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Observations on Plato's Cratylus Author(s): Julius Sachs Source: Transactions of the American Philological Association (1869-1896), Vol.

9 (1878), pp. 59-68 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 26/02/2014 08:28
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onPlato's Crabyl?s. IV.-Observatzons


whowishesto take of thescienceof language The student it, regarding advanced theories of the view a comprehensive earthe as writings of Plato's cannotfail to takecognizance and observationJon of speculation liestdetailedembodiment of Plato thissubject. Notbut thatamollgthe predecessors of language on the nature valuablesuggestions and Socrates of acrossthefield flashes wereisolated butthey wereoffered, discussions;neither thansystematic ratller vision intellectual in a theirinquiries formulated IlorParmenides Eerakleitos bethedifference distinctly calculatedto emphasize manner and speech. Strangethoughit may seem, tweenthought with considerably busiedthemselves theGreekphilosophers before faculties, on tlle originof the reasoning hypotlleses ofsuchinvesresults thatthefinal tlletuselves convinced they unless theyattacked be futile, must,of necessity, tigations sillce languagewas of the originof language, the problem and tllusthemostessentialcharacof reasoning, thevehicle alive to this fully of huinankind. Plato's age wasteristic we havebyno meansa tentative and in the(:ratylus inquiry, but a resume of prevalent in tllisfieldof speclllation, effort indorses, sifts, in theartof dialectics a master which theories his however, artof thewriter, or rejects. The very modifies, satire, use of the variousdevicesof oratory, consummate ofhis appreciation a correct etc.,haverendered doubt, modest as we lack almostcolnpletely difficult, all the more position held bythosephilosophers thereal opinions for theevidence his argument. as foilsfor whoseviewshe introduces have philology OI1 comparative writers modern Hencevarious with ofPlato in consistency tllepOSitiOll beenableto interpret has beenrepresented and theCratylus theories, favorite their thatproclaim treatises of thoselinguistic as the precursor as of those well as science physical a of language the study lay down may we science.One point thatmakeit a historical

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SJ. achs,

even at this stage:-Plato's Cratylus, whatever its objector tendency, cannotbe disregarded in any discussionon the scienceoflanguage; it forms thelandmark around which the speculations of theancielltson thesubjectmaybe grouped. From Herder on througll Schleiermacher, Ast, Steinhart, Benfey, Muller, Whitney, Steitlthal, Geiger, down to tllemost recent expositor oftheseissues,LudwigNoird (Ursprullg der Sprache),all seek to establish tlleirlelatiollto tllePlatonic dialog;ue;Ilay,the lasSnamedpililosopller, whose estimation of llis ownresults is significalltly presellted in the sexltence: 's Thus languagetn?l,sthave arisen; it cannot have arisen otherwise?" findsin Plato's e:xposition the germsof most advancedmodelzn tllought, as of Scllopexlllauer, and a series of linguistic and pllilosophical disco+7eries tllattllenceforward became all lleir-loom to all laterspeculative researcll. Now, notwithstandillg thediscrepancy of opiIlion as to tlleultelior significance ofthedialogue, it is a fair question, Arethere not a number of points) generally adoptedbyall commentators, from which a consistellt interpretation oughtto be possilJle ? A review of thevarious discussions OI1 tlle(:ratylus, casually undertaken byrne)llas convinced rnetllat opinions are still almost llopelessly divergent on theproblem proposed in the dialogue, and thatyet tllerellarf3 appearedtwo discussioIls thatnerit a morethorough consideration tllan theyllave received fortlleirbearingupon the Inaill issue; I referto Ben fey' s " Ueberdie Aufgabe des Platonischen Dialogs Cratylos," andDr. EXerm. Schrnidt's " Plato'sCratylus, imZusammenhange dargestellt.' The reasolls fortllisneglect seemto me to constitute a specialpleain tlleilfaxor;neither ofthem seeks to establish a relatioIlship between theCratylus and the general system ofPlatonic pllilosophy.I urgethisas a point intheirfavor, forthe Inuch-vexed questionof tllePlatonic philosophy, with its numerous subsidiary tooapt to bias thejudgment on tlleimport of thesingledialogue,and it seems to nle incompatible withthenature alld purposes of these dialogues7 that they shouldall represent one and the same line of thought, uninfluenced bythee2zigellcies ofa conversational expositioll.TwocircumstaIlces thathave, respecissues7 is

