The Tragedy and Comedy of Life: Plato’s Philebus

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With The Tragedy and Comedy of Life, Seth Benardete completes his examination of Plato's understanding of the beautiful, the just, and the good. Benardete first treated the beautiful in The Being of the Beautiful (1984), which dealt with the Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman; and he treated the just in Socrates Second Sailing (1989), which dealt with the Republic and sought to determine the just in its relation to the beautiful and the good. Benardete focuses in this volume on the good as discussed in the Philebus, which is widely regarded as one of Plato's most complex dialogues. Traditionally, the Philebus is interpreted as affirming the supposedly Platonic doctrine that the good resides in thought and mind rather than in pleasure or the body. Benardete challenges this view, arguing that Socrates vindicates the life of the mind over against the life of pleasure not by separating the two and advocating a strict asceticism, but by mixing pleasure and pain with mind in such a way that the philosophic life emerges as the only possible human life. Socrates accomplishes this by making use of two principles – the limited and the unlimited – and shows that the very possibility of philosophy requires not just the limited but also the unlimited, for the unlimited permeates the entirety of life as well as the endless perplexity of thinking itself. Benardete combines a probing and challenging commentary that subtly mirrors and illumines the complexities of this extraordinarily difficult dialogue with the finest English translation of the Philebus yet available. The result is a work that will be of great value to classicists, philosophers, and political theorists alike.

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