Thursday, February 16, 2012

Philebus 42b: a helpful suggestion

My worry about Philebus 42b got this helpful answer from Mehmet Erginel.  He writes:
It would indeed be hard to make sense of it if Socrates were claiming that pains seem lesser and less intense when compared with pleasures, when he is claiming that pleasures seem greater and more intense when compared with pain. It would also be inconsistent with what Plato says about the mutual intensification of juxtaposed pleasures and pains in Republic IX (at least as I understand it): 586c1-2, for instance, suggests that both pleasure and pain appear more intense when juxtaposed with one another. Moreover, 584a7-10 and 584e8-585a5 suggest that the effect of juxtaposition with a contrasting experience is symmetrical in the case of pleasure and pain. 
My suggestion is to understand 'the opposite' differently: we are to understand that the intensity of pleasure and pain can be placed on a continuum, such that maximally intense pleasure and maximally intense pain are at the opposite ends of this continuum, with the neutral state in the middle. On this understanding, pain appearing more painful and intense could be understood as the opposite of pleasure appearing more pleasant and intense. This use of 'the opposite' would be like its use in saying that on certain economic policies, the rich get richer and the opposite happens to the poor, meaning that the poor get poorer - each becoming more of its kind.
This would get Socrates to say something sensible, I suppose.  Nearer pains might appear more intense and nearer pains might do the opposite, by appearing more intense too.

1 comment:

James Warren said...

Georgia Mouroutsou comments:

As I read the lines you pointed to, Socrates does not raise the
expectation of exhausting all relevant cases. Neither can I detect any particular reason for his not doing so in this context. Actually he seems to be addressing only one case (when the nearer pleasure seems greater, the distant pain appears less than they are actually), and Damascius fills up the rest. Interestingly, Damascius understands this according to his enumeration- fifth kind of false pleasure as resulting from “the comparison with greater pain”, I guess because the starter (41c-d) is the
pleasure that the soul experiences while anticipating a (future)
restoration while the body is causing pain in the present because of the degeneration of the natural harmony. Thus the pain is greater according to Damascius, who is highlighting in his own peculiar way the factor of the
presence of the object of pleasure (it must be startling to his readers, at least it has been to me, to read how he understands the hope for Kallipolis as false, since the ideal state is not present!) That Socrates does not wish to confine himself to the example he begins with is made
clear by what he says at the lines you found puzzling. Or perhaps we
should not commit ourselves to understanding the nearness as presence and distance as absence.

I find the presupposition of a continuum (cf. the dual at 41d8f. and, in general, the duals that are used when the second kind of the Unlimited is introduced) interesting and helpful for all attempts to provide a calculus
for pleasure and pain, which requires a common measure; but I do not find it necessary for the understanding of the opposition at stake at 42b6. I regard Protagoras’ context as the most relevant for Phil. here. We wish to
decide the dispute between pleasures and pains in relation to one another and as far as the quantity is concerned (41d11-e,6 cf. Protagoras 356b). The intensity is understood in terms of quantity here as I see it.

The purpose seems to me not to give an account about possible experienced juxtaposition of pleasures and pains (thus I see no contradiction to R., the first two quotations that Mehmet Erginel draws attention to are relevant for the third kind of false pleasure, while the last one relates to the mixed pleasures and pains in the soul) but to find out whether the pleasure is greater than pain when comparing pleasure with pain, or to choose the greater pleasure when comparing pleasure with pleasure or the
lesser pain when comparing pain with pain.