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Lecture Notes

PHIL 430

Table of contents
  1. Week 2 Monday: Presocratic Atomism
  2. Week 2 Wednesday: Aristotle Against the Presocratic Atomists
  3. Week 3 Monday - Epicureanism
  4. Week 3 Wednesday – Void, Secondary Attributes, Time
  5. Week 4 Wednesday – The Existence of Void and Atoms
  6. Week 5 Monday – Epicurean Ethics
  7. Week 5 Wednesday – The Stoics
  8. Week 6 Monday - Body
  9. Week 6 Wednesday – God, Fire, Breath, Tenor, Element
  10. Week 8 Monday – Sayables (lekta)
  11. Week 8 Wednesday – Universals and the Highest Genus
  12. Week 9 Monday – Universals, Incorporeals
  13. Week 10 Monday – Early Pyrrhonism
  14. Week 10 Wednesday: Academic Skepticism
  15. Week 11 Monday – Later Pyrrhonism

Week 2 Monday: Presocratic Atomism

  • A little bit jarring – fragments with the presocratics and the Hellenistics
  • With Aristotle and atomism, there is a sort of hostility
    • Doing ancient philosophy is a very intentionally hermeneutic operation.
  • Looking at pre-Socratic atomism: has to do with Epicurean atomism. Atomism has a historical grounding earlier than Hellenistic philosophy, back to Democritus and Leucippus
  • Presocratic metaphysics: the birth of philosophy in Greece marked from a mythological or divine xplanation of natural phenomena (as seen in Hesiod, Homer) to scientific explanations grounded in observable facts.
  • “First philosopher” of the Mediterranean: Thales.
  • Motivated by investigations into the arche of the cosmos. There are different ways to translate it: “first principle”, what is th eunderlying stuff, the source or starting poitn of reality, the underlying stuff, theoretically basic material, the ultimate explanation, etc. In truth, it is a combination of all of these ideas.
  • Some proposals:
    • Thales: water. The fundamental stuff of the cosmos is water.
    • Anaximander: the boundless / apeiron
    • Anaximenes: ether / aer
    • Heraclitus: flux (change) / fire
  • What does it mean to shift from the mythological to the philosophical explanation?

Presocratic Metaphysics After Parmenides

  • Parmenides – shift in ancient philosophy, argues that genuine thohught and knowledge can only be about what-is. what-is-not is unsayable, and unthinkable.
  • what-is is whole, complete, unchanging, and one.
  • How can there be no change? Things seem to be always in motion, as Heraclitus observed.
  • Parmenides’ challenge: deducations are incompatible with previous accounts of the arche, which require changes in/to the arche to explain the natural world.
  • Change presupposes the reality of what-is-not
  • Thales’ water – must change, from what is not to what (now) is.
  • Can you identify the arche while preserving change’s possibility and meeting Parmenides condition.

Leucippus and Democritus

  • Atomism enters here.
  • Leucippus is active around the death of Parmenides; a contemporary of Socrates
  • Democritus: the student of Leucippus, a contemporary of Socrates, Plato, maybe a young Aristotle, traveled widely in the ancient world, possibly also to India


  • A number to each Pre-Socratic philosopher: 67B2
    • 67: the number of the philosopher
    • B: a primary source from that philosopher (A: testimony)
    • 2: the second fragment from that source
  • Doxographers (e.g. Diogenes Laertius)
  • Commentators on Aristotle (e.g. Simplicius, Alexander)
  • Aristotle himself: a critic of atomism
    • Atomism is incompatible with the Aristotelian system.
    • Aristotle’s philosophical system is teleological; atomism is mechanistic
    • Teleological systems reduce explanations of natural phenomena to the ends or goals of those phenomena
    • Mechanistic systems reduce explanations of natural phenomena to configurations of the most basic entities of that system.
    • Aristotle, Generation of Animals: “Democritus leaves aside purpose but refers all things which nature employs to necessity.”

Atomism: The Basics

  • Reality is made up of two fundamental constituents, atoms and void
    • Being and non-being
    • What-is and what-is-not
  • How to make this okay given Parmenides’ restrictions?
  • Atom, coming from the Greek atomos (uncuttable)

Motivating Atomism

  • Puzzles towards a theory of mathematical minima before Leucippus and Democritus, e.g. Zeno’s paradoxes
  • Democritus traveled to India, and Indian atomism was a thing far before Democritus and Leucippus
  • Or, trying to posit a metaphysical theory of the arche which meets Parmenides’ challenge

Properties of Atoms

Key features

  • What is
  • Indivisible minima
  • Intrinsically unchangeable, and each has a single nature
  • Full and solid
  • Infinite in number
  • Differ from each other in shape, arrangement, and position
  • Differ from each other in size
  • Too small to perceive on their own, but become perceptible as composites
  • Do they have a weight?

More details

  • Need to come together and become perceptible as a composite
  • Atoms are infinite in number
  • Atoms themselves have variable qualitative features, differing in size and shape
  • Atoms have hooks and rivets that allow them to be rearranged. But they can also detach from each other. When they detach, they retain their nature. Atoms do not become in-themselves different when they attach.
  • Compulsion is what moves atoms together into motion
  • Vibration?
  • Atoms are self-organizing, there is no self-organizer
  • Smallness cannot explain uncuttability; they are through and through one substance.
  • For Parmenides, what is must be what-is through and through.
  • For Democritus, it cannot be a measure of solidity.
  • For something to be divided, there must be void in that body.
  • Are atoms substance?
  • These guys didn’t make up haphazard philosophies; they planned this out.
  • Kosmos – just the universe, everything except that which is not.
    • An atom the size of the kosmos – theoretical or declarative?
    • To be read in 39 also: there are infinitely many kosmoi
  • Perception – composites emit a sort of film which makes contact with our sensory organs.


