|Born||c. 490 BC |
|Died||c. 420 BC|
|language, semantics, relativism, rhetoric, agnosticism, ethics|
|'Sophist' as teacher for hire, 'Man is the measure of all things'|
Protagoras ( // ; Greek : Πρωταγόρας; c. 490 BC – c. 420 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. He is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras , Plato credits him with inventing the role of the professional sophist.
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.
A number of early Greek philosophers active before and during the time of Socrates are collectively known as the pre-Socratics. Their inquiries spanned the workings of the natural world as well as human society, ethics, and religion, seeking explanations based on natural principles rather than the actions of supernatural gods. They introduced to the West the notion of the world as a kosmos, an ordered arrangement that could be understood via rational inquiry.
A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.
Protagoras also is believed to have created a major controversy during ancient times through his statement that, "Man is the measure of all things", interpreted by Plato to mean that there is no absolute truth but that which individuals deem to be the truth.
Although there is reason to question the extent of the interpretation of his arguments that has followed, that concept of individual relativity was revolutionary for the time, and contrasted with other philosophical doctrines that claimed the universe was based on something objective, outside human influence or perceptions.
Protagoras was born in Abdera, Thrace, opposite the island of Thasos (today part of the Xanthi regional unit). According to Aulus Gellius, he originally made his living as a porter, but one day he was seen by the philosopher Democritus carrying a load of small pieces of wood he had tied with a short cord. Democritus realized that Protagoras had tied the load together with such perfect geometric accuracy that he must be a mathematical prodigy. Democritus promptly took him into his own household and taught him philosophy.Protagoras became well known in Athens and even became a friend of Pericles.
Abdera is a municipality and a former major Greek polis on the coast of Thrace.
Thasos or Thassos is a Greek island, geographically part of the North Aegean Sea, but administratively part of the Kavala regional unit. It is the northernmost major Greek island, and 12th largest by area. Thasos is also the name of the largest town of the island, situated at the northern side, opposite the mainland and about 10 kilometres from Keramoti. Thassos island is known from ancient times for its termae making it a climatic and balneoclimateric resort area.
Xanthi is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the Region of East Macedonia and Thrace. The capital is Xanthi. Together with the regional units Rhodope and Evros, it forms the geographical region of Western Thrace.
The dates of his lifetime are not recorded, but extrapolated from writings that have survived the ages. In Protagoras Plato wrote that, before a gathering of Socrates, Prodicus, and Hippias, Protagoras stated that he was old enough to be the father of any of them. This suggests a birth date of not later than 490 BC. In the Meno he is said to have died at approximately the age of 70, after 40 years as a practicing Sophist.His death, then, may be presumed to have occurred circa 420 BC, but is not known for certain, since assumptions about it are based on an apparently fake story about his trial for impiety in Athens.
Socrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos. Aristophanes, a playwright, is the main contemporary author to have written plays mentioning Socrates during Socrates' lifetime, though a fragment of Ion of Chios' Travel Journal provides important information about Socrates' youth.
Prodicus of Ceos was a Greek philosopher, and part of the first generation of Sophists. He came to Athens as ambassador from Ceos, and became known as a speaker and a teacher. Plato treats him with greater respect than the other sophists, and in several of the Platonic dialogues Socrates appears as the friend of Prodicus. One writer claims Socrates used his method of instruction. Prodicus made linguistics and ethics prominent in his curriculum. The content of one of his speeches is still known, and concerns a fable in which Heracles has to make a choice between Virtue and Vice. He also interpreted religion through the framework of naturalism.
Hippias of Elis was a Greek sophist, and a contemporary of Socrates. With an assurance characteristic of the later sophists, he claimed to be regarded as an authority on all subjects, and lectured on poetry, grammar, history, politics, mathematics, and much else. Most of our knowledge of him is derived from Plato, who characterizes him as vain and arrogant.
Plutarch wrote that Pericles and Protagoras spent a whole day discussing an interesting point of legal responsibility, that probably involved a more philosophical question of causation:"In an athletic contest a man had been accidentally hit and killed with a javelin. Was his death to be attributed to the javelin, to the man who threw it, or to the authorities responsible for the conduct of the games?"
