Part 3 out of 3
SOCRATES: That is a tremendous class of names which you are disinterring;
still, as I have put on the lion's skin, I must not be faint of heart; and
I suppose that I must consider the meaning of wisdom (phronesis) and
understanding (sunesis), and judgment (gnome), and knowledge (episteme),
and all those other charming words, as you call them?
HERMOGENES: Surely, we must not leave off until we find out their meaning.
SOCRATES: By the dog of Egypt I have a not bad notion which came into my
head only this moment: I believe that the primeval givers of names were
undoubtedly like too many of our modern philosophers, who, in their search
after the nature of things, are always getting dizzy from constantly going
round and round, and then they imagine that the world is going round and
round and moving in all directions; and this appearance, which arises out
of their own internal condition, they suppose to be a reality of nature;
they think that there is nothing stable or permanent, but only flux and
motion, and that the world is always full of every sort of motion and
change. The consideration of the names which I mentioned has led me into
making this reflection.
HERMOGENES: How is that, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Perhaps you did not observe that in the names which have been
just cited, the motion or flux or generation of things is most surely
HERMOGENES: No, indeed, I never thought of it.
SOCRATES: Take the first of those which you mentioned; clearly that is a
name indicative of motion.
HERMOGENES: What was the name?
SOCRATES: Phronesis (wisdom), which may signify phoras kai rhou noesis
(perception of motion and flux), or perhaps phoras onesis (the blessing of
motion), but is at any rate connected with pheresthai (motion); gnome
(judgment), again, certainly implies the ponderation or consideration
(nomesis) of generation, for to ponder is the same as to consider; or, if
you would rather, here is noesis, the very word just now mentioned, which
is neou esis (the desire of the new); the word neos implies that the world
is always in process of creation. The giver of the name wanted to express
this longing of the soul, for the original name was neoesis, and not
noesis; but eta took the place of a double epsilon. The word sophrosune is
the salvation (soteria) of that wisdom (phronesis) which we were just now
considering. Epioteme (knowledge) is akin to this, and indicates that the
soul which is good for anything follows (epetai) the motion of things,
neither anticipating them nor falling behind them; wherefore the word
should rather be read as epistemene, inserting epsilon nu. Sunesis
(understanding) may be regarded in like manner as a kind of conclusion; the
word is derived from sunienai (to go along with), and, like epistasthai (to
know), implies the progression of the soul in company with the nature of
things. Sophia (wisdom) is very dark, and appears not to be of native
growth; the meaning is, touching the motion or stream of things. You must
remember that the poets, when they speak of the commencement of any rapid
motion, often use the word esuthe (he rushed); and there was a famous
Lacedaemonian who was named Sous (Rush), for by this word the
Lacedaemonians signify rapid motion, and the touching (epaphe) of motion is
expressed by sophia, for all things are supposed to be in motion. Good
(agathon) is the name which is given to the admirable (agasto) in nature;
for, although all things move, still there are degrees of motion; some are
swifter, some slower; but there are some things which are admirable for
their swiftness, and this admirable part of nature is called agathon.
Dikaiosune (justice) is clearly dikaiou sunesis (understanding of the
just); but the actual word dikaion is more difficult: men are only agreed
to a certain extent about justice, and then they begin to disagree. For
those who suppose all things to be in motion conceive the greater part of
nature to be a mere receptacle; and they say that there is a penetrating
power which passes through all this, and is the instrument of creation in
all, and is the subtlest and swiftest element; for if it were not the
subtlest, and a power which none can keep out, and also the swiftest,
passing by other things as if they were standing still, it could not
penetrate through the moving universe. And this element, which
superintends all things and pierces (diaion) all, is rightly called
dikaion; the letter k is only added for the sake of euphony. Thus far, as
I was saying, there is a general agreement about the nature of justice; but
I, Hermogenes, being an enthusiastic disciple, have been told in a mystery
that the justice of which I am speaking is also the cause of the world:
now a cause is that because of which anything is created; and some one
comes and whispers in my ear that justice is rightly so called because
partaking of the nature of the cause, and I begin, after hearing what he
has said, to interrogate him gently: 'Well, my excellent friend,' say I,
'but if all this be true, I still want to know what is justice.' Thereupon
they think that I ask tiresome questions, and am leaping over the barriers,
and have been already sufficiently answered, and they try to satisfy me
with one derivation after another, and at length they quarrel. For one of
them says that justice is the sun, and that he only is the piercing
(diaionta) and burning (kaonta) element which is the guardian of nature.
And when I joyfully repeat this beautiful notion, I am answered by the
satirical remark, 'What, is there no justice in the world when the sun is
down?' And when I earnestly beg my questioner to tell me his own honest
opinion, he says, 'Fire in the abstract'; but this is not very
intelligible. Another says, 'No, not fire in the abstract, but the
abstraction of heat in the fire.' Another man professes to laugh at all
this, and says, as Anaxagoras says, that justice is mind, for mind, as they
say, has absolute power, and mixes with nothing, and orders all things, and
passes through all things. At last, my friend, I find myself in far
greater perplexity about the nature of justice than I was before I began to
learn. But still I am of opinion that the name, which has led me into this
digression, was given to justice for the reasons which I have mentioned.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that you are not improvising now; you must
have heard this from some one else.
SOCRATES: And not the rest?
SOCRATES: Well, then, let me go on in the hope of making you believe in
the originality of the rest. What remains after justice? I do not think
that we have as yet discussed courage (andreia),--injustice (adikia), which
is obviously nothing more than a hindrance to the penetrating principle
(diaiontos), need not be considered. Well, then, the name of andreia seems
to imply a battle;--this battle is in the world of existence, and according
to the doctrine of flux is only the counterflux (enantia rhon): if you
extract the delta from andreia, the name at once signifies the thing, and
you may clearly understand that andreia is not the stream opposed to every
stream, but only to that which is contrary to justice, for otherwise
courage would not have been praised. The words arren (male) and aner (man)
also contain a similar allusion to the same principle of the upward flux
(te ano rhon). Gune (woman) I suspect to be the same word as goun (birth):
thelu (female) appears to be partly derived from thele (the teat), because
the teat is like rain, and makes things flourish (tethelenai).
HERMOGENES: That is surely probable.
SOCRATES: Yes; and the very word thallein (to flourish) seems to figure
the growth of youth, which is swift and sudden ever. And this is expressed
by the legislator in the name, which is a compound of thein (running), and
allesthai (leaping). Pray observe how I gallop away when I get on smooth
ground. There are a good many names generally thought to be of importance,
which have still to be explained.
SOCRATES: There is the meaning of the word techne (art), for example.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: That may be identified with echonoe, and expresses the
possession of mind: you have only to take away the tau and insert two
omichrons, one between the chi and nu, and another between the nu and eta.
HERMOGENES: That is a very shabby etymology.
SOCRATES: Yes, my dear friend; but then you know that the original names
have been long ago buried and disguised by people sticking on and stripping
off letters for the sake of euphony, and twisting and bedizening them in
all sorts of ways: and time too may have had a share in the change. Take,
for example, the word katoptron; why is the letter rho inserted? This must
surely be the addition of some one who cares nothing about the truth, but
thinks only of putting the mouth into shape. And the additions are often
such that at last no human being can possibly make out the original meaning
of the word. Another example is the word sphigx, sphiggos, which ought
properly to be phigx, phiggos, and there are other examples.
