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The following article analyzes the “Great Speech” of Protagoras as a reply to Socrates’ objection. The paper includes a brief analysis of background dialogue between Socrates and Protagoras. The main purpose of this article is to review the Protagoras’ “Great Speech” and determine its appropriateness. The central questions of the analysis are “What is Socrates’ objection?”, “How does Protagoras reply to it?” and “How effective is that reply?” During analyzing Protagoras’ speech the main questions are “Does he really prove Socrates wrong?”, “Or does he avoid the question? “, “Or miss the point?” and “Is it a good or a bad answer?”
It is important to note that, Socrates was skeptical about sophists’ teachings. He did not believe that people could learn something from them. Moreover, they usually asked a very high fee for their lessons. In one of his speeches, Socrates compared sophists with a “kind of merchant[s] who peddles provisions upon which the soul is nourished” (Socrates, 313c). He also noticed that sophists could easily fool the customers and sell them needless or harmful goods. According to Socrates’ words, sophists did not actually know which of their products were beneficial and which detrimental to the soul (Socrates, 313d).
Socrates’ words did not change the mind of his friend Hippocrates, a son of Apollodorus and a member of a great and well-to-do family (Socrates, 316c). He still wanted to learn from Protagoras. Hippocrates thought he was the wisest man alive (Socrates, 309d). According to the beginning of the dialogue, Socrates has already come to Protagoras and they had a long conversation. He did not want to come back to his place.
During his conversation with Protagoras, Socrates maintained his skeptical point of view. He was speaking on behalf of his friend, as Hippocrates was too young; he was not experienced enough for this type of discussion. In fact, there was only one main thing Socrates wanted to know about Protagoras lessons. Quite obviously, he was wondering what Hippocrates would get if he started learning from Protagoras. Even though first Socrates question was quite simple, he did not get a clear answer. Sophist claimed that “The very day [Hippocrates] start, [he] will go home a better man, and the same thing will happen the day after” (Protagoras, 318e). Socrates was not satisfied with the reply. It was too general and obvious for him. Instead of giving a straight answer, Protagoras tried to prevaricate with the clear intention of avoiding being pinned down. Socrates caught him out. He could not miss the opportunity to bring Protagoras teachings to light.
Socrates got another answer from Protagoras. This time it was more detailed. Sophist explained that there were two main directions in his teachings: “how best to manage one’s household”, and “how to realize one’s maximum potential for success in political debate and action” (Protagoras, 319a). In other words, Protagoras promised to make men good citizens (Protagoras, 319a). Socrates liked the idea of this kind of teachings. Anyway, he had doubts and could not agree with every of sophist teaching concepts. They continued talking about politics and art of citizenship. Then Protagoras declared that virtue is what he teaches. Socrates was surprised as he never thought that virtue is something to be taught. Moreover, the political context was far from Socrates concepts and ideas. Philosophers started a discussion about the way virtue could be taught.
Socrates gave the example of Athenians in order to defend his point of view. According to his words, Athenians were wise. They asked advice from a small number of most experienced craftsmen. Socrates also noted that if a person not regarded as a craftsman, tried to advise nobody would listen to him (Socrates, 319c). When it comes to politics, Athenians asked advice from ordinary citizens. Socrates believed that political virtue is something that everybody knows and does not need to be explained. Protagoras did not agree with that opinion.
Sophist wanted to defend his point of view. He needed to somehow prove that Socrates is wrong. Actually, Sophist got cornered by the example with Athenians. It was his turn to speak, and the new idea came up immediately. Protagoras’ “Great Speech” is an answer to Socrates objection. His speech mostly consists of myth about Epimetheus and Prometheus. It tells a story about the creation of human beings and their cities. The myth has an explanatory function: “This must be the explanation for it, Socrates” (Protagoras, 323e).
Protagoras’ myth was supposed to explain the nature of people to Socrates. Sophist has made every effort to colorfully describe the story. Protagoras could be considered as a great storyteller. The myth itself has typical for most of the cautionary tales contrast characters: “afterthinker” Epimetheus and “forethought” Prometheus. Brothers had to assign the abilities among people. “Afterthinker” Epimetheus did everything wrong and “forethought” Prometheus had to correct his brother mistakes.
In fact, the myth would be more appropriate for Socrates speech as it illustrates his point of view. According to Protagoras speech, Zeus told Hermes to establish justice and shame among all humans (Protagoras, 322d). That led to understanding by them the main principles of relationships and political virtue. In this way, people already had inherent knowledge. They did not need to be additionally taught.
After the myth, Protagoras agreed with Socrates about Athenians. He said the same words about craftsmen advice. Maybe at that point, he understood that he said something wrong and decided to correct his speech. He separated myth and craftsmen advice from his further words by the following statement: “This, then, is my first point:” (Protagoras, 323c). After these words, he claimed that people do not regard their virtue as essential part of them. According to his speech, people need to be taught to realize their natural potential.
Another interesting Protagoras argument was about punishments. Sophist claimed that people need to be sometimes punished to learn something about virtue. Actually, this argument was not directly related to the topic of humans’ essential virtue. It was more applicable to teaching methods. At that point, Socrates has not yet agreed with Protagoras about the need for virtue teachings. That is why these arguments were nothing more than empty words for him.
As if he had forgotten about recently mentioned myth, Protagoras continued his speech about the value of political virtue teachings. He contradicted himself with the claim that “human beings consider virtue to be something acquired through training” (Protagoras, 324b). Then he tried to prove that virtue is not inborn, but is learned from the science teachings. Protagoras argued that some people do not have their natural or self-generated potential to understand everything by themselves (Protagoras, 324e). That is why they need someone to teach them.
There is a great difference between the two parts of Protagoras speech. First, he agreed with Socrates and then contradicted himself. His speech does not seem to be well-thought-out as its parts are incompatible with each other. Protagoras probably took help from the myth in his speech in order to play for time. Mythical stories and explanations have the ability to conceal an argumentation process (Garret, 2004). In this way, Protagoras had some time to think about other arguments to be used in the discussion. It is not surprising that Protagoras’ “Great Speech” did not have the supposed effect on Socrates. Moreover, it demonstrated a lack of confidence in his own position in this discussion.
This analysis was written by Wow Essay writer.
Garret, Jan. Myth and Argument in Protagoras’ “Great Speech”. 2004, http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/302/protagor.htm. Accessed 2 Feb 2019
Plato. Protagoras. Aeterna Press, 2015, https://books.google.com/books?id=EPF5CgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Plato+Protagoras&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiS8OHY953gAhVylosKHeQsDeMQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=Plato%20Protagoras&f=false. Accessed 2 Feb 2019
Schiappa, Edward. Protagoras and Logos: A Study in Greek Philosophy and Rhetoric. University of South Carolina Press, 2013, https://books.google.com/books?id=aADQBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA170&dq=Protagoras+great+speech&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjsyr34k5_gAhVusYsKHQmzCY8Q6AEILzAB#v=onepage&q=Protagoras%20great%20speech&f=false. Accessed 2 Feb 2019