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Plato on Commensurability and Desire Author(s): Martha C.

Nussbaum and Rosalind Hursthouse Reviewed work(s): Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 58 (1984), pp. 55-96 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Aristotelian Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4106844 . Accessed: 30/04/2012 00:40
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PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE Martha C. Nussbaum and Rosalind Hursthouse I-Martha C. Nussbaum
And look: I gave them numbering, chief of all the strategems. Bound Prometheus, in Aeschylus, Prometheus Every circumstance by which the condition of an individual can be influenced, being remarked and inventoried, nothing... [is] left to chance, caprice, or unguided discretion, everything being surveyedand set down in dimension, number, weight, and measure. Jeremy Bentham, PauperManagement Improved

If ethical values are all commensurable, differing from one another only in quantity, what differencedoes this make?'Plato gives us a stark and simple answer. The adoption of an ethical 'science of measurement', at the heart of which is the belief in commensurability, is both necessary and sufficient for 'saving our lives' i.e. for giving human beings a life that will be free of certain intolerable pains and confusions. Here I propose to examine one aspect of Plato's 'life-saving'project:namely, some
Luck 'Much of the material in this paper is drawn from my The Fragilityof Goodness: andPhilosophy, in Greek andtheGoodLife forthcomingCambridge University Press, Tragedy and ch. 6 on the Symposium; there is also some 1985; especially from ch. 4 on the Protagoras from ch. 7, and on Aristotle from chs. 10-12. A versionof use of material on the Phaedrus ch. 6 was previously published as 'The Speech of Alcibiades: a Reading of Plato's 3 (1978-9); a somewhat different version of ch. 7 andLiterature in Philosophy Symposium,' was published as "'This Story Isn't True": Poetry, Goodness, and Understanding in in PlatoonBeauty,Wisdom, andtheArts,ed. J. Moravcsik and P. Temko Plato's Phaedrus,' (Totowa 1982). The interpretative issues are all more fully defended in the book, with much referenceto and discussionof the secondaryliterature. I thereforehope that fellow workers on these dialogues will forgive me if I confine myself here to brief acknowledgement of the sources that have been most important for my work. For the these are: C. C. W. Taylor's volume in the Clarendon Plato Series (Oxford Protagoras (Oxford 1977). David Wiggins's 'Weakness 1976), and T. H. Irwin, Plato'sMoral Theory of Will, Commensurability, and the Objects of Deliberation and Desire' (PAS 79 (1978-9) 251-77) has several points of intersection with this paper; I first read an earlier draft of it in 1974, long before I began developing these views, and returned to the published piece only recently, at the stage of final revision. I am not aware of a direct influence; but there may have been some. In any case, conversations with Wiggins on this and related topics over the years have been an invaluable source of encouragement and illumination.

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alleged connections between the belief in the commensurability of value and the nature of the human emotions. It is Plato's idea, I shall argue, that the belief in commensurability cuts very deep: taken seriously,it will transformour passionsas well as our decision-making, giving emotions such as love, fear, grief, and hence the ethical problems that are connected with them, an altogether different character. We shall begin with the investigating the connection between the adoption of Protagoras, a quantitative measure of value and the elimination of the and Republic, problem of akrasia.Next, turning to the Symposium we shall see how commensurability reformsseveral of the most vexing emotions, especially passionate love and grief.To pursue Plato's argumentswill yield two philosophical dividends. It will enrich our discussion of the connections between emotion and belief, typically focussed upon the beliefs that are closely associated with each particular emotion, by showing how a certain background belief functions as a necessary condition of much of our ordinary emotional life. And it will remind us that certain proposals in ethics and social choice theory that present themselves as innocuous extensions of ordinary belief and practice could actually lead, followed and lived with severity and rigor, to the end of human life as we currently know it. I The stage was set, historically, for Plato's attempt.2 The fifth century had seen considerable discussion of what was required for the establishment of a successful techne,i.e. of an orderly systematization of practice in some area that would yield increased control over the ungoverned aspects of human existence. In this debate the role of commensurability as criterion of rationality and index of progress was great. The medical writers, for example, are on the defensive, feeling the need to argue that their science is a real science (techne) and can make belief in its really progressbeyond ordinary spiteof lack of a And in measure. the connection between general quantitative
from ch. 4 of the 2This is a condensation of a detailed historical discussion of techne book, where there are extensive references to other Platonic passages, to many other ancient authors, and to the literature. Cf. also the related discussion in my 'Eleatic Conventionalism and Philolaus on the Conditions of Thought,' HarvardStudiesin 83 (1979) 63-108, esp. 89-91. Classical Philology

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number and order, between the ability to count or measure and the ability to grasp, comprehend, or control, runs very deep in Greek thought about human understanding. It pervades literature from Homer on; it lies at the heart of Pythagorean epistemology, of which Plato was probably a seriousstudent. An examination of fifth and early fourth-century uses of words associated with measure and commensurability reveals that they come freighted with heavy evaluative associations.What is measurable or commensurable is graspable, in order, good; what is without measure is boundless, elusive, chaotic, threatening, bad. The tremendous anxiety brought about by the discovery of incommensurability (and therefore 'irrationality') in the subject matter of mathematics, the clearest of the sciences, testifies to the power and pervasivenessof such beliefs. Given this situation, it is hardly surprising that someone who wanted to claim that he had developed a rational techne making progress in some area would feel obliged to answer questions about the measurability of the subject matter. And it would be natural that, confronted with a subject matter as confusing in its variety and indeterminacy as human valuation and choice, a thinker with an interest in order and progressshould ask himself whether this area of our lives could be, or become, a science of measurement.
II

The subject of the Protagoras is the establishment of a techne of Each of the two has an interest practical reasoning. protagonists in such a science. Protagoras claims that he teaches it; Socrates claims at least to know what it would be like to have and to teach it. Each has quite a different conception of what such a science would be like and how it would speak to our ethical difficulties. seems to involve little more than a reflective Protagoras' techne elaboration of the ethical statusquo;it leaves intact and tries to show the point of the plurality of (apparently incommensurable) values recognized in ordinary belief. Socrates evidently believes that this is insufficient: the urgency of our ethical difficulties of measurement. The requires the life-saving power of a techne relevance of a science of measurement to the resolutions of ethical disagreements and uncertainties is evident; the analogy was pressed in this connection already in the Euthyphro (7B-D),

A knows that x is better (overall). an argument that this problem does not really arise. and fear-but Socrates. on two crucial premises: H: Pleasure is identical with the good. as alternatives. The problem is a familiar one. Much has been written about this argument. as described. third. the absence of any sustained examination of the nature of pleasure and its intuitive credentials makes us suspect that pleasure is introduced less for its intrinsic appeal than for its promising status as single measure of value. the problem of akrasia.' Protagoras and Socrates have explicitly agreed. It is quite clear that this premise is seriously endorsed by Socrates.232 ff. 4. 351C. But a surprisingfurther Socrates is the removal of a dividend promised by the Protagoras further deep ethical problem. regarded by all as a seriousproposal of Socrates'. we need to say. to whose formulation mine will be close. ' of Plato'sDoctrines My position is close to that of I. an alternative diagnosis of practical error. briefly. . 357A. Irwin. what the net result of these discussionshas been. M.) Knowledge. To see how the resolution of this problem is connected with Socrates' interest in measurementwe must look closely at the argument in which Socrates purports to show us that this problem does not.4 And yet. then. 4Cf. is 'dragged around like a slave. whose structure now seems to be well understood. because she is overcome by pleasure.5 The conclusion of the 3See esp. there is a full discussion of texts and critics in ch. Crombie. love. a description of the problem. from the outset. an important Socratic doctrine. who links the analysis of the argument to an excellent discussion of measurement. The argument falls into three stages: first. second.3But before we can probe into the issue of commensurability. occur: scientific knowledge of the good is sufficient for correct choice. quite reasonably in light of the hedonist agreement. pain. This is important. NUSSBAUM and it is more than an analogy here. A can do either x ory. but choosesy. An Examination (London 1962) 1. speaks only of quantities of pleasure in what follows. and absolutely crucial to the validity of the argument for the conclusion. and Taylor. Hi: A believes pleasure to be identical with the good. (The first statement of the problem adds.58 I-MARTHA C.

7We have reason. we might begin to reflect that perhaps Socrates (like Bentham and Sidgwick) is less interested in our current intuitions about ends than he is in giving us a gift that will save our lives. ubiquitous. If we find it odd that Socrates can feel confident about the form that an ethical science will take before establishing that there is a candidate for the standard that is unitary and omnipresent in the requisiteway. Zeus (in Protagoras' story) did not require that justice be already a central human concern when he decided to make the attachment to justice a linch-pin of his saving techne. Now. Ma. .' At first we do not see what the absurdity is: for isn't this. he now asks. The post-Socratic history of the ethical measuring science shows that its appeal as standard of choice is deep.6 Such a science needs a measure of value that will be single. Is the good iny.the elaboration and defense of the particular choice of a standard is posteriorand not really attempted here. 1971) 554-60. 'What ridiculous nonsense. 7 See the discussionof pleasure as standard of choice in John Rawls. substituting 'good' for 'pleasant' to produce an absurdity in the description of what allegedly happens: A knows x is more good than y. Socrates uses these premises. so that we neglect our commitment to the good that is better overall. A Theory ofJustice (Cambridge. even among thinkersnot otherwise hedonistically inclined (Mill.e. showing us what he means by 'overcome'. and that he ought not to do it. in a way. to suspect that Plato's choice of pleasure is motivated first and foremost by his commitment to commensurability. because she is overcome by (desire for) the good in y. in the crucial second phase of the argument. A chooses y. then. Pleasure is as good as anything might be for such a measure. inferior]. knowing it is bad [i. a match for the badness involved in missing out on x? No: for this 6 356DE: the metretike is both necessary and sufficient for saving our lives (soteria techne tou biou). because he was overcome by good.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 59 argument is that we desperately need a science that weighs and measures using a single standard. Sidgwick).' Socrates now remarks. and relevant to the choices in question. just what happens in akrasia?This other good over here exerts a special kind of pull that draws us to it. 'for a person to do the bad. But we must look at how Socrates himself explains the absurdity.

