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4 The golden rule and the expanding circle

4 The golden rule and the expanding circle

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PLEASURE AS THE MEASURE 253



experiencing—Mill at this point has in effect introduced a distinction that brings

him close to Aristotle’s position. In both of these teleological theories, there is a

difference between what people initially and actually take their happiness or

eudaimonia to consist in and what on reflection they ought, ideally, to take their

happiness or eudaimonia to consist in. What we are to work for thus turns out to

be a much more complex target than simply the sum of what people would prefer

or would enjoy. At least some, the virtuous (ideally this would be everyone),

should prefer and find more enjoyable a world in which general happiness is

maximized. The goal of achieving general happiness where general happiness is

itself a cause of happiness or an object of satisfaction will not at all be something

that is straightforward to determine.

This respect in which Mill’s consequentialism becomes, like Aristotle’s —nonrigid (see Section 9.1) and in need of work to specify its ideal goal —makes it all

the more urgent that we understand why unrestricted general happiness or a

‘concern for everyone’ should operate as a constraint on how we assess conduct

and policies. Mill suggested (291) that his requirements, that an agent take the

happiness of all as a standard and be ‘as strictly impartial as a disinterested and

benevolent spectator,’ could be reduced to the ‘golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth’

(see Section 10.2) in which ‘we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility.’

But the maxim (attributed to Yang Chu by Mencius) ‘everyone for himself

allows people to do to each as they would be done by and to ignore the size of

the sum of satisfactions that results. Kant for his part took a dismissive attitude

toward the golden rule. In a footnote, he called it ‘trivial,’ derivable from his

principle of universalizability, but only with qualifications, for

it cannot be a universal law since it contains the ground neither of duties to

oneself nor of duties of kindness to others (for many a man would readily

agree that others should not help him if only he could be dispensed from

affording help to them), nor finally of strict duties towards others.

(1785:430n)

If wide duties cannot be derived from the golden rule, how could it entail a

concern for whether the overall sum of people’s satisfaction is greater or less? If

one were to acknowledge Kant’s two ends that are also duties, to perfect oneself

and to contribute to the happiness of some others (see Section 8.1), what might

require one to consider the happiness of anyone beyond immediate associates, let

alone the general happiness? Kant was not interested in happiness (the

satisfaction of people’s wants) except as a means to a higher end. If one rejects

the first of Kant’s high-minded ‘ends that are also duties’ (viz. to perfect oneself)

and simply adopts personal happiness as a goal, what might lead one to Mill’s

position?

R.M.Hare (1981) tried to use Kantian resources to reach Mill’s position by

drawing out the consequences of his own claim (see Section 5.4) that universality

is what distinguishes moral or ethical prescriptions from ordinary imperatives.



254 PLEASURE AS THE MEASURE



Anyone who professes commitment to a prescription (including uttering it with

the intention that it be followed) cannot claim this commitment to be ‘moral’

unless the same commitment applies to all situations with the same general

properties. A consequence of this is that one will not prescribe something that

frustrates another’s preferences unless one is prepared to see one’s own

(relevantly similar) preferences frustrated in similar ways. Questions about how

‘relevantly similar’ is to be determined will reveal once again the need for the

judgment of virtuous people (see Chapter 8), but for present purposes, these

questions can be left to one side.

Hare’s principle will work like the golden rule and will therefore be

susceptible to people prepared to sacrifice their own preferences if they find

greater satisfaction in seeing another’s frustrated. Nevertheless, assuming that

people will not derive that much pleasure from being malicious or perverse and

will maintain a normal level of their initial preferences, it is plausible to argue

that under Hare’s constraints (his definition of what it is to prescribe morally and

his assumption that people will engage in the practice), this will entail

individuals wanting to see preferences maximized. That is, they will want to

promote general happiness among the people they have to deal with every day,

their corporations or professional communities, their local communities or

nations. However, it is not clear how such a normal level of preferences will entail

maximizing satisfaction for the whole of humanity, an unrestricted concern for

everyone.

