Shame, self-knowledge, and the human in Plato's "Protagoras"
Plato's Protagoras depicts Socrates debating the famous sophist Protagoras concerning whether 'virtue' is teachable. Protagoras delivers his 'Great Speech' to fulfill Socrates' request that Protagoras demonstrate that, and/or how, virtue is teachable, which Socrates doubts. Protagoras's Great Speech begins with a creation myth that includes the chthonic 'genesis' and the subsequent development of 'the human race,' and ends with the rise of cities. Although the purpose of Protagoras's myth seems to be simply to explain the recognizable political character of recognizably human life, it actually asserts the complete indeterminacy of the would-be human originally. The myth grounds both the city's theoretical conceit that it completely determines the human as human and its corresponding practical enterprise to make 'good citizens' through a fundamentally punitive system of education. In his Great Speech, Protagoras either simply overlooks or deliberately denies natural human rationality for determining humanness. For Protagoras, the human as human is rational, but because the city rationalizes it. During the discussion following Protagoras's Great Speech, Alcibiades thrice directs shame and justice at Protagoras. Alcibiades acts toward Protagoras as the Hermes of Protagoras's myth acts toward the so-called humans whom Protagoras describes therein. Alcibiades' behavior toward Protagoras suggests Protagoras's lack of humanness in the very terms in which Protagoras characterizes humanness. While Alcibiades' behavior casts him as Hermes, Socrates' Homeric quotation in the performed prologue deliberately characterizes Alcibiades as Hermes. Socrates' Homeric quotation adduces two episodes from Homer that proffer presentations of humanness over against the bestial. Socrates' deliberate characterization of Alcibiades as Hermes emphasizes Protagoras's lack of self-knowledge, which emphasizes the crucial importance of self-knowledge for humanness. The significance of self-knowledge for humanness manifests itself in Socrates debunking the phenomenon that the many experience as 'being-inferior to pleasure,' and Socrates cross-examining Hippocrates concerning his ignorance about Protagoras. In contradistinction to ignorance of ignorance and self-dissolution induced by, as characteristic of, sophistry, the Protagoras depicts Socratic knowledge of ignorance as the realization of self-knowledge. For Plato, the human as human emerges as identical with Socratic philosophizing, as the fulfillment of natural human rationality