HERMOGENES: That is quite true, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And yet, if you are permitted to put in and pull out any letters
which you please, names will be too easily made, and any name may be
adapted to any object.
SOCRATES: Yes, that is true. And therefore a wise dictator, like
yourself, should observe the laws of moderation and probability.
HERMOGENES: Such is my desire.
SOCRATES: And mine, too, Hermogenes. But do not be too much of a
precisian, or 'you will unnerve me of my strength (Iliad.).' When you have
allowed me to add mechane (contrivance) to techne (art) I shall be at the
top of my bent, for I conceive mechane to be a sign of great accomplishment
--anein; for mekos has the meaning of greatness, and these two, mekos and
anein, make up the word mechane. But, as I was saying, being now at the
top of my bent, I should like to consider the meaning of the two words
arete (virtue) and kakia (vice); arete I do not as yet understand, but
kakia is transparent, and agrees with the principles which preceded, for
all things being in a flux (ionton), kakia is kakos ion (going badly); and
this evil motion when existing in the soul has the general name of kakia,
or vice, specially appropriated to it. The meaning of kakos ienai may be
further illustrated by the use of deilia (cowardice), which ought to have
come after andreia, but was forgotten, and, as I fear, is not the only word
which has been passed over. Deilia signifies that the soul is bound with a
strong chain (desmos), for lian means strength, and therefore deilia
expresses the greatest and strongest bond of the soul; and aporia
(difficulty) is an evil of the same nature (from a (alpha) not, and
poreuesthai to go), like anything else which is an impediment to motion and
movement. Then the word kakia appears to mean kakos ienai, or going badly,
or limping and halting; of which the consequence is, that the soul becomes
filled with vice. And if kakia is the name of this sort of thing, arete
will be the opposite of it, signifying in the first place ease of motion,
then that the stream of the good soul is unimpeded, and has therefore the
attribute of ever flowing without let or hindrance, and is therefore called
arete, or, more correctly, aeireite (ever-flowing), and may perhaps have
had another form, airete (eligible), indicating that nothing is more
eligible than virtue, and this has been hammered into arete. I daresay
that you will deem this to be another invention of mine, but I think that
if the previous word kakia was right, then arete is also right.
HERMOGENES: But what is the meaning of kakon, which has played so great a
part in your previous discourse?
SOCRATES: That is a very singular word about which I can hardly form an
opinion, and therefore I must have recourse to my ingenious device.
HERMOGENES: What device?
SOCRATES: The device of a foreign origin, which I shall give to this word
HERMOGENES: Very likely you are right; but suppose that we leave these
words and endeavour to see the rationale of kalon and aischron.
SOCRATES: The meaning of aischron is evident, being only aei ischon roes
(always preventing from flowing), and this is in accordance with our former
derivations. For the name-giver was a great enemy to stagnation of all
sorts, and hence he gave the name aeischoroun to that which hindered the
flux (aei ischon roun), and that is now beaten together into aischron.
HERMOGENES: But what do you say of kalon?
SOCRATES: That is more obscure; yet the form is only due to the quantity,
and has been changed by altering omicron upsilon into omicron.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: This name appears to denote mind.
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: Let me ask you what is the cause why anything has a name; is not
the principle which imposes the name the cause?
SOCRATES: And must not this be the mind of Gods, or of men, or of both?
SOCRATES: Is not mind that which called (kalesan) things by their names,
and is not mind the beautiful (kalon)?
HERMOGENES: That is evident.
SOCRATES: And are not the works of intelligence and mind worthy of praise,
and are not other works worthy of blame?
SOCRATES: Physic does the work of a physician, and carpentering does the
works of a carpenter?
SOCRATES: And the principle of beauty does the works of beauty?
HERMOGENES: Of course.
SOCRATES: And that principle we affirm to be mind?
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Then mind is rightly called beauty because she does the works
which we recognize and speak of as the beautiful?
HERMOGENES: That is evident.
SOCRATES: What more names remain to us?
HERMOGENES: There are the words which are connected with agathon and
kalon, such as sumpheron and lusiteloun, ophelimon, kerdaleon, and their
SOCRATES: The meaning of sumpheron (expedient) I think that you may
discover for yourself by the light of the previous examples,--for it is a
sister word to episteme, meaning just the motion (pora) of the soul
accompanying the world, and things which are done upon this principle are
called sumphora or sumpheronta, because they are carried round with the
HERMOGENES: That is probable.
SOCRATES: Again, cherdaleon (gainful) is called from cherdos (gain), but
you must alter the delta into nu if you want to get at the meaning; for
this word also signifies good, but in another way; he who gave the name
intended to express the power of admixture (kerannumenon) and universal
penetration in the good; in forming the word, however, he inserted a delta
instead of a nu, and so made kerdos.
HERMOGENES: Well, but what is lusiteloun (profitable)?
SOCRATES: I suppose, Hermogenes, that people do not mean by the profitable
the gainful or that which pays (luei) the retailer, but they use the word
in the sense of swift. You regard the profitable (lusiteloun), as that
which being the swiftest thing in existence, allows of no stay in things
and no pause or end of motion, but always, if there begins to be any end,
lets things go again (luei), and makes motion immortal and unceasing: and
in this point of view, as appears to me, the good is happily denominated
lusiteloun--being that which looses (luon) the end (telos) of motion.
Ophelimon (the advantageous) is derived from ophellein, meaning that which
creates and increases; this latter is a common Homeric word, and has a
HERMOGENES: And what do you say of their opposites?
SOCRATES: Of such as are mere negatives I hardly think that I need speak.
HERMOGENES: Which are they?
SOCRATES: The words axumphoron (inexpedient), anopheles (unprofitable),
alusiteles (unadvantageous), akerdes (ungainful).
SOCRATES: I would rather take the words blaberon (harmful), zemiodes
SOCRATES: The word blaberon is that which is said to hinder or harm
(blaptein) the stream (roun); blapton is boulomenon aptein (seeking to hold
or bind); for aptein is the same as dein, and dein is always a term of
censure; boulomenon aptein roun (wanting to bind the stream) would properly
be boulapteroun, and this, as I imagine, is improved into blaberon.
HERMOGENES: You bring out curious results, Socrates, in the use of names;
and when I hear the word boulapteroun I cannot help imagining that you are
making your mouth into a flute, and puffing away at some prelude to Athene.
SOCRATES: That is the fault of the makers of the name, Hermogenes; not
HERMOGENES: Very true; but what is the derivation of zemiodes?
SOCRATES: What is the meaning of zemiodes?--let me remark, Hermogenes, how
right I was in saying that great changes are made in the meaning of words
by putting in and pulling out letters; even a very slight permutation will
sometimes give an entirely opposite sense; I may instance the word deon,
which occurs to me at the moment, and reminds me of what I was going to say
to you, that the fine fashionable language of modern times has twisted and
disguised and entirely altered the original meaning both of deon, and also
of zemiodes, which in the old language is clearly indicated.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: I will try to explain. You are aware that our forefathers loved
the sounds iota and delta, especially the women, who are most conservative
of the ancient language, but now they change iota into eta or epsilon, and
delta into zeta; this is supposed to increase the grandeur of the sound.
