- The Pleasures of Reason in Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic Hedonists by James Warren
This book argues for two proposals. First, on Warren’s reading, Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans, and the Cyrenaics all consider pleasure a component of a good human life. Second, they all assign a special place in a good human life to the pleasures of reason.
Pleasure is a core topic in ancient philosophy and an equally much debated theme in scholarly discussions. Warren identifies, however, a distinctive topic that has not yet been treated in a monograph, although it has long been recognized as important: the so-called pleasures of reason. From the outset, Warren distinguishes two ways in which pleasure and reason are connected. On the one hand, there is a particular pleasure that arises from our reasoning capacities. On the other hand, we need our reasoning capacities to pursue a certain kind of pleasure. The pleasures of reason are a property of human beings and they are connected to our nature qua rational animals. Warren constructs his topic broadly. Rather than thinking of the pleasure of reason as, for example, the pleasure of contemplation, he includes a wide range of pleasures taken in cognitive activities, such as memory and anticipation. This broad conception of the pleasures of reason is plausible, given that Warren aims to discuss a wide range of ancient positions, not all of which are primarily concerned with high-level kinds of thinking. However, in introducing a correspondingly broad conception of reasoning, Warren translates λογίζεσθαι as used in the Philebus (11b7) as “reasoning.” Scholars tend to think of λογίζεσθαι and λογισμός somewhat differently, namely along the lines of the Protagoras, where Plato describes a kind of calculation in these terms. On my reading, in Philebus 11b7 and 21c5 Plato [End Page 556] seems to use λογισμός to indicate the capacity of calculating, rather than using the term as comprehensive of other reasoning capacities, as Warren suggests. In Philebus 66b8, Socrates does not even mention λογισμός among the reasoning capacities that are listed also in Philebus 11b and that Warren understands as falling under the umbrella of λογισμός.
The first part of Warren’s work is occupied by the analysis of the pleasures of learning and of knowing in Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Plutarch. He explains the fundamental difference between Plato’s conception of pleasure as a change and Aristotle’s view of pleasure as an activity. Warren’s analysis of the pleasures of reason highlights that for Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic hedonists, learning and knowing are pleasant for human beings because they are the attainment of a natural state. This aspect is also emphasized in his discussion of Plutarch’s critique of Epicurus. According to Plutarch, Epicureans identify pleasure with the good, and thus they fail to understand the true, rational nature of human beings.
The second part of the book is dedicated to the examination of the pleasures of anticipation and memory in Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans, and the Cyrenaics. In this section, a fundamental role is played by the analysis of Plato’s conception of the pleasure of anticipation and of memory in the Protagoras and in the Philebus. Warren discusses how Plato conceives of pleasures as being true or false: pleasures have propositional content and, for this reason, they can be false. For Plato, human beings anticipate future pleasures in order to choose among different courses of action. Anticipating future pleasures can be pleasant in itself, but there may also be perspectival distortions that affect our experience of pleasure. Warren does an extremely helpful job in unraveling the many difficulties related to two controversial topics. First of all, he explains Plato’s notion of the false pleasures of anticipation and he stresses that for the just and pious person there cannot be false pleasures. Secondly, he clarifies the role of φαντασία in the pleasure taken from anticipating or remembering, as it is conceived by Aristotle. As a result, by exploring the relation between pleasure and reason in these authors, Warren offers a...