Form and Meaning of Happiness in Plato

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An Analysis of the Form and Meaning of Happiness in Plato’s Republic

I. Introduction

One of the central claims of Plato’s Republic is that justice is not only desirable for its own sake, but that it maximises the happiness of those who practice it. This paper examines Plato’s arguments in support of this thesis to determine (a) what he means by happiness, (b) to what extent it exists in his proposed ideal state, and (c) whether this in any way substantiates his claims about the benefits of justice. In particular, I will argue that there are two different conceptions of happiness at play in The Republic, and two methods of achieving its highest form, namely the pursuit of justice and philosophy, before arriving at a final definition of
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However, although this provides us with a way of categorising pleasure, it does not bring us any closer to a theory of happiness, as there is no suggestion that it too has three different forms. From this I conclude that Plato considers the notion of pleasure to be insufficient as an explanation of happiness, and that these instead represent two different, but interrelated, concepts.

III. Happiness and Justice

In order to fully appreciate what Plato means by eudaimonia, we must instead consider the ways in which it is supposedly achieved: namely, through the twin pursuits of justice and philosophy. The first argument for this thesis is found at the end of Book 1 (352d–354a) where Socrates states that everything has both a characteristic function and a virtue (or excellence) that enables it to perform its function well. He goes on to say that living is the function of the soul, and justice its characteristic excellence, from which it follows that the just man lives well and is therefore happy. This is a classic piece of Socratic wordplay that relies upon a disputed, question-begging premise (justice being the virtue of the soul), two unsubstantiated assumptions (that the soul has both a function and an excellence) and equivocation (‘to live well’ is the same as ‘to be happy’), all of which renders it
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