my formulation here is indebted to Irwin's. Just as adverse physical conditions sometimes give rise to false beliefs about size. and of qualitative homogeneity seem to be notions of amount doing some work here in producing the absurd result. We shall shortly see just how central their place is. But then ify of offers a smaller amount good. more good in x than iny.60 I-MARTHA C. and of giving up a larger package. 'A. an amount that is not a really A is doing is choosing a smaller in what the then match for good x. can strikeus as bigger and more important than they are on account of their nearness. It is clear that. It is like saying. But how package pleasures absurd that A should.' And that does seem absurd. a science of measurement would suffice to put an end to our errors.too. For the explicit hedonistic assumptions are clearly not enough to get Socrates to his conclusion. and is known to be. with pleasure as with size. give up the larger package because she was overwhelmed by the smalleramount in the smaller package. nearer items appearing taller or larger. C gives us the reliable connection between the beliefs that are the outcome of the weighing and the agent's actual choices. absurdity-producing part of the argument. according to which there is. offered the choice between $50 and $200. she weighs and measures by a single quantitative standard of value. H1 gives us the singlenessof the standardacrossall cases. with full knowledge.8 M gives us the use of a quantitative standard in each particular case. 8Cf. . so nearer pleasures. How could such an absurd mistake occur? Socrates can explain it only as the result of a mistakenjudgment about the size of the packages. In short. 358D. chose the $50. The closeness of the present pleasure producesa false belief about size that temporarily displaces the agent's background knowledge about the real sizes involved. because she was overcome by the quantity of the $50. He is making tacit use of at least two further assumptions: M: Whenever A chooses between x andy. A C: choosesx rather thany if and only if she believes x to be more valuable than y. Our attention must now be drawn to Socrates'premisesin the second. NUSSBAUM would contradict the description of the case.

Each of these premiseshas a certain plausibility as an account of our deliberative procedure someof the time. Seeing that the premises are not empirically acceptable as accounts of what we do in all cases (afterall. and always deliberate by weighing or measuring quantitatively by a single standard. EN 1145 b25 ff. as it were. however. we are tempted to say: as long as rationality works it doesn't break down. We didn't need Socrates to tell us that.9 Socrates' conclusion. should make us suspect that something more is going on here. At this point. an advertisement. it may occur to us that we are given. then akrasia will not happen. Akrasia was supposed to be a case where ordinary deliberative rationality breaks down. (Socrates stressesin this dialogue his disdain for the confused intuitions of the ordinary SForthis criticism. If we believe in a single end or good.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 61 Together they yield the conclusion Socrates wants: if A's choice is not the result of a correct weighing. Yet anyone who accepts the initial description of the case as the account of an actual human occurrence should take issue with them. and Protagoras agreed. their failure to hold was just what our ordinary belief in akrasiaarticulated). If we accept his diagnosis of our problems and their urgency. The argument need not rely on the common-sense intuitive acceptability of the premises. What Socrates has done is not so much to prove that there can never be such breakdowns as to clarify the relationship between a certain sort of deliberative rationality and the akrasia problem. then it looks as if Socrates had better do some more looking at the ways people actually live and think. for its premises. So. many interpretersdismiss the entire argument. in Socrates' argument. and is not made under duress (ruled out in the description of the case). then it must result from an incorrect weighing. For together they succeed in telling us that a problem by which we are intuitively gripped and troubled does not exist. . and always choose to act in accordance with our beliefs about the greater overall quantity of good. and agree that we want to save our lives. is that only an ethical science of measurement will save our lives. What he told us. varying only in quantity. see Aristotle. For this is the only reason why someone who could have more would choose to have a smaller quantity of the same thing.

It looks likea littlebit of exercise exactlylikea buttered or And so (swayedby the bagel. no about choice. ('HowisWeakness thiscloseness is ofWillPossible?' Feinberg (Oxford1969)93-113.is to maximizeher for bagel-eating.Butshe looksso very appealing. 62 human C. reason. samevariety. NUSSBAUM . she Standing in the sees on a table on one containing two freshbagels. that if sheeatsa bageljust Phaedraknows cramp and cut downthe beforeshegoesrunning she distanceshecan complete. ) It shows and the disappearanceus a connection of a problem betweenthesepremises indeed.the life-savingart. and eatenless.of morethanone problem.it doesnot quite look a small package of health. will get a angry with herselflater and She will be she will find her than it wouldhavebeen health less good had sherunfurther knows.She then.J. middle of the room. She can go for but (forsomereason) notboth. buttered either one plateor the other. arouses)she eats it. Its appeal to her issitting distinct andspecial. ed.and. side of the room. absurdnota dangerous Akrasia becomes temptation. The whole appearsto be the Socratic practical reasoning.premisesand all. let us saysthat it is betterall things to eat the bagelnow.equally equally hot. in the same way. is a toasted buttered bagel. we needto return to Socrates'talk of this is supposed packages and amountsand to more deeply into the life and enter world view of his agent. side a plate toastedand buttered.no disagreements problem ofakrasia. there hot and butteredon its plate. with others it isclaimed.I-MARTHA being. thing. but not instead to go running considered is very hungry. techne of The most astonishing claim impliedby this argument is that the qualitative acceptanceof the singleness and homogeneity of all thevalues modifies the passions.To see how thatwould to be so.She l°Notice howclosethis looksto a caseof contingent remarked by D. in MoralConcepts. actually forcertain sorts of removingthe motivations we now have irrational behavior. An agentwho thinks the way thesepremises hasno confusion describe about choice. Davidson valueconflict.l° Phaedra's some rationalprinciple.on a similar On the other table.and the bagel directly. desiresit Contrast the followingcase.The bagelsarethe plate containingone fresh. hypothetical An ordinarycase of akrasialookslike this. butsomething never happen.

this activity. has nonetheless a special kindof goodness that pulls us to it. And then. the motivating desires would never arise. and not at that one. Or. The bagels are in no way qualitatively different. . Or: it is so funny to see a bagel sitting on an elegant Lenox plate (the others being on a plain kitchen plate): it reminds her of the contradictions of existence.Nor is the arrangementof bagels on plate or plate on table somehow more aesthetically appealing. we do get the result Socrates wants. We could go on this way. But I mean to rule out every one of these sourcesof qualitative specialnessin the description of the case. except in the number of bagels it contains. Or: she rememberseating bagels with her lover at thistable. It looked so cute. overcome by desire.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 63 knows that. given that she really has the principle we say she has? I find myself imagining. though in some sense less good over all than its rival. Or: it was from New York. it is the same distance away. and the other two were not. that there must after all be somedistinguishing quality to that single bagel. It is absurd. What could make Phaedra's choice anything but absurd. this person. a goodness that we could not get in just the same way by going in the other direction. if we dig deep enough. I believe. nobody who really saw the choice that way would choose that way. Akrasia as we know and live it seems to depend upon the belief that goods are incommensurable and special: that this bagel. Wiggins. We must comprehend that there is no respect in which the singlebagel plate differs from the two-bagel plate. is the connection between our akrasia problem and the way we ordinarily see things-the enabling role played by our belief in an incommensurable plurality of values in getting the problem going." What Socrates gets us to see. in a way that our first case did not. I insist on absolute qualitative homogeneity: the alternatives seem to her to differ in quantity only. It's one thing to be " Cf. section VIII. she eats the one. The single-bagel plate is not even nearer. Now this does seem highly peculiar. she is a mathematician and she thinks that the single bagel in the middle of its plate exhibits a more pleasing geometrical arrangement. as I try to understand her action. she ought to eat the two bagels. given her rational principle. It would never happen. But. with its little burned spot on the crust.

returning to the premises. (For our case is. if once developed.and if it were it would not make a positive difference to our lives. however. even across cases. This point is very well put by Sidgwick. differing qualitatively in no feature (and let us suppose not even in history-as would be true of lovers in the ideal city). to assume the viewpoint of science. There is no heterogeneity at all.64 I-MARTHA C. after he has observed that the motivation for hedonism comes from the intractability of . But suppose him to be a clone of your present lover. We might say. that if we really have HI and M. appear plausible as a description of the desiresof agents who really believe to the bottom of their souls in the qualitative homogeneity of all of their alternatives. and the whole thing somehow loses its appeal.) The recognition of heterogeneity. a radical proposal for the transformation of our lives. or. I claim that Socrates offers us. and that in every choice it is one and the same measure of value that she recognizes. NUSSBAUM unfaithful through passionatedesirefor a lover whom one seesas a special and distinct individual. In short. only the shallowest beginning: what we ultimately must get ourselvesto imagine is that Phaedra seesevery oneof her choices this way. C is not true as an empirical description of the workingsof desire. look plural and incommensurable. and know we need. in its absence. C falls out as a natural consequence (with a couple of residual exceptions that we shall take up later). as Protagoras insisted. they will simply not develop. Like the other gifts mentioned by Protagoras. It is now not surprising that he tells us little about the intuitive acceptability of his proposed end: for it may not be something that can be properly assessed from our ordinary viewpoint. then. the dialogue tells us. this science of measurement will enter into and reshape the nature and attachments of the being who receives it. things do indeed. is a necessarycondition for the development of irrational motivations. It does. The founder of a science is not obliged to show that the science recapitulates the structure of ordinary belief in every way: for it would be surprising if any science worthy of the name were so conservative. From our ordinary viewpoint. will wither away. But our ordinary viewpoint leaves us in confusion:we want. in the guise of empirical description. He compares himself to the Prometheus of Protagoras'myth. after all.

