2007 Archive Edition - See the Archive Notice on the Project Homepage for more information.
Protagoras (c 485-420 BCE), a professional sophist, is most famous for his statement, "Man is the measure of all things, of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not." He claimed that all perceptions are true for the respective perceiver, while still admitting that some perceptions are better than others. For instance, those perceptions made by a healthy man are better than those made by a victim of illness. A sophist's job, according to Protagoras, was to heal men intellectually so that they could perceive better. Protagoras was exiled from Athens in 415 for impiety as a direct result of writing On The Gods, a work in which he proclaimed that human beings were incapable of knowing whether the gods existed or not. His books were subsequently burned, and Protagoras fled to his home city of Abdera. Since the majority of Protagoras' works were destroyed, there remain today only a few of his fragments. However, we know a fair amount about his doctrines because of the efforts of Plato, Aristotle and Sextus Empiricus. In spite of difficulties in Athens, it seems that Protagoras was held in high regard, for a statue of him was erected with those of Plato and Aristotle in the Serapeum in Egypt during the Hellenistic Period. Aside from his philosophical duties, Protagoras had a reputation as a law maker; in 443, he drafted the constitution of Thurii at the request of his close friend, Pericles.
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