Socrates vs Protagoras

Topics: Plato, Socrates, Prodicus Pages: 5 (1711 words) Published: December 15, 2005
Socrates a sophist? Or just sophisticated?

Plato goes a long way in attempting to distinguish Socrates from the likes of Protagoras, a self admitted sophist. In Protagoras, Socrates is depicted as a street smart, wisdom dispensing young man, brash with confidence and a bit of arrogance that goes a long way when confronted with the old school rhetoric of Protagoras. Plato begins to separate the two at the hip right from the get go. The dialogue between Socrates and his inquisitive friend Hippocrates went a long way to show that Socrates had more questions than answers about Protagoras, the sophist, especially when it came to talk about what it is exactly that he offers. Socrates' companion is eager to hear the words of Protagoras and become one of his pupils, for he thinks that there is much to be learned from him and he is willing to sacrifice all that he has to do so. Socrates starts to ask him what it is exactly that he thinks Protagoras offers, his friend is unsure, and the two begin a lengthy dialogue trying to distinguish a sophist from any other person of ability and wisdom.

Socrates has the opinion that it would be very dangerous to place your soul in the hands of a sophist, for you do not know what he may teach or what harm or evil may occur as a result. Plato shows us right away that he does not consider Socrates to be a sophist, and his views that a sophist may be dangerous to the soul, a part of the being that is held in highest regard, shows that he is not easily swayed by the general perception of the sophist's prominence.

Socrates questions Hippocrates and says,
"You are going to commit your soul to the care of a man whom you call a sophist. And yet I hardly think that you know what a sophist is; and if not, then you do not even know to whom you are committing your soul and whether the thing to which you commit yourself be good or evil".

Plato is showing us that Socrates is far from an avid supporter of the sophists. Although he does not come right out and say that he is against them it is easy to see that some animosity exists. If one does not know what a sophist is or what he does, then how might one know that it is safe to be exposed to the teachings of one? Socrates advises that to approach with caution is the wisest thing to do. Plato tries to dissect the entity of a sophist to further demonstrate his viewpoint on the subject.

At this time in history sophists were viewed upon as being harmful to the youth of the land. They were dangerous and taught people to question what has been taught to them for centuries. A sophist was a hypnotist, one who could sway even the most devoted believer into complete and utter disbelief with their cunning use of language and rhetoric. Plato included many instances of where it is evident that they are less than popular. When Socrates shows up at the house of Callias he is greeted with a rude awakening by the door keeper. "And I think that the door-keeper, who was a eunuch, and who was probably annoyed at the great inroad of the sophists, must have heard us talking. At any rate, when we knocked at the door, and he opened and saw us, he grumbled: They are sophists—he is not at home; and instantly gave the door a hearty bang with both his hands." At the very glance of a sophist the door-keeper was instantly inclined to slam the door in their face and not deal with the likes of a sophist. It took some convincing for them to be ushered into the home. Plato is showing the current prejudice, for lack of a better word that the sophist had to incur. At those times as Protagoras later points out, sophists had to travel from town to town and often hide or run away after they had been discovered by the masses. They were not thought of in a graceful light at the time and Protagoras was the biggest type of sophist: popular, famous and at that time the first to charge a fee for his services. Plato talked about the fact that Protagoras made no effort to...
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