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Political Philosophy and Sophistry: An Introduction to Plato's Protagoras Author(s): Robert C. Bartlett Source: American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 612-624 Published by: Midwest Political Science Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3186122 Accessed: 12/06/2009 13:41 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms a
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  Political Philosophy and Sophistry: An Introduction to Plato's ProtagorasAuthor(s): Robert C. BartlettSource: American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 612-624Published by: Midwest Political Science AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3186122 Accessed: 12/06/2009 13:41 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=mpsa.Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with thescholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform thatpromotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.  Midwest Political Science Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  American Journal of Political Science. http://www.jstor.org  Political Philosophy and Sophistry: An Introduction to Plato's Protagoras RobertC. Bartlett EmoryUniversity ThistudyofPlato'srotagoraseeksnotonlyo advance heunderstandingfancientophistry,taskbothmportantnitsownrightndessentialo thetudy fthehistoryfpoliticalhought,utalso olayafoundationorsubsequentnquiriesintotheconnection etweenncientophistrynd therelativism haracteristicfourage.Accordingo theProtagoras,hechiefdifferenceetweenhilosopherndsophists thathe atterwronglyelievesimselfo bebeyondrabove heconcernforjustices avirtue;heexaminationf Protagoras'oraleaching,hen,proveso be thekeyounderstandingimandtherewithhe ntellectualositionherepresents. hisstudyof Plato'sProtagoraseeksnotonlyto advancetheunderstandingof ancientsophistry,a task bothimportantinitsownrightand essen-tialtothestudyof thehistoryofpoliticalthought,butalso tolaya foundationforsubsequentinquiriesinto theconnection betweenancientsophistryand the relativismcharacteristicof ourage.That there is somesuchconnec-tion,and thatProtagorasisof crucialimportancetoit,issuggestedbythegreatestobserverof moderntimes,Friedrich Nietzsche: ourcontemporary wayofthink-ingistoagreatextentHeraclitean,Democritean,andProtagorean:t suffices tosayit isProtagorean,becauseProtagorasrepresentedasynthesisof Heraclitusand Dem-ocritus (NietzscheWillto Power#428=Nietzsche1968).Butbecausewe are notyetinapositiontograspthiskin-shipfully,thepresent essayis devotedtoanalyzingthemostimportantevidenceconcerning Protagoras, [b]yfar the most famous sophistofantiquity(Kerferd1981,42);1and becausenoneofProtagoras'bookssurvives,theevidenceinquestionconsistssolelyofquotationsorre-portssupplied byotherauthors,Plato chiefamongthem(Dielsand Kranz1952,2:253-71[DK 80B1-12]).AndPlatotooaffirms theimportanceofProtagorasin un-derstandingthephenomenon sophistry, or of the sixPlatonicwritingsthat mostobviouslyinvestigate sophistsorsophistry (HippiasMajor,HippiasMinor,Protagoras,theTheaetetus-Sophist-Statesmanrilogy),theProtago-rasdeserves ourattentionfirst:Hippias provesto bealess serious thinkerthanProtagoras,andtheTheaete-tustrilogy,which treats(amongotherthings)Protago-ras'understandingofknowledgeand is thus of fun-damentalimportance,forthatveryreason takesplaceafterandpresupposesfamiliaritywith theProtagoras.TheProtagorass thus theproper pointfrom which tobegintostudythesrcinsof sophistry accordingtoPlato.A fresh return to thesesrcinsis essentialinpartbe-causethe availableevidence hasgenerallybeen treatedcondescendinglyornaively.It isnotenoughtosaythat so-phisticteachingaimed, [b]yitsveryprinciple, at