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Nussbaum, Martha, and Rosalind Hursthouse. Plato on Commensurability and Desire

1984, Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 58: 55-96.

Diversifying Syllabi: Plato’s belief in the commensurability of values (shared by modern utilitarians) ultimately “cuts very deep: taken seriously, it will transform our passions as well as our decision-making, giving emotions such as love, fear, grief, and hence the ethical problems that are connected with them, an altogether different character” (56). The upshot is that “certain proposals in ethics and social choice theory that present themselves as innocuous extensions of ordinary belief and practice could actually lead, followed and lived with severity and rigor, to the end of human life as we currently know it” (56).

Comment: The text is useful in teaching ethics, especially as a critique of utilitarianism. It can also be used as a reading in history of philosophy classes focusing on ancient ethics. It is rather long, but can be used in excerpts. The paper is largely reprinted in Nussbaum's Fragility of Goodness.