Protagoras

Protagoras

Protagoras

Protagoras

Synopsis

Plato showed up the leading sophist, Protagoras in this dialogue that broadens out into a consideration of the nature of what constitutes the nature of the good life.

Excerpt

In the ProtagorasPlato represents, with the highest degree of dramatic artistry, a discussion between Socrates and the leading sophists of his day on a fundamental moral question, how can one acquire the ability to live the best possible life. In this introduction I shall attempt to explore the interwoven themes of sophistry, the portrayal of Socrates, and the significance of the question which he debates with the sophists. That exploration will also, I hope, throw some light on why the dialogue takes the particular shape, and treats the particular topics it does.

For our purpose Socrates and the sophists are two sides of a single coin, in that the contrast between the two is one of the most important aspects of Plato's portrayal of Socrates. As pointed out in the Explanatory Note on 312a, the sophists were regarded in some quarters as dangerous subversives who taught young men to overthrow established moral conventions with logic-chopping arguments, and there is every reason to believe that Socrates, whose characteristic method of argument had in fact much in common with sophistic methods, was tarred (in some people's minds) with the same brush. Plato certainly believed, very probably rightly, that that association had been instrumental in creating the climate of opinion which had led to the condemnation and death of Socrates (that is one of the main themes of his Apology). It was therefore central to his portrayal of Socrates as the ideal philosopher and educator to represent his activity as antithetical to that of the sophists. So far from its being the case that Socrates was (as popularly perceived) a home- grown, unpaid sophist, Socrates is the genuine exemplar of the philosophical life, of which the sophists merely peddle a counterfeit.

The so-called 'Sophistic Movement' was a complex phenomenon. In the fifth century BC the increasing intellectual sophistication, economic prosperity, and political development of a number of Greek states, particularly Athens . . .

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