Man is the measure of everything. What does it mean?June 27, 2021
“Man is the measure of all things.” Undoubtedly, one of the most well-known and influential philosophical ideas in the history of philosophy… Well, “Man is the measure of everything.” what does it mean? What does this sentence tell us? Let’s understand:
Athens, BC. It was an important and rich city-state during the 5th century. In this period, with the leadership of Pericles, there was a golden age in science and thought. This attracted people from all over Greece to Athens. Athens became a very important city-state for people who could know and interpret the laws. The city was governed by a well-established legal system and a solid democratic structure. For example, each person who appeared in court could defend his own case and there was no legal system. However, soon after, a respected class of advisors emerged, and Protagoras was among this group of advisors.
Protagoras gave lectures in law and eloquence to anyone who could pay him. His teachings were mostly based on practical issues, and he taught more about arguing to win a lawsuit than proving a case. For him, every argument had two sides, and both were equally valid. But this equality was shaped by the persuasion ability of the defender, and Protagoras was very confident in this matter.
In this way, he realized that belief is a subjective thing, that the value of an opinion or idea can only be measured by the person advocating it. This kind of reasoning, so common in law and politics at that time, was a very new issue for philosophy. This tradition, which continued with belief at its center, removed religious issues from philosophical discussions and shifted the focus of philosophy from understanding the structure of the universe to understanding human behavior.
“Man is the measure of all things.” What the expression means is that belief is subjective and relative. This caused Protagoras to deny the existence of absolute definitions of truth, justice, and virtue. Because what is right for one person may be wrong for another. For example, nothing is good in itself; What makes something good or bad consists in what one person or society decides to be good or bad.
On a spring day in Istanbul, someone coming to Istanbul from Antalya says the weather is cold, while someone coming from Erzurum states that the weather is hot. In fact, both people are telling the truth in this case. Because truth depends on perspective, view, and therefore it is relative. Therefore, man is the measure of all things.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook