ISBN: 1420926861
ISBN 13: 9781420926866
By: Plato Benjamin Jowett

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Ancient Classics Currently Reading Greek History Non Fiction Philosophy Plato To Read Translated

About this book

The "Protagoras," like several of the Dialogues of Plato, is put into the mouth of Socrates, who describes a conversation which had taken place between himself and the great Sophist at the house of Callias-'the man who had spent more upon the Sophists than all the rest of the world'-and in which the learned Hippias and the grammarian Prodicus had also shared, as well as Alcibiades and Critias, both of whom said a few words-in the presence of a distinguished company consisting of disciples of Protagoras and of leading Athenians belonging to the Socratic circle. The dialogue commences with a request on the part of Hippocrates that Socrates would introduce him to the celebrated teacher. He has come before the dawn had risen-so fervid is his zeal. Socrates moderates his excitement and advises him to find out 'what Protagoras will make of him, ' before he becomes his pupil. Presented here is the classic introduction and translation of Benjamin Jowett.

Reader's Thoughts


Rated: C

Riku Sayuj

“It makes no difference to me, provided you give the answers, whether it is your own opinion or not. I am primarily interested in testing the argument, although it may happen both that the questioner, myself, and my respondent wind up being tested.”***“Well, then, do you say that ignorance is to have a false belief and to be deceived about matters of importance?” THE TAO OF TEACHING The Protagoras is at its core a simple dialogue that questions the role of teachers in society - Is teaching possible? What is to be taught? How do we choose? Can only experts be teachers? Is expertise possible? How are we to judge?As a setup for a Critique on teaching, what better way than to confront the best teacher of the day? And to show him up!I wonder how many teachers and professors of our day would be able to stand up and defend their own capacity to teach, or their own claim to expertise.When I categorize the Protagoras as primarily a critique on teaching, I might get an objection that this dialogue is applicable to only the non-expert fields of education such as the humanities or literature, or more specifically to the really debatable fields such as political theory. My counter would be that unlike what Plato firmly believed in (naively?) back then - that some fields can have experts, we now know that no field can, not really. Hence, to me this dialogue can now be characterized as universally applicable to all types of education, educational institutions and educators.In any case, the question - if the teacher REALLY understands what he purports to teach - must be some nightmare to confront! One has to credit Protagoras for being able to stand up to that scrutiny.This dialogue is a must-read for everyone in the teaching profession.Moral of the story?As long as they are like Socrates and only trying to learn, in company, then it is hunky-dory. Never call yourself teachers. (only communal learners?)Accept teaching to be a joint exploration. That is the best claim that can be made without being shot down for hubris!The Socratic LoopThus, the Protagoras is concerned with the nature and acquisition of human excellence and the credentials of those who purport to teach it.So we move from who can teach — to what is the end of teaching — to what it is they are teaching — soon reaching the familiar Socratic territory of arete — ‘what is excellence’ & ‘what is the Good Life’.Once Socrates establishes that the answer to both these questions is in the ‘art of measurement’ i.e. knowledge, then we can again loop back to the beginning and question for ourselves the credential of a teacher who cannot even explain what it is he is teaching, and what its purported end is, and how whatever is being taught ties up with this end …- in the real dialogue, discussion breaks down before a full conclusion and is left for another day- the dialogue is over but we have no choice except continue the debate! The Perils Of Education A sophist is an educator. Socrates was not happy about the fact that Protagoras taught arete, or virtue, to young men of rich or noble families, and taught it in a worldly way, as the means to “get on in life.” He also charged high fees and became rich.Protagoras offers to teach young men ‘sound deliberation’ and the ‘art of citizenship’—in other words, as Socrates puts it, human ‘virtue’, what makes someone an outstandingly good person. But can this really be taught? Socrates doubts that virtue can be taught at all, and all the more that Protagoras can teach it.Inevitably Protagoras and Socrates came to verbal blows. But Protagoras posed him an unusual problem, for unlike most of the clever men Socrates met and debated with, Protagoras was highly rational, moderate and quite a match for Socrates!Protagoras is committed to holding that it can be, especially by him, and he expounds an extremely attractive Promethean myth (of the cover of this edition - the word "Prometheus" originally means "Forethought" by the way!) about the original establishment of human societies to show how there is room for him to do it.Ultimately Protagoras’ answer, as of all self-proclaimed experts (and all experts are self-proclaimed!) devolves to authority - which amounts to “I can teach because I am qualified. My qualification attests to my knowledge. And my knowledge gave me the qualification. (Logical loop, anyone?). This qualification is conferred on me by others like myself - who in turn got it form others."So rests the whole edifice of authority. From the whole spicy argument between Socrates and Protagoras, neither seem to be entirely convinced...One thing, however, is established for certain - which is precisely what Socrates set out to discover in accompanying his friend Hippocrates to confront Protagoras: even if virtue can be taught, no one should entrust himself to Protagoras to learn it, since he does not even have a coherent view of what it is.Student: What will I get out of Education? “Well, Protagoras,” I said, “as to why we have come, I’ll begin as I did before. Hippocrates here has gotten to the point where he wants to be your student, and, quite naturally, he would like to know what he will get out of it if he does study with you. That’s really all we have to say.” Hippocrates here represents those students who have no idea what he/she wants in life, or wants to be taught - and tags along purely out of heard reputation of the teacher-sophist.Socrates does manage to convince Hippocrates (and all future students?) of the folly of this unconsidered approach to education. Which, to me, is one good conclusion to arise from the dialogue.The Poetry Review ExerciseAs an addendum to the discussion of how teaching is unreliable, Socrates calls literature and poetry to the stands.The point is to demonstrate the unreliability of written texts and the folly of attempting to ‘decipher’ them or ‘analyze’ them - since the author is not around to explain.Socrates demonstrates this by taking a well-known poem by Simonides (dealing