(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Philebus asks whether pleasure or wisdom is the good. Philebus is represented as maintaining that pleasure is the good, while Socrates contends that wisdom, right opinion, and right reasoning are better than pleasure. It is agreed at the outset of the discussion that if a third state of being turns out to be better than either pleasure or wisdom, then neither Philebus nor Socrates will be considered the victor in the argument; but if either pleasure or wisdom turns out to be more akin to the good than the other, the victor will be the one who has defended the state allied with the better and happier life. Protarchus agrees to defend Philebus’s position, and the discussion begins.

Socrates begins his criticism of Philebus’s view by asking Protarchus to identify the quality common to pleasures of various sorts that Philebus designates by the word “good.” Protarchus objects to the question, arguing that pleasures, insofar as they are pleasures, do not differ from one another. However, after Socrates points out that it would be ridiculous to say that the various sciences, because they are all sciences, do not differ from one another, Protarchus agrees to say that there are many different kinds of pleasures, just as there are many different kinds of sciences.

The dialogue here takes a fascinating, although technical, turn. Pleasures are one, but also they are many. This fact suggests the problem of the one and the many, a problem...

(The entire section is 494 words.)