Two virtual seminars
on Plato’s Cratylus
Wednesday Oct 7th & 14th at 6pm BST
with a possible repeat of the sessions on Saturday 10th & 17th at 4pm BST
(if numbers require)
This is a part of the Prometheus Trust’s virtual study project of working through the first cycle of Platonic dialogues which the ancient Platonic schools from Iamblichus onwards adopted for their standard syllabus. The Cratylus is the fourth in this cycle - we have a forum for the discussion of this and the first three dialogues which you will have access to on registration.
The Prometheus Trust has run seminars and study weekends on Platonic themes for twenty years and plans to continue these studies via virtual channels over the coming months. Our approach to the philosophy of the Platonic tradition is to view it as a path to enlightenment rather than as mere exercise of logic and concept-building - in other words, we take seriously the numerous passages in the dialogues which portray the goal of philosophy as an inner self-transformation and divinization, as well as providing a guide to the outer life.
The Cratylus is a much neglected dialogue - modern critics tend to see it as either a joke or as a dialogue by an off-form Plato (or both). But it was included in the first cycle of dialogues by the ancient Platonic schools, and they clearly thought it should be studied for its serious insights. The first two dialogues of the cycle, the First Alcibiades and the Gorgias were seen as moving the student into the area of civic virtue (in which the rational soul encounters the outer world), while the third, the Phaedo, addressed cathartic virtue (when the soul turns its powers upon itself). After cathartic virtue comes the theoretic or contemplative level, where we attempt to bring ourselves into contact with the real being of eternal Forms, and it is for this reason that the Cratylus comes next - since the beginning of thinking about anything requires us to separate it from all other things: and this is function of names. Only by naming something can we properly begin to investigate it, with a long-term hope of coming into a proper relationship with the thing itself. The Cratylus is a dialogue concerning names - and it asks whether a name is a mere convention or arises from the nature of the thing named; the largest part of the work is Socrates working through a number of etymologies, for he takes that task to be intrinsic to the discovery of the rightness of name in relation to its nature.
The dialogue is somewhat at odds to modern thought, and not an easy one to follow: perhaps the best of modern translations is that of Reeve (widely available via the normal internet book sellers) so we will be using this as our primary translation but will also draw on the translation and notes of Thomas Taylor, and the Commentary of Proclus on the dialogue.
“There are three things belonging to each of those particulars through which knowledge is necessarily produced. But the fourth is knowledge itself. And it is requisite to establish as the fifth that which is known and true. One of these is the name of a thing; the second its definition; the third the resemblance; the fourth knowledge.”
Plato, Seventh Letter.
The sessions will run for one hour 45 minutes via Zoom. Each session will begin with a 15-20 minute presentation which will pick out a particular aspect of the dialogue, and then open up for a group exploration. We aim to limit the number of participants to around 10 (if there is a significantly greater demand than this we will repeat the session as required on the Saturdays of 10th and 17th October). You are welcome to join us whether you have been a participant in previous Prometheus face to face events or are a newcomer and, of course, wherever you are in the world.
There are no charges for participation, but registration is required. To register for a place please email email@example.com - let us know which of the days you would prefer.