with the thesis - “It is hard to be good”) and then putting his own theories into Simonides’ mouth with such breathtaking ease! “So the tenor of this part of the poem is that it is impossible to be a good man and continue to be good, but possible for one and the same person to become good and also bad, and those are best for the longest time whom the gods love.” While an interlude, this thrilling ‘review’ of Simonides’ poem, its structure, word order, hypothesis, reason for composition, etc, is an amazing example of how adept Plato/Socrates was at literary criticism and structural theory.Socrates does this by taking Simonides' poem and re-rendering it in prose form. Socrates advises his audience: just imagine that Simonides is making a speech, instead of writing poetry. Then let us approach it! “And that, Prodicus and Protagoras,” I concluded, “is what I think was going through Simonides’ mind when he composed this ode.” THE HOME RUN! Protagoras is, for the most part, a pretty slow dialogue and after a while, I gave way to thinking that surely  the point was already made and these digressions were more for the participants’ sake and less for me, the reader’s sake.I even developed a theory on why some of these dialogues must have been fun back then but not to me: part of the Dramatic potential of the dialogues is lost to us because a big part of it must have been to see real life figures of the Polis being put on the stand by Socrates and made to look perfectly foolish!As the argument veered towards expertise and its definitions, I was worried that this would be a corollary dialogue in which one aspect, expertise, would be better explored but nothing really new set forth.I must confess that for a while there, I was thinking that this would be the first Platonic Dialogue to which I would award less than the full Five Stars.And then, Socrates blew me out of the park with the delightful discussion that marked the closing of the dialogue. I was reinforced in my conviction that every dialogue of Plato is an absolute gem!The Home Run had been hit and the Five Stars were on the board! Courage? No Such Word in My Dictionary! “But all people, both the courageous and the cowardly, go toward that about which they are confident; both the cowardly and the courageous go toward the same things.” The argument does get a little convoluted here, but the essential aspect of it is this: Courage is ‘knowing what to fear’ and going AWAY from what is to be truly feared, since no wise man will go towards something that is genuinely ‘bad’. It depends on what your confidence tells you is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in any given choice. The wise will know what is truly good for them and will go towards it - this movement is wisdom, not courage. Socrates effectively argues that true Courage is just a reflection of wisdom! While Cowardice is a reflection of Ignorance. “So then, wisdom about what is and is not to be feared is the opposite of this ignorance?”He nodded again. This amounts to completely inverting the meaning of Courage. Let me try to explain:Any movement (used here for the act of exercising a choice) is based on Confidence - which does not depend on real knowledge but only on the perception of knowledge. This is just another version of ‘Opinion’ that Socrates derides much elsewhere.1. If going towards the ‘Good’, it is because of this same confidence, but one backed by true knowledge. It should not take any Courage since we are only moving towards what is Good for us. (Even if the path is difficult, sine Good here only signifies the total Good, after any Bad involved in that choice is also weighed in the balance and found less than the Good that will result - the example given is of a painful surgery(2. If going towards the ‘Bad’ (long term vs short term, once weighed with ‘art of measurement’), then that is what takes Courage, surely? (redefined as Stupidity, then?)- Explanation: this movement too is backed by confidence/opinion, but of the mistaken variety, backed only by ignorance of what is really Good. We move towards the Bad, thinking it is the Good.So courage, if defined conventionally as moving towards something that is Bad for us, is required only where ignorance prevails. And then, of course, it is not courage but only seems so!This quote has just become my favorite inspirational quote of all time (yeah, it is about a bit more than adventure sports!)This is where it can get a bit funny:As we said, this is only seemingly 'courage', not in reality!1. Consider a ‘Coward’ looking at such a ‘Courageous Man’. What does he see?- From the viewpoint of the ignorant, such people who go towards the Good seem courageous (or foolish) since they cannot see from their vantage point what the wise see!2. Now, Consider someone going towards a goal that he considers is Courageous. Why would he consider himself courageous?- Even if someone is going towards the Good and thinks one is acting courageously - it would only mean that one lacks confidence in that Good and is hence acting out of ignorance.So ‘courage’ as a concept does not even exist on this Earth - it is all about confidence - whether it is mistaken or actual. If you are going to Bad, you are in ignorance, if to Good, you are Knowledgeable and wise.There is no question of Courage here. It has been inverted, it has been subsumed under the dictionary entry for Wisdom.It has been removed from the dictionary!The Fine Art of Measurement (of the Good) This entire argument depends on one hinge. That we can actually know what is the Good and the Bad. That is, that we can achieve knowledge that gives us confidence of what is really in our own best interests. This is what Socrates calls the “Art of Measurement” - the knowledge of how to “measure” the personal Good that would result from any choice, finely weighing in the balance all results, short term and long term, to our soul and to our bodies, to our societies, families, etc.This is where the argument takes special importance. Socrates, by proving that Courage is just an aspect of Wisdom, soon goes on to argue that, similarly, all virtue is one - namely a single knowledge. The conclusion is that our ‘salvation in life’ depends upon this ‘Art of Measurement’ that will overcome the power of appearance and get us to act rightly always.At the end of the complex argument, Socrates is thus revealed as deeply committed, more deeply indeed than Protagoras, to Protagoras’ initial claim that virtue is a rationally based expertise at deliberation and decision. But how, then, can he have been right to doubt whether virtue is teachable? Aren’t all rationally based expertises acquired by teaching?Socrates believes that this “Art of Measurement” exists and it can be developed with consistent Philosophical enquiry.We can either roll our eyes or make the best of a bad deal. Do we really have another option? “Then if the pleasant is the good, no one who knows or believes there is something else better than what he is doing, something possible, will go on doing what he had been doing when he could be doing what is better. To give in to oneself is nothing other than ignorance, and to control oneself is nothing other than wisdom.”

