Histories of Meaning
Earl Jackson, Jr.
Seminar Winter 1999
Trouble Shooting Earl’s Comments in
Earl’s Comments inCrimson.
Cratylus begins with the question, are names natural or chosen by convention.[Unnecessarily passive. And the syntax and the punctuation is askew.] Cratylus believes names are natural due to a truth or correctness about them [In relation to what? Without that your statement is unintelligible.]. Hermogenes believes names are chosen by convention and agreement [The use of the word ‚agreement‘ will get you in trouble without more context and precision. It could be construed to mean the agreement of the name with the thing named, in which case Hermogenes’s position becomes Cratylus’s.]. They [antecedent?]may be changed and continue to be just as correct as the previous name.
Socrates professes to know nothing as always but begins by examining Hermogenes definition of names [This mean that no matter what the dialogue is or with whom, Socrates begins by examining Hermogenes’s definitions of names, certainly a peculiar habit.]
Socrates begins [Two beginnings. – Your use of „define“ in this sentence is not English.] by attempting to define if there are true names and false names just as there are true propositions and false propositions. Since propositions may be true and false, names are parts of propositions, and a „part of a falsehood [is] also a falsehood.“ [Even in summaries it’s more than alright to examine critically the premises your quote. Just to cite this statement of Socrates without questioning it is not really reading the text. You should be in dialogue with the dialogue constantly. What do you think about Socrates’s thesis you just quoted. Be specific. It’s one of the things you can answer simply by thinking concretelyy about it. ]Therefore, names may be true and false (deductive reasoning, although I would not necessarily agree with the proposition that a part shares the truth value with the whole) [Whoops! Sorry, never mind ;-)] If the truth of a name is decided by the individual who chooses to name, then every utterance of a name is the truth at the time of the utterance [Your hybridizing Hermogenes’s viewpoint with Cratylus’s. If names are totally conventional, they don’t have „truths.“ Only Cratylus’s kinds of names require a truth-predicate.]. How can there then be a false name? If everything is as they appear to each individual, then there is no falsehood just as there is no wise vs. foolish or just and unjust [You’re mixing jabberwockkies and flibbertijibbets. If all names are conventional, then they have no burden of „truth.“ That’s one statement. From there you might want to build an argument for the conventionality of „truths“ and „justices“ etc, sicne they are also linguistic constructions. But the conventionaliity and arbitrariness of names doesn’t lead to the statement you made that all appearances are correct. That’s also sort of half to a radical relativism but doesn’t quite get there, and you couldn’t have gotten there from here anyway. I will map this out in class, but it would be great if you took a shot at it beforehand.]. But, if what if everything has its „own proper and permanent essence?“ Now [Now? When? By whom? Why? These passive sentences are death to intelligibility.] actions are also classified as „being,“ thereby having its own proper essence[Keep your arguments anchored to the proponents. It’s difficult to follow you now and to tell whose position your representing, and even what part of the dialogue text you’re summarizing here.], and since speech is an action, speech may be successful as an action or unsuccessful [Classifying „action“ under „being“ with an „essence“ just prior to this statement doesn’t help the clarity of your summary or understanding the reason you are making this observation.] Naming is also an action and therefore must be acted out in its natural process [Why does it suddenly have a „natural process“? If an action isn’t acted out, then it didn’t occur, so it couldn’t have a „natural process“ that wasn’t fulfilled. But you haven’t kept the boundaries between the opposing positions clear at all.] or it will be unsuccessful. A name is then established [passive voice!!!!] as an instrument [Naming is an action and a statement is an action that can be successful or not but naming has a natural process that is its action which is to establish a name which becomes an instrument. – Can you make sense of this scenario? Where in the Cratylus does anything like this occur?] because it is used to name a thing much like an awl is used to pierce [ wow! the name becomes an instrument because it names a thing like a awl pierces. What does it name? Does the name name the thing or the name giver name the thing? Why is identifying something like peircing it? How is a name like an awl?]. The action of naming „give[s] information to one another [Who the hell is the „one another“? The quote has to make sense within the host sentence. This is not English.], and [distinguishes] things according to their nature.“ [Can you actually envision what you’re describing? The act of naming – you don’t have any person doing the naming nor anything receiving the name but you have communication occurrign between a mysterious „one another“ while distinguishing things according to their nature? Where is this occurring? It’s impenetrable.] Naming is the instrument of the teacher [You can’t have the action of naming to be an instrument and the name to be an instrument. And whatever happened to Hermogenes and Cratylus? Of the question of the dialogue?] just as the shuttle is the instrument of the weaver. The skilled craftsman that creates names is the legislator [You’ve gotten the metaphor backwards.], and not the common man. The legislator must choose a name that fits the nature of the thing [You are supposed to be summarizing at least two sides of an argument -yet you keep collapsing them as if all sides suddenly believed that names must fit the nature of the object named. This is not the case.]. However, the name may be different from another legislators [The name isn’t any legislator as your syntax here implies. Please proofread before sending.] as long as the form is the same just as blacksmiths [Names may be legislators and may even be different legislators as long as the legislator is in the shape of a blacksmith. Well, that certainly clears it up.] may make different versions of the same awl type. A dialectician is then the director of the legislator [Why would legislators have directors?] in making names as the pilot directs the carpenter how to make the rudder of the boat. Therefore, not everyman can choose to name a thing but there are those skilled to find the nature of a thing and express it in a name?[I can’t go on.]
