The Student’s Blush | Abram Kaplan | The Hypocrite Reader

Abram Kaplan

The Student’s Blush


Section 1: Blushing as a Sign of Significance

While some of Plato’s dialogues rely on the discussants’ words to convey the drama and setting that put these words in context, others are contextualized by vivid narration, often Socrates’ own. For readers invested in the content of Socrates’ arguments, it is easy to overlook the cues this narration gives, just as it is easy in a real-life conversation to neglect both linguistic and non-linguistic clues to the argument’s future development that, in retrospect, seem obvious. The highly dramatized Protagoras thematizes the interpenetration of semantic content and external clues to its significance, as now one, now the other comes to the fore.

Before sunrise one morning, young Hippocrates (not the doctor famous for his oath) knocks hard on Socrates’ door with his walking stick. “Did you hear?” he gushes at Socrates’ bedside. “Protagoras—he’s here!” Socrates indeed knows, and Hippocrates asks Socrates to introduce him to the celebrity sophist, from whom he hopes to receive an education. Socrates, concerned about Hippocrates’ hopes and Protagoras’ pedagogy, cross-examines Hippocrates about what he hopes to learn. Does he really know what a sophist teaches? Does he really know what a sophist is? While sophistic education had lately become quite popular in some Athenian aristocratic circles, it still enjoyed a poor reputation among others. After the two men relocate to the garden, Socrates poses one of his typical analogical questions to Hippocrates. If a doctor teaches one to be a doctor, and a sculptor teaches one to be a sculptor, then what does one learn from a sophist? It is Hippocrates’ turn to answer just as the sun comes up over the horizon. In doing so—“If this case is like the others, to be a sophist, surely,” he says—he blushes.

Some minutes earlier, asked by Socrates if Protagoras had wronged him, Hippocrates had declared with a laugh: surely, Socrates, for he has wisdom and won’t give me any. Hippocrates’ quick transition from laugh to blush takes place while the theme, Protagorean wisdom, remains unchanged. But Socrates doesn’t give Hippocrates the opportunity to answer the question “What is Protagoras’ wisdom?” at point-blank range. Rather, he forces the blush-worthy interpretation on Hippocrates by insisting on the analogical approach. By temporarily representing sophistic education as professional training, Socrates elicits a particular physical response (the blush) whose social and moral valences he then deploys to his own ends, asking Hippocrates, “Wouldn’t you be ashamed to call yourself a sophist in this Greek world?”

Illustration by Florence Vallières

Hippocrates’ blush is a surprise, at least to him—one has the sense that Socrates expected, even elicited it. Indeed Socrates hardly gives him time to anticipate it, seeing as he carries out the hypothetical question-and-answer session (about doctors and sculptors) on his own. No line of interpersonal conversation prepares it. Rather, Socrates’ short presentation forces malleable Hippocrates to see sophistic education as professional, and shame follows immediately—or at least as soon as this professional paradigm is directly transferred onto sophistry. Hippocrates’ slight resistance, his suggestion that perhaps “this case is not like the others,” indicates the route Socrates will thereafter take up, representing the sophist as a suitable educator for the well-rounded gentleman. But this resistance is not strong enough to keep Hippocrates from blushing, from emotionally committing to Socrates’ line of questioning at least on a certain level. The bread and butter of Socratic elenchus is precisely this: eliciting, and using, the unobvious implications of spoken commitments.

Socrates can force his interlocutors to surprise themselves because isolated exchanges don’t openly display the significance that they are eventually to play in a larger argument. In particular, the opening sally of a new line of questioning does not convey its eventual destination to the interlocutor. Socrates’ proximate aims vary widely across the Platonic dialogues and even within a single one, in accordance with the interlocutors’ psychic predicaments and their dispositions towards Socrates and in accordance with Socrates’ intention: sometimes he wants to show his interlocutor up in public, sometimes to teach him a lesson, sometimes truly to learn from him. But in the first two cases especially, by removing sensitive implications to the background of an argument, Socrates gets his interlocutors either to concede things they would not have conceded if asked out of the blue, or to take rearguard action against such a concession when they realize its increasing inevitability. At a very general level, Socratic cross-examination works by manipulating foreground and background.

