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The notion of a correctness of names in Plato’s Cratylus. Arguments for a basic distinction

Steffen Lund Jørgensen

Résumé

This paper offers arguments against Francesco Ademollo’s redundancy thesis about the notion of the correctness of names in the Cratylus. The paper distinguishes between two versions of the redundancy thesis and provides arguments against each of them. In addition to supporting the rejection of both versions of the redundancy thesis, the arguments provide new interpretations of important issues inside and outside of the Cratylus. These issues include the philological evidence from the Classical period (e.g. Nicomachean Ethics, VI.9, 1142b6–12, on euboulia as a kind of correctness), the view of correctness expressed by Plato’s Socrates in other dialogues, and Socrates’ initial discussion with Cratylus (in particular 428e–429b).

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Several scholars have read and commented on previous versions of this paper. For their suggestions and points of criticism, I would like to thank Lesley Brown, Sten Ebbesen, Chris Pelling, Tobias Reinhardt, Malcolm Schofield, and Ravi Sharma.

General remarks

1This paper treats an important question regarding a central part of the philosophical subject matter of the Cratylus – the notion of a correctness of names – as part of a larger project of providing a full interpretation of the dialogue. The paper treats Francesco Ademollo’s interpretation of the notion of a correctness of names in the Cratylus. The question raised by Ademollo is whether there is a difference between being a name of something and being a correct name of something in the Cratylus. According to Ademollo, there is no such difference. This paper argues that there is such a difference. In arguing for this distinction, the paper lays the groundwork for a future full-scale account of the notion of a correctness of names in the Cratylus. This account, in turn, will provide one of the key elements for a new interpretation of the notoriously difficult passage in the third part of the dialogue (433d-435d) and for a new answer to the classical question about Socrates’ position on the notion of a natural correctness of names towards the end of the Cratylus.

Introduction

  • 1 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, Cambridge, Cambridge University Pre (...)
  • 2 The importance of the redundancy thesis for Ademollo’s overall interpretation is apparent from the (...)
  • 3 No discussion in the reviews by Simon Noriega-Olmos (2011), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Craty (...)

2The topic of conversation in Plato’s Cratylus is the correctness of names. One of the main challenges for interpreters of the dialogue is to explain this notion and its role in the dialogue. In his book on the Cratylus from 2011, Francesco Ademollo claims that the interlocutors in the Cratylus treat the notion of correctness as redundant1. This novel and provocative claim is foundational for Ademollo’s overall interpretation of the Cratylus2. However, post-2011 scholarship on the Cratylus (including reviews of Ademollo’s book) contain little discussion of the claim3. The first section of this paper presents and discusses Ademollo’s claim. The second section offers two general reasons to reject the claim: one about the philological evidence from the Classical period and one about the view of correctness expressed by Plato’s Socrates in other dialogues. Finally, the third section provides more specific reasons to reject Ademollo’s claim by examining Socrates’ initial discussion with Cratylus (in particular 428e–429b) as well as other passages from the Cratylus.

Ademollo’s redundancy claim

3In the opening pages of his book, Ademollo claims that interpreters have overlooked a basic fact about the conversation in the Cratylus:

  • 4 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p.  2.

“The fact is this: throughout the dialogue all characters express themselves as if there were no difference between being a correct name of something and being just a name of that thing. They continuously speak as if the phrases ‘correct name of X’ and ‘name of X’ were perfectly interchangeable and equivalent to each other.4

4This observation leads Ademollo to argue that all three interlocutors in the Cratylus share and take for granted the 'redundancy conception' of the correctness of names. Ademollo formulates the redundancy conception as follows:

  • 5 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 3.

“(R) ‘N’ is a correct name of X =dfN’ is a name of X.5

5To put it differently, a name is a correct name of something, if and only if the name is the name of this thing. An important consequence of this conception, as Ademollo points out, is that there is no such thing as an incorrect name. If a name is a name of something, then it is the correct name of this thing, and if a name is not a correct name of something, then it is not a name of this thing. As Ademollo puts it:

  • 6 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 3.

“That is to say, ‘incorrect’ here functions as an ‘alienating’ predicate, like ‘fake’ in such phrases as ‘fake diamond’: as a fake diamond is actually not a diamond, so an incorrect name of X is actually not a name of X at all.6

  • 7 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 3.

6Ademollo calls this conception 'the redundancy conception' because it makes the notion of a correctness of names redundant: the notion of a correctness of names boils down to the notion of a name. Despite the redundancy of the notion of correctness, the phrase 'the correctness of names' is useful to the interlocutors, Ademollo claims, because it provides them with a way of talking of namehood in the absence of a Greek abstract noun directly translatable as 'namehood'7. Thus, Ademollo’s redundancy thesis claims that the interlocutors in the Cratylus use the expressions ‘correct’, ‘not correct’ and ‘correctness’ to discuss the namehood of names and to mark out the difference between a genuine name and a fake name (i.e. something which, perhaps despite appearances, is not a name).

  • 8 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 2.

7Ademollo claims that the Cratylus contains ample textual support for his redundancy thesis. The passages highlighted by Ademollo come from the first (383a-b; 384c-d; 385d-e), second (390d-391a; 422c-d) and third part of the dialogue (433d-435d)8. According to Ademollo, these passages exhibit the same pattern: the characters (Cratylus, Hermogenes, and Socrates) interlace talk of correct names and names simpliciter without indicating they are talking about different things. For illustration let us consider the first passage highlighted by Ademollo. A few lines into the dialogue, Hermogenes presents to Socrates a description of Cratylus’ position in the following way (383a4–b2):

  • 9 Κρατύλος φησὶν ὅδε, Σώκρατες, ὀνόματος ὀρθότητα εἶναι ἑκάστῳ τῶν ὄντων φύσει πεφυκυῖαν, καὶ οὐ το (...)

