Language, Communication, and the Paradox of Analysis: Some Philosophical Remarks on Plato's Cratylus

Abstract

On the face of it, Plato’s dialogue the Cratylus has a clear and narrowly linguistic subject matter, specifically, the debate between conventionalism and naturalism in the theory of meaning. But why should this topic be of sufficient interest to Plato to warrant an entire dialogue? What philosophically was at stake for him in these seemingly recherché questions about language? I argue that at least one major motivation is a defense of Platonistic epistemology and, in particular, Plato’s Theory of Recollection. Specifically, I argue that conventionalism and naturalism pose alternative responses to a certain version of the paradox of analysis. If either is correct, Plato’s own solution to the paradox – the Theory of Recollection – will not be adequately motivated. If, however, neither conventionalism nor naturalism can plausibly avoid the paradox, the Theory of Recollection will still be needed

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