Section 2: Speech and Person: Individual Significance and the Argument

Are the people with whom Socrates argues merely punching bags upon which he can foist his own arguments, or do they have a substantial role to play in the course and outcome of the discussion? The reasons Socrates’ interlocutors would not have made the concessions he elicits without being cross-examined vary no less widely than Socrates’ intentions. Often Socrates’ intentions respond directly to these reasons insofar as his elenctic strategy in any given situation depends on his interlocutor’s unique psychic predicament. He will either concede some of his interlocutors’ presuppositions (as in the Protagoras, whose final conclusion that wisdom is a calculus of pleasures rests on some Protagorean assumptions), or temporarily ignore them until he can bring them to light from a particular perspective. Socrates’ different lines of questioning here don’t merely “force” the result he wants, as so many of his interlocutors contend; they also precisely pinpoint the problem in which he is interested, which is itself often a problem of implications, of harmonies within and across several layers of meaning.

The relation between speech and person is perhaps the central structural problem of Socratic elenchus. Yet these people, their particular predicaments, often seem to recede into the background while an argument moving with the force of its own energy takes center-stage. Socrates is careful to guard against this movement away from his interlocutors’ opinions even as he encourages them to pay attention to the argument’s own movement, and to the way the consequences of their assertions resonate—or don’t—with their convictions.

Socrates’ admonitions to this effect are clearest with his most antagonistic opponents. They refuse to make concessions they otherwise would have made because, newly aware of these concessions’ implications within the context of the argument, they react strategically (consider Gorgias 495a, where Callicles explicitly says as much, or Protagoras 331c). Socrates asks these opponents to respond by considering what they really think, hoping to anchor the spoken argument in some particular experience of reality. This admonition is possible in the first place because controlled speech does not necessarily reflect or accurately represent one’s experience of reality. Within certain bounds, it can obey an agonistic logic of its own.

By contrast, with Hippocrates’ elicited blush his own psychology, his psychic predicament, comes to the physical and apparent surface. Surely it does not interrupt the speech; had it been too dark to see, or had Socrates been less aware of his interlocutor, and had Hippocrates attempted to deceive, the conversation could have continued in a different direction. Language attracts the attention, and attention determines what is foreground and what is background. But with a blush the face announces itself, putting the conversation that elicited the blush in its “significant context,” a context itself not always indicated by the semantic content of the eliciting words. The significance of the conversation would go through Hippocrates’ shame even if it were never discussed (as it is here) explicitly. Linguistic gestures, that is, interjections such as heartfelt oaths, function similarly. But oftentimes the significant context goes unremarked; no sign brings it to the surface.

Early in the Protagoras, Socrates forces the sophist to concede two contradictory positions, and asks him to choose between them. Protagoras offers Socrates, instead, the opportunity to examine a popular opinion that he denigrates, hoping to free himself of being shown up yet again. Whereas Socrates had earlier insisted that Protagoras express his own opinion, here (333c) he grants Protagoras the seeming liberty he desires: as long as you answer, Socrates explains, it doesn’t matter to me whether you are answering with your opinion, because it’s really the argument that I am interested in examining.

This liberation is ultimately superficial in the literal sense: it obtains on the surface level of the conversation, that which is explicitly acknowledged. Socrates makes this concession perhaps in order to entice the sophist into continuing the conversation despite his reluctance, perhaps hoping to convince the spectators that his intentions are not ad hominem. Either way, Socrates then qualifies it: it may happen that both my respondent and I as questioner are tested as well, he says. The ramifications of an argument’s semantic content exceed the boundaries that are allegedly set up to contain it, because the boundaries can themselves draw attention to these ramifications. Here, for instance, the fact that the argument can (Socrates claims) exist independently of those who propound it, that even its denigrator can carry it out, testifies to a level of reality or self-consistency that inheres in speech, a level that Protagoras overlooks.

Even as he holds up as an ideal the harmony of different speeches with each other, Socrates pays careful attention to the individual predicaments of his interlocutors. Consider Thrasymachus’ violent interjection in Book I of the Republic. As Socrates’ discussion with Polemarchus draws to a close, Thrasymachus dramatically springs himself on the interlocutors, accusing them of talking nonsense. Thrasymachus had been agitated for some time. But Socrates stresses that he had noticed Thrasymachus at the very moment when he began to become exasperated, and in particular that he was able to answer Thrasymachus’ objection precisely because he had seen Thrasymachus first (Republic 336d-e). Socrates’ key elenctic tactic is to tailor his argument to his opponent’s sensitivities; he does the same with Protagoras (Protagoras 333e).

