Introduction to the Protagoras

origin of man. It illustrates his doctrine that virtue can be taught, both by individuals and by the State.

IV. 328 d–334 c. Socrates cross - examines Protagoras: (1) Is each of the virtues a part of virtue, or only a different name for the same thing? (2) Protagoras replies that the several virtues differ like the parts of the face. (3) In answer to an objection from Socrates, Protagoras allows that justice and holiness must be like each other. (4) Socrates then urges that temperance and wisdom must be the same, and would argue likewise of temperance and justice; but (5) Protagoras, impatient of being questioned, reverts to his favourite method of declamation on the notions of “good” and “beneficial.”

V. 334 c–338 e. Socrates makes as if to go: he will only stay if Protagoras will keep to the method of question and answer. At the request of Callias, Alcibiades, Critias, Prodicus and Hippias he agrees to stay and be questioned by Protagoras, after which Protagoras will be questioned by him.

VI. 338 e–347 a. Socrates is cross-examined by Protagoras on the meaning of a poem of Simonides, and tries to save the consistency of the poet, which Protagoras impugns, by distinguishing between “being good” and “becoming good”; he also suggests a peculiar significance of words in Ceos (the native place of the poet and of Prodicus, whose verbal learning he satirizes with some pedantic nonsense). He then gives his own explanation of the poem, which he holds to have been written to refute a saying of Pittacus (an Ionian sage of the latter part of the seventh century b.c.) that “it is


Introduction to the Protagoras

hard to be good”: to become good, said the poet, is hard; to be good is impossible; he looked for no perfect virtue on earth.

VII. 347 a–360 e. Alcibiades and Callias prevail on Protagoras, rather against his will, to be questioned by Socrates as to whether wisdom, temperance, courage, justice and holiness are all the same thing, or different parts of virtue. Protagoras singles out courage as distinct from the rest. When Socrates argues that it is the same as wisdom, Protagoras objects to his reasoning, and Socrates starts on a new line: Is not pleasure, viewed apart from its consequences, the same as the good? To be overcome by pleasure is merely to choose the less instead of the greater good, through ignorance; and pleasure being good, every action must be good that has pleasure as its object. The coward who will not fight when he ought is suffering from an ignorant misconception of what lies before him, so that courage must be knowledge.

VIII. 360 e–862 a. It is shown, in conclusion, that Socrates and Protagoras have each been led into a position opposite to that which they held at the beginning: Socrates’ identification of virtue with knowledge brings him to the view that virtue must be teachable, which he at first denied; while Protagoras, who held that it is teachable, now declares that it is not knowledge, thus denying it the sole means of being taught.

A good modern edition of the Protagoras is that by J, Adam, Cambridge University Press, 1905.

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.plato_philosopher-protagoras.1924