THE CORRECTNESS OF NAMES: PLATO'S OWN "NATURE" THESIS IN THE "CRATYLUS"

MICHAEL D PALMER, Marquette University

Abstract

This monograph deals with Plato's Cratylus, a dialogue which advertises itself from the outset as an inquiry into the question of the correctness of names. In the prologue, the inquiry is cast as a confrontation between two competing theses on this question. Two participants in the dialogue, Hermogenes and Cratylus, seem to differ in their accounts of correctness. Cratylus reportedly holds that correctness obtains by reason of some natural relation between the name and the thing named; Hermogenes contends that correctness of names obtains by reason of convention and agreement among those who make names. Since Socrates, the third participant in the dialogue, begins the inquiry by criticizing Hermogenes' "convention" thesis and later levels criticism against Cratylus' "nature" thesis, we are led to wonder whether Plato himself takes a position on the question of the correctness of names. Some authorities have said that the dialogue is aporetic and that, as in some of the soc-called "Socratic" dialogues, Plato takes no position on the dialogue's central question. Others have held that the Cratylus is little more than a sportive satire directed against the sophists. I reject both readings of the dialogue. My own interpretation entails two principal contentions. First, Hermogenes and Cratylus differ with one another but only over a relatively insignificant point about the correctness of names: how names come to have their unique physical configuration. At a more basic level, they stand in general agreement: their views reduce to a version of conventionalism. Second, we can disern in the Cratylus a positive statement of Plato's own theory of the correctness of names. Other interpreters have argued in one way or another for this second contention, but the specific account that I offer makes my verision of the contention unique. Plato's own position on the correctness of names is predicated on the notion that reality divides into discrete real units. Names are given, in part, in order to mark these "natural" (i.e., nonconventional) units of reality. Plato, I argue, holds (or at least assumes) that a name is correct (a) if it successfully (and directly) picks out a real unit or kind or object, and (b) if it correctly describes the entity that it names.

Recommended Citation

MICHAEL D PALMER, "THE CORRECTNESS OF NAMES: PLATO'S OWN "NATURE" THESIS IN THE "CRATYLUS"" (January 1, 1984). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI8422828.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8422828

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