Language and Knowledge in Plato’s Cratylus and Beyond it

Viktor Ilievski


The argument of Plato’s Cratylus is conducted along the lines of examination of two conficting theories of correctness of names, namely conventionalism and naturalism; in the course of the dialogue Socrates demonstrates that none of the theories provides truly accurate account of the names-objects relation. His own standpoint is that language is unreliable and that things should be investigated and learned about through themselves, rather than through their images, the names. This conclusion pushes the phonetic and semantic investigations aside, and establishes the supremacy of eidetic epistemology over its onomatic counterpart. The main objectives of this paper will be: a) to follow the interplay of Socrates’ arguments by which he challenges both theories of correctness of names, and b) to briefly investigate the implications and the impact of the eidetic epistemology thesis on Plato’s general attitude toward language. In order to accomplish the second objective, I shall turn to the Seventh Letter and point out some affnity between its philosophic digression and the conclusions of the Cratylus. Thus it will be shown that Plato’s attitude toward language was not very favorable, and that his method of dialectic was devised in such a way as to ultimately avoid and overcome the pitfalls of language.

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