THE STORYLINE OF PLATO'S PROTAGORAS*
The Protagoras is said to be an aporetic1 dialogue because of the perception that the philosophical problems which Socrates adduces are unresolved. The most prominent is the question whether or not ??et? is teachable. Initially, Socrates believes that it is not teachable. However, at the end of the dialogue, in his summary of it, Socrates' expressed view is the opposite. I propose a reading of the Protagoras that explains why Socrates contradicts himself. Here is an overview of the dialogue as I see it. Socrates' examination of Protagoras indicates that the sophist believes that ?d???a and s?f??s??? are compatible, despite his refusal to say so in public. And Protagoras' definition of ??d?e?a, at 351b1?2, that it is derived from nature and from the good nurture (scil. of that nature) in souls, is an apothegm or wise saying. The sophist's autobiographical account at 316c et seq. reveals that he hires out as consigliere to political adventurers. At 318e, he opens the prospect of wielding supreme power in the city. However, so far as is known, Socrates' friend Hippocrates does not desire political power; rather, he wishes to be made wise, as he indicates at 310d. Lest it draw the young man to follow after its Pied Piper author, thus dissolving their friendship, the wise saying must disappear. Henceforth, Protagoras is forbidden to play an active role in the inquiry. Socrates argues, speciously, for the equivalence of pleasure and the Good, in support of an alternative definition of ??d?e?a. The sophist reluctantly accepts Socrates' definition in place of his own. By this unsaying of the wise saying as it were, the proximate reason for Hippocrates to associate with Protagoras disappears. Socrates leaves Kritias' house with the young man, their friendship preserved.
1. The testing of Protagoras (309?335b)
Socrates encounters an unnamed acquaintance to whom he recounts the events of the day.
Hippocrates had awakened Socrates before daybreak. He informs Socrates that Protagoras has arrived in Athens the previous day, which Hippocrates only learned of late at night, for he had spent the daylight hours in the countryside, chasing after a runaway slave. This strenuous
* I follow the text of John Burnet, Platonis opera, Vols. 1?5, (Oxford, 1901?06). Translations of the Greek are mine unless otherwise indicated.
1 Cf. C. H. Kahn, Plato and the Socratic dialogue (Cambridge 1996), 98.
itinerary to recover a slave named Satyrus suggests that the young man intends to be master of his desires, unlike the p????? whose ???as?a Socrates addresses in his hedonic calculus demonstration.
Socrates corrects the young man: Protagoras actually arrived two days ago. Socrates has already attended the first full day of discussions at Kallias' house.2
Hippocrates means to dissolve his relations with family and friends, of whom Socrates is one (?µ?? t?? ?ta???? [313b1]), in order to associate with Protagoras, not out of political ambition, but to be made wise. The young man jokes that the sophist has wronged him ‘because he is the only wise man and doesn't make me one’ (310d5?6).
Socrates warns of the danger of being poisoned by what is on offer from sophists. Just as grocers sell food for the body, some of it perchance spoiled, sophists sell food for the soul. Unlike provisions from the market, which may be carried off and tested by experts in the kitchen, the latter must be consumed immediately upon purchase.
Later, at Kallias' house, Socrates presents himself and Hippocrates to Protagoras. The sophist asks whether they prefer to confer privately or in public. The intentions of some must be kept secret, requiring private discussion, as in the case of nephews and protégés of rulers (discussed below). As Protagoras desires to give a public demonstration, he thanks Socrates for providently bringing him someone whose intentions may be discussed openly.
The sophist describes himself as a foreigner who trawls the great cities, persuading the best young men to abandon their usual intercourse with friends and family. These alienations of affection cause resentments (f?????), unpleasantnesses (d?sµ??e?a?), and even plots (?p?ß???a?) against him. Doing what he does puts him in existential danger from deadly enemies. Who are these violent men? Their identity is not far to seek. It seems that Homer, Hesiod, and other sophists, fearing resentment, disguised what they were up to as best they could. But it did not escape the notice of the rulers of the cities (t??? d??aµ????? ??
ta?? p??es? p??tte?? [317a3]), that members of their inner circle, closely bound to them by ties of friendship and family, but impatient to rule in their stead, were engaged in private discussions with new associates.
The audience seated, Socrates is asked to say again what he said before, that Hippocrates desires to be well-respected in the city. Instead, Socrates asks what the young man will get from associating with Protagoras. The sophist promises that he will get what he came for. Socrates presses him to say exactly what that might be. Protagoras' µ???µa is for the sake of optimally managing one's estate ‘and that one might be the most powerful in the things of the city in doing and speaking’ (?p?? t? t?? p??e?? d??at?tat?? ?? e?? ?a? p??tte?? ?a? ???e?? [319a1?2]). Later on, at 354b4?5, ‘rule over others’ (????? ???a?) and ‘wealth’ (p???t??) terminate a list of pleasures. The former is a lapidary phrase, capturing in two words the essence of being preeminent in the affairs of the city in speaking in favor of one's agenda and effecting it; the latter term names the telos of Protagoras' teaching of how best to manage one's estate.
Socrates closes off the prospect of wealth and rule over others by recasting Protagoras' µ???µa into a harmless platitude. He paraphrases the sophist's teaching as referring to the science of politics and promising to make men into good citizens. This, Protagoras replies, is precisely3 what he teaches. Earlier, Socrates spoke of the danger of purchasing food for the soul from a sophist that must be consumed immediately; here, in effect, he has carried it off uneaten to be tested, as it were in vessels.
Socrates denies that ??et? is teachable. He cites the Athenian customs that permit all citizens to offer advice about policy initiatives in the assembly, yet accept advice on technical issues only from competent professionals trained by known teachers in these areas. Socrates concludes that the Athenians do not consider themselves to have been formally taught to exercise justice and prudence in making policy decisions. As Protagoras will presently point out, the contradiction disappears if every citizen acquires these aspects of ??et? through long practice and each deems himself expert in making policy decisions.
