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On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy

by Andreas GRAESER

Summary The common ground out of which the problem of “Language versus Reality” was to arise in ancient Greek philosophy may be characterized by the fact that words in general were thought of as names and thus considered to get their meaning accordingly, However, while Parmenides was actually committing himself to the position that language was altogether meaningless, Heraclitus seems to have believed that name and meaning are unrelated or even opposite to each other. Plato’s Fowns are clearly meant to serve as objects of linguistic meaning and reference. Aristotle retained the fundamentally realist theory of meaning which he inheritated from Plato and thus became liable to the criticism advanced by the Stoics, who insisted that there is no isomorphic correlation between thought on the one hand and things-that-are on the other.

RCsumC Dans la philosophie grecque, le conflit langage - realit6 est domink par le fait que les mots sont compris comme des noms. Cette position conduit ParmCnide h considkrer le langage comme n’ayant pas de sens; HCraclite par contre semble vouloir montrer que langage et realit6 n’ont pas de relation ou sont mime opposts. Les Idees de Platon ont clairement pour r81e de fonctionner comme support et rCfCrence shantique du langage. Aristote conserva la thCorie shantique essentiellement rkaliste qu’il avait hCritCe de Platon et s’attira ainsi les critiques des Stoi’ciens, qui niaient toute relation d’isomorphisme entre les pensees et les objets r6els.

Zusammenfassung In der griechischen Philosophie entsteht der Rechtsstreit zwischen Sprache und Wirklichkeit auf dem Hintergrund der Tatsache, dass Worte generell als Namen verstanden wurden. Diese Auffassung fiihrt Parmenides zu der Annahrne, dass Sprache iiberhaupt sinnlos sei; anders scheint Heraklit dahin zu argumentieren, dass Name und Bedeutung auch entgegengesetz sind. Platons Ideen sollten als sprachliche Be- deutungen und Gegenstande sprachlicher Referenz fungieren. Aristoteles behielt die wesentlich realistische Bedeutungstheorie, die er von Platon ererbt hatte, bei und zog damit ebenfalls die Kritik der Stoiker auf sich, die die Meinung vertraten, dass zwischen dem Gedanken und den seienden Dingen keine ismorphe Beziehung bestehe.


Vol. 31,No 34 (1977)


Andreas Graeser

In discussing the rBle of language and thought in ancient Greek philo- sophy, and making some of the highly speculative opinions Greek philo- sophers held look dependent on conceptual assumptions concerning linguistic meaning and reference,’ I shall have to pretend ignorance regarding the fundamental disagreement that exists over the question of what ancient Greek philosophy was essentially about and what issues were problematic for what reasons. There is, indeed, much disagreement over these matters. And anyone familiar with some of the various approaches that have been advocated in recent times is likely to suspect that ancient Greek philosophy had many faces, not all of which he is likely to find attractive. In any case, the history of ancient Greek philosophy has been rewritten many times; and from the way things look it would appear that there are, and most likely will be, various ways of trying to make sense of its content. This being so, we may take for granted that for those living in what has been called The Age of Meanings a good deal of that history calls for being read as a rudimentary and yet fascinating document relating to the issue of Language versus Reality ’. And as a result, we assert that what ancient Greek philosophy represents is, from the time of Anaximander’s quest for a descriptive equivalent to the kind of thing rightfully named principle’ (urcht?) up to Chrysippus’ inquiry into the status of things meant’ (Zektu), a kind of eager effort on behalf of a reasonable settlement of this issue. It is one which yet remains to be settled. Thus the story of ancient Greek philosophy may be read as a document of conceptual troubles experienced along the line of our contemporary dealings with the same issue. There were enough conceptual difficulties. Let me refer to some of them. Words in general were considered to get their meanings from the sort of things they supposedly named. And it was not until much later that Greek philosophers approached what may be called the well-known dis- tinction between singular abstract terms and general concrete terms respec- tively. Accordingly, the prolific use of the definite article the - making any adjective not only designate some abstract entity (F-ness) but also a corresponding particular quality a thing has (F) as well as the very thing that has this quality (F-thing) - immediately created a complex ontology as can be seen in Aristotle’s Categories. Moreover, there obtained a basic

1 Cf., e. g., I. Hartnack, Language and Reality We Hague, 1972), p. 10.

2 M.White, Toward Reunion in Philosophy (New York, 1963), p. 4.

3 Cf. R. E. Allen, “Substance and Predication in Aristotle’s Categories”, in:

E. N. Lee, A. P. D. Mourelatos, R. Rorty (eds.) Exegesis and Argument. Studies in Greek

Philosophy presented to Gregory Vlastos (Assen, 1974), p. 370.

