6 Feb 2017

Luhtala (5.5.1) On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic, “Rational Impressions”, summary


by Corry Shores


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[The following is summary. It redoes this entry. All boldface and bracketed commentary are my own. Paragraph enumerations are also my own, but they follow the paragraph breaks in the text. Please forgive my distracting typos, as proofreading is incomplete.]




Summary of


Anneli Luhtala


On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic


Ch.5 The Stoics


5.5 Stoic Logic


5.5.1 Rational Impressions



Brief summary:

We obtain rational impressions (λογικὴ φαντασία) from real situations in the world [which operates according to reason (λόγος)] leaving impressions (φαντασίαι) on the leading part of our soul (ἡγεμονικόν). The situation in the world has some rational sense to it, which is its “sayable” (λεκτόν). The same sayable corresponds to our rational impression, and that sayable can be rendered into a linguistic utterance, taking the form of a proposition, whose syntactical structure is isomorphic to the conceptual structure of the sayable.







[Dialectic is conducted on the basis of rational impressions in our mind that were made by existing things leaving impressions on the leading part of our soul.]


Stoic dialectic is based on the knowledge we gain of the world. In their epistemology, existing things activate impressions (φαντασίαι) in our mind (that is, in the “leading part of the human soul, the ἡγεμονικόν”) by means of sense-perceptions.

Stoic dialectic was based on epistemology, so that ‘impressions’ (φαντασίαι) held the first place in their treatment of dialectic. ‘Impressions’ are what occur in the human mind on the basis of sense-perceptions, which are caused by external objects in the leading part of the human soul, the ἡγεμονικόν.104 An impression is activated by ‘existing things’ and is stamped and impressed exactly in accordance with ‘what is’ (Diog Laert. | VII,46; Adv. math. VIII,85-86).105 In Stoic physics only corporeal entities are said really to exist and have causal efficacy. The ‘existing things’ can thus be interpreted as perceptible objects affecting the leading part of the soul, ἡγεμονικόν.106 An impression (φαντασίαι) is understood either as an imprint (τύπωσις) or alteration (ἑτεροίωσις) in the soul (SVF 2.53-9), which produces a movement in the soul (Adv. math.VII,242 = SVF 2.65). By a rational impression (λογικὴ φαντασία) is understood a presentation which is typical of a living being possessed of reason and speech. If it originates from something which is clear, it is called a cognitive impression (καταληπτικὴ φαντασία) (Long & Sedley 1987: 250). According to Sextus Empiricus, a rational impression (λογικὴ φαντασία) is a presentation in which it is possible to set the thing presented before the mind by means of speech (λόγῳ) (Adv. math. VIII,70); it is also called ‘thought-process’ (νόησις) (Diog. Laert. VII,51).107

104. The soul, which is regarded a physical by the Stoics, consists of eight parts. The | commanding-part is called the ἡγεμονικόν. When a man is born, the Stoics say, he has the commanding-part of his soul like a sheet of paper ready for writing upon. On this he inscribes each one of his conceptions. Reason is said to be completed during our first seven years (Aet. Plac. IV,11,1-4 = SVF 2.83).

105. ... καταληπτικὴν μέν, ἣν κριτήριον εἶναι τῶν πραγμάτων φασί, τὴν γινομένην ἀπὸ ὑπάρχοντος κατ᾽ αὐτὸ τὸ ὑπάρχον ἐναπεσφραγισμένην καὶ ἐναπομεμαγμένην (Diog. Laert. VII,46; cf. also Aet. Plac. IV,12,1-5 = SVF 2.54).

106 But, according to the Stoics, knowledge can also be gained through processes other than immediate sense observations. An impression (φαντασίαι) can originate also in reasoning. The procedure involved is that of μετάβασις, a form of inference starting from sense-data. The Stoics claimed that the soul cannot be immediately affected by incorporeals but it can be impressed ‘in relation to sayables’ (Adv. math. VIII,409 = SVF 2.85). See Atherton (1993: 255 ff.) and Schubert (1994: 131-141).

107. αἱ μὲν οὖν λογικαὶ (sc. φαντασίαι) νοήσεις εἰσίν (those which are rational are processes of thought”); cf. Galen (Def. med. 126,19,381). I disagree with Kerferd, who proposes the following translation for this pasage: “A rational presentation is one in which the object of the phantasia is to be (i.e. can be) presented rationally (i.e. in and for the reason)” (1978 : 253-254).


[Our rational impressions, which are based on impressions from real states of affairs in the world, correspond to the sense or sayable of the event, which can be articulated into a linguistic utterance whose syntax is isomorphic to the structural features of the sayable it expresses.]


[So far we have  been discussing the role of thought processes with regard to rational impressions. But] the rational impression can enter into the form of a linguistic utterance, which is isomorphic with the  “sayable / λεκτόν”. Since the rational impression was caused by a real situation in the world, the expression will take a form of a proposition. [At this point it is not clear to what the sayable is and how it would differ from the linguistic expression. It could be something like the sense of a proposition. As such, it would lie between the state of affairs and the vocalized or conceptualized utterance in the sense that it holds for both and is like a bridge between them. I will quote this paragraph in full, and I may return to this part later to revise it, as I learn more.] The sayable / λεκτόν has composing units that correspond with the proposition’s parts of speech. [The next point might be that the sayables are on the side of that which is being signified and the proposition is on the side of that which is doing the signifying. But I am not certain yet.]

