On the surface, the Cratylus is about two competing theories concerning the “correctness of names” (orthotes onomaton), a naturalist and a conventionalist one. For the most of the dialogue, the reader has the impression that the
Nevertheless, the outcome of the discussion as a whole is a different one. Socrates ends up disapproving of Cratylus’ take on the correctness of names, and more particularly of his claim that names provide knowledge of things. We cannot rely on names, Socrates concludes, if we are searching for knowledge of things. As a matter of fact, the analysis of compound names into primitive ones, and of the latter into their elements, eventually demonstrates that, without an extra-linguistic criterion of truth, we cannot decide which names have been formed correctly, i.e. so as to imitate the things they refer to, and which have not. This outcome does not dismiss the naturalist principle as such – it still may be the case that names somehow imitate the nature of what they refer to – but it undermines the epistemological claim that we can draw on names in order to acquire knowledge of the nature of things. On the contrary, to establish whether names are correct or not, we have to know the things “from themselves rather than from their names” (439b7–8).1 To put it in more general terms, parts of speech as such, no less than their elements and compounds, are not the place to learn the truth, either about names or about the things they denote. It thus turns out that the dialogue as a whole does not aim at finding a middle way between the two competing theories, but, much more radically, at attacking the very idea (not unfamiliar to modern readers) that the study of language is the privileged or even the only way of acquiring knowledge. What is at stake is the epistemological value of words.
Despite the fact that Cratylus still declares himself unshaken in his stance, the last section of the dialogue (437a–440e) casts a long shadow on the series of etymologies (393a–427d) that Socrates had previously provided in order to substantiate the naturalist theory, much to Cratylus’ satisfaction (428c). This does not come totally as a surprise. There were warning signs from the very
In the Sophist, an explicit sequel to the Theaetetus, the same theory of flux resurfaces. A class of refined flux-ontologists appears on stage – or rather the Eleatic Stranger imagines that there might be such a kind of reformed corporealists (246d) – who hold that being consists in nothing else than the capacity (dynamis) to act (poiein) and to be acted upon (pathein). The former is the
As in the Cratylus and the Theaetetus, we also learn in the Sophist that the ontology of flux is no good basis for epistemology. But unlike the accounts of the former dialogues, and more disturbingly, the discussion in the Sophist seems
In contrast to this, in the Sophist the Eleatic Stranger offers a way out of the perplexity concerning the fact that knowledge appears impossible both on the assumption that everything is in motion and on the assumption that being is at rest. The solution, to put it briefly, consists in the thesis that there are different kinds of relationships between the Forms themselves and that these relations allow for bridging the gap between being and becoming. They do so in so far as they allow for the being of things other than being itself, i.e. for participation in being, so that not only Forms other than the Form of being, but also things or phenomena other than intelligible Forms participate in being. The Forms of being, identity and difference, by participating mutually in each other, play a major role in the distribution of being among everything other than the Form of being itself. Motion and rest, on the other hand, being genuine opposites one to another, do not accede to this lofty all-pervasive status so that neither of them can claim to constitute a fundamental characteristic of being. On this account, not only must the ontology of flux be dismissed, but so too must an ontology that divides the whole of reality between rest and motion as two opposites. Rather, motion and rest have to be re-evaluated in their respective roles within the structured whole dominated by the Forms of being, identity and difference.5
to make one’s own thinking (dianoia) apparent through the voice accompanied by verbs and nouns, by imprinting the judgment (doxa) into the flux which goes through the mouth like into a mirror or water. (Tht. 206d1–4)10
stranger: Aren’t dianoia and logos the same except that the dialogos of the soul with herself occurring without voice was given the name dianoia by us?theaetetus: Quite so.stranger: And, originating from it, the flux which goes through the mouth accompanied by sound, don’t we call it logos?theaetetus: True, we do.(Soph. 263e3–9)11
