Volume 25, Issue 2, Spring 2021
Jeffrey A. Golub
The Last Animal
Indifference in Plato’s Protagoras
In this essay, I argue that Socrates adopts a philosophical stance of indifference that is particularly unique to the Protagoras. The peculiarity stems from Socrates’s (or perhaps Plato’s) significant interest in dealing with Protagoras as a certain kind of thinker rather than merely a sophist in general. The stance of indifference is shown to be a dramatic reaction to the attitude sophists like Protagoras take toward philosophical problems, specifically, thinkers who understand solutions to philosophical problems as commodities. The stance is shown to anticipate certain Academic skeptical methods, to embolden Socratic ignorance, and shore up defenses against the sophistic insecurity of needing to succeed for the sake of success. This stance is elaborated upon in three specific aspects of Socrates’s dramatic portrayal culminating in a re-reading of the poem of Simonides and the myth of Prometheus and Epimetheus. I resist readings that try to see the Protagoras as a simple takedown of sophistry or as a catalog of platonic doctrine, and instead treat Protagoras as a “philosopher in decline,” a significantly dangerous type of thinker who is savvy enough to repurpose genuine insight for the sake of easy answers to immensely difficult problems.