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


confusion over what philosophers and logicians ordinarily identify as

distinct meanings of the word

sell, found so disagreeable - i. e. that “many volumes might be filled with the frivolous speculations concerning the nature of being” (Logic I, iv, i)

‘‘ is ”. What J. S. Mill, not to mention B. Rus-

- ancient philosophers apparently were prepared to live with. This is not

all ancient philosophy was obsessed with the concept of being ’.

to say that

Not at all. Yet it seems to be the case that neither Plato nor Aristotle suc- ceeded in developing a satisfactory grasp of what would appear to be the most obvious distinction, i. e. that between existence and predication ’. In any case, even Aristotle was at loss to understand precisely what predica- tion was about. Not only did he fail to realize that some of the instances of what he calls improper predication clearly represent statements of identity, but taking significant speech to be Seinssprache his concept of predication allows for inexactitudes, such as that things-that-are (onta) may be predi-

cated of another thing. Accordingly, it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that his realist theory of meaning made him lean towards a notion of what we may call ontological predication ’. But there were other conceptual difficulties too. At times we find what may be called an assimilation of the logic of the propositional construction to that of the direct-object-construction.6It is not surprising that ancient Greek philosophers were at loss to distinguish between what we take to be facts or states of affairson the one hand and things on the other. What I am saying is not that Greek philosophers were altogether unaware of this distinction, but that they did not develop further linguistic devices to make known that they considered it to be an important one. So much then for this case. From what has been said so far, it will be obvious that there is indeed good reason for assuming that many highlights of ancient Greek philosophical speculation concerning the nature of reality and its structure do show effects

4 For a comprehensive account of being see C. H. Kahn, The Verb be in

Ancient Greek (Dordrecht & Boston 1973). - I have reviewed this work in Kratylos 18

pp. 61-64; also see G. B. Kerferd, Archiv fur Geschichte der Philosophie 58

pp. 60-64. A fairly informative account of the verb be in Aristotle has been G. E. L. Owen, Aristotle on the Snares of Ontology ”, in: R. Brambrough

(ed.), New Essays on Plato and Aristotle (London, 1965), pp.69-96. Some of Owen’s

given by



points have met

Kahn’s approval: The Verb to be and the Concept of Being ”,

Foundations of Language 2 (1966), pp. 245-265, esp. pp. 262-265. 5 See, e. g., An. Pr. I 27, 43 a ff. On this particular passage see J. Lukasiewicz, Aristotle’s Syllogistic (Oxford, 1951), p. 6 and G. Patzig’s illuminating account in Die Aristotelische Syllogistik 3 (Gottingen, 1969), pp. 20-21. 6 The most important work devoted to this topic is the one by J. Hintikka; see e. g., his Knowledge and its Objects in Plato ”, in: J. M. E. Moravcsik (ed.), Parrerns of Thought in Plato (Dordrecht & Boston, 1973), pp. 1-30.


Andreas Graeser

of the ways in which various thinkers such as Parmenides, Heraclitus, Plato,

and Aristotle engaged in the exasperating task of making the world itself

conform with what they took the logical content of meaningful speech.


