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Protagoras refuted: how clever is Socrates' "most clever" argument at Theaetetus 171a-c ?

Castagnoli, L. (2004) 'Protagoras refuted: how clever is Socrates' "most clever" argument at Theaetetus 171a-c ?', Topoi., 23 (1). pp. 3-32.


This article aims at reconstructing the logic and assessing the force of Socrates' argument against Protagoras' 'Measure Doctrine' (MD) at Theaetetus 171a–c. I examine and criticise some influential interpretations of the passage, according to which, e.g., Socrates is guilty of ignoratio elenchi by dropping the essential Protagorean qualifiers or successfully proves that md is self-refuting provided the missing qualifiers are restored by the attentive reader. Having clarified the meaning of MD, I analyse in detail the broader section 170a–171d and argue, against an extensive scholarly consensus, (1) that it contains two slightly different formulations of the same argument, and not two (or three) distinct arguments, (2) that Socrates does not highlight his own strategy at 171a–c as especially clever, and (3) that his argument successfully shows that md turns out to be untenable for Protagoras himself when submitted to scrutiny in dialectical contexts, without aiming at proving its absolute falsehood. Finally, I clarify the philosophical import of the final image of Protagoras' momentary return from the underworld.

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Record Created:18 Jan 2008
Last Modified:08 Apr 2009 16:37

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