be more unfair and unenlightened, or even more contrary to the very wording of the Speech. For in the Speech ‘Protagoras’ emphatically puts his doctrine forward as his very own, and distinguishes it from the laxer use of popular language, (167 B). And well he might; for it is the vindication, not only of his whole career as a skilled adviser and educator, but of the liberty which he concedes to every one to hold by his own experience. Such a profound misconstruction seems possible only in one who was reproducing with imperfect success an argument he did not understand.
There follows immediately afterwards a still more extraordinary proof of the discomfort which the Protagorean mode of thought had occasioned in Plato’s mind. For in 169 E, it is suggested that as Protagoras is not present to confirm the ‘concessions’ made on his behalf, it will perhaps be better to restrict the discussion to his own words, the original dictum!
By this master-stroke of dialectical manipulation the whole defence of Protagoras is declared invalid and set aside, and we are once more reduced to the bare dictum and stripped of all knowledge of what it really meant in its context. This procedure is so arbitrary that even Plato’s literary art cannot quite reconcile his readers to it. But on our hypothesis it is at least intelligible. On the hypothesis that Plato has concocted the Protagoras Speech it becomes utterly unthinkable. For how can one believe that, after propounding a defence of Protagoras which was at least novel and striking even if it was not completely adequate, Plato should at once have dropped it, merely because he suddenly felt a conscientious qualm lest Protagoras himself should not have approved of it? Surely whether the argument of the Speech was Protagoras’s or Plato’s, once it was stated, it should have been answered, and in the latter case at least it could have been answered: the presumption, therefore, is that Plato dispensed himself from this duty because he perceived that it surpassed his powers. For it is worth noting that though the Speech is evicted, it is never refuted. Its points are
- ἃ δή τινες τὰ φαντάσματα ὑπὸ ἀπειρίας ἀληθῆ καλοῦσιν ἐγὼ δὲ βελτίω μὲν τὰ ἕτερα τῶν ἑτέρων, ἀληθέστερα δὲ οὐδέν.