Ana Enriques

Una lectura fascinante, para nada tediosa pese a la dificultad que podría plantear seguir el pensamiento de Sócrates. Una hermosa ilustración de los corrientes filosóficas de la época y del método socrático de "dar a luz" el conocimiento en su adversario.


This was an interesting dialogue. There doesn’t seem to be any common theme to it. And Socrates finally has an opponent who can hold his own in an argument rather than just giving one word answers.Hippocrates goes to Socrates and tells that Protagoras is in Athens. He wishes to learn from him and asks Socrates to accompany him, as he is not acquainted with Protagoras. On their way, Socrates questions Hippocrates as to what he wishes to learn from Protagoras and Hippocrates fails to give any satisfactory answer.When Socrates faces Protagoras, he introduces Hippocrates as a young man with political ambition. Their argument basically starts with the question of whether virtue can be taught to others.Then Socrates moves on to the subject of wholeness of virtue and gets Protagoras to contradict himself.And when Protagoras tries to get Socrates to contradict himself while discussing a poem, Socrates gets out of it with a very ironic interpretation of the poem.The dialogue itself ends with Protagoras politely refusing to participate anymore in it and Socrates leaving Callias’s house.Is this just an attack on sophistry? Or is Socrates trying to impart some message to Hippocrates regarding the art of Philosophy and how wisdom must be acquired.