HERMOGENES: How do you mean?
SOCRATES: For example, in very ancient times they called the day either
imera or emera (short e), which is called by us emera (long e).
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: Do you observe that only the ancient form shows the intention of
the giver of the name? of which the reason is, that men long for
(imeirousi) and love the light which comes after the darkness, and is
therefore called imera, from imeros, desire.
SOCRATES: But now the name is so travestied that you cannot tell the
meaning, although there are some who imagine the day to be called emera
because it makes things gentle (emera different accents).
HERMOGENES: Such is my view.
SOCRATES: And do you know that the ancients said duogon and not zugon?
HERMOGENES: They did so.
SOCRATES: And zugon (yoke) has no meaning,--it ought to be duogon, which
word expresses the binding of two together (duein agoge) for the purpose of
drawing;--this has been changed into zugon, and there are many other
examples of similar changes.
HERMOGENES: There are.
SOCRATES: Proceeding in the same train of thought I may remark that the
word deon (obligation) has a meaning which is the opposite of all the other
appellations of good; for deon is here a species of good, and is,
nevertheless, the chain (desmos) or hinderer of motion, and therefore own
brother of blaberon.
HERMOGENES: Yes, Socrates; that is quite plain.
SOCRATES: Not if you restore the ancient form, which is more likely to be
the correct one, and read dion instead of deon; if you convert the epsilon
into an iota after the old fashion, this word will then agree with other
words meaning good; for dion, not deon, signifies the good, and is a term
of praise; and the author of names has not contradicted himself, but in all
these various appellations, deon (obligatory), ophelimon (advantageous),
lusiteloun (profitable), kerdaleon (gainful), agathon (good), sumpheron
(expedient), euporon (plenteous), the same conception is implied of the
ordering or all-pervading principle which is praised, and the restraining
and binding principle which is censured. And this is further illustrated
by the word zemiodes (hurtful), which if the zeta is only changed into
delta as in the ancient language, becomes demiodes; and this name, as you
will perceive, is given to that which binds motion (dounti ion).
HERMOGENES: What do you say of edone (pleasure), lupe (pain), epithumia
(desire), and the like, Socrates?
SOCRATES: I do not think, Hermogenes, that there is any great difficulty
about them--edone is e (eta) onesis, the action which tends to advantage;
and the original form may be supposed to have been eone, but this has been
altered by the insertion of the delta. Lupe appears to be derived from the
relaxation (luein) which the body feels when in sorrow; ania (trouble) is
the hindrance of motion (alpha and ienai); algedon (distress), if I am not
mistaken, is a foreign word, which is derived from aleinos (grievous);
odune (grief) is called from the putting on (endusis) sorrow; in achthedon
(vexation) 'the word too labours,' as any one may see; chara (joy) is the
very expression of the fluency and diffusion of the soul (cheo); terpsis
(delight) is so called from the pleasure creeping (erpon) through the soul,
which may be likened to a breath (pnoe) and is properly erpnoun, but has
been altered by time into terpnon; eupherosune (cheerfulness) and epithumia
explain themselves; the former, which ought to be eupherosune and has been
changed euphrosune, is named, as every one may see, from the soul moving
(pheresthai) in harmony with nature; epithumia is really e epi ton thumon
iousa dunamis, the power which enters into the soul; thumos (passion) is
called from the rushing (thuseos) and boiling of the soul; imeros (desire)
denotes the stream (rous) which most draws the soul dia ten esin tes roes--
because flowing with desire (iemenos), and expresses a longing after things
and violent attraction of the soul to them, and is termed imeros from
possessing this power; pothos (longing) is expressive of the desire of that
which is not present but absent, and in another place (pou); this is the
reason why the name pothos is applied to things absent, as imeros is to
things present; eros (love) is so called because flowing in (esron) from
without; the stream is not inherent, but is an influence introduced through
the eyes, and from flowing in was called esros (influx) in the old time
when they used omicron for omega, and is called eros, now that omega is
substituted for omicron. But why do you not give me another word?
HERMOGENES: What do you think of doxa (opinion), and that class of words?
SOCRATES: Doxa is either derived from dioxis (pursuit), and expresses the
march of the soul in the pursuit of knowledge, or from the shooting of a
bow (toxon); the latter is more likely, and is confirmed by oiesis
(thinking), which is only oisis (moving), and implies the movement of the
soul to the essential nature of each thing--just as boule (counsel) has to
do with shooting (bole); and boulesthai (to wish) combines the notion of
aiming and deliberating--all these words seem to follow doxa, and all
involve the idea of shooting, just as aboulia, absence of counsel, on the
other hand, is a mishap, or missing, or mistaking of the mark, or aim, or
proposal, or object.
HERMOGENES: You are quickening your pace now, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Why yes, the end I now dedicate to God, not, however, until I
have explained anagke (necessity), which ought to come next, and ekousion
(the voluntary). Ekousion is certainly the yielding (eikon) and
unresisting--the notion implied is yielding and not opposing, yielding, as
I was just now saying, to that motion which is in accordance with our will;
but the necessary and resistant being contrary to our will, implies error
and ignorance; the idea is taken from walking through a ravine which is
impassable, and rugged, and overgrown, and impedes motion--and this is the
derivation of the word anagkaion (necessary) an agke ion, going through a
ravine. But while my strength lasts let us persevere, and I hope that you
will persevere with your questions.
HERMOGENES: Well, then, let me ask about the greatest and noblest, such as
aletheia (truth) and pseudos (falsehood) and on (being), not forgetting to
enquire why the word onoma (name), which is the theme of our discussion,
has this name of onoma.
SOCRATES: You know the word maiesthai (to seek)?
HERMOGENES: Yes;--meaning the same as zetein (to enquire).
SOCRATES: The word onoma seems to be a compressed sentence, signifying on
ou zetema (being for which there is a search); as is still more obvious in
onomaston (notable), which states in so many words that real existence is
that for which there is a seeking (on ou masma); aletheia is also an
agglomeration of theia ale (divine wandering), implying the divine motion
of existence; pseudos (falsehood) is the opposite of motion; here is
another ill name given by the legislator to stagnation and forced inaction,
which he compares to sleep (eudein); but the original meaning of the word
is disguised by the addition of psi; on and ousia are ion with an iota
broken off; this agrees with the true principle, for being (on) is also
moving (ion), and the same may be said of not being, which is likewise
called not going (oukion or ouki on = ouk ion).
HERMOGENES: You have hammered away at them manfully; but suppose that some
one were to say to you, what is the word ion, and what are reon and doun?--
show me their fitness.
SOCRATES: You mean to say, how should I answer him?
SOCRATES: One way of giving the appearance of an answer has been already
HERMOGENES: What way?
SOCRATES: To say that names which we do not understand are of foreign
origin; and this is very likely the right answer, and something of this
kind may be true of them; but also the original forms of words may have
been lost in the lapse of ages; names have been so twisted in all manner of
ways, that I should not be surprised if the old language when compared with
that now in use would appear to us to be a barbarous tongue.
HERMOGENES: Very likely.
