The old linguistic problem of 'reference' in a modern reading of Plato's Sophist

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This paper is about interpreting the aim of Plato's Sophist in a linguistic framework and arguing that in its attempt at resolving the conundrum of what the true meaning and essence of the word "sophist" could be, it resembles a number of themes encountered in contemporary linguistics. I think it is important to put our findings from the Sophist in a broader Platonic context: in other words, I assume—I think not too unreasonably—that Plato pursued (or at least had in mind) a number of overall projects ('OP' for short) throughout some or most of the dialogues, while each one of the dialogues would in addition have more specific projects ('SP') as part of its individual blueprint. To be sure, the OPs, if they actually existed, might have evolved from the earlier-written to later dialogues, but their foundational premises should have remained intact. In Section A, I provide evidence for reading the Sophist on a linguistic basis. In Section B, I focus on two OPs that I think are relevant to our discussion, one having to do with language and meaning acquisition, and the second concerning the "mind" or a "thought faculty". Ultimately, in Section C, I will use the OPs to contextualise two (related) SPs in the Sophist: (i) identifying cases of intentional referrals for names versus (ii) identifying internal references when searching for word meanings without particular referable instances. At the end of this section, I will draw close parallels between this interpretation of the dialogue and a congruous project of modern 'generative' linguistics.
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Archival date: 2019-10-30
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