“Socrates, Cratylus here claims (i) that each of the beings has a correctness of name which is constituted by nature, and (ii) that a name is not what some people may call something upon having agreed to call it that, uttering a part of their own voice, but (iii) there is a correctness of names by nature for both Greeks and barbarians, the same for all9”.

  • 10 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 23.
  • 11 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 24.

8According to Ademollo, Hermogenes’ description consists of the three clauses numbered in the translation10. Ademollo regards the first clause and second clause as hanging closely together, so that the first clause is a generic claim completed and explained by the second clause. Ademollo notes that the second clause denies a conception of what a name is – and not a conception of what a correct name is –, although the first and third clause are concerned with the correctness of names. Ademollo takes this to suggest that Cratylus adopts the redundancy conception of correctness. Ademollo concludes that the apparent issue of correctness can be rephrased as follows: ‘What conditions must be met for an expression to count as a name of something?11. Ademollo takes the next part of Hermogenes’ description of Cratylus’ position to confirm this interpretation (383b2-7):

  • 12 ΕΡΜ. […] ἐρωτῶ οὖν αὐτὸν ἐγὼ εἰ αὐτῷ Κρατύλος τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ὄνομα· δὲ ὁμολογεῖ. “Τί δὲ Σωκράτει;” ἔφ (...)

“Herm.: […] So I ask him if his name is “Cratylus” in reality. He says it is. “What is Socrates' name?” I asked. “`Socrates',” he said. “Does that also hold for all other people – that each person has the name that we call him?” “No, not in your case,” he said, “`Hermogenes' isn't your name, not even if all people call you that.12

9Once again, Ademollo notes that ‘here there is no talk of correct names, or of the correctness of names’. Ademollo continues:

“the reported exchange between Hermogenes and Cratylus is couched simply in terms of what someone’s name is and whether a particular name “really” is someone’s name”.

10Ademollo concludes:

  • 13 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 26 (all quotes in this paragraph).

“This confirms that Hermogenes and Cratylus are assuming that a correct name is simply a genuine, authentic, bona fide name, and hence are adopting what I have called the “Redundancy Conception” of correctness.13

11According to Ademollo, these two passages from the beginning of the dialogue exhibit the same pattern as the other passages adduced as evidence for the redundancy thesis. It seems clear that the characters (Cratylus, Hermogenes, and Socrates) interlace talk of correct names and names simpliciter without indicating they are talking about different things. The question is whether this is evidence for Ademollo’s redundancy thesis. We shall return to this issue towards the end of the paper.

  • 14 This conclusion seems to be confirmed by Ademollo’s own formulation of the upshot of the redundancy (...)

12One final point about Ademollo’s redundancy thesis. Ademollo seems to regard the interlocutors as taking themselves as discussing, not what makes a name right or wrong, or what a name ought to be or do, but rather what makes a name a genuine name (i.e. what a name must be or do in order to count as a genuine name). That is, Ademollo does not seem to hold the kind of redundancy thesis according to which the interlocutors treat the notion of correctness as redundant because the notion of a name in itself contains a normative notion of correctness. Rather, Ademollo appears to be committed to the view that the interlocutors treat the notion of correctness as redundant because the notion of a name in itself does not contain a normative notion of correctness14. Philosophically, it is important to make the distinction between these two kinds of redundancy thesis. For illustration, consider the difference between claiming that describing a law as correct is redundant because a law is normatively correct by definition and claiming that describing a law as correct is redundant because a law cannot be normatively correct or incorrect (but only genuine or fake). This general philosophical difference is important, but the arguments in the following sections apply to both kinds of redundancy thesis. More specifically, as explained in the subsequent section, I take both the philological evidence from the Classical period and the general view of correctness expressed by Plato’s Socrates in other dialogues to provide reasons against both kinds of redundancy thesis. Furthermore, as brought out in the third and final section, I take Socrates’ initial discussion with Cratylus (in particular 428e–429b) to provide reasons for rejecting both kinds of redundancy thesis.

The context of the Cratylus

13This section offers two general reasons for rejecting Ademollo's claim that all three interlocutors in the Cratylus share and take for granted the 'redundancy conception' of the correctness of names.

  • 15 At least this is so in the introduction in which he presents and motivates the redundancy conceptio (...)
  • 16 In our surviving sources from the late-fifth and fourth centuries BCE, the word ὀρθότης is a term u (...)
  • 17 The interlocutors in the Cratylus make use of both options. The account of the name as an instrumen (...)

14The first general reason we should be disinclined to accept Ademollo’s redundancy claim is that the philological evidence from outside the Cratylus opposes rather than supports Ademollo's claims about the words ὀρθός and ὀρθότης in the Cratylus. To my knowledge, Ademollo only uses words and sentences from the Cratylus itself as evidence for his redundancy claim15. However, if we examine the surviving sources from the Classical period, we find that they generally use the words ὀρθός and ὀρθότης either of a concrete rightness or straightness (e.g. the uprightness of humans beings or the straightness of a tree) or of an abstract rightness or correctness (e.g. the rightness of reasoning or the correctness of speech)16. A survey of these sources has not found (nor does The Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon (LSJ) cite) any source using the word ὀρθότης in the way posited by Ademollo, i.e. as a redundant abstract noun providing speakers with a way of talking about some abstract entity (such as namehood). Indeed, it is difficult to see why a speaker of ancient Greek would use the word ὀρθότης in this way when he is able to talk about something in an abstract and general manner either by omitting the definite article or by using the definite article17.

