The three Sophists who had traveled into Athens during the fifth century B. C. each brought with them their own unique views on acquiring knowledge and the human order of behavior. Protagoras emphasized acquiring knowledge through perception, Gorgias stressed that knowledge cannot be communicated because of the lack of truth, and Thrasymachus took the point of view that injustice is an orderly form of behavior that one can profit. Protagoras is viewed as being the most influential of the Sophists of his time.
His infamous statement: “man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not,” teaches that human judgement is subjective, and that one’s perception is valid only for oneself. From this statement, one can also conclude that knowledge can be obtained by how we perceive that particular object, process or skill. Protagoras explains that there is no way to distinguish between “appearance” and “reality.
This can be summarized by saying that no person’s opinions can be said to be more correct than another’s because each is the sole judge of his or her own experience. Therefore, being that each of our experiences our different from one another, there is no fixed point from which we can judge each other’s opinions. So, we, as human beings, can know only our perceptions of things, not the things themselves. Protagoras believed that matters of religion and moral laws of society are based not upon the permanent, unchanging ways of nature, but on the fluctuating changes of convention.
This can be seen as true through the historic example of the aristocracy of Athens being replaced by a direct democracy under Pericles. This was a point in time where the traditional, long-standing Athenian values were replaced by theoretical training in speech, argument, and rhetoric. Gorgias had more of a dramatic view of knowledge, where he eventually abandoned virtually everything due to the lack of truth. He argued that nothing really exists, that if anything did exist it could not be known, and that if knowledge were possible, it could not be communicated.
In other words he says that human beings could not know anything; and if they did know something, they could not communicate that knowledge they possessed. All of his notions were based merely on his denial that “there is any truth at all. ” In this denial he can possibly declare that all statements concerning reality are false and that, even if true, their truth can never be proved. In abandoning all matters of existence of truths in the declaration of his three notions, he most likely had turned completely to perfecting rhetoric because he was attempting to prove his viewpoint. Might is right” was the belief attached to the Sophist Thrasymachus.
He believed that taking the path of injustice could benefit one rather than selecting the path of justice. It seems as though Thrasymachus takes the view that doing what may seem “just” results in a reward far less that than of the “unjust” way. He is saying that it takes a dominant person to get something out of an action even if it means working unjustly, rather than a weak person who would automatically choose to do the right thing.
For example, a student has two options: he or she can easily get an “A” in a class by cheating in an extremely discrete manner or working hard and learning the material, which requires much more time, and also receive an “A. ” Thrasymachus would look upon the unjust way of cheating as the solution. “The sound conclusion is that what is ‘right’ is the same everywhere: the interest of the stronger party,” displays the notion that the meaning of what is “right” is determined by the dominant party that rules a society.
And this party comes to making the decision of what is “right” from their own personal interests which can benefit themselves. At the same time, the people of this society will follow what is right because the party is most favored or dominant. It was through the teachings of these three Sophists, along with many others, that changed the Athenian people. This was completed through persuasive expression, which provided their pupils with skills useful for achieving success in public life. However, their skeptical view on absolute truth and morality eventually provoked sharp criticism and were condemned by great thinkers, such as Socrates.