5 Feb 2018

Goldschmidt ( Le système stoïcien et l'idée de temps, “Science de l’individuel”, summary



by Corry Shores


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[The following is summary. Bracketed commentary is my own, as is any boldface. Proofreading is incomplete, which means typos are present, especially in the quotations. So consult the original text. Also, I welcome corrections to my interpretations, because I am not good enough with French or Greek to make accurate translations of the texts.]




Summary of


Victor Goldschmidt


Le système stoïcien et l'idée de temps


Deuxième partie:

Aspects temporels de la morale stoïcienne



La Connaissance


Chapitre IV

L’interprétation des événements



L’interprétation a l’échelle cosmique

Science de l’individuel





Brief summary:

( Interpreting an event-sign by means of divination means that we must place it in the greater sequence of causally related events and thereby to assign it its explanatory importance in the whole of time. ( Stoic time combines a monistic and pluralistic view of causation. [The monistic view is that time forms one whole that is rationally ordered, and thus we can see there being one unified cause corresponding to that one unified, rationally ordered time.] The pluralistic view is that any one event in the sequence has its own antecedent cause(s) and itself serves as an antecedent cause to what comes after. Divination is largely concerned with these local causes that affect individual people, thus divination is a science of the individual.








[Divination and the Present Event]

[Divination as Pluralism and Monism]











Interprétation finalist

[Divination and the Present Event]


(p.83: “L’événement singulier nous est donné dans un présent…”)


[In sum: interpreting an event-sign by means of divination means that we must place it in the greater sequence of causally related events and thereby to assign it its explanatory importance in the whole of time.]


[We said in section that we divine the future on the basis of seeing signs that tell us how the present moment fits within the larger causally-related sequence of events in all time. So,] the singular event is given to us in a narrowly limited present. And the [divinatory] interpretation [of present events] tries to connect it within the universal series of causes, and thereby, to extend and enlarge this mutilated present [mutilated because it is being deformed beyond the limits its actual given duration.] But it is this event itself, in its own individuality, that must be explicated in terms of destiny and justified in terms of providence. [I probably have that wrong, but the idea I am guessing is that the present moment has a destiny in the future, but also, it has a reason for why it did in fact happen and not some other event, and that is perhaps how we can understand it in terms of providence. It was determined by the provident reasoning of God. Otherwise maybe I have it backwards.]

36. L’événement singulier nous est donné dans un présent étroitement limité5. L’interprétation essaie de le rattacher à la série universelle des causes et, par là, d’étendre et d’élargir ce présent mutilé. Mais c’est l’événement même, dans son individualité, qui doit être expliqué (destin) et justifié (providence).

5. On vera plus loin dans quel sens, tout à fait différent, la morale prescrit de « délimiter le présent ».




[Divination as Pluralism and Monism]


(p.83-84: “ En effet, « rien ne se produit sans cause »…”)


[In sum: Stoic time combines a monistic and pluralistic view of causation. (The monistic view is that time forms one whole that is rationally ordered, and thus we can see there being one unified cause corresponding to that one unified, rationally ordered time.) The pluralistic view is that any one event in the sequence has its own antecedent cause(s) and itself serves as an antecedent cause to what comes after. Divination is largely concerned with these local causes that affect individual people, thus divination is a science of the individual.]


As Plutarch says, nothing comes about without cause. So if divination in fact works, that means it proves that everything happens according to destiny. Any one event, were it to happen by chance and thus without cause, would destroy this [causal] unity of the world. We see this idea in Alexander of Aphrodisias’ On Fate, ch.22:

XXII. [...] Well then, they say that this universe, which is one and contains in itself all that exists, and is organised by a Nature which is alive, rational and intelligent, possesses the organisation of the things that are, which is eternal and progresses according to a certain sequence and order; the things which come to be first are causes for those after them, and in this way all things are bound together with one another. Nothing comes to be in the universe in such a way that there is not something else which follows it with no alternative and is attached to it as to a cause; nor, on the other hand, can any of the things which come to be subsequently be disconnected from the things which have come to be previously, so as not to follow some one of them as if bound to it. But everything which has come to be is followed by something else which of necessity depends on it as a cause, and everything which comes to be has something preceding it to which it is connected as a cause. For nothing either is or comes to be in the universe without a cause, because there is nothing of the things in it that is separated and disconnected from all the things that have preceded. For the universe would be torn apart and | divided and not remain single for ever, organised according to a single order and organisation, if any causeless motion were introduced; and it would be introduced, if all the things that are and come to be did not have causes which have come to be beforehand [and] which they follow of necessity. And they say that for something to come to be without a cause is similar to, and as impossible as, the coming to be of something from what is not. The organisation of the whole, which is like this, goes on from infinity to infinity evidently and unceasingly.

There is a certain difference among the causes, in expounding which they speak of a swarm of causes, some initiating, some contributory, some sustaining, some constitutive, and so on (for [our] need is not at all to prolong the argument by bringing in everything they say, but to show the point of their opinion concerning fate). – There are, then, several sorts of cause, and they say that it is equally true of all of them that it is impossible that, when all the circumstances surrounding both the cause and that for which it is a cause are the same, the matter should sometimes not turn out in a particular way and sometimes should. For if this happens there will be some motion without a cause.

Fate itself, Nature, and the reason according to which the whole is organised, they assert to be God; it is present in all that is and comes to be, and in this way employs the individual nature of every thing for the organisation of the whole.

(Alexander and Sharples 1983: 70-71)

Now, only individual beings [corporeals] are real. But this means [for reasons given perhaps on p.22, note 3] that the whole world must be understood as one individual. Later in the history of western thought, the success of mathematical physics led to a notion of the world as God’s creation being something where precision reigns and not imprecision. That is why mathematics is so successful at describing the physical world. Among the ancients, we can say that the Stoics held such a view. This is because they made no Platonic-Aristotelian distinction between the sublunary world and the superlunary world [and thus, I presume, they thereby do not introduce the possibility of a divine intervention that might unexpectedly change the order of events in the world, but I am guessing] and also because they saw the sequence of fates following without any breaks in the chain of causality. Anything that happens does so on account of some cause coming before, while at the same time it serves as the cause of what comes after. Here we emphasize how the Stoic system reconciles monism and pluralism. [Here Goldschmidt cites pp. 34-35 and p.62, note 3. Of these we have only summarized the first. This comes from the brief summary to section “For the Stoics, there is a singular regular motion that provides the standard for measuring intervals of time that occur during the durations of particular actions (motions) happening simultaneously with that steady movement of the cosmic motion. Since all motions obtain their temporal traits by relation to this cosmic time, we have both a plurality of particular motions, all of which being ultimately absorbed into a singular cosmic motion, on account of their mutually binding temporal relationality.”] [The next idea might be that with regard to monism, there is one unique cause of all things, or at least one unified causality found as being the unbroken chain from beginning to end. And, this one cause must manifest in a multiplicity of all things. The binds even individual humans into providence and fate. As Cicero says in De natura deorum, Book II, Chapter 65, line 164:

Nor is the care and providence of the immortal gods bestowed only upon the human race in its entirety, but it is also wont to be extended to individuals. We may narrow down the entirety of the human race and bring it gradually down to smaller and smaller groups, and finally to single individuals.

(Cicero 1967: 281)

[The next point might be that divination is usually about the lives of individual people, and so interpretation is a science of the individual. Please check the text to be sure.]

En effet, « rien ne se produit sans cause »6, l’existence même de la divination prouve que tout arrive « selon le destin » ; un seul événement, qui serait dû au hasard et privé de cause (ἀναιτίως), détruirait l’unité du monde : « L’univers ne serait plus administré selon un seul ordre et un plan unique, si quelque mouvement sans cause s’y introduisait »8. On sait, plus généralement, que seuls sont réels les êtres individuels, ce qui n’empêche, ou plutôt ce qui exige que l’uni- [83|84] vers dans son ensemble soit conçu comme un individu1. Selon un philosophe anglais, la science moderne, depuis la Renaissance, repose tout entière sur la conception chrétienne du Dieu tout-puissant, créateur du monde : « Ce fut alors un article de foi, que le monde de la nature ne devait plus être considéré » (comme chez Platon et Aristote) « comme le règne de l’imprécision, mais comme le règne de la précision »2 ; la réussite de la physique mathématique est liée à ce « présupposé métaphysique » que traduit la célèbre phrase de Galilée : la nature est un livre écrit par la main de Dieu en langage mathématique3. Il serait juste d’ajouter que seuls, parmi les anciens, les Stoïciens se sont élevés à un « présupposé » comparable4. Refusant la distinction platonico-aristotélicienne entre le monde sublunaire et le monde supralunaire et affirmant, d’autre part, une stricte légalité et une providence sans fissures, ils avaient construit, pour reprendre l’expression de Collingwood, un « présupposé métaphysique » capable de fonder et d’orienter une explication scientifique du monde, poussée jusque dans les infimes détails : rien absolument, ni être ni événement, ne manquant de cause ni de fin. Pourquoi, malgré leur effort consacré aux sciences, malgré de patientes et minutieuses observations recueillies dans des volumes impressionnants, les Stoïciens ne sont pas parvenus à une explication pleinement « scientifique » des phénomènes singuliers, nous ne l’avons pas à examiner ici. Disons seulement que, dans cet effort, on retrouve une des exigences fondamentales du système, celle qui essaie de concilier le monisme et le pluralisme5. La Cause unique doit se manifester en toutes choses ; d’où une multiplicité, toujours accrue, de causes qui soient à la mesure des phénomènes à expliquer. De même la providence à l’égard des hommes : Nec uero uniuerso generi hominun solum, sed [84|85] etiam singulis a dis immortalibus consuli et prouideri solet1 ; la preuve en est administrée, ici encore, par un raisonnement composé : Licet enim contrahere uniuersitatem generis humani eamque gradatim ad pauciores, postremo deducere ad singulos. De même, dans la vie de l’individu, ce sont les singula qu’il faut et qu’on veut expliquer ; c’est sur cette prétention, justement, que portent les objections des adversaires de l’Ecole. On veut bien accorder, en général, l’influence des climats sur les caractères ; mais « quelle influence peut avoir le climat pour que je me promène dans le portique de Pompée plutôt qu’au Champ de Mars ? »2 ; on concède même « quelque relation entre les entrailles (des victimes) et l’ordre de la nature » ; mais « une fissure d’une certaine espèce dans le foie peut-elle annoncer un gain d’argent ? »3 ; il est vrai qu’ « à certains signes, les médecins reconnaissent l’approche ou l’aggravation d’une maladie, on dit qu’ils peuvent d’un certain genre de songes tirer des indications sur notre état de santé et diagnostiquer par exemple un état de réplétion ou d’épuisement. Mais un trésor, une succession, une charge honorifique, une victoire et bien des choses de ce genre, quelle peut être leur parenté naturelle (cognatio) avec les songes ? »4. L’interprétation est donc bien une « science de l’individuel ».


6. Plut., de fato, II, 574 d (S.V.F., II, 912).

7. P. ex. Alex., de fato, 31, 201, 32 (S.V.F., II, 941). 8. Alex., de jato, 22, 19I, 30sqq. (S.V.F., II, 945).


1. Cf. p. 22, n. 3

2.. R.G. Collingwood, An essay on metaphysics, Oxford, 1940, p. 253.

3. Id., ibid., p. 250; The idea of nature, Oxford, 1945, pp. ro102 sq. – Cf. aussi J. Wahl, The philosopher’s way, New-York, 1948, p. 107. – La métaphore galiléenne est déjà dans Nicolas de Cues, mais sans encore impliquer l’entière rationalité de l’univers (voir M. de Gandillac, La phil. de Nicolas de Cues, Paris, 1941, p. ex. p. 67, 163).

4. Il faut rappeler que E. Bréhier, à un tout autre point de vue, a montré combien le stoïcisme est « près de l’idée de création » (Chrysippe, p. 154; cf. p. 146).

5. Cf pp. 34.35; p. 62, n. 3


1. Cic., de nat. deor., II, LXV, 164. – Que la providence des dieux s’étende jusqu’aux minima, Platon l’avait déjà enseigné dans ce qu’il est convenu d’appeler « l’apologétique » des Lois (X, 901 b-903 a). Nous n’avons pas à examiner ici si cet enseignement s’accorde avec d’autres textes, avec Rép. II, 379 c, par exemple, ou, si l’on préfère un dialogue de la même « période » avec la théorie de la cause errante que l’Intelligence ne réussit à persuader que pour τῶν γιγνομένων τὰ πλεῖστα (Tim., 48a) ; ou encore avec la théorie du hasard des Lois même (p. ex. IV, 709 a). – Dans le stoïcisme, eu tout cas, cette doctrine tient au cœur du système ; c’est uniquement aux besoins de la discussion qu’il faut attribuer la concession : « Magna di curant, parua negligunt » (Cic., de nat. deor., II, LXVI, 167), concession qui permettait de défendre le principe de la providence universelle contre des objections de détails et qui, à Rome, pouvait s’appuyer sur l’adage juridique Minima non curat praetor ; c’est ainsi que Cotta, dans le même traité, peut dire : « Ne in regnis quidem reges omnia minima curant : sic enim dicitis » (III, XXXV, 86) ; cf. aussi Sénèque, Ep., 95, 50.

2. Cic., de fato, IV, 8.

3. Cic., de diu., II, XV, 35; XIV, 34.

4. Cic., de diu. II, LXIX, 142.










Goldschmidt, Victor. 1953. Le système stoïcien et l'idée de temps. Paris: Vrin.






Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Sharples, R.W. 1983. Alexander of Aphrodisias, On Fate. Translated by R.W. Sharples. Gloucester Crescent, London: Duckworth.


Cicero. 1967. Cicero in Twenty-Eight Volumes, vol.19: De natura deorum. Academica. With English translation by H. Rackham. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University / London: Heinemann.

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