Kompsoi Logoi

Some Remarks on Plato’s Linguistic Conventionalism and Its Ethical Implications

In: Thinking, Knowing, Acting: Epistemology and Ethics in Plato and Ancient Platonism

Abstract

I shall discuss some aspects of Plato’s theory of language and linguistic conventionalism. My aim is to show that Plato’s approach to linguistics reflects first of all his personal position on the first generation (Protagoras, Gorgias, the Eristics) and especially the second generation (Isocrates) sophists; moreover, his personal conception of conventionalism is a response to Sophistic epistemological relativism. Indeed, Plato takes up and rereads Sophistic conventionalism in order to endorse a Socratic teaching method which is not only focused on the techne of language but carries meaningful messages and a philosophical content. I shall analyse some well known passages from Plato’s dialogues and I shall analyse some passages from Isocrates’ orations as well, in order to show (i) that Plato and Isocrates converge on the idea that it is necessary to build a new philosophical language (ii) that they diverge in the conception of technical language, the social nature of language and the goal of teaching virtue.