for example weight or length.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 65 problems of choice. also Irwin. To make this transition. so that Utilitarianism may be presented as the scientifically complete and systematicallyreflectiveformof that regulation of conduct."' So too for Socrates. clearly. PMT. and the qualitative homogeneity of all the different virtues is never again defended in exactly this way. rather than from the common-sense plausibility of this choice of an end: But it must be borne in mind that Utilitarianism is not concerned to prove the absolute coincidence in results of the Intuitional and Utilitarian methods. somewhat like the transition in special branches of practice from trained instinct and empirical rules to the technical method that embodies and applies the conclusions of science. III Plato never again puts forward this very same proposal for the ethical science.'3 But we should not conclude from this that Plato loses interest in commensurability and its power to transformdesire and motivation. in the 12Methods ofEthics. once examined further.7th edition (1907) 425. science's choice of an end must also have somecontinuity with ordinary beliefs about ends: this is why pleasure is plausible as a candidate. as the adoption of the Utilitarian principle would then become a matter of complete indifference. ch. Utilitarians are rather called upon to show a natural transitionfrom the Morality of Common Sense to Utilitarianism. . The best part of the soul. its success would be almost fatal to its practical claims. Indeed. if it could succeed in proving as much as this. 4 and Interlude 2. Measurement is continuous with ordinary belief in that it fulfils an ideal of rationality embodied in ordinary belief: thus there is a natural transition from ordinary belief to scientific practice. 13On this see my book. Crombie makes a similar point about Plato. while other conceivable choices. But the worth of the science as science is connected with its willingness to go beyond the ordinary and to transform it. which through the whole course of human history has always tended substantially in the same direction. Pleasure proves unsalvageable as single standard. would clearly be absurd.

beauties being distinct only in quantity and in spatio-temporal location. See my article.insofar as it is that. or even 'the one that has confidence in calculation and measurement' (Rep. . the way in which a belief in commensurabilityallegedly alters motivating desires and emotions--particularly. Diotima offersqualitative homogeneity as a remedy for both of these problems.'4 First of all. " The article brings together the many ways in which Plato draws our attention to these problems and urges us to think that a life with them is not 'livable for a human being'. and not the person who is kalon. The main point is that from the assumptions and that a lover lacks that which she loves we cannot that a lover loves that which is kalon infer that the lover lacksthe kalon altogether--without assuming (1) that the object of the lover's love is the kalonof the person. that human beings often lead disorderly and unsatisfactory lives because of the extent to which they are motivated by passionatelove. here. Indeed we find even more explicit consideration of the issue of most interestto us. The lives are unsatisfactoryboth because of akrasiaand related problems and because of the vulnerability of the lover to accidents of loss. I have analyzed her proposal at length in an article. must deal in numbering and measuring (522B ff. the emotions of love and grief.but I shall recapitulate the main points before pursuing our question further. 145-7.).)'"This argument. departure. which turns our attention to commensurabilityas an issue. and I shall not repeat myself here.and (2) that all manifestationsof the kalonare sufficientlylike one another in quality that if you lack one sort it is possible to conclude that you lack the kalonaltogether. And in fact. RepublicVII insists that any science (techne)or (scientific) understanding (episteme).603A). and shows. (It is a complicated matter to show this.66 I-MARTHA C. is usually called by Plato the 'calculative'. Diotima does tell us. in the middle dialogues we find commensurability subtly present as a tool of ethical progress. pp. the idea of homogeneity plays.does not yet tell us what ethical work that idea is going to do. " 199E-201B. but it is evidently true. however. we can observe that Socrates' preliminary argument with Agathon is valid only on the assumptionthat the kalonis all qualitatively homogeneous. The Symposium recognizes. the one translators christen 'rational'. betrayal.Afortiorithis will be true of the ethical science of the philosopher rulers. NUSSBAUM middle dialogues. In her account of the soul's development towards understanding and happy life.

of a 'vast amount' of value (210D1). differing only in quantity. In other words. (The young Socrates. Then he is asked to notice a or family-relatedcloseness between that value and other similarity values. a crucial role. First.e.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 67 explicitly. and that if he must pursue the kalonof form. not just qualitatively close. At each subsequent stage. was such a person (212C). i.a . We hear talk about comparisons of size between one sort of value and another (210B6. (Later Socrates will ascribe to Alcibiades the desire to 'make an exchange of kalonfor kalon'(218E)-and. since Socrates'kalonis 'entirely surpassing'. It is mindless not to take the step from closeness to homogeneity because this step is so helpful to the personality. This person will begin by loving a single beautiful body-or. he sees only the beauty or value of his loved one's body. Alcibiades stands accused of pleonexia. interchangeable. she tells us. but qualitatively homogeneous. and who is 'enslaved' to the unique objectsof those passions. relaxing tensions that have become difficult to bear. instances of some one inclusive value. then. more precisely. the benefit of the move is a welcome change in the nature and intensity of the passion of love. 'Then he must see that the kalonin any one body is closely related (adelphon) to the kalon in another body. the aspiringlover learns to consider apparently heterogeneous values to be comparable and intersubstitutable. it is great mindlessnessnot to consider the kalonof all bodies to be one and the same' (210A5). He then sees that he 'must set himself up as the lover of all kalonbodies. We begin with a young person whose life is both unstable and unhappy. this is the crucial step-he Then-and comparable decides that it is prudent to consider these related beauties to be 'one and the same'. a personwho is frequently led astray from other worthwhile pursuitsby the lure of passion.) We now entrust this person to a 'correct' guide who will undertake to make his life 'livable' by offering a particular kind of teaching about the objects of love. 210C5). the consideration and motivating the move to commensurability is one ofprudence.who are not always available to be happily loved.a notion much broader than 'beauty') of a single body. looking down on that and thinking it of small importance' (210B). the beauty and value (the kalon. and relax his excessively intense passion for one body.

as all qualitatively homogeneous and intersubstitutable. But both are compatible with a quantitative reading (gold is worth more on a single scale of financial measure. remain contemptible and of no account. souls. the extent to which this vision of the 'sea' is the achievement of a complex therapeutic processthat takesthe pupil. disorder. qualitatively indistinguishable: And looking towards the great extent of the kalon. shortly brings it home to us. The lover who has achieved this unifying vision has a life that is 'livable'. about the commitments involved in the teaching: we are now told that we must see the beauty or value of bodies. and painful vulnerability. So neither cuts against the preponderant evidence for a single quantitative scale. Finally. There will be a deep transformationof the emotional structureof love. whereas before it was wretched and slavish (cf. and servitude. excess. so that it is no longer a source of distraction.and sciences. Rep. 211DR). differing only in quantity. particular boy the slave of this. and 'gold for bronze' at 219A1. too.VII). But turned towards the wide sea of the kalon and contemplating.he will of a particular no longer.At last the lover.) She is more explicit. . and creativity.then vision is broadvalue against ened to take in the value of laws. institutions. (If we doubt this. he gives birth to many kalonand grand speeches and reasonings in his abundant love of wisdom. the unregeneratelover. laws. loving the kalon or a man or of one set of and being customs. 149-50.and it isjust what is at issuewhether differencesin honorableness are qualitative or only quantitative). She connects the love of non-homogeneous particulars with tension. like some servant. institutions. the love of the uniform 'sea' with health. she is explicit concerning the human results of the teaching. like droplets. NUSSBAUM First the value of bodies is compared greedy desire for more.68 I-MARTHA C. freedom.see my article. Alcibiades.)'" the and of souls found 'small'. far away from ordinary intuitive beliefs about love.17 '6Two passagesare less clearly quantitative: 'more honorable'at 210B7. by gradual steps. whose components are. (210C7-D6) Diotima's speech is much more explicit than the Protagoras about the transformations of vision involved in learning commensurability. is able to conceive of the whole of the kalonas a vast ocean. his vision 'turnedround' by education (cf. and sciences. 17 Here I do not discuss the transition from the 'wide sea' to the unitary form.

and the biconditional is required for the argument at 201C4-5). What would it be like to look at a body and to see in it exactly the same shade and tone of goodness and beauty as in a mathematical proofthe same. so that exactly the choice between making love with that person and contemplating that proof presented itself as a choice between having n measures of water and having n + 100? Again. that human beings find lovable in the world. to see not just each single choice. in the same way. And it is clear that a belief in the homogeneity of the science. finally. what would it be like to see in the mind and soul of Socrates nothing else but (a smaller amount of) the quality that one also sees in a good system of laws. in turn. Diotima demands more than lip-service. of Eudoxan astronomy. profoundlyaltersour emotional kalon. she wants the belief in homogeneity to penetrate to the bottom of the soul. It is a startling and powerful vision. transforming the whole vision of the world. a matter of qualitative indifference?What would it be. it is clear that the kalonis supposed to include everything that is relevant to the experience of passionate love--everything. there may actually be a single unifying value in terms of which we are ultimately to see the special values such as justice and wisdom.of Pythagorean geometry.like the Protagoras and motivational relationshipto the world. since it remains unclear how far the kalonin this dialogue is a unifying general notion of value. so that the choice between conversingwith Socrates and administering those laws was. The aspiring lover is not assuming a fashionable ethical decision strategy as a theoretical posture that leaves the important things of daily life essentially unchanged. then. At the very least. but all choices (or at least all choices involving love and deep attachment) as similarly unvariegated? These proposals are so bold as to be pretty well . the same in quality as the value of Athenian democracy. Just try to think it the seriously:this body of this wonderfulbeloved personis exactly same in quality as that person's mind and inner life. we are being asked to see different instantiations of one very important value as all qualitatively homogeneous.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 69 It is difficultto get clear about the relationshipof this proposal to the Protagoras science. but since 'kalon'is used as interchangeable with 'agathon' (201C2 states that (all) agathaare kala. differingonly in amount and in location. But whatever is true on that issue. Both.

