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Plato's Moral Realism

The Discovery of the Presuppositions of Ethics

John M. Rist

Publication Year: 2012

Surveying many of Plato's dialogues from the early, middle, and late periods, prominent philosopher John M. Rist shows how Plato gradually came to realize the need for metaphysics to support his ethical position and that a rigorous ethics required a secure metaphysics grounded in universal values.

Published by: The Catholic University of America Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

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pp. vii-11

Many students and friends, in Toronto, Rome, and elsewhere, have encouraged me—both in classes and without—to attempt this book, and I thank them all for their help. Douglas Hedley read a more primitive version and suggested a number of significant improvements...

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pp. 1-14

In the West we now live in a post-moral society. That may seem an extraordinary claim in view of the endless public and private debate on all kinds of apparently moral questions: on the distribution of the world’s wealth, the control of crime, the necessity or undesirability...

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1. Religion, Socrates, and the Platonic Socrates

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pp. 15-22

Socrates was born in 470 B.C. and died in 399, victim of a judicial murder at the hands of an Athenian democracy restored to power after a brief period of oligarchic tyranny in which some of Plato’s relatives had played a prominent role. His father was a stonemason,...

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2. Scrutinizing Character, Scrutinizing Moral Propositions

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pp. 23-42

Socrates’ major insight, which he derived from reflecting on the enigmatic judgment on his own wisdom pronounced by the Oracle at Delphi, was that most people, if not everyone, do not know what they are talking about when they pronounce on ethics. The need to...

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3. The Discovery of Separate Form

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pp. 43-65

Euthyphro, the self-declared pious man, that is, the man with a proper attitude to the gods, has had a bad press, while Sophocles’ Antigone, who also puts the gods first, has had a good one. The two are similar in that they both advocate a morality higher than...

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4. Forms and Erotic Passion

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pp. 66-89

In the dialogues examined thus far Socrates believes that if we can recognize the mistakes we make in judgments about what is good for us, we shall be able to take due care of our souls. But why do we make such mistakes? Is it that we are stupid or misled by the conventions...

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5. Ethics, Psychology, and Metaphysics in the Phaedo

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pp. 90-105

The Phaedo is the story of Socrates’ death in prison, as recounted to two of his Megarian admirers, Eucleides and Terpsion, by Phaedo of Elis, who had been present at the end along with many other of Socrates’ closest associates—but not Plato, who was ill (59b). Its...

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6. The Republic: The Finished Theory of Forms?

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pp. 106-164

The Republic is Plato’s most ambitious and elaborate composition. While accomplishing considerable further steps in metaphysics, ethics, psychology, and aesthetics, it is also a Summa of insights gained in previous dialogues. It represents a sustained attempt to...

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7. Reconstructions: From Parmenides to Philebus

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pp. 165-212

Composed in the mid-360s, the Parmenides , Theaetetus, and Phaedrus form a revisionary triptych, the principal targets of which are the Phaedo and the Republic. The Parmenides affords an opportunity to start reshaping the Theory of Forms, adding precision and eliminating...

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8. Gods, God, and Goodness

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pp. 213-241

According to Aristotle’s pupil and successor Theophrastus, Plato proposed two causes of the physical universe: an all-receiving substrate and a moving cause that he “clothes with the power of God and the Good” (fr. 9, in Diels, Doxographi Graeci). Or is it of God,...

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9. Ethics and Metaphysics: Then and Now

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pp. 242-269

My intention in this book has been to show how Plato developed a moral theory, underpinned by metaphysics, that in his view offered the only possible defense against the ethical conventionalism, relativism, and nihilism of his day. I have organized the preceding chapters...

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Appendix A: Republic Book Five: Some Background to Eugenic Theory

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pp. 271-274

I have bracketed out Plato’s discussion of the marriages of the guardians and his associated arguments for eugenic breeding (458d–61e) because a major principle on which this argument depends is confused, not only in this section, but in the Republic as a whole. Indeed, although omitting...

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Appendix B: Literature and Platonic Transcendentalism

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pp. 275-278

In Appendix A I argued that Plato’s problematic theories of eugenics rely in part on his inadequate account of the soul-body relationship. Surprisingly, perhaps, the same difficulty affects his account of the role of literature and other imitative arts in the ideal society. Plato’s treatment...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 279-281


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pp. 283-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780813219844
E-ISBN-10: 0813219841
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813219806
Print-ISBN-10: 0813219809

Page Count: 293
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1