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The Unity of Virtue

The Unity of Virtue

Protagoras

Chapter:
(p.131) Four The Unity of Virtue
Source:
Virtue Is Knowledge
Author(s):
Lorraine Smith Pangle
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226136684.003.0005

A full commentary on Plato’s Protagoras, this chapter elucidates the similarities and differences between Socrates’ critique of retribution and those of Protagoras and Simonides, focusing on the question of whether all virtue is ultimately one, or reducible to wisdom. It examines especially the final part of the dialogue, beginning with Socrates’ famous claim that knowledge is sovereign and is never dragged around like a slave by the passions. Although the proof for the power of knowledge that follows rests on Protagoras’ own, half-acknowledged hedonistic premises, it applies equally to Socrates’ more capacious understanding of the human good. It is argued that bad choices always involve cognitive error because passion in a rational being always involves reason, and that not mere knowledge but wisdom is immune to being dragged around. The chapter closes with an argument that Socrates is right in considering courage one part or aspect of wisdom, even if its roots lie deep in the less rational elements of a good and vigorous constitution. For the strength that underlies courage turns out to be much more infused with reason than it at first seems: it is thus an integral part of the active wisdom that Socrates identifies with virtue.

Keywords:   Socrates, Protagoras, Simonides, Prometheus, sophists, unity of virtue, pleasure, hedonism, courage, wisdom

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