Plato and the Good: Illuminating the Darkling Vision

Plato and the Good: Illuminating the Darkling Vision

Plato and the Good: Illuminating the Darkling Vision

Plato and the Good: Illuminating the Darkling Vision


This book is an original interpretation of Plato's enigmatic statements about the idea of the Good. Desjardins starts by reconciling two notoriously difficult and different accounts of the dialectical method found in the Philebus and The Republic. She then shows how they are connected to the four forms of god-given mania in the Phaedrus. Desjardins links god-given mania and the dialectical method to the concept of piety in the Euthyphro and to Plato's defense of Socrates piety in the Apology. Desjardins interpretation of the idea of the Good that is presented by Plato in words (logoi) and through dramatic action (erga) is compelling and will inspire everyone interested in Plato's dialogues and the idea of the Good.


Tradition tells of the legendary hero Prometheus who, in pity for defenceless humankind, brought us the gift of stolen fire from heaven (cf. Protag.321c7–322a3; Phil.16c6–7). So too, Plato tells us, ancient philosophers dwelling nearer to the gods than later mortals, have shared with us the god-given flame of their enlightenment (Phil.16c7–8; cf. Soph.254a9; Ep.VII,341c7–d1; 344b7). For every human being this is now our heritage (cf. Rep.VII,527d7–e1; VI,505d11–e1; Phaedr.249e4– 250a1), although the brilliance of that final revelation remains for us as yet a darkling vision (Phaedr.250b1–c4).

In a previous study* I sought to explore Plato’s understanding of the work of reason, and what it would mean to attain to knowledge. In this continuation of that search, while everything in that earlier work is reiterated and (I believe) confirmed, the pursuit now focuses on the conditions and constraints that make possible, and ineluctably shape, that enterprise of becoming most fully human.

The fulcrum for both studies lies in the Philebus’ account of dialectical method which, Socrates tells us, he has “always loved … and sought to follow” (Phil.16b5–7). An analysis of the Philebus therefore opens the argument, establishing thereby the foundation for the rest of the work. But just as the Philebus itself is riven with the elusive question of the Good, so this inquiry too centers around the puzzle of the Good: What is the nature and role of this “Good”, this principle which Plato sees as condition and goal of the philosophic, and indeed of any truly happy, human life? The enigma of the Good therefore frames my entire undertaking.

* The Rational Enterprise: Logos in Plato’s Theaetetus (Albany, State University of New York Press, 1990).

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