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Convention or Nature?: The Correctness of Names in Plato's Cratylus
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies.
2018 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

This thesis is about Plato‘s dialogue Cratylus, which is one of the earliest texts in the history ofphilosophy of language and has generated much interpretive controversy. In the dialogue, Platoexamines two theories on the correctness of names; conventionalism and naturalism. However,there is no clear positive outcome in the dialogue in regard to the debate betweenconventionalism and naturalism. Therefore, scholars have long been divided as to what Plato‘sown position on the correctness of names is. Another puzzling feature of the dialogue concernsthe etymological section, which has often been ignored or treated in isolation in modernscholarship. This section takes up about half of the dialogue and offers elaborate explanations ofa large number of words in the Greek language. Some recent studies of the Cratylus, however,are shedding much welcome light on the etymological section and the role it plays in thedialogue as a whole. In this thesis, I compare two competing interpretations of the etymologicalsection and discuss how an understanding of the etymologies can help us understand Plato‘sposition on the correctness of names and the purpose of the dialogue as a whole. In TimothyBaxter‘s interpretation, the etymological section should be read as a parody which amounts to aPlatonic critique of a mistaken attitude towards names and language found especially in thepoetry and philosophy in Plato‘s time. David Sedley, on the other hand, argues that theetymologies are seriously intended by Plato as a method of linguistic and historical analysis, amethod he himself endorsed and practiced. If the etymologies are taken seriously, Sedley argues,they show that Plato favored a form of naturalism in regard to the correctness of names. Afterproviding an outline and evaluation of these two interpretations, the thesis concludes with myown proposal. Although I disagree with some of Sedley‘s particular interpretations andarguments, I find myself in broad agreement with his general conclusions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018. , p. 31
Keywords [en]
Cratylus, Plato, Philosophy of language, Ancient Greek philosophy, etymology
National Category
Philosophy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-149387OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-149387DiVA, id: diva2:1221569
Subject / course
Philosophy
Supervisors
Examiners
Available from: 2018-06-20 Created: 2018-06-20

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Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies
Philosophy

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