  • 18 Cf. Plato, Resp. V, 449a; VIII, 543c–544a.
  • 19 To be clear, in my view, these passages are best interpreted as using the word ὀρθός with the meani (...)
  • 20 On a separate note, I find it very doubtful that an ancient Greek would apply the words ὀρθός and ο (...)

15In addition, the survey did not identify any source using οὐκ/μὴ ὀρθός in the way posited by Ademollo, i.e. as an ‘alienating’ predicate, like ‘fake’ in such phrases as ‘fake diamond’. LSJ cites a few sources as using the word ὀρθός with the meaning 'true', 'real', or 'genuine', and this might seem to imply that οὐκ/μὴ ὀρθός can be used as an ‘alienating’ predicate, like ‘fake’ in ‘fake diamond’. However, the sources cited by LSJ do not in fact warrant this conclusion. For example, in the Politics (III.6, 1279a17–21) Aristotle speaks of some πολιτεῖαι as being ὀρθαί, and we may feel tempted to follow LSJ in translating ὀρθαί here as 'true', 'real', or 'genuine', but we would be wrong to suppose that Aristotle regards the other πολιτεῖαι as fake. Rather, Aristotle regards them as failed πολιτεῖαι and as deviations from the ὀρθαὶ πολιτεῖαι18. Thus, even if such passages are best interpreted as using the word ὀρθός with the meaning 'true', 'real', or 'genuine'19, this does not imply that οὐκ/μὴ ὀρθός can be used as an ‘alienating’ predicate, like ‘fake’ in such phrases as ‘fake diamond’20.

  • 21 Previous scholarship does not seem to have made this point about Aristotle relying on the above-men (...)

16In fact, it seems to me that an ancient Greek person would normally only describe a thing as ὀρθός if the thing (as understood by the person) is able to be οὐκ/μὴ ὀρθός without ceasing to be the kind of thing it is. This assumption seems to underlie Aristotle's reasoning in a passage of the Nicomachean Ethics (VI.9, 1142b6–12). In this passage, Aristotle claims that good deliberation (euboulia) is a kind of correctness, but not a correctness of scientific knowledge (episteme). According to Aristotle, euboulia is not a correctness of episteme, because there is no correctness of episteme, and there is no correctness of episteme because there is no error of episteme. It seems clear that Aristotle is here making use of some general principle according to which one can only predicate correctness of a genus if one can predicate error – or incorrectness – of the same genus21. In light of the passages cited above, this principle seems to codify (rather than revise) ancient Greek common sense concerning the conception of correctness and the use of the words ὀρθός and ὀρθότης.

17In conclusion, the available philological evidence from outside the Cratylus opposes rather than supports Ademollo's claims about the words ὀρθός and ὀρθότης in the Cratylus. Indeed, the philological evidence seems to support a common sense conception of correctness that opposes both the redundancy thesis ascribed to Ademollo and the other kind of redundancy thesis outlined above. The reason is, simply, that none of the two kinds of redundancy thesis is reconcilable with a general principle according to which one can only predicate correctness of a genus if one can predicate error – or incorrectness – of the same genus.

  • 22 Resp. 601d: Οὐκοῦν ἀρετὴ καὶ κάλλος καὶ ὀρθότης ἑκάστου σκεύους καὶ ζῴου καὶ πράξεως οὐ πρὸς ἄλλο τ (...)
  • 23 Gorg. 506d: Ἀλλὰ μὲν δὴ ἥ γε ἀρετὴ ἑκάστου, καὶ σκεύους καὶ σώματος καὶ ψυχῆς αὖ καὶ ζῴου παντός, ο (...)
  • 24 Euthyd. 282a: ἐπειδὴ εὐδαίμονες μὲν εἶναι προθυμούμεθα πάντες, ἐφάνημεν δὲ τοιοῦτοι γιγνόμενοι ἐκ τ (...)

18The second general reason we should be disinclined to accept Ademollo's ascription of a redundancy conception to all three interlocutors in the Cratylus is that Plato’s Socrates generally treats the notion of correctness as an important normative notion. In Book 10 of the Republic, Socrates has Glaucon confirm that the excellence, the fineness, and the correctness of each implement, living creature, and action is related to nothing but the use for which each has been made or begotten22. Similarly, in the Gorgias Socrates claims that the excellence of each thing – implement, body, soul, and every living being – arises by association with order, correctness, and technical expertise23. Furthermore, in the Euthydemus Socrates claims that humans become happy from using things correctly, and that wisdom provides correctness and good fortune24. Similarly, in the Philebus (37d) Charmides (172a) and Meno (96d–97c) Socrates makes claims about the central role of correctness in human life. Thus, the simple fact that Plato’s Socrates generally treats the notion of correctness as an important normative notion should make us disinclined to accept Ademollo’s redundancy thesis about the notion of correctness in the Cratylus. This general objection of course only holds if, as argued above, Ademollo’s redundancy thesis involves the claim that the interlocutors in the Cratylus treat the notion of correctness as redundant because the notion of a name in itself does not contain a normative notion of correctness. What about the other kind of redundancy thesis outlined above (i.e. the one claiming that the notion of a name in itself contains a normative notion of correctness)? In my view, the fact that Plato’s Socrates generally regards correctness as belonging to things, not by definition but because of wisdom and technical expertise, should make us disinclined to accept a thesis according to which Socrates and the other interlocutors discuss the namehood of names by assuming that any name is a right name by definition.

