Editor's note: After blind peer review, this paper was selected for reading at the University of Dayton's 10th annual Philosophy Colloquium, held Feb. 27-28, 1981.

In a famous argument at the end of the Protagoras Socrates undertakes to show (a) that the thesis that one can act contrary to what one knows to be best is "absurd," given the explanation of such actions as being due to the agent's being "overcome by pleasure," and given the hedonistic standards of evaluation to which most people are committed; and (b) that the correct explanation of such actions is that they are due to the agent's ignorance, i.e., his failure to know what is best in the circumstances. Like many others, I want to know what Socrates thinks the absurdity in question is and whether he is correct in making the charge. I also want to know on what grounds he bases his rival explanation and whether these grounds are compelling. In what follows I set out the thesis under attack, determine to what extent hedonism is being relied upon in the argument, diagnose and analyse the absurdity, and analyse the argument which sponsors Socrates' rival explanation. I hope to offer some fresh insights into the logical structure and assumptions of the argument, and shall express disagreement with some existing interpretations where such expression is indicated.



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