Plutarch, later named, upon becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, was a Greek biographer and essayist, known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia. He is classified as a Middle Platonist. Plutarch's surviving works were written in Greek, but intended for both Greek and Roman readers.
Even though he was mentored by Democritus, Protagoras did not share his enthusiasm for the pursuit of mathematics. "For perceptible lines are not the kind of things the geometer talks about, since no perceptible thing is straight or curved in that way, nor is a circle tangent to a ruler at a point, but the way Protagoras used to say in refuting the geometers" (Aristotles, Metaphysics 997b34-998a4). Protagoras was skeptical about the application of theoretical mathematics to the natural world; he did not believe they were really worth studying at all. According to Philodemus, Protagoras said that "The subject matter is unknowable and the terminology distasteful". Nonetheless, mathematics was considered to be by some a very viable form of art, and Protagoras says on the arts, "art (tekhnê) without practice and practice without art are nothing" (Stobaeus, Selections 3.29.80).
Protagoras also was known as a teacher who addressed subjects connected to virtue and political life. He especially was involved in the question of whether virtue could be taught, a commonplace issue of fifth century BC Greece, that has been related to modern readers through Plato's dialogue. Rather than educators who offered specific, practical training in rhetoric or public speaking, Protagoras attempted to formulate a reasoned understanding, on a very general level, of a wide range of human phenomena, including language and education. In Plato's Protagoras, he claims to teach "the proper management of one's own affairs, how best to run one's household, and the management of public affairs, how to make the most effective contribution to the affairs of the city by word and action".
He also seems to have had an interest in "orthoepeia"—the correct use of words—although this topic is more strongly associated with his fellow sophist Prodicus. In his eponymous Platonic dialogue, Protagoras interprets a poem by Simonides, focusing on the use of words, their literal meaning, and the author's original intent. This type of education would have been useful for the interpretation of laws and other written documents in the Athenian courts.Diogenes Laërtius reports that Protagoras devised a taxonomy of speech acts, such as assertion, question, answer, command, etc. Aristotle also says that Protagoras worked on the classification and proper use of grammatical gender.
Diogenes Laërtius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is definitively known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is a principal source for the history of ancient Greek philosophy. His reputation is controversial among scholars because he often repeats information from his sources without critically evaluating it. He also frequently focuses on trivial or insignificant details of his subjects' lives while ignoring important details of their philosophical teachings and he sometimes fails to distinguish between earlier and later teachings of specific philosophical schools. However, unlike many other ancient secondary sources, Diogenes Laërtius generally reports philosophical teachings without attempting to reinterpret or expand on them, which means his accounts are often closer to the primary sources. Due to the loss of so many of the primary sources on which Diogenes relied, his work has become the foremost surviving source on the history of Greek philosophy.
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he has been called the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.
The titles of his books, such as Technique of Eristics (Technē Eristikōn, literally "Practice of Wranglings"—with wrestling used as a metaphor for intellectual debate), prove that Protagoras also was a teacher of rhetoric and argumentation. Diogenes Laërtius states that he was one of the first to take part in rhetorical contests in the Olympic games.
Protagoras also said that on any matter, there are two arguments (logoi) opposed to one another, and according to Aristotle, Protagoras was criticized for having claimed "to make the weaker argument stronger (ton hēttō logon kreittō poiein)".
Protagoras is credited with the philosophy of relativism, which he discusses in his work, Truth (also known as Refutations).Although knowledge of his work is limited, discussion of Protagoras' relativism is based on one of his most famous statements: "Man is the measure of all things: of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they are not." By this, Protagoras meant that each individual is the measure of how things are perceived by that individual. Therefore, things are, or are not, true according to how the individual perceives them. For example, Person X may believe that the weather is cold, whereas Person Y may believe that the weather is hot. According to the philosophy of Protagoras, there is no absolute evaluation of the nature of a temperature because the evaluation will be relative to who is perceiving it. Therefore, to Person X, the weather is cold, whereas to Person Y, the weather is hot. This philosophy implies that there are no absolute "truths". The truth, according to Protagoras, is relative, and differs according to each individual.
