preview

Protagoras' Answer to How Virtue Can be Taught by a Story About the Creation of Animals by the Gods

Good Essays
Protagoras responds to Socrates's challenge (how can virtue be taught) by telling a story about the creation of the animals by the gods. The gods entrust Prometheus and Epimetheus to distribute to these animals their appropriate capabilities. Epimetheus goes first, and doles out various attributes to defend each species from the predations of the others. Next, he provides the animals with different methods of protection from environmental elements and with different sources of food. Finally, he establishes the fertility rate of each animal to be consistent with all these qualities. By distributing different characteristics and faculties to the animals, Epimetheus distributes the different kinds of animals so as to ensure the survival of…show more content…
The notion that civic virtue is teachable therefore lies at the foundation of the Greek social order, in the institutional form of the principle that citizens can be changed for the better.
Finally, Protagoras responds to Socrates's claim that virtuous fathers do not teach their sons how to be virtuous. Socrates is factually incorrect, Protagoras asserts: all familial discipline aims at instilling virtue, and this process continues once the child enters formal schooling. The educational mechanism of the system of criminal justice is also at work in these more intimate domains. Civic virtue is like one's mother tongue: one does not need to be taught it, because it is learnt through living within a community. Some, however, are better than others at "showing the way to virtue" (328a); and Protagoras claims that he is one of these people who can show the way.
Analysis
When he asks them whether they want to hear him argue in the mode of a story or of a logical argument, Protagoras relinquishes an important choice to his listeners in formulating his demonstration that virtue is teachable. In separating so sharply what he wishes to argue from the rhetorical form of that argument (thus divorcing his theory from the expression of that theory) Protagoras embodies an attitude of unconcern and disregard for the true importance of philosophy. This attitude is characteristic of the Sophists, at least as
    Get Access