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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2013

David Wolfsdorf
Temple University
E-mail address:


At Republic 9, 583b1–587a2, Socrates argues that the pleasure of the philosophical life is the truest pleasure. I will call this the ‘true pleasure argument’. The true pleasure argument is divisible into two parts: 583b1–585a7 and 585a8–587a2. Each part contains a sub-argument, which I will call ‘the misperception argument’ and ‘the true filling argument’ respectively. In the misperception argument Socrates argues that it is characteristic of irrational men to misperceive as pleasant what in fact is a condition of neither having pleasure nor being pained. In the true filling argument Socrates argues that in so far as pleasure entails somatic or psychic filling and there are more and less true fillings, there are more and less true pleasures. Philosophical filling is the truest filling and thus the truest pleasure. The misperception argument critically contributes to the true pleasure argument by clarifying what pleasure is not: merely an appearance (φαινόμενον) or merely the absence of pain. The misperception argument thereby clears the ground for the constructive contribution of the true filling argument.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2013

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1 Adam, J., The Republic of Plato 2 (Cambridge, 1902)Google Scholar; Murphy, N.R., An Interpretation of Plato's Republic (Oxford, 1951), ch. 10Google Scholar; Tenkku, J., The Evaluation of Pleasure in Plato's Ethics (Helsinki, 1956), ch. 6Google Scholar; Cross, R.C. and Woozley, A.D., Plato's Republic (St Andrews, 1964), 266–9Google Scholar; White, N., A Companion to Plato's Republic (Indianapolis, 1979), 229–33Google Scholar; Annas, J., An Introduction to Plato's Republic (Oxford, 1981), 310–14Google Scholar; Gosling, J.C.B. and Taylor, C.C.W., The Greeks on Pleasure (Oxford, 1982), 97128CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Reeve, C.D.C., Philosopher-Kings (Princeton, 1988), 146–53Google Scholar; Stokes, M., ‘Some pleasures of Plato, Republic IX’, Polis 9 (1990), 251Google Scholar; de Luise, F., ‘I piaceri giusti e l'esperienza del filosofo’, in Vegetti, M. (ed.), La Repubblica 4 (Naples, 2007), 539–91, esp. at 555–61Google Scholar; Butler, J., ‘On whether pleasure's esse is percipi: rethinking Republic 583b–585a’, Ancient Philosophy 19 (1999), 285–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Parry, R.D., ‘The unhappy tyrant and the craft of inner rule’, in Ferrari, G.R.F. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato's Republic (Cambridge, 2007), 386414, esp. at 407–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Cf. Taylor, C.C.W., ‘Plato and Aristotle on the criterion of real pleasures’, Actes du VIIe Congrès de la Fédération Internationale des Associations d'Études Classiques (Budapest, 1984), 345–56Google Scholar; Moss, J., ‘Pleasure and illusion in Plato’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 72 (2006), 503–35, esp. at 516–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar. (The present paper was submitted to Classical Quarterly in January 2011 and accepted for publication in August 2011. Since then, two relevant noteworthy papers have been published, whose contents I have not been able to incorporate: Warren, J., ‘Socrates and the patients: Republic IX, 583c–585a’, Phronesis 56 [2011], 113–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Erginel, M.M., ‘Inconsistency and ambiguity in Republic IX’, CQ 61 [2011], 493520CrossRefGoogle Scholar.)

2 I use the word ‘untrue’ rather than ‘false’ throughout the paper. Socrates never uses the word ψευδές in the true pleasure argument, only οὐκ ἀληθές and the like.

3 Here and throughout I add text in angle brackets to enhance intelligibility.

4 I know of only two scholars who have acknowledged problems with the puzzling argument: Adam (n. 1), 350 and Butler (n. 1), 291–3.

5 Butler (n. 1), 291 appears to be concerned with this problem: ‘Socrates' derivation of <(10)> from <(8) and (9)> is rather obscure.’ But in fact he is concerned with a different problem. He continues (ibid.): ‘How are we to understand that, according to the views under consideration, the <calm> will be sometimes both pleasure and pain?’ But Butler's treatment of this problem is actually more closely related to my second problem.

6 It would be strange for Socrates to make such a mistake. Cf. Grg. 448e6–7.

7 No scholar has noted this problem. However, Gosling and Taylor (n. 1), 113 are poised to recognize it: ‘At first (583c–e) we are introduced to people in a depleted state, looking forward to what is in fact a state of quiescence only, and not a pleasure, as pleasant.’

8 I emphasize that this charitable interpretation, which is consistent with the Greek, is most likely not an accurate interpretation of the argument. I think that Socrates employs (10) and (11) in the argument, not (10r) and (11r). Thus, Socrates' argument is problematic in this respect.