19In conclusion, since Plato’s Socrates generally treats the notion of correctness as an important normative notion in dialogues other than the Cratylus, we should be disinclined to accept Ademollo’s claim that all three interlocutors in the Cratylus, including Socrates, share and take for granted the redundancy conception of correctness. In addition, since Plato’s Socrates generally regards correctness as belonging to things, not by definition but because of wisdom and technical expertise, we should be disinclined to accept the alternative redundancy thesis as well.

The text of the Cratylus

20Having made these two general observations about the philological evidence and the Socratic view of correctness as displayed in Plato’s dialogues, we now turn to the Cratylus in order to make more specific points about the arguments and expressions used by the interlocutors in this dialogue.

  • 25 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 3.
  • 26 Ademollo prefers the term ‘fine name’, while I prefer the term ‘good name’. Nothing turns on this d (...)

21Some passages in the Cratylus clearly run counter to the redundancy conception of the correctness of names. Ademollo recognizes that such passages exist (e.g. 392a-d; 397a-b), but claims that these passages merely display a careless use of language that is without any serious theoretical significance25. More importantly, Ademollo pays particular attention to the first pages (427e–433b) of the third part of the dialogue (427d–440e), presumably because these pages seem to pose the greatest challenge to his interpretation. While granting that Socrates makes a distinction between 'fine' and 'bad' names in these pages, Ademollo claims that the redundancy conception is still in force when Socrates makes the distinction26. As Ademollo puts it:

  • 27 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 4; cf. p. 382.

“The distinction operates within the set of correct names, i.e. of names simpliciter.27

  • 28 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 4.

22Ademollo regards the passages 432c–d and 433a–b as confirming this claim28. However, if we consider an important part of the initial discussion between Socrates and Cratylus (428d–429c), we see that Socrates and Cratylus do not distinguish between a correct name and a good name (in the way proposed by Ademollo), but hold that a correct name is a good name (and that a correctly given name is well given name). In the passage, Socrates goes over some of the main points made in the preceding discussion with Hermogenes. Among other things, Cratylus agrees that 'custom-givers' (nomothetai) are the craftsmen responsible for making names (428e7–429a1), and that some painters and builders make better products while other painters and builders make worse products (429a2–11). Socrates continues (429b1–11):

“Soc. Then do some nomothetai also make better products, while others make worse products?

Cra. Now I no longer agree.

Soc. So you don’t agree that some nomoi are better and some are worse?

Cra. Certainly not.

Soc. Nor, it seems, do you think that one name is better and another is worse?

Cra. Certainly not.

Soc. So all names are correct?

  • 29 ΣΩ. Ἆροὖν καὶ νομοθέται οἱ μὲν καλλίω τὰ αὑτῶν παρέχονται, οἱ δὲ αἰσχίω;

Cra. Yes, as many as are names29

23Two points about the passage should be obvious. First, when Cratylus confirms his rejection of the view that one name is better, and another name is worse, Socrates infers that Cratylus believes that all names are correct, and Cratylus confirms this. This line of reasoning only makes sense on the assumption that the distinction between good and bad names is directly relevant to the question whether all names are correct. If the distinction between good and bad names operated within the set of correct names (= names simpliciter), it would make no sense for Socrates to regard Cratylus’ denial of the distinction between good and bad names as committing Cratylus to the view that all names are correct. Thus, Socrates assumes – and asks Cratylus to confirm – that denying the distinction between good and bad names (and in particular denying the existence of bad names) entails the conclusion that all names are correct. Cratylus appears to have no problem with this assumption but simply confirms his belief that all names are correct in so far as they are names.

  • 30 These points hold true of both kinds of redundancy thesis, and therefore the present argument, alth (...)

24This brings us to the second point. Let us assume that Socrates and Cratylus both share and take for granted the redundancy conception of the correctness of names. On this assumption, it makes no sense for Socrates to end his line of question by concluding that, according to Cratylus, all names are correct (since Socrates and Cratylus take for granted that the statement ‘all names are correct’ boils down to the statement ‘all names are names’). Equally, on this assumption, it makes no sense for Cratylus to add 'in so far as they are names' (since Socrates and Cratylus take for granted that names are correct simply in virtue of being names)30. If instead we assume, as I think we should, that Socrates and Hermogenes have conducted their conversation assuming that there are good and bad nomothetai and correct and incorrect names, the passage reads much more naturally. On this assumption, Socrates begins the conversation with Cratylus by establishing that Cratylus denies these distinctions between good and bad nomothetai (429a2–b3), between good and bad names (428b4–9), and between correct and incorrect names (428b10–11). Thereby, Socrates has clearly and succinctly secured the foundation for the following discussion with Cratylus.

25All in all, the passage clearly shows that Socrates and Cratylus do not distinguish between a correct name and a good name (in the way proposed by Ademollo). On the contrary, Socrates and Cratylus are naturally taken to hold that a correct name is a good name. As would be expected, Ademollo offers a different interpretation of this passage. Ademollo is aware that the passage can be seen to pose problems for his redundancy thesis, but Ademollo proposes that Socrates is not asking Cratylus if he believes that all names are correct, and that Cratylus does not confirm that all names are correct in so far as they are names – which would be pointless since they take for granted their shared commitment to the redundancy conception of the correctness of names. Rather, according to Ademollo, Socrates is asking Cratylus if he believes that all names are naturally correct. Ademollo paraphrases the exchange between Socrates and Cratylus:

  • 31 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 323. (C2) stands for the second claim ascribed (...)