  • “Nothing”, “what is not”, “the unlimited”
  • The place or location for atoms
  • Individuala toms are separated by void, but are compact and cannot contain void (15)
  • Void is infinite, and posited to explain
    • The motion of atoms
    • How there can be manyt hings
    • How there can be division

Mechanistic explanation for observable phenomena and change

  • Coming-to-be and perishing are explained by the separation and combination of atoms
  • Coming-to-be and perishing by means of separation and combination, alteration by means of arrangement and position.
  • Features of composites are explained by features of the atoms and their arrangement
  • Sense perception is explained byt he shedding of films which make contact with an animal’s sense organs.
  • “Red” is not real; the only thing that is real is atoms and void. All perceived qualities are real by convention.
  • Living things are all chance combinations of atoms… there is no “purpose” to living things and their continued existence on Earth.

What to focus on for next time:

  • What Aristotle’s objections to atomism are
  • How Aristotle portrays different atomist claims.
  • Does Aristotle’s hostility influence the reliability of his reports?

Week 2 Wednesday: Aristotle Against the Presocratic Atomists

Detour – how is this metaphysics?

  • ‘Meta’ as a prefix for ‘after’: ‘this treatise comes after the physics’
  • Or: ‘meta’ as a prefix for ‘beyond’: ‘this treatise comes beyond the physics, concerns matters beyond the contents covered in the Physics
  • Physics is the science of change, includig the natural world
  • Metaphysics: the science of unchanging things (first principles), the study of being as such, first causes, theology, etc.
  • In antiquity, astronomy, biology, physics, etc. are all considered to be part of philosophy; but in the 17th century, we get a split between metaphysics and physics. “Physics” becomes a sort of specialized kind of quantiative science. Topics like free will, personal identity, mind-body etc. are recategorized as metaphysics.
    • Ontology: study of being
  • What Aristotle thinks of as metaphysics becomes recontextualized as ontology.
  • Can anything be called metaphysics in ancient philosophy? Is anything unchanging or is it all changing?

Aristotle’s Endoxa

  • Why is there so much of Democritus in Aristotle?
  • Aristotle tends to survey the views of previous thinkers before getting into his own theorizing
  • This is endoxa – reputable opinions / commonly accepted views. These are starting points for inquiry. Has a sort of respect for these endoxa.
  • On Generation and Corruption – Democritus is the first to have seriously explored the question of non-being.
  • Inclusion in endoxa does not indicate agreement.

On Generation and Corruption

  • Context: an investigation on coming-to-be (generation) and passing-away (corruption).
  • Growth / alteration vs generation / corruption?
  • Is all generation alteration?
  • If the universe is one thing, coming to be is alteration
  • Unqualified generation and corruption: can these things occur, and if so, how?
  • First question Aristotle wants to address @ 315b25: “Do things come-to-be and alter and grow, and undergo the contrary changes, because the primary things are invisible magnitudes? Or is no magnitude indivisible?”
    • If primary things are indivisble magnitudes, are they bodies (Democritus and Leucippus) or planes (Plato, geometric atomism)
  • Reductio at 316a23: assume a body is divisible through-and-through. What happens?
    • What is left is a magnitude. This is impossible because then there is something which has not been divided yet.
    • What is left is absolutely nothing. That would mean that body is generated ex nihilo and is a composite of nothing. but what if it’s a composit of points / contacts? Contacts and points have to be of things which are not points or contacts themselves.
    • objection: isn’t asking the question “what is left” already begging the question?
  • 316b15: both options have unacceptable consequences, so there must be indivisible bodies.

Establishing Invisible Bodies and Magnitudes (The Setup)

  • 316b15: reductio. Assume there are indivisible bodies and magnitudes.
    • For atoms, every composite value is both actually indivisible and potentially divisible. But if a body were divisible at every point, if it were divided at every point simultaneously, then nothing would remain. It would need to be generated ex nihilo or out of points, which is unacceptable.
  • Aristotle sets forth conditions for the existence of atoms. Dividing a body is not a process which can continue to infinity; there must be a limit to division.
  • Generation and corruption as combination and separation require minimal parts.

Against Indivisible Bodies and Magnitudes

  • 317a8: Bodies can only be divisible through and through in one sense.
  • The atomists introduce minimal parts to block infinite divisibility.
  • Aristotle says that through-and-through divisibility is impossible, but introducing minimal parts renders it incoherent.
  • What exactly is through-and-through division? Is there a concept of points?

A Big-picture Problem with Atomism in Generation and Corruption

  • Unqualified generation and corruption can’t happen by combination and separation anyway
  • Generation and corruption happen when something changes from one thing to another, changing its definition and material factors.
  • Alterations are mere changes to a thing’s accidental features
  • Problems have to do with divisibility – it cannot account for coming-to-be and passing-away

On the Heavens, III.4

  • Are the elements finite or infinite in number?
  • “Elements” as in basic constituents, e.g. atoms, as opposed to elements as in fire, earth, …
  • 303a3: for the atomists, all things are composed of four types of elements. The atoms which compose different elements do so by virtue of their different shape and size. But this means that elements cannot be generated out of one another.
  • Aristotle’s problem with atomism: elements change into one another, this sort of theory can’t account for that, you will run out of stuff from which you can get your elements.
  • 303a30: If you want to say that infinite elements differ infinitely, then you can only have as much as the principles of pyramidss.
  • Grounded more in elements “int he real/material world.
  • Atoms have their own simple motions, but the number of simple motions is not infinite, so there cannot be infinite atoms.

