Rational Desires

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  • 8/12/2019 Rational Desires


  • 8/12/2019 Rational Desires


    Pleasurend llusionnPlatoJESSICA MOSS

    Philosophynd PhenomenologicalesearchVol. LXXII,No. 3, May2006


    Plato linkspleasurewith llusion, nd this linkexplains his rejection of the view that alldesires are rational desires for thegood. The Protagoras and Gorgias show connectionsbetweenpleasure and illusion; theRepublic develops these into a psychological theory.One part of the soul is not only prone to illusions,but also incapable of the kind ofreasoning thatcan dispel them. Pleasure appears good; therefore thispart of the soul(the appetitive part) desires pleasures qua good but ignores reasoning about what isreally good. Hence the new moral psychology of the Republic: not all desires arerational, nd thus virtuedepends on bringing ne's non-rational desires under the con-trol of reason.

    IntroductionIn the many, deception seems to come about on account of pleasure. For while it is not thegood, itappears to be. They choose thepleasant as being good, then,and avoid pain as beingbad. Aristotle,Nicomachean Ethics 1113a33-b2)Plato s suspicious fpleasure. e devotes hewholeofthePhilebus nd asignificantortionftheGorgiasto attacks n hedonism. e declares hat"the oulof a true hilosopher...eeps wayfrom leasuresndappetitesndpains ndfears smuch s it an" Phaedo83b5-7) nddenounces leasure s"evil's greatesture"Timaeus69dl).1Andevenwhen cknowledginghatsomepleasuresregood,andthat hegood life thephilosopher'sife) ssupremelyleasant, eholds hat hevery est ife the ifeof thegods isa lifewith opleasuret all {Philebus 3b).2Why s Plato o mistrustfulfpleasure,ndwhydoes he devote o muchattentiono thetopic? ome havetakenhisconcernwithpleasure o stemfrom lainprudishness,rfromn excessive eactiongainst ontemporaryadvocatesfhedonism. y contrast, will argue hatPlato's suspicion f1 Translationsare mine unless otherwisenoted.2

    The apparent exception to Plato's general anti-hedonismis the Protagoras, in whichSocrates gives an argumentbased on the premise thatpleasure is not only good, but thegood. It is a testament o the strongly nti-hedonistic endency of the other dialogues,however, that this passage of the Protagoras has generated so much interpretativedebate.


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  • 8/12/2019 Rational Desires


    pleasureis systematic nd philosophical,and tiedto his most centralviews.Pleasure is dangerousbecause it is a deceiver. It leads us astraywith falseappearances,bewitching nd beguilingus, cheating nd tricking s.3 In par-ticular, tdeceives us byappearing obe good when t s not.This papertracesthedevelopment f the associationbetweenpleasureandillusion through hreedialogues, theProtagoras, Gorgias, and Republic. Iarguethat this association explains why Plato's account of the desire forpleasure thedesire for hings ua pleasant changesradicallybetweenthesedialogues, and thereby xplains a moregeneral hift n his theoryof virtueanddesirefrom heearly dialogues to the middle. While there re importantrefinementsf the association betweenpleasureand illusion in the Philebusand Laws, a discussion of those dialogues lies outside the scope of thispaper.)In theearlydialogues,Plato arguesthat ll desires including he desire forpleasure)are rationaldesires for the good. On this view of desire,vice ismerely matterfignorance boutgood and bad: once we learnwhichthingsarereallygood andbad,we can rely n our desires to lead us to virtue. n theRepublic, by contrast, lato arguesthat some desires,includingdesiresforpleasure understoodnow as belonging otheappetitive art f the soul),4 aredistinct rom nd can conflictwith rationaldesiresfor thegood. Correspond-ingly, heRepublic rejectsthe ntellectualistmoralpsychologyof theearlierdialogues: it holds thatvice is a matter f psychicdisorder, ot mere igno-rance,and thatvirtue an be achievedonlywhentheparts f the soul with thewrongkindof desires are ruledbythe bestpart f thesoul, reason.WhydoesPlato changehis view ofdesire nthisway? I will arguethat he is motivatedto do so byhisdeveloping thoughtsboutpleasureand illusion.Iftheaccount offer s correct, hen, he association betweenpleasureandillusion is central to Plato's thought.For the most part,however,the asso-ciation has been littlenoted,and,where t has been noted,not well under-stood.5The onlycontext nwhich the connectionhas been widely recognizedis Republic X, wherePlato seems to argue thatthe partof the soul thatdesirespleasure s thepartthat s deceivedby optical illusions. No satisfac-toryaccount has been given of whyPlato would groupthese traits ogether3 This s an accusation hat latomakesthroughouthedialogues.The soulis bewitched(yoriTEuoiiEvr))ythebody nd tspleasuresPhaedo 81b3);peopleare bewitchedndcharmedKr|Xr)6evTes)y pleasureRepublic 13c -2, f.Rep.584a10); pleasure doeswhatever erwillwishesbymeansofpersuasionwith eceit TT6i0oT eto andiTis)"(Laws 863b7-ll). In thePhilebus,Protarchusalls pleasure"the greatest mpostor"(ctAa^ovtoTaTov,Phil.65c5).See section 11 or xplanationnddefense f this laim.ShoreyndGosling ndTaylornotice ome spects fpleasure'sdeceptions,utmainlyinconnection ith odily leasuresnthePhaedo (Shorey1903:28,Gosling ndTaylor1982: 86); Pricenotesa connection etweenpleasureand illusion, ut only in theTimaeusPrice1995:86).504 JESSICAMOSS