Socrates also observes that men of great excellence, such as Pericles, appear from time to time and are recognized as such. Yet they have no known teacher of their excellence, nor are they able to transmit it to their sons. Accordingly, ??et? is not teachable. In the speech, Protagoras commends the practice of having children read poetry about great and good men of old ‘so that the child be zealous to imitate them and to strive to become such as they were,’ but he is not concerned about how great men come to possess ??et? in full. He describes ordinary
3 Cf. C. C. W. Taylor, Plato ‘Protagoras’ (Oxford, 1976), 71: ‘We find it startling that Socrates should equate teaching the art of how to run a city with making men into good citizens, and that Protagoras should accept this equation.’ Socrates has pressured Protagoras (318b1?d4) into revealing the maximalist programme of his µ???µa. Because it is safer to discuss such matters with a prospective associate in private, the sophist apparently regrets its public disclosure and elects to unsay it, as it were, by endorsing warmly Socrates' innocuous substitution. So far as I know, Taylor is the only scholar who acknowledges the disparity between the µ???µa and Socrates' paraphrase.
citizens who assiduously inculcate demotic ??et? into their children. (Socrates uses the same language, at Phd. 82a11?b3, to praise highly ‘those who practice a demotic and civic ??et? that they call s?f??s??? and d??a??s???, which (scil. ??et?) comes to be from habit and practice, without philosophy or reason’). The inculcation of civic justice into children is reinforced with threats, beatings and the prospect of worse. Protagoras' opinion that man is unjust by nature is reflected in the account of the origin of mankind, told in the form of a myth. The natural injustice of primitive men is resolved by Zeus' contrivance for their preservation, if they are to live in cities: all must be coerced to be just towards one another.
Socrates has reported the entirety of Protagoras’ speech. Some points he agrees with, others not. It may be safely assumed that he is in agreement that ?s??t?? is innate in man. And that the particulars of d??a??s??? in democratic cities like Athens are specified and ratified by the will of the people, as is shown by the metaphor, at 330c6, where Socrates solicits a vote for the proposition that justice is just. Socrates also believes that reverence for the gods (?s??t??) and the practice of d??a??s??? are often closely intertwined in city life, as is illustrated by Protagoras’ method for exacting delinquent payment of tuition (discussed below). Contrariwise, Socrates does not agree with Protagoras’ characterization of justice as a coercive Social Contract. Protagoras paired d??? with a?d??, the sophist asserting that conjointly with their lack of justice towards others, men are naturally shameless. Earlier that day, the dramatic detail of Hippocrates blushing in the dark, at 312a2, indicates that a?d?? may be experienced autonomously and unwitnessed. This real-world event argues against the notion that mankind is naturally shameless. Likewise, the fact that great men appear from time to time and are recognized as such, although they lack any known teacher of their excellence, argues against the notion that all men are naturally unjust.
Socrates has implicitly undertaken to examine the salubrity of the sophist's wares which he has carried off for inspection. Aside the charm of the origin myth and the logos of civilization that it entails, it remains to be determined whether Protagoras' teaching about ruling others is as just and equitable as the Eleatic stranger's science in the Statesman or the opposite.
Socrates asks Protagoras whether the parts of ??et? are different from one another and have different functions, as different as the mouth's function to that of the eyes and unlike pieces of gold, which differ only in largeness and smallness, and that having one part does not
imply that one has another part, unlike parts of the face.4 Or, he asks, are all the parts of ??et?
4 A face without nose or mouth is not a face.
names for the same single existent thing? In this context,5 the latter remark, expressed interrogatively, functions as the polar opposite to the sophist’s opinion that the parts of ??et? are separate and separable things. The notion is echoed at 349b2?3, where p??te ??ta ???µata, ?p? ??? p???µat? ?st?? again expresses the polar opposite to the sophist’s opinions. Protagoras takes it that the words d??a??s???, ?s??t??, s?f??s???, s?f?a and ??d?e?a name different human activities or capacities, conjoined or not as may be. As he says (329e5?6), many are ??d?e???, but unjust, and (scil. many) are just, but not wise. The first pair of uncongenial dispositions reminds that the primitive men of the myth would have exercised ??d?e?a in killing or fending off a dangerous animal, singulatim, with firebrand or farm implement. But in the war against packs of predator animals, they were the weaker because, lacking justice towards their fellow soldiers, they did not come to one another's defense. It is also represented in the speech that the innate6 disposition of men to reverence the gods (?s??t??) is anterior in historical time7 and different in origin from that of justice, which first occurs in cities.
Socrates observes and Protagoras agrees that the words ?s??t?? and d??a??s??? name a specific activity or practice (p???µa) of civilized men. Socrates argues that the eponymous that the eponymous attribute of ?s??t?? applies to d??a??s??? and vice versa. Protagoras is not entirely in agreement. In the myth, the ???? of one was described as radically different from the ???? of the other. However, in present-day city life, these parts of ??et? are practiced in concert, as illustrated by the sophist’s procedure, at 328b4?c2, for exacting delinquant payment of his tuition:
5 For analyses of the remark as an atomic statement, aside its context in the discussion, cf. R. E. Allen, Plato’s ‘Euthyphro’ and the Earlier Theory of the Forms (New York 1970), 82, 93?100; G. Vlastos, ‘The Unity of the Virtues in Protagoras,’ RevMeta 72 (1972), 415?458, reprinted and emended in Platonic Studies, 2nd ed. (Princeton 1981), 221?269; Taylor (n. 3), 103?108; Denyer (n. 2), 122?123.
6 322a4: mankind alone worshipped gods ‘through consanguinity with deity’ (d?? t?? t?? ?e?? s?????e?a?).
7 Cf. U. v. Wilamowitz?Moellendorff, Der Glaube der Hellenen (Berlin 1931/32), 1.13: ‘Es ist eine fundamentale Tatsache, die nie vergessen werden darf, so oft es auch geschieht, daß die Moral im Zusammenleben der Menschen entsteht, anders als der Glaube an die Götter, die selbst erst spät von den Menschen zu moralischen Wesen umgebildet werden.’
And (scil. my teaching) is worth the price (µ?s???) which I set and even more, as it seems to a student. Which relates to the way I collect the µ?s???. For whenever
someone learns my teaching, if willing, he pays8 the price that I set. If unwilling, he is led into a temple where he swears to the god that he is (scil. truly) declaring how much the teaching is worth, and pays that price.
It seems that docile students paid the set price, others quibbled about the price, and some flat out refused to pay. Protagoras considers the latter to be acting unjustly towards him, making him the victim of ?d???a. This is his strategm to avoid being mulcted. The unjust refusal to pay for value received in the secular world goes by the board by leading the debtor into a temple where, in fear of divine retribution for swearing falsely in an oath in the house of the god, he declares the true worth, in local currency, of the teaching and pays up. In transactions of this sort, ?s??t?? and d??a??s??? are copresent and the act is biconditionally just and pious.