Let us first consider a phenomenon that throws light upon the way in which the Problem of ‘Language versus Reality’ became a philosophical

issue. Greek philosophy is famous for its peculiar view that reality is entirely different from what we are used to think it is. This view, held in the sixth century B. C., is just another way of saying that language is somehow decep- tive. The notion was expressed by both conventionalists and non-conven- tionalists. In possibly its strongest form, it was advocated by Parmenides, the founder of Eleaticism, who claimed that all language does is to create

a sort of mumbo jumbo in which the words it consists of seem to denote

what could not be possibly real in the first place. That is to say, he held that men make distinctions by use of words (or names) that do not exist in reality. In a much weaker form, the same notion was advocated by Hera- clitus who was the first philosopher to discover that the world is not a totality just of things but of something different from objects.’ Arguing against denotationist and even hyper-denotationist views such as the ones held by Parmenides, Heraclitus seems to have made a strong case for the assumption, I presume, that the cognitive meanings of words do not simply coincide with the sort of thing denoted by them, so that it is not language as such that is deceptive but rather its use. The basic problem seems to lie in the tacit assumption that words taken by themselves may be regarded as expressing a certain view of reality. The early movement of Greek enlightenment or rationalism is characterized by the particular interest it takes in linguistic usage; that is, by its tendency to discard certain expressions for the very reason that the ideas associated with their sense are fundamentally misleading in that they fail to invoke the real nature of the objects denoted. Xenophanes pointed out that “What they call Iris, this too is cloud, purple and red and yellow to behold (Fr. 32). He probably was not objecting to the use of Iris ’’ to mean the violet, red, and greenish cloud or rainbow, i. e. to the use of the word to mean this,

7 Cf. K. R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies Vol.1 (London, 1945), p. 205, and Conjectures and Refutations (London, 1963), p. 147. Popper’s illuminating point has been taken up by A. P. D. Mourelatos, “Heraclitus, Parmenides, and the Naive Metaphysics of Things”, in: Exegesis and Argument (above, note 3), pp. 16-48.

M. Furth, Elements of Eleatic Ontology ”, in: A. P. D. Mourelatos

(ed.), The Pre-Socratics. A collection of critical essays (New York, 1974), pp. 241-270,

esp. pp. 256-257.


See, e. 8

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


but to the divinisation of a natural phenomenon. Yet he may have insisted that people relying on what they may have thought of as cognitive character of ordinary language are prone to delude themselves as to the true nature of reality. Or we may take the example of Anaxagoras who claimed that The Greeks are wrong to recognize coming into being and perishing; for nothing comes into being nor perishes but rather is compounded or dis- solved from things that are. So they would be right to call coming into being composition and perishing dissolution (Fr. 17) and accordingly proposed to eliminate the respective expressions from linguistic usage. 9

The common ground out of which the problem of ‘Language versus Reality was to arise in ancient Greek philosophy may thus be characterized in terms of the fact that all through the archaic and classical periods, words in general, referring expressions and proper names as well as qualifying

predicates and descriptive expressions were

(onomata) and thus considered to get their meaning accordingly.

all thought of as names

As far as Parmenides is concerned, this is obvious. He writes of “fire” and “night” as names serving a predicative function, and that not only “being”, “not-being”, “becoming” and “perishing” but even phrases like “changing place” and “interchanging bright colour” count as names.lo To talk meaningfully about the world is to name its constituents, that is, to classify and pin down its content. It is thus in virtue of their serving the function of “names” that words are bound to take on the function of genuine language if language is to be meaningful at all. But where does this view lead to? Parmenides clearly proceeded from the assumption that verbs such as “say”, “think” are some kind of success-verbs. l1 Yet the very assumption that words name and thought hit their object is bound to result in paradoxes such as that both relative and absolute negations are impossible: what is not cannot be named. Even statements were regarded as meaningful only if there was something to be named. And as locutions such as “to say”, “to say something”, “to say what is”, and “to say the truth” were considered to be equivalent, Parmenides and other philosophers suspected that a prop-


‘p’ could not be denied. For Parmenides -Fa’ would entail

9 For further examples see F. Heinirnann, Nomos und Physis (Basel, 1945),

pp. 48-49.

10 Cf. G. Vlastos, Platonic Studies (Princeton, 1973), p. 238 n. 46. 11 Cf. G. Nuchelmans, Theories of the Proposition (Amsterdam & London, 1973),

of goal-directedness see, e. g., K. von Fritz,

p. 9. For a discussion of weaker forms

“NOUS, Noein, and their Derivatives in Presocratic

40 (1945), pp. 223-242; 41 (1946), pp. 12-34, and, of

Philosophy”, Classical Philology

course, B. Snell, Die Ausdriicke

des Wissens in der vorplatonischen Philosophie (Berlin, 1924).


