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Measurement, Pleasure, and Practical Science in Plato's Protagoras HENRY S. RICHARDSON 1. INTRODUCTION TOWARDS THE END OF THE PROTAGORAS Socrates suggests that the "salvation of our life" depends upon applying to pleasures and pains a science of measurement (metr$tik~techn~).Whether Plato intended to portray Socrates as putting forward sincerely the form of hedonism that makes these pleasures and pains relevant has been the subject of a detailed and probably interminable debate, to which this paper will not directly contribute. By contrast, it seems to be supposed by almost all who have written on the topic that this hedonism, whoever is espousing it, puts forward pleasure as a single, homogeneous yardstick of value to serve as the basis of a supremely simple standard of choice. This standard simply directs one to seek the maximal amount of pleasure . The underlying supposition is that the hedonism put forward in the Protagorasallows one to define a maximum because all goods are commensurable . But, as I shall emphasize in the sequel, hedonism does not imply commensurability , nor does commensurability imply hedonism. The interpretive thesis of this essay is that the common presumption that the dialogue's hedonism carries commensurability with it has impeded our ability to understand the Protagor~'s relation to the other dialogues, and has distorted the fundamental purpose of Socrates's practical science. These matters are of more than textual interest. My reasons for trying to remain neutral as to the longstanding debate about attributing the dialogue's hedonism are not limited to wanting to avoid quagmires and remove confusions that have resulted from unwarranted interpretive assumptions. To many, the Protagorasis of tremendous importance as an early articulation of a calculative ideal for ethical or practical decisionmaking , whether or not Plato or Socrates was committed to that ideal. Looking [7] 8 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 28:1 JANUARY x99 o back at the Protagorasfrom our twentieth-century perspective encourages the expectation that we might find there some argument for the crucial features of such a calculative ideal, as we have come to understand it. One such feature, prominent especially in the classical utilitarians, is that of the commensurability of goods, which in turn allows the precise definition of a maximizing rule. If the Protagoraspresented a calculative conception involving commensurability , then we might expect to find in the dialogue some argumentfor the rational necessity of commensurability. My claim will be that since there is no compelling evidence that the idea of commensurability is found in the dialogue , there is'hardly likely to be an argument for it there. In fact, it is of philosophical interest to see how far the arguments against weakness of will and for the unity of virtue (whoever is making them) can proceed without relying upon commensurability; This way of putting the philosophical points at issue here underlines the relative modesty of what I am claiming about commensurability. I argue that there is nothing in the dialogue that requires us to see commensurability as part of its hedonism, that the arguments proceed without relying upon commensurability , and that in some respects the problem of understanding the relationship of the Protagorasto Plato's other dialogues is eased if we refrain from attributing any commensurability here. I will show that a clearer picture of what is doing the argumentative work in the last secdon of the dialogue will result if we thus separate commensurability from hedonism, and that an illuminatingly different way of understanding the role of the science of measurement is thereby suggested. None of this amounts to a compelling argument that the idea of commensurability is not to be found in the dialogue. Rather, my case simply undermines the positive reasons for finding the idea there. Apart from the greater clarity which separating hedonism and commensurability allows, this modest negative case links up with the deeper philosophical moti,~ation I have mentioned by casting cold water on any hopes that the Protagorascould be made to yield an argument specifically linking commensurability to rationality. In one respect, my interpretive strategy is akin to that of commentators who have attempted to ease the tension between the Protagorasand the Gorgias by arguing that the form of hedonism...


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