Sources For Text and Commentary on Philebus - The Jowett Edition

  • I will come back here and post a link to where Philebus may be found on the tufts.perseus site, but for now I want to link to what might be the best and most definitive free public domain edition: that by Jowett. This edition has extensive introduction and notes which I have not read, but in linking to pages and line numbers this might be the best way to link to sections of the text on the internet.

    Let me be clear: Philebus is very difficult to follow, and I don't claim to have figured it out. It seems clear that there are points which are directly related to Epicurus, such as a very clear question about whether pleasure and pain have a limit. Socrates is very clear that he thinks pleasure does not have a limit, and it seems clear that Socrates things that Pleasure is disqualified from being "The good' for that reason, but Socrates combines this argument with other complicated arguments that seem to hinge on the nature of numbers, and i really don't understand where he is ultimately going with those: something to the effect that wisdom is the most important thing to have, apparently.

    Here is the main page for Jowett : and for Fowler: and the main Peresus page:…9.01.0174%3Atext%3DPhileb.

    The start of the section on Philebus in the Jowett edition (extensive introduction and commentary):

    The start of the dialog itself:

    Start of the "Limit" discussion - page 593 of the Jowett text: This is according to Perseus section 27e.

    I intend to do more work on the "limit of pleasure" argument that is found here, and this is the place where I plan to provide page and line number links. (To be clear, I have now changed my mind and will link mostly to the Fowler pages, since that is what Perseus uses and probably therefore is easier to search. We can use Jowett as needed for comparison, because Philebus is a very complicated argument.)

  • Locations to Important points in text - Fowler:

    Kinds of Pleasure: "For I think Socrates is asking us whether there are or are not kinds of pleasure, how many kinds there are, what their nature is, and the same of wisdom."

    Is the Nature of the good perfect or imperfect, sufficient or insufficient? soc. Is the nature of the good necessarily perfect or imperfect ? pro. The most perfect of all things, surely, Socrates. soc. Well, and is the good sufficient ?

    pro. Of course ; so that it surpasses all other things in sufficiency.

    The good cannot have need of anything else. soc. Let there be no wisdom in the life of pleasure and no pleasure in the life of wisdom. For if either of them is the good, it cannot have need of anything else, and if either be found to need anything, we can no longer regard it as our true good.

    The Limits Argument:

    Consider the hotter and the colder, is there any limit in them? soc. Consider then. What I ask you to consider is difficult and debatable ; but consider it all the same. In the first place, take hotter and colder and see whether you can conceive any limit of them, or whether the more and less which dwell in their very nature do not, so long as they continue to dwell therein, preclude the possibility of any end ; for if there were any end of them, the more and less would themselves be ended.

    Socrates suggests that a goddess higher than pleasure established law and order, which has a limit, to restrain pleasure, which does not have a limit:. soc. There are countless other things which I pass over, such as health, beauty, and strength of the body and the many glorious beauties of the soul. For this goddess , 1 my fair Philebus, beholding the violence and universal wickedness which prevailed, since there was no limit of pleasures or of indulgence in them, established law and order, which contain a limit. You say she did harm ; I say, on the contrary, she brought salvation.

    Have pleasure and pain a limit? (27e) Soc. Have pleasure and pain a limit, or are they among the things which admit of more and less phi. Yes, they are among those which admit of the more, Socrates ; for pleasure would not be absolute good if it were not infinite in number and degree. soc. Nor would pain, Philebus, be absolute evil ; so it is not the infinite which supplies any element of good in pleasure ; we must look for something else. Well, I grant you that pleasure and pain are in the class of the infinite ; but to which of the aforesaid classes, Protarchus and Philebus, can we now without irreverence assign wisdom, knowledge, and mind ? I think we must find the right answer to this question, for our danger is great if we fail.    Perseus Link

  • Godfrey I am going to tag you here due to your earlier comment about reading about "kinds of pleasure" in Gosling & Taylor. If (or anyone else) happens to get a chance to look at Philebus and develops any insight into the flow of Plato's argument, please let me know.

    I am confident that Jowett's outline summary is correct. I think his point 4 is where we find the "pleasure has no limit so that means it can't be THE good" which is probably of prime importance in discussing Epicurus' 'limit of pleasure" argument. But Plato goes on in points 5 through the end to make arguments about mixed and unmixed and pure / impure, and their relation to wisdom, which probably also have responses in epicurus, but we have yet to drag those out into the open. PD18 and PD19 and maybe others may relate to this, and this might be key to Epicurus' argument that the infinite life can contain no more pleasure than our own, which is finite. If so, that too would be a hugely important point to understand better - instead of skipping over it as we often do now.

    There is LOTS more to get out of Philebus which will help us with Epicurus.

