Studies on Protagoras

Philosophy 15 (58):147 - 167 (1940)
In the Platonic dialogue that bears his name Protagoras,1 in a myth and in a logos positively affirms the absolute character of universal moral values, such as force themselves upon all men; this makes one think that the famous man-measure dictum was subservient to the ends that the sophist had in view as a teacher of areté. Indeed, his condemnation in that dialogue of the sophists who, like Hippias, included in their teaching mathematical and naturalistic studies , must be connected with the criticism of mathematics reported by an Aristotelian text.2 These studies, that is to say purely theoretic disciplines, were considered by Protagoras not only useless for the spiritual formation of men and citizens, but also void of any certitude and objectivity whatever.3 We feel therefore allowed to suggest that also the man-measure principle had to perform an office of the same kind: to show that natural philosophy could not yield an objective knowledge of φ?σις which formed its object, because such knowledge is denied to man. Mistrust of the general conceptions of the cosmology of physiologists was widely spread at that time, and the authors of some medical treatises of the Hippocratean corpus used it to justify the construction of a discipline founded on the study of empirical materials interpreted rationally and not with the general hypotheses void of certainty
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