31 May 2017

Luhtala ( On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic, “The Status of Case (Πτῶσις) as Sayable (Λεκτόν)”, summary


by Corry Shores


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[The following is summary. 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 Status of Case (Πτῶσις) as Sayable (Λεκτόν)





Brief summary:

For the Stoics, case (πτῶσις) is an item of meaning (σημαινόμενα). That is to say, it is a matter of incorporeal meaning rather than of corporeal expression. This means that case constitutes a “sayable” (λεκτόν). But we do not have enough textual evidence to be certain whether it is a complete or a deficient sayable. It seems that most likely it is a deficient sayable, with one possible exception being the vocative case.






[Case (Πτῶσις) for the Stoics should be understood as an item of meaning (σημαινόμενα).]


[Recall from section 5.5.2 the distinction between components of expression (σημαίνοντα, that which is doing the signifying) and components of meaning (σημαινόμενα, that which is signified). I do not grasp what is at issue here, but apparently there is somehow a debate over whether case is to be understood as a nominal case-form or as an item of meaning. I am confused because we said in the prior section that for the Stoics, the nominative is just a case among others. So I am not sure why here we seem to limit it to the nominative. I also do not understand if these are to be distinguished somehow (nominative case and meaning), and if so, how. At any rate, Luhtala says that many classic commentators discuss case in the context of meaning.]

The nature of the Stoic case (πτῶσις) as a nominal case-form versus an item of meaning has puzzled scholars. The two aspects, both of which find support in our sources, have appeared incompatible to scholars. I will first discuss the evidence to the effect that case is an item of meaning, which I find convincing enough. Diogenes Laertius lists four cases (nominative, accusative, genitive and dative) immediately after his exposition of the various kinds of predicates which pertains to the component of meaning (σημαινόμενα VII,64-65). He mentions Chrysippus’s book on the five cases in the section of ‘states of affairs’ (πράγματα VII, 192). That case is incorporeal is confirmed by Clemens (πτῶσις is an ἀσώματον Strom. VIII,9,96,23-97,7); it is discussed among items of meaning (σημαινόμενα) by Sextus Empiricus (Adv. math. XI,28-29). A scholiast of Dionysius Thrax stresses that cases belong to the sphere of meaning σημαινόμενα) rather than to vocal expression (φωναί).

(108, footnotes omitted)

[For the Stoics, case is a matter of incorporeal meaning rather than corporeal expression.]


[I again do not grasp the conceptual distinctions at work here. But some of the ideas might be the following. This is a guess. Matters such as case can be considered as falling under incorporeal meanings and thus as being involved with syntactical and semantical issues. Or, they can be considered as falling under corporeal expressions, in which case they are instead involved with grammatical determinations that may not have any bearing on the meaning of the sentence or at least on the way the sentence parts interrelate to form a sentence with a propositional sense. But I do not follow the inference that since case is involved in meaning rather than expression, that case is a matter of “the semantico-syntactic behavior of nominals in state-making”. Could not the oblique cases be involved in propositional meaning? Maybe the idea is that in a proposition, there are two main parts, subject and predicate, and the relation between them is the main syntactical relation. So case has syntactical significance, and it must be the nominative, as the other cases in the predicate are subsumed under that predicate. I will quote, as I do not grasp this paragraph.]

This evidence suggests that the Stoics discussed case within the component of incorporeal meaning (σημαινόμενα) rather than within the component of corporeal expression (σημαίνοντα, or φωναί). This means, as far as I can see, that this feature pertains to the semantico-syntactic behaviour of nominals in statement-making. I have already stressed that the component of meaning (σημαινόμενα) is at once syntactic and semantic, the two aspects of construction being inseparable for the Stoics.


[Although we do not have conclusive evidence to determine whether the Stoic case is a complete or deficient sayable, most scholars conclude that it is deficient.]


[So given that case is a matter of incorporeal meaning, that means it is sayable.] Luhtala now asks whether case is a complete or deficient sayable. [To remind us of what she means in this distinction, first recall what she said in section

The component of meaning (σημαινόμενα) is where true and false statements are made. The constituents of statements, cases and predicates, are deficient sayables. As far as I can see, in the Stoic system one cannot combine the noun and the verb, i.e. items of the component of expression (φωvαί), to effect statement-making because the parts of speech as such do not have syntactic force. Units of meaning (σημαινόμενα) are combined, that is cases and predicates. (72)

And in section she wrote:

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.