Section 3: Public Significations and Two Kinds of Context

It is useful to distinguish between two types of significations within a Platonic dialogue, those potentially available to the disputants themselves and those unavailable to them. In the examples above, Thrasymachus’ growing frustration, Hippocrates’ blush, and Protagoras’ desire to have his opinion be left alone are instances of the former; Socrates’ gloss that he noticed Thrasymachus getting angry, by contrast, is available only to those who are listening to Socrates narrate his conversation. Like the Republic, the Protagoras is a narrated dialogue, one that Socrates recounts to an unnamed comrade from his first-person perspective immediately after his meeting with Protagoras. These narrated dialogues are generally denser in dramatic detail—both the significations available during the course of the conversation and those Socrates adds later—than dramatic dialogues like the Theaetetus. These dramatic details are available to everyone. As significations of the first group, they give Socrates an inkling of what to expect by illuminating the interlocutors’ psychic predicaments; as clues about the future, they suggest blind spots for Socrates to exploit. Still, although they are “potentially” available to the disputants, many interlocutors miss them entirely.

These invisible significations leave Socrates open to the charge of irony. (While Socrates’ recounted gloss can also be ironic, Plato never lets us see the listeners’ reactions.) Socrates is accused of being ironic when he endorses a statement that most people, following the official mores of the city, would also endorse or purport to endorse. Inferring from that statement an opinion he judges to be foolish, the interlocutor accuses Socrates of irony, not believing that Socrates really holds such a view due to some signification of his own that causes him to judge Socrates as something of an intellectual equal. Socrates, however, often does intend a literal meaning of the statement, although one whose significations and therefore significance are profoundly different from those the interlocutor infers. This interlocutor misses Socrates’ irony because he invariably enters the conversation with the assumption that the opinion of the many couldn’t possibly be true, no matter how it is intended. Statements and actions signify via each interlocutor’s psychic predicament, and this predicament can limit the ways in which a statement can be understood.

Statements also signify via their world-context. When Socrates recounts his dialogue with Protagoras to his unnamed comrade, he adds a layer of signification via quotation from and allusion to Odyssey XI, presenting himself as the protagonist in a rewriting of Odysseus’ trip to Hades, whose place is taken by Callias’ house. This level of signification is of course unavailable to Protagoras. But its function here is to interpret the real-life difficulty of entry to Callias’ house and the nature of the gathering, two things of which Protagoras should be aware, because it is his point of pride that he declares himself openly to be a sophist. Socrates targeted precisely this openness in making Hippocrates blush, pointing out the public before which he would be ashamed to identify himself as a sophist. Socrates contends that Protagoras’ shamelessness is caused ultimately by his ignorance, his total cluelessness about how his presence and practice look from the outside. Protagoras is blind to the impression he makes, both for the pragmatic reason that he does not himself have to experience the difficulty of entry, and for the philosophic reason that he profoundly misunderstands the nature of appearance.

Section 4: Education and Personal Transformation: the Socratic Position

Socratic education occurs by making the ramifications of particular claims apparent to the student. But particular claims can ramify in many ways depending on the context in which they are considered. Socratic education therefore also requires the teacher to choose from among different possible contexts, reinforcing some significations and passing over others silently (consider Socrates’ decision not to challenge Theaetetus at Theaetetus 163c). By selecting the appropriate context in which to consider a claim, Socrates produces a particular appearance, a particular constellation of claims and their consequences. By emphasizing one such context, he transforms the student, for whom that context becomes part of the claim’s appearance.

The dialogue opens with a taunt: “Where are you coming from, Socrates?” the comrade asks. “But no, don’t tell me—you must have come from hunting your boyfriend, Alcibiades. I’ve just seen him, and although he’s becoming a man— his beard is filling out—he’s still beautiful.” Socrates returns the taunt in kind, highlighting Protagoras’ celebrity: “Don’t you know that Homer says this is the most charming time of youth? Anyway, sure, I was with him, but I hardly noticed him, for I was in the presence of someone far more beautiful—if wisdom is indeed beautiful.” “Were you in the presence of a wise man?” asks the comrade. “Sure,” says Socrates, “if you think Protagoras is wise.” “What!” exclaims the comrade, “Is Protagoras here?” “For two days already,” Socrates says. The comrade urges him to relate the dialogue, and he tells how Hippocrates visited him before dawn, asked him for an introduction to Protagoras, and blushed.

