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Dossier : Pseudoplatonica et écrits authentiques de Platon

Law as a ‘discovery of being’: the Minos in the light of the Cratylus

Edoardo Benati

Résumé

In this paper I propose to verify the hypothesis that (some of) the Pseudoplatonica seek to elucidate key Platonic themes by reframing philosophical issues already present in the genuine dialogues. To do this, I consider the argumentative strategies of the first section of the Minos (313a1-317d2), and I argue that one can trace here the same tension between naturalism and conventionalism that is at play in Plato’s Cratylus. The strategies that both texts employ in order to reconcile this ‘struggle’ appear to be philosophically grounded in what I will be calling mild naturalism.

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  • 1 The choice of this dialogue as a case study is motivated by the direct observability of these dynam (...)

1The aim of this paper is to test my working hypothesis – namely, that (some of) the Pseudoplatonica seek to elucidate, and provide new insights into, philosophical issues that were already of central importance in the genuine dialogues – by taking into account the argumentative structure of the first dialogic section of the Minos (313a1-317d2)1. More precisely, what I will be showing is that, in this section, one can trace the same dynamic relationship between naturalism and conventionalism that is at issue in Plato’s Cratylus. Far from being superficial, the similarity between these two dialogues has strong philosophical grounds, and in my view both texts come up with the same answer to the same problem. In this way, the Minos appears to reveal the applicability of Plato’s intuition to a slightly different, yet thoroughly comparable, field of inquiry.

  • 2 Hence, I side with L. Brisson, « La question de l’authenticité du Minos » in L. Palumbo (ed.), Λόγ (...)
  • 3 In relatively recent times, this view has been challenged in particular by J. Dalfen, Platon. Minos (...)
  • 4 The dramatic unity of the Minos has been denied, for example, by E. Dönt, « Die Stellung der Exkurs (...)

2Before doing so, some preliminary remarks are in order. First, I take it for granted that the Cratylus and the Minos belong to two different authors (which means that Plato is not the author of the Minos2). Secondly, I also take the Cratylus to be prior3 to the Minos. Lastly, my exegesis is independent of the position we take with respect to the unity4 of the dialogue. The Minos is quite evidently split into two halves: in the first one, an anonymous hetairos engages Socrates in a conversation about the nature of nomos; in the second one, Socrates takes over and goes on to tell his companion the story of the semi-mythical Cretan king Minos. Although I personally believe that a strong case can be made that the structure of the Minos is logically consistent and unitary, and that the diegetic section supports and implements the conclusions reached in the properly dialogic one, I regard the latter as self-contained, as it were. With this proviso, we can now turn our attention to the question at stake.

3The Minos opens quite abruptly with a direct question by Socrates (313a1-2):

ΣΩ. ὁ νόμος ἡμῖν τί ἐστιν;ΕΤ. ποῖον καὶ ἐρωτᾷς τῶν νόμων;

  • 5 Unless otherwise stated, the translations of the Minos are taken from W. R. M. Lamb, Plato. Charmid (...)

So.: What is law for us? — Co.: To what kind of law does your question refer?5

4Such an opening scene is unprecedented in the genuine dialogues, except for the Meno (70a1-4):

ΜΕΝ. ἔχεις μοι εἰπεῖν, ὦ Σώκρατες, ἆρα διδακτὸν ἡ ἀρετή; ἢ οὐ διδακτὸν ἀλλ’ ἀσκητόν; ἢ οὔτε ἀσκητὸν οὔτε μαθητόν, ἀλλὰ φύσει παραγίγνεται τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἢ ἄλλῳ τινὶ τρόπῳ;

Men.: Could you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue can be taught? Or maybe it cannot, but can it be practised? Or maybe it can neither be practised nor learnt, but men have it by nature, or by some other means? [author’s translation]

  • 6 A. E. Taylor, Plato, the Man and his Work, London, Methuen & Co., 1926, p. 538.

5As is highlighted by A. E. Taylor6, however, this scene is “dramatically appropriate” – for it contributes to characterising Meno by pointing out the young nobleman’s keenness to acquire knowledge by conversing with Socrates – and indeed depicts him as ambitious and in a sense “bold”. Hence, just as the opening scene of the Meno is dramatically appropriate, in the same way that of the Minos is dramatically inappropriate – for one can see no evident literary/psychological reason for Socrates’ abrupt question. Conversely, the overture of the Minos is philosophically appropriate, as from the very beginning the author starts to sketch out the two opposite philosophical conceptions which will be at issue throughout the dialogue.

