31 May 2017

Luhtala ( On the Origin of Syntactical Description in Stoic Logic, “The Proposition”, 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 Proposition





Brief summary:

For the Stoics, propositions belong to meaning (σημαινόμενα) rather than expression (σημαίνοντα). A proposition is a complete sayable because it asserts a complete state of affairs, and states of affairs are sayables. The Stoics’ concern with propositions was largely limited to propositional analysis, and so they were interested in how propositions are either true or false. This is determined by whether or not the state of affairs that they assert happens to hold for the indicated time and place [which was possibly limited to the present moment of utterance.]







[Stoic propositions are items of meaning (σημαινόμενα) rather than of expression (σημαίνοντα). And the proposition is a complete sayable (λεκτόν). But it is different from other sorts of complete sayables that do not admit of a truth value, like questions and wishes.]


Luhtala writes: “The Stoic proposition is an item of meaning (σημαινόμενον), i.e. a complete sayable (λεκτόν)” (109). [She discusses the difference between meaning and expression in section 5.5.2 and section And in section we discussed complete and deficient sayables.] Luhtala then quotes Diogenes Laertius on the definition of the proposition, and in the subsequent paragraphs she will unpack the ideas in it. But here she notes that because the Stoic proposition expresses truth or falsehood, it must be distinguished from incomplete sayables [citing Sextus Empiricus (Adv. math. VIII,74SVF 2.189)] and “from other kinds of complete sayables, such as questions and wishes by means of which truth or falsehood are not asserted (Diog. Laert. VII,65-66)” (110).

A proposition is that which is true or false, or a complete state of affairs (πρᾶγμα αὐτοτελές) which, so far as itself is concerned, can be asserted, as Chrysippus says in his Dialectical definitions: A propo- | sition is that which, so far as itself is concerned, can be denied or affirmed, e.g. ‘It is day’, ‘Dion is walking’. (Diog. Laert. VII,65, tr. Long/Sedley 1987: 206 part)184


184.  Ἀξίωμα δέ ἐστιν ὅ ἐστιν ἀληθὲς ἢ ψεῦδος: ἢ πρᾶγμα αὐτοτελὲς ἀποφαντὸν ὅσον ἐφ᾽ ἑαυτῷ, ὡς ὁ Χρύσιππός φησιν ἐν τοῖς Διαλεκτικοῖς ὅροις “ἀξίωμά ἐστι τὸ ἀποφαντὸν ἢ καταφαντὸν ὅσον ἐφ᾽ ἑαυτῷ, οἷον Ἡμέρα ἐστί, Δίων περιπατεῖ.”

(110, text copied from Perseus)

[Stoic propositions can be either true or false, because they assert states of affairs that may or may not exist in reality. The referenced state of affairs may not hold at some particular time and place but instead hold at others, so its truth value can vary on those grounds.]


Luhtala now looks at the definitions Diogenes Laertius gives for the proposition in that above quotation. [The first one was “A proposition is that which is true or false”.] The first definition, since it deals with truth and falsehood, “expresses a traditional concern of propositional analyses” (110). [The beginning of the second definition read, “A proposition is [...] a complete state of affairs (πρᾶγμα αὐτοτελές)”.] Luhtala notes that she has established that states of affairs are components of meaning [see for example section and section] [The second part of the second definition continues: “A proposition is [...] a complete state of affairs [...] which, so far as itself is concerned, can be asserted”.] Luhtala also notes how propositions here are understood in terms of their assertability, because they are complete states of affairs which are things that can be asserted: “The proposition is moreover described in terms of assertability (ἀποφαντός): a state of affairs is something that can be asserted” (110). [Let me quote the next part before commenting:]

This feature brings us back to the question of truth value; it means that the proposition is restricted to a certain time and a certain place as emerges from the following:

Someone who says ‘It is day’ seems to propose that it is day. If, then, it is day, the proposition advanced comes out true, but if not, it comes out false. (Diog. Laert. VII,65 = SVF 2.193, tr. Long/Sedley 1987: 203)185

The proposition can thus change truth value in accordance with the changed circumstances (Long/Sedley 1987: 206).


185.  ὁ γὰρ λέγων Ἡμέρα ἐστίν, ἀξιοῦν δοκεῖ τὸ ἡμέραν εἶναι. οὔσης μὲν οὖν ἡμέρας, ἀληθὲς γίνεται τὸ προκείμενον ἀξίωμα.

(110, text copied from Perseus)

[I was a little confused by the wording “This feature brings us back to the question of truth value”. I was not sure if she means that a state of affairs is assertable only if it is true, or if she means false states of affairs also have assertability. I would guess that false ones can be asserted, but I was uncertain. At any rate, the idea seems to be that the state of affairs is something that takes place in the world at some time and at some location, and those temporal and spatial determinations need to either be specified or implied in the sentence to establish the correspondence. So if the statement expressing that state of affairs refers (indexically, implicitly, or explicitly) to a real state of affairs holding at that indicated time and place, then it is true. (I am not sure if this works for past and future tense, but I presume so. It is also possible that there is a complication with there only really existing the present, but I am not sure.)]

[The Stoics’ concern with propositions has largely to do with propositional analysis in terms of truth and falsity, and thus it does not touch upon such topics as activity and passivity discussed in the the philosophically richer treatment of the predicate.]


[I am not sure I grasp everything in this final paragraph. One point seems to be that the definition of the predicate does more justice to the important Stoic notions of activity and passivity than this definition of proposition does. Here the concern with the proposition seems to be mainly with a propositional analysis of truth value rather than with these other more metaphysical issues. I do not quite get the last point, but for some reason the proposition here is understood in terms of the intransitive clause (maybe they are more like statements of objective fact about the world? I do not know. But it is related to the Peripatetic tradition of propositional analysis, so probably it makes sense in that context.) Luhtala also says that the matter of the intransitive clause involves the issue of referentiality, and she ends, “Indeed, the questions of truth value and referentiality are the core central concerns of the Stoic proposition as reported by our sources.” Let me quote so you can see.]

These definitions are dominated by the question of truth and falsehood, a traditional concern of propositional analysis. A comparison of these definitions with those of the predicate, to which they bear a strong resemblance, suggests that the definitions of the proposition do surprisingly little justice to the peculiarly Stoic features such as activity and passivity (though implied in the notion of state of affairs) and the various predicate types. The definitions of the proposition reflect traditional aspects of propositional analysis and the object of analysis tends to coincide with the Peripatetic tradition: the 'intransitive' clause. The ‘intransitive’ sentence type dominates the discussion of simple propositions, in which referentiality plays a prominent part. Indeed, the questions of truth | value and referentiality are the core central concerns of the Stoic proposition as reported by our sources.









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



Other texts, cited by Luhtala:


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:




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


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]


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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