“And do you call them good because they occasion the greatest immediate suffering and pain ; or because, afterwards, they bring health and improvement of the bodily condition and the salvation of states and power over others and wealth ?” — they would agree to the latter alternative, if I am not mistaken ?
“Are these things good for any other reason except that they end in pleasure, and get rid of and avert pain ? Are you looking to any other standard but pleasure and pain when you call them good ?” — they would acknowledge that they were not ?
I think so, said Protagoras.
“And do you not pursue after pleasure as a good, and avoid pain as an evil ?”
“Then you think that pain is an evil and pleasure is a good : and even pleasure you deem an evil, when it robs you of greater pleasures than it gives, or causes pains greater than the pleasure. If, however, you call pleasure an evil in relation to some other end or standard, you will be able to show us that standard. But you have none to show.”
I do not think that they have, said Protagoras.
“And have you not a similar way of speaking about pain ? You call pain a good when it takes away greater pains than those which it has, or gives pleasures greater than the pains : then if you have some standard other than pleasure and pain to which you refer when you call actual pain a good, you can show what that is. But you cannot.”
True, said Protagoras.
Suppose again, I said, that the world says to me : “Why do you spend many words and speak in many ways on this subject ?” Excuse me, friends, I should reply ; but in the first place there is a difficulty in explaining the meaning of the expression “overcome by pleasure” ; and the whole argument turns upon this. And even now, if you see any possible way in which evil can be explained as other than pain, or good as other than pleasure, you may still retract. Are you satisfied, then, at having a life of pleasure which is without pain ? If you are, and if you are unable to show any good or evil which does not end in pleasure and pain, hear the consequences : — If what you say is true, then the argument is absurd which affirms that a man often does evil knowingly, when he might abstain, because he is seduced and overpowered by pleasure ; or again, when you say that a man knowingly refuses to do what is good because he is overcome at the moment by pleasure. And that this is ridiculous will be evident if only we give up the use of various names, such as pleasant and painful, and good and evil. As there are two things, let us call them by two names — first, good and evil, and then pleasant and painful. Assuming this, let us go on to say that a man does evil knowing that he does evil. But some one will ask, Why ? Because he is overcome, is the first answer. And by what is he overcome ? the enquirer will proceed to ask. And we shall not be able to reply “By pleasure,” for the name of pleasure has been exchanged for that of good. In our answer, then, we shall only say that he is overcome. “By what ?” he will reiterate. By the good, we shall have to reply ; indeed we shall. Nay, but our questioner will rejoin with a laugh, if he be one of the swaggering sort, “That is too ridiculous, that a man should do what he knows to be evil when he ought not, because he is overcome by good. Is that, he will ask, because the good was worthy or not worthy of conquering the evil ?” And in answer to that we shall clearly reply, Because it was not worthy ; for if it had been worthy, then he who, as we say, was overcome by pleasure, would not have been wrong. “But how,” he will reply, “can the good be unworthy of the evil, or the evil of the good ?” Is not the real explanation that they are out of proportion to one another, either as greater and smaller, or more and fewer ? This we cannot deny. And when you speak of being overcome — ”what do you mean,” he will say, “but that you choose the greater evil in exchange for the lesser good ?” Admitted. And now substitute the names of pleasure and pain for good and evil, and say, not as before, that a man does what is evil knowingly, but that he does what is painful knowingly, and because he is overcome by pleasure, which is unworthy to overcome. What measure is there of the relations of pleasure to pain other than excess and defect, which means that they become greater and smaller, and more and fewer, and differ in degree ? For if any one says : “Yes, Socrates, but immediate pleasure differs widely from future pleasure and pain” — To that I should reply : And do they differ in anything but in pleasure and pain ? There can be no other measure of them. And do you, like a skilful weigher, put into the balance the pleasures and the pains, and their nearness and distance, and weigh them, and then say which outweighs the other. If you weigh pleasures against pleasures, you of course take the more and greater ; or if you weigh pains against pains, you take the fewer and the less ; or if pleasures against pains, then you choose that course of action in which the painful is exceeded by the pleasant, whether the distant by the near or the near by the distant ; and you avoid that course of action in which the pleasant is exceeded by the painful. Would you not admit, my friends, that this is true ? I am confident that they cannot deny this.
He agreed with me.
Well then, I shall say, if you agree so far, be so good as to answer me a question : Do not the same magnitudes appear larger to your sight when near, and smaller when at a distance ? They will acknowledge that. And the same holds of thickness and number ; also sounds, which are in themselves equal, are greater when near, and lesser when at a distance. They will grant that also. Now suppose happiness to consist in doing or choosing the greater, and in not doing or in avoiding the less, what would be the saving principle of human life ? Would not the art of measuring be the saving principle ; or would the power of appearance ? Is not the latter that deceiving art which makes us wander up and down and take the things at one time of which we repent at another, both in our actions and in our choice of things great and small ? But the art of measurement would do away with the effect of appearances, and, showing the truth, would fain teach the soul at last to find rest in the truth, and would thus save our life. Would not mankind generally acknowledge that the art which accomplishes this result is the art of measurement ?