  • 7 By this, I do not intend to argue that νόμος is treated as a Form in the Minos. Rather, all I want (...)

6Socrates speaks of nomos as a unity7 (ὁ νόμος), whereas his companion, at first, does not even deem it possible to refer to law as a unitary notion. This is why he replies: “To what kind of law does your question refer?”. Socrates’ first argumentative efforts (313a3 – b5), then, are devoted to persuading his hetairos that it is possible to consider law a universal – and to do this, Socrates resorts to drawing a parallel between law and gold (313a5-7):

ἐρωτῶ γάρ, ὥσπερ εἰ ἀνηρόμην τί ἐστιν χρυσός, εἴ με ὡσαύτως ἀνήρου ὁποῖον καὶ λέγω χρυσόν, οἴομαί σε οὐκ ἂν ὀρθῶς ἐρέσθαι.

It is as though I had asked you “what is gold”: if you had asked me, in the same manner, to what kind of gold I am referring, I think your question would have been incorrect.

  • 8 Here I will not discuss the many difficulties that the Protagoras passage presents, but I will rath (...)

7The argument may be inspired by the one exploited in the Protagoras in support of the Unity of Virtues thesis (329d4-8)8:

πότερον, ἔφην, ὥσπερ προσώπου τὰ μόρια μόριά ἐστιν, [...] ἢ ὥσπερ τὰ τοῦ χρυσοῦ μόρια οὐδὲν διαφέρει τὰ ἕτερα τῶν ἑτέρων, ἀλλήλων καὶ τοῦ ὅλου, [...];

Do you mean “parts” – I said – in the sense of the parts of a face [...]; or, as in the parts of gold, is there no difference between the parts, i.e. between one part and another and between one part and the whole [...]? [author’s translation]

8Yet, the author of the Minos clearly repurposes the argument in order to suit a slightly different context. In the Protagoras passage, what seems to be at issue is a distinction between parts of a structured whole (namely, a face) and parts of an unstructured whole (namely, gold). Thus, the question is which of the two models better applies to the case of the unity of virtues. On the former account, the parts are neither homogeneous with the whole nor with one another – most likely, because they are functionally differentiated; on the latter, conversely, they are both homogeneous with the whole and with one another. In the Minos, however, the mereological problem is entirely dropped. Individual laws are not treated as parts of an unstructured whole (νόμος) which just amounts to the sum of its parts; rather they are tokens of νόμος considered as a universal type. Therefore, all I want to emphasise is that Ps.-Plato’s Socrates, by choosing to focus on the gold metaphor (rather than that related to the parts of a face), may be willing to point out that individual laws are structurally (i.e. essentially) the same – just as one piece of gold is distinguishable from another only by means of extrinsic properties (e.g. size, weight, etc.). According to Socrates, therefore:

  • (i) law can be spoken of as a universal;

  • (ii.a) all the particular instances of nomos (i.e. particular laws) share some common features by virtue of which they do not differ essentially;

  • (ii.b) laws do not differ essentially from each other because, however heterogeneous their content may be, they still perform the same task, i.e. – as we will see in due course – they are an ἐξεύρεσις τοῦ ὄντος (“discovery of being”). Later on, I will unpack the philosophical implications of this formulation.

9Let us now take a step back, and consider the position adopted by the hetairos. In spite of Socrates’ somewhat refined argumentation, his companion still endorses a fully particularistic and conventionalist view of law, as is clear from Min. 313b6-7:

ΕΤ. τί οὖν ἄλλο νόμος εἴη ἄν, ὦ Σώκρατες, ἀλλ’ ἢ τὰ νομιζόμενα;

Co.: What else should law be, Socrates, but things that are accepted by custom?

  • 9 This meaning of νομιζόμενα is to be found e.g. in Hdt. I, 35 (ἐπείτε δὲ τὰ νομιζόμενα ἐποίησε ὁ Κρο (...)

10This passage is very telling, for at least two reasons. First, the hetairos appears to be deaf to Socrates’ claim that law is a unity, for he identifies nomos with a plurality of beings; this answer, however, does not satisfy Socrates, who will be touching upon the same topic later on in the dialogue. Secondly, the companion exploits the semantic nuances of the Greek νομίζω to pave the way for his conventionalist account of law: nomos, along these lines, is nothing more than a set of customary regulations9 accepted by a political community for a given period of time. All in all, the hetairos will be sticking to this position even after Socrates’ lengthy objection at Min. 313c7-314b6, for he will still be referring to nomos as δόγμα πόλεως (314c1), a puzzling expression that could mean either “what has been accepted by a city” or in a more specific and qualified political sense, “public decree”.

