Protagoras’ Understanding of Virtue and Morality

Protagoras’ Understanding of Virtue and Morality

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Protagoras, besides answering Socrates’ criticism that virtue teaching cannot be done completely because everyone has knowledge of virtue to a certain extent, also states that virtue is not ready in humans, but can be acquired as a result of a certain process and with a certain effort (Protagoras, 327a- D).

According to Protagoras, virtue, which can be obtained as a result of a certain effort, cannot be fully taught to everyone at the desired level, in the sense that Socrates means. Although not everyone who wishes can be given the same amount of education in every subject, those who have been given more or less a certain degree of education have become better than those who have not been given any education, not only in social life but also in almost every subject.

This means that everyone can be educated to some extent, that is, they can have virtue. Protagoras states that it is possible for every person to learn about virtue, since virtue is something that everyone can achieve to a certain extent. Because, according to Protagoras, people who do things that should be condemned are condemned for doing so, when they could have done it in a different way, in a way that would not leave them blamed. However, it is explained in the words of Protagoras that the accused cannot be blamed for reasons beyond his control, i.e., because of some of the characteristics that the person possesses, whether congenital or later on, as follows: “The mistakes that were believed to be due to nature or chance did not anger anyone, nor did people scold those who exhibited these mistakes in order to correct them , punished or tried to educate; All they did was pity them. Who could be stupid enough to act so ugly, demeaning, or weak? Everyone knows that it is nature or coincidence that gives people these qualities, both good and bad” (Protagoras, 323d-e).

In the ancient Greek culture, education was not seen as limited to a certain period, but was carried out according to the ideal of being a lifelong person who would be useful to the city in which he lived, to his friends and family. The learning process of the citizens continued throughout their lives in the process of interaction with the society (Feyerabend, 1995: 76). In line with this civic ideal, the acquisition of a sense of living together and character development were seen as a whole, and the policy was not limited to the regulation of public affairs, but also included the realization of civic education in accordance with the public interest (Bookchin, 1999: 94-95). As to whether political knowledge can be taught or not, Protagoras implies that he does not have definitive and final knowledge on this subject, in response to Socrates’ attribution for Protagoras that he is the one who knows and teaches virtue. Protagoras states that both himself and all possible people like him are not people who know or can know the truth, he only has relatively more information than other citizens, and this information is good information only according to the current conditions (Protagoras, 328b-c). Dialogues in which the subject of whether virtue can be taught or not comes from Meno (Menon, 81a3-82e). In the same dialogue, the virtues are evaluated in detail (Menon, 91b).

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