Andreas Graeser

‘ry (Su) (Fa)’ - something we are not even supposed the formulate - where

‘-Fd only yields ‘(Ex) (-Fx)’

or its equivalent

(x)(Fx). Even Plato

was embarassed. He seemed to be at loss to understand precisely what was wrong with the negative facts that could not be named. Leaving aside the intricate problems connected with the task of clarifying the conceptual back- ground of the assimilation of the propositional construction to that of the direct-object-construction, we may simply assert the notion that that-clauses were treated as names, that is, as if they named some complex in the world. Evidence to this effect may be found e.g. in Plato’s Euthydemus where it

said that what a sentence (logos) asserts is what the sentence is about (283e8)

- a notion which may be regarded as an early instance of the type of con- fusion pointed out by P. F. Strawson against J. Austin. l2 Moreover, it is asserted that to each segment of reality there belongs just one logos (284a1-4. 9) and that to each logos there answers just one distinct segment of reality (286b3-6). Accordingly, there is no way of contradicting a person

a asserting the logos of x. 13 It is quite obvious that negations in general had to become utterly prob- lematic for Parmenides. Instead of realizing that when we say “not blue” we point to something else within the conceptual range of colour, he claimed that expressions involving a denial must ips0 fuctopoint away from the realm of reality and “refer” to some non-world. But denials of existence are “neither thinkable nor sayable” (Fr. 8, 8-9). More exactly, they are either self-refuting if they have a genuine subject, or senseless if they have not. l4 Had Parmenides realized that ‘‘what signally distinguishes names from expressions for predicates is that a negation attached to a predicate yields a new predicate, but when attached to a name it does not yield any name” l5 he might have been able to live with some of the vagueness implicit in the expressions that involve a denial. But he never came near any such analysis. Instead, he arrived at the conclusion that the apparent world that language supposedly is about must either be full of objective contradictions, and thus pervaded by non-worlds, or else it could not be real in the first place. Ob- viously, he felt forced to stick with the latter option, a clean one that accordingly discards language as meaningless. Yet by doing so he created a whole set of difficulties infinitely worse than the ones he tried to do away with.

12 P. F. Strawson, Logico-Linguistic Papers (London, 1972), p. 195. 13 The point of the argument has been overlooked by R. K. Sprague, Plafo.Eufhy- demus (Indianapolis, 1965), p. 28 n. 44. 14 See G. E. L. Owen, “Plat0 and Parmenides on the Timeless Present”, in:

The Pre-Socratics (above, note 8), p. 275.


G. E. M. Anscombe, ‘‘ Retractation ”, Analysis 26 (1965), p. 35.

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


Instead of reconsidering whatever assumption it had been that led him to believe that words either must name exactly the way nails pin down pieces of wood, or else are meaningless, he settled with the notion that all language does is to create a fictitious ontology. Language thus becomes the fall of man. And instead of realizing that by renouncing the existence of what he thought of as the meaningless content of language he was actually committing himself to the position that language, including the crucial word “is”, was altogether meaningless, he chose an argument that becomes a ladder to be climbed up and thrown away.

With Heraclitus, things somehow became quite different. He said “Na- ture likes to hide” (Fr. 123) and even suggested that what speech reports appears, in a way, to be states of contradictory affairs. Yet the idea of renouncing the existence of the physical world apparently never occured to him. He held that talking meaningfully about the world and its components is perfectly possible. The facts of nature that we encounter may be full of snares for the intellect but are liable to rational account provided we under- stand that what words “mean” is not necessarily what they “name”. In other words, rational account, Heraclitus thought, was not just something wedded to the extensional range of isolated expressions, and expressions were not just meaningful for the simple reason that the cognitive meaning that they had somehow coincided with the kind of things they denoted. Names denote, of course, but they also mean. And what they mean may be quite distinct from their ordinarily intended denotations. Take e. g. Fr. 48 where it is said that the bow has the name “life” but the function “death”. So the name of anything may mean (or seem to mean, for pies and 016s did not sound exactly alike to Heraclitus) the very opposite of what the thing does and so the fragment may be said to show that name and meaning are unrelated or even opposite to each other. l6 It has been suggested that Heraclitus attacks the foolishness of ordinary man as Wittgenstein attacks Metaphysics. The kind of foolishness Hera- clitus attacked, I submit, was that ordinary man assumes that it is by the act of attaching a name to a thing that he somehow exercises a conceptual