  • 10 For a thorough account of this position, see D. Sedley, Plato’s Cratylus, Cambridge, Cambridge Univ (...)
  • 11 The analogy is far from superficial: both activities involve a thing established (νόμος and ὄνομα, (...)
  • 12 On Hermogenes’ position in the Cratylus, see F. Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato, Cambridge, Cambrid (...)

11The view held by the companion, I feel, is highly reminiscent of Hermogenes’ extreme conventionalism10, as presented in Plato’s Cratylus, which revolves around an issue thoroughly comparable to law-giving, that is, name-giving11. Hermogenes unfolds his own views12 at Cra. 384c9-d3:

ΕΡΜ. καὶ μὴν ἔγωγε, ὦ Σώκρατες, πολλάκις δὴ καὶ τούτῳ διαλεχθεὶς καὶ ἄλλοις πολλοῖς, οὐ δύναμαι πεισθῆναι ὡς ἄλλη τις ὀρθότης ὀνόματος ἢ συνθήκη καὶ ὁμολογία. ἐμοὶ γὰρ δοκεῖ ὅτι ἄν τίς τῳ θῆται ὄνομα, τοῦτο εἶναι τὸ ὀρθόν·

  • 13 Unless otherwise stated, for the Cratylus and Theaetetus passages, translations are taken respectiv (...)

Herm.: For my part, Socrates, I have often talked with Cratylus and many others, and cannot be persuaded that there is any correctness of names other than convention and agreement. For it seems to me that whatever name you give to a thing is its right name13.

12According to Hermogenes, there is no natural link between an ὄνομα and its referent: every name is correct for a being insofar as all the speakers implicitly agree on using it. Were we to call a chair “table” and a table “chair”, this new convention would work, provided that all the members of the community legitimise and accept it. When it comes to laws, the equivalent to συνθήκη καὶ ὁμολογία is δόγματα καὶ ψηφίσματα (Min. 314b10). Indeed, what makes a law such is not its alleged capacity to have a grasp of true being/nature, but simply the fact that a number of people have approved it.

  • 14 For remarks on the νόμος/φύσις antithesis in the Sophistic movement, see G.B. Kerferd, The Sophisti (...)

13Such a position is reminiscent of motifs widespread among the Sophists14, as is clear from Tht. 172a1-c1 (passim):

oὐκοῦν καὶ περὶ πολιτικῶν, καλὰ μὲν καὶ αἰσχρὰ καὶ δίκαια καὶ ἄδικα καὶ ὅσια καὶ μή, οἷα ἂν ἑκάστη πόλις οἰηθεῖσα θῆται νόμιμα αὑτῇ, ταῦτα καὶ εἶναι τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ἑκάστῃ [...].

And likewise, when it comes to politics, the noble and the disgraceful, the just and the unjust, the pious and its opposite, are true for each city insofar as the city, considering them lawful, adopts them.

[...] ἐν τοῖς δικαίοις καὶ ἀδίκοις καὶ ὁσίοις καὶ ἀνοσίοις, ἐθέλουσιν ἰσχυρίζεσθαι ὡς οὐκ ἔστι φύσει αὐτῶν οὐδὲν οὐσίαν ἑαυτοῦ ἔχον, ἀλλὰ τὸ κοινῇ δόξαν τοῦτο γίγνεται ἀληθὲς τότε, ὅταν δόξῃ καὶ ὅσον ἂν δοκῇ χρόνον.

But when it comes to the just and the unjust, the pious and the impious, they want to make clear that none of them possesses its own existence by nature, but that the common opinion becomes true at the time when it is adopted and remains such as long as it is adopted.

14This thesis is quite vaguely ascribed by Socrates to people who are close to Protagoras, yet do not fully espouse his view. The vagueness of this reference, combined with a few testimonies provided by Diogenes Laertius (cf. II 16, on the conventionalism of Socrates’ teacher Archelaus), suggests that the positions held by Hermogenes in the Cratylus and by the hetairos in the Minos are far from unique. This being the case, what evidence supports the hypothesis of the Minos taking up Plato’s intuitions in the Cratylus, as opposed to that of the exploitation of a commonplace taken from the Sophistic repertoire? To answer this question, we should now turn to examine Socrates’ position and the way it relates to, and impacts on, the conventionalism endorsed by the companion. The appreciation of these dynamics (and, secondarily, a few pieces of linguistic evidence) will enable us to show, at the very least, that the Minos resorts to the same strategy as the Cratylus to defuse the tension between two opposing positions – namely, extreme conventionalism on the one hand and radical naturalism on the other. If so, the hypothesis of the Minos carrying over some Cratylus intuitions to a closely related field of inquiry proves itself to boast much plausibility.

