Tue 15 May, 2012 06:07 am
We received our final study guide and this is one of the "easy" questions we will get tested on. I don't see it as easy at all. If you can help me I am hopeful I can learn this in time. I have read my text but the language is so difficult for me to comprehend.
How does Protagoras attempt to demonstrate that truth is relative to the beliefs of each individual? Do you think he is successful and why?
Thank you very, very much
"Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not"
This is a pretty famous quote. I don't know much about Protagoras, but it seems to me this quote might be a good place to start.
I agree. That quote is really at the heart of Protagoras' thought. He sees all "truths" as subjective rather than universal. "Truth" for him is a matter of perception rather than being independent of any observer. His thought had a great influence on both Socrates and Plato. It is Plato who is probably more responsible for the Western philosophic trend toward the Cartesian school of "idealism" which dominated European philosophic thought for centuries. But it's interesting to speculate on whether or not Plato (or Socrates, if you will) would have formulated his thought quite that way without the prior influence of Protagoras.
I agree with the comments above, and I suggest that your conclusion about "his success" might involve a comparison of the phrases: "Man is the measure....." with " A
man is the measure....."
Maybe this excerpt from the Online Philosophy Encyclopedia will help put the question of subjective "truth" into perspective:
The test case normally used is temperature. If Ms. X. says “it is hot,” then the statement (unless she is lying) is true for her. Another person, Ms. Y, may simultaneously claim “it is cold.” This statement could also be true for her. If Ms. X normally lives in Alaska and Ms. Y in Florida, the same temperature (e. g. 25 Celsius) may seem hot to one and cool to the other. The measure of hotness or coldness is fairly obviously the individual person. One cannot legitimately tell Ms. X she does not feel hot — she is the only person who can accurately report her own perceptions or sensations. In this case, it is indeed impossible to contradict as Protagoras is held to have said (DK80a19). But what if Ms. Y, in claiming it feels cold, suggests that unless the heat is turned on the pipes will freeze? One might suspect that she has a fever and her judgment is unreliable; the measure may still be the individual person, but it is an unreliable one, like a broken ruler or unbalanced scale. In a modern scientific culture, with a predilection for scientific solutions, we would think of consulting a thermometer to determine the objective truth. The Greek response was to look at the more profound philosophical implications.
Even if the case of whether the pipes will freeze can be solved trivially, the problem of it being simultaneously hot and cold to two women remains interesting. If this cannot be resolved by determining that one has a fever, we are presented with evidence that judgments about qualities are subjective. If this is the case though, it has alarming consequences. Abstractions like truth, beauty, justice, and virtue are also qualities and it would seem that Protagoras’ dictum would lead us to conclude that they too are relative to the individual observer, a conclusion which many conservative Athenians found alarming because of its potential social consequences. If good and bad are merely what seem good and bad to the individual observer, then how can one claim that stealing or adultery or impiety or murder are somehow wrong? Moreover, if something can seem both hot and cold (or good and bad) then both claims, that the thing is hot and that the thing is cold, can be argued for equally well. If adultery is both good and bad (good for one person and bad for another), then one can construct equally valid arguments for and against adultery in general or an individual adulterer. What will make a case triumph in court is not some inherent worth of one side, but the persuasive artistry of the orator. And so, Protagoras claims he is able to “make the worse case the better” (DK80b6). The oratorical skills Protagoras taught thus had potential for promoting what most Athenians considered injustice or immorality.
I figured it out. Perhaps I should not doubt myself so much.
Good call. And don't be afraid to be wrong either.
Did you get my PM? That was mostly quotes from Wikipedia, but they're good for b'ground.
I like the statement "Knowing is a function of the knower". It's what we do: make up stuff (usually based on authority, empirical evidence, logic, and other criteria) to dispel doubt and confusion or to enable activities like building bridges.
I did Lustig, thank u so much.