Does democracy necessarily rest on relativism? The origins of the debate: Protagoras and Plato

Giorgini, Giovanni Does democracy necessarily rest on relativism? The origins of the debate: Protagoras and Plato. [Articles (Articoli)]

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If we look back at the origins, at the theoretical “foundations of democracy”, we may observe that the first consistent relativist thinker in the Western tradition of philosophy, the sophist Protagoras, is also a stern supporter of democracy, as it appears from his personal involvement in some aspects of Pericles’ policy (such as his participation in the Pan-Hellenic settlement of Thurii) as well as from literary evidence (such as the Great Myth he tells in Plato’s Protagoras). Conversely, we may observe that Protagoras’ arch-enemy and nemesis (in the theoretical field), Plato, believes in the existence of a solid, objective truth behind the unstable appearances caught by our senses; interestingly enough, Plato is also a strong critic of democracy, to which he prefers an aristocratic government ruled by ‘those who know’.

Item Type: Articles (Articoli)
Additional Information: This paper was first delivered at the 9th Conference of the Collegium Politicum: Amis et ennemis de la démocratie. L’histoire intellectuelle de la démocratie et son reflet dans le débat antique et moderne on January 29th, 2010 at the Fondation Hardt, Geneva. Subsequent versions were read at Stanford University and at the University of California, Berkeley. I am grateful to all the participants for their comments. I will also appreciate very much any suggestion or criticism from readers of the “Rivista”.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Herodotus, Plato, Protagoras, Thucydides, democracy, relativism
Subjects: P Philosophy
Depositing User: Unnamed user with email
Date Deposited: 17 Dec 2010 13:54
Last Modified: 07 May 2018 13:22

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