Mill gives no hint that the impartiality that he calls for (‘of the disinterested

and benevolent spectator’) is relative to any local community to which one might

belong. It is common, therefore, to treat the demands of utilitarian impartiality as

entailing that individuals weigh the consequences of spending their personal

resources on bringing up their own children (enriching their children’s lives with

piano lessons, say) and spending them on famine relief efforts in remote parts of

the world. It is open to Mill to adopt the same general strategy that was available

to Mo Tzu (see Section 10.3) and allow that to the extent that general happiness

will be promoted if people put more effort into promoting the welfare of those

close to them, their family, friends and local community, and less into the

welfare of those remote from them, this policy is justified on utilitarian

principles. It is only when we see that the efforts we put into enriching the lives

of those near to us do not result in general happiness worldwide that we have to

adjust the distribution of our efforts.

A similar strategy has been offered for dealing with the apparent implications

of utilitarian principles for the practices of justice. If it would promote the

general happiness to make someone suffer undeservedly, it would seem that a

utilitarian should advocate this. In reply, it is argued that as the general happiness

will be promoted by a general policy of conforming to principles of justice, we

should never make anyone suffer undeservedly. The strategy applied to this

problem is known as ‘rule utilitarianism’—it is in effect another Kant/Mill



PLEASURE AS THE MEASURE 255



hybrid in which the test of a universal law is not its consistency but its efficacy in

promoting general happiness.

The problem is that utilitarianism by itself does not seem able to sustain support

for more than one exceptionless rule. For if it is clear that making an exception to

the rules of justice, say by punishing an innocent person because it is clear that

this will increase general happiness, then it is contrary to the values that structure

the theory not to make the exception. Thus what is commonly called ‘act

utilitarianism,’ which allows no exceptionless rules (except the rule to promote

the general happiness), is taken to be the most consistent and stable form of

utilitarianism. So utilitarianism remains exposed to the allegation that it would

sanction the undeserved suffering of a few to promote the general happiness. The

same weakness in the ‘rule utilitarian’ strategy will appear if one looks beyond

the rule that would have one promote the welfare of those close to one and

compares $40 spent on piano lessons and $40 spent to relieve famine on another

continent. Whose needs are most pressing? Where will the $40 pay for more

marginal utility?

The utilitarian demand for impartiality seems, therefore, to threaten the special

relationships that we have to those near to us. These are sources of pleasure—a

point that Mill must surely accept from Epicurus (see Section 10.2)—and therefore

an integral part of human happiness. If we think and act only globally and deny

our locality, does general happiness not suffer grievously?

Moreover, while we worry about human beings in distant places, we may find

ourselves accused of neglecting beings close at hand, who belong within our

circle of concern. Mo Tzu and Mill have, it appears, urged us to widen the circle

of our concerns so as not to omit any member of the human race, but is this not

still to draw the circle too narrowly? Must we not take the next step and

recognize that non-rational sentient creatures, at least the larger and more

complex of these, belong in our moral community? Until we have extended the

circle of our concerns to include them, do we not remain as partial in a

blameworthy sense as slave owners?

One might infer from the way Mill invoked the distinction between higher and

lower pleasures to exonerate his doctrine of the charge that it was ‘worthy of

swine’ (see Section 10.1) that it is unlikely that he will favor treating the

pleasures and pains of non-human animals as having the same moral standing as

those of human beings. Bentham, who made no attempt to distinguish between

better- and worse-quality pleasures, was able to follow the hedonist element of

his position more consistently than his soi disant disciple, John Stuart Mill:

The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those

rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand

of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the

skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress

to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that

the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os



256 PLEASURE AS THE MEASURE



sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to

the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the

faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown

horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more

conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old.

But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not,

Can they reason? Nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?

(1789:311n)

What is special, Kant will reply, is that the capacity for reason is the capacity for

a kind of freedom that is not available to creatures who can only ‘work in

accordance with laws,’ that is respond mechanically through predetermined

patterns (instincts and acquired habits) to the influences from the environment

around them. Our capacity to act in accordance with our ideas of laws gives us a

special standing in the world, because with that capacity we become capable of

freeing ourselves from the bondage imposed on all animals by their inclinations,

and become answerable for our conduct (‘morally responsible’) in a way that

non-rational creatures are not.

Bentham, however, did not accept that humans had this special power to free

themselves from their inclinations and thus was not prepared to acknowledge

that they were capable of higher and intrinsically more valuable achievements

than anything a non-rational creature can manage:

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters,

pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as

well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of

right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened

to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think:

every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to

demonstrate and confirm it.

