The Myth of Protagoras: A Naturalist Interpretation

in Méthexis
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Protagoras’ Grand Speech is traditionally considered to articulate a contractualist approach to political existence and morality. There is, however, a newly emerging line of interpretation among scholars, which explores a naturalist layer in Protagoras’ ethical and political thought. This article aims to make a contribution to this new way of reading Protagoras’ speech, by discussing one of its most elaborate versions.

The Myth of Protagoras: A Naturalist Interpretation

in Méthexis

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References

BeresfordA. (2013) ‘Fangs, Feathers & Fairness: Protagoras on the Origins of Right and Wrong’ in: J.M.V. OphuijsenM.V. Raalte and P.Stork (eds.) Protagoras of Abdera: The Man His MeasureLeiden and Boston: Brill pp. 139162.

BonazziM. (2012) “Il mito di Prometeo nel Protagora: una variazione sul tema delle origini” in F. Calabi adn S. Gastaldi (eds.) Immagini delle origini. La nascita della cvivilità e della cultura nel penserio anticoSankt AugustinAcademia Verlag pp. 4157.

BrownE. (2009) ‘Plato’s Rejection of Protagorean Ethics’ in (symposium): Plato and NaturalismEastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association December.

CalameC. (2012) ‘The Pragmatics of ‘Myth’ in Plato’s Dialogues: The Story of Prometheus in the Protagoras in: CollobertC.DestréeP. and GonzalezF.J. (eds.) Plato and Myth: Studies on the Use and Status of Platonic MythsLeiden and Boston: Brill pp. 128143.

CollobertC. and DestréeP. and GonzalezF.J. (2012) ‘Plato and Myth. Studies on the Use and Status of Platonic MythsLeiden and Boston: Brill.

FarrarC. (1988) The Origins of Democratic Thinking. The Invention of Politics in Classical AthensCambridge: Cambridge University Press.

KerferdG.B. (1949) ‘Plato’s Account of the Relativism of Protagoras’ in: Durham University Journal 42: 2034.

ManuwaldB. (2013) ‘Protagoras’ Myth in Plato’s Protagoras: Fiction or Testimony?’ in: OphuijsenJ.M.V.RaalteM.V. and StorkP. (eds.) Protagoras of Abdera: The Man His MeasureLeiden, Boston: Brill pp. 163177.

NarcyM. (1990) ‘Le Contrat Social: d’un Mythe moderne à l’ancienne sophistique’ in: Philosophie 28 : 3256.

NarcyM. (2008) ‘Three Versions of the Nomos – Phusis Antithesis: Protagoras, Antiphon, Socrates’ in: PierrisA. (ed.) Physis and Nomos: Power Justice and the Agonistical Ideal of Life in High ClassicismInstitute for Philosophical ResearchConference Series 4 pp. 381400.

NillM. (1985) Morality and Self-interest in Protagoras Antiphon and DemocritusLeiden: Brill.

NussbaumM. (2001) The Fragility of Goodness. Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and PhilosophyCambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ophuijsen J.M.V. RaalteM.V. and StorkP. (2013) Protagoras of Abdera: The Man His MeasureLeiden, Boston: Brill.

RielG.V. (2012) ‘Religion and Morality. Elements of Plato’s Anthropology in the Myth of Prometheus’ in: CollobertC.DestréeP. and GonzalezF.J. (ed.) Plato and Myth: Studies on the Use and Status of Platonic MythsLeiden and Boston: Brill pp. 145164.

TaylorC. C. W. (1976) ProtagorasOxford: Clarendon Press.

VegettiM. (2004) “Protagora, autore della Repubblica? (ovvero, il ‘mito’ del Protagora nel suo contesto)” in CasertanoG. (ed.) Il Protagora di Platone: struttura e problematicheNapoli: Loffredo pp. 145158.

VlastosG. (1991) Socrates: Ironist and Moral PhilosopherCambridge University Press: Cambridge.

5

Beresford (2013 p. 158 – italics in the original).

12

Translation by C.C.W. Taylor (1976).

14

Taylor’s (1976) translation modified.

15

Taylor (1976) translates: ‘They treated each other with injustice’ (italics added).

17

Mario Vegetti (2004) shares a similar view on this point. According to him the myth of Protagoras takes pleonexia and adikia as anthropological constants which are not completely irrecoverable. According to him both parts of Protagoras’ speech (that is the myth and the logos) underlines the need to control these two vices by law and education in order to promote the natural propensity of man for cooperation in the polis.

18

This is how Kerferd (1949) understands Protagoras’ idea that an expert improves his subject.

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