[2.2.2] Stoic Philosophy of Language

“In philosophy of language, their (stoics) most noted innovation was their theory of ‘sayables’ or lekta. The Stoics distinguish between the signification, the signifier and the name-bearer. Two of these are bodies: the signifier which is the utterance and the name-bearer which is what gets signified. The signification, however, is an incorporeal thing called a lekton, or ‘sayable,’ and it, and neither of the other two, is what is true or false (Sextus Empiricus 160-210 AD). They define a sayable as “that which subsists in accordance with a rational impression.” Rational impressions are those alterations of the commanding faculty or rational mind whose content can be exhibited in language. Presumably ‘graphei Sôkratês’ and ‘Socrates writes’ exhibit the contents of one and the same rational impression in different languages.”

In this diagram I used OntoUML notation to present the main concepts of Stoic philosophy of language:

Stoic philosophy of language
ClassDescriptionRelations
Body “Only bodies (σώματα, sômata) have being, or exist. Slogan: to exist is to have causal powers. Plato in the Sophist: ‘Now, I say that what has some power to make something else into something, or to suffer the slightest, even once, this has real being. For I define being as nothing but power (δύναμις).’ The Stoic conception of existence is thus dynamic. Matter as such is passive, but bodies are not, since they are also infused by logos, which is active… only bodies can act or be acted upon ”
NameBearer_Object “the name-bearer which is what gets signified” – the object (to tychanon).
E.g: the black cat.
is Body;
Signifier “the signifier … is the utterance” – the sound what is said in a given language.
E.g: the sounds when we say: “The cat is black”.
is Body; mediates between NameBearer_Object and Sayable
Incorporeal“These do not exist, but subsist (ὑφεστάναι, hyphestanai); yet they are real (ὑπάρχειν, hyparchein). We can think of them as conditions ‘without which the interaction of bodies in the world would neither be analysable nor intelligible”
Sayable They define a sayable as “that which subsists in accordance with a cognitive (rational) impression.”  
“The signification.. is an incorporeal thing called a lekton, or ‘sayable,’ and it, and neither of the other two, is what is true or false” – the meaning.
E.g: the claim regarding the color of a specific animal
is Incorporeal
CognitiveImpressionCognitive (rational) impressions are those alterations of the commanding faculty or rational mind whose content can be exhibited in language.” relates to Sayable

NOTE: in this diagram I used OntoUML notation.
For better understanding please check also the post about the [2.2.1] Stoic Sage’s Mind and [2.2.5] Stoic Ontology, Genus, Categories.

The source of all citations and more about the topic in: Baltzly, Dirk, “Stoicism“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 09/03/2019

3 thoughts on “[2.2.2] Stoic Philosophy of Language

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