CRATYLUS by Plato, Part 16
Crat. That is true.
Soc. Then the artist of names may be sometimes good, or he may be bad?
Soc. And this artist of names is called the legislator?
Soc. Then like other artists the legislator may be good or he may be bad; it must surely be so if our former admissions hold good?
Crat. Very true, Socrates; but the case of language, you see, is different; for when by the help of grammar we assign the letters a or b, or any other letters to a certain name, then, if we add, or subtract, or misplace a letter, the name which is written is not only written wrongly, but not written at all; and in any of these cases becomes other than a name.
Soc. But I doubt whether your view is altogether correct, Cratylus.
Crat. How so?
Soc. I believe that what you say may be true about numbers, which must be just what they are, or not be at all; for example, the number ten at once becomes other than ten if a unit be added or subtracted, and so of any other number: but this does not apply to that which is qualitative or to anything which is represented under an image. I should say rather that the image, if expressing in every point the entire reality, would no longer be an image. Let us suppose the existence of two objects: one of them shall be Cratylus, and the other the image of Cratylus; and we will suppose, further, that some God makes not only a representation such as a painter would make of your outward form and colour, but also creates an inward organization like yours, having the same warmth and softness; and into this infuses motion, and soul, and mind, such as you have, in a word copies all your qualities, and places them by you in another form; would you say that this was Cratylus and the image of Cratylus, or that there were two Cratyluses?
Crat. I should say that there were two Cratyluses.
Soc. Then you see, my friend, that we must find some other principle of truth in images, and also in names; and not insist that an image is no longer an image when something is added or subtracted. Do you not perceive that images are very far from having qualities which are the exact counterpart of the realities which they represent?
Crat. Yes, I see.
Soc. But then how ridiculous would be the effect of names on things, if they were exactly the same with them! For they would be the doubles of them, and no one would be able to determine which were the names and which were the realities.
Crat. Quite true.
Soc. Then fear not, but have the courage to admit that one name may be correctly and another incorrectly given; and do not insist that the name shall be exactly the same with the thing; but allow the occasional substitution of a wrong letter, and if of a letter also of a noun in a sentence, and if of a noun in a sentence also of a sentence which is not appropriate to the matter, and acknowledge that the thing may be named, and described, so long as the general character of the thing which you are describing is retained; and this, as you will remember, was remarked by Hermogenes and myself in the particular instance of the names of the letters.
Crat. Yes, I remember.
Soc. Good; and when the general character is preserved, even if some of the proper letters are wanting, still the thing is signified;- well, if all the letters are given; not well, when only a few of them are given. I think that we had better admit this, lest we be punished like travellers in Aegina who wander about the street late at night: and be likewise told by truth herself that we have arrived too late; or if not, you must find out some new notion of correctness of names, and no longer maintain that a name is the expression of a thing in letters or syllables; for if you say both, you will be inconsistent with yourself.
Crat. I quite acknowledge, Socrates, what you say to be very reasonable.
Soc. Then as we are agreed thus far, let us ask ourselves whether a name rightly imposed ought not to have the proper letters.
Soc. And the proper letters are those which are like the things?
Soc. Enough then of names which are rightly given. And in names which are incorrectly given, the greater part may be supposed to be made up of proper and similar letters, or there would be no likeness; but there will be likewise a part which is improper and spoils the beauty and formation of the word: you would admit that?
Crat. There would be no use, Socrates, in my quarrelling with you, since I cannot be satisfied that a name which is incorrectly given is a name at all.
Soc. Do you admit a name to be the representation of a thing?
Crat. Yes, I do.
Soc. But do you not allow that some nouns are primitive, and some derived?
Crat. Yes, I do.
Soc. Then if you admit that primitive or first nouns are representations of things, is there any better way of framing representations than by assimilating them to the objects as much as you can; or do you prefer the notion of Hermogenes and of many others, who say that names are conventional, and have a meaning to those who have agreed about them, and who have previous knowledge of the things intended by them, and that convention is the only principle; and whether you abide by our present convention, or make a new and opposite one, according to which you call small great and great small- that, they would say, makes no difference, if you are only agreed. Which of these two notions do you prefer?