and we can see how that sort of replaceability would indeed subvert motivations for certain troublesome and disorder-producingacts. for devotingoneselfto a particularbelovedperson. and the first two speeches of the Phaedrus . if one could do it. (Think of Epictetus' profound observation that if Menelaus had been able to think of Helen as just another woman.to get a thoroughgoing interchangeability of persons. So. And we can certainly see how any life that was selected from that point of view would be both calmer (less prone to akratic disruption) and more secure than our empirical lives: for the departure of one droplet mattersfar less to the lover of the ocean than the loss of a lover to the unregenerate. loveless sex could be a useful form of training for Platonic love. will have few motivations for moving here rather than there on that landscape. in imagination.even forloving one city above all other things. get ourselves. and centrally. furthermore. or can imagine having.helped by a religiousheritageaccordingto which we are all equally. into the postureof seeing bodies as qualitativelyinterchangeable with one another-because we have. namely. We can see. with nojagged promontoriesor deep valleys. and the Odyssey as well'.(Indeed. The lover. We sense only that to see in this way. a powerful longing that treatsall of the individualizing traitsof the object as irrelevant. Even if we allow the argument to stop short of the unitary form. We might even try putting these two together. how not only passionate love but 8 I owe this observation to Joel Feinberg.) But the wide sea of the kalonis beyond us. relevant experiences of promiscuity or of non-particularized sexual desire. we can see how likely it is that some form of contemplative life would be preferred over more concrete practical engagements. would indeed change the world. seeing a flat uniform landscape of value.70 I-MARTHA C. We can comprehend the extent to which it would erode the motivationfor runningafterAlcibiades. 'gone would have been the Iliad. though with difficulty. We can perhaps."8) We might even imagine the interchangeability of souls. 7. ironically. children of God. I make a related point about Republic VIII in my ch. we might even say that non-particularized sexual desire will be the only experience most of us unregenerate cave-dwellers have of what Diotima wants. NUSSBAUM incomprehensible from the ordinary point of view.

or any other case of a good person feeling personal grief. a good answer would require an account of the Form of the Good. and his purge of literature is deeply bound up with his desire to reform these emotions. 20One very important motivation for following his suggestion is surely the example of Socrates.)" Now the question is. They will be of three types. would be affected:for what reasonsfor grief will such a personhave in a death or a loss? And if love is not unstable. The literature of the ideal city will not be permitted to depict Achilles mourning the death of Patroclus. Is Plato's idea logically/metaphysically coherent? Is it psychologically plausible? And is it ethically desirable? Coherence first. what bad things are there to fear? Plato insists on this in the the proper attitude towards the world removes reasons Republic: for both grief and fear.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 71 also other emotions. The kalonis sometimes discussed as one value among others. "2 It is much less clear what is true in the Republic. and this. (The Protagoras recognizes only one ethically salient property. . numbering and calculating as hallmarks of practical episteme. what is left of objectsand persons in this scheme? Everything about an object or person '9These issuesare furtherdiscussed in ch. in the Symposium only one is relevant to love. as we said. and there are no reasons for grief. to 'women. but there is also great stress on At any rate. such as grief and fear. 6 and especially Interludes 1 and 4. comes to much the same thing. but one of the most important motivations for going beyond our ordinary beliefs in this way. it will leave such retrograde emotions. it is clear (cf. where I discuss Plato's criticism of literary art and Aristotle'sreply (with special referenceto fear and pity). and their expression. 1 IV We now see something of the emotional transformation that commensurability brings about. and not very good women at that'. below) that persons are supposed to be interchangeable in their value with one another-'all alike and friends'.2"Now we must begin to ask questions. We must take very seriouslythe fact that every property of objects relevant to practical motivation will be homogenized qualitatively with every other. And we are clear by now that this transformation is no mere incidental consequence of its adoption. which I do not intend to attempt here. whose life and character exemplify the benefits of ascent. Plato sees clearly how thoroughly our storiesrest on beliefs about specialness that threaten the wise person'semotional equanimity.

For if we reservesome items to be (the essential nature of) the object in question. but this contradicts the descriptionof the world embodied in the doctrine of commensurability.72 I-MARTHA C.Indeed it is notorious that his use of and neuter expressions such as 'to kalon'. For example. a person. For under a radical and thoroughgoing belief in commensurability it is not evident that a metaphysically serviceable distinction between substrateand property will be forthcoming. identify and reidentifyit? Our Phaedra example clearly did not go far enough. potentially. will seem to be nothing but a pure container or location for a certain quantity of value. suppose we say that what Alcibiades is. as distinct from the value propertiesthat it has. however. NUSSBAUM that counts for desire and action is flattened out into the 'wide sea'. one ethical route that may have led Plato into this thicket. is often ambiguous between the property of some object and the object itself. enables us to refer to it. then we will run the risk of finding them practically relevant or salient in a way that sets the object off from the homogeneous value that objects have. for it allowed bagels to be different from plates and persons. We can now see. Then . in all sorts of individuating and potentially significant ways. But is this enough to give us a definite object to love. and marked off only from parts of the world's landscape in which none of the valuable is to be found. characterized as having that property. about what they in their nature areand continue being. and if these items are in any way thick or interesting enough to provide an adequate foundation for practices of individuating and identifying. So what is left for the body or person to be? What individuates it. is the functional organization of a living body. as opposed to the propertiesthey merely have. In reality.it is no surpriseto find him less than clear about the definite this-nessof personsor bodies. the motivational complications that this scheme wishes to avoid. To see it as being more is to introduce. what the good agent will see is just a map on which the value areas are colored a uniform shade of blue. and from laws and proofs. A body. in the Symposium elsewhere. trace it through time. as opposed to the value of body/soul that he has.for example. to speak about? Is it even enough for us to continue regardingourselvesas definite subjects? Plato is notoriously evasive about what Aristotle would call the issue of the substrate. as they go on through time and change.

then it turns out that we will not be permitted to distinguish it from the value properties that he has. It does warn us. clothing. and we should demand of any social theorist who professes this belief an account of how these transformationsare going to go and what coherent world order will result. Is it even remotely likely that any agent will ever live in the world who thinks and acts like this? There are at least two questions here. It learns to single out its own parents. that commensurability had better work on this problem. We must be prepared to find that the adoption of this belief might bring resultsso radical that they would alter our whole view of what a thing is. it will not be . a thing that could ever be more than a matter of indifference?If the answer is 'yes' (and it must surely be yes). is it possible to bring up an agent for whom the belief in commensurability is deep and thoroughgoing enough to satisfy Plato? And. home. city. from all other similar items. Later. First. however. But anything for which the answer will truly be 'no' (his bare location at t? his moment of birth?) is likely to be too thin to carry the metaphysicalweight of being (to use Aristotelian language) 'exactly what Alcibiades is'. Now for plausibility. of what we are. after all: it must be homogeneous with that value. All this is not yet a knock-down argument against commensurability. is functional organization itself potentially a lovable or valuable or practically interesting thing.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 73 the measuring scientist will immediately want to know.Once development has proceeded along these lines. second. Quite a few contemporary theorists have not yet undertaken this challenge. it finds itself surrounded with special objects that form the context of its life and are cherished as its own. especially if it wants to claim to bring benefits to persons. are there some desires in the human being that are not responsiveto belief at all? Concerning the first question. And it prepares us to find that the world as seen in the metaphysics of commensurability may not look like the ordinary world of distinct objects and relatively enduring continuants. It is exposed to literary works that reinforcethese perceptions. we wonder whether the earliest experiences of human children in the world don't teach them that some objectsare special and specially lovable?A child nurses at the mother's breast. friends.

the father as authority. In order that the citizens of the ideal city should regard themselves. He saw. The Lawstells us that the teachers of the young will do whatever lies in their power to undermine this special love of something irreduciblyone's own: The notion of the private will have been by hook or by crook completely eliminated from life. their friends. in fact. the fact that. But the Republic Plato has not neglected our issue. for the Platonic philosopher to come along and teach commensurability.but it proceedsas if one could take an adult citizen trained in the ordinary way and. an obstacle to full success: in the unregenerate privacy of the body. perhaps. produce Diotima's result. Babies are farmed out to nurses and denied the opportunity to form a special bond with the mother as nurturer. Or if the teaching is successfulit will be so only at a much more superficiallevel. We can hardly say whether these psychological devices would succeed. no matter how interchangeable everything else becomes there still remains the fact that the sensations of this piece of flesh have a connection with me that is altogether different from the connection I have with this other piece of fleshover there. over shows us that time. nor will they know of works of literature that teach the specialness of persons.) As they grow they will not that generation have or see private property. too. (Only worries about incest prevent the commensurability of persons from being total: they do learn to single out for special treatment. The The Protagoras indicate does that the training involved in the ascent Symposium takes considerable time and effort.74 I-MARTHA C. Plato sees that there must be a profound restructuring of early human experience. the irreplaceability of loved objects. since they have never been practised. with the experience of the breast. NUSSBAUM possible. has nothing to say about these problems. But we can say at least that Plato saw the depth of the problem and with powerful imagination pursued his idea through in rich detail. as it is for many modern utilitarians:it will be a formal way of speakingthat will not very much alter the nature of daily perceptions. and even in fiction they have (outside the Republic) been imagined only in a relatively crude and biased manner. Everythingpossible will have been done to make common in some way even . beginning. and their property as all interchangeable and not special.