As with many fragments of the pre-Socratic philosophers, this phrase has been passed down through the ages, without any context, and consequently, its meaning is open to interpretation. His use of the word χρήματα (chrēmata, "things used") instead of the general word ὄντα (onta, "entities") signifies, however, that Protagoras was referring to things that are used by, or in some way, related to, humans, such as properties, social entities, ideas, feelings, judgments, which originate in the human mind. Protagoras did not suggest that humans must be the measure of the motion of the stars, the growing of plants, or the activity of volcanoes.
As many modern thinkers will, Plato ascribes relativism to Protagoras and uses his predecessor's teachings as a foil for his own commitment to objective and transcendent realities and values. Plato ascribes to Protagoras an early form of what John Wild categorized as phenomenalism.That being an assertion that something that is, or appears for a single individual, is true or real for that individual.
However, as described in Plato's Theaetetus , Protagoras's views allow that some views may result from an ill body or mind. He stressed that although all views may appear equally true, and perhaps, should be equally respected, they certainly are not of equal gravity. One view may be useful and advantageous to the person who has it, while the perception of another may prove harmful. Hence, Protagoras believed that the sophist was there to teach the student how to discriminate between them, i.e., to teach "virtue".
Both Plato and Aristotle argue against some of Protagoras's claims regarding relativity; however, they argue that the concept provides Protagoras with too convenient an exemption from his own theory and that relativism is true for him yet false for those who do not believe it. They claim that by asserting that truth is relative, Protagoras then could say that whatever further theory he proposed must be true.
Because knowledge of most of his work is limited or missing, modern attempts to apply the Protagoras theory of relativism tend to result in disagreement and refer to scientific reasoning. Carol Poster states that with a modern preference toward scientific reasoning and objective truth, for example, rather than considering individuals evaluating their sense of comfort, a modern philosopher would look at a modern instrument, the thermometer, objectively to see the scientific measure of the temperature, whereas the Greek method would entail looking at larger philosophical implications.
Protagoras also was a proponent of agnosticism. Reportedly, in his lost work, On the Gods, he wrote: "Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life."According to Diogenes Laërtius, the outspoken, agnostic position taken by Protagoras aroused anger, causing the Athenians to expel him from the city, and all copies of his book were collected and burned in the marketplace. The deliberate destruction of his works also is mentioned by Cicero.
The classicist John Burnet doubts this account, however, as both Diogenes Laërtius and Cicero wrote hundreds of years later and as no such persecution of Protagoras is mentioned by contemporaries who make extensive references to this philosopher.Burnet notes that even if some copies of the Protagoras books were burned, enough of them survived to be known and discussed in the following century. A claim has been made that Protagoras is better classified as an atheist, since he held that if something is not able to be known it does not exist.
Nonetheless, very few fragments from Protagoras have survived, although he is known to have written several different works: Antilogiae and Truth. The latter is cited by Plato, and was known alternatively as, The Throws (a wrestling term referring to the attempt to floor an opponent). It began with the "Man is the measure" (ἄνθρωπος μέτρον) pronouncement. According to Diogenes Laërtius other books by Protagoras include: On the Gods, Art of Eristics, Imperative, On Ambition, On Incorrect Human Actions, On those in Hades, On Sciences, On Virtues, On the Original State of Things and Trial over a Fee.
Democritus was an Ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher primarily remembered today for his formulation of an atomic theory of the universe.
Empedocles was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and a citizen of Akragas, a Greek city in Sicily. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for originating the cosmogonic theory of the four classical elements. He also proposed forces he called Love and Strife which would mix and separate the elements, respectively. These physical speculations were part of a history of the universe which also dealt with the origin and development of life.
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and sage who founded a highly influential school of philosophy now called Epicureanism. He was born on the Greek island of Samos to Athenian parents. Influenced by Democritus, Aristotle, Pyrrho, and possibly the Cynics, he turned against the Platonism of his day and established his own school, known as "the Garden", in Athens. Epicurus and his followers were known for eating simple meals and discussing a wide range of philosophical subjects, and he openly allowed women to join the school as a matter of policy. An extremely prolific writer, he is said to have originally written over 300 works on various subjects, but the vast majority of these writings have been lost. Only three letters written by him — the Letters to Menoeceus, Pythocles, and Herodotus — and two collections of quotes — the Principle Doctrines and the Vatican Sayings — have survived intact, along with a few fragments and quotations of his other writings. Most knowledge of his teachings comes from later authors, particularly the Roman poet Lucretius, the biographer Diogenes Laërtius, the statesman Cicero, and the philosophers Philodemus and Sextus Empiricus.