Crat. Representation by likeness, Socrates, is infinitely better than representation by any chance sign.
Soc. Very good: but if the name is to be like the thing, the letters out of which the first names are composed must also be like things. Returning to the image of the picture, I would ask, How could any one ever compose a picture which would be like anything at all, if there were not pigments in nature which resembled the things imitated, and out of which the picture is composed?
Soc. No more could names ever resemble any actually existing thing, unless the original elements of which they are compounded bore some degree of resemblance to the objects of which the names are the imitation: And the original elements are letters?
Soc. Let me now invite you to consider what Hermogenes and I were saying about sounds. Do you agree with me that the letter r is expressive of rapidity, motion, and hardness? Were we right or wrong in saying so?
Crat. I should say that you were right.
Soc. And that l was expressive of smoothness, and softness, and the like?
Crat. There again you were right.
Soc. And yet, as you are aware, that which is called by us sklerotes, is by the Eretrians called skleroter.
Crat. Very true.
Soc. But are the letters r and s, equivalents; and is there the same significance to them in the termination r, which there is to us in s, or is there no significance to one of us?
Crat. Nay, surely there is a significance to both of us.
Soc. In as far as they are like, or in as far as they are unlike?
Crat. In as far as they are like.
Soc. Are they altogether alike?
Crat. Yes; for the purpose of expressing motion.
Soc. And what do you say of the insertion of the l? for that is expressive not of hardness but of softness.
Crat. Why, perhaps the letter l is wrongly inserted, Socrates, and should be altered into r, as you were saying to Hermogenes and in my opinion rightly, when you spoke of adding and subtracting letters upon occasion.
Soc. Good. But still the word is intelligible to both of us; when I say skleros (hard), you know what I mean.
Crat. Yes, my dear friend, and the explanation of that is custom.
Soc. And what is custom but convention? I utter a sound which I understand, and you know that I understand the meaning of the sound: this is what you are saying?
Soc. And if when I speak you know my meaning, there is an indication given by me to you?
Soc. This indication of my meaning may proceed from unlike as well as from like, for example in the l of sklerotes. But if this is true, then you have made a convention with yourself, and the correctness of a name turns out to be convention, since letters which are unlike are indicative equally with those which are like, if they are sanctioned by custom and convention. And even supposing that you distinguish custom from convention ever so much, still you must say that the signification of words is given by custom and not by likeness, for custom may indicate by the unlike as well as by the like. But as we are agreed thus far, Cratylus (for I shall assume that your silence gives consent), then custom and convention must be supposed to contribute to the indication of our thoughts; for suppose we take the instance of number, how can you ever imagine, my good friend, that you will find names resembling every individual number, unless you allow that which you term convention and agreement to have authority in determining the correctness of names? I quite agree with you that words should as far as possible resemble things; but I fear that this dragging in of resemblance, as Hermogenes says, is a shabby thing, which has to be supplemented by the mechanical aid of convention with a view to correctness; for I believe that if we could always, or almost always, use likenesses, which are perfectly appropriate, this would be the most perfect state of language; as the opposite is the most imperfect. But let me ask you, what is the force of names, and what is the use of them?
Crat. The use of names, Socrates, as I should imagine, is to inform: the simple truth is, that he who knows names knows also the things which are expressed by them.
Soc. I suppose you mean to say, Cratylus, that as the name is, so also is the thing; and that he who knows the one will also know the other, because they are similars, and all similars fall under the same art or science; and therefore you would say that he who knows names will also know things.
Crat. That is precisely what I mean.
Soc. But let us consider what is the nature of this information about things which, according to you, is given us by names. Is it the best sort of information? or is there any other? What do you say?
Crat. I believe that to be both the only and the best sort of information about them; there can be no other.
Soc. But do you believe that in the discovery of them, he who discovers the names discovers also the things; or is this only the method of instruction, and is there some other method of enquiry and discovery.
Crat. I certainly believe that the methods of enquiry and discovery are of the same nature as instruction.
Soc. Well, but do you not see, Cratylus, that he who follows names in the search after things, and analyses their meaning, is in great danger of being deceived?
Crat. How so?