SOCRATES: Yes, very likely. But still the enquiry demands our earnest
attention and we must not flinch. For we should remember, that if a person
go on analysing names into words, and enquiring also into the elements out
of which the words are formed, and keeps on always repeating this process,
he who has to answer him must at last give up the enquiry in despair.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And at what point ought he to lose heart and give up the
enquiry? Must he not stop when he comes to the names which are the
elements of all other names and sentences; for these cannot be supposed to
be made up of other names? The word agathon (good), for example, is, as we
were saying, a compound of agastos (admirable) and thoos (swift). And
probably thoos is made up of other elements, and these again of others.
But if we take a word which is incapable of further resolution, then we
shall be right in saying that we have at last reached a primary element,
which need not be resolved any further.
HERMOGENES: I believe you to be in the right.
SOCRATES: And suppose the names about which you are now asking should turn
out to be primary elements, must not their truth or law be examined
according to some new method?
HERMOGENES: Very likely.
SOCRATES: Quite so, Hermogenes; all that has preceded would lead to this
conclusion. And if, as I think, the conclusion is true, then I shall again
say to you, come and help me, that I may not fall into some absurdity in
stating the principle of primary names.
HERMOGENES: Let me hear, and I will do my best to assist you.
SOCRATES: I think that you will acknowledge with me, that one principle is
applicable to all names, primary as well as secondary--when they are
regarded simply as names, there is no difference in them.
HERMOGENES: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: All the names that we have been explaining were intended to
indicate the nature of things.
HERMOGENES: Of course.
SOCRATES: And that this is true of the primary quite as much as of the
secondary names, is implied in their being names.
SOCRATES: But the secondary, as I conceive, derive their significance from
HERMOGENES: That is evident.
SOCRATES: Very good; but then how do the primary names which precede
analysis show the natures of things, as far as they can be shown; which
they must do, if they are to be real names? And here I will ask you a
question: Suppose that we had no voice or tongue, and wanted to
communicate with one another, should we not, like the deaf and dumb, make
signs with the hands and head and the rest of the body?
HERMOGENES: There would be no choice, Socrates.
SOCRATES: We should imitate the nature of the thing; the elevation of our
hands to heaven would mean lightness and upwardness; heaviness and
downwardness would be expressed by letting them drop to the ground; if we
were describing the running of a horse, or any other animal, we should make
our bodies and their gestures as like as we could to them.
HERMOGENES: I do not see that we could do anything else.
SOCRATES: We could not; for by bodily imitation only can the body ever
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And when we want to express ourselves, either with the voice, or
tongue, or mouth, the expression is simply their imitation of that which we
want to express.
HERMOGENES: It must be so, I think.
SOCRATES: Then a name is a vocal imitation of that which the vocal
imitator names or imitates?
HERMOGENES: I think so.
SOCRATES: Nay, my friend, I am disposed to think that we have not reached
the truth as yet.
HERMOGENES: Why not?
SOCRATES: Because if we have we shall be obliged to admit that the people
who imitate sheep, or cocks, or other animals, name that which they
HERMOGENES: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Then could I have been right in what I was saying?
HERMOGENES: In my opinion, no. But I wish that you would tell me,
Socrates, what sort of an imitation is a name?
SOCRATES: In the first place, I should reply, not a musical imitation,
although that is also vocal; nor, again, an imitation of what music
imitates; these, in my judgment, would not be naming. Let me put the
matter as follows: All objects have sound and figure, and many have
SOCRATES: But the art of naming appears not to be concerned with
imitations of this kind; the arts which have to do with them are music and
SOCRATES: Again, is there not an essence of each thing, just as there is a
colour, or sound? And is there not an essence of colour and sound as well
as of anything else which may be said to have an essence?
HERMOGENES: I should think so.
SOCRATES: Well, and if any one could express the essence of each thing in
letters and syllables, would he not express the nature of each thing?
HERMOGENES: Quite so.
SOCRATES: The musician and the painter were the two names which you gave
to the two other imitators. What will this imitator be called?
HERMOGENES: I imagine, Socrates, that he must be the namer, or name-giver,
of whom we are in search.
SOCRATES: If this is true, then I think that we are in a condition to
consider the names ron (stream), ienai (to go), schesis (retention), about
which you were asking; and we may see whether the namer has grasped the
nature of them in letters and syllables in such a manner as to imitate the
essence or not.
HERMOGENES: Very good.
SOCRATES: But are these the only primary names, or are there others?
HERMOGENES: There must be others.
SOCRATES: So I should expect. But how shall we further analyse them, and
where does the imitator begin? Imitation of the essence is made by
syllables and letters; ought we not, therefore, first to separate the
letters, just as those who are beginning rhythm first distinguish the
powers of elementary, and then of compound sounds, and when they have done
so, but not before, they proceed to the consideration of rhythms?
SOCRATES: Must we not begin in the same way with letters; first separating
the vowels, and then the consonants and mutes (letters which are neither
vowels nor semivowels), into classes, according to the received
distinctions of the learned; also the semivowels, which are neither vowels,
nor yet mutes; and distinguishing into classes the vowels themselves? And
when we have perfected the classification of things, we shall give them
names, and see whether, as in the case of letters, there are any classes to
which they may be all referred (cf. Phaedrus); and hence we shall see their
natures, and see, too, whether they have in them classes as there are in
the letters; and when we have well considered all this, we shall know how
to apply them to what they resemble--whether one letter is used to denote
one thing, or whether there is to be an admixture of several of them; just,
as in painting, the painter who wants to depict anything sometimes uses
purple only, or any other colour, and sometimes mixes up several colours,
as his method is when he has to paint flesh colour or anything of that
kind--he uses his colours as his figures appear to require them; and so,
too, we shall apply letters to the expression of objects, either single
letters when required, or several letters; and so we shall form syllables,
as they are called, and from syllables make nouns and verbs; and thus, at
last, from the combinations of nouns and verbs arrive at language, large
and fair and whole; and as the painter made a figure, even so shall we make
speech by the art of the namer or the rhetorician, or by some other art.
Not that I am literally speaking of ourselves, but I was carried away--
meaning to say that this was the way in which (not we but) the ancients
formed language, and what they put together we must take to pieces in like
manner, if we are to attain a scientific view of the whole subject, and we
must see whether the primary, and also whether the secondary elements are
rightly given or not, for if they are not, the composition of them, my dear
Hermogenes, will be a sorry piece of work, and in the wrong direction.
HERMOGENES: That, Socrates, I can quite believe.
SOCRATES: Well, but do you suppose that you will be able to analyse them
in this way? for I am certain that I should not.
HERMOGENES: Much less am I likely to be able.
SOCRATES: Shall we leave them, then? or shall we seek to discover, if we
can, something about them, according to the measure of our ability, saying
by way of preface, as I said before of the Gods, that of the truth about
them we know nothing, and do but entertain human notions of them. And in
this present enquiry, let us say to ourselves, before we proceed, that the
higher method is the one which we or others who would analyse language to
any good purpose must follow; but under the circumstances, as men say, we
must do as well as we can. What do you think?
HERMOGENES: I very much approve.