9 Cf. Butler (n. 1), 291: ‘There is nothing absurd about something which is neither X nor Y, sometimes being X and at other times being Y. For example, a man of average height is neither tall nor short. Yet, compared to a child the man is tall; compared to a professional basketball player, he is short.’

10 Among commentators, Stokes (n. 1), 33–4 comes closest to recognizing this feature of Socrates' argument. In contrast, Butler's (n. 1) failure to recognize this feature of the argument (at 291–2) misleads him to suggest that the impossibility expressed in (11) results from the fact that one can make contrary and thus unrealizable predictions.

11 Recall our consideration above that in contrast to calm, pleasure and pain might be conditions of agitation. I use the word ‘intrinsic’ to differentiate the relational terms in which Socrates characterizes calm as distinct from pain and pleasure in (3) and the way he characterizes calm as distinct from pain and pleasure here.

12 Note that (13) confirms the inference drawn above that pleasure and pain, like calm, are psychic, that is, conditions of the soul. But this should not be taken to preclude the possibility of pleasure, pain and calm having somatic as well as psychic components.

13 Socrates refers to Zeuxis at Grg. 453c6. Cf. Prt. 318b7.

14 Cf. Keuls, E., ‘Skiagraphia once again’, AJA 79 (1975), 116CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Cf. also Pemberton, E.G., ‘A note on skiagraphia’, AJA 80 (1976), 82–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Butler (n. 1), 288 n. 10 suggests that Socrates' προησθήσεις and προλυπήσεις are in fact not anticipatory pleasures and pains. He offers two reasons. First, ‘it is possible that in <the true pleasure> argument Plato was unaware of (or perhaps ignored) representative pleasure and concentrated on non-representative pleasure … προησθήσεις … often translated as “anticipatory pleasure”, are representational’. Second, ‘pre-enjoyings’ are ‘said to be the same (ταὐτά) as other releases from pain … But anticipatory pleasure is not a release from pain at all; if anything an anticipatory pleasure for drink intensifies my thirst’. Later in the paper I argue that in the misperception argument one way in which pleasure is untrue is that it is representationally untrue. Thus, I find Butler's first reason unacceptable. Regarding Butler's second point, as I have just suggested, Socrates is not claiming that pre-enjoyings are releases from pain. Rather, they are pleasures taken in anticipated releases of pain.

16 τὸ πληροῦσθαι τῶν φύσει προσηκόντων ἡδύ ἐστι (585d11). Note that this is a crucial assumption of the true filling argument; Socrates does not argue for this claim.

17 (24e), unlike (24d), seems false since, for example, the acquisition of knowledge constitutes an alteration of the soul.

18 We can reasonably assume that what is immutable participates in being to the full extent and thus that knowledge does. But the argument doesn't require this.

19 I offer more support for my identification of being and truth below.

20 I discuss this crucial and faulty premise further below.

21 (q) is perhaps a controversial case. I interpret Socrates to mean that the Trojans and Greeks are ignorant of the fact that the entity they take to be Helen is actually a copy. And I take this to imply that the Trojans have false beliefs about the entity that they take to be Helen.

22 Other independent uses in Republic occur at 475e4, 485c4, 10, 485d3, 486d7, 487a5, 490a1, b6, 501d2, 508d5, e1, 4, 5, 509a1, 7, 9, 511e3, 519b8, 517c4, 525b1, c6, 526b3, 527b9, e3, 581b6, 582a10, 597a11, 602c2, 603a11.

23 (τοῦ) ἀεὶ ὁμοίου at 585c1–2, 7; ἀθανάτου at 585c2; οὐσίας at 585c12.

24 The implication is actually based on a negative claim: if something partakes less of truth, then it partakes less of being.

25 Socrates is here referring to the carpenter's bed; cf. 605a10. Other passages in the middle dialogues where Plato identifies ἀλήθεια and οὐσία include: Cra. 438d2–440c1, Prm. 134a3–b2.

26 See Hestir, B., ‘Plato and the split personality of ontological alêtheia’, Apeiron 37 (2004), 109–50, at 120CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 G. Vlastos, ‘Degrees of reality in Plato’, § 1. First published in Bambrough, R. (ed.), New Essays on Plato and Aristotle (New York, 1969), 119Google Scholar; reprinted in Platonic Studies (Princeton, 19812), 58–75.

28 The OED (s.v. 5a) well captures this meaning of ‘true’: ‘genuine; rightly answering to the description; properly so called; not counterfeit, spurious, or imaginary’. Note that there are two meanings of the phrase ‘true friend’. One, meaning ‘faithful’ or ‘loyal’, adheres more closely to the etymology: Old English ‘tréowe’, meaning ‘faithful’ derives from the noun ‘tréow’ meaning ‘faith’ or ‘covenant’ (see OED s.v. 1a.).