16 Professor Harold F. Cherniss pointed out to me, however, that Heraclitus had something more profound in mind, for the fragment also says that a single word may properly name opposite things, since bios names both life and that which produces death, which to Heraclitus is an indication that life and death are connected, comple- mentary, somehow one. Read this way, the fragment shows not that name and mean- ing are unrelated (for Heraclitus does not suggest that bios is an improper name for either bow or life) but that the very names do or may reveal the reality that is not superficially apparent. 17 E. Hussey, The Presocratics (London, 1972), p. 59.


Andreas Graeser

grasp on the respective object. To this Heraclitus objects. He doubts that ordinary men are aware on the fact that names in general are only incomplete symbols, capable of depicting what has to be considered as features or aspects of the object referred to. In other words, what ordinary men fail to realize is, that names, inasmuch as they have some kind of cognitive meaning, are abbreviations, that is, abbreviated descriptions each of which isolates and depicts just one mode of the object’s presentation, and none

of which is ever likely to tell the whole story (cf., e. g., Fr. 32

willing and willing to be called by the name of Zeus”, because, though Zeus is not ‘wrong’, it is not adequate). l8 Heraclitus repeatedly expresses the notion that each thing has many names, an idea that was to play a fundamental r61e for Plato who frequently speaks of the problem of predication as that how one thing can have many names. When emphasizing that in order to delimit each thing according to its nature” (Fr. 1) one has to make use of Logos he probably means that one cult resort to insights concerning significant language use. E. Hussey asserts that “as the early Wittgenstein, inspired by the new ‘language’ of formal logic, tried to mark out the limits of significant language-use as that which depicts the world, and thereby to exhibit some truth about the struc- ture of reality reflected in the true structure of language and to demolish as meaningless all metaphysics, so Heraclitus seems to be using his new consciousness of sentences as formulae for exhibiting reality, suggested by his use of the term logos, to exhibit the structure of things in appropriately constructed language.” l9 In any case, Heraclitus seems to imply that it is because of the Logos that we may learn to understand that words do or may reveal the reality that is not superficially apparent.


Let us next have a look at the view that it is not names that deceive or mislead, but rather the sorts of things from which they supposedly get their meaning. Such was Plato’s point of view. He was, in various ways, deeply influenced by both Eleaticism and Heraclitism. He was a Heraclitean inas- much he believed, among other things, that spatio-temporal-objects have many names. He was a Parmenidean inasmuch as he thought that the ap- parent world cannot be taken as “real”. But Plato was, by contrast, not convinced that Parmenides was right to consider the world of appearance

it is un-

18 Cf. B. Snell, Die Sprache Heraklits ”, Herrnes 61 (1926), p. 369: Der Name hebt nur eine Erscheinung heraus und zentort damit das Wesentliche (with regard to Fr. 67). 19 E. Hussey, op. cit. (above, note 17), p. 59.

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


as some sort of mental construct. He rather held that the so called phe- nomenal things are and are not, which is probably just another way of saying that they are both F and not-F. 2o That is to say, the things that we encounter are cognitively unreliable for the very reason that they do not fully answer to the terms that we use in meaningful discourse. The phe- nomenal world is cognitively unreliable precisely because it fails to provide for the sort of things that expressions for predicates purport to mean. Now instead of renouncing language or discarding the world of exper- ience, he manufactured what Popper, following Frege, has called ‘The Third World’, one that in Plato’s theory not only comprises the total sum of primary designates of expressions for predicates but also formed a set of transcendental facts or sets of satisfied truth conditions. Let me first call your attention to the notion that what the Platonic Forms represent are objects of linguistic meaning and reference.21 As we read Aristotle’s report that as Platonists “we speak of perceptible objects (aisth2tu) after the ideas and in reference to them after which they are named” 22, it seems obvious that the ideas were meant to serve as primary designates 23 or referents, while the perceptible objects to which these ‘names’ tend to be applied in ordinary discourse about the world constitute what Plato considered the realm of secondary or even derivative reference. However, what makes this notion of “derivative” reference seem odd is that it entails, as a matter of course, a number of notions that are foreign to semantics and thus have to be left out of account. In any case, Plato thought that the spatio-temporal objects which we perceive and talk about do not really deserve the names that they are given. Accordingly, whatever the meaning that “names” get, they certainly do not receive it from the sorts of things that make up the content of the spatio-temporal-world. Following this approach, we must then say that these secondary references are deri- vative in nature precisely because they do not fully represent the kind of entity that we know the respective form to be. In other words, these objects, when called F, G, and H, do not properly represent the exact meaning of

