3 Jun 2009

Stoic Logic and Semantics. "Corporeals in Stoic Physics," Ch 5.6.1 of Luhtala, On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic

[Note: this entry was redone at:

Anneli Luhtala

On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic

Chapter 5: The Stoics

5.6.1 Corporeals in Stoic Physics

The Stoics define body in such ways as:
1) three-dimensionality with resistance
2) contact and separation
3) the capacity to act and undergo action.
Luhtala will focus on this last kind, the capacity to act and undergo action.
Stoics believed that Platonic Ideas were merely thoughts held in our minds. Thus they are nonexistent. Stoics are corporealists, so they deny existence to all things except bodies. But this is still different from Aristotle, who "recognized kinds of being for corporeal and incorporeal things, and an eternal unmoved being, the prime mover." (118-119) To grasp Stoic ontology, David Hahm (in The Origins of Stoic Cosmology) suggests we examine their "crucial notion of action and undergoing of action."
From our limited sources, it is not clear how the Stoics argued for their notion of corporeality.
A body is what can act or be acted upon. According to Long and Sedley, all we can really gather from this Stoic belief is that they rejected the Platonic and Aristotelian positions saying incorporeals have causal efficacy. (Long/Sedley cited in Luhtala 119d).
Luhtala proceeds by examining passages.
The first three passages show the importance of the Stoic claim that “incorporeals cannot interact with bodies causally” (119d)
According to them the incorporeal is not of a nature either to act or to be acted upon. (Sextus Empiricus, Adv. math. VIII, 263 = SVF 2.363. SVF: Stoicorum veterum fragmenta I-III, tr. Long/Sedley The Hellenistic philosophers. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)
Zeno also differed from the same philosophers in thinking that it was totally impossible that something incorporeal (to which genus Xenocrates and his predecessors too had said the mind belonged) should be the agent of anything, ant that only a body was capable of acting or of being acted upon.” (Cic. Act. post. I, 39 = Svf 1.90, tr. Long/Sedley 1987: 272)
He (Cleanthes) also says: no incorporeal interacts with a body and no body with an incorporeal, but one body interacts with another body. Now the soul interacts with the body when it is sick and being cut, and the body with the soul; thus when the soul feels shame and fear the body turns red and pale respectively. Therefore the soul is a body. (Nemesius 78,7-79,2 = SVF 1.518, tr. Long/Sedley 1987: 282)
The next three passages discuss the linguistic aspects of Stoic corporeality.
The first one implies that predicates are incorporeals
For choices and desires and wishes, just like impulses, are of predicates. Yet we choose and wish and likewise desire to have goods, and so goods are choiceworthy and wishworthy and desirable. For we choose to have prudence and acting moderately, which are incorporeal and predicates.” (Stob. II,97,15-98,6 = SVF 3.91, Transl, Long/Sedley 1987: 197)
Common nouns contrast with (infinitive) verbs. The verbs are considered incorporeals and predicates. Hence incorporeal things are less desirable than corporeals.
The following passage differentiates true from truth.
True is said (by the Stoics) to differ from truth in three ways, substance, structure, and function. In substance, since what is true is incorporeal, for it is a proposition and sayable; but truth is a body, for it is scientific knowledge capable of stating everything true; and scientific knowledge is the commanding-faculty disposed in a certain way, just as a fist is the hand disposed in a certain way; and the commanding-faculty is a body. In structure, since what is true is something simple, e.g. ‘I am conversing’, but truth consists of the knowledge of many true things. In function, since truth pertains to scientific knowledge but what is true does not do so at all. Hence they say that truth is only in a virtuous man, but what is true is also in an inferior man; for the inferior man can say something true. (Sextus Empiricus. Pyrrh. hyp. II, 81-83, Transl. Long/Sedley 1987: 198)
So ‘truth’ αλήθεια (aletheia) differs from ‘true’ αληθές (alethes) in three ways: in
1) substance,
2) composition, and
3) potency.
In regard to substance,
a) ‘truth’ is a body, but
b) ‘true’ is
b1) incorporeal,
b2) a judgment (αξίωμα, axioma)
b3) a sayable (λεκτόν, lekton)
Luhtala writes that the true’s characteristics are the same for the component of meaning ημαινόμενa, semainomena). The adjective true represents the predicate to be true. We know that truth (αλήθεια aletheia) is a noun. However, here it is characterized in terms of corporeality rather than its semantic function. And yet, Sextus contrasts the corporeal noun with linguistic and physical terms: a proposition (αξίωμα, axioma), a sayable (λεκτόν, lekton), and an incorporeal. Luhtala argues that “the Stoics contrasted items of linguistic theory such as predicates and propositions with corporeal entities, which are common nouns, though they are not linguistically specified. They are specified only in terms of their corporeal nature.” (122-123)
Regarding structure,
1) Truth is composite. For, it consists in one’s knowledge of numerous things. The soul has a corporeal ‘leading part,’ the ηγεμονικόν (egemonikon). Truth is a particular state of this leading part.
2) True is simple. Consider for example the proposition ‘I converse.’ (διαλέγομαι, dialegomai)
‘Truth’ and ‘true’ differ in function in that ‘truth’ is the scientific knowledge of many things, pertaining to a wise man, whereas ‘true’ (a true proposition) is something that even a less virtuous man can say. (123a)