Protagoras proposes that Socrates' proposition be assumed for the sake of argument: ‘Let us assume that d??a??s??? is ?s??? and ?s??t?? is d??a???.’ Socrates forbids Protagoras the use of hypotheticals. To this diktat, Protagoras replies that everything may be hypothesized: ‘in one way or another, all things are the same as everything else.’ Accordingly, even opposites like black and white, hard and soft, have some degree of likeness. Socrates dares Protagoras to say that ?s??t?? and justice have so little in common as black and white. ‘Not so, he replies, at all, nor yet, on the other hand, as I believe you regard them.’9 The sophist’s feelings that these words express are identified by Socrates who goes on to say ‘You seem to me to be in a state of displeasure as regards our conversation’ (d?s?e??? d??e?? µ?? ??e?? p??? t??t?). Socrates’ diktat and his subsequent remarks here are apparently instances of the unpleasantnesses Protagoras spoke of earlier, at 316d2?3, that he typically experiences at the hands of those who resent the prospect of losing an intimate to the sophist’s circle. Thus
8 Cf. W. W. Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb (Boston), 1890, 53: Chapter 154: ‘The aorist and sometimes the perfect indicative are used in animated language to express general truths. These are called the gnomic aorist and the gnomic perfect, and are usually to be translated by our present.’ In the following chapter, Prt. 328b4?c2 illustrates this usage: ‘Here the perfect and aorist, according to the MSS., are used in nearly the same sense, he pays.’
9 I am quoting the translation of W. R. M. Lamb, Plato: Protagoras, (Cambridge, Mass. 1924).
Protagoras’ state of d?s???e?a.
In the second discussion, by means of not very convincing arguments, Socrates proves
that s?f??s??? and s?f?a are the same thing. Protagoras agrees very reluctantly (?a? µ??’ ????t??).
Socrates recapitulates the conclusions of the prior discussions: ‘Then s?f??s??? and s?f?a would be one? And before that, we saw that d??a??s??? and ?s??t?? were virtually the same.’
The subsequent discussion (333b7?335c7) has been interpreted as an attempt by Socrates to prove that d??a??s??? is the same as s?f??s???.10 This reading reflects a cavalier attitude towards the text in that the word d??a??s??? appears nowhere in this passage.
Socrates predicts at 333c7?9 that it is now the turn of Protagoras the person11 to be examined. The sophist discountances such an examination, alleging that it would be displeasing (t?? ??? ????? ?t??t? d?s?e?? e??a?), but eventually agrees to answer. Socrates asks
10 Cf. G. Grote, Plato and the other companions of Sokrates (London 1888), 2.280: ‘Meanwhile . . . Sokrates pursues his examination, with intent to prove that justice (d??a??s???) and moderation (s?f??s???) are identical.’ J. and A. M. Adam, Platonis Protagoras (Cambridge 1893), 136: ‘If d??a??s??? = ?s??t?? and s?f??s??? = s?f?a it remains to identify either d??a??s??? or ?s??t?? with either s?f??s??? or s?f?a in order to prove the identity of these four virtues. Socrates begins to prove that d??a??s??? = s?f??s???.’ Allen (n. 3), 95: ‘. . . the third (scil. discussion) (333d-334a), which is interrupted without reaching its conclusion, would have maintained the unity of justice and temperance.’ Vlastos (n. 3), 415, n. 1 (article), 221, n. 1 (book): “The defense is presented in the form of separate arguments for the unity of four pairs of virtues: (1) Justice and Piety (330B6-331E6); (2) Wisdom and Temperance (332A4-333B6); (3) Temperance and Justice (333B8-334C6)); (4) Courage and Wisdom (349D2-350C5).” Taylor (n. 3), 131: ‘333b7?334a2 Socrates begins an argument to prove the identity of justice with sophrosune.’ B. Manuwald, Platon Protagoras, (Göttingen 1999), 271: ‘333b7?334c6 Sokrates setzt dazu an, sophrosyne und Gerechtigkeit als identisch zu erweisen, jedoch kommt die Argumentation wegen längerer Ausfuhrungen des Protagoras über die Vielfältigkeit und Relativität des Nützlichen und Guten nicht zum Abschluß.’ Denyer (n. 2), 132: ‘Socrates starts to present an argument that temperance and justice are a single thing.’
11 Cf. Kahn (n. 1), 97: ‘The elenchus described in the Apology is a testing of persons, not propositions. (This conception of the elenchus is occasionally expressed in the dialogues, for instance at Laches 1877E?188B and Protagoras 333C . . . ).’
Protagoras whether an ?d???? man is s?f???, when practicing ?d???a. Protagoras replies ‘I would be ashamed to agree, although there are many who say this.’ The usual reading of
this exchange is that Protagoras disagrees12 with the proposition. But the sophist has already approvingly cited, at 323b2?7, in the speech, the view which he is now ashamed to call his own: ‘. . . if it is known that someone is ?d????, and if he says the truth about himself before others, what was deemed to be s?f??s??? elsewhere, here is insanity: everyone agrees that all must say they are d??a???, whether they are so or not . . . .’
Socrates returns to the question. ‘Do some men seem to you to be s?f???, when practicing ?d???a?’
Protagoras: ?st?, ?f?. The sophist answers hypothetically.
Socrates: ‘And you agree that being s?f??? is the same as thinking prudentially?’
Protagoras: ?f?. The sophist affirms this in his own voice.
Socrates: ‘And that e? f???e?? (prudential thinking) is (scil. the same as) e? ß???e?es?a?, when practicing ?d???a?’
Protagoras: ?st?, ?f?.
