2 Jun 2017

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


by Corry Shores


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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlining, 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 Pronoun





Brief summary:

When the verb (or predicate) is first or second person, the pronoun for the subject can be omitted, because the subject is already clearly indicated in that verb or predicate formation. This does not work for the third person formation, because it is ambiguous as to its reference [it could be he, she, it, or one, and the referent of these pronouns may be not be specified.] This issue interested the Stoics because they had central metaphysical and logical concerns regarding degrees of referentiality and the predicate.






[For the Stoics, there are two types of pronouns, definite and indefinite. The main example for the definite is οὗτος (‘that man’)]


Luhtala writes that “The Stoics distinguished between two kinds of pronouns, definite and indefinite, the prototype of the definite being οὗτος (‘that man’)” (114). Other cases include the first-person singular pronoun (144).

[Personal pronouns can be omitted when they are indicated in the predicate.]


[This paragraph involves grammatical concepts that I am unfamiliar with, so you will need to read the quotation to follow. Some ideas that we might get from this are the following. One notion here is the “omissibility of the pronoun”. I am guessing this means that whatever the pronoun is serving to indicate is also indicated in the verb or predicate construction, and thus the pronoun could be omitted without loss of information. Then there is the notion of the third person pronoun not being omissible on account “of its indefinite reference”. I do not know the idea here, but I would guess it is either that the verb or predicate formation indicates the subject as being he, she, or it, and thus we need the pronoun to specify which of these three. Or perhaps it indicates something like “one” in English (as in “one should never do that”), which is also indefinite conceptually at least. Let me quote:]

The involvement of personal pronouns in propositional analysis could easily have drawn the Stoics’ attention to the grammatical feature of the ‘person of the verb’. Moreover, in the analysis of the first and second person pronouns as subjects of propositions the omissibility of the subject pronoun is likely to have become evident. The omissibility of the pronoun is based on the grammatical feature of the ‘person of the verb’, which is necessarily congruent with the personal pronoun. As the personal pronoun renders the reference definite and can be omitted because of the congruence of the person in the verb, it is probable that such predicates as ‘I walk’ (περιπατῶ), and ‘you walk’ (περιπατεῖς) came to be regarded as definite propositions by the Stoics. But we have evidence to the effect that the third person περιπατεῖ (‘walks’) was not regarded as a proposition by the Stoics because of its indefinite reference.


[The omissibility of the first and second person pronoun but not the third is discussed in dialectical texts, with a Stoic influence, by Augustine and Martianus Capella.]


We see this idea of the omissibility of the first and second person pronoun but not in the third in other texts with Stoic influence. Augustine for example notes that verbs in first and second person formations indicate both the verb meaning as well as the subject, but third person only indicates the verb meaning (115). [Another example comes from Martianus Capella. See pp.115-116.]

[We see this idea also in Apollonius Dyscolus.]


[We said that Augustine’s commentary on the omissibility of the pronouns is influenced by the Stoics.] The Stoic influence on Augustine’s commentary probably comes through Varro. Apollonius Dyscolus also makes a similar commentary, but his influence is probably Greek sources:

The nominative is implicitly present in verbs, as Apollonius maintains; it is definite in the first and second persons, but indefinite in the third because of the unlimited number of possible referents


[(For metaphysical and logical reasons, the Stoics were interested in referentiality and the predicate. The first and second person pronouns are omissible because the predicate makes a clear reference to the subject. Thus) the later attention to the omissibility of the first and second person pronoun but not to the third is probably of Stoic origin.]


Luhtala argues that this doctrine probably comes from Stoic logic. [The idea might be the following. Two of the matters that Stoics were concerned a lot about were referentiality and the predicate. They were concerned with referentiality perhaps because what is important for them is how the proposition refers to some real state of affairs happening now in the world. And they were perhaps concerned with predicates because in them the states of affairs are indicated. Now, the first and second person verbs or predicates both indicate the state of affairs and it makes a definite reference to the subject involved in it. But the third person lacks this definite referentiality. So given how this grammatical distinction has such great importance with regard to Stoic metaphysics and theory of truth, probably these Stoic values continued to underlie the doctrine as it was later articulated.]

It is likely that this piece of doctrine, which is commonplace in both dialectical and grammatical works, originates in Stoic logic. I conclude that propositions such as ‘I walk’, ‘you walk’ and ‘that man walks’ (περιπατῶ, περιπατεῖς, οὗτος περιπατεῖ ) probably figure highest in the Stoic hierarchy of referentiality. The fact that the predicate contains an element of reference in such forms as ‘I walk’, ‘you walk’ (περιπατῶ, περι- | πατεῖς) contributes to the predicate-centredness of the Stoic approach. Moreover, the fact that the ‘subject’ can be a covert element renders the Stoic notion of case (πτῶσις) even more complex.







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







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