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  • 8/12/2019 Rational Desires


    here, owever,nd ndeedmanynterpretersavefoundheclaim bizarre. sAnnasputs t,"desire asnothingo do with ptical llusions."6 y tracingthe onnectionsetween leasurend llusionntheProtagorasndGorgias,I providenaccounthatmakes ense fRepublicX's argument:show thaton Plato's viewthedesire or leasure oes, n fact, avemuch o do withoptical llusions.InSection, I show hat lato ssociates leasurend llusionn thePro-tagorasnorderoexplainwhydesires orpleasureeadpeopleastray:whenwepursue armfulrvicious leasuresnstead fdoingwhat s good,wedoso becausewe havebeendeceived y llusions eneratedypleasantndpain-fulthings. ections I and II argue hat heGorgiasandRepublicexpandthis dea,with n importantevision.Whereasccordingo theProtagorasrational alculation as thepowerto overcome he illusions nherentnpleasure, o thattheyno longer ffect ur desires, hese aterdialoguesdevelop n account fwhy hedesire orpleasures subject o illusion hatentails very ifferentiewof that esire. leasure ppears o be goodevenwhen t snot section I); onepart f our souls is inherentlyusceptibleoillusion, nd mmune o thecorrectiveffectsfreasoning;hispart f thesoulthereforeesires leasuresgood, ndwhen hispart ules ur souls wepursue leasuresection II). Furthermore,lthoughhispartof the souldesires leasure s good, ts ognitiveimitationsits nabilityo see beyondappearancesrendertsdesires nfit o leadtheagent owardwhat s trulygood sectionV). OncePlatoadopts hisviewof thedesire orpleasure, erejectshe ntellectualistsychologyfthe arlier ialoguesnd thetheoryfvirtuet entails, ndin theRepublicdefines irtue s the state n whichreason ules he ower,nonrationalarts f the soul. SectionV traces hehistoryfthe deathat leasureppears ood n laterGreek hought;n thelast ection indicate lato's viewson themetaphysicalspect fpleasure'sdeceptions.

    I. Pleasureand illusion n theProtagorasIn order o understandheProtagoras' ccount fthedesire orpleasure,wemust istinguishwoviews fthis esiremplicitn thediscussion fpleas-ure tProtagoras 51bff.This is thepassage n whichSocrates, rguingfromhepremisehat leasuresthegood,maintainshat o one everfails odowhat e knowss bestbecausehe s"overcome y pleasure,"ndthatvir-tue sthereforematterfknowledge.7e directs is rgumentgainst opu-6

    Annas1981: 339.Why oes Socrates remise is rgumentnthe laim hat leasures thegood,whichheexplicitlyontradictsnother ialogues, ncludingne considered oughly ontempora-neous, heGorgias 495e-499b)?1willnot address thisquestionhere,as it does notdirectlyear nmydiscussionf thedesirefor leasure.PLEASURE AND ILLUSION IN PLATO 505

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  • 8/12/2019 Rational Desires


  • 8/12/2019 Rational Desires


    consequenton an actwilloutweigh hepains,she will become virtuous. Theverydesirethatnow leads her straywillthen ead her oward hegood.8Whydo people make mistakesabout whichthingswill best gratifyheirdesires whydo we need an artof measuremento guide us in our choices?Andwhy, f the desireforpleasure s in facta desire for morepleasurethanpain overall,do themanyfalselythink f it as a desire for mmediategratifi-cation?Plato answersbothquestionswiththeclaim that we are subject tosystematicllusionsaboutpleasures.Things of thesame size appear toyour sightto be bigger fromnearby, and smaller fromafar,don't they?... f then our well-being lay in this,doing and choosing the large things, voidingand notdoing the small, what would appear to be our salvation in life? The art of measure-ment,or thepower of whatappears [or "of appearance" (toO cpaivopevou)]? (Prot. 356c5-d4)Pleasantandpainful hings reanalogous to theobjects of vision: those thatarenear in time)appear arger han hose that re far way. Thus, while whatpeople reallycare about