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Chapter 4 - Plato and the dairy-maids: the distribution of happiness inside and outside the ideal city of the Republic

from Part I - The Republic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 March 2022

Myles Burnyeat
Affiliation:
All Souls College, Oxford
Carol Atack
Affiliation:
Newnham College, Cambridge
Malcolm Schofield
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
David Sedley
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

Does Plato in the Republic restrict to philosophers alone the possibility of achieving happiness in this life and the next? It is often thought so. But if that were the case, the dialogue would fail on its own terms, in its task of persuading the interlocutors Glaucon and Adeimantus that they should cultivate justice, not (as Thrasymachus argues) injustice. They are not philosophers, nor envisaged as likely to achieve the level of rational understanding that is the precondition of happiness. In truth, however, there is plentiful, if scattered, evidence that an approximation to perfect happiness is available for various categories of people figuring in the Republic who have not attained what the dialogue counts as knowledge, ranging from Socrates himself, to trainee philosophers and warriors, to farmers and craftsmen. The requirement to be satisfied is the habit of respect for the law, not from fear of its punitive powers, but internalised as the way to lead a life of justice.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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