Yes, he said, the art of measurement.
Suppose, again, the salvation of human life to depend on the choice of odd and even, and on the knowledge of when a man ought to choose the greater or less, either in reference to themselves or to each other, and whether near or at a distance ; what would be the saving principle of our lives ? Would not knowledge ? — a knowledge of measuring, when the question is one of excess and defect, and a knowledge of number, when the question is of odd and even ? The world will assent, will they not ?
Protagoras himself thought that they would.
Well then, my friends, I say to them ; seeing that the salvation of human life has been found to consist in the right choice of pleasures and pains, — in the choice of the more and the fewer, and the greater and the less, and the nearer and remoter, must not this measuring be a consideration of their excess and defect and equality in relation to each other ?
This is undeniably true.
And this, as possessing measure, must undeniably also be an art and science ?
They will agree, he said.
The nature of that art or science will be a matter of future consideration ; but the existence of such a science furnishes a demonstrative answer to the question which you asked of me and Protagoras. At the time when you asked the question, if you remember, both of us were agreeing that there was nothing mightier than knowledge, and that knowledge, in whatever existing, must have the advantage over pleasure and all other things ; and then you said that pleasure often got the advantage even over a man who has knowledge ; and we refused to allow this, and you rejoined : O Protagoras and Socrates, what is the meaning of being overcome by pleasure if not this ? — tell us what you call such a state : — if we had immediately and at the time answered “Ignorance,” you would have laughed at us. But now, in laughing at us, you will be laughing at yourselves : for you also admitted that men err in their choice of pleasures and pains ; that is, in their choice of good and evil, from defect of knowledge ; and you admitted further, that they err, not only from defect of knowledge in general, but of that particular knowledge which is called measuring. And you are also aware that the erring act which is done without knowledge is done in ignorance. This, therefore, is the meaning of being overcome by pleasure ; — ignorance, and that the greatest. And our friends Protagoras and Prodicus and Hippias declare that they are the physicians of ignorance ; but you, who are under the mistaken impression that ignorance is not the cause, and that the art of which I am speaking cannot be taught, neither go yourselves, nor send your children, to the Sophists, who are the teachers of these things — you take care of your money and give them none ; and the result is, that you are the worse off both in public and private life : — Let us suppose this to be our answer to the world in general : And now I should like to ask you, Hippias, and you, Prodicus, as well as Protagoras (for the argument is to be yours as well as ours), whether you think that I am speaking the truth or not ?
They all thought that what I said was entirely true.
Then you agree, I said, that the pleasant is the good, and the painful evil. And here I would beg my friend Prodicus not to introduce his distinction of names, whether he is disposed to say pleasurable, delightful, joyful. However, by whatever name he prefers to call them, I will ask you, most excellent Prodicus, to answer in my sense of the words.
Prodicus laughed and assented, as did the others.
Then, my friends, what do you say to this ? Are not all actions honourable and useful, of which the tendency is to make life painless and pleasant ? The honourable work is also useful and good ?
This was admitted.
Then, I said, if the pleasant is the good, nobody does anything under the idea or conviction that some other thing would be better and is also attainable, when he might do the better. And this inferiority of a man to himself is merely ignorance, as the superiority of a man to himself is wisdom.
They all assented.
And is not ignorance the having a false opinion and being deceived about important matters ?
To this also they unanimously assented.
Then, I said, no man voluntarily pursues evil, or that which he thinks to be evil. To prefer evil to good is not in human nature ; and when a man is compelled to choose one of two evils, no one will choose the greater when he may have the less.
All of us agreed to every word of this.
Well, I said, there is a certain thing called fear or terror ; and here, Prodicus, I should particularly like to know whether you would agree with me in defining this fear or terror as expectation of evil.
Protagoras and Hippias agreed, but Prodicus said that this was fear and not terror.
Never mind, Prodicus, I said ; but let me ask whether, if our former assertions are true, a man will pursue that which he fears when he is not compelled ? Would not this be in flat contradiction to the admission which has been already made, that he thinks the things which he fears to be evil ; and no one will pursue or voluntarily accept that which he thinks to be evil ?
That also was universally admitted.
Then, I said, these, Hippias and Prodicus, are our premisses ; and I would beg Protagoras to explain to us how he can be right in what he said at first. I do not mean in what he said quite at first, for his first statement, as you may remember, was that whereas there were five parts of virtue none of them was like any other of them ; each of them had a separate function. To this, however, I am not referring, but to the assertion which he afterwards made that of the five virtues four were nearly akin to each other, but that the fifth, which was courage, differed greatly from the others. And of this he gave me the following proof. He said : You will find, Socrates, that some of the most impious, and unrighteous, and intemperate, and ignorant of men are among the most courageous ; which proves that courage is very different from the other parts of virtue. I was surprised at his saying this at the time, and I am still more surprised now that I have discussed the matter with you. So I asked him whether by the brave he meant the confident. Yes, he replied, and the impetuous or goers. (You may remember, Protagoras, that this was your answer.)