Leucippus is reported in some ancient sources to have been a philosopher who was the earliest Greek to develop the theory of atomism—the idea that everything is composed entirely of various imperishable, indivisible elements called atoms. Leucippus often appears as the master to his pupil Democritus, a philosopher also touted as the originator of the atomic theory.
Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
Parmenides of Elea was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Elea in Magna Graecia. Parmenides has been considered the founder of metaphysics or ontology and has influenced the whole history of Western philosophy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy, which also included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos. Zeno's paradoxes of motion were to defend Parmenides' view.
Thales of Miletus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer from Miletus in ancient Greek Ionia. He was one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Many, most notably Aristotle, regarded him as the first philosopher in the Greek tradition, and he is otherwise historically recognized as the first individual in Western civilization known to have entertained and engaged in scientific philosophy. He can also be regarded as one of the first option traders.
A sophist was a specific kind of teacher in ancient Greece, in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Many sophists specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric, though other sophists taught subjects such as music, athletics, and mathematics. In general, they claimed to teach arete, predominantly to young statesmen and nobility.
The Theaetetus is one of Plato's dialogues concerning the nature of knowledge, written circa 369 BCE.
The Seven Sages or Seven Wise Men was the title given by classical Greek tradition to seven philosophers, statesmen, and law-givers of the 6th century BC who were renowned for their wisdom.
Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC and continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Greece and most Greek-inhabited lands were part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world in a non-religious way. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.
Hippasus of Metapontum, was a Pythagorean philosopher. Little is known about his life or his beliefs, but he is sometimes credited with the discovery of the existence of irrational numbers. The discovery of irrational numbers is said to have been shocking to the Pythagoreans, and Hippasus is supposed to have drowned at sea, apparently as a punishment from the gods for divulging this. However, the few ancient sources which describe this story either do not mention Hippasus by name or alternatively tell that Hippasus drowned because he revealed how to construct a dodecahedron inside a sphere. The discovery of irrationality is not specifically ascribed to Hippasus by any ancient writer. Some modern scholars though have suggested that he discovered the irrationality of √2, which is believed to have been discovered around the time that he lived.
Pittacus was an ancient Mytilenaen military general and one of the Seven Sages of Greece.
Peritrope is Socrates' argument against Protagoras' view of relative truth, as presented in Plato's book known as Theaetetus (169–171e). This formed part of the former's eighth objection, the "table-turning" argument that maintained Protagoras' doctrine was self-refuting.
Hermarchus or Hermarch, sometimes incorrectly written Hermachus, was an Epicurean philosopher. He was the disciple and successor of Epicurus as head of the school. None of his writings survive. He wrote works directed against Plato, Aristotle, and Empedocles. A fragment from his Against Empedocles, preserved by Porphyry, discusses the need for law in society. His views on the nature of the gods are quoted by Philodemus.
Archelaus was an Ancient Greek philosopher, a pupil of Anaxagoras, and may have been a teacher of Socrates. He asserted that the principle of motion was the separation of hot from cold, from which he endeavoured to explain the formation of the Earth and the creation of animals and humans.
The Sophist is a Platonic dialogue from the philosopher's late period, most likely written in 360 BC. Its main theme is to identify what a sophist is and how a sophist differs from a philosopher and statesman. Because each seems distinguished by a particular form of knowledge, the dialogue continues some of the lines of inquiry pursued in the epistemological dialogue, Theaetetus, which is said to have taken place the day before. Because the Sophist treats these matters, it is often taken to shed light on Plato's Theory of Forms and is compared with the Parmenides, which criticized what is often taken to be the theory of forms.
Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher, the second of the trio of ancient Greeks including Socrates and Aristotle said to have laid the philosophical foundations of Western culture.
Dissoi Logoi is a rhetorical exercise of unknown authorship. Based on comments in the text it appears to have been written not long after the Peloponnesian War. It is intended to help an individual gain a deeper understanding of an issue by forcing them to consider it from the angle of their opponent, which may serve either to strengthen their argument or to help the debaters reach compromise.