lovable. I will be stopped from the special sort of attitude towards food and drink that makes akrasia possible. it must. then. such that a change in belief about what is valuable. but by specifically non-rational techniques of suppression. leave our behavior with respect to food and drink unaffected. in the sense that they seem to see and hear and act in common. in the 'city of pigs' (in a community of animals) there is no akrasia. 'Free Agency'. easily satisfied with whatever is at hand. one unresponsiveto teaching concerning the good. grief.e. Glaucon was surely right when he connected disorderly appetitive behavior with the search for luxury and specialness. Watson. 72 (1975) 205-220. e. just and courageous action.. and fear have a deep connection with and reliance upon belief. like eyes and hands. (739CD) It is a formidable problem. the search for novelty and specialness) is surely to diminish their power to disturb a life.22It is likely that a belief in the thoroughgoing commensurability of value would not. so that they will continue to assert themselves despite the best education in commensurability? Plato is convincing when he claims that emotions such as love. or interesting will effect a transformation of those attitudes. Once I come to regard my eating and drinking as forming part of a unified calculus of goodness with. i. The appetite for food and drink is held in Book IV to be an 'unqualifieddesire'. in fact. But is the same thing true of hunger and thirst?The view of the Protagoras suggests that it is. 22See Irwin. The number of people who eat and drink akratically merely in order to pile in an increased quantity of food and drink is far smaller than the number of those who are akratic with respect to food and drink. . Natural appetitive need is moderate. Journalof Philosophy 23Compare Epicurus' diagnosis of unruly appetitive behavior as resulting from false beliefs about value and need. despite the existence of the bodily appetites. With this mention of the body's recalcitrance we come to our second question. Are there some human desires that are not responsive to belief. For to change the evaluative component of these practices(the element of taste and selectivity. be trained notjust by the general scheme of education. and G.23Plato. The Republicappears to modify this view.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 75 what is by nature private.g.

25 the first stage of the ascent. his desire for all attractive bodies will. He never entertains the thought that there may be in human beings a desire simply to act in a perverse and irrational way. be something like ordinary non-particularized sexual longing. The residue will not be enough to be disturbing. There is one more irrationaldesire that Plato never considers.76 I-MARTHA C.ascribesto our first parent before the fall (XIV. At times he does indeed treat it as one more bodily appetite. Phaedrus. Sex is not a moral problem for the good pupil of Diotima: his appetites themselves appear to be affected by his new view of the bodies and souls of others. in the City of God. which will exert its pull regardlessof our beliefs about objects. that then. the natural result is that most of his eroswill channel itselfin this new direction. it is a little hard to know how the guardian class would reproduce itself. then. but for his intellectual object. 2 This seems to be true in the Republic and Philebus give a more complex account. as he does in Republic the bodily appetites do differ in structurefrom the emotions and may continue to be problematic even when the emotions are under control. at 211D she suggests that Socrates will find himself inflamed with longing not for boys and clothing and money. and hardly grave at all. only more so. leaving very little for the bodies that were once prized. But he also seems right in thinking that commensurability makes the problem far less disturbing. except by acquiring the ability that Augustine. The same appetitive energy that once led Socrates towards young boys now goes into Alcibiades does not arousehim.24). seems right to acknowledge. for intercoursewith the 25Cf. On Socrates' second speech in the Symposium see below. for the love of boys at 211D6. Plato's attitude to the sexual appetite is more complicated. Indeed. . Diotima's use of suneinai form at 212A2. and it is clearly this appetite that Plato believes to pose the greatest problem for human good living.24 But he recognizes and stresses the extent to which our beliefs and perceptions concerning objects alter the workings of this appetite. NUSSBAUM IV. seems thoroughly educable. At 'intercourse'with the form. we said. For in describing Phaedra's situation we have ignored the possibility that she will eat the single bagel just in order to go the and in Socrates' first speech in the Phaedrus. But once intellectual objects are seen to be possessedof the same thing that bodies have. This one appetite.

See also the fine article on and Literature Dostoyevsky and Russian Consequentialism by Julia Annas. what motivations has Plato left us with to propel our ethical lives?Aristotle contends in the Politicsthat Plato's denial of qualitative specialnessto personsand objects has undermined the strongest sources of human motivation to choose good and virtuous action: 'There are two things that above all make human beings care and love. at least he pressesall the right questions. What may have been a good argument against Russian consequentialists seems less appropriate against Plato's more radical and thoroughgoing proposal. We will have agents who are impotent in more than the sexual sense.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 77 against good reasons. but we can say that it is deeply questionable whether an agent who really had the thoroughgoing Platonic belief in commensurability could have. in which he sees the basis for human freedom. This seems to be a 26 This passage was very well discussed.in connection with both Plato and Aristotle. And if we are not convinced that a total change in human psychology can be brought about by the teaching he describes. if he leaves many questions open. Aristotle answers that to take away the specialness of close personal attachment makes all attachment and all motivation weak and diffuse. We can conclude that Plato's account of the psychology of commensurability is complex and deep. Philosophy 1976-7. the basis for this desire.still he shows that it could effect some remarkablealterations. at the same time. in a Ph. For it seems to require a conception of the specialnessof the self. the thought that something is your own and the thought that it is the only one you have. Harvard 1976. and will just be spread around differently over the available objects. to show that she is not bound by reasons. neither of which will be present in the citizens of that city' (1262 b22-4).D. or goodness. In Notes from Underground Dostoyevsky suggests that one of the great defects of a Socratic picture of akrasia is its neglect of this desire. Now we might wonder about the positive motivational question: in getting rid of so much. Plato's image is of a stream of motivational energy flowing forth from the soul that will remain unchanged in quantity and intensity."6 We cannot go into this deeply here. or anything else. that would be unavailable to such a Platonic agent. Thesis by the late Eunice Belgum. . and its radical separateness from its surrounding world.

we must ask about the goal of all of this. as I have argued elsewhere.plays a central role in motivating us to grow ethically and to pursue our search for true beauty and goodness-not only at a stage. For it seems implausible that any such procedure could be fair to a proposal of this radical nature. giving us information beloved person is of cognitive about the nature of true beauty and about excellences of character. that in the Phaedrus Plato concedes this point. and expresses a criticism of. Diotima's teaching. granting that intense erotic love of a particular person. A brief consultation with untutored intuition is hardly enough to satisfyPlato's demands. Plato's use of the plant as the central metaphor for the aspiring person's soul suggests that he now believes that there are certain sorts of beauty and value that are inseparablefromvulnerability to loss. Is the condition of self-sufficiencyand stability that Plato achieves by his stratagem a valuable condition of the person. I believe. NUSSBAUM strong objection to Plato. but throughout our lives. Grief and passionate love return in their humanly recognizable form. Indeed I believe he goes further still: he allows that this specialnessof responseto a value as well.78 I-MARTHA C. It is hard to know what else to do. information that we could not have gotten without this sort of intimacy and its associated beliefs. and thereforethe end that it promisesneeds continued probing. But the appeal of commensurability is very deep.and is the life of such a person a good and valuable human life?A life embracing everything of true intrinsic value? Plato's own ambivalence on this question expresses itself in the structure of the Symposium itself. at once motivates the ascent and calls it into question. the speech of Alcibiades. and argue elsewhere. And I believe that the Phaedrusalso defends the intrinsic value of personal love. But Plato has. and that self-sufficiencyis not an appropriateend for an ethical theory to aim at. shown us . I believe. and it is one that Plato himselftakesto heart. defending both qualitative specialness and inviolable personal separatenessin a way that is foreign to. It is important for our contemporary ethical inquiries to do this probing. and the best human life becomes one that is not free of certain ordinary tensions and risks. seen as that and not as a replaceable piece of the kalon. It raises profound questions of ethical method. Finally. with its portrayal of a uniquely personal love. where.

and I would have reproduced them here had I not already exceeded my limit of space. in fact. conducting our own Platonic examination of cherished literary works of our day. . in the Republic. and how they would have to be reformed to be admitted into a curriculum that trained pupils for this world. We need not just philosophical examples (which contain only a few features that the philosopher has decided are of greatest relevance to his argument). to address us not just in and through the intellect. but also in its style. To show us the benefits of his science. he follows Diotima's speech with the speech of Alcibiades. showing us the value of that-in all these cases Plato seems to me to be doing the sort of tough work of imagination that is required for anyone who is going to make an informed choice in this matter. then. We need to follow his lead.when. he describesevery minute circumstance of the new lives he envisages.when. I am obviously not attempting this here. about how they got there and how they now deal both with others and with themselves.When.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 79 the way. one of his strategies is to show us how it takes us beyond certain miseries depicted in literature. in the Symposium. (Suffice it to point out that Plato is right when he holds that a change in view about value requiresa change not only in of literature. I attempted this. The results were interesting. in the Phaedrus. try to continue this line of imagining.27We need to allow these works. To ask our questions about his picture of value. asking how much of what makes them compelling to us as depictions of human value would survive in the world of the commensurable. Any social theory that recommends or uses a quantitative measure of value without first exercising imagination along these lines seems to me to be 27Of course we need as well-before we begin this part of the job-to compare the different types of commensurability invoked in contemporary theory with Plato's various proposals. we might.) the content A second and equally important strategy suggested in Plato is the detailed fictional imagining of lives lived both outside and inside of the science of measurement.we also need novels about the whole way of life of people who really think and live the life of commensurability. he vividly describesthe lives and feelings of ratherdifferentpeople. but by evoking non-intellectual responses that have their own kind of selectivity and veracity. and other works about people who live and value differently. with a section of Henry James.