15The philosophical basis for Socrates’ refutation of conventionalism is laid out at Min. 313c7-314b6. Nomos, here, is regarded as a proper τέχνη, just like medicine (ἰατρική) – whose function is to discover what is healthy and what is not – and prophecy (μαντική) – whose function is to investigate god’s will. As such, law entails knowledge (ἐπιστήμη), knowledge of the true nature of beings. This is explicitly stated at Min. 315a2-3:

ΣΩ. ὁ νόμος ἄρα βούλεται τοῦ ὄντος εἶναι ἐξεύρεσις.

So.: Hence, law tends to be a discovery of being.

16The route which leads Socrates to persuade the hetairos of such a stance has its turning point at Min. 314c2 (ΣΩ. δόξαν, ὡς ἔοικε, λέγεις πολιτικὴν τὸν νόμον, “State opinion, it seems, is what you call law”). The sudden switch from δόγμα (decree) to δόξα (opinion) – a move that, surprisingly, goes unnoticed by the companion – allows Socrates to pass from a strictly political level to a broader epistemological one: (1) law entails a form of judgment; (2) not every judgment can become law, but only a correct one (315a1: ἀληθὴς δόξα). This result is quite consistent with the account of law as both a τέχνη and a discovery: hence, Socrates believes that only he who has a grasp of the nature of things can formulate true laws.

  • 15 The argumentative relevance, as well as the genuine philosophical commitment, of the etymological s (...)
  • 16 On this sub-section, see B. Anceschi, Die Götternamen in Platons Kratylos. Ein Vergleich mit dem Pa (...)

17It is no coincidence that the only other occurrence of the expression ἐξεύρεσις/εὕρεσις τοῦ ὄντος in Plato is to be found at Cra. 436a3, a passage where Socrates wonders whether or not, through names, one can achieve actual knowledge of beings. Before getting to the philosophical core of the dialogue, however, it may come in handy to present Cratylus’ position with respect to the ὀρθότης of names – a position that could be dubbed naturalist. In Cratylus’ view, in sharp contrast to Hermogenes’ position, names and their referents are linked by a natural ὀρθότης, by virtue of which onomata are indeed able to provide an actual description of the beings they refer to. As is clear from the lengthy etymological analysis15 carried out by Socrates ([1] 397c-410e: gods and natural deities16; [2] 411a-420e: virtues; [3] 421a-c: logic and ontology), this can happen in two ways:

  • 17 On Socrates’ account, πρῶτα ὀνόματα are not names which cannot be analysed into anything at all – f (...)

18(a) the so-called πρῶτα ὀνόματα17 (426a3) describe beings by means of the mimetic power of the letters which make them up (426c-427a, passim):

πρῶτον μὲν τοίνυν τὸ ῥῶ ἔμοιγε φαίνεται ὥσπερ ὄργανον εἶναι πάσης τῆς κινήσεως [...]

First, the letter rho seems to me to be an instrument expressing all motion.

καὶ ὅταν που τὸ φυσῶδες μιμῆται, πανταχοῦ ἐνταῦθα ὡς τὸ πολὺ τὰ τοιαῦτα γράμματα [scil. φ, ψ, σ, ζ] ἐπιφέρειν φαίνεται ὁ τὰ ὀνόματα τιθέμενος.

Whenever he imitates that which resembles blowing, the giver of names always appears to use mostly such letters [scil. φ, ψ, σ, ζ]. This applies to a variety of letters.

19(b) the so-called ὕστερα ὀνόματα (i.e. compounds) describe beings insofar as they are made up of πρῶτα ὀνόματα, which in turn “imitate” their referents by means of (a). Cf. Cra. 411d4:

ἡ “φρόνησις”· φορᾶς γάρ ἐστι καὶ ῥοῦ νόησις.

“Wisdom” is the understanding of motion and flux. [author’s translation]

20At this point, further similarities between the Cratylus and the Minos should be apparent. First, a naturalist perspective does not imply that names are natural objects: giving names is an artificial activity, just as giving laws is; the givers of names and those of laws are both, in a sense, νομοθέται. Secondly, giving laws/names entails possessing a τέχνη (cf. Cra. 388e4-5: ὁ τὴν τέχνην ἔχων), and hence knowledge. Contrary to the conventionalist position, though, supporters of the naturalist view take names/laws to mirror/grasp the nature of things – something which is firmly denied from a conventionalist perspective.

