Plato on conventionalism

Phronesis 42 (2):143 - 162 (1997)
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A new reading of Plato's account of conventionalism about names in the Cratylus. It argues that Hermogenes' position, according to which a name is whatever anybody 'sets down' as one, does not have the counterintuitive consequences usually claimed. At the same time, Plato's treatment of conventionalism needs to be related to his treatment of formally similar positions in ethics and politics. Plato is committed to standards of objective natural correctness in all such areas, despite the problematic consequences which, as he himself shows, arise in the case of language.

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Rachel Barney
University of Toronto, St. George


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