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 one else.
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 view.
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 propositions?
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 possible?
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 is true.
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 say.
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 them.
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.
Soc. But if neither is right, and things are not relative to individuals, and all things do not equally belong to all at the same moment and always, they must be supposed to have their own proper and permanent essence: they are not in relation to us, or influenced by us, fluctuating according to our fancy, but they are independent, and maintain to their own essence the relation prescribed by nature.
Her. I think, Socrates, that you have said the truth.