Thursday, February 21, 2013

False character and false pleasure

I am trying to understand the reports about Theophrastus' criticism of Plato's account of false pleasure in the Philebus. We know about these criticisms from a brief report in Damascius. So, I'm really thinking about Damascius on Theophrastus on Plato on false pleasure. (I should get out more.) It's all a bit complicated and expressed very concisely. This is Theophrastus' second argument.
 Ἔτι, φησὶν ὁ Θεόφραστος, τριχῶς τὸ ψεῦδος· ἢ γὰρ ὡς ἦθος ἐπίπλαστον ἢ ὡς λόγος ἢ ὡς πρᾶγμά τι ὄν. κατὰ τί οὖν, φησίν, ἡ ἡδονὴ ψευδής; οὔτε γὰρ ἦθος ἡ ἡδονὴ οὔτε λόγος οὔτε ὂν οὐκ ὄν· τοιοῦτον γὰρ τὸ πρᾶγμα τὸ ψευδές, ἐν τῷ μὴ εἶναι χαρακτηριζόμενον. ἢ ῥητέον ὅτι κατὰ τοὺς τρεῖς διορισμούς ἐστι ψευδὴς ἡ ἡδονή· καὶ γὰρ ἐπίπλαστος, ἡ τοῦ ἐπιπλάστου ἤθους, καὶ ἄλογος, ἡ ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀληθοῦς εἰς τὸ ψεῦδος ἀποπλανηθεῖσα δόξα καὶ τούτῳ ἐφηδομένη, καὶ μὴ οὖσα, ἡ κατὰ ἀπουσίαν τοῦ λυπηροῦ φανταζομένη ⟦ἡ⟧ ἡδονή, καὶ ταῦτα μὴ παρόντος ἡδέος. 
Damascius, Lectures on Plato’s Philebus §168 
Theophrastus argues as follows. There are three possible senses of ‘pseudos’ (falsehood): (a) an insincere or feigned (epiplaston) character; (b) a false statement (logos); (c) a ‘false’, i.e. non-existent, substance (ousia). But pleasure is neither a character, nor a statement, nor a substance and therefore a pleasure cannot be false. The argument relies on two things: the three-fold analysis must be exhaustive and it must be denied that pleasure fits in any of the three categories. Damascius attacks the second of these two things but his tactic is not straightforward.

He seems to argue that there can be false pleasures that arise from falsehood in each of the three senses that Theophrastus lists and accepts (ἢ ῥητέον ὅτι κατὰ τοὺς τρεῖς διορισμούς ἐστι ψευδὴς ἡ ἡδον). In that case, the pleasure must be said to be false in a derivative way since it is caused by or has as its object something that is false and fits into one of Theophrastus’ three categories.

I've only got as far as Damascius' reaction to (a). Damascius argues first that there is feigned pleasure (epiplastos hēdonē) that comes about because of feigned character (καὶ γὰρ ἐπίπλαστος, ἡ τοῦ ἐπιπλάστου ἤθους). I am not sure what he means. In particular, I am not sure whether the feigned character is the object of the pleasure or whether the pleasure is something being taken by someone who has a feigned character. To explain: perhaps Damascius means something like the following. I take pleasure in a colleague asking after the health of my children. But my colleague is merely feigning an interest in my children and in fact could not care less about their health. Perhaps the pleasure I feel might be false in the sense that it is caused by a feigned character. Alternatively, the situation might be as follows. Imagine I am feigning an interest in the health of my colleague’s children. (In fact, I couldn’t care less about them. I met them once at a party and they were very annoying.) I have heard they have been unwell and so, out of politeness, I ask how they are. My colleague replies that they are much better. I say how pleased I am to hear that, smile, and look to move the conversation on. In that case, the ‘pleasure’ that I experience might be said to belong to a feigned character.

Are these the interpretative options? If so, which is better?

1 comment:

Maximus said...

Two considerations would seem to me to tell in favour of your second interpretation. (1) Damascius speaks of 'feigned' (ἐπίπλαστος) pleasure, and I do not see how you, in the first envisaged situation, could be said to be experiencing a feigned pleasure, or to be feigning pleasure. (2) Your first interpretation rather seems to fit Damascius' description of the second kind of false pleasure as I seem to understand it (i.e. pleasure grounded in a false belief).

I am not sure, though, why you describe the second situation as one in which you would experience 'pleasure'. It would seem better to say that you would be feigning pleasure (without scare quotes) rather than experiencing 'pleasure'. After all it's false, not true pleasure (or 'pleasure') we are discussing. So one kind of false pleasure is feigned pleasure, and feigned pleasure is pleasure feigned by someone who has a feigned character.