21By now, it should also be clear that the hetairos in the Minos endorses precisely the same view as Hermogenes in the Cratylus, and that Ps.-Plato’s Socrates sticks to a position which is prima facie comparable to that of Cratylus himself. I will now show that the way these two views interact and the solutions our dialogues come up with are the same (or, at a minimum, analogous). Let us consider, then, (one of) the major objection(s) that one could level against the naturalist perspective, namely: how can there be a natural connection between names/laws and beings, if people never cease to change them? This is a point made by both Hermogenes and Socrates’ companion:

Cra. 384d3-6: [...] ἂν αὖθίς γε ἕτερον μεταθῆται, ἐκεῖνο δὲ μηκέτι καλῇ, οὐδὲν ἧττον τὸ ὕστερον ὀρθῶς ἔχειν τοῦ προτέρου, ὥσπερ τοῖς οἰκέταις ἡμεῖς μετατιθέμεθα [οὐδὲν ἧττον τοῦτ’ εἶναι ὀρθὸν τὸ μετατεθὲν τοῦ πρότερον κειμένου].

[...] and if you give up that name and change it for another, the later name is no less correct than the earlier, just as we change the names of our servants [and the new name is no less correct than the previous one].

Min. 315a4-6: ΕΤ. πῶς οὖν, ὦ Σώκρατες, εἰ ὁ νόμος ἐστὶν τοῦ ὄντος ἐξεύρεσις, οὐκ ἀεὶ τοῖς αὐτοῖς νόμοις χρώμεθα περὶ τῶν αὐτῶν, εἰ τὰ ὄντα γε ἡμῖν ἐξηύρηται;

Co.: Then how is it, Socrates, if law is a discovery of being, that we do not always use the same laws with respect to the same things, if we have thus discovered beings?

  • 18 Obviously, in this case the terminological similarity is not as decisive as the ἐξεύρεσις/εὕρεσις τ (...)

22and again, with a certain terminological similarity18:

Min. 316b7-c2: [...] ἐπειδὰν δ’ ἐννοήσω ὅτι οὐδὲν παυόμεθα ἄνω κάτω μετατιθέμενοι τοὺς νόμους, οὐ δύναμαι πεισθῆναι.

[...] but whenever I consider that we are constantly changing our laws in all sorts of ways, I cannot believe it.

23The issue addressed by Socrates’ companion is a potentially dangerous one. Laws change according to place and time, and this fact could theoretically rule out the idea of a natural link (or ὀρθότης) between nomos and beings. Socrates, then, is at a crossroads, for he could either reject naturalism in toto, or turn his position into what I shall call mild naturalism. The latter option is the one Socrates goes for, as we will now see.

  • 19 It cannot be excluded, however, that this is simply an ironic exploit on Socrates’ part.

24After his companion’s objection, Socrates apparently19 recognises that his interlocutor has addressed a key aspect, for at Min. 315d6-7 he says: “It is no wonder, my excellent friend, if what you say is correct, and I have overlooked it”. Socrates, however, is far from willing to abandon the position he has been painstakingly supporting so far, and thus he sets out to make naturalism more palatable even to a conventionalist like the hetairos. To do so, Socrates opens up the possibility that lawgivers, sometimes, might fail to understand the true nature of beings, and hence formulate incorrect laws. This is clearly stated at Min. 316b5:

ΣΩ. ς ἂν ἄρα τοῦ ὄντος ἁμαρτάνῃ, τοῦ νομίμου ἁμαρτάνει.

So.: Hence, whoever fails to attain being, fails to attain law.

25The never-ending change the hetairos had complained about, then, does not affect all laws indiscriminately, but is narrowed down to those nomoi which fail to perform their task, i.e. whose content does not mirror the true nature of beings.

  • 20 This sense is attested e.g. in Arist., Pol. 1255b3-4: δὲ φύσις βούλεται μὲν τοῦτο ποιεῖν πολλάκις(...)

26By contrast to correct laws, which are imperishable, incorrect ones are only valid for a limited time span, insofar as a community agrees on adopting them. As is made clear at Min. 317c3-7, they seem to be true laws to the inexperienced, but in fact they are not (τὸ μὲν ὀρθὸν νόμος ἐστὶ βασιλικός, τὸ δὲ μὴ ὀρθὸν οὔ, ὃ δοκεῖ νόμος εἶναι τοῖς μὴ εἰδόσιν). If we take a step back and consider Min. 315a2-3 from a fresh perspective, we can make better sense of the iunctura βούλεται + infinitive: law tends20 to be a discovery of being, but this does not imply that it is always such. Socrates’ mild naturalism, therefore, serves two purposes, for:

  1. it preserves the idea that (some) laws encapsulate the nature of things;

  2. it also accounts for a fact which is there for all to see, namely, that some laws might change.