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OnPlato's CratyEus. tively, been prejudicial to these essaysin the eyes of tlle German pllilological worldwill notinfluence ourestimate of them. Dr. Schmidt'sessay does not presenta connected theoly of themeaning of theCratylus, butanalytically takes up tlle variouspassages,and,disregarding the finalreslllt, discussesfairly and acutely the interpretation which is plesumably thebest. Whilst Schmidt thenhas nospecialtlleory to advance, Benfey, wllodoeslookto tlle claimsof thework as a philosophic whole, too modestly pleads ignorance as a metapllysician, and as an exponellt of Platonicphraseology. Here,then, has been foundthevulnerable pointbytllespecialist-critics; and though it mustbe admitted thatnowand then thereoccursan impossible rendering of some Ininor passage in theGreek, his soundqllalities as a linguist more thancompensate forthisdeficiency. To those parts of Schmidt's work thatdo nottendto elucidate the questionswllicllBenfey has also treated, llothing more tllana passingnotice can be given; let it suffice tllat many a passage, inxrolving knotty, graxnmatical constructioll, has beencapitally set fortll byScllmidt. O1]tllemainissues of thedialogue, Plato'sopinionof tlle originaIld formation of lailguage, tllecontributions of the twowriters seemto me specially valuable. In thisdirectioll Benfey 11as developed in SUCCillOt argument a pointtllat is particularly timely just now,whenother Germancritics, likeScllaarscllmidt and Krolln, apply tle crucial test to every olle of the dialogues, and attempt to denythe Platonic origin of the majority. If Plato is IlOttheautllorX he argues, it wouldremain forSchaarscllmidt to provetllat thedialogueis of much latetorigin, tlle product of a time, whenthestudy of lallguagewas moret}lorougllly developed, say, tlle Aristoteliall; and as this can neverl)e clolle, tlle inherent excellence ofthetreatise as tlleoldest colnplellensise work on the subjectof linguistics remaills 1luimpaired; tlle questionof Plato's autllorship is, underall circulustallecs, secondaly to tlleinterllal consistency of tlleviewsexpressed. Let it not be supposed tllatthetreatment of thisqwlestio)l of authenticity is a purely specotative one. Scllaalschlllidt's 9

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J. Sachs,

criticisms on so-calledinconsistencies in theCratylus must standor fall,ill several ilxstances, witll tlleaccuracy of'tlanslationin a givenpassage. Thus, mThen lle ascribesto tlle autllor of theCratylus the assertion thatin a sentence each wordembodiesa judgmentupon an object, and that,'ifa statemellt is false, everv singleword' contailled ill it must also be false,a carefolstudy of tlleprevious passagewouldllave led to a mol e l atiollal coIlelusion. Witll Schaarscllmidt, mally othel s err in trtying to asceltainwhatthey call " den verllullten Silln"; tllislicenseoncegranted7 thewayis open tovaliousmystifying interpletatiolls, alld the slatural course ofreasollillg mayas well be abandolled. No morestriking iilstanceof tllis warpillgof tlle logical faculties could be foulld tllallSteilltllul's exposition oftlleol)ject of tllis dialogue ill11is " Gesclaichte cler Spracllwiss. bei denGliecllell undRoemerIl." "Tlie filstpartof tlledialogue, whelePlato proves tllata name is the sound-complement of tlle fulldamental ideaof tlle name(die Ausf'uhrung derIdee des Naulensim Laute), alld supports tlle view withthe greatest sincerity (mitseinemHerzlolute)," al] thisseriousexposition we are, according to Steilltllal, to regardas not serious, and in the fatnous second olFetymological palt whatever is sportive, conceals underit the reverse of sportive observatioll, is, in fact, exceedillgly sober. Now,wl-litlser will such methods of illterpletation lead,if,without allyclueill thewrititlgs befole us, sucllrellcleriIlgs are possible ? But wlly are sucllto?rsde foree asclibedto Plato? Because, though ansioustoestablish ascience of etylnology, he llas so littleconficlellce ill thecorrectness of his {ierivatiolls thathe fillds it safestt;oridicule tllem all, good,bad,and indiSerent. Stranget still, however, iSit tl-Iat tlleSe pllilOSOpIliCal Cl'itiCS have gellerally failedto obserxre carefully tlleexact meallillg of the tecllllical terms used;alld it is pecllliarly meritorious tllatBellfey llas establislled theseconeeptions beyolld a dout)t. Tlle qllestioll wlletller Plato collsidered lullgllage to llave origiIlated alld developed y)UEt or oE'aEl, f'or wllicll .lattelwold av^0yKq is fiXequelltly used in tlle Clatylus,could llot ive answezeel satisl'actol ily, so lollgas it was llOt (lefillitely Ullder-

