HAB Course Director: Dr. Shannon Byrne, Director: Dr. Timothy Quinn, Readers: Dr. Eleni Tsalla and Dr. Evan Strevell
In the early 20th century, philosophy underwent a “linguistic turn,” in which philosophy, humanities, and even sciences made a redoubled focus on language itself. This turn was quite comprehensive, focusing on nearly every aspect of language such as meaning, reference, truth and falsity, logic, and the connection of language and reality. This renewed focus garnered a significant amount of attention and thought in the 20th century by some of its most prominent thinkers of both the analytic and even continental traditions. In the analytic tradition, Wittgenstein, in his Tractatus, saw language as the logical limit of our known world, out of which we cannot think, much less speak.1 In the continental tradition, Martin Heidegger famously conceived of language as the “House of Being,” meaning that it stands at the very foundation of how we conceive of our world around us and is the home in which we live.2 Language is perhaps the foremost medium through which one not only interacts with other humans, but also frames and even conceives of the world. While the 20th century linguistic turn ushered in a renewed focus on philosophy of language, these thinkers were not the first to consider philosophical questions on language. The earliest Greek thinkers and philosophers themselves were concerned with fundamental questions of language.3 While the early 7th to 4th century Greeks did not have an abstract word for language in the sense that we moderns do, they nevertheless questioned one of the most integral parts of language itself: names.4 The earliest Pre-Socratics and even Sophists questioned aspects of language, such as the significance of names and the relationship between names and reality.5 These ancient arguments gained renewed significance when Plato incorporated them into his own philosophy of names in the Cratylus.6 However, Aristotle’s works, most notably his De Interpretatione, contain radical differences in key aspects of Plato’s philosophy of names. This paper brings some of the critical differences of the two philosophers on names to light. Specifically, I give an analysis of Aristotle’s philosophy of language, especially for his concept of name (ὄνομα) from the first chapters of De Interpretatione, demonstrates a departure from elements of Platonic philosophy of names in the Cratylus regarding the origins of names, the significance of etymologies, and the ontological significance of words.7 Regardless of whether or not Aristotle specifically had the Cratylus in mind when writing his De Interpertatione is irrelevant, for their diametrically opposing positions on these aforementioned areas are quite striking. In addition, these differences, as I will show, are also indicative of Aristotle’s overall philosophical disagreements with Plato, particularly his modification and criticisms of the Platonic theory of forms and his emphasis on studying empirical phenomena.
Blain, Matthew, "The Name and Its Significance: An Examination of Names in Aristotle’s and Plato’s Philosophy of Language" (2022). Honors Bachelor of Arts. 48.
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