Well then, I said, tell us against what are the courageous ready to go — against the same dangers as the cowards ?
No, he answered.
Then against something different ?
Yes, he said.
Then do cowards go where there is safety, and the courageous where there is danger ?
Yes, Socrates, so men say.
Very true, I said. But I want to know against what do you say that the courageous are ready to go — against dangers, believing them to be dangers, or not against dangers ?
No, said he ; the former case has been proved by you in the previous argument to be impossible.
That, again, I replied, is quite true. And if this has been rightly proven, then no one goes to meet what he thinks to be dangers, since the want of self-control, which makes men rush into dangers, has been shown to be ignorance.
And yet the courageous man and the coward alike go to meet that about which they are confident ; so that, in this point of view, the cowardly and the courageous go to meet the same things.
And yet, Socrates, said Protagoras, that to which the coward goes is the opposite of that to which the courageous goes ; the one, for example, is ready to go to battle, and the other is not ready.
And is going to battle honourable or disgraceful ? I said.
Honourable, he replied.
And if honourable, then already admitted by us to be good ; for all honourable actions we have admitted to be good.
That is true ; and to that opinion I shall always adhere.
True, I said. But which of the two are they who, as you say, are unwilling to go to war, which is a good and honourable thing ?
The cowards, he replied.
And what is good and honourable, I said, is also pleasant ?
It has certainly been acknowledged to be so, he replied.
And do the cowards knowingly refuse to go to the nobler, and pleasanter, and better ?
The admission of that, he replied, would belie our former admissions.
But does not the courageous man also go to meet the better, and pleasanter, and nobler ?
That must be admitted.
And the courageous man has no base fear or base confidence ?
True, he replied.
And if not base, then honourable ?
He admitted this.
And if honourable, then good ?
But the fear and confidence of the coward or foolhardy or madman, on the contrary, are base ?
And these base fears and confidences originate in ignorance and uninstructedness ?
True, he said.
Then as to the motive from which the cowards act, do you call it cowardice or courage ?
I should say cowardice, he replied.
And have they not been shown to be cowards through their ignorance of dangers ?
Assuredly, he said.
And because of that ignorance they are cowards ?
And the reason why they are cowards is admitted by you to be cowardice ?
He again assented.
Then the ignorance of what is and is not dangerous is cowardice ?
He nodded assent.
But surely courage, I said, is opposed to cowardice ?
Then the wisdom which knows what are and are not dangers is opposed to the ignorance of them ?
To that again he nodded assent.
And the ignorance of them is cowardice ?
To that he very reluctantly nodded assent.
And the knowledge of that which is and is not dangerous is courage, and is opposed to the ignorance of these things ?
At this point he would no longer nod assent, but was silent.
And why, I said, do you neither assent nor dissent, Protagoras ?
Finish the argument by yourself, he said.
I only want to ask one more question, I said. I want to know whether you still think that there are men who are most ignorant and yet most courageous ?
You seem to have a great ambition to make me answer, Socrates, and therefore I will gratify you, and say, that this appears to me to be impossible consistently with the argument.
My only object, I said, in continuing the discussion, has been the desire to ascertain the nature and relations of virtue ; for if this were clear, I am very sure that the other controversy which has been carried on at great length by both of us — you affirming and I denying that virtue can be taught — would also become clear. The result of our discussion appears to me to be singular. For if the argument had a human voice, that voice would be heard laughing at us and saying : “Protagoras and Socrates, you are strange beings ; there are you, Socrates, who were saying that virtue cannot be taught, contradicting yourself now by your attempt to prove that all things are knowledge, including justice, and temperance, and courage, — which tends to show that virtue can certainly be taught ; for if virtue were other than knowledge, as Protagoras attempted to prove, then clearly virtue cannot be taught ; but if virtue is entirely knowledge, as you are seeking to show, then I cannot but suppose that virtue is capable of being taught. Protagoras, on the other hand, who started by saying that it might be taught, is now eager to prove it to be anything rather than knowledge ; and if this is true, it must be quite incapable of being taught.” Now I, Protagoras, perceiving this terrible confusion of our ideas, have a great desire that they should be cleared up. And I should like to carry on the discussion until we ascertain what virtue is, whether capable of being taught or not, lest haply Epimetheus should trip us up and deceive us in the argument, as he forgot us in the story ; I prefer your Prometheus to your Epimetheus, for of him I make use, whenever I am busy about these questions, in Promethean care of my own life. And if you have no objection, as I said at first, I should like to have your help in the enquiry.
Protagoras replied : Socrates, I am not of a base nature, and I am the last man in the world to be envious. I cannot but applaud your energy and your conduct of an argument. As I have often said, I admire you above all men whom I know, and far above all men of your age ; and I believe that you will become very eminent in philosophy. Let us come back to the subject at some future time ; at present we had better turn to something else.
By all means, I said, if that is your wish ; for I too ought long since to have kept the engagement of which I spoke before, and only tarried because I could not refuse the request of the noble Callias. So the conversation ended, and we went our way.
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