The blush appears involuntarily on Hippocrates’ cheeks by dint of his natural reaction to the surface-level semantic content of the conversation, the level Socrates’ questioning emphasizes. Hippocrates’ shame has no single “pure” manifestation. Indeed few aspects of one’s interior do. Rather, this facet of Hippocrates’ interior is provoked by Socrates’ careful focus of the conversation’s drift on this specific issue, the shame of being called a sophist. But this shame does not only exist at the moment of its appearing; rather, it persists into the future no less than it existed in the past. Socrates expected it. The continuity of the person is, here, not a moral prerequisite of Socrates’ pedagogy but rather a technical prerequisite of his conversational mastery. Socrates wins discussions because he is best able to accommodate the relationship between what his interlocutors feel and what they will say.

Note that this moral recognition, which Socrates deftly elicits by anticipating Hippocrates’ feelings about “being a sophist” as an explicit ascription, is a false one. One does not train with a sophist to become a sophist; one does so to acquire an education for gentlemen. Socrates takes full advantage of the reaction he has contrived. Afforded the appearance of the blush by the accident of sunrise, he infers a pathos, a suffering—that is, shame—from this physical reaction. But his interpretation goes beyond what is certain: perhaps Hippocrates is ashamed for some other reason or before some other public. By specifying his diagnosis in this way, Socrates gives impressionable Hippocrates a way to understand his own reaction, and impresses this interpretation upon him. The continuous person is not entirely self-identical, and only thus is education possible.

Hippocrates is unaware that education is transformative. Protagoras, too, seems not to understand this, although in a rather different way. Protagoras has an understanding—some understanding—of what education is, and so the moral transformation that is often a consequence of being educated turns out to be a particular lack in Protagoras’ understanding of his own vocation. Hippocrates seems not to have much of an idea of how education works at all. Thus for Hippocrates this ignorance is not the specific ignorance that it turns out to be for Protagoras; it is more generally expressive of cluelessness. Accordingly, Socrates’ critique of Hippocrates’ desire for a sophistical education is less critical than constructive. He offers young Hippocrates (who, after all, never speaks with Protagoras himself) a preliminary moral education that replaces the one he would have received from an unwitting, or at least unconcerned, Protagoras. A sophistically educated Hippocrates would be sufficiently transformed that he would possibly no longer feel shame at calling himself a sophist.

Socrates asks Hippocrates: don’t you know that when you buy food or drink, you can carry it home in a container, so that an expert can inspect it before you consume it? In this way, he explains, you can be sure only to consume things that are good for you. But when you get an education, the only vessel is your person, and as soon as you receive the stuff, he continues, it becomes part of you. After that, no expertise can be of service. Getting an education, Socrates instructs Hippocrates, is a dangerous thing, for you have no way of knowing what you’re getting.

By likening the person to a container, Socrates anticipates his own image of the parts of virtue that he later offers to Protagoras: they are like the parts of a face. The likeness is merely a suggestion. But it is a pregnant one, and it is doubly emphasized insofar as it responds dramatically to Hippocrates’ blush. Here the surface of the person, his face, more directly reveals his depth than the language that is generally taken to be an expression of this moral interior. This is not a rule; the other Platonic reflex, laughter, also comes from inside via the same route that language uses. But both laughter and language, like the blush, are temporal phenomena that constitute the surface at a given time and then cease to do so. The self-identity of the surface of the container contrasts with the variability of the surface of the person. The variation of the surface is, for Socrates, proof of the existence of depth rather than proof of the non-existence of the person.

Illustration by Florence Vallières

In the Theaetetus, the only other dialogue in which Protagoras himself appears (rather, Socrates summons his head from beyond the grave and bids it speak), shame, sight, and all other pathoi are depicted as the irreproducible chance products of a meeting between self and world. No two occurrences of shame are alike because no two sets of circumstances that elicit them are alike. Here, Protagoras (or Socrates’ presentation of him) explicitly denies that variation of the surface is a sign of personal continuity. Rather, the continuity of the self-contained person is a prerequisite of Protagoras’ depiction of experience: I experience world, world comes to be for me. Thus the person is not problematized. At the same time, this supposition frees Protagoras from the need to consider patterns in the surface as a sign of underlying coherence.

Socrates is far more careful. In whatever way he presupposes or infers the existence of the person, he does so by conceiving of the person not as an absolutely self-same site of experience, but in terms of temporal continuity: the person fundamentally has something to do both with the self-same world he or she experiences, and with the self-same experiences he or she furnishes others. In other words, the Socratic person is not metaphysically essentialist; it is phenomenal. But discursively, this seemingly dogmatic assertion—namely, that the self has to do with what is self-same in its experience—is confirmed by his interlocutors’ desire not to contradict themselves. It is not only Socrates who supposes that self-contradiction is problematic; almost all of his discussion partners also reflexively do so.

