was born around 481 BC in Abdera, Thrace in Ancient Greece. He was
a pre-Socratic philosopher and is numbered as one of the sophists
by Plato, who in his dialogue of the same name credits him with
having invented the role of the professional sophist or teacher
of "virtue". He died c. 420 BC.
was famous as a teacher of rhetoric and debate which were vital
to Greek social life. Due to those interests, he was fascinated
by the study of orthoepeia, or the correct use of words.
most famous saying is: "Man is the measure of all things:
of things which are, that they are so, and of things which are
not, that they are not."1 The word 'man' here is used generically
meaning any human being. A subjectivist approach would see this
as an individual, but it is perhaps more likely that Protagoras
came from a relativist angle and meant humans collectively.
the fame of this phrase, it has been passed down to us without
any context, as is so often the case with the Presocratics, and
its meaning isn't entirely clear. It was Protagoras' teachings
that spurred later philosophers such as Plato to search for objective,
transcendent guidelines to underlie moral behavior, and the importance
of subjectivity is an important theme in modern philosophy.
was also a famous proponent of agnosticism. In "On the Gods,"
he wrote, "Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing
whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be, because
of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life."
Protagoras crater on the Moon was named in his honor.
and the scientific method
Even though Protagoras was a contemporary of Socrates, the philosopher
of Abdera is considered a presocratic thinker. He followed the
Ionian tradition that distinguishes the School of Abdera. The
distinctive note of this tradition is criticism, a systematic
discussion that can be identified as "presocratic dialectic"
which was an alternative to the aristotelian demonstrative method
which, according to Karl Popper, has the fault of dogmatism.
the main contribution of Protagoras was in the field of Epistemology
due to his method to find a better argument by discarding the
less viable one. It is known as "Antilogies" consisting
of two premises. The first one was "Before any uncertainty
two opposite theses can validly be confronted". And the second
is its complement: the need to "strengthen the weakest argument".
knew that the less appealing argument could hide the best answer,
which is why he stated that it was constantly necessary to strengthen
the weakest argument. Having been born before Socrates himself,
this progressive viewpoint in the development of consensual truth
could conceivably have contributed to the progressive styles of
many of the other great minds which followed him.
is also a dialogue by Plato.