Plato on Pleasure and the Good Life

Plato on Pleasure and the Good Life

Plato on Pleasure and the Good Life

Plato on Pleasure and the Good Life


Daniel Russell develops a fresh and original view of pleasure and its pivotal role in Plato's treatment of value, happiness, and human psychology. This is the first full-length discussion of the topic for fifty years, and Russell shows its relevance to contemporary debates in moral philosophy and philosophical psychology. Plato on Pleasure and the Good Life will make fascinating reading for ancient specialists and for a wide range of philosophers.


A good life includes pleasure. Surely if there is consensus on anything about living well, it would be on that. We reflect on our lives and plan for our futures, and none of us is indifferent to either the joys we have known—they make our memories sweet—or the joys we want our plans and projects to make room for. But while such observations can begin reflection on pleasure and the good life, still they are only a beginning, and here begins the real work of figuring out just what sort of place pleasure should have in the good life. And it is at precisely this point that Plato has a lot to tell us. There is, I believe, a plausible and compelling account of pleasure and the good life that emerges from a close reading of several of Plato's dialogues, an account whose distinctive and important features may well be missed on a steady diet of many of the 'standard' modern approaches to pleasure in moral philosophy. So while Plato's view is of obvious scholarly interest, it also proves to be of interest to those interested in a philosophical understanding of pleasure and its value, more generally.

For that reason, I shall begin the present work first by exploring the nature of pleasure at a common-sense level, and then, once we have seen what sorts of questions we need a more theoretically complete and rigorous account of pleasure to answer, by giving a brief overview of how Plato addresses them. In this way I hope to make clear at the outset the sort of interpretation, at a general level, that I shall defend in the rest of the book, to point up what kinds of argumentative burdens one assumes in seeking to motivate and articulate that sort of view, and to suggest what Plato has to offer us as we try to make up our own minds about what kind of thing pleasure is and what kind of place it should have in a good life.

0.1 Why Pleasure Matters

I said at the outset that a good life includes pleasure. To some this will sound like an understatement, and to most it will seem obvious. After all, everyone likes to laugh, everyone enjoys a treat from time to time, everyone has a fancy that he or she will indulge on occasion. But pleasure is important not only, and I think

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