E?ß????a is surely what Protagoras teaches (cf. 318e5), but the reappearance of the condition ‘when practicing ?d???a’ forces him, again, to answer hypothetically. Socrates'
12 Cf. Adam and Adam (n. 9), 137: ‘Protagoras' own opinion’ is ‘that ?d???a is not compatible with s?f??s???.’ W. Nestle, Platonis Protagoras (Leipzig and Berlin 1910), 97: ‘Protagoras bekennt sich als Gegner der weitverbreiteten Lehre vom Naturrecht des Stärkeren, die auf eine völlige Umwertung aller sittlichen Werte hinauslief [Thuk. III 82] . . . . C. Ritter, Platon, (Munich 1910), 1.322: ‘Die Frage, ob ihm etwa ein ungerecht Handelnder eben damit Besonnenheit zu betätigen scheine, verneint er zwar für sich ganz entschieden.’ M. Pohlenz, Aus Platos Werdezeit (Berlin 1913), 99, n. 3: ‘Protagoras selber bekennt als seine Ansicht ?t? ??de?? ?d???? s?f???e? [333c], was uns nach dem Mythos nicht verwundern kann.’ G. Vlastos, Plato Protagoras (New York 1956), viii: ‘But he (scil. Plato) also makes it clear that, unlike some salesmen, this one has moral inhibitions. Protagoras refuses to admit that injustice is compatible with sophrosyne; many would assert this, he says, but not he: he would be ashamed to say such a thing.’ R. K. Sprague, ‘An Unfinished Argument in Plato's Protagoras,’ Apeiron 1 (1967), 2: Protagoras' ‘own opinion’ is ‘that acts of injustice are intemperate.’ Manuwald (n. 9), 272: ‘Protagoras’ verwahrt sich gegen diese Ansicht (scil. that ?d???a and s?f??s??? are compatible), die er als verbreitet bezeichnet . . . .’ An exception is P. Friedländer, Platon (Berlin 1957), 2.16: ‘Aber wenn Protagoras sich nun herbeiläßt die Meinung (scil. that ?d???a and s?f??s??? are compatible) der Vielen gesprachsweise zu vertreten, so wird man sich fragen, ob er sie nicht auch im Erneste vertreten könnte.’
repetition, retraction, and reinsertion of the damning phrase drives the sophist to frame his
answers alternatively in third person hypothetical or first person indicative. This is
embarrassingly revelatory of Protagoras' personal opinion that ?d???a and s?f??s??? are compatible.
Socrates lobs him a soft ball: ??te???, ?? d’ ???, e? e? p??tt??s?? ?d?????te? ? e? ?a???; The syntax permits Progaoras to reply simply e? e?, thereby obscuring whether he is affirming the transgressive proposition in propria voce or hypothesizing it.
Socrates and Protagoras agree that good things exist. The sophist delivers a speech on various kinds of ??a??. The first kind of ??a?? is useful to one species of animal, but harmful to another species. A second kind of ??a?? is useful to one part of a species of animal, but harmful to another part of the same species. By analogy, there is likely a third kind of ??a??, useful to some members of a species, but harmful to others of the same species, as when some men practice ?d???a against other men with the impunity that s?f??s??? affords.
Olive oil is an example of the second kind of ??a??, good on the outside of a man's body, inside the worst of evils (scil. when ill). All doctors forbid the sick to ingest olive oil, other than the smallest amount sprinkled on food, ‘just enough to quench the displeasure (? d?s???e?a) of the sensations in the nostrils that occur (scil. when a sick man eats) porridges and sauces.’ The invalid's nausea at the smell and taste of food is handily relieved by drizzling a small amount of oil on it. Unlike unremitting and excruciating pain, or good pain that results, afterwards, in greater pleasure, easily mitigated nasal displeasure is a pain that is neither good nor bad. Protagoras' d?s???e?a at Socrates' harsh treatment is a pain of this kind.
The sophist has eluded the cast of Socrates' net by delivering a well-received speech. Socrates protests: Protagoras should give measured answers. But this is the man whose motto is ‘man the measure of all things.’ The sophist's metrics are infinitely elastic, except for money. He asks whether his answers should be tailored to suit him or Socrates. Socrates tries another
approach: if the sophist will not agree regarding the middle or mean of the yardstick for measuring answers, perhaps he can be flattered into agreement about its extremes. Praising Protagoras as able not only to speak more tersely than anyone else on the same subject (cf. Grg. 449b?c) but interminably as well, Socrates asks him to exercise the former talent. Protagoras insists that he will not be ordered about.
This glimpse of the sophist’s personal opinion and private counsel regarding the compatability of ?d???a and s?f??s??? indicates that Protagoras' µ???µa is unfit to
consume. Socrates declares that it is no longer his ?????13 to continue the conversation. He gets
up to go but is prevailed upon to stay.
2. Protagoras' wise saying and its aftermath (342a?359a)
Afterwards, Protagoras praises literary criticism as the acme of educational accomplishment. He identifies a seeming contradiction in a poem by Simonides. Socrates undertakes to justify the contradiction with dubious arguments. He then deprecates literary criticism as idle entertainment.
Protagoras reluctantly (µ????) undertakes to answer Socrates’ questions. Socrates specifies the right way14 to pursue a thought (348d3?4): ‘When one is alone and thinks about something, straightway he goes about seeking a man, until he should come upon him, to whom he might demonstrate (scil. the thought) and, with that man, ascertain (scil. whether it be true or false).’ An instance of such a collaboration took place at 314c3?7, when Socrates and Hippocrates, on the way to Kallias' house, stop to resolve a thought.
In the ensuing discussion (349a6?351b2), Socrates restates the propositions that Protagoras agreed to earlier. The sophist still believes that, unlike the parts of the face, one may possess one part of ??et? without possessing the other parts. Conceding now that four of the parts of ??et? are fairly close to one another (?p?e???? pa?ap??s?a ????????), he nevertheless maintains that ??d?e?a is an outlier and that it often cohabits with vice (349d6?8): ‘You will find many who are quite unjust (?d????) and impious (???s???) and undisciplined (????ast??) and uneducated (?µa?e??), but are exceptionally ??d?e??? (scil.
13 This is the mid-point of the dialogue: slightly more than 27 Stephanus pages separate 335b2 from the beginning of the Protagoras and from its end.