SOCRATES: That objects should be imitated in letters and syllables, and so
find expression, may appear ridiculous, Hermogenes, but it cannot be
avoided--there is no better principle to which we can look for the truth of
first names. Deprived of this, we must have recourse to divine help, like
the tragic poets, who in any perplexity have their gods waiting in the air;
and must get out of our difficulty in like fashion, by saying that 'the
Gods gave the first names, and therefore they are right.' This will be the
best contrivance, or perhaps that other notion may be even better still, of
deriving them from some barbarous people, for the barbarians are older than
we are; or we may say that antiquity has cast a veil over them, which is
the same sort of excuse as the last; for all these are not reasons but only
ingenious excuses for having no reasons concerning the truth of words. And
yet any sort of ignorance of first or primitive names involves an ignorance
of secondary words; for they can only be explained by the primary. Clearly
then the professor of languages should be able to give a very lucid
explanation of first names, or let him be assured he will only talk
nonsense about the rest. Do you not suppose this to be true?
HERMOGENES: Certainly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: My first notions of original names are truly wild and
ridiculous, though I have no objection to impart them to you if you desire,
and I hope that you will communicate to me in return anything better which
you may have.
HERMOGENES: Fear not; I will do my best.
SOCRATES: In the first place, the letter rho appears to me to be the
general instrument expressing all motion (kinesis). But I have not yet
explained the meaning of this latter word, which is just iesis (going); for
the letter eta was not in use among the ancients, who only employed
epsilon; and the root is kiein, which is a foreign form, the same as ienai.
And the old word kinesis will be correctly given as iesis in corresponding
modern letters. Assuming this foreign root kiein, and allowing for the
change of the eta and the insertion of the nu, we have kinesis, which
should have been kieinsis or eisis; and stasis is the negative of ienai (or
eisis), and has been improved into stasis. Now the letter rho, as I was
saying, appeared to the imposer of names an excellent instrument for the
expression of motion; and he frequently uses the letter for this purpose:
for example, in the actual words rein and roe he represents motion by rho;
also in the words tromos (trembling), trachus (rugged); and again, in words
such as krouein (strike), thrauein (crush), ereikein (bruise), thruptein
(break), kermatixein (crumble), rumbein (whirl): of all these sorts of
movements he generally finds an expression in the letter R, because, as I
imagine, he had observed that the tongue was most agitated and least at
rest in the pronunciation of this letter, which he therefore used in order
to express motion, just as by the letter iota he expresses the subtle
elements which pass through all things. This is why he uses the letter
iota as imitative of motion, ienai, iesthai. And there is another class of
letters, phi, psi, sigma, and xi, of which the pronunciation is accompanied
by great expenditure of breath; these are used in the imitation of such
notions as psuchron (shivering), xeon (seething), seiesthai, (to be
shaken), seismos (shock), and are always introduced by the giver of names
when he wants to imitate what is phusodes (windy). He seems to have
thought that the closing and pressure of the tongue in the utterance of
delta and tau was expressive of binding and rest in a place: he further
observed the liquid movement of lambda, in the pronunciation of which the
tongue slips, and in this he found the expression of smoothness, as in
leios (level), and in the word oliothanein (to slip) itself, liparon
(sleek), in the word kollodes (gluey), and the like: the heavier sound of
gamma detained the slipping tongue, and the union of the two gave the
notion of a glutinous clammy nature, as in glischros, glukus, gloiodes.
The nu he observed to be sounded from within, and therefore to have a
notion of inwardness; hence he introduced the sound in endos and entos:
alpha he assigned to the expression of size, and nu of length, because they
are great letters: omicron was the sign of roundness, and therefore there
is plenty of omicron mixed up in the word goggulon (round). Thus did the
legislator, reducing all things into letters and syllables, and impressing
on them names and signs, and out of them by imitation compounding other
signs. That is my view, Hermogenes, of the truth of names; but I should
like to hear what Cratylus has more to say.
HERMOGENES: But, Socrates, as I was telling you before, Cratylus mystifies
me; he says that there is a fitness of names, but he never explains what is
this fitness, so that I cannot tell whether his obscurity is intended or
not. Tell me now, Cratylus, here in the presence of Socrates, do you agree
in what Socrates has been saying about names, or have you something better
of your own? and if you have, tell me what your view is, and then you will
either learn of Socrates, or Socrates and I will learn of you.
CRATYLUS: Well, but surely, Hermogenes, you do not suppose that you can
learn, or I explain, any subject of importance all in a moment; at any
rate, not such a subject as language, which is, perhaps, the very greatest
HERMOGENES: No, indeed; but, as Hesiod says, and I agree with him, 'to add
little to little' is worth while. And, therefore, if you think that you
can add anything at all, however small, to our knowledge, take a little
trouble and oblige Socrates, and me too, who certainly have a claim upon
SOCRATES: I am by no means positive, Cratylus, in the view which
Hermogenes and myself have worked out; and therefore do not hesitate to say
what you think, which if it be better than my own view I shall gladly
accept. And I should not be at all surprized to find that you have found
some better notion. For you have evidently reflected on these matters and
have had teachers, and if you have really a better theory of the truth of
names, you may count me in the number of your disciples.
CRATYLUS: You are right, Socrates, in saying that I have made a study of
these matters, and I might possibly convert you into a disciple. But I
fear that the opposite is more probable, and I already find myself moved to
say to you what Achilles in the 'Prayers' says to Ajax,--
'Illustrious Ajax, son of Telamon, lord of the people,
You appear to have spoken in all things much to my mind.'
And you, Socrates, appear to me to be an oracle, and to give answers much
to my mind, whether you are inspired by Euthyphro, or whether some Muse may
have long been an inhabitant of your breast, unconsciously to yourself.
SOCRATES: Excellent Cratylus, I have long been wondering at my own wisdom;
I cannot trust myself. And I think that I ought to stop and ask myself
What am I saying? for there is nothing worse than self-deception--when the
deceiver is always at home and always with you--it is quite terrible, and
therefore I ought often to retrace my steps and endeavour to 'look fore and
aft,' in the words of the aforesaid Homer. And now let me see; where are
we? Have we not been saying that the correct name indicates the nature of
the thing:--has this proposition been sufficiently proven?
CRATYLUS: Yes, Socrates, what you say, as I am disposed to think, is quite
SOCRATES: Names, then, are given in order to instruct?
SOCRATES: And naming is an art, and has artificers?
SOCRATES: And who are they?
CRATYLUS: The legislators, of whom you spoke at first.
SOCRATES: And does this art grow up among men like other arts? Let me
explain what I mean: of painters, some are better and some worse?
SOCRATES: The better painters execute their works, I mean their figures,
better, and the worse execute them worse; and of builders also, the better
sort build fairer houses, and the worse build them worse.
SOCRATES: And among legislators, there are some who do their work better
and some worse?
CRATYLUS: No; there I do not agree with you.
SOCRATES: Then you do not think that some laws are better and others
CRATYLUS: No, indeed.
SOCRATES: Or that one name is better than another?
CRATYLUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: Then all names are rightly imposed?
CRATYLUS: Yes, if they are names at all.
SOCRATES: Well, what do you say to the name of our friend Hermogenes,
which was mentioned before:--assuming that he has nothing of the nature of
Hermes in him, shall we say that this is a wrong name, or not his name at
CRATYLUS: I should reply that Hermogenes is not his name at all, but only
appears to be his, and is really the name of somebody else, who has the
nature which corresponds to it.
SOCRATES: And if a man were to call him Hermogenes, would he not be even
speaking falsely? For there may be a doubt whether you can call him
Hermogenes, if he is not.
CRATYLUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Are you maintaining that falsehood is impossible? For if this
is your meaning I should answer, that there have been plenty of liars in
CRATYLUS: Why, Socrates, how can a man say that which is not?--say
something and yet say nothing? For is not falsehood saying the thing which
SOCRATES: Your argument, friend, is too subtle for a man of my age. But I
should like to know whether you are one of those philosophers who think
that falsehood may be spoken but not said?
CRATYLUS: Neither spoken nor said.
SOCRATES: Nor uttered nor addressed? For example: If a person, saluting
you in a foreign country, were to take your hand and say: 'Hail, Athenian
stranger, Hermogenes, son of Smicrion'--these words, whether spoken, said,
uttered, or addressed, would have no application to you but only to our
friend Hermogenes, or perhaps to nobody at all?
CRATYLUS: In my opinion, Socrates, the speaker would only be talking
SOCRATES: Well, but that will be quite enough for me, if you will tell me
whether the nonsense would be true or false, or partly true and partly
false:--which is all that I want to know.
CRATYLUS: I should say that he would be putting himself in motion to no
purpose; and that his words would be an unmeaning sound like the noise of
hammering at a brazen pot.
SOCRATES: But let us see, Cratylus, whether we cannot find a meeting-
point, for you would admit that the name is not the same with the thing
CRATYLUS: I should.
SOCRATES: And would you further acknowledge that the name is an imitation
of the thing?
SOCRATES: And you would say that pictures are also imitations of things,
but in another way?
SOCRATES: I believe you may be right, but I do not rightly understand you.
Please to say, then, whether both sorts of imitation (I mean both pictures
or words) are not equally attributable and applicable to the things of
which they are the imitation.
CRATYLUS: They are.
SOCRATES: First look at the matter thus: you may attribute the likeness
of the man to the man, and of the woman to the woman; and so on?
SOCRATES: And conversely you may attribute the likeness of the man to the
woman, and of the woman to the man?
CRATYLUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And are both modes of assigning them right, or only the first?
CRATYLUS: Only the first.
SOCRATES: That is to say, the mode of assignment which attributes to each
that which belongs to them and is like them?
CRATYLUS: That is my view.
SOCRATES: Now then, as I am desirous that we being friends should have a
good understanding about the argument, let me state my view to you: the
first mode of assignment, whether applied to figures or to names, I call
right, and when applied to names only, true as well as right; and the other
mode of giving and assigning the name which is unlike, I call wrong, and in
the case of names, false as well as wrong.
CRATYLUS: That may be true, Socrates, in the case of pictures; they may be
wrongly assigned; but not in the case of names--they must be always right.
SOCRATES: Why, what is the difference? May I not go to a man and say to
him, 'This is your picture,' showing him his own likeness, or perhaps the
likeness of a woman; and when I say 'show,' I mean bring before the sense
SOCRATES: And may I not go to him again, and say, 'This is your name'?--
for the name, like the picture, is an imitation. May I not say to him--
'This is your name'? and may I not then bring to his sense of hearing the
imitation of himself, when I say, 'This is a man'; or of a female of the
human species, when I say, 'This is a woman,' as the case may be? Is not
all that quite possible?
CRATYLUS: I would fain agree with you, Socrates; and therefore I say,
SOCRATES: That is very good of you, if I am right, which need hardly be
disputed at present. But if I can assign names as well as pictures to
objects, the right assignment of them we may call truth, and the wrong
assignment of them falsehood. Now if there be such a wrong assignment of
names, there may also be a wrong or inappropriate assignment of verbs; and
if of names and verbs then of the sentences, which are made up of them.
What do you say, Cratylus?
CRATYLUS: I agree; and think that what you say is very true.
SOCRATES: And further, primitive nouns may be compared to pictures, and in
pictures you may either give all the appropriate colours and figures, or
you may not give them all--some may be wanting; or there may be too many or
too much of them--may there not?
CRATYLUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And he who gives all gives a perfect picture or figure; and he
who takes away or adds also gives a picture or figure, but not a good one.
SOCRATES: In like manner, he who by syllables and letters imitates the
nature of things, if he gives all that is appropriate will produce a good
image, or in other words a name; but if he subtracts or perhaps adds a
little, he will make an image but not a good one; whence I infer that some
names are well and others ill made.
CRATYLUS: That is true.
SOCRATES: Then the artist of names may be sometimes good, or he may be
SOCRATES: And this artist of names is called the legislator?
SOCRATES: Then like other artists the legislator may be good or he may be
bad; it must surely be so if our former admissions hold good?
CRATYLUS: Very true, Socrates; but the case of language, you see, is
different; for when by the help of grammar we assign the letters alpha or
beta, or any other letters to a certain name, then, if we add, or subtract,
or misplace a letter, the name which is written is not only written
wrongly, but not written at all; and in any of these cases becomes other
than a name.
SOCRATES: But I doubt whether your view is altogether correct, Cratylus.
CRATYLUS: How so?
SOCRATES: I believe that what you say may be true about numbers, which
must be just what they are, or not be at all; for example, the number ten
at once becomes other than ten if a unit be added or subtracted, and so of
any other number: but this does not apply to that which is qualitative or
to anything which is represented under an image. I should say rather that
the image, if expressing in every point the entire reality, would no longer
be an image. Let us suppose the existence of two objects: one of them
shall be Cratylus, and the other the image of Cratylus; and we will
suppose, further, that some God makes not only a representation such as a
painter would make of your outward form and colour, but also creates an
inward organization like yours, having the same warmth and softness; and
into this infuses motion, and soul, and mind, such as you have, and in a
word copies all your qualities, and places them by you in another form;
would you say that this was Cratylus and the image of Cratylus, or that
there were two Cratyluses?
CRATYLUS: I should say that there were two Cratyluses.
SOCRATES: Then you see, my friend, that we must find some other principle
of truth in images, and also in names; and not insist that an image is no
longer an image when something is added or subtracted. Do you not perceive
that images are very far from having qualities which are the exact
counterpart of the realities which they represent?
CRATYLUS: Yes, I see.
SOCRATES: But then how ridiculous would be the effect of names on things,
if they were exactly the same with them! For they would be the doubles of
them, and no one would be able to determine which were the names and which
were the realities.
CRATYLUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Then fear not, but have the courage to admit that one name may
be correctly and another incorrectly given; and do not insist that the name
shall be exactly the same with the thing; but allow the occasional
substitution of a wrong letter, and if of a letter also of a noun in a
sentence, and if of a noun in a sentence also of a sentence which is not
appropriate to the matter, and acknowledge that the thing may be named, and
described, so long as the general character of the thing which you are
describing is retained; and this, as you will remember, was remarked by
Hermogenes and myself in the particular instance of the names of the
CRATYLUS: Yes, I remember.
SOCRATES: Good; and when the general character is preserved, even if some
of the proper letters are wanting, still the thing is signified;--well, if
all the letters are given; not well, when only a few of them are given. I
think that we had better admit this, lest we be punished like travellers in
Aegina who wander about the street late at night: and be likewise told by
truth herself that we have arrived too late; or if not, you must find out
some new notion of correctness of names, and no longer maintain that a name
is the expression of a thing in letters or syllables; for if you say both,
you will be inconsistent with yourself.