This lack of commensurable seriousness about the issue of commensurability he calls 'a conditionnot humanbut more appropriate to certainswinish whichhe declareshimself'ashamed not creatures'. The condition may be more widespreadthan his remark suggests. only my (819D). NUSSBAUM In theLaws.the EleaticStranger tells thoroughly irresponsible. concerning on own but also on behalf of all Greeks' behalf.80 I-MARTHA C. us that one of the greatestobstacles to goodpoliticalpracticeis that many people lightly believe different things to be when they really are not so. .

The latter would guarantee determinate 'more'. Suppose we distinguish this sort of 'quantitative' commensurability from what can be called 'comparative' commensurability. or one-and-a-half times. B. given that episteme ethical knowledge is clearly for him worthy of such names. 'equally' (good. when deserving of the name. for example J. Philippa Foot and Michael Kelar forcomments on an earlier draft of this paper. or one tenth as much again. say. 2 See. Nussbaum and Rosalind Hursthouse II-Rosalind Hursthouse PLATO ON THE EMOTIONS' Plato claims that anything worthy of the name of techneor must involve numbering and measuring. it may seem that he must have envisaged a mathematical ethics while unfortunately leaving it quite unclear what he thought it would look like.one of which Plato envisages would her claims is that the ethical techne involve actually quantitative knowledge of (all) ethical values. im'I am grateful to Ronald Condon. Routledge & Kegan Paul. C. in some way analogous to of music. and leave us with no helpful examples of such knowledge. Gosling. pleasurable. He no doubt believes that ethical knowledge involves knowledge of correct proportions and measures and (thereby?) harmony. VII. 1973). such as the knowledge that contemplating that proofnow is. I wish I had had the time to meet more of their criticisms. 'less'. exactly twice. But it is possible that Locke at least has in mind no more than the expectation that ethical knowledge is aprioriand deductive.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE Martha C. . However. and it may plausibly be argued2 that Plato's expectations are not a great deal more specific. He would not have been alone in so doing-Locke and Leibniz also claim that ethical knowledge. Plato (London. ProfessorNussbaum reads explicitly arithmetical significance into Plato's talk of weighing and measuring. but we need not envisage the epistemon as what the techne we would call a mathematician. is or would be mathematical. Chap. as good as something else.

I think this particular claim can be put to one side. in A. or even to Socrates. ethically undesirable and of dubious metaphysical coherence-and thereby makes Plato out to be much less of a genuinely instructive moral philosopher and much further removed from Aristotle than I myself take him to be. ed.' ibid. perhapsmany beliefs that would transformour passions.Artist. and M. would 'save our lives'. I think there is clearly some sensein which he was quite right to believe this.79 (1978-9).. I do not think that Nussbaum gives us any reason to ascribe the idea of quantitative commensurabilityto Plato. but equally clearly he believes that only knowledge There are the good would effect the right changes. But Nussbaum places a belief in commensurability at the heart of this ethical science-an idea that she eventually describesas psychologically implausible. Essays on Aristotle's Burnyeat. 1980) 241-66. is what he claims does the work. on the basis of the Protagoras. and the Objects of Deliberation and Desire.' in Proc. 'Aristotle on Learning to be Good. repr. I shall then turn to discussingPlato on the passions. transforming our passions4as well as our decision making. 69-92.Soc. I shall use 'passion'as the token translationofpathos (emotionor appetite) throughout. Theakrasia Clearly Plato believes that argument for is sufficient of the effectingradical change in good knowledge of our lives. Plato also believes that ethical knowledge.82 II-ROSALIND HURSTHOUSE portant) judgements (in the way that the akrasiaargument in the Protagorasis generally agreed to require3) but not the quantitative arithmetical judgements.which is where Nussbaum claims to find it. rather than simply ethical knowledge. Ethics (University of California Press. 'Weakness of Will. or an ethical science. I doubt that this belief is central to Plato's 'life-saving' project. 251-77. F. . So I shall begin by arguing that the belief in commensurability cannot be ascribed to Plato. Commensurability. but since nothing she says about the radical effectsof the belief in commensurabilityseems to depend on its being so bizarrely arithmetical. but they would not 3See David Wiggins. and of the although indeed he does offer interesting transformations not we need that a belief in commensurability suppose passions. a sense that is given a much more precise specification by Aristotle. I in theProtagoras. Rorty.

. then I do not believe x to be more valuable than y. in particular. as the bagel case illustrates. with. So convinced is she that it is belief in incommensurability that is the culprit that she forgets to maintain that it is knowledge that is supposed to save my life. M: Whenever A chooses between x and y. since Nussbaum's 'if (rather than Irwin's 'When . then it would be an advertisement for pleasure as the only good. rather than. If were indeed an advertiseSocrates' argument in the Protagoras ment for its premises. a belief in a single scale of values would have to be a belief in the right scale if it were to be at the heart of any such science. But Nussbaum puts no emphasis on correctness. IV.. none of the radical effects the belief in commensurability is claimed to have depend on the single scale's being the right one. 2. But I might well believe that immortality is more valuable than mortality and yet not choose (pursue) immortality for obvious reasons. because we can be moved to act by passionor reason and the two are not always in harmony. I think. it is not an advertisement for knowledge at all.. because . Why does Nussbaum not require that the single scale of values be the right scale?This surprisingfeature of her account can be traced. C: Whenever A chooses x over y she chooses it because she values x more than y (the prudence premise). 5Terence Irwin. It is no doubt true. as she claims. I prefer C in more or less Irwin's form. 1977) Chap. since it avoids the unnecessary complication of quantitative commensurability. but this can hardly be what Socrates is recommending. she values them by a single measure (the measure of value premise). 61 prefer M in Irwin's form. nothing said about what sort of pleasure is at issue. Plato'sMoral Theory (Oxford University Press. that someone who deliberated only in terms of a single scale of physical pleasure would be much less troubled by akrasiathan the rest of us.5 Nussbaum identifies the premises of Socrates' argument more or less6as follows: H: A believes that pleasure is identical with the good (the hedonism premise). Closely following Irwin..7. say.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 83 thereby be shown to be (part of) an ethical science and. to her conviction that akrasia exists simply because agents believe that goods are incommensurable. moreover. namely that if I do not choose x over y.') has at least one odd consequence. . on her account of the Protagoras argument.

isn't all that much use. By (2) none of us want this experience in our lives. She then defends him by maintaining that this apparent idiocy has a point-to give us a reasonfor making the premisestrue of us. A possibleconsequence of (3) would be that we think knowledge of the good. or that I'm ruining my health. I see no reasonfor taking this line ratherthan the obvious one. Let us call it 'the akratic experience'. About this experience.' people say. we have seen others go through it. or is he saying that we are wrong to describe the experience as in According to Nussbaum.' Now is Socratesdenying (1). or of what is better than what. Some of us know what it is to be unfaithful to one's lover and feel terrible about it afterwards. 'There's no point in telling me that I'll regretthis tomorrow. however described. not its premises. The point of the argument is to advertise. and the argument advertisesits premisesas the cure. but the knowledge doesn't make any difference. despite knowing that x is better than y overall. arguing from empirically unacceptable premises to the empirically unacceptable conclusion that people don't ever go on diets and fail. he is doing the former. it's of no use to me.or to try to go on a diet or give up smoking and fail. the occurrenceof the experience. three things can be said: 1) It occurs in our lives. 2) None of us want it in our lives because it is disruptive and frequently causes real misery.84 II-ROSALIND HURSTHOUSE The conclusion that Socrates claims comes from these premises is that akrasia could not occur-butjust how is that conclusion to be construed? Let us agree on the existence of a phenomenon and give it a name. If we haven't been through this sort of experience ourselves. 3) We are pre-philosophically inclined to describe the experience as choosing y because of being overcome by pleasure or desire. or commit adultery and feel remorseful afterwards. 'I know that. He and Protagoras were agreed (352bl-d3) that knowledge is (3)? . that Socrates is not denying the occurrenceof the experience but is denying that it is to be described as in (3). but knowledge.

as Irwin calls them. we would not have the sort of conflict that is so characteristic of the akratic experience. the prudence premise. instead of some of them being blind appetites or passions. that Phaedra's choice must be rational in some way. they are rational. i. although clearly H and M do not entail C.' But the difficulty here is that C seems to be enough to eliminate the experience on its own-as Irwin's name for it suggests. Nussbaum tries to make the other two premises relevant by maintaining that C is a 'natural' consequence of them. but I now want to consider it as an advertisementfor C. If we remember that C is falsified by the existence of non-rational desires. If the argument is an advertisement for its premises. Even if Nussbaum were granted her interpretation of what Socrates is doing. because it got dragged around.e. and if indeed they all were. Instead of recognising that C on its own would eliminate the akratic experience. and non-rational.namely that they are always guided by beliefs about comparative value. This is supposedly shown by the Phaedra case. I have already commented on the oddity of construing it as an advertisement for hedonism. she could still not show that his argument is an advertisementfor the belief in commensurability. there wasn't any point in having it.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 85 sufficient to determine conduct. By this I take it she means that. i. C is the peculiarly Socratic assumptionabout choices or desires. 'good-dependent'. it will come about as a natural effect that C is true of her too. that even when you had knowledge it often wasn't any use. The argument aims to re-establish knowledge as something worth having. it is easy enough to construct explanations of Phaedra's breakdown in rationality. believed by the many. and the disruptiveakratic experience will cease to occur in your life. but the reason that Nussbaum finds it so hard to attach any sense to Phaedra's akratically eating one bagel rather than two is that she has already assumed that C is true. Supposedly Socrates' claim is 'Make C and the two premises that make up the belief true of yourself. all we need to do is think of an . it is an advertisementfor all of them. or. neverthelessif an agent makes H and M true of herself.e. but it looked as though the desirability of this product they had to offer was going to be called into question by the putative fact.