20 Cf. Republic 476, and G. Vlastos, Platonic Studies (above, note lo), pp. 66-67. 21 See my article Die Platonischen Ideen als Gegenstande sprachlicher Refe- ”, Zeitschrift fur Philosophische Forschung 29 (1975), pp. 218-234; also see J.


Clegg, Self-predication and Linguistic Reference in Plato’s Theory of Forms ”, Phronesis 18 (1973), pp. 26-43. 22 Aristotle, Metaphysics A 6, 987b9-10, with W. D. Ross, Aristotle’s Metaphysics Vol. I (Oxford, 1924), p. 161 and H. F. Cherniss, Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato and

the Academy

(Baltimore, 1944), p. 251 n. 4.

23 R. E. Allen, Participation and Predication in Plato’s Middle Dialogues ”,

Philosophicul Review 79 (1960), pp. 148-149, reprinted in: G. Vlastos (ed.), Plato I. Metaphysics and Epistemology. A collection of critical essays (New York, 1971), p. 169.


Andreas Graeser

the respective term. 24 No particular F-thing equals what F-ness purports to be. Notice, that it is for a similar reason that Plato’s Socrates refuses to be satisfied with the enumeration of examples or instances of, say, good, just, holy, beautiful etc. What he desires to know is the reason why any given example can be an example in the first place. And it is for this reason (logos) that he advises his partner not to look for any particular ‘holy action’ but for the very Form in virtue of which holy actions are, in fact, holy. Thus in order to know what one is doing when talking about some x being F one ought to know what it means to be F in the first place; that is, one ought to know, Plato holds, the very entity properly called F-ness. The ideas are thus considered as normative meanings, and having taken them to be some kind denoted intensions in the first place, Plato was not really prepared to consider “meanings” in terms of reference to ordinary linguistic usage. All this may be quite obvious. But there is something more to it. The so called ‘Theory of Forms’ is not merely intended to provide for what may be called a model of ontological predication, such as that x is F, if and only if, there exists a homonymous form, F-ness, and x is one of its participants. What the ‘Theory of Forms’ is meant to do is to answer to some kind of proto-Kantian inquiry into the condition of the possibility of significant discourse in general. Notice that in the Parmenides, Plato sug- gests that anyone denying the existence of ideas does away with both the objects of thought to which we direct our thought and the possibility of meaningful discourse (13%). And it is Parmenides himself who is made to express this notion shortly after the ‘Theory of Forms’ has been done away with. I think it is important to realize that Parmenides, if he means what he says, must be aware that his verdict is bound to fall victim to the very crit- icism that he advanced against the proposition concerning the existence of ideas. In other words, if Parmenides is at all serious about what he says concerning the possibility of meaningful discourse being destroyed, he must know that the objections raised against the ‘Theory of Forms’ could not even have been valid in the first place and that his criticism regarding the self-referential character of the forms has not been a specimen of meaning- ful utterance. What I take Plato to suggest in this particular context is that people objecting to the ‘Theory of Forms’ and wishing to do away with it, fail to recognize that even when arguing against this theory they are, in fact, committing themselves to the position that ideas do exist. It is precisely their existence that language and thought depend on, Plato thinks. And I

24 Cf., e. g., G. Patzig, Platons Ideenlehre, kritisch betrachtet ”, Antike Abendlund 16 (1970),pp. 133 ff.


On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


take it to be this kind of reasoning that accounts for the much discussed proposition but forward in the Sophist that meaningful discourse (logos) exists or come into being in virtue of a combination of forms (259e).

