Protagoras refuted: How clever is Socrates' "Most clever" argument at Theaetetus 171a–c?

Topoi 23 (1):3-32 (2004)
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Abstract

This article aims at reconstructing the logic and assessing the force of Socrates' argument against Protagoras' 'Measure Doctrine' at Theaetetus 171a–c. I examine and criticise some influential interpretations of the passage, according to which, e.g., Socrates is guilty of ignoratio elenchi by dropping the essential Protagorean qualifiers or successfully proves that md is self-refuting provided the missing qualifiers are restored by the attentive reader. Having clarified the meaning of MD, I analyse in detail the broader section 170a–171d and argue, against an extensive scholarly consensus, that it contains two slightly different formulations of the same argument, and not two distinct arguments, that Socrates does not highlight his own strategy at 171a–c as especially clever, and that his argument successfully shows that md turns out to be untenable for Protagoras himself when submitted to scrutiny in dialectical contexts, without aiming at proving its absolute falsehood. Finally, I clarify the philosophical import of the final image of Protagoras' momentary return from the underworld.

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Luca Castagnoli
Oxford University

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References found in this work

Plato’s Theaetetus.David Bostock - 1988 - Oxford, GB: Clarendon Press.
Plato: Theaetetus.John McDowell - 1973 - Philosophy 49 (189):328-330.

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