Plato's Philosophy of Language in the "Cratylus" and the "Parmenides"

Dissertation, The University of Rochester (1995)
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Abstract

The thesis proposes that there is a connection between Plato's views on language in the Cratylus and the Third Man Argument in the Parmenides. First, the thesis sets out to establish that previous analyses of the Cratylus, which concentrated mainly on the question of whether Plato adopted conventionalism or naturalism, are not completely satisfactory. Rather, it is argued that the Cratylus is concerned with discovering the conditions underlying the sign relation. As a result, Plato develops a distinctive theory of correctness, where Forms are expected to function as both meanings and referents of words. ;The thesis then outlines Gregory Vlastos' seminal paper on the Third Man Argument. Alternatives to Vlastos' position have focused on how to interpret the Self-Predication Assumption, i.e. the belief that 'F-ness is F.' This dissertation, first, surveys some of the alternatives that have been offered over the years, and then, explains how these alternatives employ concepts like meaning and reference, either explicitly or implicitly. ;Finally, it is argued that the traditional reading of the Third Man Argument has a linguistic analogue, and that the puzzle generated in this linguistic analogue is a result of the theory of the correctness of names that Plato developed in the Cratylus. The linguistic version of the Third Man Argument that is presented illustrates one consequence of Plato's theory of correctness. Forms are supposed to provide the criteria for an individual's being included in the denotation of a term, while, at the same time, Forms themselves are included in the denotation without necessarily fitting the criteria. This occurs, it is suggested, because the theory of correctness was designed to account for the possibility of true and false statements about sensible particulars. It thus serves as a theory of predication for sensible particulars, but cannot explain predication in statements about Forms

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