No matter what possible line of interpretation one chooses to favour - i. e., uu,ulrRox$ designating some kind of compatibility in the sense that ideas relate to one another in ways that were described by the logician Karl DurrZ5or simply as a kind of weaving together in the sense in which one may imagine a grammatical predicate to be attached to a grammatical sub- ject 26 - all that results is a theory concerning the existence of ideas as a necessary but not sufficient condition of meaningful discourse. It is thus solely in virtue of the fact that there are ideas which stand for the kind of things that we actually mean when using expressions for predicates, Plato thinks, that one can become engaged in meaningful discourse. And one of Plato’s constant concerns was, as J. M. E. Moravcsik out, the postulation of a variety of ontological configurations that would account for what makes certain types of propositions true or false.27. It was precisely this kind of Third-World-Ontology that Plato invoked in order to make the phenomenal world - shadowlike as it is and full of snares for the intellect 28 - liable to the possibility of rational account.

From what has been said so far it will be obvious that the Platonic ideas may be considered as the “true meanings” of expressions for predicates. However, Plato expresses himself in ways that suggest that the intensional component of meaning belonging to an expression over and above its deno- tation is itself denoted by it. I have argued elsewhere that Plato’s ideas may be described as hybrids between what Frege, when discussing proper names, called “Sense” (Sinn)and “Reference” (Bedeutung) respectively. 29 Sticking with Frege’s notion of Sinn may prove to be worthwhile since it is likely to get us rather near to what Plato is aiming at in the Cratylus when he con- siders the possibility that words do not merely name but also mean in the sense that they convey the mode of presentation of the object referred to

25 K. Durr, Moderne Darstellung der platonischen Log& ”, Museum Helveticum 2 (1945), pp. 166-194.

26 See, e. g., D. W. Hamlyn, “The Communion of Forms and the Development of Plato’s Logic ”, Philosophical Quarterly 5 (1955), pp. 289-302.

27 J. M. E. Moravcsik, “The Anatomy of Plato’s Divisions”, in: Exegesis and Argument (above, note 3), p. 324 and the present author’s book Platons Ideenlehre. Sprache, Logik und Metaphysik. Eine Einjiihrung (Bern & Stuttgart, 1975), p. 52.

28 In reference to the notion of saving the phenomena see G. Vlastos, Plato’s Universe (Seattle, 1975), pp. 110-111.

(1975), pp. 224-

29 See my article in Zeitschrijt

jiir Philosophische Forschung



Andreas Graeser

(393d3, 422d2-3, 423e7-9).30 Yet from the vocabulary he uses it would seem that Plato tends toward a referential theory of meaning; and whatever further aspect or component of meaning he may have considered, it certainly was a meaning that he thought of as existing along with and wedded to the unique entity that he regarded as the primary referent. But it is this particular feature - some kind of descriptive component of meaning - that may require comparison with Frege’s notion of Sinn. If we assume that the ideas embody this further aspect of meaning we may be able to understand some important feature of the gap between the world of ideas, on the one hand, and the world of experience of the other. For Plato believes that things belonging to the world of experience do not fully answer to the mode of presentation conveyed by words that name ideas. A good deal of the fundamentally hybrid character peculiar to Plato’s ideas was first recognized by the Stoics. There is an intriguing piece of

evidence to that effect, one that is in need of a kind of philological analysis which I have attempted elsewhere. J1 Roughly translated, the lines in ques-

tion run as follows:

pictures we have, the meanings of common nouns belong to what they (i. e. the Stoics) call common names.”32 Read in this way, the difficult passage of Greek suggests that the entities named forms do not exist as entities in their own right; they collapse into two kinds of things that are quite distinct in nature. In other words, the Stoic criticism advanced against the Platonists’ contention that there are entities such as the ones called ideas apparently rests upon the notion that Plato failed to distinguish between the sense of a sign and what may be called its associated idea. Anticipating Frege, the Stoics could have elaborated that the same sense is not always connected, even in the same man, with the same idea. The idea is subjective: one man’s idea is not that of another. There result, as a matter of course, a variety of differences in the idea associated with the same sense. A painter, a horse- man, a zoologist will probably connect different ideas with the same ‘Buce- phalus’. This constitutes an essential distinction between the idea and the sign’s sense, which may be the common property of many and therefore is not a part or mode of the individual mind. 33 If the Stoic account of Plato’s

