Socrates

791 Words Oct 27th, 2013 4 Pages
In his comedy, Clouds, Aristophanes portrays Socrates as a Sophist: a duplicitous charlatan eager to take peoples' money for teaching them to flout the laws and defy moral norms. The conflation of Socrates with the Sophists is based on a superficial similarity between the interests of Socrates and the sophists concerning education and virtue, but which fails to distinguish between the moral relativism of the Sophists and the belief in absolute moral standards held by Socrates (and his puppet-master Plato).

The term "sophist"" is derived from the Greek words sophos and sophia which are usually translated as "wise" and "wisdom". The Sophists were itinerant teachers who claimed to teach wisdom; more specifically, Protogoras, one of the
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As with any talent or skill, this capacity must be developed. Music masters help students develop skills in playing the lyre, while Sophists help students develop skills of citizenship and virtue.

Protogoras also points to the role of social pressure in the development of virtue. Furthermore, the very existence of laws presupposes that virtue can be taught: laws provide a positive model for appropriate behavior, and laws operate negatively by punishing inappropriate behavior. According to Protogoras, deterrence rather than retribution is the purpose of the laws, and deterrence is an educational function. Since so much effort, both public and private, isdirected towards the encouragement of virtue, Protogoras declares that "the wonder would be if [virtue] were not teachable." (Protogoras 326e).

Protogoras' arguments evidently did not convince Socrates; virtue and whether or not it could be taught is the central subject of a later dialogue, the Meno. The dialogue opens with Meno's question: "Can you tell me Socrates, can virtue be taught? Or is it not teachable but the result of practice, or is it neither of these, but men possess it by nature or in some other way?" (Meno70a). Socrates replies that he must first know what virtue is before he can answer Meno's question. Socrates claims complete ignorance of virtue; furthermore, Socrates has never met anyone who could give an adequate definition of virtue.

The

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