“In other words: ‘So you stick to your earlier claim that mere verbal conventions, being no naturally correct names, are no names at all?’ Accordingly, Cratylus’ answer amounts to: ‘Yes, a string of sounds is either a naturally correct name or no name at all’ – which boils down to the same as (C2).31

26There are several problems with Ademollo’s interpretation. First, if Socrates wanted to ask Cratylus about whether all names are naturally correct – and more specifically about whether a string of sounds is either a naturally correct name or no name at all –, it seems odd for him to ask this question with the words ‘So all names are correct?’.

27Second, if Cratylus understood Socrates’ question as having the meaning proposed by Ademollo, it seems odd for him to answer in a way that is equally implicit and unclear. Rather than clarifying that he is confirming that all names are naturally correct, Cratylus answers ‘Yes, as many as are names’ – an answer which sounds like an unhelpful truism given the shared commitment to the redundancy conception of the correctness of names, and which only has a point given the implicit and unclarified assumption that Socrates is really asking if Cratylus believes that all names are naturally correct.

  • 32 Ademollo recognizes that it would be possible for Cratylus to accept the existence of bad names whi (...)

28Third, if we accept Ademollo’s paraphrase of the exchange between Socrates and Cratylus, Socrates’ line of reasoning becomes very murky or even non-existent. Recall that Ademollo holds that the distinction between good and bad names operates within the set of correct names (= names simpliciter). In other words, the badness of a name has nothing to do with its correctness (since the correctness of a name simply involves the name’s being a name). Now, from Cratylus’ denial of the distinction between good and bad names (429b7–9: ΣΩ. Οὐδὲ δὴ ὄνομα, ὡς ἔοικε, δοκεῖ σοι κεῖσθαι τὸ μὲν χεῖρον, τὸ δὲ ἄμεινον; ΚΡ. Οὐ δῆτα.) Socrates infers that Cratylus holds that all names are naturally correct (429b10: ΣΩ. Πάντα ἄρα τὰ ὀνόματα ὀρθῶς κεῖται;). Since the badness of a name has nothing to do with the correctness of a name, Socrates’ line of reasoning appears to be a non-sequitur no matter which way the reasoning is supposed to go. That is, even if we suppose that Socrates suggests that the reason for Cratylus to deny the distinction between good and bad names is that Cratylus holds that all names are naturally correct, there appears to be no connection between the two claims given the framework stipulated by Ademollo32.

29Thus, on Ademollo’s interpretation of the passage, not only does the choice of words by Socrates and Cratylus seem unmotivated, but the argumentative import of the passage is lost as well. For these reasons Ademollo’s interpretation should be rejected and the passage should be treated as evidence of the fact that Socrates and Cratylus do not distinguish between a correct name and a good name (in the way proposed by Ademollo), but hold that a correct name is a good name. Furthermore, the passage should be treated as evidence of the fact that the interlocutors do not share and take for granted the redundancy conception of correctness. Rather, the interlocutors share and take for granted the assumption that there is a difference between being a name and being a correct name. While most scholars will probably be willing to accept that Hermogenes allows for this difference, many will deny that Cratylus does so. Clearly, Cratylus holds that all names are correct, but it is quite possible to hold this view while also holding that there is a difference between being a name and being a correct name. I will leave for future work a detailed argument for regarding Cratylus as allowing for this difference. Similarly, I will leave for future work the interpretation of the passages (432d–c and 433a–b) that Ademollo mentioned as supporting his claim that the distinction between good and bad names operates within the set of correct names, i.e. names simpliciter.

  • 33 In a forthcoming paper I develop more fully my interpretation of the relation between Cratylus’ fir (...)

30But what about the passages (e.g. 383a–b) Ademollo cited as supporting his redundancy thesis? Certainly, in several passages the interlocutors pass from talking about the correctness of names to talking about what names are (or vice versa) without explicitly mentioning that they are passing from one issue to another. However, this fact does not entail that the interlocutors express themselves as if there were no difference between being a correct name of something and being just a name of that thing. An alternative and better explanation for this fact is that they see no need to mention explicitly the fact that they are passing from one issue to the other, because they take for granted that there is an important difference between being a correct name of something and being a name of that thing. Thus, at 383a4–b2, where Ademollo takes Cratylus’ second claim about namehood as completing and explaining the first claim about correctness, we should rather take Cratylus as making two separate points, one about correctness and one about namehood33. Similarly, at 383b2-7, where Ademollo takes the reported exchange between Hermogenes and Cratylus as confirming that the interlocutors regard a correct name simply as a genuine name, we should rather take Hermogenes as targeting Cratylus’ second claim about what a name is not. That is, Hermogenes seeks to have Cratylus concede that all humans have the names we call them as a way of challenging Cratylus’ claim that a name is not what some people may call something upon having agreed to call it that. Thus, correctness is not part of Hermogenes’ line of argument. Similar points could be made about the other passages mentioned by Ademollo. The interlocutors do interlace their talk of names and correct names, but they do so knowing that there is an important difference between being a name and being a correct name.

Concluding remarks

31This paper has treated a central question concerning the notion of a correctness of names in Plato’s Cratylus. The question is whether there is a difference between being a name of something and being a correct name of something in the dialogue. The paper has considered two versions of the claim that there is no such difference. In support of the claim that there is such a difference, the paper has considered the philological evidence from the Classical period, the view of correctness expressed by Plato’s Socrates in other dialogues, Socrates’ initial discussion with Cratylus (in particular 428e–429b) as well as other passages from the Cratylus. On the basis of these considerations the paper has concluded that the interlocutors in the dialogue do not share and take for granted the view that there is no difference between being a correct name of something and being a name of something. Rather, the interlocutors – Socrates, certainly, but I include Hermogenes and Cratylus – make a distinction between being a name and being a correct name.