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On Plato's (>Yratylve.


significaand lsopulal tecllnical lsasvalying stoodthattv>0,/Krespective itstllree disclbimillated llas carefully Bellfey i ulllimited agteement, as (1) ;' all arlitraly significatiolls, ol agleement "tlle optiollal,"(2j perfectly evely respect, boulldbyllatulal ties,"alld of persolls, of a 1lutubel accowd alld we as llas becomecollvelltiollal,9' agreelnellt (8) " stlch ol accordof tlserv^0,l}1 betweell tllevastdiffereIlce recogllize of meaning mallifest tlleoriginally bylneallsofwllicll societyr alld modificathecllallges 1lotwit}Xstalldillg a woldis letailled, wllicll rv>0;/KQ value,and tllatarl)itrary tiOllS ill etylnological desigas ploper soulld-combillatiolls UpOll certaill e.g. decides tlledifficulty recogllizes llumerals. Jowett ofxTarious nations and bv " collvelltion it oftell rellders aIld ill his latesteditioll trallof period the is pleetninelltly agreemellt.' Plato's tillle all(l wolks ill termillologv, SitiOII to a special philosopllical a reqllirc is beillgperfected, of evolutioIl wlliclltllis process a fisedtechllical witll tllanotllers pretation illtel faithful more tlleaid of kindred tllesequestiolls, vocabulary.Ill deciding aol ullworthy alld that-were desirable, verxr sciellcesis oftell the illformatio that would forego sellse of exclusivelless suclla source. Notunconsciously, from to be attailled likely about. Plato's of termsbrouglst is tllis evolutioll howevel, fioin forappears, iIlstance, towardIlicedistilletions terldency "; ill thesenseof" to meaIl of tllevetbslle employs a survey fortlle whatcoIlsidelatiorl witll failto notice alld one callllot vo^, t17tC0aLs AyELV) lle employs shadeof meallillg requisite
ovofia4EzvS rstAs^C6atS stvalS yrlrvelvS '4EfR^, ,ul,uElC0c!ll, (/lauveC0cTl azrEe'lcaSya,

to me all absolllte seel-ns of Plato's leadillgterms conception as plaillas Illadematters llas llOt he himself w}ler.e llecessity, pr8a are the veriest a!ld just quoted; ovoua ill tlle installce givellby and yet the trallslatiolls dialogue, of tl-le by-words and otl)eIsare aml)iguous, Steillllart-lbtfiller, Scllleiermacller, bytlle later ap)licationof tlleword are collfused sillce tlley with vllom ovoya IlOllll 7 8tlya-verb. by graxnlnariarls, " ill its widersellse,alld IlOt ;; word llleaIlS here Thatc)roya ill tlleCOI1importallve merelyis of no slig,llt tllenoull-forlns tliattlleverbs ifwe adnait for, questioll, oftlleInaill sideration

