Socrates on the Nature of Virtue

Socrates Introduction: A friend meets Socrates returning from his encounter with the great sophist Protagoras, and questions him on their meeting.

  1. Hippocrates and Socrates: What is a Sophist and what is the nature of sophistry? 312d-e
  2. Definition 1.a: A person who has knowledge of wise things

    D1.b: A masters of making clever speakers

    D1.c: A merchant of the good things by which the soul is nourished

    NOTE: compare the notion of 'soul' in Ap 40c-d with Pro 312c, 313.b

  3. Socrates and Protagoras (part 1): What is the Sophist? 318a:
  4. D2.a: a teacher of personal affairs to manage the household and political affairs; i.e., the art of politics 318e-319

    NOTE: Protagoras claims that virtue can be taught and Socrates claims that he does not think virtue can be taught 320b. At 319ff Socrates equates what Protagoras claims to teach with virtue [aretai].

    1. Protagoras tells the myth of Prometheus and the origin of human virtue 320d-322e

    2. Protagoras gives an argument for the teachability of virtue 327-328a

  5. Socrates and Protagoras (part 2): What is the nature of Virtue? 329c
  6. D3.a: Virtue is one thing, but the virtues (i.e., temperance, courage, justice, wisdom, piety) are parts of it.

    Protagoras' View of Virtue: Virtue is a whole composed of parts which are distinct from one another (like the parts of a face), they differ in their function, and a person may have one but not others.

    Socrates cross examination of Protagoras' view:

    Elenchus 1 - Justice and Piety are the same (330c-331e)

    E2 - Temperance and Wisdom are the same (332-333b)

Interlude: Protagoras gives a long speech and Socrates threatens to break off the dialogue he is convinced to stay as long as both get a chance to ask questions of the other. 334-349

  1. Socrates and Protagoras on Virtue (part 3): Once again, is Virtue one thing, or many? 349b
  2. Protagoras' View of Virtue (Revised): Wisdom, temperance, courage, justice and piety are parts of virtue with wisdom, temperance, justice, and piety are similar, but courage is very different from them.

    E3 - Courage is a kind of wisdom (and, therefore, the same as temperance). If Courage and wisdom are basically the same, and if wisdom, temperance, piety and justice are essentially the same, then all the virtues are essentially the same: a special kind of knowledge.

Conclusion: Socrates and Protagoras have switched positions: Socrates defending the view that virtue is a kind of knowledge and therefore teachable, but Protagoras denies that virtue is knowledge and it should therefore NOT be teachable (which he claims to be able to do).

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