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Theo. You are joking, Socrates: for you have helped him most valiantly.
So. You are very obliging, my friend. Allow me one word. You noticed probably that Protagoras in what he said reproached us for holding our discussions with a boy, and using that boy's alarm as a weapon of contention against his propositions: and while he represented this as mere amusement, he called 'the measure of all things' a grave topic, and urged us to deal seriously with his argument.
Theo. Of course I noticed it, Socrates.
So. Well do you bid us take his advice?
Theo. Very earnestly.
So. Do you see that all here are boys except you? If then we are to take his advice, you and I must deal seriously with his doctrine by mutual questions and answers, that he may not have to reproach us with considering this subject in a jocular manner with lads.
Theo. Nay, but would not Theaetetus follow the investigation of a doctrine better than many who have great beards?
So. Not better than you, Theodorus. Do not suppose that I am bound to defend your deceased friend in every manner, and that you are bound in no manner. But come, good sir, follow the argument a little way, till such time as we know whether you are to be the measure of diagrams, or if all are competent in themselves, equally with you, to treat of astronomy and the other subjects wherein you are reported to excel.
Theo. When one sits beside you, Socrates, it is not easy to decline discussion. Indeed I spoke nonsense just now when I said you would allow me not to strip, and that you would not compel me as the Lacedaemonians do: you seem
rather to tend in Sciron's' direction.
indeed bid one depart or strip, but you seem to me to act your part like Antaeus': you will not let one who comes to you go away before you have forced him to strip and wrestle with you in argument.
So. You have found very good precedents for my malady, Theodorus: but I am more robust than they were. Many a Hercules and Theseus strong in argument have ere now met and thumped me very hard; but I do not flinch for all that with such a wonderful love of this kind of exercise am I possessed. Do not then refuse to benefit
yourself as well as me by trying a fall with me.
Theo. Be it as you will: I refuse no longer. I must inevitably endure by cross-examination whatever destiny you spin for me in this discussion. I shall not however be
able to put myself in your hands beyond the limit which you have proposed.
So. That limit is sufficient. And pray help me to be careful of this, that we do not unawares carry on any childish kind of argument, and incur reproach again for doing so.
Theo. Very well, I'll try my best.
[The argument of Socrates against the doctrine of Protagoras, that 'man 22 is a measure to himself, may be briefly summarised thus. That doctrine means, what seems to each is to each. Now to the mass of mankind this doctrine seems to be untrue, because it is certain that men in general do consider some to be wiser than others, and look up to the wise as teachers and guides. Therefore to them it is untrue.
1 Sciron, or Scirrhon, the legendary robber, who flung travellers from rocks. He was slain by Theseus.
2 Antaeus, the gigantic wrestler, who slew his opponents: but was himself defeated and slain by Hercules.
And Protagoras, on his own principle, must allow that they are right; from which it necessarily follows that he is wrong, even in his own opinion. In short 'the Truth' of Protagoras is not true to himself or to any body else.]
So. Let us first revert to the objection we took before, and see whether we were right or wrong in being out of humour and censuring the doctrine, in that it made every one competent in wisdom; and whether Protagoras rightly conceded to us, that, in respect of better and worse, some do surpass, and they are wise. Is it not so?
So. Now if he had himself been present and made this admission, instead of our making it in his defence, we need not have strengthened ourselves by recurring to the subject: but now perhaps some one may allege that we are incompetent to make the confession on his part. It is better to come to a clearer mutual understanding on this special point. For whether it is so or not makes a great difference.
So. Let us obtain the admission not through others, but from his statement, as briefly as we can.
So. In this way. He says, does he not, that what seems to every one 'is' also to him unto whom it seems? Theo. Yes, he does.
So. Do not we also, Protagoras, state a man's opinion, or rather the opinions of all men, when we say that there is nobody who does not deem himself wiser than others in some respects, and others wiser than himself in other respects; and, moreover, that in the greatest perils, when they are distressed in war or disease or at sea, men regard their rulers on such occasions as gods, expecting
them to be their saviours, though they differ from them in
So. Do they not deem wisdom to be true thought, and ignorance false opinion?
So. Well then, how shall we deal with the argument, Protagoras? Must we say that men always have true opinions, or sometimes true, sometimes false? From both views it results that they do not always think true things, but at times true things, at times false. For consider, Theodorus, whether any Protagorean, or you yourself, would wish to contend that no one person considers any other to be unlearned and to have false opinions.
Theo. That is incredible, Socrates.
So. And yet the doctrine which says that man is the measure of all things is brought to this unavoidable conclusion.
So. When you, after forming some judgment in your own mind on any point, declare to me your opinion, be it granted according to his doctrine that this is true to you: but is it not allowed to the rest of us to become judges respecting your judgment? must we always judge that you have true opinions? do not a countless number in each instance contend against you with contrary opinions, believing that you judge and think falsities?
Theo. Yes verily, Socrates, countless myriads indeed, as Homer says, who give me all the trouble in the world.
So. Well? would you have us say that in that case you have opinions true to yourself but false to the countless myriads?
Theo. Such seems to be the necessary inference from the statement.
So. And how as to Protagoras himself? Supposing he did not think man a measure, and the public did not think so, (as indeed they do not), would it not necessarily follow that what he delivered in writing as Truth, is Truth to nobody? or if he thought so, and the public does not agree with him, do you see that in proportion as those who deny are more numerous than those who affirm, so much more decidedly it is or is not so?
Theo. Of necessity, if according to each individual opinion it will be or will not be so.
So. In the next place it involves this very queer result, that he on his side, by confessing that all men hold true opinions, admits that the opinion of the opposite party about his opinion (which they deem false) is a true one.
So. Will he not admit that his own is false, if he confesses that the opinion of those who suppose him to think falsely is true?
Theo. Of course.
So. But the others on their side do not admit that they think falsely.
Theo. No, they do not.
So. And he again confesses also this opinion to be true according to his written doctrines.
So. By all parties then it will be contended, including