Colloquium 1 The Place of Pleasure and Knowledge in the Fourfold Ontological Model of Plato’s Philebus

In: Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
Cristina Ionescu The Catholic University of America 

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Plato’s Philebus develops an ontological model in four terms to account for “all the things that are now in the all” (23c4). The fourfold model consists of Limit, the Unlimited, the Mixture of these two, and the Cause of the mixture. Traditional interpretations place pleasure in the class of the Unlimited and knowledge either in that of Limit or, sometimes, in that of the Cause of mixtures. The aim of my paper is twofold: (a) it challenges the received interpretation and defends instead the view that pleasures, insofar as they are true, are placed in the class of Mixtures, while knowledge and its cognates are among Causes of mixtures, and (b) it explores some of the major implications of the right placement of pleasure and knowledge on the metaphysical map. In particular, I argue that Socrates’ identification of pleasure as a Mixture and of knowledge as Cause of mixtures accounts for the fact that we witness throughout the dialogue a gradual progression from the initial absolutely unbridgeable distance between pleasure and knowledge to an intimate collaboration between them. I suggest that this shift reflects a transition from the Phileban conception of pleasure as thoughtless thrill or sensation to the Platonic understanding of pleasure as cognitively structured experience that depends on our beliefs not only about factual situations, but also about the meaning and value of such situations for life generally.

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