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Encyclopedia > Cratylus (dialogue)

Cratylus (Κρατυλος) is the name of a dialogue by Plato, written in approximately 360 BC. In the dialogue, Socrates is asked by two men, Cratylus and Hermogenes, to advise them whether names are "conventional" or "natural", that is, whether language is a system of arbitrary signs or whether words have an intrinsic relation to the things they signify. In doing this, Cratylus became one of the earliest philosophical texts of the Classical Greek period to deal with matters of etymology and linguistics. For other uses, see Plato (disambiguation). ... Centuries: 5th century BC - 4th century BC - 3rd century BC Decades: 410s BC 400s BC 390s BC 380s BC 370s BC 360s BC 350s BC 340s BC 330s BC 320s BC 310s BC 365 BC 364 BC 363 BC 362 BC 361 BC 360 BC 359 BC 358 BC 357... Socrates (Greek: , invariably anglicized assÉ”kɹətiːz, SÇ’cratÄ“s; 470?–399 BCE) was a ancient Greek philosopher who is widely credited for laying the foundation for Western philosophy. ... Cratylus (Κρατυλος) is the name of a dialogue by Plato, dating to ca. ... This entry is not about the Hellenistic Ionian architect Hermogenes of Priene Hermogenes of Tarsus, was a Greek rhetorician, surnamed the polisher. ... Ancient Greece is the period in Greek history which lasted for around one thousand years and ended with the rise of Christianity. ... Etymology is the study of the origins of words. ... Linguistics is the scientific study of human language, and someone who engages in this study is called a linguist. ...


When discussing how a word would have a relation to its subject, he compares the original creation of a word to be like the work of an artist. An artist uses color to express the essence of his subject in a painting. In much the same way, the creator of words uses letters containing certain sounds to express the essence of a word's subject. There is a letter that is best for soft things, one for liquid things, and so on. He comments, "this would be the most perfect state of language".


The counter argument is that names have come about do to custom and convention. They do not express the essence of their subject, and so they can be swapped with something unrelated if those who use the word where to agree upon it.


The line between the two perspectives is often blurred. During more than half of the dialogue, Socrates makes guesses at Hermogenes' request as to where names and words have come from. These include the names of the Olympian Gods, personified deities, and many words that describe abstract concepts. Many of the words in which Socrates uses as examples may have come from an idea originally linked to the name, but have changed over time. Those of which he cannot find a link, he often assumes have come from foreign origins or have changed so much as to loose all resemblance to the original word. He states, "names have been so twisted in all manner of ways, that I should not be surprised if the old language when compared with that of now in use would appear to us to be a barbarous tongue." The twelve gods of Olympus. ...


External links

  • Cratylus translated by John Burnet (1903)
  • Cratylus translated by Harold N. Fowler (1921)
  • Cratylus translated by B. Jowett
  • Essay: What was Cratylus Trying To Say?

 
 

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