Here is a paradox: two men’s beliefs can be equally true, but not equally valuable, even though they are beliefs about the goodness or badness of something. […] The sick man dislikes what he tastes, and will be glad when the doctor, as we should say, restores his normal appreciation of good food or, as Protagoras would have it, makes his unpleasant food both seem and be pleasant to him. But with moral values the case is different. If what a city thinks just and fine is just and fine for it so long as it thinks so, it will not want its views or its laws changed nor, one would have thought, ought they to be changed.
Earlier, Guthrie discussed the “might makes right” natural laws (physis) of Callicles and Antiphon. And I see unity at this point, for if natural “good” triumphs (as, by might, it most presumably would) then it would expand its hold, its influence, it’s societal base.
Ah, but society isn’t swayed by the sword alone. Enter the sophists, in all their hubris. When Protagoras (and pretty much anyone who has or will ever quote him) says that man is the the measure of all things, suppose we consider it contextually. Suppose we take it to mean, as is fairly obvious, that what a man considers good is good for that man — not simply that “I like candy; candy is good for me” but more “I value truth, even though I hurt myself by lying”; a long-term moral system, regardless of whether the man is virtuous enough to stick to it. (For bonus points: this is also perfectly existentialist.) Protagoras, as a sophist, was in the business of teaching rhetoric; apart from Plato’s dialogues, we don’t have much of an idea as to the degree of Protagoras’s use of rhetoric. Specifically, I’m curious as to his use of rhetoric with his students.
Because if you’re teaching morality and then equipping your students to do the same, that’s some serious proselytization. Protagoras was very clear as to whence ariseth “good”, and he was well equipped to promote his “good” in just this way — without the sword.
Consider cultural assimilation — if you have a democracy next door to a monarchy, there will be an interchange of ideas such that one or both will be undermined. Or perhaps there’s some equilibrium wherein the democracy is full of strong leaders and informed citizens, and the monarch is strong and backed by competent loyalists. But if that’s disturbed — by a cycle of elections or successions or the like — that cultural interchange will pressure a change.
Or, even more bluntly — look at the US military in the Middle East: it was a pretty decisive victory. At least, by the sword. But, culturally, it’s been a complete mess.
It seems pretty clear to me that, on that next level, a “good” system is one that propagates and solidifies (as in “solidarity”, not… “brittle” and “rigid”) its ideals, its morals, its “good”. And it must be able to stand the test of both physics and ideas. You can’t have a “good” society that’s physically weak (think “health”); it can’t be morally weak either. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not interested in silencing dissension — I’m interested in answering it, in building a system that is increasingly unassailable. …Er, not militarily.
Of course, “morality” is vague… and I think that, in my exploration, maybe I’ve evolved it to the point where I should just abandon that word for all its ambiguity. But I haven’t found another just yet. Maybe it’s just “order” — the lack of contradiction. Or “justice” — order with some degree of explicit rules, “fairness”, etc. I don’t know.
And it drives me… misanthropic… to not hear everyone wondering the same.