Dionysius of Halicarnassus peri gloottas physioos (d)


2.5. Philosophy of language in Dionysius’ On Composition?

In section 2.3, I discussed some aspects of the relationship between words, thoughts
and extra-linguistic referents as treated in Dionysius’ rhetorical works. The present
section will focus on a related problem in Dionysius’ On Composition, which
concerns his ideas on the connection between names (ÙnÒmata) and things
(prãgmata). Scholars have suggested that in three different chapters of his treatise
Dionysius expresses views on this topic. His formulations in those passages seem to
betray philosophical influence. The three passages have puzzled modern scholars,
because Dionysius appears to defend two incompatible views within one treatise,
namely an arbitrary relation between names and words on the one hand (Comp. 18),
and a natural correctness of words on the other hand (Comp. 16).88 A third passage
(Comp. 3) has been considered even internally inconsistent.89 I will argue that these
passages, when interpreted within their rhetorical context, are not incompatible with
each other, but fully consistent. Further, I will show that it is in fact doubtful whether
Dionysius expresses any belief at all concerning the philosophical subject of the
correctness of words. These passages should first and foremost be understood as part
of Dionysius’ rhetorical instruction on several aspects of composition.
First, I will briefly cite the three relevant statements that Dionysius seems to make on
the relation between names and things, and I will mention the inconsistencies that
modern interpreters have observed in these remarks (section 2.5.1). Next, I will raise
some objections to the modern interpretations (section 2.5.2). Finally, I will attempt to
interpret the three passages within their rhetorical context (sections 2.5.3, 2.5.4,
2.5.5), in order to demonstrate that the three statements are in fact not incompatible.

2.5.1. The alleged inconsistency in Dionysius’ views on names and things





the alleged ‘source’ that Dionysius has used in these passages (Platonic, Aristotelian
or Stoic) than in the point that he is making himself.111 My objection to this approach
is mainly that it interprets Dionysius as someone who just copies and pastes his book
together. Schenkeveld’s suggestion that Dionysius ‘only reproduces what he has read,
without realizing its implications’ ignores the fact that Dionysius’ statements are
directly relevant to the context of his theory of composition.112 The idea that
Dionysius merely copies earlier ideas and brings them together without adding
anything useful is characteristic of nineteenth-century scholarship, but it has
influenced a lot of more recent interpretations as well (see section 1.1). I will not
follow this approach. Instead, I will now look more closely at the three passages cited
above in order to understand how they fit into Dionysius’ compositional theory.



88 Comp. 18.74,2; Comp. 16.62,9-12. See Schenkeveld (1983) 89.
89 Comp. 3.14,11-12. See Schenkeveld (1983) 90.

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SOURCE  ebooks.brillonline.nl

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