(ibid.: 1)

Humans no more than animals can free themselves from the ‘chain of causes and

effects…fastened to’ the throne of pleasure and pain; we too are inescapably in

thrall to our inclinations.

If one bears in mind that Bentham and Kant represent two common theoretical

frameworks still used today to articulate the basis of our assessments of conduct

and institutions, it should be clear why philosophers continually return to the

issues of free will and natural determinism. Belief in determinism is the basis for

thinking that causes and effects chain us to the throne of pleasure and pain;

rational thought may lengthen or shorten the chain, but it does not free us from

our true sovereign masters. The most pressing objection that has to be answered

by those who subscribe to this belief is that the conduct of individuals would

appear, as a result, not to be something they do but the product of something that



PLEASURE AS THE MEASURE 257



happens to them; it is therefore incoherent to hold them responsible for what they

do. Likewise, the practices of judgment about people’s conduct and attitudes are

the simple products of natural forces and questions about the validity of these

judgments and make no sense. For this reason, perhaps more effort is invested by

philosophers nowadays in the subsidiary issue of whether determinism is

compatible with our practices of moral assessment and of holding people

accountable for what they do. (The claim that it is is known as ‘compatibilism.’)

Kant was in no doubt that moral assessment and accountability required that we

believe that some of what we do is not determined entirely by natural causes.

However, he did not claim to be able to show that we are capable of the freedom

required to rise above the bondage to natural causes, to which non-rational

creatures are condemned. It was one of the objectives of his ‘critique’ of pure

reason to show that reason could not pretend to prove either that all our actions

are determined by natural causes or that some of them are not (1781/1787:A532–

58/B560–86). That we cannot prove the former—that it remains possible to think

of ourselves as capable of freedom—was enough to satisfy Kant. Without that

possibility, there would be no notion of duty or objective imperatives, no

coherent idea of a good will, no canon of moral judgment. With that possibility,

even if there is no proof that it is an actuality, we have a clear idea of what

morality requires of us. What it requires is that we recognize the supreme value

of any creature capable of formulating a law for itself and conforming to that law.

To formulate a law is to formulate an objective principle that is valid for every

rational being; to conform to a law that one has prescribed for oneself is

freedom. (See the quotation at the head of this chapter from Rousseau, a writer

whom Kant much admired.) Freedom for Kant means literally ‘autonomy’

(auto=self+nomos=law).

It needs to be emphasized that even if rationality is the only source of respect

in Kant, we are not thereby entitled to abuse the non-rational components of the

natural world. To abuse (misuse) anything is by definition irrational; for abuse is

using a thing in ways that one has good reason not to use it. Moreover, if we

adopt Kant’s view of our inclinations as what our rational faculties are to help us

to rise above,10 it will appear that as most of our (mis)treatment of sentient

creatures arises from inclination, man’s alleged inhumanity to animals is largely

based on motives that Kant would not view as morally worthy. That is to say,

much of what is objectionable in what we do daily and on a vast scale to sentient

creatures is a consequence of efforts to gratify capricious tastes, to enhance a

sense of power, to satisfy vanity, to escape boredom, etc., and is not licensed by

any principles that Kant attributes to reason alone.

The objection to Kant from the Benthamites, however, is that under his theory

a living but non-rational creature remains a thing, which may be used for

whatever rationally legitimated ends humans may set for themselves. Humans

have under Kant’s canon the right not to be interfered with, neither killed, nor

confined, nor injured, because all rational creatures have a duty not to interfere

with them.11 Non-rational animals, however, have no such rights; they may be



258 PLEASURE AS THE MEASURE



killed for food or simply because they are a nuisance; they may be captured and

held prisoner for study or amusement; they may be subjected to painful injury in

the interests of promoting human health and well-being.

For a rational creature to use another rational creature in this way (treat as a

means, not as an end) is to abuse that creature; for we have, according to Kant,

an overriding reason (a duty based on the supreme principle of practical reason)

not to do this. We can make use of other rational creatures with their permission

(hence not only as a means), if they can recognize their service to us as falling

under a principle that could function as a universal law of nature. Sentient but

non-rational creatures cannot render us service (be used) in this way, because we

cannot communicate with them sufficiently well to establish the necessary

common understanding. Nevertheless, the premise behind the objection to Kant

is that sentience rather than rationality ought be the basis of the duty not to take

the life, interfere with the liberty or cause distress to a creature, and of the right

that such a creature has not to be subjected to any such interference.