Physics, IV.6-8, Problems with Void

  • Does Void exist? How does it exist? What is it?
  • “Void” is a kind of place or vessel which becomes full when it holds “the bulk” and void when it is deprived of this bulk.
  • Are there different kinds of space for Democritus and Epicurus?
  • From Democritus and Leucippus: void is an interval that divided the whole body in a way that breaks its continuity.
  • Aristotle outlines reasons why people posit the existence of void and offer some refutations
    • Motion argument: void is needed for change in place. What is full cannot contain anything more than any one body. Needed for change in place.
      • But this is going to suggest that multiple bodies can be in the same place. And that means that unequal bodies can occupy the same place at the same time, so the smallest body might contain the larger body, which is incoherent.
      • Atoms are finite in kind, but the number of atoms is infinite, for Leucippus and Democritus.
    • Contraction argument: there are pockets of void inside what is being contracted, void is being squeezed out of it
    • Expansion argument: there are pockets of void inside what is being expanded, composite bodies potentially contain void.
  • Responses
    • Against the motion argument: bodies can simultaneously make room for each other without needing to move into an empty space. Example: swimming underwater. But… really? Surely water must be moved… void has to exist.
    • Against the argument from contraction: what is squeezed out doesn’t have to be void.
    • Against the argument from increase: qualitative change can make sense of expansion / increase – it doesn’t need to be void entering the water.
  • More on motion and the void:
    • If something moves into the void, it becomes differentiated, but void is uniform. So it can’t explain motion.
    • Things move into void because void yields; if void is uniform, it should yield everywhere. So everything moves everywhere.
  • In general, Aristotle attacks if atomism can make sense of elemental theories of elements as building blocks in the natural world, divisibility and the theory of the void.
  • Is Epicurean atomism projecting backwards onto Leucippus and Democritus?
  • Do the Epicureans respond to Aristotle?

Week 3 Monday - Epicureanism

  • Epicurus and Lucretius – just starting and ending the Hellenistic period


  • Born in Samos, 341 BC
  • Friendship with Nausiphanes (Democritean) in his youth
  • Even though Nausiphanes had some influence on Epicurus, Epicurus later was very critical of Nausiphanes
  • Epicurus moves to Athens for military service, is a teacher, then establishes a philosophical school.
  • “The Garden” – a house between Athens and the Piraeus. So now it’s a typical way to refer to Epicurean school
    • More of a society of friedns who lived in accordance with common principles
    • Friendship is very significant in Epicurean ethics
    • The Garden is a realization of friendship. Admitted women, admitted slaves
    • Is Epicureanism a sort of precursor to the Christian ethical revolt?
  • Are ancient schools research/teaching institutions or religious communities? Epicurus’ garden is more of a religious community.
  • Epicurus is very prolific, wrote a very large number of books but very few survivedd.
    • To Herodotus (principles of atomism)
    • Letter to Menoeceus (moral theory)
    • Letter to Pythocles (astronomy)
  • We also rely on the Roman poet Lucretius


  • A roman poet, an Epicurean who presents Epicureanism as the only source of human salvation
  • Wrote more than 200 years after Epicurus’ death
  • Amplifies and explains points form Epicurus’ own writings
  • De Rerum Natura, famous work

Other sources on Epicureanism

  • Diogenese Laertius (doxographer). Emphasis often varies, some aspects might be emphasized more than others
  • Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, Sextus Empiricus, Diogenes of Oenoanda
  • Cicero & Plutarch dislike Epicureanism
  • Seneca is a Roman Stoic
  • Sextus Empiricus, thinks of Epicureanism as the most congenial of the dogmatic schools. – so against Epicureanism, but friendly to it than stoicism
  • Diogenes of Oenanda is a late Epicurean – inscribed Epicurus’ teaching into a wall

Epicurean Philosophy: An Overview

  • Empiricism: sensations and feelings are the only foundation for knowledge
  • Provides rules for the attainment of a tranquil life; pleasure, defined as the absence/removal of pain, is the only good
    • Ataraxia – “freedom from disturbance”, i.e. tranquility
  • How to show the validity of Hedonism? Appeals to immediate experience. Grounded in an empiricism. All living things pursue pleasure and avoid pain.
  • Pleasure is the only good in and of itself
  • What to think about? – well-being as being a natural condition of living things, how does atomism fit in with this?
  • Surely Epicurus would have abandoned metaphysical theorizing. Yet he still tires to grasp the fundamental structure of reality a priori with the use of any a priori principles.

The Principles of Conservation

  • A set of laws that underline the permannce of the constitutents of reality.
  • Directly from Epicurus, so holds the most weight.

Principle 1: Nothing comes into being out of what is not

  • If things come into being out of nothing, they might come into existence under whatever conditions ever.
  • Lucretious explains the absurdity of this principle
  • Aristotle: when you plot a type of seed, you get a specific type of result.
  • The generation of things follows a certain pattern.
  • “Seeds” – a thing in Lucretius, biological seeds but also a way to talk about atoms – what is it doing for biology, but also atomism?
  • Something seems sus about this… is the nothing / everything negation valid?

Principle 2: Nothing perishes into nothing.

  • Lucretius gives us the empirical grounding for these things
  • If things perished into nothing, everything would have disappeared. This is not true. Therefore, it is not the case that things perish into nothing.
  • Observation about the nature of destruction. Destruction is not instantaneous.
  • If things perished into nothing, destruction would be instantaneous. It is not instantaneous. It is not the case that things perish into nothing.
  • These underly most of greek philosophy before the Epicureans – these are not new principles, even before Parmenides. What is new about Epicurus’ formulation is that these two principles have an empirical tone. It is a pointed empiricsm.
  • Epicurus’ possible response to the ship of theseus – we can’t have an essence / identity of things, but if the atomic makeup of things changes, then the thing itself changes.

Principle 3: The totality of things is unchanging.