29 In this case, one forms beliefs and make statements on the basis of true or untrue Fs, and those beliefs and statements are true or false accordingly.

30 Szaif, J., Platons Begriff der Wahrheit (Munich, 1996), 4956Google Scholar; cf. also id., Die Geschichte des Wahrheitsbegriffs in der klassischen Antike’, in Enders, M. and Szaif, J. (edd.), Die Geschichte des philosophischen Begriffs der Wahrheit (Berlin, 2006), 132CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 Szaif gives other examples on pp. 51–2.

32 ‘der vermischte Rot-Ton ist, wenn auch in eingeschränkter Weise, ein Fall von Rot’ (ibid. 53).

33 On the purity and unmixed nature of the Forms, Vlastos cites Phd. 67b (cf. 66a), 78d; Symp. 211b, e; Resp. 523c–e.

34 On the use of ἀλήθεια with a complementary noun in the genitive and its relation to the logically attributive use of ἀληθές, cf. Szaif (n. 30 [1996]), 57–67; and specifically with respect to the phrase ἡδονῆς ἀλήθεια in (b), cf. p. 58.

35 Aesch. Sept. 722; Supp. 86.

36 Indeed, the top position cases seem to suggest that although we can distinguish confirmative and paradigmatic uses, Plato may not recognize the difference.

37 Socrates does not provide physiological details, but compare Timaeus' account of digestion at Ti. 80d3–81a3.

38 Timaeus' and Socrates' explanations of bodily pleasure and pain at Ti. 64c7–d2 and Phlb. 31d4–9 corroborate this.

39 Compare Socrates' reference at (17) to bodily quasi-pleasures that ‘extend through the body to the soul’.

40 Socrates' claim that pleasure is not a relief from pain, nor pain a relief from pleasure occurs at Resp. 584b3.

41 εἴδωλα at Resp. 516a7, 520c4, 532b7, 605c3; εἴδωλον at 382b10, 386d5, 443c4, 587d6, 598b8, 599a7; εἰδώλου at 534c5, 599d3, 601b9; εἰδώλῳ at 587c9; εἰδώλων at 532c2, 599a7, 600e5.

42 For evidence that Socrates regards appearances as properties of objects, cf. Resp. 598b6–8.

43 Page, D.L., Poetae melici Graeci (Oxford, 1962)Google Scholar, fr. 16; cf. also Eur. El. 1282–3; Isoc. Hel. 64.

44 Cf. 584e1, 8.

45 Cf. ἐγκωμιάζουσιν at 583d8.

46 Cf. Moss (n. 1), 519 n. 27.

47 Cf. Ganson, T.S., ‘The rational/non-rational distinction in Plato's Republic’, OSAPh 36 (2009), 179–97Google Scholar.

48 Cf. Euthd. 283e7–284d7; Cra. 429d–430a; Tht. 188d1–189b2. The problem is solved or partially solved at Soph. 236d9–241b4.

49 Grote, G., Plato and Other Companions of Socrates (London, 1875), 602Google Scholar; Murphy (n. 1), 221; White (n. 1) at times seems to imply this. I derive the citation to Grote from Butler (n. 1), 286, who suggests (n. 5) that Cross and Woozley (n. 1), Irwin, T., Plato's Moral Theory (Oxford, 1977)Google Scholar, Frede, D., Plato: Philebus (Indianapolis, 1993)Google Scholar and Gosling and Taylor (n. 1) all hold this view ‘to some degree’.

50 Tenkku (n. 1), 156; Cross and Woozley (n. 1), 267; Annas (n. 1), 312; Gosling and Taylor (n. 1), 109; Reeve (n. 1), 148.

51 White (n. 1), 231, Annas (n. 1), 312 and Reeve (n. 1), 151 speaks of ‘substantiality’ in a way that suggests stability: ‘It is a true pleasure just in case it always and unalterably satisfies.’ Cross and Woozley (n. 1), 267 claim that pleasure is real (= ontologically true) ‘if it characterizes an activity concerned with real objects’. Cf. Tenkku (n. 1), 159: ‘only pure pleasures are truly satisfying’. Generally speaking, although all commentators on the Republic as a whole have something to say about the true pleasure argument, only Gosling and Taylor (n. 1) have discussed the argument in detail. Reeve's (n. 1) comments are relatively in depth. Stokes's (n. 1) discussion is idiosyncratic and focusses on excising the word καθαράν at 584c1. I do not find his suggestion convincing.

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