Platonic Ethics, Old and New

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Cornell University Press, 1999 - Philosophy - 196 pages

Julia Annas here offers a fundamental reexamination of Plato's ethical thought by investigating the Middle Platonist perspective, which emerged at the end of Plato's own school, the Academy. She highlights the differences between ancient and modern assumptions about Plato's ethics—and stresses the need to be more critical about our own.

One of these modern assumptions is the notion that the dialogues record the development of Plato's thought. Annas shows how the Middle Platonists, by contrast, viewed the dialogues as multiple presentations of a single Platonic ethical philosophy, differing in form and purpose but ultimately coherent. They also read Plato's ethics as consistently defending the view that virtue is sufficient for happiness, and see it as converging in its main points with the ethics of the Stoics.

Annas goes on to explore the Platonic idea that humankind's final end is "becoming like God"—an idea that is well known among the ancients but virtually ignored in modern interpretations. She also maintains that modern interpretations, beginning in the nineteenth century, have placed undue emphasis on the Republic, and have treated it too much as a political work, whereas the ancients rightly saw it as a continuation of Plato's ethical writings.


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Platonic ethics, old and new

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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 ... Read full review


Dialogue and Development in Plato
Virtue and Happiness
Ethics Human Nature
Ethics without Politics in the Republic
What Use Is the Form of the Good? Ethics
Moral Theory and Moral Psychology
Enjoyment and the Good in Plato
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Index of Names and Subjects

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About the author (1999)

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.

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