14 Like the unpleasantnesses (d?sµ??e?a?) that Socrates visits on the sophist, the stipulation at 348d3?4 that a d?a???µa be confirmed as true or false in collaboration with another, and its abrogation at 351e8?9, are moments of the storyline. In the Symposium, Socrates’ philosophical practice is represented differently. At Smp. 174d?175a, it is reported to Agathon, the host of the party, that Socrates has paused outside alone and is rapt in thought. Aristodemus explains that this is Socrates' habit (????). Later in that dialogue, Alcibiades recalls having seen Socrates speculating in solitary the length of a full winter’s day during the Athenian military campaign at Potidaia.
in battle).’ The well-travelled Protagoras knows the world. Socrates, at the putative date of the
Protagoras, had not yet fought abroad, nor observed the behavior of off-duty soldiers in
bivouac. But he had trained in his branch of the military15 and realized that training had made him a bolder hoplite. Socrates names other dangerous professions. Divers, cavalry, and light-infantry perform their perilous duties more boldly than before they were trained. Training is a kind of ?p?st?µ?. If boldness is from ?p?st?µ?, and if boldness and ??d?e?a cohabit in the person of Socrates and in others, then perhaps16 ??d?e?a is from ?p?st?µ?. Protagoras objects that boldness and ??d?e?a are not always copresent in a person; boldness also comes from professional competence or anger or insanity.
The sophist goes on to say that ??d?e?a comes (????eta?) from nature and from the good nurture (scil. of inchoate ??d?e?a) in souls.17 The idea is expressed in eight words of Greek, brief so as to recall Socrates’ anecdote about the pithy remark of the stupid Spartan, at 342d6?e4, who so flustered his interlocuter with an unexpected ??µa.
Readers may well fail to realize that the sophist's remark, at 351b1?2, is an apothegm or wise saying and Socrates' replacement of it, at 360d1?2, its opposite. Happily, passages in other dialogues support this reading, aside their contextual significance. Consider Rep. 429d4?e5, where Socrates locates martial ??d?e?a in a subset of citizens, fewer than the number of metal workers; these are the guardian-soldiers of the Just City. He likens the nature and nurture of guardian-soldiers to dyers who pick out, from other colors, wool that is white by nature and, by
15 How he managed to train is unknown. Cf. H. v. Wees, Greek Warfare : myth and realities (London 2004), 94: ‘But they (scil. hoplites) were not, however, subjected to any regular programme of training: in an anecdote set in the late fifth cenury, when he himself was growing up, Xenophon has Socrates say to an unfit youug man; just because the city offers no public military training (van Wees' emphasis) is absolutely no reason why you should neglect it in private, too (Memorabilia 3.12.5).’ Ibid., 55: ‘Poorer men would get themselves a shield and spear if they had the chance. Socrates who had no regular income and whose house and furniture were worth no more than 500 drachmas, nevertheless fought as a hoplite in the large force which laid siege to Potidaea in 432?429 BC and in the general levy which invaded Boeotia in 424 BC. Men in his position, keen to serve but probably unable to afford it from their own means, might be helped out by better-off neighbours and friends.’
16 The proposition seems expressed tentatively.
17 The notion in so many words is not referred to by other ancient authors. Plato may have modelled it on the remark of the historical Protagoras, adventitiously preserved at DK 80 B3: f?se?? ?a? ?s??se?? d?das?a??a de?ta?. For the history of a related thought, see P. Shorey, ‘Phusis, Melete, Episteme’, TAPA 40 (1909), 185?201.
means of a complex procedure, imbue white cloth with fast colors that do not fade
even when scoured by harsh detergent. The steadfastness of the guardian-solders is like the color fastness of the dyed cloth.
The particulars of Socrates’ definition of ??d?e?a are these (Rep. 429e8?430a4):
‘ . . . and when we chose (scil. those likely to become) soldiers (st?at??ta?) . . . educated through music and gymnastics . . . and persuaded by the ??µ??, they acquire ???? d??a18 regarding the dreadful things (t? de???) and the other things (t? ???a) . . . and possessing such a gift of nature and it having received its appropriate nurture, . . . this I name and set down to be ??d?e?a.’ The phrase d?? t? t?? te f?s?? ?a? t?? t??f?? ?p?t?de?a? ?s?????a? in the Republic echoes the sophist's definition in the Protagoras: ??d?e?a d? ?p? f?se?? ?a? e?t??f?a? t?? ????? ????eta?. Socrates’ reprise of and elaboration on Protagoras' remark warrants that Prt. 351b1?2 is a wise saying.
Conversely, in the Laches, Nicias reprises Socrates’ replacement of the sophist’s wise saying in the Protagoras. Nicias asserts, at La. 194e?195a, that ??d?e?a is the ?p?st?µ? (s?f?a in the Protagoras) of dreadful and emboldening circumstances in war and elsewhere.
Socrates in the Laches observes that t? de??? cause fear and that fear is the expectation of a future evil. Thus Nicias’ notion is open to the objection that his ?p?st?µ? of t? de??? concerns only the future, whereas if ??d?e?a is an ?p?st?µ?, it should bear on past, present and future alike, as sciences do. Socrates gets Nicias to acknowledge, at 199e12, that he does not know what ??d?e?a is. The fact that Nicias’ definition of ??d?e?a, refuted by Socrates in the Laches and subsequently withdrawn by its author, is identical to that of Socrates in the Protagoras disconfirms the latter.
But what if the Laches and/or the Republic had not survived? Is it possible to recognize the pair of opposites on their own? If Socrates' definition of ??d?e?a does not
make sense, as Aristotle concluded (see n. 25), then its opposite sensu stricto would be wise.
18 ???? d??a concerning the dreadful things is not about recognizing self-evident de??? as such or noticing their absence; rather it is the ground of ???? p????? in face of the patently dire circumstances of battle and in all other circumstances. For the guardian-soldier, betraying his nature and training by running away is conduct to be feared above all; dying in battle to preserve the city is preferable. Manuwald (n. 9), 377, cites the Republic passage in connection with Prt. 351b3. As best I can make out, his view is that despite the simularity of language, Protagoras in the Protagoras and Socrates in the Republic are speaking of different kinds of ??d?e?a.
The saying changes the tenor of the conversation. Protagoras guardedly alluded,
at 316d?317a, to his role as consigliere to political adverturers,19 was pressured by Socrates into publicly offering this service at 318e and, as it seems, condones and counsels the pairing of ?d???a with s?f??s??? in such endeavors. But Socrates' friend Hippocrates, so far as is known, is innocent of political ambition. Socrates is now at risk of losing the young man's friendship. If the wise saying is allowed to stand, it will necessarily20 draw Hippocrates, whose expressed intent is to be made wise, to follow after its author.
