C. G. Healow
December 15, 2020
The Cratylus’ main concern is to outline and evaluate the competing views of language held by two characters, Hermogenes and Cratylus, who disagree about whether convention or nature (respectively) are the source of onomastic correctness. Hermogenes has been thought to hold two radically different views by different scholars, one extreme conventionalism whereby all names are correct relative to their speakers, and another modest conventionalism according to which distinct naming actions – establishment and employment – explain why some names are correct and others are not, depending on the speaker. In this paper I argue that, though Hermogenes ultimately endorses a conventionalism of the latter kind, it is a mistake to assign him this position from the outset. Rather, to understand the structure of the conversation about conventionalism, we must view Hermogenes’ position, and Socrates’ understanding of it, as developing instead of settled. For it is only by discussing the matter that Hermogenes comes to express a moderate conventionalist view and Socrates comes to appreciate the position Hermogenes actually holds.