There are in play here two quite different attitudes to pleasure and pain: one

that they are all that matter and the other that they are for human beings obstacles

to be overcome. Also, two different notions of freedom are involved: the one

views freedom as the absence of discomfort, annoyance and frustration, the other

as scope to construct or reconstruct what impulses and inclinations nature has

given us. Indeed, there are here two different ways of conceiving human beings,

the one as creatures who accept the inclinations they have and use their minds to

follow them, the other as creatures who are able to use their minds to examine

their inclinations and decide which they should follow. Numerous traditions have

viewed the outlook of self-professed hedonists and their attachment to what they

called ‘pleasure’ as symptomatic of a failure to free themselves from what

Bentham acknowledged as our sovereign masters, pain and pleasure—masters

that anti-hedonists regard as tyrannical despots. Many who despise what they see

as their own enslavement to physical pleasures and pains, or psychological

comforts and distress, want nothing of them at all in their lives. Many who

conceive their natural selves as nothing more than so many places where chains

can be attached to the thrones of their sovereign masters do what they can to flee

those selves. The next chapter will examine some of the efforts by the slaves to

revolt.

Further reading

Long and Sedley (1987) (=LS) provide a valuable commentary with each chapter

of selections. The chapters on Epicurean ethics are 20–5. See also Nussbaum

(1994): chapters 4 are on Epicurus and 5–7 are on Lucretius. On the history of

the Epicurean movement through to its influence on seventeenth-century

European thought, see Jones (1989). On Aristotle on pleasure, see Urmson (1968),

and on pleasure and happiness in Mill, see Austin (1968). Badhwar (1993) is a

useful collection of recent work on friendship (including discussions of Aristotle



PLEASURE AS THE MEASURE 259



and Kant). On the idea that we may conceive our ‘selves’ as more and less

inclusive, see Dewey and Tufts (1932: chapter 15). On Mencius and Mo Tzu, see

Hansen (1992: chapter 5) and on Yang Chu-tzu and Mo Tzu, see Graham

(1989:I.2–3, II.2–3;1985). For an author advocating an egalitarian impartiality,

see Singer (1979: chapters 2 and 8); for an author who finds this extremely

problematic, see Nagel (1991). On Mill’s moral philosophy, see Skorupski (1989:

chapter 9) and Berger (1984: chapters 2 and 3). For the role of virtue in Mill’s

moral philosophy, see Semmel (1984). Hare’s attempt to reach utilitarian

principles from his universal prescriptivism will be found in Hare (1981). Lyons

(1965) is a thorough treatment of rule versus act utilitarianism. Three authors

who support the claims of animals to be included in our moral community are

Singer (1975; 1979: chapters 3 and 5), Regan (1983) and Clark (1997). For two

of many sources on the bearing that the truth of determinism would have on our

moral practice, see Trusted (1984) and Honderich (1993).

Notes

1 This is translated (from a letter purportedly written by Epicurus to his friend

Menoeceus and preserved by Diogenes Laertius) in Long and Sedley (1987). It is

selection 21B2 (chapter 21, selection B, second sentence). References to Epicurean

and Stoic sources will cite Long and Sedley in the form: LS+selection number.

2 His view of the natural world, which owned much to Democritus, a contemporary

and compatriot of Protagoras, was that its ultimate constituents were indivisible

material particles (‘atoms’) moving in a void. Epicurus offered reasons for

accepting this view and it was not held to be true merely because it provided

grounds for removing fears of death, of an afterlife and of malevolent deities.

Nevertheless, it was held to be worthwhile to study and dwell upon because it

offered this solace. On the solace offered by Epicurean doctrines of nature, see LS

25A, B.

3 The claim is somewhat disingenuous. Bentham is remembered for this remark

expressing a more egalitarian attitude to pleasures: ‘Prejudice apart, the game of

push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. If the

game of push-pin furnish more pleasure, it is more valuable than either’ (1843:

Vol. II, 253). Three representative fragments of Epicurus, 21L–N, likewise count

against Mill’s claim, e.g. N: ‘The comfortable state of the flesh, and the confident

expectation of this, contain the highest and most secure joy for those who are

capable of reasoning.’