32Building on this basic distinction between being a name and being a correct name, I hope to be able to complete a full-scale account of the notion of a correctness of names showing that all three interlocutors operate with several further distinctions. This account will show that the interlocutors make an important distinction between what a name is in virtue of its capacity to indicate things and what a name is in virtue of its form, and that Socrates understands the relation between being a name and being a correct name as a relation of causality (and not of identity). More specifically, the account will show that Socrates regards the nature of the name – identified as what the name is in virtue of its form – as the cause of the correctness of names.

33These distinctions and others will prove crucial to understanding the notoriously difficult passage towards the end of the Cratylus (433d-435d). The passage is usually taken to present Socrates as rejecting or substantially modifying the view that there is a natural correctness of names. However, a full-scale account of the notion of the correctness of names in the Cratylus will provide us with the conceptual resources needed to show that Socrates maintains the same theory of a natural correctness of names throughout the dialogue. The present article has provided the basis for this future task by offering a range of arguments for the basic distinction between being a name and being a correct name.

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Bibliographie

Ademollo, Francesco (2011), The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, [https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511779022]

Bagwell, Geoffrey (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Ancient Philosophy 32, p. 190-193. [https://doi.org/10.5840/ancientphil201232114]

Broadie, Sarah & Christopher Rowe (eds.) (2002), Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics: Translation, Introduction, Commentary, Oxford, Oxford University Press,

Dancy, Richard (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Classical Journal Online Reviews (https://cj.camws.org/reviews.php).

Gauthier, René Antoine, & Jean Yves Jolif (1970), L'Éthique à Nicomaque (2. éd.). Louvain, Louvain, Publications universitaires; Paris, Béatrice-Nauwelaerts.

Loht, Shawn (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Journal of the History of Philosophy 50, 3, July 2012, [https://doi.org/10.1353/hph.2012.0047]

Noriega-Olmos, Simon (2011), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Bryn Mawr Classical Review. [http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2011/2011-12-60.html]

Radermacher, Ludwig (1951), Artium scriptores: Reste der voraristotelischen Rhetorik, Wien, in Kommission bei R.M. Rohrer.

Reeve, C.D.C (2013), Aristotle on Practical Wisdom: Nicomachean Ethics VI. Cambridge MA., Harvard University Press.

Schofield, Malcolm (2013), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, Gnomon, p. 489–495.

Sedley, David (2003), Plato's Cratylus, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511482649]

Stalley, Richard (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary in The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 6, p. 147-149 [https://doi.org/10.1163/187254712X621022]

Smith, Imogen (2014), ‘Taking the Tool Analogy Seriously: Forms and Naming in the Cratylus’, in The Cambridge Classical Journal 60, p. 75-99. [https://doi.org/10.1017/S1750270514000037]

Thomas, Christine J. (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Notre Dame Philosophical Review[http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/the-cratylus-of-plato-a-commentary/]

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Notes

1 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

2 The importance of the redundancy thesis for Ademollo’s overall interpretation is apparent from the fact that Ademollo opens his introduction by presenting and motivating the thesis. In addition, if one examines the references under ‘correctness of names, Redundancy Conception of’ in Ademollo’s General Index (p. 510), one can form an initial impression of the role of the redundancy conception in Ademollo’s interpretation of the dialogue.

3 No discussion in the reviews by Simon Noriega-Olmos (2011), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, [http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2011/2011-12-60.html]; Shawn Loht (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary in Journal of the History of Philosophy 50, 3, [https://doi.org/10.1353/hph.2012.0047]; and Malcolm Schofield (2013), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Gnomon, p. 489–495. Brief discussion in the reviews by Christine J. Thomas (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Notre Dame Philosophical Review, [http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/the-cratylus-of-plato-a-commentary/]; Richard Stalley (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 6, p. 147–149, [https://doi.org/10.1163/187254712X621022]; Richard Dancy (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Classical Journal Online Reviews (https://cj.camws.org/reviews.php); Geoffrey Bagwell (2012), Review of Francesco Ademollo, The Cratylus of Plato: A Commentary, in Ancient Philosophy 32, p. 190–193, [https://doi.org/10.5840/ancientphil201232114]; and in an article by Imogen Smith (2014), ‘Taking the Tool Analogy Seriously: Forms and Naming in the Cratylus’, in The Cambridge Classical Journal 60, p. 75–99. [https://doi.org/10.1017/S1750270514000037]. These reviews discuss the consequence of the redundancy thesis that, as Ademollo puts it (p. 3), ‘there are strictly speaking no degrees of correctness [italics by Ademollo]: as one name cannot be more of a name than another, so one name cannot be more correct than another.’ Bagwell (p. 193) brings up the apparent problem of reconciling this consequence with Socrates’ claims about names and portraits in the discussion with Cratylus (430a–433b). Dancy and Smith (p. 88, n. 28) contrast the ‘no degrees of ; correctness’ consequence with David Sedley’s interpretation of a passage in which Socrates apparently says that one name is more correct than another (391e–392d); cf. David Sedley (2003), Plato’s Cratylus, Cambridge, CUP, p. 78-80, 147-151. Stalley suggests we can interpret Socrates’ conception of the name as an instrument in a way allowing for degrees of correctness. Thomas contrasts the ‘no degrees of correctness’ consequence with the passages 391e-392d and 429a-433b in which, according to Thomas, Socrates seems to prefer the view that names can be better or worse.

