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Protagoras: early Sophist, ca. 485 - ca. 415 BC. Well-known, is the so-called homo-mensura- sentence "Man is the measurement of all things - for the beings that they are; for the non-existent that they are not." This sentence is understood to be the sum of the sophistical enlightenment, namely, the assertion that nothing is superior or superordinate to the human. However, the sentence should not be interpreted as an ethical relativization, but it should be understood in an epistemological way. (See Der kleine Pauly, Lexikon der Antike, Munich 1979).

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Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

 
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Plato on Protagoras - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 307
Protagoras/Plato/Keyt/Miller: the Platonic dialogue bearing Protagoras' name contains a long passage (Prot. 320c-328d), customarily referred to as Protagoras' 'Great Speech' , filled with ideas relating to political philosophy. The authenticity of the Great Speech is difficult to gauge since the
work or works of Protagoras on which it might be based are lost. (For a recent defence of its authenticity see Nill, 1985: 5-22.)
Techne: the Great Speech is an answer to two Socratic arguments that the political art (hé politiké techné), which Protagoras claims to teach, cannot in fact be taught.
Myth: The answer is given first in myth (mythos) (Prot. 320c—324d) - not to be taken literally, given Protagoras' well-known agnosticism about the gods (DK 4 and Tht. 162e) - and then in argument (logos) (Prot. 324d—328d). The mythological answer is that the gifts of Zeus, justice and shame (aidös) and the rest of political virtue (politiké areté), unlike the technical skills such as metallurgy, spinning, and weaving distributed by Prometheus, are given to everyone. Demythologized, the gifts of the gods are the gifts of teachers, and the point of the myth is that political virtue is taught to everybody by everybody.
Politics: the Great Speech touches upon most of the antitheses that structure Greek political philosophy.
Education: persuasion and force are the means by which justice and shame are taught (Prot. 325d5). Plato's Protagoras, supposedly an advocate of the art of persuasion, is a surprisingly strong believer in the efficacy of the use of force. The child who resists his teachers' admonitions about the unjust, impious, and base, 'is straightened by threats and blows, like a piece of bent or warped wood' (Prot. 325d; see also 322d, 325ab, 327d).
Nomos/physis/virtues: although nomos and physis are not explicitly distinguished until later in the dialogue (Prot. 337d), one of the themes of the Great Speech is that justice and shame come not by nature but by teaching (Prot. 323c-d). Since these virtues make possible 'the bonds of friendship' the Protagorean version of (Prot. 322c3) - homonoia - these bonds and the poleis they hold together do not exist by nature either.


1. Nill, Michael (1985) Morality and Self-Interest in Protagoras, Antiphon, and Democritus. Leiden: Brill.

Keyt, David and Miller, Fred D. jr. 2004. „Ancient Greek Political Thought“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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