Sunday, April 20, 2014

Chapter 10: Protagoras

*this blog post is my reading summary series of History of Western Philosophy. For chapter 9, you can read here

Book 1: Ancient Philosophy
Part 1: The Pre-Socratics
Chapter 10: Protagoras

Protagoras was born about 500 B.C and he was from Abdera. He was a chief of the Sophists. A sophist was actually nothing more different from what we now call "professor". He taught people, usually young men, about excellence and virtue. Since sophists charged a fee in teaching and taught only people who had money, they were harshly criticized. Plato even devoted himself to vilify them.

picture was taken from here

Protagoras wrote a book, On the Gods. He wrote:

With regard to the gods, I cannot feel sure either that they are or that they are not, nor what they are like in figure; for there are many things that hinder sure knowledge, the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life. (p. 82-83)

So, we can tell Protagoras wasn't sure if there were gods or not. He was an agnostic. Despite that, he thought gods ought to be worshipped.

Protagoras' famous saying is "Man is the measure of all things, of things that are that they are, and of things that are not that they are not." This can be interpreted as there is nothing such as absolute truth. The truth is relative. Every thing is subjective depends on people's perception. For example, I think the most handsome man who ever lives on Earth is Rafael Nadal, but you disprove. In your opinion, Rafael Nadal is the ugliest man in the whole world. Rafael Nadal is the most handsome man is the truth for me. But, for you the truth is he is the ugliest man. Again, the truth differs according to each individual.

Sophists differed from other philosophers. It was usual to see philosophers found a school and:

... There was a greater or smaller amount of common life, there was often something analogous to a monastic rule, and there was usually an esoteric doctrine not proclaimed to the public. All this was natural wherever philosophy had arisen out of Orphism. Among the Sophists there was none of this. What they had to teach was not, in their minds, connected with religion or virtue. They taught the art of arguing, and as much knowledge as would help in this art. Broadly speaking, they were prepared, like modern lawyers, to show how to argue for or against any opinion, and were not concerned to advocate conclusions of their own. Those to whom philosophy was a way of life, closely bound up with religion, were naturally shocked; to them, the Sophists appeared frivolous and immoral. (p. 84)

Russell continued:

The pursuit of truth, when it is wholehearted, must ignore moral considerations; we cannot know in advance that the truth will turn out to be what is thought edifying in a given society. The Sophists were prepared to follow an argument wherever it might lead them. Often it led them to scepticism. (p. 84)

And that's all from Protagoras. Actually, Russell still discussed more in this chapter. He talked about Athens in golden era, war, and the fall of Athens which we already discussed previously here. If you haven't read it, I suggest you to click the link and enjoy reading it. :)

So, here we are at the final chapter of Part 1: The Pre-Socratics. Next on Part 2, together we will enter the great minds of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Stay tuned! \m/

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