Nussbaum says that the ethical science is supposed to save our lives by freeing us from the pains and turmoil of such vexing passionsas griefand fear. But although knowledge of the good is clearly supposed to free us fromcertain pains and tensions. nauseashe knows she ought to eat two but her stomach rebels and she eats the one. By what means does Plato think that knowledge of the good is going to save our lives. or utter exhaustion-she just cannot summon up the energy. and discussing with respect to the other two how they can be affectedby ethical knowledge. So. the second is that they can be appropriately modified-that they are in some way responsiveto knowledge of the good. to flourish or be happy? Clearly one means is going to be by affecting our passions. such as prematuresenility or constant pain beyond what human beings can bear. The good person should fear. the sort of disease which destroys virtue. He says. more than others do. I doubt that Plato can possiblyhave thought that the virtuous live free from grief and fear.387b) and we can think of further examples. that it is right to fear slavery more than death (Rep. after all.86 II-ROSALIND HURSTHOUSE appropriate blind desire or passion. II Plato on the passions. though knowing she should. it still hasn't been ruled out. dismissingthe first. One is that our passionsneed to be modified in at least some ways if we are to live well. These must be explored in turn. for instance. Why do any of our passions need to be modified if we are to live well? How do they prevent us fromdoing so?I shall consider three differentpossible ways. someone who really believed and deliberated in terms of a single scale of physical pleasures would be much lesstroubled by akrasiathan the rest of us. both for himself and for his (virtuous)friends. This presupposestwo theses about our passions. or fear-she has what she knows is a completely irrational phobia about bagels. as I remarked above. suggestingthat merely being subjectto these passions prevents us from living well.both of which are much more complicated than at first they appear. Although. The threat of nuclear holocaust can make vivid for us what could only be a myth for Plato-the thought that the remnants . enabling us to live well.

us to our pains guided naturally good (as. family and other things he loves than. In particular. Fear can lead one to act badly by leading one to run away when one should stand and fight. If it is not our being prey to such distressing passions as grief and fear that prevents us from living well. someone who has made the mistake of trying to live well through the wealth and power of their spouse and the handsomeness of their sons. the intellectual work on which he was engaged and the only friends with whom he could discuss important matters?It would be absurd to claim that in these circumstances the good person. but. and love can lead to all manner of unjustacts. armed by virtue against grief. in particular because 'he does not think death to be a dreadful thing for another good man. say. conscience and justice all over again--and this would surely be a fearful prospect for any lover of the Good. But what if the good man's friend dies horribly and without honour?What if he loses the just society in which he flourished. but alas they do not. those of the other animals do) perhaps there would be no need for us to modify our passions. Plausibly. But these claims can be given a more and a less plausible interpretation. the good person can derive a comfort from the fact that their friend died honourably which is denied to someone who doesn't care about that and can see the death only as a dreadful thing. according to Aristotle. perhaps the way that our passions prevent this is by leading us to act badly (thereby If our pleasuresand preventing us from doing well (euprattein)). his friend'. given the plausible interpretation. will grieve less than others. so these passions need to be modified in some way. But what way? I have never found. or friend. a deep account of .387d and 603e).PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 87 of the human race might be returned to the state where they need the gods to bring them fire. the self-sufficientgood man is better armed against the loss of his friends. in general because the virtuous man is 'most self-sufficient'. It is true that he claims that the good man will grieve less than others over the loss of a son. or any other 'prized possession'(Rep. there is no reason to ascribe this absurd view to Plato. though I should like to. I am not even sure that Plato claims that the virtuous are necessarilyless subject to these vexing passionsthan anyone else.

fear is modified only indirectly. supplied by knowledge of the good. and the natural response is-well.88 II-ROSALIND HURSTHOUSE the obviously enormous difference that our possession of language makes to those passionsthat we share with animals.Where we contrast ourselves with the other animals in terms of language. Animals cannot take pleasure in philosophy. What I see as striking in Plato is the proposal for a direct modification of fear wherein the objects of animals' fear are replaced by objects provided by knowledge of the good. Still. Now for all that has just been said. i. The objects it providesare in some sense good objects. and the possibility of our distinguishing between good and bad grounds for a passion--but hard to see how such points should be woven together. On Nussbaum's view. what bad things are there to fear?' she asks. the shameful (aischros). 'If love is not unstable and there are no reasonsfor grief. . So supposeone thought of things the following way. it could well be that the passions thus modified by reason were particularly bad. 387b) or. It is easy to say what would have to be discussed in such an account-our capacity to feel about the past and future for instance. It could be that these passions are unregenerately animal and hence worthless to us as rational creatures. But Plato in effect assumesthat reasoncan do no wrong. or even harmful (an idea I shall return to below). but nor can they enjoy the sadistic refinements of torturing. more generally. the very things that prompt us and the animals to run away.7 We share at least some of our passionswith unreasoning animals. Plato does so in termsof reason.386b. 7I am grateful to Gavin Lawrence for showing me the importance of thinking this way about Plato's and Aristotle's ethics.Reason does this by providing rational objectsfor the passions. But it could also be that reason has the alchemical ability to transform them into passions that no creature lacking reason could have-passions peculiarly appropriate for rational creatures. so that when the passionsare thus modified they guide us to our good-to doing well. namely death and pain. we can at least see that one differencethat language makes is that our possessionof it makes possible a great range of new objects for the passions.e. slavery or defeat in battle (Rep.

We could describe anger in animals as an aggressive reaction to physical harm. How very unlike the other animals we are when we endure agony and risk our lives for freedom and truth or are terrified by vivavoce examinations. so the fine and honourable (kalon)is supposed to replace attractive bodies as the object of love. it tends to inhibit action (Rep. In any case. Although Plato certainly thinks that animals feel anger (Rep. Indeed. and hence has little tendency to lead us astray. as I suggested above. Transformed anger in us has as its object harm or injury particularly done to one's better self. This makes it possible to refrainfrom inflicting harm when unmodified anger would have prompted one towards injustice. as we do in the case of fear. or become brides of Christ or come to find the mere thought of the sexual act that animals love so disgusting or peculiar that we cannot do it. would be loss of what is truly precious and hence its modification will be closely connected to the modification of love. andjust as the shameful (aischros) death and pain as the object of fear. Someone who inflicts hunger on mejustlyis not thereby harming my better self. and yet it remainsrecognisably the same passion. I am not wronged. The objects of the untransformedanimal is to replace passion are sexual. to make sense. when we are ready to die for glory or tremble at the prospect of humiliation and shame. powerful as it is. It is true that we can say. is Anger.607c) rather than characteristically leading us to action.far too radical I think. also connected to selfpreservation. grief does not in fact stand in need of much modification since. Grief is a less clear example. we are thereby very unlike the other animals-but in virtue of having suppressedor eliminated sexual passion from our lives. and my modified anger will not be roused (Rep. Plato's proposal for love (eros) is indeed radical.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 89 Fear is an outstandingly successfulexample of how reason in us can radically transforma passionwe share with animals. A passion that in the other animals is essentially connected to physical self-preservation can be transformedin us into a passion connected with the preservationof what is best in us. not in virtue of having . though hard to separatefrom spirit (thumos) also given its own object. How successful are other examples? in Plato. 441b) I do not know whether he thinksthey feel grief.440c). how very unlike the other animals we are when we passionately love philosophy. Its proper object.

who really enjoy food. but quaanimal we are going to want food. even when this is ruled out.90 II-ROSALIND HURSTHOUSE transformedit. and such pleasurecan actually be pursuedby the temperate without their being led astray (EN 1119a 16ff). there must still be somepassion that will stand in need of modification after love of the beautiful has ascended to the heights. drinkand sex. Man cannot live without bread entirely. envy. This brings us to a consideration of a third way in which our passionsmay prevent us from living well. But there are no circumstances in which it would be right to feel the kind of particularlymalicious reaction to superioritywhich is one sort of envy. Some amount of straightforwardlyanimal pleasure is allowed to figure in the life of the fully virtuous. seems fairly content. But Plato seems to think that ideally the appetites. A passionatelove of beauty or philosophyor God is not the peculiarly human form of an animal passion. by external or internal constraints. Envy leads one to act badly. and. indeed there will be circumstances in which it would be right to feel love or fear and act accordingly. in contrast to Plato. drink and sex (EN 1154a15-20). a passion that only creatures with reason. say. qua rational we may hunger. or the desirefor bodily pleasures. Perhapssome passions are just bad or harmfulin themselves. we might contrast love and fear with. But animals do feel it (207a6-b6) and according to the Symposium. but something quite different. When we come to think of it.That is. it is still a bad way to feel-a sickness in one's soul. Aquinas says that a passion may be good or bad by its very . Some things are truly lovable and fearful and there is nothing wrong or bad with loving or fearing them. it seems obvious that there is bound to be something rather difficult about the radical transformation of a bodily appetite into a passion peculiarly appropriate to rational beings. and yearn for knowledge. even if we discounted that passage.would be eliminated entirely. by its very nature. can feel. able to grasp the idea of the beautiful. It might be thought that the objects of love are not sexually attractive bodies but beautiful (kalon)bodies. and hence that love is. namely the crude sexual one that we unmistakably do share with the other animals. Now this is a fact with which Aristotle. thirst.

