The Stoic Theory of Knowledge

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© Gerard Watson 1966 Printed by the Vincent~Baxter Press, 126a High Street, Oxford. Distribution py The Library, The Queen's University, Belfast 7-


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I wish to thank Mr. E. D. Phillips and Professor G. L. Huxley, both of Queen's University, Belfast, for their unfailing courtesy and assistance during the writing of this work.






Chapter I

Physical Theory


Chapter U

The Knowing Process


Chapter Ill

Theory and Practice


Chapter IV

Criticisms ..


Chapter V

Panaetius and Posidonius




Appendix: The Lekton and Rnssell


Selected Bibliography






INTRODUCTION "Zeno gives us this definition of nature", says Cicero, De natura deorum II 57. "Nat11re (he says) is a craftsmanlike fire, proceeding methodically to the work of generation. For he holds that the special function of an art or craft is to create and generate." Similarly Diogenes Laertius says (VII 156): "Nature in their view is an artistically working fire (mip Tj1M"tK7j ? It is called KamA>j1M"tK7j because it permits KaT&>.'I.f«, a real grasp of the object, or, as explained by Sextus, €un p.~v oVv ~ Ka:r&.'A7Jr/Jts Ka-raA>j1M"Lt/ is untrue. In discussing the presentations, Sextus says that of the true ones, some are Ka-ra)rfJrrrt.Kal and some are not. We can see or touch or hear a thing without noticing it- l8aVTaula are fulfilled, that there is p.7JSJv lvcrr7Jp.a (S.E. Adv. Math. VII 253). On this interpretation it is easy to reconcile the proposals of cf>avroala Ka-ra.A7J1T'Tt~ and Ka-rt:J:ATJ!J!r.s as criteria. We can see why Zeno found the criterion only at the stage of KaT..6yo~ (in another sense), the emphasis is on the field into which the new piece of information must be fitted, and the active pattern which must be disposed to accept it. We have seen 7rpo>..~.P•I.S used for the universal tendencies which act on percepts and order them: 7rp6>..TJ.P•~ is, therefore, an indispensable means of arrivihg at the truth. Episteme is the articulate body of knowledge, the state of firm retention of truth. A new true impression can be integrated here: the fact that impressions are sorted by their capability of entrance into the body of knowledge makes it into a criterion. Jp8o~ >..6yo~ is more probably a similar reference to the necessity of coherent structuring. It is obvious then that each of the criteria mentioned must be called into play in some way in establishing the truth of a presentation; the new piece of information must fit into the so far established world picture, and Ka-r&>..TJ.P•~ cannot be separated from >..6yo..TJ.P•~. br•crr~f.LTJ


in order to bring it to some extent within our control. But what is the guarantee of the utility of this control ? If it is imposed by us and is not material in a universe which is only real in so far as it is material, is it not purely subjective and therefore unreliable ? It is not purely subjective, because the limits or frames which are imposed have universal validity in the universe of discourse. The presumption is that the imposition of such frames is, though not the ideal, still the proper way for man as he ordinarily exists, since it is only in this way that we can come to order reality. The tendency to work through such frames 1s to be found in every man and they are indications of the mind's normal functional structure. Yet we must repeat they are not "in reality'', they are constructs of the mind, incorporeals. We must examine these to see what grounds we have for thinking we can attain to a coherent knowledge of the universe. "Incorporeal" is an extraordinary concept in a mate1ialist universe,' yet these frames have some kind of being for the Stoics. Nothing is real in the world except body (and mind and soul are bodies); and a body is that which acts or is acted , ' " 1TOtE'tv ~ lA._ " ' Upon, W h ereaS TO' UUWfW-TOV OV"TE T' 7TE'f'VKEV OUTE 1TaUXEU.' (SVF II 363) and it does not come in contact with a body (SVF II 799). They exist in the mind-- clSpavfi Kal oVK 5vra ""l Jmvoia'" vunrf.JL""" if!J..o..~v {4i!rrnivw T4 To&aiiTa 7rlpa:ra, ).iyw'TWv aw11-tinuv, W(ffl#.p ol .fj pcjKIV tjmVTaa~ .. , llid. "1"fj f'eTaflaTtKfl1Cal aJ.WOuc,qj II 223. 2 Cf. Cicero's description of Fate, the over-all design which is equivalent to structure: "Ea est ex omni aeternitate fluens veritas sempitema" SVF