Luhtala then addresses a large portion of Seneca’s Letter 117 about the ethical and semantic dimensions of the Stoic theory of corporeality.
“According to our school”, Seneca declares, “whatever is a Good (bonum) is a body (corpus), because it can act (facit); whatever acts, is a body. Whatever is a Good is useful (prodest). In order to be useful, one has to do something (faciat aliquid oportet); that which acts is a body. The Stoics say that wisdom (sapientia) is a Good; consequently, it must be called a body. But being wise (sapere) is not regarded as partaking of the same condition. It is incorporeal (incorporalis) and an accident of something else (accidit alteri), that is wisdom; therefore it neither acts nor is useful (nec facit quidquam nec prodest).” (Seneca Ep. 117,2-13)
Wisdom is corporeal, because it involves the body’s ability to act. However, ‘being wise’ “is incorporeal and belongs to something else.” (Luhtala 123cd)
“Is that which belongs to something”, Seneca asks, “outside the object to which it belongs, or does it inhere in the object? If it is in the object to which it belongs, it is as corporeal as the object to which it belongs. Nothing can occur without contact; that which touches, is a body. If it is outside, it withdraws after having belonged to the object. That which recedes, has motion. That which has motion, is a body. You wish that I did not say that ‘race’ (cursus) is different from ‘running’ (currere), ‘heat’ (calor) from ‘to being hot’ (calere) and ‘light’ (lux) from ‘to give light’ (lucere); I admit that these are different things, but not of an altogether different nature. If health is a matter of indifference, so is even ‘being healthy’; if ‘beauty’ is indifferent, so is ‘being beautiful’. If justice is a Good, so is ‘being just’. If ugliness is a bad thing, so is even ‘being ugly’, and for heaven’s sake, if bleary-eyedness is a bad thing, so is even ‘being bleary-eyed.’.” (Seneca qtd in 123-124)
Seneca here disagrees with the Stoics. He thinks it is silly to ontologically separate such related cognate terms as ‘wisdom’ and ‘being wise.’ Then he continues describing the Stoic views.
“Being wise is an accident of wisdom (accidens sapientiae). Does then that which you call being wise act upon wisdom or is it acted upon by wisdom (utrum facit sapientiam an patitur)? In each case it is a body. Both that which acts (facit) and that which undergoes action (fit) is a body; if it is a body, it is a Good. But being wise lacks one characteristic in order to be a Good: it is incorporeal. According to the Peripatetics”, he goes on to argue, “there is no difference between wisdom and being wise, as each of them is contained in the other. Don’t you think that the person who has wisdom is wise? Don’t you think that the wise man has wisdom? It was the old dialecticians who distinguished between these two and the Stoics have maintained this distinction. And what is this distinction then? ‘Field’ (ager) is different from ‘having a field’ (agrum habere), is it not? This is because having a field pertains to the one who possesses it rather than to the field itself. This is how wisdom is different of it being wise. I trust that you agree that these two things are different, that which is possessed (id quod habetur) and that which possesses (is, qui habet); wisdom is possessed (habetur sapientia), the one who is wise possesses (habet, qui sapit). Wisdom is a perfect soul or one which has been brought to the highest good. It is the art of life. What is being wise? I cannot say that it is the perfect mind, but it is rather that which pertains to the one that has a perfect mind (contingit perfectam mentem habenti). A perfect mind (mens bona) is thus different from having a perfect mind (habere mentem bonam).” (Seneca qtd in 124b.d)
The Stoics obtained the distinction between ‘field’ and ‘having a field’ from the Dialecticians. Although it was probably not originally used in an ethical context. (125b)
Bodies have their particular natures, such as ‘man’ and ‘horse’. They are accompanied by motions of the soul which make statements about bodies. Their proper nature is derived from bodies. When I see Cato walk, the senses reveal this to me, and the soul believes it. What I see is a body on which I focus my eyes and my mind. Then I say: ‘Cato is walking’. What I say is not a body, but a statement about a body, which is called by some effatum (‘utterance’), by the others enuntiatum (‘declaration’), and by yet others dictum (‘statement’). Therefore when we say ‘wisdom’, we understand something corporeal; when we say ‘he is wise’, we talk about a body. It makes a big difference whether you name something or say something about it. (Seneca qtd in 125c)
We make statements regarding bodies. We specify the bodies according to their particular natures by describing their common and particular qualities. A body could then be a man, horse, or an individual like Cato. “By making a statement such as ‘Cato is walking’, we abstract a feature from a body, and what we say is an incorporeal statement” (126a) Note that Seneca speaks of common nouns for bodies, but a proper noun (Cato ambulat) for statements. “This is fully in accordance with the fact that the Stoic [sic] made propositions essentially about individuals.” (126b)

We see also that Seneca distinguishes ‘saying something’ from ‘speaking about something.’
When we utter an individual nominal part of speech, such as the noun ‘wisdom’, we understand, according to the Stoics, something corporeal. When we make a statement, we understand something incorporeal. (Luhtala 126, emphasis mine)

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

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