According to this theory, logos, as a combination of nouns and verbs, has a mimetic nature, but what it imitates are not directly the things (pragmata), as Cratylus’ naturalist theory has it, but thinking (dianoia) or judgment (doxa), the latter being nothing other than a completed act of thinking (dianoias apotelesma) which constitutes either an affirmation or a negation and which is either true or false (Soph. 263b–264b). The analysis of speech in terms of a combination (sumploke, plegma) of components functioning as grammatical subject and predicate12 must apply to thinking as well, which constitutes such a plegma or symploke prior to speech. One may ask: If the logos is a combination of onoma and rhema, both of them being words formed by articulated sounds, what are the components combined by dianoia and doxa? This we are
We are not given more details about the way in which dianoia/doxa relates to ta onta and logos to dianoia/doxa. In particular, we are not told what exactly the imitation of ta onta by dianoia/doxa and of the latter by speech consists in. Nor are we told how exactly the logos relates to the phantasia as a combination of doxa and aisthesis, and more precisely how this very combination comes about. To know this is important in order to understand how logos relates not only to the objects of thought, but also to the objects of sense-perception.16 But, from the discussion in the Sophist, there emerges what I would like to call, for the sake of convenience, the principle of structural analogy. Let me
In comparison with the Cratylus, the theory of language put forward in the Theaetetus and the Sophist marks a double shift: from onoma to logos and from the relation onoma–pragma to the relation logos–dianoia–eide. The alternative between an ontology of flux and an ontology of unchanging Forms which underlies the debate about the correctness of names in the Cratylus resurfaces with vehemence in the Theaetetus and the Sophist. The Sophist tries to resolve this conflict by assigning motion and rest their proper places among the greatest genera, thus replacing the primitive ontology of single Forms with a structured ontology of relationships among them. Most importantly, this ontology provides a basis for the theory of falsehood of judgement and speech and, more generally, for the theory of imitation in which, unlike in Cratylus’ view, imitation can be true or false. On this new basis, the conception of speech as a kind of mimesis can be reformulated. Since speaking and judging consist in a kind of imitation and since imitation, as such, allows for falsehood, neither speech nor judgement can be the criterion of truth. Only what is not itself an imitation can provide this criterion.
Trans. after Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato. A Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 447.
Trans. after Ademollo, Commentary, 438.
On questions concerning the relative chronology of the Cratylus see Michael Erler, Die Philosophie der Antike, Band 2/2: Platon (Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2007), 109 f.
See Štěpán Špinka, “Nothing Is in Itself One (Motion, Relation and Corporeality in the Context of Protagoras’ ‘Secret Doctrine’ in the Theaetetus),” Internationales Jahrbuch für Hermeneutik 10 (2011): 241–269.
See Filip Karfík, “Pantelôs on and megista genê (Plato, Soph. 242c–259b),” in Plato’s Sophist: Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium Platonicum Pragense, ed. Aleš Havlíček, Filip Karfík (Praha: Oikúmené, 2011), 120–145.
See Štěpán Špinka, “Das Sein des Nicht-Seins. Einige Thesen zur strukturellen Ontologie im Dialog Sophistes,” in Plato’s Sophist: Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium Platonicum Pragense, ed. Aleš Havlíček, Filip Karfík (Praha: Oikúmené, 2011), 221–239.
See Frédérique Ildefonse, “Quelques différences entre le Cratyle et le Sophiste,” in this volume.
See Crat. 385b where Socrates gives a definition of true and false speech (λόγος ἀληθής, λόγος ψευδής) in terms of “the one which says about the things that are that they are” and “the one which says about them that they are not” (ὃς ἂν τὰ ὄντα λέγῃ ὡς ἔστιν, ἀληθής· ὃς δ’ ἂν ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν, ψευδής) and 429d where Cratylus gives a definition of a false speech (τὸ ψευδῆ λέγειν) in terms of “not saying the things that are” (τὸ μὴ τὰ ὄντα λέγειν). On the theory of true and false speech discussed in Cratylus, however, it does not matter whether the spoken unit is a name (onoma), a verb (rhema), a sentence (logos) as a combination (synthesis) of a name and a verb, a syllable (syllabe), a letter (gramma) or an element (stoicheion), i.e. a phoneme, see Crat. 431a–434b.
On this topic, see the contribution of Francesco Aronadio, “Intentionality and referentiality in Plato’s Cratylus,” in this volume.