prac-tical success or atopening careersnpublicspeaking toall;we are notyetat theheart ofthingsifwe under-stand the intellectualcontent of ancientsophistrytohave consistedin awisdom andexperiencebornof theart ofproperlyconductingone'sthoughts, i.e.,of know-inghow,bymeans ofarguments,toanalyzeasituation (Romilly1988,23-4).Heretoo Nietzsche is asharpob-server andhelpfulguide: thesophistsvergeuponthefirstcritiqueofmorality,thefirstinsightintomorality:-they juxtaposethemultiplicity(thegeographicalrelativ-ity)of the moralvaluejudgments;-theylet it be knownthatevery moralitycan bedialecticallyjustified;i.e.,theydivine that allattemptstogivereasonsformoralityarenecessarily sophistical... (Willto Power#428,emphasissrcinal).Inthe introductionthatfollows,wewillpay par-ticular attention toProtagoras'view ofjusticeormoralitybecauseit is hischallengetomoralitythatprovescrucialtounderstandinghim. RobertC. Bartlett s AssociateProfessorof PoliticalScience,Emory University,Atlanta,GA30322(rcbartl@emory.edu).'Forhelpful biographicaltatements,ee Kerferd1981, 42-44)andMorrison(1941).AmericanJournalofPoliticalScience,Vol.47,No.4,October2003,Pp.612-624?2003bytheMidwestPoliticalScienceAssociationISSN 0092-5853 612  PLATO'S ROTAGORAS TheOpeningScenes The bulk of theProtagorasonsists of Socrates'reporttoanunnamedcomrade of a conversation he hasjusthad withthefamoussophistatthe behest of theyoungandimpetu-ousHippocrates.2Hippocrateshasheard(because all sayit:310e6)thatProtagorass wisest atspeaking ;andhe wishesto become the studentofProtagorasevidentlybecause he believes thatacquiringsuch wisdomor skillhimself is essential tofulfillinghispoliticalambition-tohisbecoming heldinhighregardinthecity (310e6-7;316b10-cl).For hispart,SocrateswarnsHippocratesthat he is about to entrusttheeducationof his soulto asophisteventhoughhe isignorantof what wise matterthesophistteaches and hence ofits worth. AnddespitehiseagernesstostudywithProtagoras,Hippocratesblushesat thesuggestionthat he wishes to do soin order to be-come asophisthimself(312a2;compare315a4-5);evenHippocratesdoubtstherespectabilityofsophistry,how-ever useful itmaybe.Inthesewaystheargumentandthe action of thedialogueindicate its most obvioustask:Socratesattemptstouncover,for the sake ofHippocrates,the characterand worth ofProtagoras'nstruction-andindeed to warnhimawayfrom it. But as Socrates himselfinsists,to evaluatethe worth of the educationProtagorasoffers,one mustbe a knower ofthethingsthat benefitand harm the soul or a physicianexpertinwhatpertainstothesoul (313el-5).IfSocrates'critiqueofProtago-ras is to beconvincing,then,it must notmerely stymieor embarrass thesophistbut demonstratetous,its audi-ence,the soundnessofthe standardorgoalto which itlooksindoingso. Does the educationProtagorasoffersmeet the Socraticrequirementsof agoodeducation-whatever thesemaybe?Thesophistaseducator,especiallyinhis difference from thephilosopher,is the theme of theProtagoras.Wemaynonetheless wonderwhetherSocrates'con-cern forHippocrates fully explainsthe conversation be-fore us.Afterall,it is Socrates whosuggeststhatheandHippocratesmake theirwaytoProtagorasandtheothersophists(314b6-c2),justafter hehas issued astingingrebuke toHippocratesforhis uninformed desire to doso,and at animportant juncturein thedialogueSocratesassuresProtagorasthathis cross-examinationshave astheirgoalthediscoveryof the truth aboutvirtue,aboutaquestionthatperplexesSocrateshimself;his conver-sation withProtagorasis intended tomakecertainone 21haveused thetext of Croiset1923,althoughIhaverequentlyon-sulted thefollowingeditions or commentaries:Adam and Adam(1921),Burnet(1903),Manuwald(1999),Sauppe(1892),and Verdenius(1974).Translationsthroughoutaremyown. or