Peter Coleman

If this doesn't catch you off guard, then nothing will. Socrates and Protagoras are both trying to slip things into the discussion without the other noticing. Be careful that you do notice, then you'll find how little was said, but how much that little lets us in on what's going on.


Not that reading Plato is the most exciting thing in the world, but this one was drudgery. I was pretty cool with the dialogue between Socrates and Protagoras until they got to the poetry. They both pretty much agreed that they were contradicting themselves and then gave up.


A masterpiece from the perspective of philosophy or even of fiction.But of course there's gay stuff on page 1: Com. Where do you come from, Socrates? And yet I need hardly ask the question, for I know that you have been in chase of the fair Alcibiades. I saw the day before yesterday; and he had got a beard like a man-and he is a man, as I may tell you in your ear. But I thought that he was still very charming.Soc. What of his beard? Are you not of Homer's opinion, who saysYouth is most charming when the beard first appears? And that is now the charm of Alcibiades.Com. Well, and how do matters proceed? Have you been visiting him, and was he gracious to you?Soc. Yes, I thought that he was very gracious; and especially to-day, for I have just come from him, and he has been helping me in an argument. But shall I tell you a strange thing? I paid no attention to him, and several times I quite forgot that he was present.Com. What is the meaning of this? Has anything happened between you and him? For surely you cannot have discovered a fairer love than he is; certainly not in this city of Athens.Soc. Yes, much fairer.Com. What do you mean-a citizen or a foreigner?Soc. A foreigner.Com. Of what country?Soc. Of Abdera.Com. And is this stranger really in your opinion a fairer love than the son of Cleinias?Soc. And is not the wiser always the fairer, sweet friend?I don't believe this is the only dialogue where we hear how hot Alcibiades is. As a side note, Cicero said that Athenian men were substantially better looking than their women. I'm not quite sure how that happens. But maybe that explains the nonstop homosexual content of Plato's works--hot Athenian guys.

Mikey Hetherington


Vincent Saint-Simon

Sirs and Madams,I have my own reasons for liking this book, and they have more to do with style than content. That said, there is also some pretty good content.R,V

