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The lover of the beautiful and the good: Platonic foundations of aesthetic and moral value

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Abstract

Though acknowledged by scholars, Plato’s identification of the Beautiful and the Good has generated little interest, even in aesthetics where the moral concepts are a current topic. The view is suspect because, e.g., it is easy to find examples of ugly saints and beautiful sinners. In this paper the thesis is defended using ideas from Plato’s ancient commentators, the Neoplatonists. Most interesting is Proclus, who applied to value theory a battery of linguistic tools with fixed semantic properties—comparative adjectives, associated gradable adjectives, mass nouns, and predicate negations—all with a semantics that demand a privative scale of value. It is shown how it is perfectly possible to interpret value terms Platonically over privative Boolean algebras so that beautifuland good diverge while at higher levels other value terms are coextensional. Considerations are offered that this structure conforms to actual usage.

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Correspondence to John Neil Martin.

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Martin, J.N. The lover of the beautiful and the good: Platonic foundations of aesthetic and moral value. Synthese 165, 31–51 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-007-9231-4

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Keywords

  • Aesthetic value
  • Moral value
  • Beauty
  • Goodness
  • Comparative adjectives
  • Gradable adjectives
  • Privative negative
  • Hyper negation
  • Mass nouns
  • Plato
  • Neoplatonism
  • Proclus