OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
though it were Descartes speaking? Is it not through Plato that the being of beings if fully grasped as the visible, the ἰδέα? Is not the relation to beings as such, for Aristotle, pure looking? And yet it is no more the case the Protagoras' Sophistic statement is subjectivism than it is the case that Descartes had the capacity to bring about the overturning of Greek thought. Through Plato's thinking and Aristotle's questioning there occurred, to be sure, a decisive transformation of the interpretation of beings and of man. But this transformation always remained within the Greeks' fundamental experience of beings. Precisely as a struggle against the Sophistic, and so as dependent on it, this transformed interpretation proves so decisive as to become the ending of the Greek world, and ending which indirectly helps to prepare the possibility of the modern age. This is the reason that, later on, not just in the Middle Ages but right through the modern age and up to the present, Platonic and Aristotelian thought was able to be taken as Greek thought per se, and why all pre-Platonic thought could be considered to be merely a preparation for Plato. Because we have long been accustomed to understand Greece in terms of a modern humanistic interpretation, it remains denied to us to think being as it opened itself to Greek antiquity, to think it in a way that allows it its ownness and strangeness.
Protagoras' statement reads:
πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἐστίν ἄνθρωπος, τῶν µέν ὄντων ὡς ἐστιν, τῶν δὲ οὐκ ὄντων ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν
(cf. Plato's Theaetetus 152a)
Of all things (those, namely, that man has around him in use and usage, χρήματα χρήσθαι) man is (in each case) the measure, of what presences, that it so presences, of that, however, to which presencing is denied, that it does not presence.
The being whose being is up for decision is understood, here, as that which is present in the sphere of man, arriving in this region, of itself. Who, however, is "man"? Plato tells us in the same passage by having Socrates say:
Does he (Protagoras) not understand this somewhat as follows? Whatever, at a given time, something shows itself to me as, of such an aspect is it (also) for me; but whatever it shows itself to you as, is it not such a turn for you? But you are a man just as much as I.
Man is here, accordingly, the man in each particular case (I and you, he and she). And should not this έγώ coincide with Descartes' ego cogito?