Immediately upon the sophist uttering his wise waying, Socrates changes the subject.21 In order to preserve his friendship with Hippocrates, Socrates replaces Protagoras' definition of ??d?e?a with an alternative definition and induces the sophist to accept it. For the replacement to seem convincing, a set of theses in its aid is demonstrated. The basic theory is that pleasures are either good or bad and pains likewise. Accordingly, there are two kinds of pleasure and two kinds of pain. Protagoras realizes that the unpleasantnesses Socrates has been visiting on him are instances of a third kind of pain, like the nasal distress of the invalid, described at 334b7?c6, not good but tolerable, because prospectively short term, and not bad, as is excruciating and unremitting physical pain. Distinguishing between pains has made Protagoras personally safer (?sfa??ste???) throughout his life. His amendment to Socrates’ theory, at that moment, is also ?sfa??ste??? in that it improves the proposed theory.22 As it seems to the sophist, who has been feeling the third kind of pain, it saves the phenomena.
In view of his recent contribution to the discussion, Protagoras expects to continue playing an active role in it. He recalls Socrates' stipulation, at 348c7?d4, that an inquiry
19 J. S. Morrison, ‘The place of Protagoras in Athenian public life (460?415 B.C.)’, CQ NS 35 (1941): 14?16, argues that Protagoras returned to Athens in 422 B.C. in aid of Alcibiades' ambitions.
20 I write ‘necessarily’ because a strict causality must be assumed for the sake of the storyline.
21 ‘Do you speak of some men, Protagoras, I asked, as living well, and others ill?’ (Lamb’s translation). Cf. C. C. W. Taylor, ‘The Hedonism of the Protagoras reconsidered’, in A. Havlícek and F. Karfík (edd.), Plato's Protagoras (Prague 2003), 149, reprinted in Taylor, Pleasure, Mind, and Soul: Selected Papers in Ancient Philosophy (Oxford 2008), 266: ‘Socrates abruptly begins a new argument designed to force Protagoras to accept the identity of courage with wisdom, which he finally does at 360d?e.’
22 Cf. Pl. Pol. 282b6: it is ?sfa??ste???, in applying diaeresis to a category, to cut through the middle.
be pursued collaboratively: ‘As you often say, Socrates, let us look at it, and if the pleasant and the good are the same, we will agree, if not, then we will dispute (351e3?6).’ To which Socrates replies ‘Do you mean to lead the s????? or am I to lead?’ Up to the point where Protagoras uttered his wise saying, the present discussion was a vehicle of honest collaborative inquiry. The stipulation that inquiry be collaborative is now abandonned; a new protocol of leader and follower is imposed.
Socrates commences an imagined conversation with the p?????. He describes them as not privileging ?p?st?µ? in making life-style choices, as he and Protagoras do; instead their notion is that pleasure overcomes them. Protagoras objects that the opinions of the p????? are not worthy of serious inquiry. Socrates reminds the sophist of their new arrangement: I lead, you follow. He promises that examining the opinions of the p????? will help find out about ??d?e?a (??e??e?? pe?? ??d?e?a?), this said as though Protagoras had not just delivered a wise saying about it. The so-called hedonic calculus demonstration follows. It culminates with Socrates advocating the use of an unidentified ?p?st?µ? for measuring the pleasures of food, drink and sex against the pains of poverty and illness, and urging the p????? to pay sophists to learn it. Hippocrates' disciplined life-style spares him this expense.
3. The replacement of the wise saying (359a?362a)
The hedonic calculus demonstration concluded, Socrates orders the sophist to defend the proposition to the audience (?p????e?s?? ?µ?? ???ta???a?) that ignorance (?µa??a) and ??d?e?a are compatible. ?µa??a was one of four vices of off-duty soldiers, cited by Protagoras at 349d6?8. The term reoccurs in Socrates' formulation of the replacement definition of ??d?e?a. The following exchanges are the steps through which the replacement is forced upon the sophist.
Asked whether cowards go after things they deal with boldly (t? ?a??a??a), and ??d?e??? go towards the dreadful things, Protagoras expresses the conventional opinion, that cowards run away from battle, ??d?e??? the reverse.
Protagoras is asked whether ??d?e??? go into battle deeming (????µ?????) that they
will confront terrible things. The sophist considers this impossible, on the basis of prior agree-
ment, in that life choices are or should be made in view of avoiding pain. Accordingly, by going into batle, ??d?e??? show that they do not deem war to be terrible.
Socrates gets Protagoras to agree that ‘. . . no one goes towards what he deems terrible,
since (?pe?d?) to be overcome by oneself was found to be ignorance (?µa??a).’ The clauses, despite the conjunctive ?pe?d?, seem loosely connected.
Socrates goes on to say ‘and yet all men go also to meet what they can face boldly, whether cowardly or brave, and in this respect cowardly and brave go to meet the same things.’23 This seems to refer to undertakings that elicit no one's dread in the doing of them, where the distinction between cowards and ??d?e??? would not apply.
Protagoras is apparently not interested in undangerous endeavors or activities. The sophist reverts to the earlier topic, saying that cowards are unwilling (scil. and do not go into battle), whereas ??d?e??? (scil. go) willingly.
Socrates observes that going into battle is an honorable (?a???) act and a good thing (viz. in that it preserves the city). Asked the identity of those unwilling to go into battle, though it be honorable and good, Protagoras again names the cowards.
To ‘honorable’ and ‘good,’ which coextensively inform the act of going into battle, Socrates now adds the attribute ‘pleasant’ (?d?), in that good and pleasure are coterminous, according to prior argument. Accordingly, going into battle is a pleasure. Protagoras agrees that ??d?e??? deem that going into battle is good, honorable and pleasant. But Socrates placed ‘military campaigns’ (st?ate?a?) in the list of good pains at 354a4?7.24
23 Translation by Lamb (n. 8).
24 Socrates characterizes (scil. strenuous) gymnastic exercise, (scil. the rigors of) military campaigns, and (scil. unaesthetized) medical therapy as good pains. These are listed in order of increasing pain. Denyer (n. 2), 185, points out that cauterization, amputation, drug courses, and fasting, procedures which are named after medical therapy, ‘are listed in order of decreasing pain.’ The figure of speech is one of climax and anticlimax. Socrates then names the pleasures which the aforementioned good pains produce: health, bodily fitness, the city preserved, rule over others, and wealth (354b3?5). The pleasures seem to be listed in the temporal order of their origin. Doctors restoring health to the sick and laymen acquiring and preserving bodily fitness by engaging in sports, were ubiquitous in earlier, primitive societies, as they are in cities nowadays. Naming ‘health’ before ‘bodily fitness’ suggests that the former is prior in nature to the latter. In other words, acquiring and preserving fitness by means of sport and gymnastic exercise is materially contingent on being healthy enough to do so. In later times, victorious albeit painful military campaigns preserve cities and the pleasures that the latter afford. The
Going into battle is not pleasant. The counterfactual to the present argument goes unnoticed by the sophist.
