Platonic Ethics, Old and New

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Julia Annas here offers a fundamental reexamination of Plato's ethical thought by investigating the Middle Platonist perspective, which emerged at the end of Plato's own school, the Academy. She highlights the differences between ancient and modern assumptions about Plato's ethics—and stresses the need to be more critical about our own.

One of these modern assumptions is the notion that the dialogues record the development of Plato's thought. Annas shows how the Middle Platonists, by contrast, viewed the dialogues as multiple presentations of a single Platonic ethical philosophy, differing in form and purpose but ultimately coherent. They also read Plato's ethics as consistently defending the view that virtue is sufficient for happiness, and see it as converging in its main points with the ethics of the Stoics.

Annas goes on to explore the Platonic idea that humankind's final end is "becoming like God"—an idea that is well known among the ancients but virtually ignored in modern interpretations. She also maintains that modern interpretations, beginning in the nineteenth century, have placed undue emphasis on the Republic, and have treated it too much as a political work, whereas the ancients rightly saw it as a continuation of Plato's ethical writings.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Engaging. . . . Most ancient philosophy and classics collections will want this challenging study."—Library Journal

"Original, provocative, and convincing . . . this is strongly recommended for university and college libraries."—Choice

"It goes without saying that Annas writes with the elegance and lucidity which characterizes all her work, and that her mastery of the Platonic corpus and of the wide range of ancient commentators who she cites is total. . . regard the book as a milestone in modern Platonic studies. I have little doubt that it will have a permanent effect on Platonic scholarship, in causing writers in the analytic tradition to regard the Middle Platonists as people to be taken seriously in the search for understanding of Plato."—C.C.W. Taylor, Corpus Christi College at Oxford, The Philosophical Quarterly. 2000.

"In this remarkable book. . . .Annas succeeds in leading us to take seriously the Middle Platonist interpretation. While Alcinous and his cohorts may not be Vlastos, Shorey, or Grote, they should not be ignored, at least if we are interested in getting clear about Plato's ethics."—The Classical Journal. Feb.-Mar., 2000.

"Julia Annas has made a complex and subtle book out of her 1997 Townsend lectures at Cornell. . . . Annas's book is full of good things. . . ."—Francis Sparshott, Apeiron, Mar/June 2000.

"This is a lively and contentious book, mixing scholarly partisanship with useful exposition of a variety of texts; it is clearly written throughout and should interest students as well as professionals. The appended 'Cast of Characters' is very helpful in making the argument surveyable."—Sabina Lovibond, Worcester College, Oxford. The Classical Review, 2000

Library Journal
Annas (classics, Univ. of Arizona) claims that we get a better understanding of Plato's ethical thought if we view it as the Middle Platonists (100 B.C.E.-200 C.E.) did. These ancient writers, Annas says, are "eudaimonists"--"they hold that each of us has a final end, which is `eudaimonia,' or happiness..." Annas calls for a radical reinterpretation of the conventional view of the Platonic dialogs, which see their ethical thought developing progressively to a final culmination in the Republic, "where ethics is connected with metaphysical and political theories." On the contrary, Annas argues, each of the dialogs should be analyzed independently in terms of their ethical thought, without the additional baggage that contemporary writers have imposed on them. Reflecting, perhaps, this book's provenance as a series of lectures delivered at Cornell in 1997, Annas's writing is for the most part non-technical and engaging. Most ancient philosophy and classics collections will want this challenging study.--Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Mgt. Lib., Washington, DC
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Introduction: Discovering a Tradition 1
I Many Voices: Dialogue and Development in Plato 9
II Transforming Your Life: Virtue and Happiness 31
III Becoming Like God: Ethics, Human Nature, and the Divine 52
IV The Inner City: Ethics without Politics in the Republic 72
V What Use Is the Form of the Good? Ethics and Metaphysics in Plato 96
VI Humans and Beasts: Moral Theory and Moral Psychology 117
VII Elemental Pleasures: Enjoyment and the Good in Plato 137
Conclusion 162
App Hedonism in the Protagoras 167
Cast of Characters 173
Editions Used 179
Bibliography 181
Index Locorum 185
Index of Names and Subjects 193
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