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PHIL 2070- Final Exam Guide - Comprehensive Notes for the exam ( 51 pages long!)


Department
Philosophy
Course Code
PHIL 2070
Professor
Jagdish Hattingadi
Study Guide
Final

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York
PHIL 2070
FINAL EXAM
STUDY GUIDE

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Ethics Notes
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Protogoras- Plato
Summary
The story Socrates tells involves the presence in Athens of the famous Sophist Protagoras, at the
time the most famous thinker in Greece. Socrates relates how he is awoken by a friend,
Hippocrates, who is excited by the arrival of Protagoras, and who intends to become Protagoras's
disciple. But when Socrates questions Hippocrates as to what he hopes to learn from Protagoras,
Hippocrates is unable to answer. The two set out to ask Protagoras himself exactly what it is he
teaches.
The main dialogue begins when Socrates starts to question Protagoras about what he teaches his
pupils. Protagoras asserts that he educates his students in politics and in how to manage personal
affairs. But Socrates questions whether this is really a subject that can be taught. Protagoras
responds by giving a long speech about the creation of the world. Virtue is indeed teachable,
argues Protagoras, because political systems are founded on the basis that all citizens can possess
virtue. Similarly, systems of criminal justice are based on the notion that people can be reformed
—that is, taught how to be virtuous. Socrates then shifts the subject of discussion to focus more
precisely on what virtue is exactly. Is it one thing, or many things?
Protagoras takes this opportunity to switch the subject to a poem by Simonides. Having pointed
out a contradiction, Protagoras challenges Socrates to respond. Socrates's argument is ingenious:
he interprets the poem as reacting to the assertion of Pittacus, a sage, that it is hard to be good. In
Socrates's interpretation, the poem contends that it is hard to become good but that it is
impossible to be good all the time, for humans are forced to behave badly by inevitable
misfortunes. Socrates then elaborates: misfortune here does not mean poverty or scarcity, but
ignorance. As Socrates argues, the only evil is a lack of knowledge, because it is impossible to
behave badly knowing what is good.
Socrates informs Protagoras that Hippocrates and Socrates want to talk to him about whether he
can help fulfill Hippocrates's ambition to achieve prominence within the public affairs of Athens.
Protagoras immediately launches into a lengthy exposition on the relation between sophistry and
public scrutiny. Many Sophists, he asserts, have "disguised" their sophistic art "in a decent dress"
(316d), fearful of the reaction from those who are concerned about the Sophists's influence over
their students. Poets, prophets, musicians and track coaches have all hidden their secret sophistry
behind their ostensible professions, but Protagoras declares that he is different: he is proud of
being a sophist.
Protagoras invites Socrates to repeat the topic under discussion, and Socrates does so, thus
officially inaugurating the dialogue. What benefit, he asks, will Hippocrates recieve from
becoming Protagoras's pupil? Protagoras answers that Hippocrates will become a better man
every day he studies under him. But, as Socrates notes, this comparative "better" presumes a
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Ethics Notes
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notion of "good" that has not been examined, and he demonstrates this presumption by exploring
a series of parallel, analogous cases, as was the fashion in Socratic dialogues. Socrates says that
painters teach their pupils to become better painters; flautists teach their pupils how to play the
flute better. At what, specifically, can Hippocrates hope to improve if he studies with Protagoras?
Protagoras's answer is to the point: he states that he can teach Hippocrates "good judgment" in
both his personal affairs and civic issues. As Socrates re- phrases it, Protagoras claims to be able
to teach political science so that his students will become good citizens. This, Socrates says, is
something that Socrates did not know could be taught, and in consequence he poses one of the
central questions of the dialogue: is virtue teachable?
There are good reasons for thinking that virtue cannot be taught, Socrates explains. The
Athenians allow all citizens to participate in political decision-making, thereby implying that
statecraft is not a skill (techne) like construction or ship-building, possessed only by the few who
have undergone the necessary technical apprenticeship. According to Socrates, this indicates that
virtue is neither teachable nor learnable. Further, Socrates notes, even some of the most virtuous
citizens—men like Pericles—are "unable to transmit this excellence of theirs to others" (319e).
On these grounds, asserting that civic virtue can be taught seems counter-intuitive, and Socrates
challenges Protagoras to demonstrate that virtue can indeed be taught.
Protagoras's opening expository spiel stands in glaring contrast both to Socrates's probing
questions and to Socrates's arguments, which operate through a series of analogous examples. If
this dialogue will be a debate between different philosophical positions, it will be even more a
debate between different philosophical methods. If Socrates's method (the elenchus) is a means
of exploring and extending the limits of his interlocutors's arguments, Plato's method in writing
his dialogues aims to explore and extend the limits of argument itself.
Protagoras responds to Socrates's challenge (how can virtue be taught) by telling a story about
the creation of the animals by the gods. The gods entrust Prometheus and Epimetheus to
distribute to these animals their appropriate capabilities. Epimetheus goes first, and doles out
various attributes to defend each species from the predations of the others. Next, he provides the
animals with different methods of protection from environmental elements and with different
sources of food. Finally, he establishes the fertility rate of each animal to be consistent with all
these qualities. By distributing different characteristics and faculties to the animals, Epimetheus
distributes the different kinds of animals so as to ensure the survival of each kind.
When Prometheus inspects Epimetheus's work, however, he discovers that Epimetheus has left
humans "unclothed, unshod, unbedded, unarmed" (321c). Prometheus therefore distributes
practical wisdom (the knowledge of fire and of the means of procuring sustenance) amongst
humans. But humans live as scattered individuals, defenseless against wild animals, because they
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