CRATYLUS: I quite acknowledge, Socrates, what you say to be very
SOCRATES: Then as we are agreed thus far, let us ask ourselves whether a
name rightly imposed ought not to have the proper letters.
SOCRATES: And the proper letters are those which are like the things?
SOCRATES: Enough then of names which are rightly given. And in names
which are incorrectly given, the greater part may be supposed to be made up
of proper and similar letters, or there would be no likeness; but there
will be likewise a part which is improper and spoils the beauty and
formation of the word: you would admit that?
CRATYLUS: There would be no use, Socrates, in my quarrelling with you,
since I cannot be satisfied that a name which is incorrectly given is a
name at all.
SOCRATES: Do you admit a name to be the representation of a thing?
CRATYLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: But do you not allow that some nouns are primitive, and some
CRATYLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: Then if you admit that primitive or first nouns are
representations of things, is there any better way of framing
representations than by assimilating them to the objects as much as you
can; or do you prefer the notion of Hermogenes and of many others, who say
that names are conventional, and have a meaning to those who have agreed
about them, and who have previous knowledge of the things intended by them,
and that convention is the only principle; and whether you abide by our
present convention, or make a new and opposite one, according to which you
call small great and great small--that, they would say, makes no
difference, if you are only agreed. Which of these two notions do you
CRATYLUS: Representation by likeness, Socrates, is infinitely better than
representation by any chance sign.
SOCRATES: Very good: but if the name is to be like the thing, the letters
out of which the first names are composed must also be like things.
Returning to the image of the picture, I would ask, How could any one ever
compose a picture which would be like anything at all, if there were not
pigments in nature which resembled the things imitated, and out of which
the picture is composed?
SOCRATES: No more could names ever resemble any actually existing thing,
unless the original elements of which they are compounded bore some degree
of resemblance to the objects of which the names are the imitation: And
the original elements are letters?
SOCRATES: Let me now invite you to consider what Hermogenes and I were
saying about sounds. Do you agree with me that the letter rho is
expressive of rapidity, motion, and hardness? Were we right or wrong in
CRATYLUS: I should say that you were right.
SOCRATES: And that lamda was expressive of smoothness, and softness, and
CRATYLUS: There again you were right.
SOCRATES: And yet, as you are aware, that which is called by us sklerotes,
is by the Eretrians called skleroter.
CRATYLUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: But are the letters rho and sigma equivalents; and is there the
same significance to them in the termination rho, which there is to us in
sigma, or is there no significance to one of us?
CRATYLUS: Nay, surely there is a significance to both of us.
SOCRATES: In as far as they are like, or in as far as they are unlike?
CRATYLUS: In as far as they are like.
SOCRATES: Are they altogether alike?
CRATYLUS: Yes; for the purpose of expressing motion.
SOCRATES: And what do you say of the insertion of the lamda? for that is
expressive not of hardness but of softness.
CRATYLUS: Why, perhaps the letter lamda is wrongly inserted, Socrates, and
should be altered into rho, as you were saying to Hermogenes and in my
opinion rightly, when you spoke of adding and subtracting letters upon
SOCRATES: Good. But still the word is intelligible to both of us; when I
say skleros (hard), you know what I mean.
CRATYLUS: Yes, my dear friend, and the explanation of that is custom.
SOCRATES: And what is custom but convention? I utter a sound which I
understand, and you know that I understand the meaning of the sound: this
is what you are saying?
SOCRATES: And if when I speak you know my meaning, there is an indication
given by me to you?
SOCRATES: This indication of my meaning may proceed from unlike as well as
from like, for example in the lamda of sklerotes. But if this is true,
then you have made a convention with yourself, and the correctness of a
name turns out to be convention, since letters which are unlike are
indicative equally with those which are like, if they are sanctioned by
custom and convention. And even supposing that you distinguish custom from
convention ever so much, still you must say that the signification of words
is given by custom and not by likeness, for custom may indicate by the
unlike as well as by the like. But as we are agreed thus far, Cratylus
(for I shall assume that your silence gives consent), then custom and
convention must be supposed to contribute to the indication of our
thoughts; for suppose we take the instance of number, how can you ever
imagine, my good friend, that you will find names resembling every
individual number, unless you allow that which you term convention and
agreement to have authority in determining the correctness of names? I
quite agree with you that words should as far as possible resemble things;
but I fear that this dragging in of resemblance, as Hermogenes says, is a
shabby thing, which has to be supplemented by the mechanical aid of
convention with a view to correctness; for I believe that if we could
always, or almost always, use likenesses, which are perfectly appropriate,
this would be the most perfect state of language; as the opposite is the
most imperfect. But let me ask you, what is the force of names, and what
is the use of them?
CRATYLUS: The use of names, Socrates, as I should imagine, is to inform:
the simple truth is, that he who knows names knows also the things which
are expressed by them.
SOCRATES: I suppose you mean to say, Cratylus, that as the name is, so
also is the thing; and that he who knows the one will also know the other,
because they are similars, and all similars fall under the same art or
science; and therefore you would say that he who knows names will also know
CRATYLUS: That is precisely what I mean.
SOCRATES: But let us consider what is the nature of this information about
things which, according to you, is given us by names. Is it the best sort
of information? or is there any other? What do you say?
CRATYLUS: I believe that to be both the only and the best sort of
information about them; there can be no other.
SOCRATES: But do you believe that in the discovery of them, he who
discovers the names discovers also the things; or is this only the method
of instruction, and is there some other method of enquiry and discovery.
CRATYLUS: I certainly believe that the methods of enquiry and discovery
are of the same nature as instruction.
SOCRATES: Well, but do you not see, Cratylus, that he who follows names in
the search after things, and analyses their meaning, is in great danger of
CRATYLUS: How so?
SOCRATES: Why clearly he who first gave names gave them according to his
conception of the things which they signified--did he not?
SOCRATES: And if his conception was erroneous, and he gave names according
to his conception, in what position shall we who are his followers find
ourselves? Shall we not be deceived by him?
CRATYLUS: But, Socrates, am I not right in thinking that he must surely
have known; or else, as I was saying, his names would not be names at all?
And you have a clear proof that he has not missed the truth, and the proof
is--that he is perfectly consistent. Did you ever observe in speaking that
all the words which you utter have a common character and purpose?
SOCRATES: But that, friend Cratylus, is no answer. For if he did begin in
error, he may have forced the remainder into agreement with the original
error and with himself; there would be nothing strange in this, any more
than in geometrical diagrams, which have often a slight and invisible flaw
in the first part of the process, and are consistently mistaken in the long
deductions which follow. And this is the reason why every man should
expend his chief thought and attention on the consideration of his first
principles:--are they or are they not rightly laid down? and when he has
duly sifted them, all the rest will follow. Now I should be astonished to
find that names are really consistent. And here let us revert to our
former discussion: Were we not saying that all things are in motion and
progress and flux, and that this idea of motion is expressed by names? Do
you not conceive that to be the meaning of them?
CRATYLUS: Yes; that is assuredly their meaning, and the true meaning.