Self-consistency is one major prerequisite of victory when arguing with Socrates, or at any rate, self-contradiction is one of the major signs of defeat. (Another is being too ashamed of one’s opinions to say what one really thinks.) But the possibility of self-consistency is also a technical prerequisite of Socratic discursivity: conversation is possible only because one can refer back to things said in the past and compare them with things said in the present. As a structural feature of discussion, this possibility is widely, though by no means universally, accepted by Socrates’ interlocutors. Invoking their desire not to contradict themselves in speech, Socrates attempts to transform this technical claim into a moral claim by bringing the reality that speech signifies (a reality often forgotten in favor of the finer points of logic) into the foreground. This is how we should understand his perhaps manipulative rephrasing of Hippocrates’ desire to learn from Protagoras in terms of the desire to become a sophist. Socrates strengthens the ties between speech and reality.

Section 5: How Protagoras Appears and Is: the Unironic Surface

I mentioned earlier that Platonic dialogues have two types of signification, those available to the interlocutors and those unavailable to them. Protagoras’ local context, the setting in which Socrates finds him, should be part of the former. But Protagoras’ ignorance of his own real context stresses his more general ignorance of the importance of appearance. What should be a signification fully available to all the interlocutors becomes, in this dialogue, one available only to Socrates. This transmigration mimetically emphasizes Protagoras’ central intellectual error, at least from one perspective: his reluctance to take account of his setting.

Outside Callias’ house, a eunuch answers Socrates and Hippocrates’ entreaty to enter as the two discuss some unnamed topic before the front door. “More sophists!” says the eunuch, slamming the door in their face; “He’s busy!” “We’re not sophists,” Socrates explains through the closed door, “we’re just here to see Protagoras.” After some pleading, he and Hippocrates are invited inside, where they are left to fend for themselves: there is no reception.

Conversation itself signifies sophistry to Callias’ eunuch bouncer. The eunuch, seemingly used to sophists’ frequent visits at Callias’ father’s house, infers from Socrates’ probably highfalutin language that both he and Hippocrates are the very teachers of wisdom familiar to him—an ironic inference because Hippocrates has come to be educated, and Socrates too has come (he purports) in order to discover what exactly it is that sophists teach. Socrates’ investigation will, at least superficially, take the form of an inquiry into the content of Protagoras’ speeches rather than into their form. But this form, the material quality of the speech, also signifies, especially to those who lack either the training or the patience to engage with the content.

For the eunuch, Socrates’ discursive comportment qualifies him as a sophist, and his protestation otherwise then revokes this qualification. The eunuch’s first judgment is based on “what it looks like” and his second judgment on “what it says it is” and no effort is made to reconcile these opposites. Socrates’ examination of Protagoras, of what a sophist teaches, aims at reconciling these two levels.

Socrates’ depiction of Callias’ house to his comrade interlocutor is a carefully wrought semantically pregnant setting. Socrates and Hippocrates pass through the guarded door to a selectively publicized meeting; whereas both Hippocrates and the comrade take two days to discover that Greece’s greatest celebrity is in town, Socrates—like the other youthful members of the Athenian aristocracy in attendance, the crème-de-la-crème of Athens’ ruling class—seems to be “in the loop.” In Callias’ portico, they find Protagoras propounding and parading, flanked by an entourage of foreigners who split in two and circle back when the master changes direction. Two other foreign sophists, Hippias and Prodicus, also hold court, the former magisterially propounding on the things aloft from a high seat, the latter lolling in a cave-like former storage room, wrapped in animal-skin blankets.

Coming between the levels of signification potentially available to the disputants and the levels available only to the reader, Socrates’ presentation of Callias’ house as Hades—the eunuch is Cerberus, Protagoras is Orpheus, and the other sophists are Hercules and Tantalus—stresses with more than the usual emphasis the significance of the surface as such. Here surface functions as a boundary discriminating outside and inside like the vessel referred to earlier. The entry and Protagoras’ blindness thereof is mimetic of his obliviousness to appearance in general. Protagoras declares openly that he is a sophist, and believes that in so doing he states what he is and does honestly and transparently. But he fails to realize that his claim will be understood in ways that he cannot control, that calling oneself a sophist can appear blushingly problematic to a young boy to whom studying sophistry seems inoffensive.

