Platonic and Aristotelian Influences in the Philosophy of Language: A Case for the Priority of the Cratylus

Hayden Kee
Chinese University of Hong Kong
Aristotle’s De Interpretatione has been referred to as the most influential text to be written in the history of semantics. I argue, however, that it is Plato who lays the foundation for subsequent reflection on signification. In the Cratylus, Plato confronts the two prevalent views of his time on the nature of the relationship between a name and a thing named: conventionalism, which holds that there is an arbitrary, imposed relationship between names and what they name; and naturalism, which holds that there is a natural relationship between names and what they name. The true originality of Plato’s line of reasoning consists in arguing that whether we begin with naturalism or conventionalism, we are soon forced to introduce a third, mediating term between word and thing into the relation of signification. Plato thus establishes the tertiary nature of the sign-relation, a position that Aristotle takes for granted.
Keywords Plato  Aristotle  Plato's Cratylus  Ancient Philosophy of Language  Philosophy of Language
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