  • Totality: the universe, everything
  • What is the scope of this principle
  • Nothing in addition to atoms and void can be added or subtracted.
  • Do they consider the a priori principles for the totality of things?
  • 5A in L&S is 4A continued
  • The totality of things is bodies and void. Rules out change by addition, subtraction, generation, corruption, and prohibits something changing into itself through text D.
  • Epicurus whittles down a familiar empirical universe to the most fundamental, primary components.
  • Premise 1: if the totality of things changed, there would be something into which it changes.
  • Premise 2: there is not anything into which it changes.
  • What are the limitations imposed by empirciism? Should apply equally to body and void.
  • Do these principles apply to void?
  • These laws of conservation prohibit change in the basic composition of the universe, whether by generation of new things, destruction of what already exists, removing parts, etc.

The Basic Division: Totality as Body and Void

  • “Totality” = body + void
    • Both are 3-d extended
    • Body is intangible, void is intangible.
    • Body can act or be acted upon (always bumping into each other), but body can’t bump into void; void has the capacity to house things which can act or be acted upon
    • Body coming to occupy void
  • Narrative on the definition of body: Stoicism, bodies acted and being acted upon.
  • Different kinds of void – room, place, void, etc.
  • We can make the seemingly contradictory texts: difference in types of void is one of essence, but of context.
  • Void is a condition for the existence of bodies
  • Empiricism is still fundamental – the inference is grounded in the observable.
  • Interesting how empricism needs to post anti-empirical bodies to be internally coherent
  • Properties are all accidents of body; they’re not separate things, but aspects of bodies.

Argument for the completeness of the body-void dichotomy

  • Body which has resistance
  • Void as that which does not have resistance
  • Body as that which can act or be acted upon

Week 3 Wednesday – Void, Secondary Attributes, Time

Proof for the eixstence of void

  1. The motion of bodies requires void
    1. If something hinders and blocks, the thing is body
    2. If something gives way / yields, then that thing is void
    3. Without something that yields, everything would be hindered and blocked.
    4. If everything is hindered and blocked, there can be no motion.
  2. Bodies move. This is empirical. The underlying assumption is that our empirical observations are reliable.
  3. Therefore, there is void.

Aristotle: the argument from compression or shrinking. But this isn’t about things shrinking, but about things being porous. Here, we are talking about passing-through. It is about a composite and different material passing through it.

  • Nutrition in the ancient world – claims something like if you eat something, then it helps the body grow and be nourished because it turns into different components of the body.
  • Body vs Void: division between atoms and void
  • Composite bodies are atoms arranged together to form observable phenomena

Argument for void from density.

  1. Some things are heavier than other things, despite being the same size.
  2. All atoms have the same weight.
  3. Void is weightless extension.
  4. If all atoms have the same weight, then two composite bodies of the same size should weigh the same, unless there is some weightless extension within it. (This is logically incorrect…)
  5. We can observe cases in which 2 composite bodies of the same size have different weights.
  6. Therefore there is void.
  • Need to stipulate that composites with the same sizes and different weights can be made up of the same atoms.
  • Epicurus has a concept of density where it’s not clear that Democritus did
  • Antiperistasis: ‘reciprocal replacement’
    • Something has to start this
    • It is because void moves that bodies have to yield.
  • Innovation where body and void are defined as contradictories; one as the thing which has resistance and cannot yield. And this definition is used often, acting as the condition for motion.
  • Part of a ground-up metaphysics, explaining things like change, motion, etc.
  • Parmenides is a big critic of void; all post-Parmenides void theorists have to deal with Parmenides’ criticisms.

Week 4 Wednesday – The Existence of Void and Atoms

  • All atoms of the same size have the same weight.
  • Sometimes yuou have to add implied premises to make the result come out, part of thinking charitably. Can we supply asssumptions consistent with Epicurean theory?

Another argument for the possibility of the existence of void – LS5A(5)

  • Antiperistasis – Aristotle’s suggestion
  • Even if you want air to fill the space betwee n bodies and claim movement is simultaneous, air does not fill space all at once, but in small intervals


  • “Body” – refers to compound bodies and to atoms, the constituents of compound bodies
  • Atoms are the fundamental / primary entities

On the existence of atoms

  • Body vs place – each must be unmixed and absolute
  • Misleading description that void and place cannot be coexstensive, because place just is void where body is located.
  • Void qua empty space cannot be coextensive with that point.
  • L&S give us too reasons why atoms are required
    • so that body will not be destroye, principle of conservation
    • something has to explaint he regularities of nature
    • What we see happen in the real world tells us something about the natrue of time, etc.

Atoms and Minimal Parts

  • We wouldn’t be able to make sure how something would become antyhing beause eventually you divide it in d dfyghinb
  • Infinite traversal atomism
  • The smallest part you can preceive allows you to see howsomrthing vasnhinily small can still reu=ducein you.


Atomic Motion

  • Up and down are cnoceivable motions, only becuase theyare not inr elation to an absolut etop/bottom,
  • Atoms are in eternal motion, as implied by the infinite nature of the universe
  • There is no limit which stops the mbody from moving.
  • What about really dense composites? These are still in constant motion.
  • I feverything just dropped down through the void, then nothing would ever collide.
  • Solution: there is a “swerve” – a very small, one minimum random change of course for an atom.
  • Things don’t always behave at an atomic level – e.g. bodies can move obliquely, but it is a product of relative densities.
  • Swerve is indeterminacy in an otherwise totally determined system. Attributes
  • Permanent vs non-essential
  • Only non-essential attributes are accidents
  • For Epicurus, there is a finite range of sizes which are possible for atoms. Empirical: if Democritus is right, you should be able to see them. Also the shapes are limited – unimaginably many, but not infinitely many
  • Infinitely many atoms of a kind, even though kinds are finite
  • Composites have a temperature, color, etc., but not a “token” – it is essential to the composite “under some phenoemnal aspect”
  • Observe composites to find what the permanent/essential attributes of atoms are
  • A thing can survive the removal of an accident, e.g. particular shapes and colors, etc.
  • Comes from Aristotle
  • Democritus denies accidents are real.
  • Epicurus: we can have knowlwedge of the real world; these things are real but derivative.
  • Atoms don’t have color.
  • Facts are accidents of body and void.
  • Time is an ‘accident of accidents’ – you can’t actually perceive time except in the motion and rest of a body.
  • Time is self-evident, we can abstract it from our experiences.

