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Law and Nature in Protagoras' Great Speech

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

Reading Protagoras’ Great Speech as an honest statement of that Sophist’s beliefs, it is argued that nowhere therein does Protagoras make any appeal to an antithesis of nomos (law) and phusis (nature). This paper argues that Protagoras understands civic virtue as the result of a process of socialization that works on existing predispositions to be virtuous, that are naturally possessed by each individual citizen. On Protagoras’ analysis, prudence and virtue might sometimes conflict, and it is tempting to think that this conflict might be cognate with that of nature and law. However, this is not the case, since prudence and virtue do not seem on Protagoras’ account to be always and everywhere opposed. Hence, nowhere in his Speech does Protagoras make any clear appeal to a nomos-phusis antithesis.


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