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Protagoras in Ancient Greek Philosophy

Grant number: 16/11249-8
Support type:Scholarships abroad - Research
Effective date (Start): December 10, 2016
Effective date (End): June 09, 2017
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Philosophy - History of Philosophy
Principal researcher:Evan Robert Keeling
Grantee:Evan Robert Keeling
Host: Daniel Trent Devereux
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Research place: University of Virginia (UVa), United States  
Associated research grant:15/05317-8 - Theories of causation and human agency in ancient Greek philosophy, AP.TEM


The ancient thinker, Protagoras, is one of the most interesting and enigmatic figures who appear in ancient philosophical texts. He was an extremely influential teacher, the first to charge a fee to teach virtue to young men from wealthy families. Yet none of his works survive. Today he is most famous for his maxim that 'Man is the measure of all things', one of the earliest expressions of relativism in the Western world. But in addition to promoting a sort of relativism, Protagoras was also influential in ancient Greece for his views on perception, virtue, the gods, pedagogy, logic, and even grammar.Protagoras' large influence coupled with the difficulty and vagueness of his ideas means that many different interpretations and views were associated with Protagoras. This book-length project attempts to resolve these problems by thinking not in terms of the historical Protagoras, but in terms of Protagoras' ancient legacy. Rather than trying to find a pure Protagoras behind our sources, I will investigate all the views and interpretations found in the ancient authors associated with Protagoras. My aim is to produce a unified book based on Protagorean themes or doctrines rather than dividing the treatment of Protagoras based on the ancient authors who discussed Protagorean views. My hypothesis is that our most important sources, Plato's Theaetetus and Aristotle's Metaphysics IV, are best understood as discussing Protagoras' philosophical influence rather than his ideas as they were originally formulated. The book begins with Protagorean themes in the Theaetetus, from which I establish a dialogue between each of our sources regarding each theme. In this way I develop a detailed picture of Protagoreanism in its ancient forms, while avoiding many of the difficulties surrounding the historical Protagoras.