Week 5 Monday – Epicurean Ethics

  • The Boscoreale Cups – depiction of Epicurus and Zeno (founder of Stoicism), Epicurus is reaching towards a slice of cake and there is a piglet at his feet.
  • Inscription in Greek: “the goal of life is pleasure”
  • Epicureans as Hedonists: pleasure is the only good, and is the absence of evil
  • The best life is lived in pursuit of pleasure and absence of pain
  • Epicureans compared to pigs as a caricature of their ethics
  • The pleasant state of the body – all of its atoms are in a pleasurable / harmonious arrangement
  • Pain is a disharmonious arrangement of atoms
  • Avoiding pain includes psychological pain, especially if the soul is a collection of atoms
  • Death is the dispersal of atoms – there is no more sensation. Death is not bad for the person who dies; it can in fact release pain.
  • Epicurus rejects teleology or divinity, and rigorously adopts empiricism.
  • Most people read atomism into Epicurian ethics
  • Free will and the swerve.
  • Mind or soul emerges out of an arrangement of atoms
  • Swerve allows the indeterminacy for Epicureans – allows for free will and causality, for otherwise there would be totally determined motion.
  • Volition: you get a choice in the options that the laws of physics leave open.
  • There is a little pocket where you can choose another way. This happens through the coincidence of a bunch of swerves.
  • Which one came first? – metaphysics or ethics?

Week 5 Wednesday – The Stoics

  • Leaving the Epicureans and the atomists behind
  • Stoics founded by Zeno of Critium, around 300 BC. Originally from Cyprus, moves to Athens after the death of Aristotle just before Epicurus establishes the Garden
  • Cynics – the true nature of humans is rationality. This claim is somewhat already given by Plato and Aristotle. But the cynics push it to an ascetic extreme. Nothing which is conventionally good is actually relevant to the well-being of humans.
  • Stoics – iadvocate a certain indifference, organize a cosmopolitanism of ethics
  • A rational universe
  • Cleanthes – focuses more on natural philosophy and theology, then picked up by Chryssippus, made huge contributions to logic and philosophy of language
  • The influence of stoicism is undoubtedly the greatest of the Hellenistic schools
  • You need the metaphysical underpinnings to get started
  • In what sense is there a stoic physics?
  • Stoic physics: study of nature, study of the world, philosophy’s “soul”
  • Division of physics: specific and generic (takes the present world as its starting point, offers account of natural phenomena)
  • Specific – belong to philosophy proper, are more of a’
  • Only bodies exist. The principles are the …
  • Gods are perfect
  • Pasissive
  • Corporeals which provide thecii=io
  • What is the mature of being.
  • Nature includes that which is not corporeal, e.g. time, place, void, etc.
  • Something – the supreme genus’
  • Anything we can say about those things which can be thought about are real
  • You need somrthing outside of the objec tinto what it is or what is not
  • There is nov oid itn rhew orld, only place.
  • Role of matte roccupied by body.
  • Void – uncoccupied space
  • Time: the measure of the motion of bodies
  • The soul is a body
  • The soul is where you heart is.
  • If lektia are contents of thoughts, what gets between forming th ctontent nad percieving it?
  • There’s something about your soul which determines how to thinabout the world
  • Forms of body: substractes, qualified, disposed, relatively disposed
    • Substrate: as a thing which experiences causal reactions and can cause
    • Qualified: as a thing which has qualities
    • Disposed: as a thing which is arranged in a certain way, a disposition, e.g. virtue
    • Relatively disposed: as a thing which is arranged in a certain way relative to something else, e.g. a disposition to be healthy
  • People have often read the Stoics through Aristotle
  • Incorporeals subsisting

Plato, Sophists

  • About how to identify sophists vs philosophers, also a covert way for Plato to do metaphysics
  • The inconceivability of non-being
  • What is isn’t easier to get a handle on than what is not
  • Battle of the Gods and Giants
  • Earth-born Giants (what is, is anything that is tnagible or body) vs. Gods (friends of the forms, true being is the nonbodily forms that are the objects of thought)
  • If souls can be just/unjust/intelligent/etc., then it must be because souls can possess these qualities. But these are invisible. Can you say that things like justice have bodies.
  • dunamis proposal, a thing is if it has any capacity, causality. A thing is if it has any capacity. Being is what has capacity. This is the view of the “reformed giants”
  • Are the Stoics earthborn or reformed giants?
  • Cross-examination of the “friends of the forms” – true being is nonbodily forms that are the objects of thought. So knowledge is a way of the soul acting on a form, and the form acting on a souol. Either you deny that anything is intelligent, or that being is unchanging

Week 6 Monday - Body

  • “something” is the highest genus in Stoic ontology – it is a proper object of thought, discourse, etc.
  • There are bodies and incorporeals (substrate, qualified, disposed, relatiely disposed), or non-bodies (sayables, void, place, time)
    • Bodies are either causal patients or agents
    • Incorporeals are neither causal patients nor agents
  • Dunamis proposal: whatever is real is what has a capacity
  • Sayables are not sentences or thoughts; a thought is a disposition of the soul. The content of a thought is a sayable.
  • The Stoics don’t have a world filled with pockets of void, e.g. in composites; it is just outside of the world and allows for the expansion or contraction of the world
  • Place is real within the world, because it is just the extension occupied by a body
  • Time is a measure of the motion of bodies
  • Ongoing debate over what these have in common; is incorporeality a natural kind in Stoicism?

What is body?