Ar7Aouv, CQ8CLIVELVs aTELK/30vAsc0a defitlite 6'OfKER'. A sinlilar

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J. S8he, are also oloolc*ra (and this llas,I believe, beellulshesitatingly eolleeded to Benfe), we are foreed to admitthatpr1yara ean o lollgelbe rendered, as all translatol s 11ave done, by" verb," thattlle pllrase o^0ucra Kat pr1,uara would be tautologieal, and tllatpr1ya onust indieatean illterlllediate stage between tlle " word " alld tlle" sentenee " in a logieal alld gram matieal SellSC; tlle logieal sellsebeillg diSelelstiated from thegrammatiea1 ill tlsis faslliols, tllatthesame.word Inayin turn serve as all 01/(1/1( or^.tl,u, aeeolditlg as itis aece)tedas an appellatiQn, ol collceived ofas a contlensation ofa logiealpllrase. So j3ovx^1 is the01 .,aato i30Xi (shot) as {)}1,ucl and if 13f,At'l CaIl be analyzed still fartller, it beeomesthe OsOua to anotller pr8a. Benfey eontends, and notullfairly, thatthelaternaeaning of8ya ( velb) eomesmorenaturally from tlsisoriginalapplieation, that tlle p^1,lLa eontainstl-atpart of tlle senteneewhiehis independently itltelligible. Notonly is Plato'susageofpllilosopllieal terminology often tlleeause of mistaken eonelusions, but theinstances are not infrequent wllere a modern investigatorwillbe oblivious of tlledevelopmellt and growtll of eertaillideas silleePlato's time. Elowelse coulda distin,:uislled seholarlike Steinthal sneerat JohllStuart Mill's statemellt that" words are important for theeornprellension of things," and identify thiswitll Cratylus's statement tllat" a kllowledge of tlle nclmes of thingsitlvolves a knowleigeof tlle tllings themselves," seeillg tllatCratylus refers to theoriginal pllvsieal nature of words in whiell he presumes to finda genuine refleetioll of theobjeets they refer to,whilst Zlillhas in mind tlle logieal meaning tllat llas gradually developed out of a word. Benfey and Sehmidt, whilsteogrlizant ofsuehprineiples as have herebeenstated, haveproeeeded to tllesolution of other diffieult questionsby throwing upon the words involved the lightof comparative glammar. A linkin the argument, so urges Schaarschmidt, is wanting ill the celebratedpassage (388 B.) wllere, afterspeakillg of tlle fuIlctions ofvarious instrutnents, tlleshuttle, theawl,etc.,Socrates recursto the name as an instrumellt, and drawsanalog()us conclusions.Let us examinefor a moment the test and Jowett's trailslation, whicllis no stlongellserethan any of

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On Platos (Yratylus.


