The Platonic Derivations

We have proceeded on the ground that Aristotle's etymology is authoritative. But nothing is further from the truth. The scholarship of to-day, possessed by an average educated philologist, is far more competent to trace this or any Greek word to its real source, than Plato or Aristotle was able to do. In his analysis of Plato's Cratylus,(8) Grote accurately observes of Plato's etymologies: "Though sometimes reasonable enough, they are in a far greater number of instances forced, arbitrary, and fanciful. The transitions of meaning imagined, and the structural transformations of words, are alike strange and violent. Such is the light in which these Platonic etymologies appear to a modern critic. But such was not the light in which they appeared either to the ancient Platonists or critics earlier than the last century. The Platonists even thought then full of mysterious and recondite wisdom. So complete has been the revolution of opinion that the Platonic etymologies arenow treated by most critics as too absurd to have been seriously intended by Plato, even as conjectures. It is called 'a valuable discovery of modern times' (so Schleiermacher terms it) that Plato meant most of them as mere parody and caricature."

The character of Aristotle as an etymologist is thus stated by Grote: "Nor are they more absurd than many of the etymologies proposed by Aristotle." A slender hook this, whereon to hang such a doctrine as that of the immortal wo of countless millions of souls.

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