Chapter

Plato on Rationality and Happiness

C. C. W. Taylor

in Pleasure, Mind, and Soul

Published in print January 2008 | ISBN: 9780199226399
Published online May 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780191710209 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199226399.003.0013
 Plato on Rationality and Happiness

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This chapter examines the relation between rationality and happiness in Plato's thought. In some early dialogues a correct conception of what happiness is, is sufficient to achieve it; hence all wrong-doing is caused by misconception or miscalculation, which are kinds of irrationality. In some dialogues, miscalculation is itself caused by inappropriate desires, which gives the latter motivational force, albeit not independent of cognitive irrationality. In the Republic and subsequent dialogues, non-rational impulses have independent motivational force, and rationality consists in co-ordinating them under the direction of reason to promote the individual's happiness. In the Republic, Plato is optimistic about the possibility of achieving that co-ordination, but other dialogues show a more pessimistic picture, in which one prominent type of non-rational drive, desire for bodily satisfaction, cannot be genuinely co-ordinated with reason, but can at best be suppressed. That pessimistic picture reflects a heightened insistence on the distinction between the rational soul (which alone is immortal, and which is identified with the real self) and the non-rational parts, which are temporary features of the embodied soul.

Keywords: irrationality; cognitive failure; desire; Socratic intellectualism; tri-partite soul; soul-chariot; immortal soul; Glaucus

Chapter.  7368 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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