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Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good$
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Sergio Tenenbaum

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195382440

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195382440.001.0001

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Plato on the Desire for the Good

Plato on the Desire for the Good

(p.34) 3 Plato on the Desire for the Good
Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good

Rachel Barney

Oxford University Press

The chapter discusses Plato’s oft-repeated assertion that all human desire is for the good. This claim is perplexing in a number of respects. For one thing, it seems to come in two forms, both of them apparently empirically false (and mutually incompatible): (1) all desire is for what the desiring agent views as good (‘the apparent good’) and (2) desire can only be for what really is good. The chapter argues that the thesis amounts to the claim that desire is realist or objectivist in orientation: In desiring, we attempt to respond appropriately to the detection of value in the world. Thus, without being vacuous (for it rules out many alternative conceptions of desire), Plato’s thesis sets no empirically refutable limitations on what objects may be desired. His point is rather that whatever is desired is desired on the basis of an evaluative belief. The tension between the two forms of the thesis is resolved by taking (2) as a clarification of (1), intended to make its realist import explicit: We desire ‘the apparent good’ not under that description, but simply in the sense that we pursue the real good as best we can detect it. The thesis is thus comparable to some epistemological arguments in the Sophist and Cratylus: Plato holds that a certain commitment to realism is built into our everyday cognitive practices, desiring included.

Keywords:   Plato, desire, good, realism

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