Plato’s Protagoras

The main trigger to reread this came from my colleague’s teaching it as an A2 Greek text. Expecting Socrates to expose Protagoras as a shallow and mercenary “sophist”, he and his class couldn’t understand how Socrates’ arguments seemed just as sophistic as those of Protagoras. I emailed an academic, am halfway through the paper I received by return, and have reread the dialogue.
By chance also I heard a lecture on Wednesday (Mark Jonas at the Institute of Education) about Plato’s Lysis, where I learnt the distinction between his aporetic and euporetic works. The former end with a state of aporia – the participants being none the wiser, or even less the wiser, about what they’d been discussing: Socrates had succeeded in showing that their claimed knowledge was false. Euporetic dialogues end with Socrates arguing positively for what he believes to be the case. The Protagoras is aporetic, ending with Socrates asking Protagoras if he’d like to continue the discussion, and Protagoras politely refusing, saying he’d love to in the future but not right now. So Socrates manages to pin the aporia onto Protagoras, but what’s Plato doing? Is he with his teacher, or is there something more complicated going on? Timothy Chappell, in “Deliberation and moral knowledge in the Protagoras”, seems to argue that Plato is using both sophists to exemplify ways of arguing, finding neither fully satisfactory, and that would seem to fit with what I’ve found so far, but when I’ve finished his paper I’ll pop back here and continue.

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