It seems that generally speaking, case would be a complete sayable if it did not leave a question in the mind with regard to the event or situation it corresponds to. (The sayable is shared both by the physical situation and the proposition expressing that situation. So perhaps case would be a complete sayable if it expresses the complete sayable of the referenced situation, in other words, the actors and their actions or passions.) And it would seem to be deficient otherwise.] Luhtala notes that there is not strong evidence to make a definitive assessment. But most scholars think it is a deficient sayable. Augustine says that the Stoic case is a deficient sayable, but his judgment should not be trusted, because he is not using strictly Stoic sources. Diogenes Laertius is a trustable source, but he “never mentions case as an incomplete sayable” (109). Other instances also do not provide conclusive evidence (109).

[It is possible that the Stoics made an exception and held that the vocative case expresses a complete sayable, but our sources are too lacking to know for sure.]


[This next paragraph is a bit technical, and I will probably make some errors in summarizing it. So please consult the quotation to follow. Luhtala will conclude that it is possible case can be a complete sayable even without a predicate, but the matter is too obscure to know for sure. I do not grasp the idea so well, but she might be saying the following. If a syntactical element on its own is capable of asserting a truth or falsehood, then it is therefore capable of expressing a proposition. And if it is capable of expressing a proposition, that means it potentially (or necessarily) constitutes a complete sayable. The Stoics say that there is one case, the vocative, which can (potentially) express a truth or falsehood (thus a proposition and furthermore a complete sayable). She cites Diogenes Laertius’ example of the vocative phrase ‘most honored son of Atreus, lord of the warriors, Agamemnon’. (If I had to guess, perhaps the vocative’s capacity to express a truth or falsehood comes in the qualifications. It is perhaps an implied indexical structure of: ‘This man here is son of Atreus, lord of (etc.)’ or perhaps an implied propositional structure of ‘Agamemnon is the son of Atreus, lord of (etc.)’. Such constructions can be said to be true or false, but I am not sure if that is the idea here.) Unfortunately, we are missing texts that discuss the vocative case, so we cannot be sure if the Stoics saw it as a complete sayable.]

There is no convincing evidence of the position of case as an incomplete or a complete sayable. But the absence of evidence may simply reflect the generally weaker status of the nominal part of the proposition in the Stoic theory. The theory of sayables is dominated by the description of the predicate and the proposition, whose existence is solely in the sphere of human thought and speech. But cases are, as far as I can see , constituents of propositions , which are not capable of asserting truth and falsehood on their own, which suggests that they are deficient sayables. But there is one exception: the vocative case. It is probable that the Stoics recognized the vocative as their fifth case. Chrysippus wrote a book on the five cases (Περὶ τῶν πέντε πτώσεων Diog. Laert. VII,192), but Diogenes Laertius lists only three oblique cases: genitive, dative and accusative (VII,65).183 His example of a speech act of addressing somebody (προσαγορευτικὸν πρᾶγμα) is a vocative phrase (VII,67), ‘Most honoured son of Atreus, lord of the warriors, Agamemnon’ (Ἀτρείδη κύδιστε, ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγάμεμνον). It is thus possible that a case can even be a complete sayable without a predicate. The issue remains obscure.


183. Cf. Dionysius Thrax: Πτῴσεις ὀνομάτων εἰσὶ πέντε, ὀρθή, γενική , δοτική, αἰτιατική, κλητική (“the nouns have five cases, upright, generic, dative, causal, vocative” GG I.1: 34,4, tr. Kemp 1987:178). See Pohlenz (1939: 169).










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


Other texts cited by Luhtala:


Clemens Alexandrinus: Stromata. Ed. by Otto Stählin. Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte II-III. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag 1960-70.


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

The Perseus Greek page for the Diogenes’ passages:





The Perseus English page for the Diogenes’ passages:






[GG] GG: Grammatici Graeci. Ed. by Heinrich Schneider and Gustav Uhlig. Leipzig: Teubner (repr 1965 Hildesheim: Olms).


[For the reference, tr. Kemp 1987, I have not found it yet in the Bibliography, but it might be:

Kemp, Alan (translating and commenting on Dionysius Thrax). 1987. “The Tekhné Grammatiké of Dionysius Thrax. Translated into English,” in The History of Linguistics in the Classical Period (ed. Daniel J. Taylor. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.]


Pohlenz, Max. 1939. Die Begründung der abendländischen Sprachlehre durch die Stoa. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. (Nachrichten von der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Philologisch-historische Klasse. Neue Folge. 1.3, Heft 6.).


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.

Another version available online:


Online text transcription at:


[specifically here]







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