SOCRATES: Let us revert to episteme (knowledge) and observe how ambiguous
this word is, seeming rather to signify stopping the soul at things than
going round with them; and therefore we should leave the beginning as at
present, and not reject the epsilon, but make an insertion of an iota
instead of an epsilon (not pioteme, but epiisteme). Take another example:
bebaion (sure) is clearly the expression of station and position, and not
of motion. Again, the word istoria (enquiry) bears upon the face of it the
stopping (istanai) of the stream; and the word piston (faithful) certainly
indicates cessation of motion; then, again, mneme (memory), as any one may
see, expresses rest in the soul, and not motion. Moreover, words such as
amartia and sumphora, which have a bad sense, viewed in the light of their
etymologies will be the same as sunesis and episteme and other words which
have a good sense (compare omartein, sunienai, epesthai, sumpheresthai);
and much the same may be said of amathia and akolasia, for amathia may be
explained as e ama theo iontos poreia, and akolasia as e akolouthia tois
pragmasin. Thus the names which in these instances we find to have the
worst sense, will turn out to be framed on the same principle as those
which have the best. And any one I believe who would take the trouble
might find many other examples in which the giver of names indicates, not
that things are in motion or progress, but that they are at rest; which is
the opposite of motion.
CRATYLUS: Yes, Socrates, but observe; the greater number express motion.
SOCRATES: What of that, Cratylus? Are we to count them like votes? and is
correctness of names the voice of the majority? Are we to say of whichever
sort there are most, those are the true ones?
CRATYLUS: No; that is not reasonable.
SOCRATES: Certainly not. But let us have done with this question and
proceed to another, about which I should like to know whether you think
with me. Were we not lately acknowledging that the first givers of names
in states, both Hellenic and barbarous, were the legislators, and that the
art which gave names was the art of the legislator?
CRATYLUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Tell me, then, did the first legislators, who were the givers of
the first names, know or not know the things which they named?
CRATYLUS: They must have known, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Why, yes, friend Cratylus, they could hardly have been ignorant.
CRATYLUS: I should say not.
SOCRATES: Let us return to the point from which we digressed. You were
saying, if you remember, that he who gave names must have known the things
which he named; are you still of that opinion?
CRATYLUS: I am.
SOCRATES: And would you say that the giver of the first names had also a
knowledge of the things which he named?
CRATYLUS: I should.
SOCRATES: But how could he have learned or discovered things from names if
the primitive names were not yet given? For, if we are correct in our
view, the only way of learning and discovering things, is either to
discover names for ourselves or to learn them from others.
CRATYLUS: I think that there is a good deal in what you say, Socrates.
SOCRATES: But if things are only to be known through names, how can we
suppose that the givers of names had knowledge, or were legislators before
there were names at all, and therefore before they could have known them?
CRATYLUS: I believe, Socrates, the true account of the matter to be, that
a power more than human gave things their first names, and that the names
which are thus given are necessarily their true names.
SOCRATES: Then how came the giver of the names, if he was an inspired
being or God, to contradict himself? For were we not saying just now that
he made some names expressive of rest and others of motion? Were we
CRATYLUS: But I suppose one of the two not to be names at all.
SOCRATES: And which, then, did he make, my good friend; those which are
expressive of rest, or those which are expressive of motion? This is a
point which, as I said before, cannot be determined by counting them.
CRATYLUS: No; not in that way, Socrates.
SOCRATES: But if this is a battle of names, some of them asserting that
they are like the truth, others contending that THEY are, how or by what
criterion are we to decide between them? For there are no other names to
which appeal can be made, but obviously recourse must be had to another
standard which, without employing names, will make clear which of the two
are right; and this must be a standard which shows the truth of things.
CRATYLUS: I agree.
SOCRATES: But if that is true, Cratylus, then I suppose that things may be
known without names?
SOCRATES: But how would you expect to know them? What other way can there
be of knowing them, except the true and natural way, through their
affinities, when they are akin to each other, and through themselves? For
that which is other and different from them must signify something other
and different from them.
CRATYLUS: What you are saying is, I think, true.
SOCRATES: Well, but reflect; have we not several times acknowledged that
names rightly given are the likenesses and images of the things which they
SOCRATES: Let us suppose that to any extent you please you can learn
things through the medium of names, and suppose also that you can learn
them from the things themselves--which is likely to be the nobler and
clearer way; to learn of the image, whether the image and the truth of
which the image is the expression have been rightly conceived, or to learn
of the truth whether the truth and the image of it have been duly executed?
CRATYLUS: I should say that we must learn of the truth.
SOCRATES: How real existence is to be studied or discovered is, I suspect,
beyond you and me. But we may admit so much, that the knowledge of things
is not to be derived from names. No; they must be studied and investigated
CRATYLUS: Clearly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: There is another point. I should not like us to be imposed upon
by the appearance of such a multitude of names, all tending in the same
direction. I myself do not deny that the givers of names did really give
them under the idea that all things were in motion and flux; which was
their sincere but, I think, mistaken opinion. And having fallen into a
kind of whirlpool themselves, they are carried round, and want to drag us
in after them. There is a matter, master Cratylus, about which I often
dream, and should like to ask your opinion: Tell me, whether there is or
is not any absolute beauty or good, or any other absolute existence?
CRATYLUS: Certainly, Socrates, I think so.
SOCRATES: Then let us seek the true beauty: not asking whether a face is
fair, or anything of that sort, for all such things appear to be in a flux;
but let us ask whether the true beauty is not always beautiful.
SOCRATES: And can we rightly speak of a beauty which is always passing
away, and is first this and then that; must not the same thing be born and
retire and vanish while the word is in our mouths?
SOCRATES: Then how can that be a real thing which is never in the same
state? for obviously things which are the same cannot change while they
remain the same; and if they are always the same and in the same state, and
never depart from their original form, they can never change or be moved.
CRATYLUS: Certainly they cannot.
SOCRATES: Nor yet can they be known by any one; for at the moment that the
observer approaches, then they become other and of another nature, so that
you cannot get any further in knowing their nature or state, for you cannot
know that which has no state.
SOCRATES: Nor can we reasonably say, Cratylus, that there is knowledge at
all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing
abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless
continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature of knowledge
changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no knowledge; and
if the transition is always going on, there will always be no knowledge,
and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing to be
known: but if that which knows and that which is known exists ever, and
the beautiful and the good and every other thing also exist, then I do not
think that they can resemble a process or flux, as we were just now
supposing. Whether there is this eternal nature in things, or whether the
truth is what Heracleitus and his followers and many others say, is a
question hard to determine; and no man of sense will like to put himself or
the education of his mind in the power of names: neither will he so far
trust names or the givers of names as to be confident in any knowledge
which condemns himself and other existences to an unhealthy state of
unreality; he will not believe that all things leak like a pot, or imagine
that the world is a man who has a running at the nose. This may be true,
Cratylus, but is also very likely to be untrue; and therefore I would not
have you be too easily persuaded of it. Reflect well and like a man, and
do not easily accept such a doctrine; for you are young and of an age to
learn. And when you have found the truth, come and tell me.
CRATYLUS: I will do as you say, though I can assure you, Socrates, that I
have been considering the matter already, and the result of a great deal of
trouble and consideration is that I incline to Heracleitus.
SOCRATES: Then, another day, my friend, when you come back, you shall give
me a lesson; but at present, go into the country, as you are intending, and
Hermogenes shall set you on your way.
CRATYLUS: Very good, Socrates; I hope, however, that you will continue to
think about these things yourself.