The Importance Of Relativism

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Protagoras is famous for the claim, “Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not (Theaetetus, 152a). This claim is often interpreted as an argument for relativism. The epistemological and moral consequences of relativism are that whatever an individual thinks or believes to be true, is true. For example, what makes an act, such as theft, right or wrong, is not rooted in some objective fact in the world; rather, the rightness and wrongness of theft, rests with each and every individual’s personal beliefs. Moreover, according to relativism, if two individuals, Person A and Person B, believe theft to be right and wrong, respectively, then both Person A and Person B, are, in fact, correct about what he or she believes, despite the apparent contradiction. As a result of this type of relativist-thinking, the Truth, with a capital T, becomes devoid of any meaning. All that matters, in terms of knowledge, is convincing, or persuading, another individual to believe one’s own arguments. To this effect, a great importance is placed on oratory, or rhetorical skills, in order to convince others in matters of ethics, epistemology, and other areas of inquiry. This importance of oratory skill via demonstration of Palamedes’ speech is what Gorgias was demonstrating in The Defense of Palamedes. The story of The Defense of Palamedes, by Gorgias, is that Palamedes is being (unjustly) accused by Odysseus for betraying the Greeks during the Trojan War. The plot of the story consists of Palamedes trying to convince his accusers that he is innocent. The Defense of Palamedes provides an excellent example of the power/role that deductive logic plays in rhetoric and argumentation. For instance, throughout the story, Palamedes employs many deductive logic strategies, such as “eliminative deduction, inferences from opposites and contraries, and the effective use of witnesses” (classicpersuasion.org) to try and prove his innocence. Moreover, the argumentative strategy used by Palamedes mainly consists of the use of logos, which is the appeal to logic, ethos, which is the appeal to one’s character/credibility, and eikos, which is an appeal to probabilities. Gorgias
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