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