Man Is The Measure Of All Things: Protagoras

It’s a summers day in London and the sun is shining. A visitor from India says that the weather is cold. A visitor from Iceland says that the weather is hot. Both people are telling the truth, but they’re saying very different things. How can this be? Surely there’s only one correct answer to a question?

The Greek philosopher Protagoras (490-420 BC) would argue that there is no way to tell these two people that they are wrong, they’re both telling the truth based on their own experience and perception.

The weather example is a simple one, but how far does this extend to?

There Are Two Sides To a Coin

Every argument has two sides, and both may be equally valid. Belief can be subjective, and it is the person holding the opinion that is the measure of its worth.

The idea of ‘truth’ or right and wrong is not always definite. For example, a good debater, can win a debate with the weaker argument, soley based on their arguing and debating skills. Proving not the validity of the argument, but the persuasiveness of the debater.

Protagoras taught that we should reject the existence of absolute definitions of things and what we consider to be right or wrong.

Everything Is Relative

Everyone’s view and interpretation of something may be different. Our perceptions and thinking is based on our individual background, knowledge or experiences, producing a unique way of looking at the world.

To claim that everyone experiences the same thing, or sees things the same way is unrealistic.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”

Albert Einstein


Protagoras famously stated that “man is the measure of all things“, meaning that what we often hold to be true is subjective and depends on our own perspective.

This can help us in our thinking and our understanding of others. We may wonder how on earth someone could possibly think something different; they’re obviously wrong?! But we are all unique and our thinking may have been shaped by different past experiences.

It’s not that someone else is wrong, they may just have different references that are causing them to believe something different to you.

A good idea, may be to try to understand someone else’s references first, before disagreeing with their point of view.

Taking the weather example above, instead of disagreeing, saying that they are wrong and that it’s obviously cold, you could instead ask “what is a normal temperature for you”.

By taking this approach you can start to understand the other person’s reference for their truth and start to understand their world view. Helping you to live a better, and more interesting life.

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