Socrates observes that ??d?e??? do not fear shameful fears, nor confidently engage in shameful activities. And for cowards, it is the opposite. The cause for the latter's behavior is said to be their unawareness (?????a) and ignorance (?µa??a). Socrates finally produces the replacement definition. It is expressed as a ratio or proportion: the ?µa??a of dreadful and non-dreadful circumstances is to cowardice as the s?f?a of the same is to ??d?e?a.
Dreadful circumstances and their absence are self-evident, so it is hard to imagine what the s?f?a of them might consist of. Aristotle twice addresses this puzzle.25
Socrates badgers the sophist to affirm the replacement definition again and again. Protagoras is incrementally reduced to silence. After Protagoras falls silent, Socrates badgers him for not answering. This is unpleasant.26
Socrates' final interrogatory, at 360e4?5, asks whether some men are both exceptionally courageous (??d?e??tat??) and exceptionally ignorant (?µa??stat??).
order in which the last two pleasures are named reminds that rule over others is coeval with the establishment of cities, whereas wealth takes time to accumulate, under the aegis of the city (cf. Th. I,11,1?3; I,13,1).
25 At NE 1116b3?8, in the context of an extended analysis of psychic dispositions, Aristotle observes that ‘acquired expertise (?µpe???a) in various circumstance seems to be ??d?e?a. From that, Socrates opined that ?p?st?µ? is ??d?e?a. Various folks in various circumstance demonstrate this, and particularly professional soldiers in war. For it seems that many battlefield situations are not dangerous (p???? ?e?? t?? p???µ??), which veteran soldiers have so often observed and recognized (? µ???sta s??e????as??). So they appear (scil. to be) ??d?e???, because their (scil. inexperienced) opponents misread the situation (?t? ??? ?sas?? ?? ????? ??? ?st??).’ Recognition from prior experience of a non-threatening situation on the battlefield exemplifies a s?f?a or ?p?st?µ? of non?dreadful circumstances and argues for one limb of Socrates’ definiton of ??d?e?a in the Protagoras. The discussion turns elsewhere, which suggests that Aristotle was unable to imagine an instance of how recognizing dreadful circumstances on the battlefield, or anywhere else, might require ?p?st?µ?. At EE 1229a13?16, Aristotle again finds it impossible to parse Socrates' notion of the ?p?st?µ? of dreadful circumstances. He defines military ??d?e?a in this passage to be ‘from experience (d?’ ?µpe???a?) and knowing (t? e?d??a?) ? and not as Socrates said regarding (scil. ??d?e?a as the ?p?st?µ? of) dreadful circumstances ? of how to come to one another's aid in dreadful circumstances (?t? t?? ß???e?a? t?? de????).’
26 Vlastos, (n. 9), xxiv, notices Socrates' harsh treatment of the sophist: ‘And his handling of Protagoras is merciless, if not cruel.’
Protagoras, to gratify his interlocuter, as he says, replies that the proposition seems to him impossible on the basis of prior argument.
Socrates summarizes the dialogue. He explains that he has been asking questions in order to examine every aspect of ??et? and, further, to investigate what ??et?, as a whole, really is. And that bears on the question which he and Protagoras have both addressed at length: whether or not ??et? is teachable, Socrates initially holding the view that it is not teachable, Protagoras that it is taught by all to all. But, as Socrates says here, they have traded to the other their initial opinions. The discussions themselves, laughing at their authors, explain the joke: in contrast to his initial viewpoint, Socrates latterly demonstrated the hedonic calculus theory (after Protagoras uttered the wise saying about ??d?e?a), according to which the parts of ??et? reduce to an ?p?st?µ? of measurement. Socrates' attempt to demonstrate this (?p??e???? ?p?de??a? [361b1]) led to a faux-wise replacement definition which Protagoras reluctantly accepted, that ??d?e?a is the s?f?a of dreadful and not dreadful things. Here in the summary, Socrates in seeming support for this definition of ??d?e?a asserts that ?p?st?µ? supervenes over other parts of ??et?, namely d??a??s??? and s?f??s???, and (scil. also) ??d?e?a. Contrariwise, Protagoras first set it down that ??et? was teachable, but now seems as eager for the opposite, declaring that it has been found to be almost anything but ?p?st?µ?. This characterization is accurate in that Protagoras said, at 329e5?6, that there are ??d?e??? who are unjust, and that there are many who are just but not s?f??. From which it follows that all the parts of ??et? do not necessarily cohabit in a person. Further, that ??et?, which surely includes justice, cannot be reduced to ?p?st?µ? or s?f?a, if it is a fact that many do not possess s?f?a, yet practice justice as law-abiding citizens. Because of their topsy-turvy opinions on the teachability of ??et?, Socrates desires to examine the question once again.
Except that Socrates fears lest Epimetheus sabotage the inquiry. He explains: ‘I like (scil. the doings of) Prometheus more than Epimetheus; I am using Prometheus and imitating him (? ???µe??? ??? ?a? p??µ????µe???), for entirely personal reasons in the entirety of what I am busying myself doing right now (?p?? t?? ß??? t?? ?µa?t?? pa?t?? p??ta ta?ta p?a?µate??µa?).’ The contrary effects of Epimetheus and Prometheus on the conduct and substance of the s????? have been explained by way of the etymology of the latter’s name. Consider C. C. W. Taylor's translation of the passage: ‘I shouldn't like that Epimetheus (Afterthought) of yours to fool us with his tricks in our discussion, the way he neglected us in distributing his gifts, as you said. I preferred Prometheus (Forethought) to Epimetheus in the story; it's because I have forethought for my life as a whole that I go into all these questions.’27 According to this reading, Socrates cultivates souci du soi in imitation of the etymology of Prometheus’ name. However, in the myth, nomen non est omen. Like the impecunious Hermocrates, in the Cratylus, told that his real name is not Hermocrates because, as Socrates explains, this name indicates that its possessor is good at making money, the doings of Prometheus in the Protagoras, in defiance of his name, are lacking in self-regarding
forethought. When persuaded that Epimetheus should distribute compensatory attributes to all the creatures, Prometheus did not anticipate that the distribution that he was responsable for would be botched. And in resorting to crime, in order to resolve the aporia that mankind lacked means for the preservation of life, Prometheus did not anticipate that he would face justice and suffer cruel punishment.
