Last Updated 17 Aug 2022

Summary of Plato’s Protagoras

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Summary Protagoras

In Plato’s dialogue “Protagoras” Socrates tells a companion his experience and interview with a man he deems fairer than Alcibiades. His name is then revealed to be Protagoras.

Protagoras is described as a wise man because if one makes friends with him and gives him money, he would make the benefactor as wise as he is himself. From this it can be understood that Protagoras has the gift of speech. He is able to persuade a man as well as have him to whatever he wishes. A Socrates question that, if soul is more sacred than body, why does Hippocrates choose Protagoras over his family and friends to consult in the matter. He believes that Hippocrates does not even know what a Sophist truly is but still chooses to offer his soul to him.

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Socrates believes that the food of the soul. He compares a Sophist to a dealer and as all dealers they praise all of their goods indiscriminately. So the customer is in danger of purchasing something that may harm him. If one is not a specialist in the particular field he may be cheated. When absorbing the knowledge of a Sophist one should also be careful and calculate what knowledge is useful to him, as the knowledge will have effects on the soul.

Then Protagoras says that by associating with him, he would make Hippocrates a better man by sharing his wisdom daily. He would teach him prudence in private and public affairs, teach him to order his house in the best manner, teach him speak in the affairs of the state. So to say, teach politics and make a good citizen out of him.

However, Socrates doubts this. He says in the affairs of the state every citizen has a say and it does not matter if he is or is not taught politics. As well, he says that if a man does gain wisdom there is no guarantee that he would share it with others or be acknowledged for it.

Although, the man is given the gift of wisdom in comparison to other animals, he is not able to govern himself properly, which results in raging, never-ending wars and conflict. Every man if taught properly can attain needed skills (medicine, sciences), however, those already able to teach did not choose lightly their pupils. Good and bad qualities may be influenced by nature and chance.

A rational man does not punish in regards of the past (something that cannot be undone) but thinking about the future. He punishes to prevent the wrong from repeating so as emphasising that virtue may be taught. A man punishes those he believes are evildoers.

Protagoras believes that justice, temperance and holiness must be taught to all who wish to learn. If the pupil does wrong, he must be punished so he would become better. Those who refuse should be exiled or sentenced to death, as they would be deemed as incurable.

People teach each other their virtues according to their own abilities. It may be difficult to find a teacher for an expert artisan but easy for one who is a complete beginner.

Virtue may be divided into parts, for example, justice, temperance, and holiness. Although, they are all related, they also differ. They each have their own function.

It is said that each quality or action has only one opposite but both temperance and wisdom were concluded to have the same opposite - folly. Later, the characters analyse poems. It is said that it may be hard to become good but impossible to remain good as a man makes mistakes and has weaknesses. Circumstances may make the man lose his goodness. They question what makes a man good. It is said that the good man may become bad in time, but the bad man cannot become bad, as he is already bad. * While a good man will feel for those wronged as well as his family and his country, a bad man will gain join and find faults.

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