1. The assignment is to write an a short essay (approximately 750-1000 words) on the topic provided below. It is due on Monday, Sept 20 at 11 pm. Please note: If you are unable to submit the paper by that time, for whatever reason, you are required to get in contact with me — before the deadline or by next morning at latest — with request for extension by specified date and time. Failure to meet this requirement will result in automatic penalty to grade on the assignment. The same rule applies for any and all extensions granted.)
2. Papers are to be submitted in PDF format, via Canvas. Please put your own last name in the filename your last name, followed by “-1” (e.g., “Smith-1”). Please also remember to put your name on the first page of the document, and to number the pages.
3. Citations to the text should be given with Stephanus numbers. You may provide the citations parenthetically within the body of your essay. (See the format used in the “Euthyphro Study Guide”). As this is a short paper. direct quotations should be kept to a minimum - i.e., used only when truly needed for purpose of making a point. However, please note that you are expected to provide citations for all references to specific statements or references in the text, whether or not you quote from the text directly.
4. Please read the "Guidelines for Essays” [separate document, posted on Canvas] for general instructions and suggestions regarding organization of essay.
At the end of Plato’s Protagoras, Socrates suggests to Protagoras that the outcome of the argument is to leave both of them looking ridiculous. (361a). Here is how Socrates describes the situation, from what he imagines would be the discussion’s point of view:
Socrates, you said earlier that virtue cannot be taught, but now are arguing the very opposite and have attempted to show that everything is knowledge— justice, temperance, courage — in which case, virtue would appear to be eminently teachable. On the other hand, if virtue is anything other than knowledge, as Protagoras has been trying to say, then it would clearly be unteachable. (361b)
Notice that Socrates goes no further than to say than this is how the situation appears. He does not acknowledge a genuine contradiction in his own prior arguments — he’s just conceding the impression of one, in the interest of broaching a further investigation of the issues.
For this assignment, you are invited to assess this impression of the situation, through a consideration and assessment of any one of the following propositions:
(a) If Socrates’ arguments on behalf of the unity of virtue and knowledge are valid, those same arguments also imply that he cannot consistently reject Protagoras’ reasons for thinking that virtue is teachable.
(b) Even if Socrates’ arguments on behalf of the unity of virtue and knowledge are valid, he can still consistently reject Protagoras’ position in their disagreement over whether virtue is teachable.
(c) Protagoras cannot consistently mantain his reasons for thinking that virtue can be taught, and also his belief that it is possible to be virtuous without knowledge.
These three propositions provided are offered as hypotheses only, the truth of which you are invited to investigate through a careful examination of the arguments at issue.
1. You are not required, nor expected, to pass judgment on the overall validity of the arguments under discussion. The assignment calls simply for you to examine whether there is reason to think the pertinent arguments are indeed in contradiction with one another, as suggested by the statement quoted above. (To do this, however, you must take the arguments seriously, as arguments, advanced by characters who care about being found persuasive).
2. Your primary responsibility in writing this essay is to offer a potential contribution toward your (hypothetical) reader’s gaining a more complete comprehension of the arguments in Plato’s Protagoras. This does not mean you’re expected to resolve every ambiguity or obscurity in those arguments. But it also doesn’t mean that you can freely disregard what you deem ambiguous or obscure, or inconvenient to your interpretation. Your task is to make as much sense of the material that you can, and then (if need be) pinpoint as precisely as possible what remains obscure to you, or otherwise unresolved. This itself is a contribution toward an enlarged comprehension of the work under discussion.