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Language, Thought and Falsehood in Ancient Greek Philosophy.

Denyer, Nicholas. Language, Thought and Falsehood in Ancient Greek Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 1991. xi + 222 pp. $65.00--Denyer sets out to explain a puzzle about early (pre-Aristotelian) Greek philosophers: Why are these early thinkers (including Plato) so worried about the possibility of false statement and false judgment? Denyer begins by pointing out that modem philosophers are more worried by truth: for them the problem is to explain how we can make true judgments, not how false ones are possible.

In chapter 2, Denyer gives an account of the problem of false saying in the Euthydemus, using his analysis here as a basis of his account in the remainder of the book. There follows a chapter on Parmenides and others who dealt with the intertwined problems of being, not-being, and falsity; then follow chapters on Plato's Republic, Cratylus, Theaetetus, and Sophist. The book closes with a rather puzzling chapter on Aristotle and why "though [he] takes it for granted that there can be falsehood, he is equally prone to take it for granted that by and large our thoughts are true" (p. 183). The chapter is puzzling because it does not really connect with the rest of the book, for Denyer rightly claims that Aristotle hardly notes the problem of falsehood and often purports to fail to appreciate all the fuss about not-being. Along the way, Denyer develops his own version of Plato's account of falsity in the Sophist, explaining what he thinks is correct and incorrect in the account. Throughout there are a number of references to modem philosophers.

The father of the problem of falsity is Parmenides, and so it is surprising how little discussion of Parmenides there is: pages 24-26 offer a summary of Pannenides' position which the author does not substantiate, and which is clearly based on the interpretations of Owen and Barnes. This treatment seems far too skimpy, even in a short book, for the philosopher who is acknowledged by Plato to be the source of the difficulty. The rest of the chapter on Plato's contemporaries, those Sophists and philosophers who wrestled with the problem of falsity, is illuminating and helpful. Denyer correctly stresses that the problem of not-being and falsity is rooted in a view of meaning as naming, along with a hyper-referential theory of meaning (pp. 9-14).

The discussions of Platonic dialogues focus, naturally enough, on those passages that deal with the problems of false judgment and speech, but because there is no scene-setting, one often feels as though one has come into the middle of a conversation (as indeed one has). The discussion of the Sophist begins at 255a (though there is a quick summary of the arguments beginning at 243b). Denyer makes many admirable points, including his stressing that Plato's point was not to make identity and predication unambiguous. But though Denyer mentions that Plato claims in the Sophist that being is in as much need of explanation as not-being, and that the problem must be solved before an account of falsity can be given, the point is not followed up. Denyer never mentions the discussion of parricide on Father Parmenides at 241d, nor the crucial claim at 251a that it is necessary to show how one thing can be called by many names.

The book is apparently aimed at upper-level undergraduates and graduate students who do not read Greek, and who have a fairly strong background in philosophy. There is little textual discussion, and little effort is made to demonstrate that the explanations and interpretations offered are supported by the texts. There are few footnotes and the index is minimal. There is no separate bibliography. The book is free of typographical errors, but the publisher's price is exorbitant.
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Author:Curd, P.A.K.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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