Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Sophistry

We find the Sophists interesting and want to continue our discussion about them.

Protagoras of Abdera (490-420 B.C.) wrote many books including, The Art of Controversy, On Wrestling, On What is in Hades, and On the Misdeeds of Men.

He was a pupil of Democritus, the atomist, and his father, a wealthy Thracian, was a friend of the Persian King Xerxes. Xerxes granted the young Protagoras instruction from the King’s priestly cult, the Magoi.

The Magoi communed with the gods in secret and in public denied any belief in the Divine. Later, when Protagoras stated that he was perplexed about whether or not the gods existed, he was ostracized and his books were burned.

He said, “Concerning the gods, I am not in a position to know whether or not they exist, or they do not exist; for there are many obstacles in the way of such knowledge, notably the intrinsic obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life.”

Protagoras had a close personal relationship with Pericles, as demonstrated by the following story. A pentathlete, accidently struck Epitimus with a javelin and killed him. When Pericles heard about this he spent an entire day with Protagoras debating whether the javelin, the thrower, or the officials who organized the contest were to blame for the accident.

Protagoras said that man is the measure of all things. That is what is perceived to be the case by one man really is the case for him. By this definition, that which is must also be not, or is at the same time both good and bad, based on the perception of the viewer.

Being, for things that are, consists of their being perceived. “It is clear to you, being present, that I am sitting. To one who is not present, however, it is not clear that I am sitting. Therefore it is unclear whether I am sitting or not sitting.”

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