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A Study On Protagorean Objectivism

LEE, YOON CHEOL (2012) A Study On Protagorean Objectivism. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Protagoras, the first and greatest sophist in the fifth century BCE, is known to have performed professionally as a teacher of various subjects, having interests in human language, political and ethical theories and activities, and education, associating himself with major and influential politicians of his time.

Ever since Plato’s interpretation of Protagoras’ Man-Measure Doctrine in the Theaetetus as a thesis of radical relativism regarding perceptual epistemology (‘each individual is the criterion of the truth of a judgement about a given object or a state of affairs’, thus, ‘a thing which appears/is perceived as F to/by a is F for a, while the same thing which appears/is perceived as ¬F to/by b is ¬F for b’), Protagoras has been criticised by intellectuals both in antiquity and modern times for self-contradiction.

This thesis makes an exhaustive investigation of the ancient evidence for Protagoras and concludes that in fact it supports an objectivist reading which, if right, would absolve Protagoras of this criticism. For this purpose, I first analyse the so-called Great Speech of Plato’s Protagoras as a source for Protagoras’ ethical and political ideas (Chapter II). In the light of this, I suggest that an alternative reading of the Man-Measure Doctrine is possible in a political-ethical context (Chapter III). My interpretation of Protagoras’ peri theōn (‘on the gods’) fragment suggests a new understanding of the sophist’s epistemological views (Chapter IV). Then, I examine Protagoras’ interest in the correct use of language (Chapter V), and finally his rhetorical sophism through the investigation of the so-called ouk estin antilegein (‘it is not possible to contradict’) doctrine (Chapters VI).

My investigation of the evidence for Protagoras shows that, in his version of objectivism, the things that are related to human affairs, such as political virtues, can and should be known and taught on the basis of the common and objective civic senses; knowledge and teaching of them is accomplished through the human objective epistemological condition and a process of synthesis of human experiences, in a correct linguistic and grammatical manner, for a good life lived in human community. If this is right, then Protagoras is not vulnerable to the accusation of self-contradiction; in fact the sophist holds a coherent ‘epistemological’-‘political and ethical’-‘linguistic’ position according to which his political and ethical ideas are supported by objectivist views of epistemology and naturalism of language.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Classics and Ancient History, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:21 Feb 2012 07:35

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