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The Classification of Goods in Plato's Republic NICHOLAS WHITE AT REPUBLIC 357a-358a, the beginning of his argument that it is better to be just than unjust, Plato presents a classification of kinds of good that will figure in his discussion. It is a tripartite classification, derived from a more basic bipartite contrast. The bipartite contrast has often seemed to have an equivalent in modern terms, the distinction between what is good for its own sake or good for itself, and what is good for the sake of its causal consequences.' The tripartite classification based on this contrast, as the modernizing interpretation holds, is between (a) things that are good for their own sake but not for their consequences, (b) things that are good both for their own sake and for their consequences, and (c) things that are good not for their own sake but only for their consequences. Plato's thesis would be that justice belongs in category (b). Some commentators, however, have seen reason to think that the bipartite contrast, on which the tripartite classification is based, is not the modern one between what is good for its own sake and what is good for its consequences , but some other distinction. Their chief reason is that when Plato argues that justice is good "for its own sake," he adduces what seem to be consequences of justice, such as happiness and pleasure. These commentators infer that despite what others take to be the force of 357a-358a, Plato really intends a contrast between things that are good for one kind of consequence , including happiness and pleasure, and things that are good for 1 The association with the modern distinction has been aided by the assimilation of Plato's contrast to Aristotle's distinction at E.N. lo96b13--16, which is closer to the modern distinction, but not, I would argue, identical with it. There are similar distinctions in Stoic ethics: see, e.g., Diogenes Laertius 7.96, lO7, and Cicero, De Finibu~ 3.56. For some other distinctions in Plato among types of goods, and related points, see esp. Gorg. 467c-468e, 5o6c-d; Euthyd. 278e279a , ~81d; Phileb. 66asqq.; Legg. 631bsqq., 697bsqq. [393] 394 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 22:4 OCT ~984 another kind of consequence. Interpreters of this school of thought, who are in a minority, include Grote and Sachs.' Although I think that this school of thought is fundamentally correct, particularly in resisting the natural tendency to interpret Plato's contrast in modern terms, I think that this exegetical problem can be substantially clarified by including some considerations not heretofore discussed, which give us understanding of Plato's distinction not hindered by anachronistic assumptions about the conceptual tools with which he was working. In the discussions of this passage, it seems not to have emerged that by the unreflective use of the word "consequence" in both translations and interpretations, Plato's readers have almost universally come to accept unthinkingly an assumption plainly needing examination, the assumption that Plato is operating with a modern notion of causal consequence. For I feel quite sure that without some special warning this is what the word "consequence " brings to the minds of most readers, even specialists in Plato.3 On reflection, however, one realizes that this assumption not only needs examination , but may well be false, and false in a way that materially affects the interpretation of the Republic including the problem of reconciling 357a358a with the ensuing argument. I suggest that, especially given the existence of that problem, we look at the language of the passage, and see whether we can elucidate it in the light of other things that Plato says about causal notions. I think that we can. The resulting account of Plato's distinction falls roughly within the school of thought according to which Plato contrasts two kinds of "consequences" for which a thing may be called good or be welcome, but it takes the required notions of consequencehood from the repertoire of concepts provided by Plato himself. This provides what I think is a more natural interpretation of the Republic as a whole than is otherwise possible. The closest approach to this attempt...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 393-421
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
N
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