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  1. Proclus' Commentary on the Cratylus in Context
  2. Proclus' Commentary on the Cratylus in Context – Ancient Theories of Language and Naming | brill
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Pages: i—xvii. Pages: 31— Pages: 61— Pages: 93— Pages: — Biographical Note Robbert M. This book will be of interest to scholars working on Plato or in the field of Neoplatonic studies Proclus in particular , as well as students of the ancient philosophy of language. Terms and Conditions Privacy Statement.

However, Plato produces all those etymologies in order to throw the etymological procedure into doubt, not as an aid to grasp the nature of things. The statement that according to Aristotle names represent reality fairly correctly needs qualication, though. In De Generatione et Coruptione, for example, Aristotle appears critical about the way in which the hoi and perishing.

When something changes into perceptible matter, , when it changes into something they call it becoming unperceivable, they call it perishing. The reason for this is that their criterion for distinguishing being from not-being is whether a thing is perceived or not. According to Aristotle, the equation of being with 56 Aristotle GC b As Sedley 31 points out. The interpretation of this passage that now follows above is that of Rashed lxxlxxiv. Thus, Aristotle here seems to agree with Plato that name-givers may have got it wrong because they focused on the sensible realm.


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There is an important difference though: Aristotle may deny that the ordinary usage of the terms of becoming and perishing is entirely correct, still he believes that it points to the truth , of the matter all the same. It reveals that people instinctively understand that becoming is a development from not-being towards being, even though they fail to understand exactly the nature of both being and non-being. Once a philosopher starts analysing reality, he may discover that some things are without names.

In those cases, a philosopher may have to coin an appropriate name himself.


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To give just one example: Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics famously holds that every virtue is a mean in between a vice of deciency and a vice of excess. However, many virtues and vices appear to be without names. There is, for example, no name for those people who have a defective response to pleasure, since there are only few of them.

Aristotle thus proposes to call them the insensible, a name that ts this unfortunate group of people well.

Proclus' Commentary on the Cratylus in Context

Conclusive remark: Plato, Aristotle and the issue of the correctness of names As we have already noted, Aristotle did not discuss the topic of the correctness of names. By now it may be clear why Plato devoted a whole dialogue to the topic, whereas Aristotle remains silent about it.

To Plato the correctness of names is an issue since a Platonic dialectician uses names to discuss the structure of what he perceives to be reality, i. Since the name-givers of old apparently did not look at the intelligible realm but at the sensible realm, the names that the dialectician has at his disposal do not necessarily t intelligible. Mme si le vulgaire se trompe en assignant le perceptible ltre, le non-perceptible au non-tre, il est dans le vrai en orientant instinctivement le devenir du non-tre vers ltre. Cest ce dernier point qui importe Ar. When they fail to do so, names are incorrect, which is to say that they are unsuited for the purpose of Platonic dialectic.

They may well be suited for everyday communication, but that is not something that a philosopher when philosophizing is interested in.

Proclus' Commentary on the Cratylus in Context – Ancient Theories of Language and Naming | brill

Aristotle does not postulate an intelligible realm Philosophy, in one way or another, starts with the individual in the sensible realm. Thus, there exists no fundamental difference between the objects of ordinary language and those of philosophy.

Hence the Platonic problem of the correctness of names does not occur. Introduction About the Old Academy we know little, about its interest in the Cratylus even less.

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In this chapter, I shall therefore move straight to the Middle Platonists, be it with an occasional glance backwards to Platos immediate heirs such as Speusippus and Xenocrates. Middle Platonism, it is well-known, started off as a reaction against the scepticism of the New Academy in the rst century BCE. The never-ending search for knowledge by casting doubt over everything was replaced by attempts to construct a systematic account of Platos philosophy on a par with the systems of the popular Hellenistic schools such as the Stoa and Epicurism.

One of the major problems with these attempts was, of course, that Platos dialogues seem to be designed precisely to refute such attempts, as the still on-going debate about the correct interpretation of the Cratylus may remind us. Aristotle and the Stoics, by their own admittance, had drawn on Platos philosophy. Later Platonists argued that the doctrines of these schools could thus at least in part be seen as expositions of Platos views, be it in a far more systematic way.

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This is not to say that they thought that the Stoics and Aristotle were full-blooded Platonists. In fact, many Platonists showed themselves quite critical of various aspects of Peripatetic and Stoic philosophy.