4 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p.  2.

5 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 3.

6 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 3.

7 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 3.

8 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 2.

9 Κρατύλος φησὶν ὅδε, Σώκρατες, ὀνόματος ὀρθότητα εἶναι ἑκάστῳ τῶν ὄντων φύσει πεφυκυῖαν, καὶ οὐ τοῦτο εἶναι ὄνομα ἄν τινες συνθέμενοι καλεῖν καλῶσι, τῆς αὑτῶν φωνῆς μόριον ἐπιφθεγγόμενοι, ἀλλὰ ὀρθότητά τινα τῶν ὀνομάτων πεφυκέναι καὶ Ἕλλησι καὶ βαρβάροις τὴν αὐτὴν ἅπασιν. This translation – and the translation of 383b2-7 below – differ from Ademollo’s translation only in a few places, and for our present purposes nothing turns on these differences.

10 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 23.

11 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 24.

12 ΕΡΜ. […] ἐρωτῶ οὖν αὐτὸν ἐγὼ εἰ αὐτῷ Κρατύλος τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ὄνομα· δὲ ὁμολογεῖ. “Τί δὲ Σωκράτει;” ἔφην. “Σωκράτης,” ἦ δ’ ὅς. “Οὐκοῦν καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀνθρώποις πᾶσιν, ὅπερ καλοῦμεν ὄνομα ἕκαστον, τοῦτό ἐστιν ἑκάστῳ ὄνομα;” ὁ δέ, “Οὔκουν σοί γε,” ἦ δ’ ὅς, “ὄνομα Ἑρμογένης, οὐδὲ ἂν πάντες καλῶσιν ἄνθρωποι.”

13 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 26 (all quotes in this paragraph).

14 This conclusion seems to be confirmed by Ademollo’s own formulation of the upshot of the redundancy thesis (p. 4): ’So the issue debated in Cra. boils down to this: is the link between a name and the thing it names – its referent – natural or conventional?’.

15 At least this is so in the introduction in which he presents and motivates the redundancy conception of the correctness of names. Perhaps Ademollo adduces other philological evidence elsewhere in his commentary, but I have been unable to find any instance of this.

16 In our surviving sources from the late-fifth and fourth centuries BCE, the word ὀρθότης is a term used exclusively by philosophers and intellectuals. Apart from its frequent use in Plato and Aristotle's writings, the word makes solitary appearances in Gorgias' funeral oration (Radermacher B VII 42, l. 5–15), Aristophanes’ Frogs (1180-81), Xenophon's Memorabilia (1.4.11), the Hippocratic Coa praesigia (section 223), and Theophrastus' De causis plantarum (5.17.4). Gorgias uses the word of an abstract rightness or correctness of reasoning (ὀρθότης λόγων) while Dionysus in Aristophanes’ Frogs speaks of a correctness of words (ὀρθότης τῶν ἐπῶν). Xenophon, Coa Praesigia, and Theophrastus use the word of a concrete rightness or straightness: the uprightness of human beings (Xenophon), a fixation of the eyes (Coa Praesigia), and the straightness of a tree (Theophrastus).

17 The interlocutors in the Cratylus make use of both options. The account of the name as an instrument provides several examples (388a–c): ΣΩ. Τί δὲ ἦν ἐκεῖνο ᾧ ἔδει τρυπᾶν; ΕΡΜ. Τρύπανον. ΣΩ. Τί δὲ ᾧ κερκίζειν; ΕΡΜ. Κερκίς. ΣΩ. Τί δὲ ᾧ ὀνομάζειν; ΕΡΜ. Ὄνομα ΣΩ. Εὖ λέγεις. ὄργανον ἄρα τί ἐστι καὶ τὸ ὄνομα. ΕΡΜ. Πάνυ γε. […] ΣΩ. Ἔχεις δὴ καὶ περὶ ὀνόματος οὕτως εἰπεῖν; ὀργάνῳ ὄντι τῷ ὀνόματι ὀνομάζοντες τί ποιοῦμεν; ΕΡΜ. Οὐκ ἔχω λέγειν. ΣΩ. Ἆρ’ οὐ διδάσκομέν τι ἀλλήλους καὶ τὰ πράγματα διακρίνομεν ᾗ ἔχει; ΕΡΜ. Πάνυ γε. ΣΩ. Ὄνομα ἄρα διδασκαλικόν τί ἐστιν ὄργανον καὶ διακριτικὸν τῆς οὐσίας ὥσπερ κερκὶς ὑφάσματος. ΕΡΜ. Ναί.

18 Cf. Plato, Resp. V, 449a; VIII, 543c–544a.

19 To be clear, in my view, these passages are best interpreted as using the word ὀρθός with the meaning ‘correct’ or ‘proper’, not ‘true’, ‘real’, or ‘genuine’.

20 On a separate note, I find it very doubtful that an ancient Greek would apply the words ὀρθός and οὐκ/μὴ ὀρθός to a gemstone with the meanings 'genuine' and 'fake'. If an ancient Greek would apply these words to gemstones, I believe it would be part of an assessment of cut or polished gemstones as products of craftsmanship (i.e. one would be assessing whether the gemstone is cleanly cut, or has the shape it’s supposed to have etc.).