119'21. D



(3) ovvdp,wvos, for example (v. SVF II 177}. 1 In the Stoic view, what a sentence means is what a person means when he utters it, and ambiguities are removed by studying the application. D.L. VII 189 lists books on negation and privation among the works of Chrysippus which elaborated this view. To say a subject has no voice, for example, has very different meanings, depending on whether the subject is a fish, a sick man or a singer (v. Steinthal, I 360 ff.). The form of a word, besides, may be deceptive: clOdvaTov, for instance, has the form of a privation, and yet does not indicate privation (SVF II 177). Many other illustrations taken from Chrysippus show why he was a supporter of anomaly. 1 Cf. Wittgenstein on meaning: "Always ask yourself 'How did we learn the meaning of this word (''good" for instance) ? From what sort of examples; in what language games'." Phil. Invest. p. 36. And "the tacit conventio!UI on which the understanding of everyday language depends are enormously complicated", Tractatus, 4· 002.



When an incomplete lekton is uttered we naturally expect more: when, for example, a man says "Socrates", we wait for him to finish his sentence or at least look around to see to whom he is referring. An unprovoked, unexplained cry of "Socrates" might be taken as a sign of incipient insanity. Or if he says "writes", we want to know who writes. These meanings are incomplete: we feel the need to fill them in for ourselves. Two types of these incomplete or deficient lekta are mentioned, the two constituents of a complete lekton. D.L. VII 64 tells us that a KaT7}y6prJI..T, 8€ a.WoV KaTO. njv 1'-iw no,O'T'!frwv d~MJ'fJ~v ylvtra&. ' The terms are discussed by Simplicius and Plotinus in connection with the categories of Aristotle. We are not sure where they occurred in the Stoic teaching, and the question has been very much disputed. Virieux-Reymond, for example, says "Les·categories sont rattachees non a la logique mais a la J~hysique" (p. 65). Christensen holds that "They indicate classes of objects 1n so far as these are denotata of meanings of the basic types. . .. I suggest (they) may be called general reference classes" (p. 48).



just as the apple (a qualified entity) has sweetness and fragrance, so the TJY or not acting in accordance with right reason. It is a bad judgement but it is a judgement, Kpi, a decisive action. The objective goodness or badness of a man's actions, like the rightness or wrongness of his intellectual judgements, depends on his mastery of the art of logos and the consequent ability to 'eo-exercise apprehensions'. To say that he is acting irrationally means that he is not applying the art, not that some non-human el~ment is acting within him. Reason may produce irrational results through rashness, but Chrysippus would no more consider passion 'irrational' that he would a false judgement like "that is Socrates". In both one has yielded too fast to an impression. The source of the difficulty is the understanding of .r.\oyos. To begin with, there is an ambiguity in logos: it is (A) the general term for that which characterizes a man, including all



his drives and reactions ,and makes him Aoy.os, 8, 59 -ri)(VTl, I ff, 6o, So, go p.aVTun), 67 -r~Vu(Qp, wOp, I 'f'C}{V('f'T}s, 3• 5 f, 6o -rl. -rO. 49 f, 92 Tdl'OS', IS


T&wos, 38 f TVyx.c(110v, 41 Tllnwa,s, 34

iJATJ. II, 50 lm&p'){€111, 40, 54

x&fYITI, 22 xp&110s, 38 fl

>/rox>1. 12 f,

16, 19 fi, 78