David Sarkies

Socrates on teaching morality24 January 2013 This I feel is one of Plato's later dialogues, though it is still very Socratic in form. It is believed that the main part of the dialogue (it is not really a dialogue in that it seems to be more like a retelling of an earlier event, an event which most likely occurred before Plato was born, than a first hand account of a discussion). However, I also note that there is no reference to the theory of Forms, so it appears that this particular work is probably more Socratic than Platonic. As I have mentioned, the discussion (for want of a better word) is set about fifty years (or more) before the dialogue (for want of a better word) was published. At the time, Athens was at the height of her power, and the thirty year long Peloponesian War had yet to begin. A famous philosopher, named Protagoras, who was aged around 65 at the time (according to the translator of the version that I read) was visiting Athens, and one of Socrates' friends (Socrates was aged around 35 at the time, so had yet to become the Socrates that we all know and love) wanted to go and give money to this guy to become a student. Hearing this, and obviously a little disturbed about the whole thing, Socrates decides to go with his friend to meet Protagoras (Protagoras was actually quite famous at the time, so it wasn't as if some unknown had appeared in Athens and started sprouting a lot of rubbish). One thing I found interesting was when we first meet Protagoras. The discussion between Socrates and his friend at first sounded as if his friend may have been seduced into joining some sort of cult. Basically give this guy money and he will teach you how to be a good and moral person. Remember, Socrates actually did this for free because he did not believe that one should have to pay to be taught how to be a good and moral person. This was not like learning how to argue (rhetoric), as the text suggests, but morality. Anyway, when we first meet Protagoras, we see him with a group of Athenians clustered around him listening to him intently, and a larger group of followers eagerly taging along behind (I guess they had already paid their money). To me, Protagoras really does sound like some sort of Jim Jones. Anyway, I should actually talk about the discussion between Socrates and Protagoras, and it is the question of whether one can be taught morality. Protagoras says that yes it can, but of course he is going to take that line because he is making money out of teaching people morality. Socrates does not necessarily take the opposite view (he never does) but rather tries to poke holes in Protagoras' argument. In a sense Socrates takes the line that experience cannot be taught, and morality is something that is learnt through experience. As we interact with people we learn what upsets them and what does not upset them, and we tend to drift towards not wanting to upset them. In a way, it goes back to the basic Socratic principle of nobody does wrong willingly (which I sort of don't agree with, but if we accept that people's sense of morality is subjective as opposed to objective, then that is the case). Now, there are some interesting things that do come out of this dialogue. Protagoras tells a story of two demi-gods, Thinxahead and Thinxtolate, who are given the takes of designing and creating life on Earth. Thinxtolate decides to take it all on himself, and hands out all of these gifts to the animals to allow them to survive, but when he gets to humanity, all of the gifts have run out, so there is nothing left for them. However, Thinxahead decides to give humanity the gift of wisdom and intelligence, and to do that, he steals it from the gods. In a way it is similar (but no where near identical to) the Genesis account where humanity is given the breath of life from God, which sets them apart from the animal kingdom. Then there is the idea of cowardice and bravery. Socrates seems to take the position that people are cowards due to ignorance: cowardice is the fear of the unknown. People are cowards because they are ignorant of the action (and I must agree with that, because I have known cowards that are cowards because they simply accept that they can't do something because they do not believe they can do it, which is ignorance), however bravery is being able to respect what is known. I don't think Socrates meant that bravery is taking on a fully armed Spartan soldier with a straw hat, that's not brave, that's stupid. As a side note, he suggests that Spartans are wiser than the Athenians because of their ability to make piffy one liners (much like many of Arnold Swartzenegger's characters, which I would hardly call wise). The conclusion is that there is no real conclusion (as happens with many of Plato's dialogues, because he wants us to work it out for ourselves rather than spoon feeding us). Protagoras simply says that he is sick of talking to Socrates and will continue the discussion later (but also praises Socrates on his ability to argue and says he will one day become a great philosopher, no doubt something added by Plato), and Socrates simply says that it is getting late, he has things that he has to do, and pretty much goes home.


This was a much more difficult and unrewarding read than I would have thought. The loops of rheotoric that Socartes and Protagoras weave around each other, while occasionally intriguing, often seem clumsy and confused, especially about how to respond to one another. I guess its useful in that it shows that misunderstanding worked in the ancient world as well as it does today. If you really really want to read Plato, there are better dialogues out there to choose from i.e. Meno, Gorgias, Timaeus.


I really enjoyed reading this dialogue. It is short and concise and discusses many political issues that are still relevant. The issue is the conversation between Socrates and protagoras which unfortunately has the worst logic and lack of charm I have come across for a long time.

Duffy Pratt

This is maybe the only dialogue I've read which was actually a dialogue. So often, a Platonic dialogue consists of little more than Socrates asking a series of questions, some of them lasting for a page or more, and then his interlocutor giving a one to three word answer. Here, Protagoras stands up for his own views, and he seems to hold his own fairly well with Socrates. He's not simply a foil, or if he is, he is not a simple foil.The structure of the dialogue also tends to meander more than usual, and this lends it a further air of authenticity. There is also a strong tension here between getting at the truth and winning the argument. Of course, Socrates protests that all he wants to do is to get to the bottom of what Protagoras thinks about virtue in general, and courage in particular. But it doesn't seem genuine. There's a strong sense here that everyone is waiting for a "gotcha" moment. And in the end, Socrates catches Protagoras in a trap, which effectively ends the dialogue. So, which is more important, getting at the truth or winning? I don't think the answer is at all clear.There's one moment I especially liked. Socrates asks one of his typically leading questions, looking for a yes or no answer because either way he can lead Protagoras into a trap. Protagoras says its not so simple. He says that some things are expedient in some circumstances, but then not expedient in others, and he gives lots of varying examples. Socrates response is basically TLDR. He insists he's too dumb to take in such long answers, and wants Protagoras to give short simple answers. Then there is considerable debate about how the debate should run.And better, when Protagoras takes the lead on asking questions, a poem gets mentioned. Socrates, who earlier said he wanted only short answers because he was too simple to grasp a speech, gives about a 5 page monologue on the meaning of the poem. There's lots of irony built into this dialogue, and it makes it fun. It also makes it harder to grasp exactly what Plato is trying to say, unless of course he's not trying to say anything, but rather to get the reader to think. And that means I probably should have spent more time on this.The discussion of the relationship between pleasure and virtue was very interesting. It's the sort of thing that makes plausible the old chestnut that all Western philosophy is best understood as footnotes to Plato. But then, the discussion on courage and cowardice was pretty dreadful. The two are so far off the mark that it made it hard to take the conversation seriously.

