the World as Living Creature, and the World Soul and human beings. We can try to fill out the present passage with the help of the Politicus, the Timaeus, and Laws x, but the relations among the three ac- counts are controversial; for an overview, see Guthrie 1978, 292-320, 357-67. 41 Cf. Gosling's suggestion (1975, 206-8) that the present passage invites us to see ourselves as parts of a greater system; but even on this understanding, we need the notion of a paradigm since we, even qua part, are to imitate God. We do find in Laws x the idea that we are to imitate God's efforts to establish good order in the world (x, 904AB, 906A).

42 Cf. Phil. 22D4-E3 (CíVYYEl1fCTTfpOI1 Kai óp.o'ÓTfpOI1) and 64C5-9 (1TpOCTcpvfCíTEpOI1 kcu O¿KE'ÓTEPOI1); mind is also said to be otKy kcu 1TpOCTcpVfCíTEpOI1 (67AIO-12, cf. 11D11-12A4) to the good or mixed life than pleasure is. 43 See Cooper 1977, 718-24.

44 Plato sometimes suggests that (i) is explained by a further point of simi- larity, that is, that the mind is capable of knowing an object because the mind is like the object known: Phd. 79DI-7, Rep. vi, 490A8-B7, cf. Symp. 211D8- 212A2. as phll. 66B8-C2. Since knowledge is a non-instrumental part of the good life, a knowing mind will instantiate the good-makers. See, e.g., Code 1994, 89-95; Cooper 1977, 720-4; Fine 1993, 46-61; Vlastos 1965. 4� Pace Hackforth 1972, 36, Kai imWov fn at Phil. 22D5 is not a rejection of the claim at 22D3-4 that fow is the ahiov of the mixed life; rather, it picks up O�K (iiLotO-p77Ta 7rw at 22C7-8. As we shall see, the claim that mind is "more akin and more like" the good-makers is essential to the claim that mind is the cause of the good life. I am indebted to Liz Asmis for discussion of this issue.

� Phil. 30D10 (7IT�CTEI picks up iCnTo6gey at 27C5; 30D10 a7r6KptC-gV refers to 28A4-7, but 28A4-7 is part of the section beginning at 27C3. 49 If Menn 1992 and 1995 is right that nous in Plato does not mean 'mind' or 'faculty of reason' but 'the virtue of wisdom (phronesis)', then my conclu- sion follows almost immediately. But even if this is the standard meaning of nous in Plato, Plato would not be entitled to build such content into the dia- logue's early references to nous (in particular, he would not be entitled to this understanding of nous in the Protarchan counterexample) and the richer content would have to be built in by the sort of argument I sketch.

50 For the sake of simplicity, I shall omit reference to efficient causality. s1 Plato seems to endorse the view that happiness comes in degrees in a sub- stantive sense, i.e., it is possible for both x and y to be happy and for x to be happier than y, see, e.g., Laws 1t, 662D ff.

s2 Cf. Cooper 1977, 717 and Frede 1993, xxxv. 53 It is, however, unattractive to hold that production by a knowing mind is a causally necessary condition, since, whether or not we would be concerned with the spontaneous generation of pens, accidental production and blind, rote production are quite possible.

54 I discuss this issue at greater length in a work in progress on the ethical and political philosophy of the Laws. s In the Laws, Plato sometimes requires knowledge (È1TtITT.,JP.7¡) for wisdom (p6irqcris) and thus distinguishes it from true opinion (Laws I, 632C4-6). But he also allows a kind of true opinion to be sufficient for the virtue of wisdom (cppÓII7IIT¡�. Laws m, 687E-688B, 689AE; IV, 710A). This sort of true opinion will, however, involve more than the simple belief that certain things are good for the agent, and will also involve rational true beliefs about why these things are good for the agent. The citizens' education will employ arguments that "come close to philosophizing" (Laws ix, 857D1-2) in order to provide them with a rational grasp of the principles underlying the lawgiver's account of the good life. For further discussion, see Bobonich 1991 and 1996. On the connection between truth and purity on the one hand, and accu- racy (aKpii8Eia) and clarity (a-aoivcta) on the other, see Cooper 1977, 712-4.

57 See Bobonich 1994. 58 Laws i, 644D7-645B 1 and vu, 804A4-B4. I would like to thank the audi- ence at Brown University where I delivered this lecture and a later audience at Stanford University, especially Julius Moravcsik and Jennifer Whiting. I am grateful to the Princeton University Center for Human Values for a Laurance S. Rockefeller Fellowship for 1994-1995 which supported the writing of this pa- per. I have benefited greatly from the comments of Sarah Broadie, Alan Code, Michael Della Rocca, Elijah Millgram, Don Morrison, Gopal Sreenivasan, and an anonymous referee. I am indebted to Martha Nussbaum for several very helpful discussions of this paper, to Jyl Gentzler who raised a number of signif icant and interesting issues in her comments and to John Cooper whose work on the Philebus as well as his conversations with me I found most valuable.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 18 18 3
Full Text Views 73 73 57
PDF Downloads 6 6 1
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0