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This touches on a fundamental problem with Plato’s work – namely whether to follow a ‘unitarian’, ‘revisionist’, or ‘developmentalist’ approach to Plato’s writings.Whereas unitarians regard the dialogues as pieces of one mosaic, and take the view that Plato in essence maintains a unified doctrine from his earliest to his latest works, revisionists maintain that Plato’s thought underwent a fundamental transformation later in his life, while ‘developmentalist’ hold that Plato’s views evolved significantly throughout his career.
Instead, at least in some texts, Plato’s moral ideals appear both austere and self-abnegating: The soul is to remain aloof from the pleasures of the body in the pursuit of higher knowledge, while communal life demands the subordination of individual wishes and aims to the common good.: ‘excellence’) are the requisite skills and dispositions needed to attain it.If Plato’s conception of happiness is elusive and his support for a morality of happiness seems somewhat subdued, there are several reasons.Although these presuppositions may appear to be self-evident, most of the time, human beings are aware of them only implicitly, because many individuals simply lead their lives in accordance with pre-established standards and values that are, under normal circumstances, not objects of reflection.It is only in times of crisis that a society’s traditions and precepts are challenged by someone like Socrates, who sees the need to disturb his fellows’ complacency.What we regard as a life worth living depends on the notion we have of our own nature and of the conditions of its fulfillment.
This, in turn, is determined, at least in part, by the values and standards of the society we live in.
Instead, Plato largely confines himself to the depiction of the good soul and of what is good for the soul, on the assumption that the state of the soul is the necessary and sufficient condition for the good life and its moral precepts.
This abstemiousness explains the widely diverging reconstructions of Plato’s ethics in the secondary literature from antiquity to this day.
If ethics is widely regarded as the most accessible branch of philosophy, it is so because many of its presuppositions are self-evident or trivial truths: All human actions, for example, serve some end or purpose; whether they are right or wrong depends on an actor’s overall aims.
At least for secularists, the attainment of these overall aims is thought to be a condition or prerequisite for a good life.
The positive accounts contained in the middle dialogues – the so-called ‘Platonic’ dialogues – that are grouped around the – treat happiness in different ways as a state of perfection.