τὴν αὑτοῦ διάνοιαν ἐμφανῆ ποιεῖν διὰ φωνῆς μετὰ ῥημάτων τε καὶ ὀνομάτων, ὥσπερ εἰς κάτοπτρον ἢ ὕδωρ τὴν δόξαν ἐκτυπούμενον εἰς τὴν διὰ τοῦ στόματος ῥοήν.
ΞΕ. Οὐκοῦν διάνοια μὲν καὶ λόγος ταὐτόν· πλὴν ὁ μὲν ἐντὸς τῆς ψυχῆς πρὸς αὑτὴν διάλογος ἄνευ φωνῆς γιγνόμενος τοῦτ’ αὐτὸ ἡμῖν ἐπωνομάσθη, διάνοια; – ΘΕΑΙ. Πάνυ μὲν οὖν. – ΞΕ. Τὸ δέ γ’ ἀπ’ ἐκείνης ῥεῦμα διὰ τοῦ στόματος ἰὸν μετὰ φθόγγου κέκληται λόγος; – ΘΕΑΙ. ᾿Αληθῆ. See. also Tim. 37a–b where the cognitive processes of the world soul are described in terms of a λόγος … φερόμενος ἄνευ φθόγγου καὶ ἠχῆς.
See Tht. 202b, 206d; Soph. 261e–262d.
διὰ γὰρ τὴν ἀλλήλων τῶν εἰδῶν συμπλοκὴν ὁ λόγος γέγονεν ἡμῖν, 259e.
This would correspond to what the Timaeus, in the case of the world soul, terms intellection and science νοῦς ἐπιστήμη τε (37c).
See Epist. vii, 342a–e, especially c4–d3.
An answer to this question is the theory of the combination of two circular motions within the structure of the soul in the Timaeus 37a–c and 43c–44c. One of them relates to the sensibles and produces doxai and pisteis, the other relates to the intelligibles and produces nous and episteme. Together they constitute the soundless logos of the soul. While in the case of the world soul it is always true (37b4), in the case of human beings it allows for falsehood (44a3).
See Aristotle’s account of language at the beginning of De interpretatione: “First we must settle what a name (onoma) is and what a verb (rhema) is, and then what a negation (apophasis), an affirmation (kataphasis), a statement (apophansis) and a sentence (logos) are. Now spoken sounds (ta en te phone) are symbols of affections (pathemata) in the soul, and written marks symbols of spoken words. And just as written marks are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds. But what these are in the first place signs of – affections of the soul – are the same for all; and what these affections are likenesses (homoiomata) of – actual things (pragmata) – are also the same.” (Int. 1, 16a1–8, trans. John Lloyd Ackrill, The Complete Works of Aristotle, The revised Oxford translation, ed. Jonathan Barnes, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 19956). Aristotle adopts the conventionalist view of the relation between the language (both written and spoken) and the soul’s affections but employs the mimetic principle to explain the relationship between the soul’s affections and the things themselves.
Ackrill, John Lloyd, translation of De interpretatione. In The Complete Works of Aristotle, the revised Oxford translation, edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995 6.
Erler, Michael. Die Philosophie der Antike, Band 2/2: Platon (Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, edited by Helmut Holzhey). Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2007.
Karfík, Filip. “Pantelôs on and megista genê (Plato, Soph. 242c–259b).” In Plato’s Sophist. Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium Platonicum Pragense, edited by Aleš Havlíček,Filip Karfík, 120–145. Praha: Oikúmené, 2011.
Špinka, Štěpán. “Nothing Is in Itself One (Motion, Relation and Corporeality in the Context of Protagoras’ ‘Secret Doctrine’ in the Theaetetus”). Internationales Jahrbuch für Hermeneutik 10 (2011): 241–269.
Špinka, Štěpán. “Das Sein des Nicht-Seins. Einige Thesen zur strukturellen Ontologie im Dialog Sophistes.” In Plato’s Sophist. Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium Platonicum Pragense, edited by Aleš Havlíček,Filip Karfík, 221–239. Praha: Oikúmené: 2011.