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Protagoras, the Gods, and You

July 17, 2013 , ,

Writing twenty-five hundred years ago, the Greek philosopher Protagoras (c. 490-420 BCE) might provide wise counsel to our troubled, conflicted age, and offer some hope: “Concerning the gods,” he wrote, “I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what form they are; for there are many obstacles to such knowledge, including the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life.”

When a pantheon ruled many dramatic events took place between gods and goddesses, as well as between the immortals and the mortals; life was more exciting. The potential for anything to happen was greater in the collective consciousness before pesky science invaded religious belief.  Philosophy turned a corner when Protagoras, a sophist who died when Plato was young, brought forth his teachings.  He wrote and taught from 490-420 BC, and is reputed to be the first Greek to make money in higher education.  His fees were reputedly very steep. He wrote, but none of his written work survived.  He was itinerant, traveling all over Greece to find students.  The new ideas he fostered and taught were:

  • Relativism- there are two sides to every story
  • Orthoepeia- it is possible to convince the majority that the the lesser choice is the better one with rhetoric
  • Agnosticism-there is no way to have direct knowledge of any of the gods

This has meaning today as we see those who defend absolute truth of any kind. Modern courts of law have their foundations in these three ideas. Law schools teach orthoepeia as part of trial training.  Reasonable doubt is relativism.  Before Protagoras all earthly events were explained by relating nature to the gods’ whims.  Once there was reasonable doubt of that, the world started to look more controllable. Justice, however, is not served when these valuable teachings are not spread equally and given to all citizens. We still have giant problems with democracy and education.  What would Protagoras teach the Congress of the US???

What do you think?

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comments

Protagoras. — interesting story.. and I like the way it had a presents things in ways that I have some agreement.

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Stevie Wilson (@LAStory)

July 20, 2013

a shame that none of his written works survive…he;’s not a philosopher I’ve heard of

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London-Unattached.com

July 22, 2013

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