4 Apropos Aristotle’s assumption that contemplation would not be satisfactory if

engaged in entirely on one’s own is a saying that Cicero reports as traditional: ‘If a

man should ascend alone into heaven and behold clearly the structure of the

universe and the beauty of the stars, he would take no pleasure in the awe-inspiring

sight that ought to fill him with delight, unless he had had someone to whom he

could describe what he had seen’ (Falconer 1923:88).



260 PLEASURE AS THE MEASURE



5 The interest taken in recent decades in the possibility of individuals inventing a

language for themselves (‘a private language’) has arisen because, if this notion is

incoherent, so is the idea of a human conceived independently of human society.

6 Aristotle uses in a neutral sense the word pathos, plural, path , which the Stoics

later applied only to what they regarded as bad (pathological in the sense of

‘diseased’) affections, feelings or passions (see Section 11.3).

7 Two other ‘books’ contain substantial portions that scholars identify as ‘Yangist,’

viz. chapters 28–31 of the Chuang Tzu (Watson 1958:309–52) and portions of the

Lü-shih ch’un-ch’iu, on which see Graham (1985:74).

8 Graham (1989:41–2) argues persuasively against the traditional translation of this

concept as ‘universal love’. Many Mohist texts survive in three distinct versions,

which Graham (36) conjectures are different written versions of a common oral

tradition set down (or made up) by different groups of followers of Mo.

9 ‘By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain, by unhappiness, pain

and the privation of pleasure’ (ibid.). Compare the ‘happiness of the philosophers,’

‘not a life of rapture, but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and

transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the

active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole not to expect

more from life than it is capable of bestowing’ (287).

10 ‘Inclinations themselves, as sources of needs, are so far from having an absolute

value to make them desirable for their own sake that it must rather be the universal

wish of every rational being to be wholly free from them’ (Kant 1785:428).

11 And insofar as the experience of pain interferes with a person’s freedom to think

and act, this right extends arguably to not being made subject to gratuitous pain,

even that which does not accompany harm in the sense of long-term impairment of

faculties.



11

THE SELF AS A PROBLEM



Contacts with material things, O son of Kunt , give rise to cold and

heat, pleasure and pain. They come and go, they do not last forever;

endure them, O Bh rata. The man who is not troubled by these, O bull

among men, who remains the same in [treats alike] pleasure and pain,

who is wise; he is fit for eternal life.

(Bhagavad G t (fourth century BCE?) II.14–15; Radhakrishnan and

Moore 1957:107)

O Lord, I am working hard in this field, and the field of my labors is

my own self. I have become a problem to myself, like land which a

farmer works only with difficulty and at the cost of much sweat.

(St Augustine, Confessions, X.16 (fourth century CE); Pine-Coffin

1961:222–3)

Recapitulation: Epicurus offered pleasure and the absence of pain

as the straightedge by which to draft a picture of a life fit for a

human being. Epicurus’ straightedge was not, however, indifferent to

the kind of pleasures sought and the pains avoided; rather, it was

fashioned with a particular conception of a flourishing person in

mind, one who could do with the modest pleasures of private life and

eschew both the risks and rewards of public life. That people can

take pleasure in witnessing (sharing) the pleasures of others (as well

as regard the flourishing of other people as constituents of their own

flourishing) means that humans are not essentially self-regarding,

even those who choose exclusively by reference to Epicurus’

straightedge. Epicureans, however, have no reason to listen to calls

to expand the circle of their concerns to include the public sphere of

their wider community or of humanity in general; their kan n assigns

no validity to the universal standpoint (concern for everyone).

Combining the belief that suffering and enjoyment are the only

morally significant capacities with the universal standpoint,



262 THE SELF AS A PROBLEM



however, yields a challenge to the belief that our moral concerns

need extend no further than humans beings. Traditions that assign

special moral standing to humans have commonly regarded the

capacities to enjoy and suffer as needing to be transcended and the

Epicurean kan n as not worthy of our humanity.

Prospectus: The discussion of the conception of what it is to live well

has so far been preoccupied with ensuring that we realize our full

potential as human beings and that nothing important is omitted from

our natural development. Other traditions have been preoccupied by

the belief that our own nature poses a variety of threats to our proper

development, threats that we need to work against constantly and

vigilantly if we are to live well. In some cases, these threats are seen

in terms of the temptations of pleasure, in other cases the threats

arise from our susceptibility to suffering—the remedy in either case

is the discipline of desire and the remaking of the individual self.