Plato & Language: The Cratylus: Essence and Linguistification

All the same, Platonists started to import elements as well as terminology from other philosophical schools in their expositions of Platos philosophy in the belief that these elements were part of the Platonic tradition. VII de that Plato did not produce a systematic account of his philosophy because this would be impossible. This kind of Platonism is sometimes called eclectic.

I will refrain from using this label here since the term is extremely ambiguous cf. Donini [t]he history of the discussion seems to produce an exhortation to employ the term sparingly. On the idea. In the case of the Cratylus, for instance, we shall nd in this chapter that Platonists bring the Aristotelian theory of names as symbols and the Stoic theory of etymology to bear on the Cratylus in order to construct a clear-cut doctrine concerning names, their relation to the nominata, and their function in philosophical inquiries.

The importance of the Middle Platonists for the history of Platonism in general and for the interpretation of the Cratylus in particular should not be underrated. The Neoplatonists, who too assume that Plato was a doctrinal philosopher, will make critical use of the work of the Middle Platonists in their commentaries. Proclus Commentary on the Cratylus provides a good illustration in point, both in the sense that it takes over some elements from the Middle Platonic interpretations, such as the interpretation of the etymological section of the Cratylus in terms of Stoic etymological theory, and that it reacts against others, for example against the incorporation of Aristotle semantic theory into Platonism.


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Where, then, do we have to look for Middle Platonic discussions of the Cratylus? Evidence is scarce and scattered, for we have no Middle Platonic equivalent to Proclus Commentary. It was not until the second half of the second century CE that Platonists, following the example set by the Peripatos, fully embraced the commentary as the principle medium for the expression of philosophical ideas. Next, I shall discuss the most substantial Middle Platonic discussion of the Cratylus, a section from in Alcinous Handbook of Platonism.

This discussion will serve as a rm basis for the rest of the chapter, which will deal with such diverse authors as Antiochus of Ascalon, Plutarch of Chaeroneia, Philo of Alexandria, and nally Galen. Whereas the central question in the Cratylus had been whether the or nature correctness of names is a matter of convention , the central issue in Hellenistic theories of language was that of the origin of names, whether names are the product of imposition or of a spontaneous natural process.

Both in ancient and modern times the two questions tended to get confused, even though, as we shall see, many ancient author, including Alcinous and Proclus, were quite capable of distinguishing the two.

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In a well-known text, the patristic author Origen describes the positions of Aristotle, the Stoa, and Epicurus as follows: T. Are names, as Aristotle thinks, the product of imposition? Or are they, as the Stoics believe, the product of nature , positing that the rst sounds imitate the things to which the names belong, on the basis of which they propose some elements of etymology?

Or are names, as Epicurus teaches, a product of nature yet in a manner different from that of the Stoics, since the rst men uttered certain sounds concerning the things? Origen Contra Celsum I Aristotle, as we have seen, holds that names are purely conventional, arbitrary symbols. By implication there is nothing natural about names, neither in the sense that names are necessarily images of their objects, nor in the sense that names are the product of nature. For that reason, he is here presented as the most prominent representative of the view that names are just the product of imposition.

In contrast to Aristotle, the Stoics hold that names are the product of nature in a manner that recalls Socrates theory in the Cratylus. It is thus generally assumed that the Cratylus informed the Stoic theory of names. Since names are thus determined by the nature On the issue, see Fehling On the inuence of the Cratylus on the Stoa, see, e. Names imitate of which their objects by means of the rst sounds they are composed.

These sounds are akin to the elementary names of the Cratylus. In a similar vein, the Stoics believe that because of these rst sounds a name will generate the same sort of sensation in the hearer as the perception of the actual object would. The name lana wool, the example is from Varro contains the smooth sound l. Hearing the name lana thus produces the same sort of sensation as when we actually feel the smoothness of wool by touching it. In fact, the very word not, as is often thought, indicate the science of discovering the true meaning of a word, but instead that of nding in words the true facts about the objects that they name.

Even though Plato, like the Stoics, assumes that etymology reveals the opinions of the name-givers regarding the nature of things, he does not think that the study of names is in any way philosophically helpful. We have no reason to presuppose that the ancient name-givers enjoyed a better understanding of the world than we do. Rather the opposite appeared to be the case. The rst namegivers focussed on the sensible, ever-changing world instead of on the real objects of knowledge, the intelligible realm.

The Stoics do not share Socrates pessimism about the capacities of the ancient name-givers. Quite to the contrary, they believe that the rst humans actually understood the nature of. On the Stoic rst sounds, see, e.