27Minos’ decrees, praised and championed in the second half of the dialogue, are an instance of ἀκίνητοι νόμοι (Min. 321b3-4), i.e. laws that are imperishable by virtue of their perfect understanding and grasping of τὸ ὄν: ἅτε τοῦ ὄντος περὶ πόλεως οἰκήσεως ἐξευρόντος εὖ τὴν ἀλήθειαν.

28The same kind of mild naturalism, I believe, is the conclusion reached at the end of the Cratylus: let me explain how. At Cra. 436b5-7, Socrates starts calling into question the extreme version of naturalism endorsed by Cratylus:

ΣΩ. δῆλον ὅτι ὁ θέμενος πρῶτος τὰ ὀνόματα, οἷα ἡγεῖτο εἶναι τὰ πράγματα, τοιαῦτα ἐτίθετο καὶ τὰ ὀνόματα, ὥς φαμεν. ἦ γάρ;

So.: It is clear that he who first gave names, gave such names in accordance with his conception of the nature of things. That is what we think, is it not?

  • 21 On this point, see E. Benati, « La teoria del flusso nel Cratilo e nel Timeo di Platone : il proble (...)

29Committing oneself to the analysis of names in the hope of acquiring knowledge of beings is potentially misleading, for names, rather than simply encapsulating the nature of beings, reflect the conception of the nature of things the first legislators had. Should this conception (i.e. a δόξα) be false, names would be incorrect as well. The upshot is that some names might be correct by nature (encapsulating a correct belief of the name-giver’s about their referents), while others might be incorrect, but still serve their purpose by virtue of the speakers’ habit (i.e. convention). This is particularly true of the names implying that an extreme form of flux21 affects all sensibles – for such a view ought to be ascribed to an internal πάθος of the name-givers, rather than to any actual condition of beings or state of affairs.

30That convention is a last resort is clear from the way it is spoken of at Cra. 435c2-6:

ἐμοὶ μὲν οὖν καὶ αὐτῷ ἀρέσκει μὲν κατὰ τὸ δυνατὸν ὅμοια εἶναι τὰ ὀνόματα τοῖς πράγμασιν· [...] ἀναγκαῖον δὲ ᾖ καὶ τῷ φορτικῷ τούτῳ προσχρῆσθαι, τῇ συνθήκῃ, εἰς ὀνομάτων ὀρθότητα.

I myself prefer the theory that names are, so far as is possible, like their referents; [...] but we are compelled to employ in addition this commonplace expedient, convention, with respect to the correctness of names.

31Convention is nothing but a second best, a “vulgar” expedient to be invoked just in those cases where the contradiction between ὀνόματα and πράγματα is overt and irreconcilable. Again, this points to a form of mild naturalism inflected in a way quite similar to the Minos.

32The Cratylus and the pseudo-Platonic Minos, therefore, present the same struggle between conventionalism and naturalism, a struggle that can only end when these two opposite attitudes are integrated, in such a way as to account for both the natural link between nomoi/onomata and things, and the unceasing change that characterises sensibles.

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Fowler, H. N., Plato. Theaetetus. Sophist, London-Cambridge (Ma.), Harvard University Press, 1921.

Kerferd, G. B., The Sophistic Movement, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Kirkland, S. D., The Ontology of Socratic Questioning in Plato’s Early Dialogues, New York, SUNY Press, 2012.

Kretzmann, N., « Plato on the Correctness of Names », American Philosophical Quarterly 8, 1971, p. 126-38.

Lamb, W. R. M., Plato. Charmides. Alcibiades I and II. Hipparchus. The Lovers. Theages. Minos, London-Cambridge (Ma.), Harvard University Press, 1927.

Most, G. W., « Plato’s Exoteric Myths », in C. Collobert, P. Destrée, F. González (ed.) Plato and Myth. Studies on the Use and Status of Platonic Myths, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2012, p. 13-24.

Sedley, D., « The Etymologies in Plato’s Cratylus », Journal of Hellenic Studies 118, 1998, p. 140 – 154.

Sedley, D., Plato’s Cratylus, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Silverman A., « Plato’s Cratylus. The Naming of Nature and the Nature of Naming », Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 10, 1992, p. 25-72.

Taylor, A. E., Plato, the Man and his Work, London, Methuen & Co., 1926.