Soc. Why clearly he who first gave names gave them according to his conception of the things which they signified- did he not?
Soc. And if his conception was erroneous, and he gave names according to his conception, in what position shall we who are his followers find ourselves? Shall we not be deceived by him?
Crat. But, Socrates, am I not right in thinking that he must surely have known; or else, as I was saying, his names would not be names at all? And you have a clear proof that he has not missed the truth, and the proof is- that he is perfectly consistent. Did you ever observe in speaking that all the words which you utter have a common character and purpose?
Soc. But that, friend Cratylus, is no answer. For if he did begin in error, he may have forced the remainder into agreement with the original error and with himself; there would be nothing strange in this, any more than in geometrical diagrams, which have often a slight and invisible flaw in the first part of the process, and are consistently mistaken in the long deductions which follow. And this is the reason why every man should expend his chief thought and attention on the consideration of his first principles:- are they or are they not rightly laid down? and when he has duly sifted them, all the rest will follow. Now I should be astonished to find that names are really consistent. And here let us revert to our former discussion: Were we not saying that all things are in motion and progress and flux, and that this idea of motion is expressed by names? Do you not conceive that to be the meaning of them?
Crat. Yes; that is assuredly their meaning, and the true meaning.
Soc. Let us revert to episteme (knowledge) and observe how ambiguous this word is, seeming rather to signify stopping the soul at things than going round with them; and therefore we should leave the beginning as at present, and not reject the e, but make an insertion of an instead of an i (not pioteme, but epiisteme). Take another example: bebaion (sure) is clearly the expression of station and position, and not of motion. Again, the word istoria (enquiry) bears upon the face of it the stopping (istanai) of the stream; and the word piston (faithful) certainly indicates cessation of motion; then, again, mneme (memory), as any one may see, expresses rest in the soul, and not motion. Moreover, words such as amartia and sumphora, which have a bad sense, viewed in the light of their etymologies will be the same as sunesis and episteme and other words which have a good sense (i.e., omartein, sunienai, epesthai, sumphersthai) and much the same may be said of amathia and akolaia, for amathia may be explained as e ama theo iontos poreia, and akolasia as e akolouthia tois pragmasin. Thus the names which in these instances we find to have the worst sense, will turn out to be framed on the same principle as those which have the best. And any one I believe who would take the trouble might find many other examples in which the giver of names indicates, not that things are in motion or progress, but that they are at rest; which is the opposite of motion.
Crat. Yes, Socrates, but observe; the greater number express motion.
Soc. What of that, Cratylus? Are we to count them like votes? and is correctness of names the voice of the majority? Are we to say of whichever sort there are most, those are the true ones?
Crat. No; that is not reasonable.
Soc. Certainly not. But let us have done with this question and proceed to another, about which I should like to know whether you think with me. Were we not lately acknowledging that the first givers of names in states, both Hellenic and barbarous, were the legislators, and that the art which gave names was the art of the legislator?
Crat. Quite true.
Soc. Tell me, then, did the first legislators, who were the givers of the first names, know or not know the things which they named?
Crat. They must have known, Socrates.
Soc. Why, yes, friend Cratylus, they could hardly have been ignorant.
Crat. I should say not.
Soc. Let us return to the point from which we digressed. You were saying, if you remember, that he who gave names must have known the things which he named; are you still of that opinion?
Crat. I am.
Soc. And would you say that the giver of the first names had also a knowledge of the things which he named?
Crat. I should.
Soc. But how could he have learned or discovered things from names if the primitive names were not yet given? For, if we are correct in our view, the only way of learning and discovering things, is either to discover names for ourselves or to learn them from others.
Crat. I think that there is a good deal in what you say, Socrates.
Soc. But if things are only to be known through names, how can we suppose that the givers of names had knowledge, or were legislators before there were names at all, and therefore before they could have known them?
Crat. I believe, Socrates, the true account of the matter to be, that a power more than human gave things their first names, and that the names which are thus given are necessarily their true names.
Soc. Then how came the giver of the names, if he was an inspired being or God, to contradict himself? For were we not saying just now that he made some names expressive of rest and others of motion? Were we mistaken?
Crat. But I suppose one of the two not to be names at all.