asks: versiolls. Socrates the other


Wllat do ? :Do we not separateor disellgage we mreave we do, when afterward, ? ' alld shortly tllewoof thewarpfrom OVh' %@ \7(V. Tz T(lt(lV8r; Hetmogenes: Tz " Do we IsOt teacll Tz aAAE1A(llJs; AlldSocrates: Ap' ovv tllere suclla translation ? " Nowwitls sornetllillg oIle allotller to B(B('{ffKOMV. AI1 flom3tKDcro,u) ttallsitioll is all ullwarrallted thatill its plimihowever, shows, of thevelh3tZc.ffK allalysis of sepcercttion sitllificatioll true 3a we have tlse tiveloot-form Bc(t" to bulll'' alld evell the folms ullderlies whicll tlleetymoas guest,"alld it is in accord with " to elltertaill dialoguethatSocratesshoulcl of tllewllole logicalcl-laracter hand, Ontheother trallsition. logical maketl-le thusdelicately I do not believetlsatit will l)e easyto findorbewoldwhicl-l it, with v tllesamesugg7estiveness wouldcart in thetranslation asclibed usually thescopeof xneaniIlg, alld yetnottranscend ill tlle dialoguewhicll, Of tlle salient ,xoints to 3.Bacra^^. knowledge a substantial betoken form, ofthedialectic stripped conlparof students amont, llOW CUI1e11t of celtainprinciples, and list, iIlterestint, an made has Bellfey ative grammar, with connected usually to theentllusiasln waygiving without that had llas also dloppedvariousclairtls suchobservatiotis, insigllt.Among madeforPlato's liilguistic beell previously pointsI sillgle out the following:" that these prominent completely wollldcolltain which wordwouldbe mostcorrect; " agaill," wolds are overlaidby elernents; its etymological thesake of lettelsfor ol twisting off or strippillg theadditiorl is to be disreof words origin of eupholly'';"onomatopoietic of With the acknowledgment gardedalmostcorupletel.y.7' the llowever, coupled, be must insit,ht Plato's gralnmatical other or from in sportor ignorance, walningthat whether cases are in rnany oftheseprinciples theillustratiolss rnotives untrustworthy. ask,takenany youwillprobably aIld Schmidt, IIave Benfey of thatof the purpose question, on ttlecentral newpOSitiOll theClatylus? I Illayas well statetllatI lookuponBenfey's recentcontrias themostvaluable in thisquestion judgment

KpK'l4OVTS 3 Tt Bpi8D' ; OV








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J. S8hs, butioIl to its solutioil.All preeeding eommeIltators, flom Proelus to the moderlls, llave assullledas Plato's purposetlle treatmellt of tllequestion, "Has langtlage, as it exists, eome intobeillg C)V5t or Hff ! " alldllave, with all ex)enditure ofCOI1sidetable illgelluity Inailltailled tlleone or otllelissue. What eurious Inetllods ofprocedure wele llecessaly to nlakePlato a doetliIlalian oll eitllez side of this(ttlestioIl ! 'l'hat Soerates is represeilted as Fllldilst, fault witll tlleviewsofbotll C:ratyllls alld H:ermogelles, tlle typiealexpositors of tl-le twoOpilliOllS, was ulldelliable.Now ill tlle olleof theseeritiealallalyses, Soerates, so say Steilltllal alld otllers, doesrlot zleaIl wllathe says; lle eritieizes, alld yetat llealt supports a certain view. Wheneetl-lis kIlowledge of tl-eattitude of Soerates? Tlle solutioll is sirllple; not from tlleworkitself C8I} such- ineonsistellcy be gatllered, but fioln tlle desire of tlle modern theozist to eollfirm lliS experieIlces flomtllisaIleieilt produet of literattlle.Otlset s, less metapllysical, filldPlato's individual OpilliOll ill tlle gOldeIl llleall betWeell tlle OppOSillg lriews. But fortllis illtel velliIltopillionno statement eaIl be fouIld ill tlle Cratylus. Oll the eolltIary, tlle vely supporters of this theory eollfess, as Sellleiertnaeher does,that Plato's lasgllage indieates thatlle eanIlotgive satisfaetory aeeoulltof llis OpilliOll; and thus,also, llonestdoubtsas to the eogeIley of llis OWI1 opiniolls seelil to llave presented themselsres to Dellsehle in llis wolk" Die Platonisehe Spraehphilosophie" who eonfesses tllatto himselfit is IlOtelear, howill theeollerete applieatioll fu^ aIld 0ffs ean eorrespond respectively to t00(' (CUstolll) alld tvl0}/1< (agreelnellt). I eanIlot ullderstaIld why a pOillt ofprilnary sigllifieanee lausnot been ulged as the fil)alanswerto thesespeeulative fancies; thatthe lallguageof Soerates, naturally interpreted, proves himto be opposedto theviewsof bothCratylus and Ilelmo,enes is indisputable.AgaiIl,if Soerateswould wish us to aeeept tllezeverse ofwhatlaesays, thelatlguage with its faeile partieles wouldafford ullmistakable proofs ofsuellinteIltioIls; why, then, thisvacillation illstead ofa fraIlk eonfessioll oftlle situation ? Neitller )VCt nor0CEt ean languaOe, as it exists, be proved