Prometheus' signal action in the myth was a crime: to steal, for mankind's preservation, fire-based technology and agriculture. After hearing Protagoras' wise saying, Socrates contrives to preserve a friendship at risk by imitating Prometheus as he says. He argues for a hedonic calculus which divides pain into two kinds: (i) bad because painful and (ii) good because productive, afterwards, of more pleasure than the original pain. But the division of pain into two kinds is belied by the reality of a third intermediate kind, neither good nor bad, as in the case of the invalid's displeasure when eating, and in Protagoras' repeated displeasure at the unpleasantnesses visited on him by Socrates. The s????? is conducted by Socrates leading, with Protagoras ordered twice over to follow, thus it is not a collaboration as was stipulated. There is the contradiction between the characterization of military campaigns as painful, at 354a4, and the fact that Protagoras is induced to agree that the ??d?e???, in going into battle, go towards what is more honorable, better and more pleasant (?p? t? ??????? te ?a? ?µe???? ?a? ?d??? [360a7?8]). Consider, also, that Aristotle found Socrates’ definition of ??d?e?a as the science of t? de??? incomprehensible. These particulars are sufficient to justify the conclusion that the s????? and ensuing replacement definition of ??d?e?a constitute an intellectual fraud.28 The inquiry and replacement definition are crimes against logos, arguments
27 Taylor (n. 3), 56. Similarly, Friedländer (n. 11), 37.
28 At the beginning of the dialogue, Socrates encounters someone who knows of his public stance as an ??ast?? of Alcibiades. Asked how the beautiful young man has been treating him, Socrates replies ‘Well, contrived for the sake of preserving a friendship, a comic analogue to Prometheus' crimes against Hephaistos and Athena, committed for the sake of preserving mankind, to compare small to large. To return to Epimetheus' feared effect on the inquiry. Just as Epimetheus was unconcerned with our preservation in the distribution (?? t? d?a??µ? ?µ???se? ?µ?? [361d1?2]), so would he be unconcerned whether Socrates preserve his friendship with Hippocrates or the young man abandon family and friends to associate with Protagoras. Epimetheus' indifference in this matter implies unprejudiced objectivity. Socrates fears that objective Epimethean examination of the s????? would make it lose its footing (sf???) and trick it (??apat?sa?); in other words, negate its putative standing and negate the trickery of it being a specious argument.29 The Prometheus and Epimetheus comparison should be construed as Socrates guardedly acknowledging his imposture.
The summary concludes with Socrates telling the sophist that he desires to continue inquiring about ??et? ‘with you’ (µet? s??), that is to say collaboratively, despite forbidding him to do so, at 351e8?9 and 353b3?5. Protagoras himself said that seducing the best young men away from friends and family elicits f?????, d?sµ??e?a? and ?p?ß???a?. I suggest that
as it seemed to me, not least than on this very day. For he said many things about me, coming to my aid. And I have only just left him. However there is a strange thing I have to tell you: although he was present, I not merely paid him no attention, but at times forgot him altogether’ (Lamb’s translation of 309b5?9 [n. 8]). The acquaintance asks whether he has encountered someone of greater beauty than Alcibiades. Socrates replies ‘Yes, of far greater.’ He explains that the man's beauty is greater in that the highest wisdom appears more beautiful (t? s?f?tat?? ??????? fa??es?a? [309c11?12]). But Protagoras is, in fact, an old (cf. 317c3), unbeautiful man and the sophist's homo-mensura doctrine is not the highest wisdom. Socrates is speaking playfully in order to get the acquaintance to set aside a preoccupation with beautiful bodies and direct his attention, instead, to the discussions with Protagoras. Eros is made to give way to philosophy, so to speak. Alcibiades' remark, at 336c2?4, supports such a reading. Commenting on Socrates' denial, at 334c8?9, that he has a good memory, Alcibiades is prepared to wager that he is not forgetful at all, ‘not but that he plays (pa??e?) and says that he is forgetful.’ The reader is put on notice ab initio that when occasion warrants, Socrates speaks playfully, i.e. insincerely or speciously.
29 An example of this chiastic trope is Rep. 494e4?495a1 where a promising young man, persuaded to abandon political ambition and pursue philosophy instead, is unpersuaded by his friends (?a? pe?? a?t??, ?p?? ?? µ? pe?s??), and the Socrates-like philosopher who persuaded him, is rendered not such as he was (?a?
pe?? t?? pe????ta, ?p?? ?? µ? ???? t’ ?), i.e. relieved of existence by private assassination or judicial execution.
making the sophist's wise saying disappear, accompanied by unpleasantnesss, in order to preserve a friendship, should be construed as the ?p?ß???? of a resentful Socrates.
Protagoras undertakes an encomnium of Socrates. He declares that he is ‘least of all
a resentful man’ (f???e??? te ???st' ?????p??). A remark in the Laws suggests that the sophist, in uttering his wise saying, demonstrates such a disposition. At Lg. 5.730e1?731a3, the Athenian stranger observes that s?f??s??? and f????s?? are untransferable good things, meaning that those who possess these virtues are unable to give them to another. (At Smp. 175d3?7, Socrates apprises Agathon of that sad fact, when invited to share the latter's couch and impart wisdom through propinquity). The stranger goes on to speak of other good things that are transferable. Some who possess a ?t?µa are able to share it with others, whilst keeping it for themselves. Others who possess a ?t?µa wish to share, but are unable to. And then there is the resentful man (t?? d? f??????ta), who is ‘unwilling that a commonality of good things with anyone else come to be through friendship.’ Accordingly, Protagoras, in uttering his wise saying, shares in a friendly way, without resentment, a ?t?µa which he possesses.
The praise concluded, the sophist announces that the time has come to turn to something else. Socrates leaves Kritias' house with Hippocrates, their friendship preserved.
Michael Eisenstadt Austin