Protagoras’ appearance is both the peripheral issue that instigates the dialogue and a key theme in the dialogue’s central arguments. Speaking on behalf of Hippocrates, Socrates asks Protagoras to make a display of what Hippocrates might learn from him. Protagoras believes that it is possible to do so in an uncompromised way; in other words, he believes that the results of a gentlemanly education program can be sufficiently made clear to those who have not received the program. Precisely this presupposition permits him comfortably to declare that he is a teacher of wisdom. His first claim, that he makes his students “better,” betrays his ignorance in this respect, for he does not understand that different people understand “better” in different ways. Rather, here he takes the popular meaning for granted, relying at this crucial moment on the common appearance that he sometimes denigrates, at others seems to be ignorant of. He represents himself as a teacher but does not control the appearance of what he claims to teach, thoroughly unaware of his own dependence on a popular understanding that his own pedagogic enterprise undermines.

Protagoras had compared himself favorably to the poets whose works were then used for gentlemanly education, stressing his honesty as against their deception. But it turns out that to claim publicly that one is a sophist is equally deceptive, even if unintentionally so. In the domain of pedagogy, the epistemic transparency Protagoras purports to offer is not actually possible. Systematically oblivious or indifferent to the multiplicity of possible ramifications, his self-presentation is unwittingly committed to the truth of the surface in a fundamentally unironic way. By contrast, Socrates’ sensitivity to the implicit ramifications of individual statements and gestures indicates the actual truth of the surface, namely, its profoundly ironic one. Surface points beyond itself, and the coherence of its own movements must be sought on other levels. The continuity of the person must be understood in terms of the continuity of the argument’s semantic content, and the continuity of the argument in terms of the person.

Section 6: Speech and Person Redux: Psychic Continuity as a Technical Prerequisite of Socratic Conversation

Socrates’ conversation with Protagoras eventually turns to the questions: Is virtue teachable? Is virtue one? Protagoras’ ignorance about the appearance of wisdom, and his inexperience in thinking about it, are evidenced by the degree to which his argument with Socrates—which on one level remains about the appearance of virtue for its duration—is always out of Protagoras’ control. Blind to the significance of his positions, he doesn’t anticipate the conclusions to which Socrates will lead the argument by drawing out implications. Awareness of significance permits control of the conversation because significance has predictive power. This predictive power is implied by the three-part technical presupposition of Socratic elenchus: that no claim, no position, no statement is really isolated; that each therefore has myriad ramifications established in relation to its dialogical and real-world context; and, crucially, that one can become familiar with these ramifications, which continue to obtain in new contexts. Whereas significance is contextually determined, possibilities of signification are limited by realities that semantically inhere in speech.

Protagoras’ failure to grasp the importance of appearance is related to his failure to understand that education is person-transformative. Indeed the continuity of the person and the transformative nature of education, seemingly incommensurate, are the obverse and reverse of the Socratic coin; as ways of understanding appearance and experience, they come together. The self-contained person of the Theaetetus is, perhaps, continuous in the sense that a stream of experiences in time can be assigned to or possessed by an individual. But in the Protagorean telling, no two experiences at different times can be understood in terms of each other; rather, each experience is uniquely produced by the encounter between the seemingly content-less individual and the similarly indefinite world. This continuity can’t be understood as moral in any sense because it has no content: unlike Socratic self-understanding, Protagorean experience does not involve reflection on or consideration of past and future. Any talk of transformation is thereby also obviated, as what it would mean to compare one’s present experience to one’s past experience—to assess therewith what has been changed—is unclear.

Where the account of personhood in the Theaetetus suppresses the continuity of the person in favor of the productive power of context, the non-transformative educational program Protagoras offers in the Protagoras neglects context entirely. At the end of the dialogue, Protagoras accepts Socrates’ interpretation of wisdom as a calculus of pleasures, a way of measuring that permits one to maximize one’s pleasures and minimize one’s pains. As a corollary, Protagoras also concedes Socrates’ account of why people often choose smaller pleasures in the present rather than larger ones in the future. Time, Socrates contends, is a spatial dimension with perspectival consequences: its effect on pleasures is to make distant ones seem smaller, not to change their quality. Thus on the one hand future pleasures are immune to changes in personality, and on the other they are not so conditioned by their context that they cannot be compared, quantity-to-quantity, across time and space. In this picture, any continuous person is not one that responds to its environment. The calculus of pleasures therefore fails to account for the real-life phenomenon of transformation—signaled not only by Socrates’ conversation with Hippocrates, but also by Alcibiades’ transition from youth to manhood.