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Book Reviews 1151

Mind Association 2006 Mind, Vol. 115 . 460 . October 2006


Epistemology After Protagoras: Responses to Relativism in Plato,
Aristotle and Democritus, by Mi-Kyoung Lee. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, :oo,. Pp. xi + :,I. H/b ,.oo.
Mi-Kyoung Lees excellent Epistemology After Protagoras: Responses to Relativ-
ism in Plato, Aristotle and Democritus will be of considerable interest to a wide
range of scholars and philosophers. Those studying the pre-socratics will nd
much of value in her plausible reconstructions of the thought of Protagoras
and Democritus (especially the latter). Readers of three of the most widely
read texts of ancient epistemology (Platos Theaetetus, Aristotles Metaphysics
and De Anima) will nd fresh insights drawn from Lees decision to read them
together rather than separately. And contemporary epistemologists interested
in the history of their subject will nd much that is still relevant today, espe-
cially in chapter seven, on Aristotles responses to relativism.
After a brief introduction and overview of her book, Lees chapter two oers
an account of what kind of philosopher Protagoras was, and what else might
have been in his book Truth (Al theia) besides the celebrated slogan Man is
the measure of all things; of the things which are, that they are, and of the
things which are not, that they are not. She concludes that Protagoras devel-
oped and supported this claim by mentioning conicting perceptual appear-
ances, and by using undecidability arguments to show that whatever seems to
be the case for one is so for one; but that this was the extent of his philosophi-
cal sophistication, since his Truth was probably a demonstration text for teach-
ing students ashy debating techniques rather than any kind of systematic
treatise more concerned with caution and accuracy than amboyance. In
chapter three, Lee addresses the scholarly debate over the last thirty years
about whether Protagoras Measure Doctrine, as Plato reconstructs it in the
Theaetetus, commits him to relativism about truth (according to which all
truth is truth for someone) or to infallibilism (according to which all beliefs are
true, but perhaps true simpliciter rather than for the one who holds them). Her
argument is that Protagoras at least starts out as an infallibilist, but is eventu-
ally forced to relativize all properties, including truth, in order to make his
infallibilism consistent. Chapter four presents an account of one of the most
hotly debated questions in ancient philosophy, whether Plato is trying to show
that Protagorean relativism is self-refuting, and, if he is, whether the attempt
succeeds. Lees response is subtle. On the one hand, she concedes that Protago-
ras can escape refutation by relativizing truth, along with everything else:
where Protagoras believes that his Measure Doctrine is true, he can acknowl-
edge the fact that everyone else believes it to be false without endangering his
own commitment to it by maintaining it is true for him but false for everyone
else. But this still leaves him in trouble, not because these claims are inconsist-
ent with one another, but because the latter is inconsistent with his assertion
that the measure doctrine itself is true for everyone, and would be tantamount
to giving up his original claim (p. ,,). What Protagoras has to cede on the
basis that some people think that his view is false is that there is at least one
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1152 Book Reviews
Mind, Vol. 115 . 460 . October 2006 Mind Association 2006
false belief (either Protagoras, or those of his opponents), and hence not all
beliefs are true. For all its considerable appeal this is perhaps the least original
section of Lees book, and those interested in a more exciting answer to the
question of whether and how Protagoras refutes himself should turn to pp. ,,
o: of D. Sedley, The Midwife of Platonism (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
:oo). The remainder of chapter four is devoted to a discussion of Aristotles
attitude to Protagoras in Metaphysics ,, as a philosopher whose mistaken
views about knowledge appear to commit them to maintaining that contra-
dictions can be true together. For all that Protagoras is such a philosopher, it
turns out that the relativized notion of truth he must adopt in order to save his
infallibilism associates him with the camp of thinkers like Heraclitus who end
up denying the truth of the principle of non-contradiction merely for the sake
of argument: for, according to Aristotle, in advance of an explanation of rela-
tive truth which Protagoras does not give, adding for S to true adds nothing:
It is true for Socrates that the stone is white is equivalent to It is (abso-
lutely) true that the stone is white for Socrates (p. ,:).
Chapter ve is a sustained and detailed analysis of the Secret Doctrine in
Platos Theaetetus. Lees conclusions dier from those of scholars such as
Burnyeat and Fine, who hold that the loose collection of slogans comprising
the Doctrine, including everything is changing in every way and nothing is
anything in itself , are meant to be materially equivalent both with Theaetetus
denition of knowledge as perception and with Protagoras claim that man is
the measure of all things. Instead she takes the Doctrine to be a collection of
hypotheses meant to clarify, by being sucient but not necessary for, the views
of Theaetetus and Protagoras. This allows Lee to avoid a pressing question
about why it is that Socrates is allowed to argue for the incompatibility of the
ux doctrine with languages applicability to the world by interpreting the ux
thesis in a prejudicially extreme way, as holding that even the agents of change
are themselves changing. Why should Socrates be so uncharitable to Heraclitus
here after the work put into making an extended case for Protgoras infallibi-
lism-cum-relativism? As Lee notes (p. II,), this question is dicult to answer
if one assumes that ux is introduced because Protagoras is committed to it:
but if he is not, as Lee argues, then we are free to interpret the refutation as try-
ing to show that the Secret Doctrine, when taken literally as some of its more
fanatical proponents do, is inconsistent with Protagoras measure doctrine,
and is internally inconsistent as well. In addition to this interpretation, readers
of the Theaetetus are likely to be particularly impressed by Lees analysis of the
Doctrines arguments about how a thing can become dierent without chang-
ing (pp. Ioo).
Chapter six turns to Aristotles reading of the Theaetetus in Metaphysics ,, in
which he draws inspiration from the dialogue in order to identify the meta-
physical and epistemological commitments that can lead someone to suppose
that contradictions can be true together: as one might expect, among these are
Protagoras Measure Doctrine, and a doctrine of ux. Aristotles main insight

