Protagoras, an Ancient Greek sophist, was a self-proclaimed teacher of virtue. In ancient Greek times the term ‘sophist’ described men who claimed the ability to teach the art of politics, and the art of being a good citizen. In his conversation with Socrates, Protagoras claimed to have an ability to teach sound deliberation - to better manage one’s household and public affairs. According to Socrates, Protagoras was a teacher of the art of citizenship. The art of citizenship involved sound deliberation, along with a good sense of justice and moral wisdom. In the context of their discourse, the term ‘virtue’ was also used to describe knowledge of a specialty. However, it was used most often to refer to one’s sense of justice and moral wisdom. Therefore, teaching virtue was to be considered the same as teaching the art of citizenship. According to Socrates, virtue is not teachable. It is important to note Socrates is referring to the inability of a man to teach the art of citizenship. It is also important to show that Socrates in no way said that ideas of virtue, and its other branches, are not learnable. These branches – along with those already mentioned – include temperance and piety. ‘Temperance’ refers to self-control of physical desires, while ‘piety’ refers to one’s sense and appreciation of the gods. In no part of the text does Socrates state that all of these virtues are not teachable. They are collectively known – when called specific parts of something – as virtue (20). What Socrates makes clear, is that ‘virtue,’ in every sense of the term, cannot be taught as a whole. Socrates does not state that both the sense of justice and the sense of shame are unchanging. Conversely, he does not say that one’s sense of what it means to be pious or have temperance is unchanging or incapable of development through the acquisition of knowledge of the particular virtues. From Socrates’ point of view, virtue and everything it encompasses, is certainly learnable;...
Cited: Plato. Protagoras. Trans. Stanley Lombardo and Karen Bell. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992.
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