[1.2.3] Naturalism and Conventionalism in Plato’s Cratylus

“The formal topic of the Cratylus is ‘correctness of names’, a hot topic in the late fifth century BC when the dialogue has its dramatic setting… In the Cratylus Socrates’ two primary interlocutors, Hermogenes and Cratylus (the latter of whom is reported by Aristotle to have been an early philosophical influence on Plato), represent two diametrically opposed answers to that question. The positions of Hermogenes and Cratylus have come to be known to modern scholarship as ‘conventionalism’ and ‘naturalism’ respectively.

Conventionalism in Plato’s (429?-347 BC) Cratylus

An extreme linguistic conventionalist like Hermogenes holds that nothing but local or national convention determines which words are used to designate which objects. The same names could have been attached to quite different objects, and the same objects given quite different names, so long as the users of the language were party to the convention.

Naturalism in Plato’s Cratylus

Cratylus, as an extreme linguistic naturalist, holds that names cannot be arbitrarily chosen in the way that conventionalism describes or advocates, because names belong naturally to their specific objects. If you try to speak of something with any name other than its natural name, you are simply failing to refer to it at all. For example, he has told Hermogenes to the latter’s intense annoyance, Hermogenes is not actually his name.”

NOTE: in these diagrams I used OntoUML notation.
For better understanding please check also the post about [1.2.1] Plato’s Theory of Forms.

The source of all citations and more about the topic in: Sedley, David, “Plato’s Cratylus“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 13/03/2019

4 thoughts on “[1.2.3] Naturalism and Conventionalism in Plato’s Cratylus

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