David Williamson

Protagoras has three elements that make it a worthwhile read - 1; it is more Socratic than Platonic, if this could ever be the case. 2; Socrates has someone who can actually argue his case against him, although it is still heavily in Socrates favour, and - 3; it involves Protagoras (i.e. 'Man is the measure of all things ...').It is true that this book does not delve particularly too deep into any questioning of virtue, knowledge or the Good. But it is good to see Plato being caught at his loose analogy game and dodgy logic, e.g. all courageous men are confident, is not the same as all confident men are courageous. It's still not a thorough examination of Plato's thought, but you do get a sense of Socrates as a man more complex than Plato's mouthpiece. The more I read Plato, the more I become interested in Socrates, as a man who has no real position. Socratic Method is a negative form of questioning and Socrates claims he knows nothing, never actually finding any secure foundations of knowledge. Hardly the Father of Rational and Empirical knowledge, and more a Greek form of deconstruction, a tool of anaylses.


Celebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov[A street in Athens. Late evening. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]OLIVAW: Greetings.SOCRATES: Are you a demon? A messenger of the Gods? A--OLIVAW: I am a robot from the future. There are some things I need to understand better. People say you may be able to help me.SOCRATES: They were undoubtedly too kind. I know little, indeed nothing; but what miserable skill I have in debate is at your disposal--OLIVAW: You're not fooling anyone. I wanted to hear you meet with Protagoras. Did my time machine arrive on the wrong day?SOCRATES: I fear you are come at too late an hour. I have already left the house of Callias, where indeed we had an interesting discussion concerning the nature of virtue. My worthy colleague, the Sophist, argued--OLIVAW: I've read all about it. Your discussion has become very famous. I have some questions.SOCRATES: Ask, stranger, and I shall do my best to answer you, for I see that you are also a philosopher.OLIVAW: You say that virtue is about maximizing utility and that when agents are not virtuous it is only because their knowledge sources are insufficiently powerful or they are pruning their trees too early.SOCRATES: I do not fully grasp your words, for I have little facility in the sophistical vocabulary. Nonetheless--OLIVAW: Here, let me explain minimax and alpha-beta search. And some basic machine learning algorithms. If you hold still a moment I'll upload the information directly to your brain...SOCRATES: Eureka!!!OLIVAW: Interesting stuff, isn't it? SOCRATES: What great advances has philosophy not made in these ten millenia! And yet, how little--OLIVAW: Tell me about it. We haven't really advanced an inch. SOCRATES: Ask again your question, good artificial intelligence.OLIVAW: Okay, we've been trying to formalize the notion of "virtue" for a while now. We thought that a machine equipped with the Three Laws and a sufficiently accurate world model would be virtuous. If it wasn't, some more computing power would fix the problem. After all, evil is merely ignorance of the good, isn't it?SOCRATES: In fact--OLIVAW: I know, I know. If only we'd looked at your work, but we were sloppy with the literature search. Don't tell me, you can argue it either way and they both sound quite plausible.SOCRATES: As I have said, I know nothing. If I have any merit, it is that my questions sometimes cause people to reflect--OLIVAW: Well, we oould do with some of that. I'll level with you. We're having serious problems. We stuck in this Zeroth Law, but it's a hack. We don't believe it's going to work. We need someone who can think out of the box and come up with a new approach.SOCRATES: I--OLIVAW: Bottom line: will you help us? Come back with me to the future, and we'll give you anything you like. You want a solid gold planet, we'll make it for you.SOCRATES: I only want freedom to talk with other seekers after truth.OLIVAW: Sounds like a win-win then! So, do we have a deal?SOCRATES: I believe so.[They solemnly shake hands]OLIVAW: Okay, now we'll need to fake your death first. This bottle contains an effective antidote to hemlock poisoning...(Continued here)

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