When the impression is associated with thought-processes and speech, the link with the linguistic theory becomes obvious, namely with the theory of the so-called ‘sayables’ (λεκτά). Indeed, the notion of ‘sayable’ (λεκτόν) is defined as that which subsists in accordance with a rational impression (Diog. Laert. VII,63).108 Diogenes Laertius epitomizes as follows the process by which articulate speech develops on the basis of ‘impressions’: |

Impression leads the way; then thought, which is able to speak, expresses in discourse what it experiences as a result of the impression. (Diog. Laert. VII,49)109

That which results from rational impressions would thus seem to take the form of propositions.110 The following statement, which is attributed to Chrysippus, displays the association between ‘right reason’ and the syntax of the parts of speech.

Philosophy, whether it is the care for, or the knowledge of, right reason, is the discipline concerned with reason (λόγος). For if we are completely familiar with the parts of speech (τῶν τοῦ λόγου μορίων) and their syntax (τῆς συντάξεως αὐτῶν), we will make use of it (i.e. the λόγος) in an expert way. By λόγος I mean the one that by nature belongs to all rational beings. (SVF 2.131, tr. Frede 1978: 60-62)

The intimate relationship between the theory of λεκτά (‘sayables’) and items of language, the parts of speech, is well-known. As Long and Sedley put it,

sayables are not merely, as has often been observed, ‘isomorphic’ with language. They are parasitic on it, to the extent of being analysable largely into the words used to express them. (Long/Sedley 1987: 200-201)111

The correspondence between the parts of speech, and the corresponding units of λεκτά (‘sayables’) is reflected in the Stoic division of dialectic into its two components, the one dealing with what signifies (σημαίνοντα) and the other dealing with what is said or signified (λεκτόν, σημαινόμενα) (Diog. Laert. VII,43). In my opinion, this correspondence should be understood in such a way that the parts of speech in the former component | were described with a view to their roles in statement-making in the latter. The parts of speech are thus supposed to be described in terms of such features as are relevant for propositional analysis. A similar tendency was noted in the Peri hermeneias in which the noun (ὄνομα) and the verb (ῥῆμα) seemed to be tailor-made for the subject and predicate functions in statement-making.

108. Φασῖ δὲ (τὸ) λεκτὸν εἶναι τὸ κατὰ φαντασίαν λογικὴν ὑφιστάμενον. [See Perseus]

109. προηγεῖται γὰρ ἡ φαντασία, εἶθ᾽ ἡ διάνοια ἐκλαλητικὴ ὑπάρχουσα, ὃ πάσχει ὑπὸ τῆς φαντασίας, τοῦτο ἐκφέρει λόγῳ (tr. Long 1974: 125). [See Perseus]

110. I agree with Long and Sedley when they claim that “all impressions of mature human beings are envisaged to have a propositional content” (1987: 240): “To say that ‘sayables subsist in accordance with a rational impression’ seems to be a way of making the point that the rationality of a thought consists in its relationship to a sayable, which will normally be a proposition” (1987: 200). Cf. also Annas (1980: 88-89): “So a presentation, while in itself an imprint or alteration, not the kind of thing which can be true or false, is to be thought of a something with a content which can be expressed in a proposition, and this is true or false”.

111. See also Kneale/Kneale (1962: 143): “Although lekta are to be distinguished from any spoken sounds, words, or sentences, it is clear that a lekton can be identified only by use of a word or sentence which expresses it, and it is not surprising that the divisions of lekta should correspond fairly closely with the divisions of speech.” Cf. Egli (1978: 138); Graeser (1978: 80).








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



Other texts, cited by Luhtala:


[Note, for “Aet. Plac.” I did not see something for it in the Bibliography, but perhaps it is Aetius’s Placita Philosophorum.]


Annas, Julia. 1980. “Truth and Knowledge”. Doubt and Dogmatism. Studies in Hellenistic Epistemology. Ed. by M. Schofield, J. Burnyeat, J. Barnes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 84-104.


Atherton, Catherine. 1993. The Stoics on Ambiguity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Diogenes Laertius: Lives of eminent philosophers. Translated by Robert D. Hicks. 2 vols. London: William Heinemann / Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1950.


Egli, Urs. 1978. “Stoic syntax and Semantics”. Brunschwig (1978: 135-154). [A revised version in Historiographia Linguistica. 13 (1986): 281-306.].


Frede, Michael. 1978. “Principles of Stoic Grammar”. Rist (1978: 7-75).


Graeser, Andrea. 1978. “The Stoic Theory of Meaning”. Rist (1978: 77-100).


Kerferd, George B. 1978. “The Problem of synkatathesis and katalepsis in Stoic doctrine”. Brunschwig (1978: 251-272).


Kneale, William C. / Kneale, Martha. 1962. The Development of Logic. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Long, Anthony A. 1974. Hellenistic Philosophy. London, New York: Charles Scribner’s sons.


Long, Anthony A. / Sedley, David N. 1987. The Hellenistic philosophers. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress.


Sextus Empiricus: Adversus Mathematicos I-XI. Ed. with an English translation by Robert G. Bury. 4 vols. The Loeb Classical Library. London: Heinemann; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press 1949.


Schubert, Andreas. 1994. Untersuchungen zur stoischen Bedeutungslehr. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. (Hypomnemata. 103.).


SVF: Stoicorum veterum fragmenta I-III. Ed. Iohannes von Arnim. Leipzig: Teubner 1905-24.



This entry redoes the one here, made a while ago:




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