  • Stoics vs Epicureans: in the Epicurean model, body interacts with void by pushing into it. The Stoics don’t allow this, because void cannot be a causal patient.
  • Coming to know something is a way for the soul to be acted upon. Knowing justice is the soul being acted upon by virtue.
  • Stoic argument: the soul is a body
  • Body and soul are through-and-through mixed, you are a belend of soul and bottom, to the extent tht you can ‘ix’ tejhem that way
  • Incorporeals are body
  • Unified body – you can’t separate it really.
  • Passive matter.
  • God is mixed with matter, shaping and pervading all of it
  • On principles: distinguishing between the whole and the all
  • Formers are ungenerated and indestructible
  • Principles are also bodies and without form, but elements are endowed with form.
  • Passive principle and active principle.
  • At the most fundamental, all bodies are composed of passive and active principle.
  • Things are what they are through active principle and passive principle. But you can’t ever separate the two.
  • Elements – you will get the archi at the most fundamental level, and at one level of complexit y above that, the elements – fire, water, earth, air. Each of these is a combination of passive and active principle. Everything above the elements are a combination of it.
  • Working theology into physics – god and Zeus, everything is constituted by Zeus
  • Shift away from ancient ontologies before the Hellenistic period. Aristotle’s ontology – everything comes out of matter and form (the thing which shapes the matter, what makes a lump of clay into a flower pot, it gets shape & identity)
  • Form is non-bodily
  • But do not impose a hylomorphic conception of passive and active principle, you can separate substrate from body, and qualified becomes quality. Importantly, the Stoic account is not hylomorphic. It’s a combination of two bodies.

Week 6 Wednesday – God, Fire, Breath, Tenor, Element

  • Epicurus – kind of a religious cult, Stoics – more of a research institution vibe.
  • In what sense are the stoics a cohesive whole?
  • God as intelligent, designing fire, responsible for creating the world as it is, but also a breath that pervades everything in the world
  • Responsible for the differentiation of body in the world
  • God is the seminal principle of the world
  • Fundamentally, active principle and passive principle. One level higher: elements. And one level higher: differentiated bodies
  • Elements turn into and out of each other – and there is an order, fire, air, water, earth
  • There is unintelligent vs intelligent / designing fire
  • Conflagration – when the world is all fire, so we get the world-order. It’s a different interval in time.
  • Epicureans: macroscopic to microscopic
  • Stoics: microscopic to macroscopic
  • “Microscopic” is very different in Epicureans vs Stoics
  • Active principle is fire, because – medical writer sposit heat as the vital principle of all animate life.
  • The world is a living being identical with god, or rather having god as its commanding faculty
  • Fire is the only element with vitalizing power
  • Pneuma – “breath”, fire + air
  • Logos is pneuma, or breath; vehicle of logos, the active principle is not just a simple compound of air and fire, but artistic / intelligent / craftmanslike pneuma – they’re picking out different aspects
  • Pneuma is an agent capable of rational action. It designs the world; it is craftmanslike
  • Air and fire are active; earth and water are passive – getting away for active principle and passive principle to map onto the four elements. You need to have thi because once you posit pneuma is your vital principle, then this motivates a distinction between active ad passive (lemenets)
  • Pneuma is of a tenor kind. Tenor – breath which turns back towards itself. This makes tenor indestructible.
  • Pneuma has two opposing properties, heat (fire) nad cold (air) – so pneuma is fundamentally compbined by opposites
  • Pneuma moves away from itself because heat expands, but also towards itself by cold. (Convection?) This simultaneous movement is tension / tensile movement.
  • How does pneuma interact with the passive elements? By permeating it completely, with through-and-through blending
  • Pneuma and the passive elements are all bodies. But at this itme, two bodies cannot occupy the same place at the same time. Yet this assumes they are solid.
  • Juxtaposition – mehcanical combination. Parts are related to each other by surface-to-surface contact.
  • Fusion – you cannot separate consistuents – they will not retain essential featuress and they cannot be removed from the mixture
  • Blending: in between juxtaposition and fusion.
  • All constituents of a blend are coextensive with other consistutents, but they and their properties can be removed.
    • e.g. soul, body
  • To read for next time – what are the categories?

Week 8 Monday – Sayables (lekta)

Theory of Language in 19th-20th century Analytic Philosophy

  • Frege, On Sense and Reference
  • Question of proper names
  • The meaning of a proper name is just the referent / what we refer to it
  • “Hesperus is Phosphorus” is different from saying “Hesperus is Hesperus”, even though the referents are the same
  • Frege’s solution: there is a third layer to language, it can’t just be names and referents, but there are meanings or “senses”
  • But you also actually get a theory of philosophy of language in Sayables


  • LS 33F
  • Incomplete sayables are predicates (“walking”, “is white”, “is sitting”, etc.)
    • You ask, “who”? “what”
  • Complete sayables: assertibles, questions, commands, oaths, prayers, etc.
  • When one body interacts with another body, the result is a predicate.
    • You get an incomplete sayable

Development of the theory of sayables

  • Predicate (attribute) to assertible (true proposition) to assertible (true or false proposition) to assertible, comamnd, question, etc. (a thing which can be said)
  • Not just bodies bumping into each other, there are facts about those bodies, true things we can attribute to bodies.
  • It’s not the meaning that causes, it’s the utterance that acts upon your percieving organs.
  • Sayable: “what subsists in accordance with a rational impression”
  • It’s the impression that makes you do the thing

Stoic Scala Naturae

  • Function of increasing complexity and unity due to a state of a body’s pneuma
    • Animal – soul, even more rarified and complex, the internal principle of motion and rest includes the capacity for impression and impulse
    • Plant – physique, have an internal principle of motion and rest
    • Rock – tenor, unity

Two senses of soul in Stoicism

  • Soul as the thing which is through-and-through blended with body
  • Soul as the commanding faculty, the highest part of the soul – locus of impressions (phantasiai), something like consciousness