„What is the nature of this truth or correctness of names?“ Homer speaks of the Gods knowing the names of things. What of mans [Who?] names for things, are they of the things nature and are they proper? Socrates sees that some names are chosen to represent the individual named such as Astyanax represents the king of the city. Now is the important point. Whether the syllables of words are the same or different, they must represent the same meaning to represent the same thing. Hector and Astyanax both mean ruler despite being spelled differently [WHAT!!!! LOOK THEM UP!!!! THE TROJAN WAR!!! THEY ARE PEOPLE’S NAMES!!!]. Socrates then examines names of persons, gods and objects in detail to see if the name properly represented the nature of the individual. This is a difficult and large section because I can not tell where he is playing with the reader and Hermogenes or being serious. He constantly rearranges words, finding roots and meanings as if finding the nature of the thing in the name. I don’t know enough about the actual words he is taking apart but there are definitely times he seems to have gone beyond the bounds of what the word could possibly have been. He finds sentences in a single word and gets rid of half of a word on a whim. Then again, maybe this is what a dialectician actually does? From what I know of mythology, I feel he is toying with meaning a lot. His argument on Hades and desire keeping souls in Hell as shown by the Nature of Hades name seems somewhat counter to what I know of Hades and his underworld.
Interestingly, Socrates shows that virtues are motion oriented  and vices are blocking of motion oriented.[He was disproving the usefulness of etymological explanations and speculations. This was about words and misconceptions about them – not about the world we directed-blacksmith-shaped-legislator-of-the-instrumental-naming-of-the instrument-name-awl live in]. Then, Socrates uses the name justice and yet gives it different natures [Quite a trick. How does he do that? And is „justice“ a name? Since when?]as described by people he talked to [In the mall?]. The name of men is derived from upward motion and women from birth and flourish [Taking figurative language and decontextualized parodied speculation from the text and recording it as factual statements does not help any possible summary or assessment of anything. „Men“ don’t have a single name, and that name isn’t „derived from upward motion, nor is this nonexistent name derived from „women from birth and flourish“ whatever that might mean. Please proofread. This is not English and doesn’t vaguely even remind me of the Cratylus. (Remember him?)] as if they were . Hermogenes then points out that all this changing of words has gotten farfetched and Socrates points out that as words have changed, the changes have sometimes been to make the sound of the word easier or more pleasurable to the mouth and ear. Yet too many changes and names are too easily made and any name can be adopted to any object. When in doubt as to the origin of a word, it is also possible to explain it away as foreign .
