References

Protagoras
This article by Carol Poster is an unusually thorough treatment of this important philosopher. From The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Protagoras (480-411 B.C.)
A concise and varied account of the philosopher.

Philosophical Background of the
Fifth Century B.C.

An excellent outline of the historical and political context and impact of the sophists.

The Philosophy
of the Sophists
A thoughtful article with related resources from the Radical Academy (which explicity opposes relativism).

Sophists
An informative article on the Sophists by George Briscoe Kerferd.

Relativism
A detailed and accessible study of relativism in its various forms by Chris Swoyer (University of Oklahoma) from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is long, but no longer than it need be to summarize this vital topic.

 

Protagoras

Everything is relative. 
There are two sides to everything.

Have you heard or used the above claims before?  Like many commonplaces in language and culture, you can trace these claims back to a philosophical source.  Protagoras (pro-TAG-er-us) of Abdera, a contemporary of Socrates, is credited with the first formal statement and defense of these claims and is the first proponent of the philosophical view known today as relativism

Protagoras wrote many works, the most important being Truth (Alethia) and On the Gods (Peritheon). Unfortunately, none of his works have survived the destructive forces of the ages (e.g. Library of Alexandria).  What is known of Protagoras comes to us from the writings of other philosophers especially Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes Laertius, and Sextus Empiricus.  This leaves us with just a few fragments of the great volume of work that Protagoras produced.  Being that just a few surviving sentences have such influence on us, imagine how rich it would be to have his entire body of work. 

Protagoras was a sophist.  The sophists were self-proclaimed teachers who travelled the Greek cities offering to teach young men arts such as rhetoric and public speaking.  These were extreemly useful skills in a quasi-democracy such as Athens, where the ability to persuade the majority could lead to political and economic power. Some sophists claimed to be able to teach knowledge, wisdom, and virtue, apparently on the basis that such qualities were defined by majority opinion (hence, if you can convince the majority that you are wise, then you are wise).

Aristotle credits Protagoras for the grammatical rule of classifying nouns by gender [Rhetoric 1407b]. Aristotle criticizes Protagoras for teaching techniques for "making the weaker argument appear the stronger."  Protagoras was a religious agnostic as shown in a frament from his On The Gods;

"About the gods, I am not able to know whether they exist or do not exist, nor what they are like in form; for the factors preventing knowledge are many: the obscurity of the subject, and the shortness of human life."

About 300 years after Protagoras lived he was quoted in Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius;

"There are two sides to every question."

His most famous view is a fragment from Truth as quoted by Plato and others;

"Of all things the measure is Man, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not."

Even today, more than 2,500 years later, scholars continue to reinterpret the meaning and implications of the Protagorean philosophy.  To start such an investigation it is necessary to consider how Aristotle and Plato reacted to Protagoras' ideas.

Next - learn more about the Duo Logoi problem Next page


 

 

IQ Home

Aquinas
Aristotle
Augustine
Berkeley
Confucius
Descartes

Douglass

Foucault
Hobbes
Hume
Hypatia
Kant
Kierkegaard
Lao Tzu
Leibniz
Locke
Marx
Mill
Montaigne
Pascal
Plato
Protagoras
Rand
Russell
Schopenhauer
Socrates
Spinoza
Thales

 
2003