Comparing Lives in Plato, Laws 5

In: Phronesis
James Warren Corpus Christi College Cambridge, CB2 1RH UK

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In Laws 5 (732d-734e), the Athenian argues in favour of virtuous over vicious lives on the basis that the former are preferable to the latter when we consider the pleasures and pains in each. This essay offers an interpretation of the argument which does not attribute to the Athenian an exclusively hedonist axiology. It argues for a new reading of the division of ‘types of life’ at 733c-d and suggests that the Athenian relies on the conclusion established earlier in the Laws that we humans take pleasure in harmony and order. Virtuous lives exhibit just such harmony and order and are therefore always more pleasant than and preferable to vicious lives.

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