Vlastos, G., « The Unity of the Virtues in the Protagoras », Review of Metaphysics 25, 1972, p. 415-458.

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Notes

1 The choice of this dialogue as a case study is motivated by the direct observability of these dynamics in the Minos.

2 Hence, I side with L. Brisson, « La question de l’authenticité du Minos » in L. Palumbo (ed.), Λόγον διδόναι. La filosofia come esercizio del rendere ragione. Studi in onore di Giovanni Casertano, Napoli, Loffredo, 2011, p. 327-336.

3 In relatively recent times, this view has been challenged in particular by J. Dalfen, Platon. Minos. Übersetzung und Kommentar, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009, who dates the Minos to the 390s or early 380s. Such an early date, although not necessarily entailing the Platonic authorship of the Minos, is suspicious in view of the influence that the Laws have on the Minos. The only certainty we have is that the Minos appears to have been known to Aristophanes of Byzantium (D.L. III 62); hence, it should be prior to the 3rd century BC.

4 The dramatic unity of the Minos has been denied, for example, by E. Dönt, « Die Stellung der Exkurse in den pseudoplatonischen Dialogen », Wiener Studien 76, 1963, p. 27-51, who also regarded the Minos digression as historical. By contrast, I tend to consider it mythical. On the features that all Platonic myths, or a significant number of them, (should) have, see e.g. G. W. Most « Plato’s Exoteric Myths », in C. Collobert, P. Destrée, F. González (ed.) Plato and Myth. Studies on the Use and Status of Platonic Myths, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2012, p. 13-24.

5 Unless otherwise stated, the translations of the Minos are taken from W. R. M. Lamb, Plato. Charmides. Alcibiades I and II. Hipparchus. The Lovers. Theages. Minos, London-Cambridge (Ma.), Harvard University Press, 1927, with slight modifications. I favour this translation over more recent ones because of its overall adherence to the Greek.

6 A. E. Taylor, Plato, the Man and his Work, London, Methuen & Co., 1926, p. 538.

7 By this, I do not intend to argue that νόμος is treated as a Form in the Minos. Rather, all I want to say is that it is regarded by Socrates as a universal. I have the following pieces of evidence in support of this take of mine: (i) Socrates’ opening question closely recalls the Socratic question: τί ἐστι X; – where X obviously stands for a universal. The pertinence of this parallel also appears to be reinforced by the customary misunderstanding of Socrates’ interlocutor – in this case, the companion. On this point, see S. D. Kirkland, The Ontology of Socratic Questioning in Plato’s Early Dialogues, New York, SUNY Press, 2012, p. 140-142; (ii) at 313a4, Socrates asks whether particular laws differ from each other insofar as they are νόμος (κατὰ τὸ νόμος εἶναι). The answer is obviously negative (313b2). This suggests that “being νόμος” is the same for all particular instances of νόμος (i.e., particular laws). Thus, νόμος is best understood as a universal.

8 Here I will not discuss the many difficulties that the Protagoras passage presents, but I will rather exploit it as a starting point for elucidating Socrates’ conception of nomos in the Minos. Moreover, drawing up a complete list of studies on this topic is beyond the scope of the present paper. The debate, however, has become polarised: on the one hand some scholars, following G. Vlastos, « The Unity of the Virtues in the Protagoras », Review of Metaphysics 25 (1972), p. 415-458, endorse the so-called Inseparability of Virtues thesis; others, conversely, support the Identity of Virtues thesis. On the latter, which appears to be more popular nowadays, see for example D. T. Devereux, « The Unity of the Virtues in Plato’s Protagoras and Laches », Philosophical Review 101, 1992, p. 765-789. Another possible (but less plausible) point of reference for the Minos example (where both gold and stones are mentioned together) may be Euthd. 298a6 – 7 (even though the context is different, for the discussion is centred on the status of some relatives).

9 This meaning of νομιζόμενα is to be found e.g. in Hdt. I, 35 (ἐπείτε δὲ τὰ νομιζόμενα ἐποίησε ὁ Κροῖσος κτλ.), Ar., Pl. 1185, Antipho, V 82 (διακωλύοντες τὰ ἱερὰ μὴ γίγνεσθαι τὰ νομιζόμενα).

10 For a thorough account of this position, see D. Sedley, Plato’s Cratylus, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 51-54, and R. Barney, Names and Nature in Plato’s Cratylus, New York & London, Routledge, 2001, p. 22-39.