Soc. And which, then, did he make, my good friend; those which are expressive of rest, or those which are expressive of motion? This is a point which, as I said before, cannot be determined by counting them.
Crat. No; not in that way, Socrates.
Soc. But if this is a battle of names, some of them asserting that they are like the truth, others contending that they are, how or by what criterion are we to decide between them? For there are no other names to which appeal can be made, but obviously recourse must be had to another standard which, without employing names, will make clear which of the two are right; and this must be a standard which shows the truth of things.
Crat. I agree.
Soc. But if that is true, Cratylus, then I suppose that things may be known without names?
Soc. But how would you expect to know them? What other way can there be of knowing them, except the true and natural way, through their affinities, when they are akin to each other, and through themselves? For that which is other and different from them must signify something other and different from them.
Crat. What you are saying is, I think, true.
Soc. Well, but reflect; have we not several times acknowledged that names rightly given are the likenesses and images of the things which they name?
Soc. Let us suppose that to any extent you please you can learn things through the medium of names, and suppose also that you can learn them from the things themselves- which is likely to be the nobler and clearer way to learn of the image, whether the image and the truth of which the image is the expression have been rightly conceived, or to learn of the truth whether the truth and the image of it have been duly executed?
Crat. I should say that we must learn of the truth.
Soc. How real existence is to be studied or discovered is, I suspect, beyond you and me. But we may admit so much, that the knowledge of things is not to be derived from names. No; they must be studied and investigated in themselves.
Crat. Clearly, Socrates.
Soc. There is another point. I should not like us to be imposed upon by the appearance of such a multitude of names, all tending in the same direction. I myself do not deny that the givers of names did really give them under the idea that all things were in motion and flux; which was their sincere but, I think, mistaken opinion. And having fallen into a kind of whirlpool themselves, they are carried round, and want to drag us in after them. There is a matter, master Cratylus, about which I often dream, and should like to ask your opinion: Tell me, whether there is or is not any absolute beauty or good, or any other absolute existence?
Crat. Certainly, Socrates, I think so.
Soc. Then let us seek the true beauty: not asking whether a face is fair, or anything of that sort, for all such things appear to be in a flux; but let us ask whether the true beauty is not always beautiful.
Soc. And can we rightly speak of a beauty which is always passing away, and is first this and then that; must not the same thing be born and retire and vanish while the word is in our mouths?
Soc. Then how can that be a real thing which is never in the same state? I for obviously things which are the same cannot change while they remain the same; and if they are always the same and in the same state, and never depart from their original form, they can never change or be moved.
Crat. Certainly they cannot.
Soc. Nor yet can they be known by any one; for at the moment that the observer approaches, then they become other and of another nature, so that you cannot get any further in knowing their nature or state, for you cannot know that which has no state.
Soc. Nor can we reasonably say, Cratylus, that there is knowledge at all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature of knowledge changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no knowledge; and if the transition is always going on, there will always be no knowledge, and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing to be known: but if that which knows and that which is known exist ever, and the beautiful and the good and every other thing also exist, then I do not think that they can resemble a process or flux, as we were just now supposing. Whether there is this eternal nature in things, or whether the truth is what Heracleitus and his followers and many others say, is a question hard to determine; and no man of sense will like to put himself or the education of his mind in the power of names: neither will he so far trust names or the givers of names as to be confident in any knowledge which condemns himself and other existences to an unhealthy state of unreality; he will not believe that all things leak like a pot, or imagine that the world is a man who has a running at the nose. This may be true, Cratylus, but is also very likely to be untrue; and therefore I would not have you be too easily persuaded of it. Reflect well and like a man, and do not easily accept such a doctrine; for you are young and of an age to learn. And when you have found the truth, come and tell me.
Crat. I will do as you say, though I can assure you, Socrates, that I have been considering the matter already, and the result of a great deal of trouble and consideration is that I incline to Heracleitus.
Soc. Then, another day, my friend, when you come back, you shall give me a lesson; but at present, go into the country, as you are intending, and Hermogenes shall set you on your way.
Crat. Very good, Socrates; I hope, however, that you will continue to think about these things yourself.
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