Now the name signifies the nature of the thing but how much of the nature of the thing.[A question? You make it a rhetorical sentence fragment] If the name represents the thing to [spelling!] perfectly, it is the thing just as a perfect imitation is no longer an imitation. Therefore what is Cratylus’s perfect name. [Why aren’t you using question marks?] If the name is to [spelling!] much not like the thing, then arguably it is not the name? Therefore an assignment of a name that is to [spelling!] unlike its thing, then the assignment is a falsehood [Your use of „assignment sounds strange here, but it is also a tautology. „If the name is wrong then the name doesn’t fit and therefore it’s wrong. That’s simply tying judgments and conditions into circular knots. Also, „falsehood“ means „lie.“ If someone unsuccessfully assigned a name to an object, this is definitely a practical failure, but it isn’t necessarily a „falsehood.“ In fact, in terms of the speech act theory, the attempt to name a thing is an activity that can be successful or unsuccessful, but without further contexts, it does not comprise even an implicit state that is immediaely susceptible to being true or false.]. However, a proper or true name can be adjusted, i.e. a letter added or subtracted because a name is qualitative and not quantitative [This is not English. Reread the sentence aloud to yourself and let me know what you meant. Also why would the „ideal name“ need to have its elements changed?]. Qualitative changes [Define these terms. What’s a qualitative change?] make a thing maybe a little more true or false [Please proofread in the future, but reread this sentence until you understand what’s wrong with it. I can explain too. Here’s a capsule:  How would a qualitative change alter the „truth“ value of a term?  „True“ and „false“ cannot be predicated of single nouns. A sentence can be. But a name isn’t more or less true or false. Do you mean more „accurate“ in imitation – like a mask or a picture? Remember that is on the order of mimesis – not of language. A linguistic sign does not „resemble“ its signified – with the possible alphabetic exception in the Hungarian word for „scissors“:
but these changes are in degrees like a grey scale [You seem to be describing a world you’re imagining quite autonomous from that of the Platonic dialogues. Please return to the text.]
Quantitative is add one to five and you no longer have five, but instead you have six. Then how do we recognize different words as they change. We all have the same meaning for things [What!!! First of all who is „we“? And how did we get to share absolutely unquestioned common meanings to terms – any terms. How would we have the same meanings for things, and if this were the case why would there ever be any ambiguity, debate, misunderstanding, reinterpretation. Indeed, such a common ground would make literature very unlikely and would ultimately render speech nearly pointless. ] such as man [„We“ all have the same meaning for „man“? Since when? For some of us that word means male adult humans. Period. For some it means „human race in general or in a universal singularity. And when the people in Virginia and other locales were drafting the bill of rights, what „common meaning“ did „man“ and „equal“ have among the senators who did not own slaves and those who did? For instance, when they jointly declared „Certain truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I can’t find any common meanings in those terms.] and sun but the words can be different [So we go around sharing, bald, naked meanings that can spread from person within this collective „we“; these meanings can insinuate themselves in „all of us“ even across linguistic, cultural, sociopolitical and temporal distances? Not only that, but these common meanings can be transmitted to „us“ all even if the languages are not conmmensurable, and even if the meaning has slipped the; shackles of its „sign.“ How do you transmit a concept, a meaning without a sign system and a sign to exchange or convey?]. Understanding between individuals is reached through custom or convention [Translation: „Understanding between individuals is reached through understanding between individuals. And don’t use the passive voice („is reached“).]. By this we [There is no such „we“ fortunately. Don’t resort to it. If you see them lurking anywhere gun them all down. Or use a flamethrower.] accept common words attached to common meanings [No such version of „meaning“ can be found in the cratylus, nor do I think you’ll encounter it very often in any even half-way sophisticated discussion of such questions.]. Cratylus believes that knowing a name of a thing equals knowing a thing but this is refuted [passive voice!] by inconsistencies in the language. Words don’t always seem to [split infinitive] properly imitate their thing which may have been caused by the first namers[ Who?]. Their conception of the thing may have been wrong [A conception of a thing that is wrong is not the conception of the thing.] and how would they name if a thing did not already have a name to know it by since knowing seems tied into knowing the name [Close but no cigar-eidolon]. And how can we know since the nature of all things seems to be change [This is not English. And you have left Hermogenes and Cratylus languishing on the road. This was to have been a synopsis of the dialogue]. What we [I want this „we“ as dead as a princess.] know is what was and not what is. [Recount the positions of each of the participants, clearly demarcating who thinks what. There shouldn’t be any „we“ sentences since „we“ weren’t there, and definitely no transformations of the very local arguments into statements that speak as general „truths.“]
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