Skip to main content

Prodicus of Ceos

PRODICUS OF CEOS

Prodicus of Ceos, the Greek Sophist, was probably born before 460 BCE and was still alive at the time of the death of Socrates in 399 BCE. He traveled widely as an ambassador for Ceos and also earned a great deal of money lecturing in various Greek cities, especially in Athens. His writings are known to have dealt with physical doctrines, with religious and moral themes, and above all with distinctions between the meanings of words usually treated as synonyms. Socrates attended a lecture by him on the last of these topics and regularly claimed to be a pupil of Prodicus in the art of synonymy (Protagoras 341a, Meno 96d).

In physics he appears to have treated the four elements of Empedocles as divine, and no doubt they formed the basis of the cosmology of Prodicus, to which Aristophanes refers in the Birds (1.692), although the fanciful cosmology that follows is probably not based on that of Prodicus. Prodicus further held that those natural objects and powers that are useful to human life were made the objects of cult and treated as gods by men. Inevitably, he was later classed as an atheist, but it is more likely that he offered an account of the origin of the gods that was not intended to deny their existence.

In a work titled the Horae (Hours) he included the since famous story "Heracles Where the Road Divides," of which we have a fairly full summary in Book II of Xenophon's Memorabilia. Vice and Virtue appear to Heracles personified as women and invite him to choose between them. Each describes what she has to offer, and Heracles chooses the arduous tasks of Virtue rather than the pleasures of Vice.

Of greater philosophic interest is the ethical relativism attributed to Prodicus in the pseudo-Platonic dialogue the Eryxias. There he is apparently quoted as arguing that what is good for one man is not good for another man, so that we cannot speak of anything as good simpliciter. On the other hand, the goodness of a thing does not depend on the goodness of the user (although some scholars have interpreted him this way). Rather, the value of a thing inheres in the thing itself in such a way that it will be good in relation to one person and not good in relation to another, according to the person and the way in which it is used.

The discussion of synonyms and the right use of words clearly involved fine distinctions of meaning between words. Many examples quoted are ethical, and a term of narrower application is commonly distinguished from one of wider application that includes in its range of meaning the meaning of the first term. The value of such distinctions is clear in rhetorical argument. But Prodicus was also eager to reject the kind of view found in Democritus, according to which there can be different names for the same thing since names are attached to things by convention only. Prodicus maintained, it would seem, that no two words have the same meaning, and in this he at least prepared the way for the search for precisely stated meanings that later fascinated Socrates and Plato.

See also Ethical Relativism; Sophists.

Bibliography

texts and translations

Diels, H., and W. Kranz, eds. Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. 10th ed. Vol. II. Berline, 1961.

Sprague, R. K., ed. The Older Sophists: A Complete Translation by Several Hands of the Fragments in die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, ed. by Diels-Kranz. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1972.

studies

Guthrie, W. K. C. The Sophists. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

Kerferd, G. B. The Sophistic Movement. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Kerferd, G. B. "The 'Relativism' of Prodicus." Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 37 (1954): 249256.

G. B. Kerferd (1967)

Bibliography updated by Paul Woodruff (2005)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Prodicus of Ceos." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Encyclopedia.com. 10 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Prodicus of Ceos." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/prodicus-ceos

"Prodicus of Ceos." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Retrieved December 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/prodicus-ceos

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.