Conventionalism In Plato's Cratylus

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134776 PH134 – Philosophy of Language Cratylus Plato’s Cratylus is a dialogue about the ‘correctness of names’, or the method of assigning or appropriating names to things. In the exchange, three interlocutors participate and contribute to the discussion at hand. Hermogenes defends the idea that the correctness of names is establishing linguistic conventions. He points out the randomness with which names are imposed and facile way of changing them as evidence that there is nothing more than simply ‘convention and agreement’; the name is only justified by agreement. On the other hand, Cratylus argues that names cannot be arbitrarily chosen in the way that conventionalism asserts or advocates because specific names belong naturally to specific…show more content…
To re-phrase, are things merely as they appear to a person, or do they have a fixed being of their own? If we are not able to accept such a claim, we should acknowledge that every thing has its own objective nature. Following this, it is also true to actions performed in relation to them. For example, if a person wants to cut something, success would only come if the person has cut the thing in accordance with the nature of cutting and being cut with the natural tool for cutting – that is to say cutting properly into the joints of animals with a specific knife, depending on the kind of meat. Actions have a special nature in which it is deserving of instruments that respond to this special nature. In line with this, Socrates and Hermogenes agree that naming is simply not labeling, but an action. Socrates further argues that the best way of appropriating names is the most natural method of doing it, and that is in accordance to the thing’s nature. As such, the goal of naming is information and distinction from thing to thing – instruction. Because naming is an action, then there must be a proper instrument for it that is capable of distinguishing a good name from a bad name. Additionally, language is a structure of rules; the action of naming is of the same nature as legislation. Therefore, the logical result is that the name maker be…show more content…
At this, Socrates brings up the issue of the varying degree of ‘correctness’ or accuracy with which names indicate. The correctness of names is then open to convention rather than the matter of nature. Convention asserts that names unlike the nature of what they are designated to are as correct as names that are like the nature of what they are designated to. Conventional rules then become a necessity because names cannot always be shaped into a perfect likeness of the things which they are appropriated to. Names are not identical to the things themselves, rather they are only representation of the things. Socrates dwells in deeper by saying that understanding the names of things is not proportional to coming to an understanding with the nature of things, and in order to appropriate names to things, it is a must to have knowledge of those things. Man is not capable of directly accessing the nature or perfect form of things; it is only possible to indirectly be
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