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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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Pleasure and pain, most people say, are opposites. But Socrates notes that in between these extremes is a neutral state that he calls "quietude." When people are sick, they think that the highest pleasure is to be well. But when they are in good health, they are not aware of any particular pleasure of wellness. They are comfortable or at peace. Likewise, when delightful moments come to an end, pain is not experienced. There is quietude, a neutral state. Therefore, the absence of pain is not pleasure nor is the absence of pleasure pain.

Now, people without the philosopher's knowledge of truth and reality-and so inexperienced in true pleasure-believe that pleasure begins when pain ends. The fact is that these people, says Socrates, have experienced only pleasures of a shallow nature, of poor quality. And on the whole they are more accustomed to pain than to quietude. Thus when they move from pain to the neutral state, they believe that they are approaching true pleasure. In other words, for Socrates they are always in a state of becoming, they never reach true being or true pleasure. What is a true pleasure?

Socrates emphatically proclaims that the pleasures of sensation are not true pleasures. Eating, for example, ends hunger pains and it fills an emptiness. Eating seems pleasurable because hunger is painful. But like other sensual pleasures eating is not a positive, genuine pleasure. The true pleasures are those which fill the emptiness of the soul, not the body. These are the pleasures of knowledge.

In his uniquely paradoxical way, Socrates asks Glaucon:

Then is not that which is fulfilled of what more truly is, and which itself more truly is, more truly filled and satisfied than that which being itself less real is filled with more unreal things? (585d)



Glaucon responds, "of course," although he probably wanted to ask, "Could you make that a little clearer?" Socrates is saying that the pleasures of the body are not true pleasures because the body itself-and all physical objects-is not real and eternal. Knowledge, however, is real, eternal, unchanging. Thus Socrates says to seek pleasure by feeding the mind. When the soul is guided by reason, by its wisdom-loving part, it is filled with true pleasure.

Because the tyrant is the man of slavish, sensual appetites, he of all people is the farthest removed from true pleasure. Here Socrates presents a mathematical proof on just how unhappy the tyrant is. Using a mathematical equation he shows that the philosopher is 729 times happier than the tyrant!

Socrates has finished his proofs on why the philosopher is the happiest of men and why the tyrant is the most miserable. The just life, after all, is the happy life. But Socrates never examines the notion of "happiness." You should, however, note that he makes the choice between the philosophic life and the tyrannic life depend on pleasure.

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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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