11 The analogy is far from superficial: both activities involve a thing established (νόμος and ὄνομα, respectively) and an agent considered as the normative source. Moreover, both laws and names are liable to the same philosophical issue, namely, whether their prescriptive force stems from mere convention or from an objective grasp of how things really are. I will argue that this is precisely the problem at stake in the Minos.

12 On Hermogenes’ position in the Cratylus, see F. Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 37-94, T.M.S. Baxter, The Cratylys. Plato’s critique of naming, Leiden-New York-Köln, Brill, 1992, p. 17-22, and A. Silverman, « Plato’s Cratylus. The Naming of Nature and the Nature of Naming », Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 10, 1992, p. 25-72 (esp. 30-35). There has been some scholarly debate as to whether Hermogenes, besides espousing conventionalism, is also subjectivist. D. Sedley (p. 54) argues against the latter view: “[Hermogenes] is quite clear about the distinction between a private name and a public name, and plainly associates inter-personal communication only with the latter”. Accordingly, in Hermogenes’ case, convention is kept quite distinct from private use (or idiolect), and thus should probably be understood in terms of an implicit agreement shared by a community of speakers.

13 Unless otherwise stated, for the Cratylus and Theaetetus passages, translations are taken respectively from H. N. Fowler, Plato. Cratylus. Parmenides. Greater Hippias. Lesser Hippias, London-Cambridge (Ma.), Harvard University Press, 1926, and Id., Plato. Theaetetus. Sophist, London-Cambridge (Ma.), Harvard University Press, 1921, with slight modifications.

14 For remarks on the νόμος/φύσις antithesis in the Sophistic movement, see G.B. Kerferd, The Sophistic Movement, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1981, p. 111-130. Above, I limited myself to quoting some passages from the Theaetetus, as they offer a neat Platonic parallel. For further evidence, however, see e.g. Lycophron (DK 83A3= Arist., Pol. 1280b8 ff.), Antiphon (DK 87A44= Ox. Pap. xi n. 1364), Pl. Grg. 482c4 – 486d1, and Thrasymachus’ views in R. I.

15 The argumentative relevance, as well as the genuine philosophical commitment, of the etymological section of the Cratylus has often been downplayed – but see, contra, D. Sedley, « The Etymologies in Plato’s Cratylus », Journal of Hellenic Studies 118, 1998, p. 140-154. A more nuanced position is taken by F. Aronadio, I fondamenti della riflessione di Platone sul linguaggio. Il Cratilo, Roma, Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2011, chapter 3, who prefers to speak of “serious irony” – “serious” in the sense that etymology is still a matter of technical expertise.

16 On this sub-section, see B. Anceschi, Die Götternamen in Platons Kratylos. Ein Vergleich mit dem Papyrus von Derveni, Frankfurt am Mein, Peter Lang, 2007.

17 On Socrates’ account, πρῶτα ὀνόματα are not names which cannot be analysed into anything at all – for they can be analysed into letters. Rather, they are names which cannot be analysed into other meaningful names. See N. Kretzmann, « Plato on the Correctness of Names », American Philosophical Quarterly 8, 1971, p. 126-38 (esp. 135-136).

18 Obviously, in this case the terminological similarity is not as decisive as the ἐξεύρεσις/εὕρεσις τοῦ ὄντος parallel – for this verb appears to be the standard way to describe how laws/names change (see e.g. Pl. Lg. 889e8). Conversely, what I believe is indeed decisive is the way in which the gap between the two diverging positions is spanned in both dialogues.

19 It cannot be excluded, however, that this is simply an ironic exploit on Socrates’ part.

20 This sense is attested e.g. in Arist., Pol. 1255b3-4: δὲ φύσις βούλεται μὲν τοῦτο ποιεῖν πολλάκις, οὐ μέντοι δύναται.

21 On this point, see E. Benati, « La teoria del flusso nel Cratilo e nel Timeo di Platone : il problema di un mondo in divenire e il rapporto con Eraclito », Studi Classici e Orientali 63, 2017, p. 73-89.

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Edoardo Benati, « Law as a ‘discovery of being’: the Minos in the light of the Cratylus »Études platoniciennes [En ligne], 16 | 2021, mis en ligne le 22 avril 2021, consulté le 21 septembre 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudesplatoniciennes/2110 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/etudesplatoniciennes.2110

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Edoardo Benati

Edoardo Benati has studied at the University of Pisa, at the University of Durham and at the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, where he is currently reading for a PhD in Classics. His dissertation project focuses on the pseudo-Platonic Horoi, of which he is preparing a critical edition accompanied by an introduction and philosophical commentary. Edoardo Benati is the author of contributions devoted to Plato and the transmission and reception of the Pseudoplatonica.

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