Cratylus (dialogue)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Plato from The School of Athens by Raphael, 1509
Part of the series on:
The Dialogues of Plato
Early dialogues:
EuthyphroFirst Alcibiades
Hippias MajorHippias Minor
Transitional & middle dialogues:
Later middle dialogues:
Late dialogues:
Of doubtful authenticity:
On JusticeOn Virtue
Rival LoversSecond Alcibiades

Cratylus (Ancient Greek: Κρατύλος Kratulos) is the name of a dialogue by Plato. Most modern scholars agree that it was written mostly during Plato's so-called middle period.[1] In the dialogue, Socrates is asked by two men, Cratylus and Hermogenes, to tell them whether names are "conventional" or "natural", that is, whether language is a system of arbitrary signs or whether words have an intrinsic relation to the things they signify.



[edit] Summary

When discussing how a word would relate to its subject, Socrates compares the original creation of a word to the work of an artist.[2] An artist uses color to express the essence of his subject in a painting. In much the same way, the creator of words uses letters containing certain sounds to express the essence of a word's subject. There is a letter that is best for soft things, one for liquid things, and so on.[3] He comments, "the best possible way to speak consists in using names all (or most) of which are like the things they name (that is, are appropriate to them), while the worst is to use the opposite kind of names."[4]

One countering position, held by Hermogenes, is that names have come about due to custom and convention. They do not express the essence of their subject, so they can be swapped with something unrelated by the individuals or communities who use them.[5]

The line between the two perspectives is often blurred.[clarification needed] During more than half of the dialogue, Socrates makes guesses at Hermogenes' request as to where names and words have come from. These include the names of the Olympian gods, personified deities, and many words that describe abstract concepts. He examines whether, for example, giving names of "streams" to Cronus and Rhea (Ροή – flow or space) are purely accidental.[6] Many of the words which Socrates uses as examples may have come from an idea originally linked to the name, but have changed over time. Those of which he cannot find a link, he often assumes have come from foreign origins or have changed so much as to lose all resemblance to the original word. He states, "names have been so twisted in all manner of ways, that I should not be surprised if the old language when compared with that now in use would appear to us to be a barbarous tongue."[7]

The final theory of relations between name and object named is posited by Cratylus, a disciple of Heraclitus, who believes that names arrive from divine origins, making them necessarily correct. Socrates rebukes this theory by reminding Cratylus of the imperfection of certain names in capturing the objects they seek to signify. From this point, Socrates ultimately rejects the study of language, believing it to be philosophically inferior to a study of things themselves.

Back to 'THE TABLES'

[edit] Appropriate sounds

  • ρ ('r') is a "tool for copying every sort of motion (wikt:κίνησις)."[8][foot 1]
  • ι ('i') for imitating "all the small things that can most easily penetrate everything",[9][foot 2]
  • φ ('phi'), ψ ('psi'). σ ('s'), and ζ ('z') as "all these letters are pronounced with an expulsion of breath", they are most appropriate for imitating "blowing or hard breathing".[10][foot 3]
  • δ ('d') and τ ('t') as both involve "compression and [the] stopping of the power of the tongue" when pronounced, they are most appropriate for words indicating a lack or stopping of motion.[10][11][foot 4]
  • λ ('l'), as "the tongue glides most of all" when pronounced, it is most appropriate for words denoting a sort of gliding.[11][foot 5]
  • γ ('g') best used when imitating "something cloying", as the gliding of the tongue is stopped when pronounced.[11][foot 6]
  • ν ('n') best used when imitating inward things, as it is "sounded inwardly".[11][12][foot 7]
  • α ('a'), η ('long e') best used when imitating large things, as they are both "pronounced long".[12][foot 8]
  • ο ('o') best used when imitating roundness.[12][foot 9]
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Back to 'THE TABLES'

[edit] Platonic Theory of Forms

Plato's theory of forms also makes an appearance, when, for example, no matter what, say, a hammer, is made out of, it is still called a "hammer", and thus is the Form of a hammer:

Socrates: So mustn't a rule-setter also know how to embody in sounds and syllables the name naturally suited to each thing? And if he is to be an authentic giver of names, mustn't he, in making and giving each name, look to what a name itself is? And if different rule-setters do not make each name out of the same syllables, we mustn't forget that different blacksmiths, who are making the same tool for the same type of work, don't all make it out of the same iron. But as long as they give it the same form--even if that form is embodied in different iron--the tool will be correct, whether it is made in Greece or abroad. Isn't that so?[13]

Plato's theory of forms again makes an appearance beginning at 439c, when Socrates gets Cratylus to concede the existence of "a beautiful itself, and a good itself, and he same for each one of the things that are?"[14]

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ e.g. rhein ('flowing'), rhoe ('flow'), tromos ('trembling'), trechein ('running'), krouein ('striking'), thrauein ('crushing'), ereikein ('rending'), thruptein ('breaking'), kermatizein ('crumbling'), rhumbein ('whirling').
  2. ^ e.g. ienai ('moving'), hiesthai ('hastening').
  3. ^ e.g. psuchron ('chilling'), zeon ('seething'), seiesthai ('shaking'), seismos ('quaking').
  4. ^ e.g. desmos ('shackling'), stasis ('rest').
  5. ^ e.g. olisthanein ('glide'), leion ('smooth'), liparon ('sleek'), kollodes ('viscous').
  6. ^ e.g. glischron ('gluey'), gluku ('sweet'), gloiodes ('clammy').
  7. ^ e.g. endon ('within'), entos ('inside').
  8. ^ e.g. mega ('large'), mekos ('length').
  9. ^ e.g. gongulon ('round').

[edit] References

  1. ^ pp. 6, 13-14, David Sedley, Plato's Cratylus, Cambridge U Press 2003.
  2. ^ Cratylus 390d-e.
  3. ^ Cratylus 431d.
  4. ^ Cratylus 435c.
  5. ^ Cratylus 383a-b.
  6. ^ Cratylus 402b
  7. ^ Cratylus 421d
  8. ^ Cratylus 426c-e.
  9. ^ Cratylus 426e-427a.
  10. ^ a b Cratylus 427a.
  11. ^ a b c d Cratylus 427b.
  12. ^ a b c Cratylus 427c.
  13. ^ Cratylus 389d-390a1.
  14. ^ Cratylus 439c-d.

[edit] External links

View page ratings
Rate this page
We will send you a confirmation e-mail. We will not share your e-mail address with outside parties as per our feedback privacy statement.
Saved successfully
Your ratings have not been submitted yet
Your ratings have expired
Please reevaluate this page and submit new ratings.
An error has occured. Please try again later.
Thanks! Your ratings have been saved.
Please take a moment to complete a short survey.
Thanks! Your ratings have been saved.
Do you want to create an account?
An account will help you track your edits, get involved in discussions, and be a part of the community.
Thanks! Your ratings have been saved.
Did you know that you can edit this page?
Personal tools