virtue) then the discontent is laudable (for it is an aversion to what is truly bad.). Working back from Aquinas. Suppose for a start that it is the concept of a passion which no perfectly wise flourishing person will ever feel. flight from one's own personalgood. As he shows l elsewhere (2a2ae Q. in remorseone hates some good things for oneself. moreover. good) Q. But envy or spite incline one to act badly. 1-3) discontent over another's good is not always at odds with right reason.36 a. as a proper aversion to what is trulybad.b). Could we say that. Now I suspect that this is rather the concept of a passion bad in itself that is current today. So there is nothing good about them at all. Similar sorts of distinctions would need to be made in other cases too. they are just as unpleasant to feel as shame and remorse. citing (or?) truly (recedere) he describes as discontent (tristitia)over another's envy (which an Theo. after all. And we might be discontented about another's good not because he has it but rather because we do not.24 a.g. can be described as the rightresponseto one's own ill doings. He or reason goes on to define a passionbad right its nature as one which involves an attachment to the very by to bad and an aversion the truly good. People discussrather naively what . as Anscombe says. and hence not passions that the flourishing would feel nor even must have felt on their way to acquiring virtue. as a further condition.4. passions bad in themselves have nothing good about them at all? Shame and remorse. 440a . by restraining them (EN 1128b20ff. cf. Accidie. namely the lack of virtue. namely another's deserved good. and are the wrong responses to others' fortunes. they are wholly bad. Rep.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 91 velmalaexsuaspecie) because its object is in tune with nature (bona at odds with it. Perhaps in remorse the aversion is to undeserved personal good. as a2ae example (Sum.) The sort of envy that is always evil is discontent over 'what should make us rejoice'. is a passion bad in itself. and Plato would surely agree with Aristotle that they help the young to learn to act well. even though. let us try to think what the concept of a passion bad in itself would be in Plato's terms. but remorse is not. Another's good might be one's own evil (an enemy's prosperity or power which threaten one). This gives a necessary condition but lets in shame and remorse which the fully virtuous never feel because they never have occasion to. if what we lack is truly good (e.

to save my skin. either individually or construed as thedesire for physical pleasure. It is as though the thought were how naturally right action would flow from one if one were happy. I think. and are particularly enjoyable. fear leads me to care too much about saving my skin but savingmyskin is not the sort of thing that can be a way of life. between ethical and psychological) considerations.) and certain passions are argued to be necessarily excluded from this flourishing psychological life because they are inappropriate (unreasonable) responsesandlead you to act badly andare unpleasant to experience--in short they are what I called 'wholly bad'. mature etc. To see this as striking. namely that they lead us to get our whole pattern of life wrong. I may run away when I should stand firm. So the concept of a passion bad in itself in Platonic terms would. But for Plato. as for Aquinas. to be concentrating on very ordinary modern life rather than considering how one should have felt about Hitler) spite. rather than how naturally happiness would come to one if one acted rightly. What is entirely Platonic or Greek about modern discussions encouraging us to save our lives by eliminating these passions is the way in which they cut acrossthe distinction between moral and prudential (or. The most likely candidates for passions bad in themselves in Plato are the bodily appetites. on the contrary. I think.What is distinctively modern is the emphasis on how miserableone is made by feeling bad passionsrather than on their leading us to act badly. and guilt. Common candidates for such passions are self-pity. not be the concept of a passion that was 'wholly bad' in the sense I was suggesting above. when my country is . They have a further significant characteristic too.92 II-ROSALIND HURSTHOUSE is involved in being psychologically well (healthy. as I have heard someone put it. They lead us to act badly. (assumed not to be a passion in which it is rather luxurious to wallow) self-hatred. Unmodified by knowledge. jealousy. perhaps a paradigm example of such a passion would be one that was particularly enjoyable-hence the temptation. hatred itself (though people placing it on the list tend. but my ordinary life. in some way it is really attractive. contrast the appetites with ordinary fear. it is obvious that vice (or failing) is a genuine temptation. balanced. thereby making it difficult to become virtuous.

Theo.4. if the guardians do indeed fare better for lacking possessivenessit seems that this is not only because they are thereby saved from a particular tendency to act badly in certain circumstances but further that they are thus enabled to grasp what their lives should be. but it is far from clear that the guardians individually fare better in virtue of lacking this passion (Rep. keeping oneself safe in a really neurotic way. one question is-why are there.420b). Supposing we now have some idea of what a passion bad in itself would be in Platonic terms. . they sometimes lead us into doing things that are wrong. the changeless good. pride has the same characteristics.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 93 not at war. Hence the appetites lead us astray. I suppose one could derive from parts of the Republic (around 465) and the Laws the suggestion that Plato thinks that of some sort is a passionthat is bad in itself. (ii) If.It is enticingly easy to fall into. this is true of fear as Plato and Aristotle think of it. we are subject to some merely because we are prone to certain false beliefs then they may be as easy (or as difficult) to eliminate as 8Or at least. 'Privatisation' of feelings of pleasure and pain breaks up the city's unity (by making the guardians regard each other as other) and is thereby bad. and a. say. and it leads one to act badly not merely on particular occasions but in virtue of the fact that it involves getting one's whole pattern of life wrong. Still.the picture is further complicated by the ideal of living (really) well in the ideal state. it may be that the best we can do with it is learn to get it under our control. and the life informed by him to the life of transient good (Sum. rather than muddling along as best one can in non-ideal conditions. not only in the sense that. but also in the sense that they lead us into the wrong life.84 a. and supposing for the sake of the discussionthat there are some such. l1a2ae Q. It is a turning away from God.2. like fear. For (i) if it is built into our nature that we feel a certain bad passion. though possessiveness I am far from sure that this is so. on the other hand.8 But the life of physical pleasure is a possible life and moreover a rival candidate to the life of virtue. We can more readily imagine a sort of pathological timidity which involved. In its r6le as the root of the Christian sins. and another is-what can we do about them?The two are closely connected. couldn't consist of this.).

as passions. as in the Republic. But will it enable us to do so? Geach reports that: there is a Latin line enumerating five varieties of gluttony by means of five adverbs . with neglect of justice (like the rich man in the and these remarks would apply equally to drinking alcohol. and quite common for people with low sexual drive to strive for promiscuity out of misguided principle. Such error makes it possible for the appetites to disorder our lives very whenthe appetites themselvesare quite weak. health .) But Plato does not appear to have considered this possibility. his concern is always with appetites that are strong and nonSPeter Geach.How will knowledge of the good help us with them? It presumably enables us to recognise them as bad and harmful in the first place. 1977). which will eliminate them in future generations. in our hedonistic society..9 making a fuss about having everything you eat just right (feeding studiose)may lead to a seriously vicious way of living.these result from false beliefs about what it is worth spending one's time and money on. if bad in itself. .94 II-ROSALIND HURSTHOUSE the false beliefs.. If (iii) we are subject to some because of a pattern unfortunatelyestablished in childhood it may be that at best we learn to get them under our control and dream of systems of education.. considered as passionsbad in themselves. and thereby gives us a reason for wanting to eliminate them.. : eating too expensively (laute) or to prejudicial parable who let Lazarus rot outside his house) . .is (praepropere). The Virtues. (For seriouslyeven instance. cheese and beer. (Cambridge University Press. it is not uncommon for there to be people who feel obliged to study food and wine bookswhen they would actually preferto live offbread. Eating food too quickly in excess (nimis) or too eagerly (ardenter). a source of disharmony. We should note that anything short of elimination is going to leave us less than (ideally) well off. Now it is plausible to claim that ethical knowledge would largely eliminate the problems of desiring to eat and drink laute and studiose. So let us now considerwhat Plato can say about the bodily appetites. A passion that is under control is still present and. for.

I suspect that Plato was indeed inclined to fall for this idea himself. in the first sort of case. But Plato. isn't thisjust what Socrates' virtue enables him to do? But once we have seen the mistake in Plato's view of ordinary temperance we realise that Socrates' power over his own body. this can only be because the appetite has been successfully suppressed or eliminated by the knowledge that it would be wrong to eat more. it would not be gluttonous. if there is. And if the virtue of temperance can do this in the first sort of case. mountebanks might go in for with equal success. It must. but which perhaps Plato would have found quite . but it is not one that will withstand scrutiny. has not availed himself of this possibility. say. In the first sort of case there is at least the possibility of harmony between reason and appetite. Exactly what is it that Socrates is supposedly able to do which the rest of us might aspire to? In order to sharpen the problem. walk barefoot in the snow. I should mention two distinct ways in which appetite may prompt me to act wrongly. since it is possible to train the latter into being temperate. indeed. why should we not find it doing the same in the second?After all. must be quite extraordinary and distinct from virtue. unlike Aristotle. it is easy to fall into thinking that ethical knowledge might actually suppress the bodily appetites out of existence. either an untrained or a moderate appetite would prompt me to eat and have to be controlled. for him. How can knowledge of the good affect them? With Socrates as the exemplar of the one who can go without food for days. all apparently without strainingto control any recalcitrant desire. no recalcitrant prompting from appetite calling for control. if I have already had enough to eat. An appetite trained to be healthily moderate would not prompt me to eat more. although it would certainly be wrong of me to eat your rationsas well as my own. lie unroused beside Alcibiades and so on. leading to failings more akin to Geach's first three. then it would be wrong and gluttonous to eat more. an untrained one (probably) would. be either entirely mysterious or the result of some peculiar training he has subjected himself to-training which. his (apparent) ability not to feel hungry whatever the state of his stomach. rations are short. Then. suppose I haven't eaten for days because. Firstly. Secondly. for instance.PLATO ON COMMENSURABILITY AND DESIRE 95 rational (not involving beliefs).

Plato's. could figure in a flourishing human life. but the training. We must cease to claim so much for what the ethical science can offer human beings in general. as I noted above. does not. If the bodily appetites are bad in themselvesthen only those for whom Socrates' peculiar training is effectivewill be saved. the acceptance of the bodily appetites as passions which.96 II-ROSALIND HURSTHOUSE ineffective. I think. Aristotle's view of temperance involves. his ethical science may well be able to save only an elect few. even without radical transformation. or move to a more Aristotelian picture of the bodily appetites. the restof us will be doomed to a life that is. . in comparison with theirs. and lacking in harmony. flawed. It is not Socrates' knowledge of the good that gives him his power. and in consequence.