Impressions (phantasiai)

  • Phantasiai – impressions, appearances, presentations, perceptions
  • Phantasia – impressions are bodies, impression is a causal element
  • We receive information from the world, impressors – we are impressed by it (information makes contact with and moves our soul)
  • Impressions are bodies – not incorporeals or sayables; they are things happening in the commanding faculty.
  • Sensation vs perception
  • Raw sensory data is not yet an impression. But perception is an awareness of the commanding faculty.
  • When something makes an impression, it gives information about itself and it makes its way to the commanding faculty.
  • Sayables are the contents of rational impressions
  • Rational impressions are thhoughts; thoughts qua thoughts are bodies, dispositions of the soul
  • Differentiation of sayables wrt individuals is not clear
  • Argument: lekta are the structure of the world
  • Thoughts as linguistic and semantic
  • Everyone agrees sayables are the contents of rational impressions
  • But… do rational impressions give otherwise empty sayables their content, or do sayables give rational impresisons the contents to which they subsist?
  • Objects vs contents – we can think about incorporeals as objects of thought, but they are not contents of thought. Rather all contents are sayables, lekta.
  • This passage focuses on sayables as a something, but what does it mean for it to be an object of my thought? – alignment between object and content. But when we talk about void, the contents are sayables but the objects are void.

“The Nominative Case”

  • L&S say that the nominative case is a word. This cannot be right, because the Stoics distinguish between words and what is expressed by them. A complete sayable cannot be composed from a word and an incomplete sayable.
  • One option: cases are incorporeal contents which are coordinate with predicates. But this is not well-supported either.

Week 8 Wednesday – Universals and the Highest Genus

  • Socrates in Plato’s Euthyphro – piety, what really is piety? What is the form of piety? You can’t just give particulars.
  • Plato’s metpahysical project, the theory of forms
    • What is F? What makes something the kin dof thing it is?
    • Plato: the answer is the Form it participates in
  • Plato’s forms (eide)
    • Universals
    • Distinct from particular things
    • Exist independently from indvidiual instances
    • More fundamental / real than their instances
    • Objective
    • Forms: justice, piety, courage, goodness, etc.
    • Forms are eternal, immaterial, unchanging
  • The form of something is what it is, regardless of what we encounter in the world
  • There is a form of justice, even if there are no sensible instantiations of justice

Universals and Particulars: The Basic Distinction

  • Each corgi is an individual thing, or a particular
  • Each class contains many particular things and has internal unity.
  • Each class identifies a property of the things which fall under it.
  • Different ways of characterizing universals
    • Realism: universals exist. Plato: universals ar emetaphysically prior to the things that instantiate them. Aristotle: universals exist but are dependent upon substances that instantiate them
  • Nominalism: universals do not exist. Peter Abelard, William of Ockham.
  • Interpretative problem of the Stoic metaphysics: do the Stoics allow universals into their ontology or are all somethings particulars?
  • “Fictional entities and limits” in Stoic metaphysics. Do Stoic concepts belong there?
  • Concepts – ennoemata
  • A denial that universals are somethings
  • Figments of the soul, as if they were something, as if they were qualified; but not really
  • For every Platonic form, there is a Stoic concept
  • Stoic philosophers say there are no ideas, there are no forms; we participate in the concept / universal
    • Participate: describe the relationship between a sensible and a universal in Plato’s sense
  • It is through grammar that we get concepts
  • Stoic concepts “appear like” all of the things that fall under them, so particulars are more fundamental than concepts, for ther ewouldn’t be a concept to exist
  • Concept-formation: preconceptions and conceptions
  • Are the Stoics reductivists or eliminativists about Platonic forms?
  • Universals as not-somethings?
    • You can’t read not-something in the sense that something isn’t the highest genus anymore.
    • Some proponents posit being as the highest genus.
  • Or… outina as nothing at all, so universals are absolutely nothing, only particulars are somethings, and something is the highest genus.
  • But the issue… if universals are not allowed in the ontology, then all of the Stoic divisions of philosophy have issues, because they make use of concepts
  • Concept-formation is how humans become rational – they’re part of how we organize our perceptions of the world around us.
  • We can think about concepts as objects of thought.
  • …so… either bite the bulle tad interpret concepts as not-somethings, or claim conecepts are a third kind of something, neither body nor incorporeal.
  • Maybe there is another story.
    • As the school develops its metaphysics and theory of language, the conditions for what counts as something become more fleshed out.
    • Relevant notion of a concept / universal changes

Week 9 Monday – Universals, Incorporeals

Problems with Stoic concepts

  • Are the Stoics reductivists (reduce to platonic forms) or eliminativists (remove platonic forms with something which does the job of forms) about platonic forms?
  • How do we read the word ou-tina? “nothing at all” or “not-something”?
  • Are universals not-somethings? if not, thenw hat is?
  • if universals are absolutely nothing, then they are not part of the ontology at all. No generics, universals, concepts allowed.
  • If universals are not allowed in the ontology, all somethings are particulars, and concepts cannot be real. But this conflicts with Stoic philosophy of mind, theory of perception, etc.
  • Concept-formation is how humans become rational.
  • Claim that concepts are a third thing, neither body nor incorporeal, but there is no evidence that something can be neither body nor incorporeal
  • As Stoicism developments and becomes more sophisticated, theory of language nad logic really develop, both of which affect the ontology.
  • Chrysippus: still wants forms to be nothing, forms as universals not allowed into the ontology.
  • Concepts are shorthand for sayables

