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Pursuing the GoodEthics and Metaphysics in Plato's Republic$
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Douglas Cairns and Fritz-Gregor Herrmann

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780748628117

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748628117.001.0001

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Glaucon’s Challenge, Rational Egoism and Ordinary Morality 

Glaucon’s Challenge, Rational Egoism and Ordinary Morality 

(p.42) 2 Glaucon’s Challenge, Rational Egoism and Ordinary Morality
Pursuing the Good

Lesley Brown

Edinburgh University Press

In his inaugural lecture ‘Duty and interest’, delivered in 1928, Prichard singled out for criticism a theme which, he believed, pervaded many ethical theories, both in ancient times and in his more immediate predecessors. This chapter goes against the stream and offers a partial defence of Prichard. Though his criticism was highly influential, the predominant opinion today seems to be that it was misconceived, or at least that it can be answered. Two main strands of a critique can be mentioned. The first part of the critique is to protest that, contrary to what Prichard claims, in the Republic Plato is not offering to show that just actions are for the good or advantage of the agent. Rather, the thesis being defended is one about justice as a characteristic, not of actions, but of an individual's soul. The second part asserts that when Plato makes Socrates talk of being just as advantageous for the just person, he must be understood to mean not that justice is an instrumental good for the agent, but rather an intrinsic good. To combine these, the objector to Prichard says that Plato argues, not that individual just acts pay, but that justice pays, and we must understand that as the claim that justice is in itself worthwhile for the agent to possess. The reply to these objections requires agreement that a person's justice is presented as good for that person. Once that is conceded, as it is by most if not all scholars, Prichard's objection still has considerable force. The chapter defends Prichard's claim that even if the theses he finds in Plato were true, they would not enable us to defend the truth of our ordinary moral convictions.

Keywords:   Plato, Republic, H. R. Pritchard, ethical theory, good, justice, moral convictions

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