Protagoras

Protagoras - Stanley Lombardo, Plato Plato is always a good writer. Socrates is always worth understanding. This one short dialog would be the philosophical work I would suggest everyone to start with if they're interested in philosophy (wisdom, what we can 'know' about reality). The conflict between the known and the knowing (the being and the becoming, the absolute and the non-absolute, and even the existence and the essence) is captured by this one dialog. At the heart of all the confusion, disagreement and talking past each other I see around me when I actually take the time to look up and observe are contained within this dialog. People on Fox (Faux) News always know the 'truth' because it's been revealed to them and their ontological foundations never needs to be questioned, and they can never understand that they might be wrong at their core. Even Protagoras is forced to acknowledge (or want) the Gods to exist in order for justice to make sense.

It's Socrates' story and he wins the debate. Protagoras' mistake is he accepts the question and its premises. The only way psychoanalysis was completely relegated to the backwaters with its dream interpretation, blaming the victim, unconscious control, and repression of guilt ("I know your repressed because you deny your own repression") was to step out of their given premises.

I had once went to a party and made the statement to an actuary (who I find always interesting to talk to since they understand math so well) that the discount rate of cash flow was the way to understand everything necessary for human nature. Within in this dialog Socrates essentially says the same thing from rephrasing the Econ 101 point that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow and we use a discount rate of cash flow to adjust for the relative worth of future events. In the Protagoras Socrates makes a similar argument about how we deal with pain and pleasure, or good and evil, if I had known about this dialog I could have illustrated my point at the party in a more coherent way.

As always, I admire Socrates more than anyone else I'm aware of, and love the way he makes me think, but ultimately I side with the (sophisticated) sophists. I didn't really understand Socrates (or Plato) until about a month ago when I read the Republic on a lark. It's been a pleasure being acquainted with him ever since!

Librevox has a free audio version available.