Week 10 Monday – Early Pyrrhonism

  • Skeptic tradition continues through late antiquity.
  • Sextus empiricus revives the skeptic tradition
  • Three schools:
    1. Early Pyrrhonism: Pyrrho and Timon
    2. Academic Skepticism: Arcesilaus, Carneades, Cicero
    3. Later Pyrrhonism: Aenesidemus, Sextus Empiricus
  • Pyrrhonists, skeptics we think we should carry on investigating.
  • Academics, no discovery can be made when we investigate things
  • Skeptesthai, to investigate
  • Travels with Alexander the Great to India
  • Pyrrho is very well-liked in philosophical circles, lived with an “integrity”

  • Timon of Phlius, student and contemporary of Pyrrho
  • Rirst, aphasia (the stare of non-assertion, or speechlessness), and analarazio (freedom from distriubrance)
    • Permissable to have opinions / claims abou somet hings.
  • aAssert that the worl is determinayr
  • Pyrrho allgedly endds up with the same problem hes ssoughtt -=
  • Non-assertin as a non-epistmeic state

Week 10 Wednesday: Academic Skepticism

  • Pyrrhonists: full exercise of reason via the suspension of judgement as the route to tranquility
  • Academic Skeptics: full exercise of reason as intellectual integrity via the suspension of judgement
    • Arguing against every thesis.
  • Skeptical turn of the academy, with Arcesilaus (6th head of the academy)
  • Academic skeptics consider pyrrhonists to be dogmatists
  • Arcesilaus: eudaimonia, living a lifef guided by reason, following reason leads to a skeptical life without any beliefs
  • Academic skeptics claim nothing can be known. So how can they be open-minded inquirers?
  • Dialectical method in academic skepticism

Sloganizing Academic Skepticism

  • Everything is inapprehensible / incognitive
  • We should suspend judgment about them
  • How are these two propositions related to each other?
  • Inapprehensible / ingraspable better than “incognitive”

Non-apprehension, Akatalepsia

  • “katalepsia” – grasp, cognitive apprehension of something
  • Is there a criterion of truth?
  • Epicureans: criterion is evident in sense-perception. The evident is the criterion for truth.
  • Stoics: criterion is the kataleptic impression.
  • A kataleptic impression reveals its content, and that it is kataleptic.
  • Academics say that you can have an impression which phenomenologically appears as kataleptic (i.e. is indistinguishable) but can distort the fundamental object.
  • Indiscernibility principle: for every true impression, an identical but fals eone could arise
  • Wise man problem, self-referential problem
  • If we suspend judgement of everything, how do we act?
  • Stoic action theory: impression, assent, impulse.
  • It’s the assent, not the impression, which is up to the subject. So you should be responsible for it under the Stoic theory
  • If byt he skeptics, humans cannot have correct beliefs / modes of assenting, how can a skeptic act? Skeptics can act without assenting.
  • Stoic response: this reduces you to non-rational animals.
  • Skeptics: not all impressions trigger impulses. We act without assenting by adhering to the reasonable (eulogon). Action just is the manifestation of rational agency.
  • Skeptical agents are rational


  • Comes after Arcesilaeus
  • An enigma; the school turns towards interpreting and defending Carneades
  • Arcesilaus argued against everyt hesis by engaging an interlocutor
  • Carneades argued against himself
  • Clitomachus catalogs Carneades’ arguments without claiming that Carneades accepts them, but interprets them as purely dialectical or leading to opinions that Carneades does endorse.
  • Philo of Larissa: abandons the notion that we need to suspend judgment; we can be motivated by certain beliefs and take them to be convincing without taking them to be true.
  • Replaces skepticism with fallibilism. Commitment to a range of ideas while acknowledging they might be mistaken.
  • Influences Cicero – what is probable / an approximation of the truth is good enough
  • Philo is the last head of the academy; this is where Plato’s academy ends until Antiochus
  • Aenesidemus, leaving the academy – “stoics fighting with stoics”, revives skepticism as Pyrrhonism.

Week 11 Monday – Later Pyrrhonism

  • Wants to revive a more anti-dogmatic, radical skepticism
  • Appearances and thoughts placed in opposition generate equipollence (isostheneia) between them
  • The ten modes: forms of argument through which the skeptics put appearances and thoughts into opposition.
  • Suspension of judgement follows from equipollence.
  • With suspension of judgment comes tranquility (ataraxia)
  • Academic skepticism doesn’t have ataraxia as an end, but this is the view of later Pyrrhonism
  • A description is a neutral stance of an impression currently affecting me; it does not express a belief
  • I don’t need to believe that the impression is true, but I can describe it
  • Actions of a skeptic are instinctive, performed automatically without intervention of assent.
  • Skeptics have a ‘partisan’ end of ataraxia and recommend a particular lifestyle of suspension of judgement.
  • Are these two statements self-undermining / inconsistent?
  • Objects always perceived from a particular point of view, no neutral stance
  • Causal interpretation: focus on desidability.
  • Claim about reality, how things in the world are
  • There is no fixed way to the way in which things really are
  • Causal interpretation: more metaphysically relativist
  • Is it an issue that the ten modes are systematic?
    • One response: the ten modes are a response to where other philosophers have picked up an argument, to adopt their mode of investigation but to show that you should arrive at suspension of judgement
  • Agrippa’s five modes
    • Dissent
    • Infinite regress
    • Relativism
    • Hypothesis
    • Circularity
  • Sextus Empiricus, “empiricist” / methodist school of medicine, arguing against rationalist tendencies in medicine, over giving causal explanations or assuming regularities to ground therapies
  • Methodism derives beneficial insights from appearances; they don’t try to offer up an explanation and try to postulate some underlying substance, or assume any sort of regularity.
  • Relationship between ancient medicine and skeptical arguments, skeptical arguments can be therapeutic
  • Sextus Empiricus, Against the Mathematicians – learned people, against the logicians, against the musicians, etc.
  • Does the skeptic have any beliefs
  • We can free ourselves from the turmoil of having beliefs, but we cannot free ourselves from freezing, pain, etc.