The Athenian Charvak

Protagoras (490-420 BC), a sophist was an atheist, a rarity those days in Greece. One of the false charges against Socrates in the Athenian judicial assembly consisting of 1000 judges was corrupting the youth by spreading atheism. Plao’s last work, LAWS, restrains the state from capital punishents except for the serious crimes, like atheism. Sophists were alien residents, considered to be robing universities. They will teach for a fee but in the fashion of Guru-dakshina that was decided by the pupil. There were no public institutions; Plato’s Academy was the first public education institution in Athens. The difference between Gurukul system and Athenian system was that in the former the student goes to the teacher and in the later the teacher goes to the student.

Plato’s one of the dialogues, is titled on his name, in which Plato credits him with having invented the role of the professional sophist or teacher of virtue. He is also believed to have created a major controversy during ancient times through his statement that man is the measure of all things. This idea was very revolutionary for the time and contrasting to other philosophical doctrines that claimed the universe was based on something objective, outside the human influence.

An alien in Athens from Thrace, originally, it is said that he originally made his living as a porter but one day he was seen by the philosopher Democritus, another radical philosopher of his time along with Heractlitus, carrying a load of small pieces of wood tied with a short cord. Democritus discovered that Protagoras had tied the load himself with such perfect geometric accuracy that it revealed him to be a mathematic prodigy. He immediately took him into his own household and taught him philosophy.

Few quotes:

“As to gods, I have no way of knowing either that they exist or do not exist, or what they are like”.

“Let us hold our discussion together in our own persons, making trial of the truth and of ourselves.”

“Man is the measure of all things.”

“No intelligent man believes that anybody ever willingly errs or willingly does base and evil deeds; they are well aware that all who do base and evil things do them unwillingly.”

“The Athenians are right to accept advice from anyone, since it is incumbent on everyone to share in that sort of excellence, or else there can be no city at all.”

Ish Mishra, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Hindu College, University of Delhi

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  1. Sally Dugman says:

    Hi Ish,

    “No intelligent man believes that anybody ever willingly errs or willingly does base and evil deeds; they are well aware that all who do base and evil things do them unwillingly.” … It’s a hermeneutical issue at best. I doubt that Josef Mengele or Vlad the Impaler thought of themselves as “evil.” I, though, do consider that some people do undertake very wrongful actions and, aware that they are wrong, revel in them. … Oh, I should know very well as such an understanding is deeply embedded in me:

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    As an aside, you may wish to explore Spinoza: Excerpt:

    Spinoza’s philosophy is founded upon a rejection of the God that informs the Abrahamic religions. His God lacks all the psychological and moral characteristics of a transcendent, providential deity. The Deus of Spinoza’s philosophical masterpiece, the Ethics (1677), is not a kind of person. It has no beliefs, hopes, desires or emotions. Nor is Spinoza’s God a good, wise and just lawgiver who will reward those who obey its commands and punish those who go astray. For Spinoza, God is Nature, and all there is is Nature (his phrase is Deus sive Natura, ‘God or Nature’). Whatever is exists in Nature, and happens with a necessity imposed by the laws of Nature. There is nothing beyond Nature and there are no departures from Nature’s order – miracles and the supernatural are an impossibility.

    There are no values in Nature. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad, nor does Nature or anything in Nature exist for the sake of some purpose. Whatever is, just is. Early in the Ethics, Spinoza says that ‘all the prejudices I here undertake to expose depend on this one: that men commonly suppose that all natural things act, as men do, on account of an end; indeed, they maintain as certain that God himself directs all things to some certain end; for they say that God has made all things for man, and man that he might worship God’.

    Spinoza is often labelled a ‘pantheist’, but ‘atheist’ is a more appropriate term. Spinoza does not divinise Nature. Nature is not the object of worshipful awe or religious reverence. ‘The wise man,’ he says, ‘seeks to understand Nature, not gape at it like a fool’. The only appropriate attitude to take toward God or Nature is a desire to know it through the intellect.


  2. Ish Mishra says:

    Dear Shally
    Absolutely agree with you as there is no absolute. Shall reflect upon it later.

  3. I believe that people that go out of their way to hurt someone knows that they are hurting them. Especially if they are using words in a text or letter. I could understand that if it was a face to face conversation they had no clue. But if one can sit down and think of things that they can do to another then they will known that it was evil. They knew that they were going to do evil. By no means does one sit down and think it is good works for trying to ruin ones life. Common sense.

  4. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Greece has produced many great philosophers who questioned status quo and dogmas followed by rulers and imposed on people. Democritus was one such philosopher who believed in humanity