Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Joshua Wilburn


The Cratylus is often considered an isolated dialogue in Plato’s corpus, and the major theses of the Cratylus are often seen as disposable and problematic elements in Platonic thought. When one carefully compares this dialogue, however, to Plato’s comments elsewhere about rhetoric and dialectic, a set of fascinating connections emerge. In this dissertation, I argue that the Republic ought to be read in light of the Cratylus. In the former dialogue, Plato is vitally concerned with the use of accurate language in his republic, a fact most clearly brought out by his accusation against demagogues: that they “give names” to things on the basis of the beliefs of the populace, not on the basis of reality. I argue that this sort of popular false nomenclature should be identified with Plato’s discussion of deceptive names in the Cratylus. Moreover, I explain how Plato’s discussions of sophistical manipulation of names in the Cratylus, the Euthydemus, and the Sophist can be used to illuminate the epistemological landscape of the Republic. In particular, I contend that the cave image can be best understood only when we understand that the cave itself is the realm of human language, a realm that includes two very separate regions: the shadow language which is presented by the sophist, and the truer language represented by the puppets which cast the shadows. This second region of language, I argue, plays a central role in the education of the guardians.