Thursday, May 22, 2008
Continuing my reading of Protagoras I find myself questioning the nature of the dialogue itself. Is it a work of art? If the answer is yes, then does that effect the roles of the "performers"? After meeting Protagoras and engaging in some introductory discussion we are presented with a story and his argument that "virtue is teachable" in the form of a long speech by Protagoras (320d-328d). This is followed by questions from Socrates. Interestingly, Socrates praises Protagoras' oratorical skills, but finds "one small obstacle" to the complete explication of the understanding of the "practice by which the good become good". Needless to say, this small obstacle becomes a major difficulty in going forward in the dialogue, when several paragraphs later Protagoras becomes frustrated with Socrates and refuses to limit the length of his answers in the "verbal contest" that is underway. This raises a further question in that the two performers have different agendas. Protagoras is interested in winning "the contest" while Socrates seems to be attempting to demonstrate the possibility (or impossibility) of teaching virtue or the good. This difference provides for real drama constituting a work of art. Some of the onlookers join the discussion providing suggestions and support for either side, while demonstrating their own respective characters.
The dialogue is rejoined as new rules are agreed upon for continuing. The questions remain both whether progress toward determining the possibility of teaching the good and whether the audience will continue to revel in the challenge of the debate. One wonders also what Socrates young friend, Hippocrates, is learning from the artistic performance.
Protagoras by Plato. Stanley Lombardo & Karen Bell, trans. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis. 1992.