Chapter 4 What Remains of Socrates’ Naturalist Theory Once Conventionalism Is Accepted

In: Plato’s Cratylus
Vladimír Mikeš
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What is the main philosophical gain for a reader of the Cratylus? Led by this question, the author claims that the non-conventialist theory of names developed in the dialogue’s first part is not entirely nullified by the acceptance of conventionalism in the dialogue’s second part. Against some older and some more recent readings, he argues that a core of the non-conventialist theory remains valid in Plato’s view and, together with Plato’s professed conventionalism, represents a complex position on the relation between names and nominata – this is the main outcome of the dialogue (and is also consonant with much of what Plato says in other dialogues). For this reason the paper points out several important distinctions that are made in the first part of the dialogue, notably the introduction of forms of names as a third kind of thing distinct from both names and nominata. It is argued that the forms of names manifest a rational structure behind names, which, in its turn, is the basis for Plato’s semantics and comes forth behind the etymologies and the principle of resemblance as they are successively introduced.

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