Some traditions view this as best carried out entirely outside the

realm of ordinary human life, either alone or in communities that

refrain from the demands of economic production and biological

reproduction. Others accept the challenge posed by the task of living

well in the midst of the influences—even engaged in the very

activities—that threaten to enslave us.

11.1

Asceticism and salvation

Dependencies, holy virginity and soteriology

Aristotle’s analysis of the concept of pleasure allowed him to assign it a place

not only in the lives of the self-indulgent and the ambitious seekers of power and

fame but also in ways of life that he regarded as the best for a human to live,

whether that life be devoted to genuinely admirable accomplishments or to

contemplating the universal and necessary principles governing the world.

Pleasure, however, is often assumed to be a hazard that people with high-minded

objectives, whatever these may be, must avoid or overcome. This is because

‘pleasure’ (and the same is true of Aristotle’s word h don ) is closely associated

in the minds of people with satisfactions derived from such activities as eating,

drinking and sex. Sometimes ‘pleasure seekers’ are taken to include those whose

excessive passivity amounts to sloth or whose fondness for trivial (non-edifying)

entertainment amounts to indolence. Pleasure seekers, in other words, have some

of the character traits that according to Mill (see Section 10.1) affect the

competence of people to judge what are the better (higher) pleasures.

Viewed in this light, ‘pleasure’ is at best a word for distraction, something that

interferes with more important activities; at its worst, it is a form of servitude

that leaves no time or energy for other, better, things. ‘Pleasure’ in this narrower



THE SELF AS A PROBLEM 263



sense represents a path down which it is altogether too easy to travel, a force that

requires strength (of character) to resist. Those addicted to this drug (as it is

portrayed) will neglect their responsibilities and use other people unfairly in

order to have the resources to ‘feed their habits.’

‘Pleasure’ is associated with the senses, because the most common distracting

and destructive of these proclivities and inertias are referred to the senses,

specifically that of touch. This at any rate was the sense modality that Aristotle

identified (1118a26) as the domain of application of the concepts of s phrosun

(intelligent self-control, moderation, temperance) and self-indulgence (akolasia,

intemperance, lack of chastisement, lack of discipline).

However, distractions are not intrinsically related to touch or even to the

passive exercise of the senses; various people are fond enough of sports, gossip,

even mathematics to produce a neglect of more important things or a tendency to

use others unfairly. More discerning movements of moral reform, from ancient

Buddhism to seventeenth-century Puritanism, have recognized the power of

what might be called ‘cultural sources of distraction’—festivals, sports and

theater—as well as the more widely condemned temptations of the flesh. But the

recognition that the attractions and distractions of sex, food and intoxicating

drink are both powerful and based in the biological nature that we share with

other animals has contributed to a long-standing mythology centered on ‘the

senses’ and ‘the body.’

An example of this can be found at the beginning of Plato’s Phaedo, his

dramatic portrayal of Socrates’ execution. Socrates expresses no regrets at

having to die. As those who have practised philosophy correctly have been

preparing themselves for dying and death, it would be absurd for them to be

troubled by something they have so long looked forward to and prepared for

(64a). Death is simply the separation of the soul from the body; the philosopher,

the better to think and grasp the truth (65b-c), has already had to effect

something of a separation of the soul from the body by giving as little attention

as possible to the pleasures connected with food and drink, sex, clothes, and

bodily ornament (64d). This avoiding and despising the body (65c-d),

endeavoring to release the soul from its innumerable distractions (66b), is to train

oneself to live in a state as close as possible to death (67c). That Socrates has any

basis for thinking that the clear view of the truth will at last be his once he has

died depends, of course, on whether the soul is released rather than destroyed by

being separated from the body. (Much of the discussion of the Phaedo, not

surprisingly, centers on Socrates’ attempts to provide this basis.)

If we accept this picture and identify ourselves with a life principle (our ‘soul’

or psuch ), the nature of which is thought rather than any activity more

obviously dependent on the body, then pleasures associated with the body

represent a threat rather than any part of what makes life worthwhile or

fulfilling. Plato gives us a picture of our nature as burdened by the body and

needing release from it. This focus of attention differs from that found in

Aristotle and Confucianism. The latter two tend to be concerned to include in life



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