Cratylus (dialogue)


Cratylus (dialogue)
Plato from The School of Athens by Raphael, 1509
Part of the series on:
The Dialogues of Plato
Early dialogues:
ApologyCharmidesCrito
EuthyphroFirst Alcibiades
Hippias MajorHippias Minor
IonLachesLysis
Transitional & middle dialogues:
CratylusEuthydemusGorgias
MenexenusMenoPhaedo
ProtagorasSymposium
Later middle dialogues:
RepublicPhaedrus
ParmenidesTheaetetus
Late dialogues:
ClitophonTimaeusCritias
SophistStatesman
PhilebusLaws
Of doubtful authenticity:
Axiochus – Demodocus
EpinomisEpistles – Eryxias
HalcyonHipparchusMinos
On JusticeOn Virtue
Rival LoversSecond Alcibiades
SisyphusTheages
This box: view · talk · edit

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. In doing this, Cratylus became one of the earliest philosophical texts of the Classical Greek period to deal with matters of etymology and linguistics.

When discussing how a word would relate to its subject, Socrates compares the original creation of a word to the work of an artist. 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. He comments, "This would be the most perfect state of language."

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.

The line between the two perspectives is often blurred. 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.[2] 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."[3]

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.

Notes

  1. ^ pp. 6, 13-14, David Sedley, Plato's Cratylus, Cambridge U Press 2003.
  2. ^ Cratylus 402b
  3. ^ Cratylus 421d

External links


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Cratylus — This article is about the Athenian philosopher. For Plato s dialogue, see Cratylus (dialogue). Cratylus (ancient Greek: Κρατύλος, Kratylos) was an ancient Athenian philosopher from late 5th century BC, mostly known through his portrayal in Plato… …   Wikipedia

  • Cratylus — (5th c. BC) Greek philosopher, sometimes thought to have been a teacher of Plato before Socrates . He is famous for capping the doctrine of Heraclitus that you cannot step into the same river twice by adding that you cannot step into the same… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • CRATYLUS —    a dialogue of Plato s on the connection between language and thought …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Clitophon (dialogue) — Part of the series on: The Dialogues of Plato Early dialogues: Apology – Charmides – Crito Euthyphro – …   Wikipedia

  • Laws (dialogue) — For the work by Cicero of the same title, see De Legibus. Part of the series on: The Dialogues of Plato Early dialogues: Apology – Char …   Wikipedia

  • Gorgias (dialogue) — Part of the series on: The Dialogues of Plato Early dialogues: Apology – Charmides – Crito Euthyphro – …   Wikipedia

  • Critias (dialogue) — Part of the series on: The Dialogues of Plato Early dialogues: Apology – Charmides – Crito Euthyphro – …   Wikipedia

  • Socratic dialogue — (Greek Σωκρατικός λόγος or Σωκρατικός διάλογος) is a genre of prose literary works developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BC, preserved today in the dialogues of Plato and the Socratic works of Xenophon either dramatic or narrative …   Wikipedia

  • Menexenus (dialogue) — Part of the series on: The Dialogues of Plato Early dialogues: Apology – Charmides – Crito Euthyphro – …   Wikipedia

  • Charmides (dialogue) — Part of the series on: The Dialogues of Plato Early dialogues: Apology – Charmides – Crito Euthyphro …   Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.