Book Reviews

Protagoras by Plato – Book Review

Socrates visits the great sophist Protagoras of Abdera to have a discussion about how one can acquire the ability to live the best possible life. That is the premise of the short dialogue written by Athenian philosopher Plato. The book is only a 70 or so pages, but it treats us to one of the most important subjects of human life. How can live one excellently?

            Socrates begins by asking his young friend Hippocrates why Hippocrates would want to learn from Protagoras. You go to a carpenter to learn carpeting; you go to a sculptor to learn sculpting. What would you learn from a sophist? Hippocrates answers to be a just and excellent man; that is what Protagoras boldly claims. Socrates (obviously, you know him) asks questions if virtue can actually be thought and decides to discuss this with Protagoras. Thus, their fiery discussion begins.

            The dialogue goes on about this question for the majority of the book. It has a weird segue into the semantics of poems, but most of the time it is focused on answering the question how to live the best life possible. Protagoras believes it is all convention and that we can be thought. Socrates believes that only when one has knowledge of the virtue that then he has that virtue. If you know what justice is, you will be just. Socrates believed that no one could do bad things voluntarily. People only did bad things by not knowing better. If you showed them what justice is, they would become just. Obviously, we know about psychopaths who might know that what they are doing is wrong, but don’t care nevertheless, but it shows the care and the goodness of Socrates in the fullest. No one is really evil. People are just ignorant.

            For anyone wanting to start reading Plato, this book would be a great starting point. It is easy to read and has a truly philosophical subject which a reader can get into. The book doesn’t give a full answer on the question and it is up to the reader to find their own opinion on the matter and to think about it fully. If you just want to enjoy a great philosophical book which you can read in a single day, then this is a book for you.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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