  • I know I have to read Philebus, but I'm not looking forward to it. I have to say that

    "pleasure has no limit so that means it can't be THE good"

    doesn't even seem relevant to me! The reason pleasure is "the good" is because it is the thing to which everything else points and the reason we do everything. We are virtuous because it brings us pleasure. We make wise decisions to live pleasingly. We engage in some painful activities, knowing (we hope) more pleasure will come from our actions. It all points to pleasure.

    I *know* Socrates will NOT abide those statements and will engage in word games and goal-post moving, and I expect the reading of Philebus will be an exercise in aggravation and frustration. But I know it'll need necessary at some point. Arrggh. Where's the honey on the rim of this cup of wormwood? <X

  • doesn't even seem relevant to me!

    Plato would probably sniff and say that's because you're not "golden'" ;)

    Where's the honey on the rim of this cup of wormwood?

    That one might be easy: the honey is in the pleasure you will take in looking down at the poor wandering souls who are confused and listless, and knowing (once you see through Plato) that you have the medicine that will help them. Plus of course you will have the pleasure of actually helping them.

    More precisely, I will argue (but am not yet articulate enough to be convincing) that this knowledge of seeing through Plato will allow you to treat a particularly important subset of the people who are confused and listless: those who have read Epicurus but think they should pursue "tranquility" rather than "pleasure."

    And of course my argument there is that once you see a very practical and important reason for Epicurus to have been concerned about arguing over whether "pleasure has a limit," you'll begin to entertain that the reason PD3, and portions of the Letter to Menoeceus, are written the way they are is to refute Plato, not to suggest that tranquility is something separate and higher than pleasure, as so many people (trying to apply their Buddhism and Stoicism) want to interpret it.

    At that point I think you'll begin to entertain that:

    (1) PD1 is mainly an antidote to the contention that there are supernatural gods;

    (2) PD2 is mainly an antidote to the contention that there is life after death; and then in parallel

    (3) PD3 and PD4 are mainly antidotes to Platonic arguments that pleasure cannot be the goal of life.

    Having 'pleasure is the goal of life" somewhere near the top of the principal doctrines is pretty important to making sense of them. To me, the realization that these are refutations of Plato makes them much easier to understand and less likely to be twisted into some kind of "absence of pain as an end in itself" rabbit hole. And I am not happy to admit the "to me" part. I think that this seems signifcant "to me" and to others who are probably like me, is that we have previously been impressed with the Platonic/Stoic position that "logic" must rule, and we are looking for a "logical" solution to the trap that Plato has set with his arguments. My only consolation is that i think that a lot of Epicurus' students were that way too, which is the best explanation for why he wrote his material the way he did. Approaching the dispute the way he did, Epicurus is able to slap the "logic-seekers" in the face with their own logic. "Pleasure DOES have a limit, you dolts! Why did you and Protarchus and Philebus' boys ever admit to Plato that it didn't!"

    Note: i am personally still unclear where Philebus himself ended up, and that's why I reference "Philebus' boys":

  • Cassius in my notes on Gosling and Taylor I skipped over the Plato and Aristotle sections ^^ . It will be a few days before I'll be able to look it over but I'll see if I can find something. I did read Philebus quite a while ago but can't remember the details, however Don it's only about fifty pages or so, so it's relatively painless to give it a quick read. As for in depth study: now THAT could be torture!

  • One more (or perhaps a couple) of clips from the Jowett commentary that seem particularly important:

    The following is not what Plato said in Philebus, but commentary from the writer (Jowett himself?) which seems pretty sound:

    Now this is interesting too:

  • Quote

    I *know* Socrates will NOT abide those statements and will engage in word games and goal-post moving, and I expect the reading of Philebus will be an exercise in aggravation and frustration. But I know it'll need necessary at some point. Arrggh. Where's the honey on the rim of this cup of wormwood?


    Cassius in my notes on Gosling and Taylor I skipped over the Plato and Aristotle sections ^^ .

    I have the rare feeling (for me) of being the only kid in class who did my homework! :D Though I must admit that Godfrey was one of the people whose discussion led me to actually read it.

    Cassius, those passages from Jowett's commentary (if we can confirm that it is Jowett's commentary) do indeed seem very promising.

    "Too much weight is given to measure and number as the sole principle of good."

    Thank you especially for that one, Jowett!

  • I am not sure whether I remember this from college or somewhere else, but Jowett seems to have been considered a huge figure in classical greek studies. I see on that he did a full set of translations of Plato's Dialogues prior to the Loeb Classical Library (translated by Fowler?) seeming to take over as the main source.

    It appears from this bio that Jowett had an extremely active and interesting personal history, with lots of fairly "liberal" or 'reformist' opinions that he freely offered, so i bet we are going to find that most if not all of the commentary is his.

    Benjamin Jowett - Wikipedia

  • I don't see any indication that any of the extensive introductions and analysis sections are by anyone but Jowett, and after reading the bio at wikipedia I doubt too many people would have dared to try to correct or give opinions to him about the texts - and maybe for good reason as he seems to have been a huge figure.