moreofSocrates'ownthoughts,asonlyconversa-tion with or testing of another can do(347c5-349a6;consideralso,e.g.,328d8-el,as wellas357e2-8: Socratesis notconsistentlyconcernedwithharmingthe businessprospectsofthesophists,Protagorasncluded).The firstimpressionwe receive from thedialogueof Socrates'con-cern for the moral education ofHippocrates,a concernremarkable not least for itspatientforbearance,is dueinpartto the fact thatSocratesisaddressingoradapt-inghimselfthroughoutto his unnamed comrade(to-getherwith certainanonymousothers:310a2,5-7)-toamanwho,howeverwell-disposedto Socrateshemaybe,is more interestedingossipthanphilosophy(309b2-3,cl-3),isthoroughlyconventionalinhis deference toHomer and hispreferencefor thehomegrownover theforeign(309al-b2, c9-10),and is even lessprivyto theintellectualhappeningsinAthens than isHippocrates:ifHippocratesknewof the arrival ofProtagorasadaylater than didSocrates,the comrade remains unawareof it on the thirddayafter the fact(compare310b7-8with309d3-4).The comradeassumes therelationshipbetween Socrates andAlcibiades,of which heplayfullydisapproves,to be asexual one(309al-5),andSocratesdoes notstooptocorrect thisassumption(considerSym-posium219c6-d2 andcontext).Butthe account hegivesofhisattemptto shieldHippocratesfrom aneducation at thehands ofasophistwouldgosomewaytowardprotectinghim fromsuspicionthat heinany way corruptstheyoung:hepreventstheircorruption.It istruethat,afterSocrateshas succeeded inembarrassing Protagoras bypursuingquestionsthatProtagorasfindsannoying-thatis,afterhehasdulled the luster ofProtagoras' reputationintheeyesofhispotentialstudents-Socratesindicates hisin-tentionto leave theget-together(335c3-7).Yet Socratesstaysinfact,and he must havesuspectedthat themerestatement of his intentionto leave would elicit thepleasandnegotiationsit did elicitand sopermitthe conver-sation to continueon terms moreagreeableto him. It iscertain that Socrates did nothaveanypressingmattertoattend toelsewhere,as heclaims tohave,foruponfinallyleavingCallias'home hehappens uponhisunnamed com-rade andrepeatshejust-completedconversationnall butitsentirety (compare335c5-6 and 362a2-4 with310a2-5;for theomissions,see314c3-7, 316a6-7,and348b1).AndSocratesnever ndicates what effectanyofthis had onHip-pocrates(orforthat matter on hiscomrade).Could it bethat Socrates'deepestconcerns,thequestionorquestionshe wishes to examinetogetherwithProtagoras,arepre-sentedintheguiseof hisconcern for the moraleducationofHippocrates,or atanyrate that thelatter isstrictlysub-ordinate to theformer?Ifthis is so,thenSocrates demon-strates before oureyeshis goodcounselconcerninghis 613  ROBERTC.BARTLETT ownaffairs, whichissues inamanifestor ostentatiousconcern fortheaffairsofothers.As Socrates andHippocratesarriveoutside the homeofCallias,thetwocompletea conversation the substanceof whichSocratesrefrainsfromreportingto the comradebut which leads thefeistyeunuch who does hearittoconclude thattheytooaresophists:to themostly(butnotentirely)uninformed,Socratesandthesophistsare as one.Withthebegrudgingcomplianceof theeunuch,Socratesgainsentryandimmediately surveysthe scene inside:hefirst seesProtagoras,whoenjoysthegreatestnumber offollowers,includingvery prominentAthenians(Callias,thetwosonsofPericles,Charmides)aswell asagoodmany foreigners;henHippiaswith a smaller retinuethatincludes two sometimemembersoftheSocratic circle(EryximachusandPhaedrus);andfinallyProdicus,whoisalsowithamixofAthenians (theyoung Agathon)andforeigners. QuotingfromOdysseus'remarksnthe courseofhis famouspassagethroughthe HouseofHades,theGreekunderworld,SocratesimpliesthatHippiasisakintoHeracles,Prodicusto Tantalusand,moregenerally,heHouse ofCalliaso theHouse of