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Platonic Ethics, Old and New


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Table of Contents

Discovering a tradition; many voices - dialogue and development in Plato; transforming your life - virtue and happiness; becoming like God - ethics, human nature and the divine; the inner city - ethics without politics in the "Republic"; what use is the form of the good? - ethics and metaphysics in Plato; humans and beasts - moral theory and moral psychology; elemental pleasures - enjoyment and the good in Plato. Appendix: hedonism in the "Protagoras".

About the Author

Julia Annas is Regents Professor at the University of Arizona. Her books include Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind and The Morality of Happiness. She is the coeditor of New Perspectives on Plato, Modern and Ancient.


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

"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

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