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Taking the tool analogy seriously: Forms and naming in the cratylus

Smith, Imogen

Taking the tool analogy seriously: Forms and naming in the cratylus Thumbnail


Imogen Smith


Copyright © The Author(s) 2014. Published by Cambridge University Press. It has been suggested that the so-called tool analogy passage of Plato's Cratylus presents us with a moderate linguistic naturalism that can stand or fall independently of the more unpalatable etymological and mimetic theories advanced later in the dialogue. This paper offers a reading of the tool analogy which argues that Socrates' employment of Forms (and in particular Species-Forms), together with a careful distinction between the types of knowledge associated with making and using tools, aims to establish a radical linguistic naturalism that constrains the intrinsic properties of names. This should be clear if we take Socrates' claim seriously that names are tools: tools in general can only function successfully if they exhibit the relevant structural, compositional and (to some extent) material properties. Since Socrates claims that names are a class of tools and not merely like tools in some respects, as many have supposed, then what holds for tools in general must also hold for names.


Smith, I. (2014). Taking the tool analogy seriously: Forms and naming in the cratylus. Cambridge Classical Journal, 60, 75-99.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2014
Deposit Date Mar 23, 2015
Publicly Available Date Feb 10, 2016
Journal Cambridge Classical Journal
Print ISSN 1750-2705
Electronic ISSN 2047-993X
Publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 60
Pages 75-99
Keywords Plato's Cratylus, tool analogy, ancient semantics
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This article was published in The Cambridge Classical Journal, Vol 60, December 2014 DOI:10.1017/S1750270514000037


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