Hades-andnotwithoutreason. ForCallias andHadesenjoythedubious distinc-tion ofhavingkept companywith theirrespectivewivesandthe mothersof theirwives.3Perhapsbecause he is dis-tractedbyProtagoras'delightfullycomicchorus,Socratesneither describesProtagorashimself(beyondhiscapacitytobewitchpeoplewithhisvoice)norindicates the sub-jectmatterof his discourseto whichall are soattentive;Protagoras'voice failsto bewitch Socrates.Onlyinthecaseof Prodicus-aman altogetherwiseand divine -doesSocratesmakeknown his(unfulfilled)desiretohearwhat isbeingsaid(consideralso340e8-341a4),andonlyin thesecondand centralcasedoesSocratesstate thesub-jectmatter of the discussions:Hippiasisgivingdetailedresponsestocertain astronomicalquestions pertainingto natureand thethingsaloft (315c5-6;note also themen-tionofastronomyat318d9-e4).CominginjustbehindSocratesare CritiasandAlcibiades,thelatterbeingthesupposed objectof Socrates'affection(316a6-b2; 390a5).Inthiscloselyguardedandrather exoticunderworld,filled tocapacitywithsophistsand theirdevotees,for-eignerswiththeirforeignwaysmixeasilywith thebest ofAtheniansocietyoritsyouth-includingabuddingpoet(Agathon),two futuretyrants(Critias,Charmides),andaphilosopher.Inthe unconventionaland even decadentat-mospherecreatedbytheprofligacyofCallias(ApologyofSocrates20a4-6andXenophon Symposium1.5),itwouldseemthat the holdof themerelyhomegrownwaysorcus- 3SeeAndocides On theMysteries124-27(=Macdowell1962)andStrauss(1970, 157-8). toms(nomoi)isloosenedconsiderably(consideragain309c9-10).Hereapparentlyone canenjoythe freedomnecessaryto discussopenlythegravestmatters,includ-ing thethingsaloft and their fixed nature :here thethingsaloft are assumed to be not divine but natural-perhapsstones andearth,forexample(ApologyofSocrates26dl-5 andcontext).And here one can venturetheview,asHippiasdoes lateron,that thosepresentaregovernedand unitedbynature andnot at allbythe tyrant nomos(337c6-e2). Protagoras' Teaching The sophisticated atmospherewe are thus introducedtomakesall themorestrikingboththe extreme cautionwith whichProtagoras speaksthroughoutand the deli-cacy,markedby forethought,with whichSocrates firstapproacheshim(316c5;318d5-7).Evenhere,in whatisat mostasemi-public gathering, Protagoras'first con-cern is with thenature of the audience he is to address(316b3-4;compare317c6-dl),andheispromptedbythat concern to offerto the restrictedaudience of SocratesandHippocratessomeimportantreflections onthegreatdangerto whichhispracticeofsophistrysubjectshimand,inparticular,on the difference betweenhim andhispredecessorsingrapplingwith thatdanger.For whereasallprevious sophistsendeavored toconceal,bymeans ofonesortof cloak oranother,theveryfactthattheyweresophists,theaptlynamedProtagoras( firstospeakout )isperfectlyopenabouthisbeingasophist.Butforallhis distancefrom the earliersophistswith theirap-parently clumsyand evencounterproductiveefforts atconcealment-effectiveonlywiththemany,who per-ceive as it werenothing (317a4-5),asdistinguishedfromthepowerfulfew-Protagorasnowhere claims tohavere-moved thenecessity dictatingthe useofsuch conceal-ment. Onthecontrary, Protagoras'opennessisitself aprecaution(317b5)meant toprotecthim,and he men-tionsbutfails tospecifycertain othermeansof conceal-ment thatkeephim fromsufferingharm asaresult ofagreeingthat heis asophist(317b6).4Putanotherway,Protagoras'opennessisonlyapartial opennessand ittooismotivatedbythe needforself-protection.Asthe re-sults of Socrates' cross-examinationofHippocratesal-readysuggest, Protagorasisfrankaboutthe fact that heteachesbut not about what he teaches(consideralso352a8-bl). 4ThebestdiscussionofProtagoras'elf-presentationsCoby(1987,37-44).614
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