The Ancient Library

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IV. That all knowledge is subjective, that it is true only for the individ­ual, was the meaning of the celebrated saying of protagoras of Abdera, namely, tt&vtow psTpov &vQp<oiros. Protagoras was the first who called himself a sophist, and taught for pay. He made his appearance at Ath­ens in the time of Pericles (about B.C. 444), and for a long time enjoyed a great reputation there, till at last a reaction was caused by the bold skepticism of his opinions, and he was banished from Athens, and his books were publicly burned. Agreeing with Heraclitus in regard to the doctrine of a perpetual motion, and of a continual change in the impres­sions and perceptions of men, he deduced from this that the individual could know nothing beyond these ever-varying perceptions ; consequent­ly, that whatever appeared to be was so for the individual. According to this doctrine, opposite opinions on the same subject might be equally true ; and if an opinion were only supported by a momentary appearance of truth, this was sufficient to make it true for the moment. Hence it was one of the great feats which Protagoras and the other Sophists pro­fessed to perform, to be able to speak with equal plausibility for and against the same positions ; not in order to diseover the truth, but in or­der to show the nothingness of truth. It was not, howrever, the intention of Protagoras to deprive virtue, as well as truth, of its reality, but he re­duced virtue to a mere state or condition of the subject—a set of impres­sions and feelings which rendered the subject more capable of active use­fulness.1

V. gorgias of Leontini, whom we have spoken of elsewhere, proceed­ed from an older philosophic school than Protagoras, but yet there was a great correspondence between the pursuits of the two ; and from this we may clearly see how strongly the spirit of the age must have inclined to the form and mode of speculation which was common to them both. Gorgias undertook to prove that nothing exists; that even if any thing did exist, it would not be cognizable, and even if it both existed and were cognizable, it could not be conveyed and communicated by words. The result was that absolute knowledge was unattainable ; and that the prop­er end of instruction was to awaken in the pupil's mind such conceptions as are suitable to his own purposes and interests. The chief distinction between Gorgias and the other sophists consisted in the frankness with which he admitted that he promised and professed nothing else than to make his scholars apt rhetoricians ; and the ridicule with which he treat­ed those of his colleagues who professed to teach virtue, a peculiarity which Gorgias shared with all the other Sophists of Sicily. The Sophists in the mother country, on the other hand, endeavored to awaken useful thoughts, and to teach the principles of practical philosophy: thus hip-.pias of Elis, the contemporary of Socrates, endeavored to season his lessons with a display of multifarious knowledge, and may be regarded as the first Polyhistor among the Greeks, though in other respects re­markable for vanity and boastful arrogance. So, again, prodicus of Ceos, another contemporary of Socrates, and perhaps the most respectable among the Sophists, used to present lessons of morality under an agreea-

1 Muller, Hist. Gr. Lit,, vol. ii., p. 73.

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