21 Previous scholarship does not seem to have made this point about Aristotle relying on the above-mentioned general principle about correctness. For instance, René Antoine and Jean Yves Jolif (1970), L'Éthique à Nicomaque, Louvain, Louvain Publications universitaires; Paris, Béatrice-Nauwelaerts, and Sarah Broadie & Christopher Rowe (eds.) (2002), Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics: Translation, Introduction, Commentary, Oxford, Oxford University Press make no such point. In Aristotle on Practical Wisdom: Nicomachean Ethics VI, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 2013, C.D.C. Reeve reconstructs Aristotle’s argument in a very different way from the one I have proposed. According to Reeve, Aristotle argues that good deliberation is not scientific knowledge, partly because '[…] the kind of correctness appropriate to deliberation is different from that appropriate to scientific knowledge, since scientific knowledge, unlike deliberation, does not have an incorrect or erroneous variety.' (p. 216-217). This interpretation seems clearly wrong and goes against Reeve's own translation according to which Aristotle says: 'For of scientific knowledge there is no correctness (since there is no error either).'

22 Resp. 601d: Οὐκοῦν ἀρετὴ καὶ κάλλος καὶ ὀρθότης ἑκάστου σκεύους καὶ ζῴου καὶ πράξεως οὐ πρὸς ἄλλο τι ἢ τὴν χρείαν ἐστίν, πρὸς ἣν ἂν ἕκαστον ᾖ πεποιημένον ἢ πεφυκός; – Οὕτως.

23 Gorg. 506d: Ἀλλὰ μὲν δὴ ἥ γε ἀρετὴ ἑκάστου, καὶ σκεύους καὶ σώματος καὶ ψυχῆς αὖ καὶ ζῴου παντός, οὐ τῷ εἰκῇ κάλλιστα παραγίγνεται, ἀλλὰ τάξει καὶ ὀρθότητι καὶ τέχνῃ, ἥτις ἑκάστῳ ἀποδέδοται αὐτῶν· ἆρα ἔστιν ταῦτα;

24 Euthyd. 282a: ἐπειδὴ εὐδαίμονες μὲν εἶναι προθυμούμεθα πάντες, ἐφάνημεν δὲ τοιοῦτοι γιγνόμενοι ἐκ τοῦ χρῆσθαί τε τοῖς πράγμασιν καὶ ὀρθῶς χρῆσθαι, τὴν δὲ ὀρθότητα καὶ εὐτυχίαν ἐπιστήμη <ἦν> ἡ παρέχουσα, δεῖ δή, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἐκ παντὸς τρόπου ἅπαντα ἄνδρα τοῦτο παρασκευάζεσθαι, ὅπως ὡς σοφώτατος ἔσται.

25 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 3.

26 Ademollo prefers the term ‘fine name’, while I prefer the term ‘good name’. Nothing turns on this difference.

27 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 4; cf. p. 382.

28 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 4.

29 ΣΩ. Ἆροὖν καὶ νομοθέται οἱ μὲν καλλίω τὰ αὑτῶν παρέχονται, οἱ δὲ αἰσχίω;

ΚΡ. Οὔ μοι δοκεῖ τοῦτο ἔτι.

ΣΩ. Οὐκ ἄρα δοκοῦσί σοι νόμοι οἱ μὲν βελτίους, οἱ δὲ φαυλότεροι εἶναι;

ΚΡ. Οὐ δῆτα.

ΣΩ. Οὐδὲ δὴ ὄνομα, ὡς ἔοικε, δοκεῖ σοι κεῖσθαι τὸ μὲν χεῖρον, τὸ δὲ ἄμεινον;

ΚΡ. Οὐ δῆτα.

ΣΩ. Πάντα ἄρα τὰ ὀνόματα ὀρθῶς κεῖται;

ΚΡ. Ὅσα γε ὀνόματά ἐστιν.

This translation differs from Ademollo’s translation in some places, none of which I take to be decisive.

30 These points hold true of both kinds of redundancy thesis, and therefore the present argument, although formulated to target Ademollo’s redundancy thesis, rules out both kinds of redundancy thesis.

31 Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 323. (C2) stands for the second claim ascribed to Cratylus by Hermogenes at the beginning of the dialogue (383a4-7): Κρατύλος φησὶν ὅδε […] καὶ οὐ τοῦτο εἶναι ὄνομα ὃ ἄν τινες συνθέμενοι καλεῖν καλῶσι, τῆς αὑτῶν φωνῆς μόριον ἐπιφθεγγόμενοι (in my translation: ‘Cratylus here claims […] and that a name is not what some people may call something upon having agreed to call it that, uttering a part of their own voice’.)

32 Ademollo recognizes that it would be possible for Cratylus to accept the existence of bad names while holding that all names are naturally correct but claims that Cratylus denies the existence of bad names to avoid problems of vagueness in determining the boundary between poor natural names and mere verbal conventions; cf. Francesco Ademollo (2011), The Cratylus of Plato, p. 322. It seems somewhat ironic to ascribe this concern with vagueness to Cratylus in the very same lines in which Cratylus is taken to confirm his view that all names are naturally correct in a rather unclear way.

33 In a forthcoming paper I develop more fully my interpretation of the relation between Cratylus’ first and second claim. Briefly put, rather than taking Cratylus’ second claim as related to his first claim, I regard Cratylus as denying that names can be synthemata (his second claim) because Cratylus is committed to the view that all names are (completely) correct, and that as a synthema a name would be less than (completely) correct.

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Référence électronique

Steffen Lund Jørgensen, « The notion of a correctness of names in Plato’s Cratylus. Arguments for a basic distinction », Methodos [En ligne], 19 | 2019, mis en ligne le 27 février 2019, consulté le 23 octobre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/methodos/6133 ; DOI : 10.4000/methodos.6133

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Steffen Lund Jørgensen

Roskilde Katedralskole & University of Copenhagen

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