Monday, April 21, 2008

Reading Plato

How do we know what is good? How do we know what is true or beautiful? How do we know? While the answers to these questions may not result from reading Plato's dialogues and thinking about them, we will be closer to the way to find the answers or move toward them. In that pursuit I am currently reading a dialogue of Plato entitled Protagoras. Already in the first few pages of the dialogue we have encountered seduction, pursuit of truth and beauty, and an example of a classic interchange between Socrates and a young companion - all in the introduction to what appears to be an exciting journey into the world of the sophists.

The dialogue demonstrates the concepts being discussed as Plato's description of the situation is slowly developed. For example, the setting of Protagoras' teaching "wisdom", in the home of
Callias indicates the nature of his true purpose is one of promoting clever speech to his wealthy young clients. That other sophists, Prodicus and Hippias, are present suggests the esteem with which that profession holds Protagoras. Of course few of his words have come down to us today, most notably the saying: "Of all things Man is the measure, both of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not." Whatever else Protagoras may say, when we meet him he has the crowd in thrall with his "voice like Orpheus" reaching lyrical heights that has the group moving in a a dance like pattern around the orator.

Protagoras by Plato. Stanley Lombardo and Karen Bell, trans. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis. 1992.

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