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On Plato's dratylus.


used,lleither as actually correct;in otherwordslallguageX of meaning to thenatllral and gIowth in itsorigiIl collfortns tlleln. regarding of mankind words the agreemellt to conformably onlyluightbe coIlstructed All ideal language opHor OPO8AT(oV would these principles;ill it the veritahle of apellationactual correctness haveto be sought;whatever a is, as it weren languageshowsforthis purely.accidental to it is desirahle of ideas; and yet7 theworld from reflection tracesof syswhatexrel as it exists, extractfromlanguage, hellce established; definitely can be tematicdevelopment Plato entersas far as possibleinto an analysisof existing forarlaloties its laws. In seekiilg and scrutinizes lallguaget has,stlallgeto say,overlSeIlfty of treatmellt, to thismethod lookedthat Platonicwolk wllicIlis luoststikinglysimilar luoreso thallthe Politeiaand and e2ecutiorl) in coIlceptioIl a treattllathe lnentions. I llavein mindtheNf,8ol, Politikos tllantheCratylushut it is trne, ise farmorecompreheIlsive, equallyimpelledby the desire to estractan ideal code of in preraiIing systems7 alld opposite the es:istillg laws from such assuIed that can Plato l-lave Greece. Notfora moinerlt and modifications extetlsive a codewouldtakeetiectwitllout of timeand people, circulnstances to the limitiIlg adaptation toevolve blltrather his purpose, nor,I takeit,was thatat a11 higher something Inethods and contradictory imperfect fioln language. in itself. Andsuchis tllecasewith and consistent toevery beevidenti it Inust howeverX Undelthisassulnption7 of fllesecondpart of the of Plato,tllat therelation student be estahlished lnust partX etymological tlleso-called dialogue? widely diverged theory. Views11ave to Benfey's withrespect of Halicarnassus ftomT)ionysius its importallce respectiIlg superas tlleadditiorlal it thecardillalpointS whoconsiders to SCI'iptiOIl he givesto thedialogue: ept E7uPoA07tf proves, andwith wholooksUpOll it as " NebeIlsaclle,' Schleiermacher, expositioIl. in tllis anypurpose to filld f'ail others maIsy whortl thiscurious to fathom elldeavored aloIle llae;l 'I'hatSteintllal has alreadybeen refeIIedto, and iroIly of gravity rlisture f'aulty. llas beenshownto be exceedingly t)utllis reasoning it is llot onlyllo minor)art thathas to Bentey According

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J. Sachs, assumedin consequence of Socrates' tendency to ridicule the etymological fashions of thedayulldueproportions, but it is a legitimate outgrowth and further expositiorl of thefirst portion of thework. 'C)pfOorrBs ovoluciriv lle has theredefined as existillg, whennaIne and objectmutually suggestand cover each other. To the practical illustration of thisIrlutual kinshiphe devotesllirnselfin thesecondpart, but language, as it actually exists, bristles withimperfections, and hencethe application of his principles does not resultin a consistent seriesof etylllological analyses. Manyabsurd collceptions obtrude themselves, butit is to be remembered thatthesellse of the ludicrous is notwhathe panders to; it is latherthe xveakness of language, unphilosopllical as it needs mustbe, thatSocrates delllonstrates in thisextensive seriesof etymologies. The senseof proportion thatPlato elsewhere displays so uniformly, couldlleverhave perrtlitted him to ignorethe limitswithirl which ridicule proveselMective; so prominent a partas this secotld musthaveservedsome highelpurpose; and if Berlfey's efforts had succeededin establishiIlg this point rnerely, his treatise on the Cratylus wouldseemto me a noteworthy perforinance, worthy of general recognition and study.

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