25 Jul 2017

Sambursky (CBS) Physics of the Stoics, collected brief summaries


by Corry Shores


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Collected Brief Summaries for


Samuel Sambursky


Physics of the Stoics


Ch.1. The Dynamic Continuum


1.1 Pneuma and Coherence [selective summary]


The Stoics held that the cosmos is a continuous whole surrounded by a void. The continuity of the whole is a dynamic continuity resulting from a cohering activity of a very rarified substrate called pneuma. Pneuma is composed of a mixture of the active elements, Air and Fire, while Water and Earth are the other two passive elements that pneuma serves to bind. Pneuma has two physical features that give it this cohering role: {1} tonos, the tension which holds things together, and {2} gravitational neutrality, which means it gathers neither too high nor too low but instead equally pervades all domains of the cosmos.



1.2 The Physical State of a Body [selective summary]


Pneuma’s function is two-fold: it both coheres the parts of a thing and it also serves as a field carrying the properties of the thing. There are three hierarchical orders of compositional organizations for things. {1a} Discrete non-denumerable entities, where there is a disordered assembly of bodies that are too disorganized for us to count, as in a crowd of people. {1b} Discrete denumerable entities where the elements are arranged in an ordered way allowing for us to count them, as with an army formation. {2} Contiguous structures, whose elements are combined, as with links in a chain. Both discrete and contiguous structures have the property that any part can survive if all the others are destroyed, as they are constituted by an additive principle. The situation is different for {3} unified structures, which are organized by hexis. Hexis is what organizes the parts of inorganic objects, like physis for plants and psyche for animals. Here the units of the thing are not merely the parts but rather the different properties of the thing, which interpenetrate such that a change in one leads to a change in the others, as a result of the “sympathy” holding between the properties. But if it is the same thing, namely, pneuma, that carries the properties of various things, then how do we explain why different things have different properties? In Sambursky’s interpretation, a hexis of a thing is composed of many pneumata, one for each property. What differentiates the pneumata is that they have their own compositional ratio of mixture of Air and Fire. All such pneumata are combined in the thing but without each losing its own identity, hence their particular properties are expressed. But these pneumata are connected as well such that a change in one creates a change in the others.



1.3 The Problem of Mixture [selective summary]


Pneumata combine with substantial parts, binding them together, to compose whole things and to provide them with their qualities. We can characterize the sort of mixture pneumata make with physical parts as being a special kind of mixture that the Stoics invented. Note first that they regarded there being three types of mixtures. {1} Mingling or mechanical mixtures, which are granular in that its smallest parts sit side by side like a mosaic. {2} Fusions, which are like chemical compounds where the properties of the component parts are lost, while the new whole compound gains its own unique properties. {3} Mixtures proper (krasis for liquids and mixis for non-liquids), where the components interpenetrate entirely and thoroughly such that there is no mosaic-like distribution on the smallest scale. Yet somehow despite this constituent homogeneity, each part retains its own properties and can be separated out again. This is the sort of mixture pneumata make with the other physical parts of a thing so to form its hexis.



1.4 The Four Categories [selective summary]


The Stoics held that all things can be metaphysically classified under four hierarchical categories, all of which fall under the concept of the something. In their consecutive order they are: substratum, quality, state, and relative state. The fourth category is divided into two subcategories. {a} A relative state, which is defined by something outside it, like the father-son relation. And {b} a relative, which is something capable of undergoing change between states by matters of degree that are measure by comparing the two states, like being at a level of two degrees of sweetness compared to bitterness. A hexis is an example of a relative, because it is comprised of pneumata that each express a quality such that a continuous variation in the composition of the pneuma will result in a continuous variation in its quality. The four categories fit within the Stoic theory of the dynamic continuum. The substratum is the pneuma which binds the parts of all things and which endows them with qualities. The qualities are determined by the [physical] states of the pneuma, which are always in relative states, given that they are constantly under variation as their pneumata alter their compositions.





Sambursky, Samuel. 1973. Physics of the Stoics. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood. [First published 1959, London: Routledge and Kagen Paul.]




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