The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1-7-2006

Abstract

At Protagoras 349E1-350C5 Socrates argues for the identity of courage and knowledge, and at 350C6- 351B2 Protagoras objects to Socrates’ argument. Between 1961 and 1985, a few valuable contributions in English were made to the interpretation of these passages. None, however, is entirely satisfactory. And in the last twenty years, among some cursory treatments in studies not particularly focused on these passages, no notable progress has been made.

The objective of this paper is to present a more satisfactory interpretation of Socrates’ argument and Protagoras’ objection, in particular by engaging with a set of problems with which previous commentators have wrestled. Above all, I will be concerned with Taylor’s examination of these problems since his contribution remains the most thorough and well known in English.

The upshot of my discussion is that both Socrates’ argument and Protagoras’ response are more cogent than has been recognized. Indeed, Protagoras suggests a good reason to believe that Socrates’ argument fails to identify courage and knowledge. This also explains Socrates’ development of a second argument for the identity of courage and knowledge (351B-360E).

In clarifying the hermeneutic problems in Socrates’ first argument and Protagoras’ objection, it will be convenient to begin with a basic outline of Socrates’ argument. The actual complexities of the argument will be clarified in the course of the ensuing discussion.

(1) Courageous men are confident.

(2) Courage, qua part of excellence, is fine.

(3) Knowledgeable men are confident.

(4) Some without knowledge are confident.

(5) Ignorant confidence is base.

(6) Therefore, courage is knowledge.

According to this description, Socrates attempts to identify courage and knowledge on the grounds that both are fine confidence. Collectively, commentators have drawn attention to three serious problems with the argument. I will introduce and resolve each in turn.

Notes

David Wolfsdorf presented “Courage and Knowledge at Protagoras 349e1-351b2” to the Society at its meeting with the American Philological Association in Montreal in 2006. A revised version was published in Classical Quarterly 56.2 (2006) 436-444, and that version is available on JSTOR.

For information about the author, see:

http://www.cla.temple.edu/philosophy/faculty/david-wolfsdorf/