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Book Reviews 1153
Mind Association 2006 Mind, Vol. 115 . 460 . October 2006
is that underlying all these views is the belief that only what can be perceived is
real, a thought which ultimately leads to scepticism and the sort of cognitive
nihilism which resulted in Cratylus famous disavowal of language. The fol-
lowing chapter unearths Aristotles reasons for making this deep connection,
discussing pre-socratic texts in which perception is treated as the bodily altera-
tion of like by like, and then the incautious extension of this model of percep-
tion to cognition generally. While Aristotle concedes in De Anima that there is
a grain of truth in the infallibilist consequences of these crude theories of per-
ception, just in so far as perception of the proper objects of a sense organ is
always true (p. Io), he deplores their inability to recognise the common and
incidental objects of perception, about which we can indeed be mistaken, and
further their mistaken assimilation of all thinking to perception. The chapter
concludes with this reviewers favourite part of the book, a discussion of Aris-
totles arguments against relativists on the grounds that they do not know
when to stop asking for explanations. This argument is worthy of revival today.
The idea is that behind the challenge of Protagoras and others undecidability
argumentsWho is the judge of the healthy man, of the sane man, of the
wise man? (p. I,,)lies the mistake of seeking a reason for things for which
no reason can be given; for the starting point of demonstration is not a dem-
onstration (Metaphysics o I:I,). As Aristotle argues in Posterior Analytics, if
there is to be proof or explanation of anything, then there must be proposi-
tions not susceptible to either proof or explanation: it is for precisely these
propositions that relativists like Protagoras illegitimately demand proof or
explanation in order to undermine any appeals to authority that suggest there
is a non-relative fact of the matter about the question at issue.
Finally, the last two chapters of the book are an extensive and detailed
reconstruction of Democritus thought, examining rst the early sources for
his views in Aristotle and Theophrastus, and then the later testimonies from
Sextus Empiricus and Galen. Lee argues convincingly that Democritus, unlike
Protagoras, was neither an infallibilist nor a relativist about truth, but that he
merits consideration alongside his predecessor because his theory that percep-
tions are the eects of atoms acting upon passive perceivers leads him to think
that things are for each as his senses tell him. The book concludes with an eval-
uation of Democritus subtle position, poised between scepticism (in so far as
we can never know how things are in themselves, but only how we have been
eected by them) and cognitive optimism (in so far as the senses are neverthe-
less a necessary means of coming to know about the non-evident). It is an
impressive end to a most valuable contribution to Ancient Philosophy.
Corpus Christi College d. t. j. bailey
Oxford
OX1 4JF
doi:Io.Io,,/mind/fzl1151

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