20 March 2006

Lesen ist schwer

Supposedly James Ward would frequently greet Bertrand Russell by citing Kant, Denken is schwer. I also want to say, over and over again, Lesen ist schwer.

Yet another example of this. I have been looking at Gosling and Taylor, The Greeks on Pleasure, for insight into the question I raised earlier, on whether Plato differs from Aristotle in this important point of denying that mere thinking is inherently pleasant. As I pointed out, that seems to be the view of the Philebus, and it is strikingly different from Aristotle's notion that contemplation is a kind of bliss. I also pointed out in a later post that the Phaedo in an incidental way seems to express a view like that of the Philebus.

Now Gosling and Taylor say something different, yet their view is based on an obvious misreading of the text. (But they are careful readers. Thus: Lesen ist schwer.) Here is what they say:

... intellectual pleasures and desires are at least mentioned in the Phaedo ... Perhaps the most significant passage is 114e, where Socrates gives at least a hint of the role of pleasure in the good life by his statement that the man who has ignored bodily pleasures and cultivated those of the intellect can face death with confidence. Bodily pleasures and generally the things of the body are 'alien' to the soul; by contrast intellectual pleasures and the practice of the virtues 'really belong to it.' This indicates, firstly, that the philosophic life will be pleasant, and it may be, if the hints about the unreality of bodily pleasures do point in the direction suggested, that it alone will be really pleasant... (87).
But here is the passage:

a)lla\ tou/twn dh\ e(/neka qarrei=n xrh\ peri\ th=| e(autou= yuxh=|a)/ndra o(/stij e)n tw=| bi/w| ta\j me\n a)/llaj h(dona\j ta\j peri\ to\ sw=ma kai\ tou\j ko/smouj ei)/ase xai/rein, w(j a)llotri/ouj te o)/ntaj, kai\ ple/on qa/teron h(ghsa/menoj a)perga/zesqai, ta\j de\ peri\ to\ manqa/nein e)spou/dase/ te kai\ kosmh/saj th\n yuxh\n ou)k a)llotri/w| a)lla\ tw=| au)th=j ko/smw|, swfrosu/nh| te kai\dikaiosu/nh| kai\ a)ndrei/a| kai\ e)leuqeri/a| kai\ a)lhqei/a|, ou(/tw perime/nei th\n ei)j (/Aidou porei/an [w(j poreuso/menoj o(/tan h( ei(marme/nh kalh=|].

This then is why a man should be of good cheer about his soul, who in his life [114e] has rejected the pleasures and ornaments of the body, thinking they are alien to him and more likely to do him harm than good, and has sought eagerly for those of learning, and after adorning his soul with no alien ornaments, but with its own proper adornment of self-restraint and justice and [115a] courage and freedom and truth, awaits his departure to the other world, ready to go when fate calls him.
And you'll note two things. First, Plato does not mention here 'intellectual pleasures' but rather, ostensibly, 'pleasures of learning'. (The phrase perhaps means something more, but that would require argument. In the Philebus, it apparently means 'pleasures of learning' only--pleasures that come from the process of acquiring knowledge.) Second, his remark about what 'belongs to the soul' is confined to the virtues; he does not say this about the pleasures mentioned.

So Gosling and Taylor are wrong about both points they wish to make about this passage, because, it seems, they simply have not read it correctly.