Persons of the
Hermogenes. Suppose that we make
Socrates a party to the argument?
Cratylus. If you please.
Her. I should explain to you,
Socrates, that our friend Cratylus has been arguing about names; he
says that they are natural and not conventional; not a portion of
the human voice which men agree to use; but that there is a truth
or correctness in them, which is the same for Hellenes as for
barbarians. Whereupon I ask him, whether his own name of Cratylus
is a true name or not, and he answers "Yes." And Socrates? "Yes."
Then every man's name, as I tell him, is that which he is called.
To this he replies- "If all the world were to call you Hermogenes,
that would not be your name." And when I am anxious to have a
further explanation he is ironical and mysterious, and seems to
imply that he has a notion of his own about the matter, if he would
only tell, and could entirely convince me, if he chose to be
intelligible. Tell me, Socrates, what this oracle means; or rather
tell me, if you will be so good, what is your own view of the truth
or correctness of names, which I would far sooner hear.
Socrates. Son of Hipponicus,
there is an ancient saying, that "hard is the knowledge of the
good." And the knowledge of names is a great part of knowledge. If
I had not been poor, I might have heard the fifty-drachma course of
the great Prodicus, which is a complete education in grammar and
language- these are his own words- and then I should have been at
once able to answer your question about the correctness of names.
But, indeed, I have only heard the single-drachma course, and
therefore, I do not know the truth about such matters; I will,
however, gladly assist you and Cratylus in the investigation of
them. When he declares that your name is not really Hermogenes, I
suspect that he is only making fun of you;- he means to say that
you are no true son of Hermes, because you are always looking after
a fortune and never in luck. But, as I was saying, there is a good
deal of difficulty in this sort of knowledge, and therefore we had
better leave the question open until we have heard both sides.
Her. I have often talked over
this matter, both with Cratylus and others, and cannot convince
myself that there is any principle of correctness in names other
than convention and agreement; any name which you give, in my
opinion, is the right one, and if you change that and give another,
the new name is as correct as the old- we frequently change the
names of our slaves, and the newly-imposed name is as good as the
old: for there is no name given to anything by nature; all is
convention and habit of the users;- such is my view. But if I am
mistaken I shall be happy to hear and learn of Cratylus, or of any
Soc. I dare say that you be
right, Hermogenes: let us see;- Your meaning is, that the name of
each thing is only that which anybody agrees to call it?
Her. That is my notion.
Soc. Whether the giver of the
name be an individual or a city?
Soc. Well, now, let me take an
instance;- suppose that I call a man a horse or a horse a man, you
mean to say that a man will be rightly called a horse by me
individually, and rightly called a man by the rest of the world;
and a horse again would be rightly called a man by me and a horse
by the world:- that is your meaning?
Her. He would, according to my
Soc. But how about truth, then?
you would acknowledge that there is in words a true and a false?
Soc. And there are true and false
Her. To be sure.
Soc. And a true proposition says
that which is, and a false proposition says that which is not?
Her. Yes; what other answer is
Soc. Then in a proposition there
is a true and false?
Soc. But is a proposition true as
a whole only, and are the parts untrue?
Her. No; the parts are true as
well as the whole.
Soc. Would you say the large
parts and not the smaller ones, or every part?
Her. I should say that every part
Soc. Is a proposition resolvable
into any part smaller than a name?
Her. No; that is the smallest.
Soc. Then the name is a part of
the true proposition?
Soc. Yes, and a true part, as you
Soc. And is not the part of a
falsehood also a falsehood?
Soc. Then, if propositions may be
true and false, names may be true and false?
Her. So we must infer.
Soc. And the name of anything is
that which any one affirms to be the name?
Soc. And will there be so many
names of each thing as everybody says that there are? and will they
be true names at the time of uttering them?
Her. Yes, Socrates, I can
conceive no correctness of names other than this; you give one
name, and I another; and in different cities and countries there
are different names for the same things; Hellenes differ from
barbarians in their use of names, and the several Hellenic tribes
from one another.
Soc. But would you say,
Hermogenes, that the things differ as the names differ? and are
they relative to individuals, as Protagoras tells us? For he says
that man is the measure of all things, and that things are to me as
they appear to me, and that they are to you as they appear to you.
Do you agree with him, or would you say that things have a
permanent essence of their own?
Her. There have been times,
Socrates, when I have been driven in my perplexity to take refuge
with Protagoras; not that I agree with him at all.
Soc. What! have you ever been
driven to admit that there was no such thing as a bad man?
Her. No, indeed; but I have often
had reason to think that there are very bad men, and a good many of
Soc. Well, and have you ever
found any very good ones?
Her. Not many.
Soc. Still you have found them?
Soc. And would you hold that the
very good were the very wise, and the very evil very foolish? Would
that be your view?
Her. It would.
Soc. But if Protagoras is right,
and the truth is that things are as they appear to any one, how can
some of us be wise and some of us foolish?
Soc. And if, on the other hand,
wisdom and folly are really distinguishable, you will allow, I
think, that the assertion of Protagoras can hardly be correct. For
if what appears to each man is true to him, one man cannot in
reality be wiser than another.
Her. He cannot.
Soc. Nor will you be disposed to
say with Euthydemus, that all things equally belong to all men at
the same moment and always; for neither on his view can there be
some good and other bad, if virtue and vice are always equally to
be attributed to all.
Her. There cannot.