23 May 2009

Stoic Logic and Semantics "Compound Predicates and the Notion of Action," Ch, Luhtala, On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic

Chapter 5: The Stoics Compound Predicates and the Notion of Action

Selective quotational summary

Transitivity has to do with the expression of action which involves two persons, the agent and the patient, and it is transitive verbs that partake of the active-passive opposition. (89a)
Neither the verb nor the predicate was defined in terms of action by the Stoics. I will claim later on that this is quite intentional. According to my view, the Stoics did not describe the semantic content of the verb by means of such nouns as action (ενέργεια, energeia) because various activities (such as walking and dancing) were regarded as corporeal things in Stoic theory. It is crucial for the Stoic theory that the verb signifies something incorporeal. (89-90, emphasis mine)

According to Diogenes Laertius, active and passive predicates are exemplified by verbs of sense perception. (90b).

Dionysius Thrax offers a definition of the verb (ρημα, rema) according to which it is a word which sets before the mind an action or a passion (ενέργεια η παθος, energeia or pathos) (§ 13, GGI.1: 46,5). A scholiast on Dionysius Thrax points out that it is typical of a verb to indicate a state of affairs (πραγμα, pragma); and these states of affairs are accomplished by persons in so far as they act or undergo actions. (91b)
I accept this interpretation specifying however that the state of affairs (πραγμα, pragma) is also a feature of the proposition. The proposition was defined as a complete state of affairs (πραγμα αυτοτελές, pragma autoteles) by the Stiocs (Diog. Laert. VII, 65); it was defined as exhibiting a complete sayable (λεκτόν αυτοτελές, lekton autoteles) by Aulus Gellius. The component of meaning (σημαινόμενa, semainomena) was known even as the component of states of affairs (πραγματα, pragmata, Diog. Laert. VI, 63) States of affairs (πραγματα, pragmata) and sayables (λεκτά, lekta) would actually appear to be parallel notions within this component so that they reflect two different aspects of the same units of sayables, namely of the predicate and proposition (VII, 190). The notion of sayable (λεκτόν, lekton) points to the kind of existence or rather non-existence associated with our thought and speech, while the state of affairs (πραγμα, pragma) stands for the contents of these units of thought and speech in terms of their signifying states of affairs or action. (91v-92)
Sextus Empiricus associates sayables (λεκτά, lekta) with the states of affairs (πραγματα, pragmata) which the utterance reveals:
The signification is the actual state of affairs (πραγμα, pragma) revealed by an utterance, and which we apprehend as it subsists (υπάρχειν, uparchein) in accordance with our thought.
(Adv. math. VIII, 11-12)
Diogenes Laertius equates sayables (λεκτά, lekta) with states of affairs (πραγματα, pragmata):
Saying (λέγειν, legein) is different from voicing (ρποφέρεσθαι, propheresthai). For utterances (φωναί, phonai) are voiced but it is states of affairs (πραγματα, pragmata) which are said they, after all, are actually sayables.
(Diog. Laert. VII, 57)

the proposition was closely related to the physical theory, within which action and undergoing of action were regarded as the crucial feature of bodies. Given that bodies were defined as active and passive, the fact that the verb was not defined in the same semantic terms begins to become more understandable. Moreover, it is a well known fact that the Stoics reserved the notion of action to pertain solely to bodies. Bodies are represented by the nominal parts of speech in the linguistic theory, and in a striking contrast, the verb is said to signify something incorporeal, a predicate, a sayable which exists only in our thought and speech. the Stoic predicate is a unit of our thought, a relational notion which unites the two bodies involved in action and undergoing of action. As far as I can see, it was impossible for the Stoics, from the ontological point of view, to say that the verb signifies action and undergoing of actions. (93b-c)

Luhtala, Anneli. On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic. Münster: Nodus Publikationen, 2000.
More information available at:

No comments:

Post a Comment