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What was Protagoras famous for?

Protagoras of Abdera in Thrace (c. 490-420 b.c.e.) was the most acclaimed of all the Sophists. Plato wrote that he was the first Sophist to call himself a Sophist. He trained young men for politics and was friends with the statesman Pericles (c. 495-429 b.c.e.), who asked him to write a constitution for the new colony of Thuri. He was a productive writer, and his works included "On Truth," "On the Gods," and "Antilogic," none of which have survived to this day. Protagoras was the author of the humanistic credo "Man is the measure of all things, of all things that are, that they are and of things that are not that they are not."

Protagoras held that the soul is nothing above or beyond a person's perceptions. His relativism was based on the different perceptual experiences of different individuals; for instance, what is cold to one person may seem warm to another. And he extended the relativism of individual experience to large groups in claiming that "whatever is just to a city is just for that city so long as it seems so."

However, although all perceptions and ideas of justice are true, according to Protagoras, he thought that some were better than others. He felt that it was the job of the Sophist to change people's minds so that they had better ideas about what was just and beautiful. The better perceptions and ideas were those that had better consequences. In other words, the Sophists taught their "clients" how to succeed.

What did Gorgias say about thought versus existence?

Gorgias of Leontini in Sicily (c. 485-380 B.c.E.) taught the art of persuasion for success in politics. His surviving treatise "Of That Which Is Not; or, On Nature" claims that nothing truly is. Although, even if anything were to exist, it could not be comprehended by man; and even if it could be comprehended, it could not be communicated. Just because we have a thought about something does not mean that thing exists. Thoughts do not entail the existence of what is thought, or else humans could not think about, for instance, imaginary animals. Or in other words, not everything we think about exists or is real. Therefore, Gorgias concluded, if anything exists, it cannot be thought. The same gap between thoughts and things occurs between words and things and between the thoughts of different human beings.

Does Gorgias' conclusion that whatever is real cannot be thought make sense?

No, there is a gap in his reasoning. Just because thinking about a thing is no guarantee that the thing exists, does not mean that none of our thoughts are thoughts about what exists.

What did Hippias contribute to learning?

The Sophist Hippias of Ellis (c. 460 b.c.e.) made a lot of money in his travels. He was polymathic (widely knowledgeable), and wrote poems, plays, histories, and speeches, as well as discussions of literature, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, the arts, ethics, and mnemonics. He made an important mathematical discovery of the curve used to trisect an angle, the quadratrix. He argued against Pre-Socratic posits of hidden reality and advocated self-sufficiency as a virtue. In conflicts between nature and convention, he is said to have advocated following nature. This meant that if he felt like doing something, and there was a rule against it, he was in favor of doing that thing and breaking the rule.

What did Prodicus tell his audiences?

Prodicus of Ceos (c. 465-415 b.c.e.) said that Empedocles' four elements of earth, wind, fire, and water were divine (a doctrine that the playwright Aristophanes (c. 446-386) made fun of in The Birds). He also thought that whatever was necessary to human beings was considered holy, which was not a traditional view of religion in ancient Greece.

Prodicus argued that there is no absolute good, because what is good for one man is not necessarily good for another, a doctrine that supported relativism. In his discussions of language, Prodicus tried to show how no two words can have the same meaning. He also disagreed with Democratus (c. 460-371 b.c.e.), who had said that there could be different names for the same thing.

What did Thrasymachus think about the concept of justice?

Thrasymachus of Bithynia (fl. 427 b.c.e.) is known mainly as a character in Plato's Republic, whom Socrates trounces in preliminary attempts to define justice. Thrasymachus asserted that justice is no more than what benefits those in power, and that it is therefore of no use to those

Some ancient Sophists believed the world was composed of four elements, and some considered them to be divine in nature (iStock).

Some ancient Sophists believed the world was composed of four elements, and some considered them to be divine in nature (iStock).

How did Prodicus make his living?

Prodicus (b. 460b.c.e.), a Sophist, was an ambassador for his home city of ceos. He traveled widely and became rich from his exhibitions. One of his specialties was distinguishing between synonyms, and Socrates claimed in Plato's Protagoras and Meno to have been his student. Prodicus had two versions of his talks: the one-drachma lecture and the 50-drachma lecture. Socrates joked that he would have been more learned about words if he'd been able to afford the 50-drachma lecture. The one-drachma lecture had much larger audiences, but, according to Aristotle, Prodicus sometimes gave the larger audiences a bargain by "slipping in the 50-drachma lecture for them." If Aristotle's story is true, scholarly commentators have overlooked the possibility that the Sophists invented modern sales techniques.

who are ruled by them. In real life, Thrasymachus is believed to have traveled and taught throughout Greece, besides being famous in Athens. In a speech he wrote for a member of the assembly, he advocated for Greek unity and efficiency in government.

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