5 Jun 2009

Stoic Logic and Semantics. "Action and Undergoing Action in Stoic Physics," Ch 5.6.2 of Luhtala, On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Log

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Anneli Luhtala

On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic

Chapter 5: The Stoics

5.6.2 Action and Undergoing Action in Stoic Physics

In Stoic physics, all cosmic material events originate in a twofold principle. They describe the principle in terms of the active and the passive (or the undergoing of action): τό ποιουν (to poioun) and τό πάσχον (to paschon). But these concepts are represented in various ways throughout the Stoic sources. Diogenes Laertius says that both are aspects of body. The active principle is god and the passive is matter or unqualified substance. Sextus Empiricus also says that the active principle is god. It causes the shapeless and motionless substance to shape and move. In addition, he characterizes the active with breath, πνευμα (pneuma). It “pervades the universe in the same way that the soul pervades us” (Adv. math. IX, 75-76 = SVF 2.3.11. SVF: Stoicorum veterum fragmenta I-III, tr. Long/Sedley The Hellenistic philosophers. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. qtd in Luhtala 126d).

Aetius associates the active with the following qualities (boldface mine)
The Stoics made god out to be intelligent, a designing fire which methodically proceeds towards creation of the world, and encompasses all the seminal principles according to which everything comes about according to fate. (Aet. Plac. 1,7,33 = SVF 2.1027 transl. Long/Sedley 1987:274-275, qtd. in Luhtala 126-127)
This twofold principle of action/passion is central to the Stoic theory of causation “whereby events in the cosmos were viewed in terms of bodies involved in action and undergoing of action.” (127a) A body is what can act and be acted upon. 

According to Aristotle, contiguity is essential to causation: “physical events are transmitted either through direct contact of bodies or by the
πνευμα (pneuma, breath)” (127b). Also, we may describe action in terms of movement, either of other bodies locomotion, or of the πνευμα/pneuma’s tensional motion [intensity]. (Simpl. In. Ar. cat. 306,14; 302,1)

There is a linguistic sense to the principles of action/passion.
Luhtala quotes Lapidge (On Stoic Cosmology) as saying that acting and being acted-upon are logically distinguishable aspects of a single body, no matter its qualitative form. 

Action involves causation. Hence there needs to be two bodies for an action.
Luhtala relates this to ancient grammatical principles. Active constructions are transitive. The verb’s action is directed towards a recipient. (127d)

For Zeno, a cause is something that accounts for the effect. It is: “that because of which.” What it causes is an attribute
(συμβεβηκός, symbebekos). The cause is a body. The caused is a predicate (κατηγόρημα, kategorema). You cannot have a cause without thereby also having the effect. So a cause is the reason something happens. For example, on account of prudence, being prudent occurs. Because of a soul’s existence, being alive occurs. It is impossible for someone with a soul to be dead, or someone with prudence to be imprudent.

Chrysippus likewise considers a cause ‘that because of which.’ It is both an existing thing (
ον, on) and a body (σωμα, soma). However, what it causes is neither an existent nor a body. And, the cause is ‘because.’ But the caused is ‘why?’ Chrysippus gives this account when explaining statements of cause. (Stobaeus. Ecl. 1.1.38,14-139,4 = SVF 1.89 and 2.336, transl Long/Sedley 1987: 333, cited in
Luhtala 128b.c)

So the cause is a body. But the effect is an incorporeal (
ασώματα, asomata), a predicate (κατηγόρημα, kategorema), or an accident (συμβεβηκός, symbebekos). All these are meaning components (σημαινόμενα, semainomena) A cause is purely physical, for it is an existent and a body. This distinction between bodies and incorporeal predicates is like the Stoic ontological distinction made between existing bodies (οντα, onta) and subsistent incorporeal sayables (λεκτά, lekta). 

Early in this distinction’s development, the difference was described as being between noun/verb cognate pairings, for example, moderation/to be moderate. We saw
before how in Stoic ethics, to possess prudence means one is being prudent. However, when the terms are not cognates, they use the appropriate substitute, like soul and to live. We see that they differentiate common nouns and verbs in such a way that the nouns represent entities with an active nature, and the verbs represent predicates that cannot bear an active force. But really Zeno’s notion of causation does not square with Stoic linguistic theory.
The inactive elements are illustrated by infinitives but the predicate, the finite verb, must be at issue. It is the predicate which is incorporeal in the Stoic theory. (129c, emphasis mine)

Sextus Empiricus writes how two bodies are involved in action.
The Stoics say that every cause is a body which becomes the cause to a body of something incorporeal. For instance the scalpel, a body, becomes the cause to the flesh, a body, of the incorporeal predicate ‘being cut’. And again, the fire, a body, becomes the cause to the wood, a body, of the incorporeals predicate ‘being burnt’. (Adv. math. IX, 211 = SVF 2.341, transl Long/Sedley 1987: 333)
One body affects another body. The effect is the incorporeal predicate. The scalpel cuts the skin to cause ‘being cut.’ We see that the predicate takes the passive infinitive form: “it seems to have been customary to refer to the predicate with the infinitive. I have stressed that it is only the predicate, a finite verb form, that stands for the incorporeal in Stoic ontology.” (Luhtala 130ab) Clemens explains that being cut is incorporeal, because it is an effect. The cause causes an incorporeal, which is a predicate and a sayable. But he says that it is better if instead of using the infinitive, “being cut,” to use the finite form, “is being cut.” (Clemens. Misc. VIII,9,26,3-4, transl. Long/Sedley 1987: 333, cited in Luhtala 130cd)

According to Clemens, a causal relation is between a noun and a predicate, and not between nouns, as Aristotle holds (Clemens.
Misc. VIII,9,30.1-3 = SVF 2.349, transl. Long/Sedley 1987: 334, cited in
Luhtala 131b.d)

Sextus Empiricus also indicates that Stoic causation was considered largely in semantic terms. He explains that causation involves two bodies along with some incorporeal event happening to these bodies. The sun’s heat causes the wax melting, or its being melted. (Sext.Emp.
Pyrr. Hyp. III,14) 

Mignucci says that the predicate
(κατηγόρημα, kategorema) refers to cause’s modification on the effect (see Adv. math. IX,211). And according to Diogenes Laertius, “the predicate is state of affairs construed around one or more subjects” (Diog. Laert. VII, 64).

According to Frede
a cause is a body which does something or other and by doing so brings it about that another body is affected in such a way that something comes to be true of it ... It seems that the Stoics thought that the canonical representation of the causal relation was not as a two-place relation between a body and a propositional item, but as a three-place relation between a body and another body and a predicate true of that body (Frede “The Original Notion of a Cause”. Schofield et al. 1980: 233-234, cited in Luhtala 134a.b)

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

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