25 Apr 2017

Luhtala ( On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic, “The Notion of Self-Sufficiency (Αὐτοτέλεια)”, 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

The Component of Meaning (Σημαινόμενα)
The Notion of Self-Sufficiency (Αὐτοτέλεια)

Brief summary:
[Recall from section that the sayable (λεκτόν) is the incorporeal, rational component of some situation in the world, that is to say, it is a state of affairs. Also, it is the propositional sense of a statement expressing that state of affairs, taking the form of either a full proposition with both a subject and a predicate or a bare predicate without a subject.] When a sayable has a propositional sense of simply a predicate (and thus it represents an incomplete thought), it is an incomplete sayable, and when the sayable has a propositional sense of both a subject and its predicate (and thus represents a complete thought), it is a complete sayable. Incomplete sayables leave a question in the hearer’s mind, while complete ones do not. For example, “Socrates writes” leaves no question, but “writes” leaves the question “who writes?”. An expression has self-sufficiency (αὐτοτέλεια) when it expresses either a complete sayable in its full subject-predicate form or when it simply refers somehow to the predicate part of a complete sayable. One way to determine if an expression is a sayable is if is sufficient (or maybe if it is simply complete). Another ways is if it truly corresponds to an actual state of affairs. Thus there is no consistent criterion for what constitutes a sayable. [Please read the quotations below, as I am quite possibly misunderstanding these distinctions.]

[A sayable is incomplete (and insufficient) when it is a bare predicate and it is complete (and has self-sufficiency, αὐτοτέλεια) when the predicate is joined to a subject so to form a proposition. (As well, such a complete proposition is self-sufficient).]

As we noted in the previous section, “A sayable (λεκτόν) can represent a complete or an incomplete thought;” but this is not something that our Stoic sources define clearly (87). We do know that predicates are the only thing that are certainly incomplete sayables. What makes a sayable incomplete, according to Diogenes Laertius, is that it “leaves a question in the mind of the hearer” (87). Thus simple predicates would be incomplete, while completed one would be a proposition. Luhtala gives this example: “an incomplete sayable consisting of the predicate only such as ‘writes’ leaves a question in the mind unless it is joined to a nominative case, e.g. ‘Socrates’. The complete sayable ‘Socrates writes’ satisfies the mind of the hearer.” [This seems similar to Frege’s notion of saturation. See “Function and Concept,” “On Concept and Object,” and “On Sense and Reference.”] [Another  important concept here is self-sufficiency, but I do not understand it. I am not sure if it is simply a matter of completeness or not. In other words, an expression or thought that is complete is sufficient and insufficient otherwise. But, Luhtala says that self-sufficiency is applied not just to propositions but also to predicates. From the wording of the last sentence, my guess is that we would say the following: a predicate that is within a proposition and taking a subject is to be understood as itself being sufficient. And if the predicate is not part of a sentence, it itself is insufficient. Please see the quote.]
Α sayable (λεκτόν) can represent a complete or an incomplete thought – a notion which is not very clearly defined in our sources. Predicates are incomplete sayables, and they figure as the only subdivision of this component. Moreover, predicates are the only items that can be regarded with any certainty as incomplete sayables. According to Diogenes Laertius, an incomplete sayable leaves a question in the mind of the hearer. He points to the incompleteness of a simple predicate, contrasting it with complete sayables, which are various kinds of propositions. For instance, an incomplete sayable consisting of the predicate only such as ‘writes’ leaves a question in the mind unless it is joined to a nominative case, e.g. ‘Socrates’. The complete sayable ‘Socrates writes’ satisfies the mind of the hearer. The notion of self-sufficiency (αὐτοτέλεια) seems to have been applied primarily to predicates and propositions while the status of the nominal part of the complete sayable remains unspecified in this respect.
[The Stoics had a couple consistent ways to determine if something is a sayable. {1} It is self-sufficient, that is, a competent native speaker would say that the predicate can sensibly belong to the subject, regardless of whether in fact it does, and {2} It truly corresponds to some state of affairs in the world.]

Luhtala next discusses the ways that the Stoics understood how the sayable is defined. [I may misunderstand this part, so after giving my interpretation, I will quote. She wrote above: “Α sayable (λεκτόν) can represent a complete or an incomplete thought – a notion which is not very clearly defined in our sources. Predicates are incomplete sayables, and they figure as the only subdivision of this component.” Perhaps we are to gather the following from it. A thought can be either complete or incomplete, and thus the sayable expressing (or corresponding to or being the same as)  the thought can be complete or incomplete. When formed in terms of a syntactical or logical structure, a bare predicate without an argument expresses an incomplete sayable, while one with an argument expresses a complete one. (I might be wrong in that interpretation, but this is what I gather so far.) Now we have the concept of “a criterion for the definition of a sayable”, but I am not sure I know what is meant by definition here. It seems simply to be whether or not an utterance can be said to be a sayable or not. From what is written, I gather there are at least two ways to make this determination. The first might be if a native speaker competent in the language of the utterance would agree that the predicate belongs to the subject (or at least could sensibly belong). The second might be whether one would assent that the proposition truly corresponds to the real states of affairs they express. Here the specificity of referentiality of the terms seems is important, with pronouns being the most specific (as compared to general nouns, but I am not sure how they compare to proper nouns, which would seem to have at least as much specificity if not more. Actually, the term Luhtala uses is “referentiality” and not specificity, so I may be misunderstanding it.) Luhtala also says that the truthfulness of the proposition (its correspondence to reality), depends on the sight of the observer (who presumably must examine the states of affairs in the world to deem the sentence truthful). Luhtala then says that this criterion of truthfulness is not compatible with the criterion for self-sufficiency. I do not follow this very well; for, I would think that to know whether a predicate belongs to a subject (does “is white” belong to “snow” in “Snow is white”?) also involves seeing if the proposition corresponds to reality (seeing if snow in fact is white). Perhaps the criteria for self-sufficiency (and thus perhaps for something being a sayable) is not a matter of whether the predicate truly belongs to the subject but whether or not the predicate in combination with its subject makes sense to a native speaker. So “snow is red” under this view is a sayable, but under the criterion of correspondence it is not. I wonder also if the distinction I should make is between a priori and a posteriori, where self-sufficiency is a matter of deducing the fittingness of the predicate to the subject on the basis of the meanings of the terms, while truthfulness is a matter of using our senses to see if the sentence corresponds to the world. At any rate, Luhtala says that there is a diversity of approaches, which means that the two criteria are incompatible, even though I can imagine them being combinable in the way I mention above where “snow is white” is said to self-sufficient because it truly corresponds to states of affairs.]
The Stoics seem to have introduced into linguistic analysis a criterion for the definition of a sayable, which relies on the competence of a (native) speaker to decide about the acceptability of a statement in | terms of its completeness. This takes place on hearing the expression. On the other hand, we know that the Stoics were keen to relate propositions to events in the real world whereby their truthfulness depended on the state of affairs being demonstrably true. In such contexts the question of lower and higher referentiality of the subject is crucial, as is the case in the Stoic discussions of simple propositions . Thus the subject position in the prototypical Stoic proposition is occupied by the pronoun, which is taken to be the most highly referential linguistic item, equalling the gesture of pointing to the referent . Importantly, the criterion of truthfulness depends on the sight of the observer. But the criterion of self-sufficiency (αὐτοτέλεια) is surely incompatible with the strictest requirements of the truthfulness of the statement which can be proved by sight. As far as I can see, we here witness a diversity of approach within the Stoic theory.


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

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


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