the forms are without fundament in reality; mental

30 Also see C. H. Kahn, “Language and Ontology in Plato’s Cratylus”, in: Exegesis and Argument (above, note 3), p. 163.

31 A. Graeser, Zenon von Kition. Positionen und Problerne (Berlin & New York,

1975), pp. 69-78.

32 Stoicorurn Veterum Fragrnenta I 65 (H. von Arnim, ed.). For further discus- sion see the present author’s “The Stoic Theory of Meaning”, in: J. M. Rist (ed.),

The Stoics. A collection of critical essays (Univ. Calif. Press, forthcoming).

33 G. Frege, Ueber Sinn und Bedeutung ”, Zeitschrift fur Philosophie und Phi-

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


notion of form does, in fact, derive from the premise that Plato failed to dis- tinguish between the sense of a sign and its associated idea - I do not think that he did - it would seem correct to infer that what the Stoics took as Pla- tonic form in the first place was a hybrid, a cross between what they considered a linguistic entity on the one hand and a mental entity on the other. They did not like it, and modern philosophers are not likely to blame them.

It has been said that for Plato the world of experience was cognitively unreliable and deceptive in that phenomenal things did not fully answer to the mode of presentation conveyed by the expressions that were being used to refer to them. Much more could be said regarding this matter. Let me just hint at one further aspect of the matter. Plato held that spatio-tem- poral-objects may have many names and thus partake in a plurality of forms, each of which “explains” 34 some particular feature of the participant. The very notion of participation implies that the concept of substantial being was foreign to him, at least with regard to the phenomenal things that make up the content of the phenomenal world. For Plato, there were no such things as the ones Aristotle chose to delimit by his use of the term substance. In fact, the much celebrated metaphysical distinction between ‘substance’ and ‘attri- bute’ - it is due to the fact that in ordinary language we cannot refer to the sensible properties of a thing without introducing a word or phrase which appears to stand for the thing itself as opposed to anything which may be said about it 35 - Plato did not consider at all. Plato would not have subscribed to the Aristotelian idea that syntactical categories somehow reflect ontological distinctions that have a fundamentum in re. While Aris- totle proceeded from the assumption that our conceptual understanding of the structure of reality depends on the recognition of the basic distinction between ‘substantial particulars’ on the one hand and ‘non-substantial particulars’ 36 on the other, Plato thought that the spatio-temporal world was made up of aggregates or bundles of properties, none of which was more “essential” than another. In other words, instead of reckoning with substan- ces Plato approached the notion of qualia.

34 On the notion of explanatory force in reference to the ideas see G. Vlastos, Reason and Causes in the Phaedo ”, Philosophical Review 78 (1969), pp. 291-325 (= Platonic Studies, pp.76-110); E. Burge, “The Ideas as Aitiai in the Phaedo”, Phronesis 16 (1971), pp. 1-14; C. L. Stough, Forms and Explanation in the Phaedo ”, Phronesis 21 (1976), pp. 1-30. 35 A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic (Middlesex, 1971: Penguin), pp. 56-57. 36 Cf., e.g., G. E. M. Anscornbe, Three Philosophers (Oxford, 1961), p.9; B.

Jones, Individuals

Annas, Individuals in Aristotle’s Categories. Two Querries ”, Phronesis 19 (1974),

An Introduction in the First Five Chapters of

Aristotle’s Categories ”, Phronesis 20 (1975), pp. 146-172.

pp. 146-152, and again B. Jones,

in Aristotle’s Categories ”, Phronesis

17 (1972), pp. 107-123; J.


Andreas Graeser

This notion corresponds with the fact that whenever the definite article “the” was attached to some adjective term, it could refer to either Fs or F- things, that is, to qualities of particulars or to particulars having these qual- ities. Early Greek philosophers thus held that what the world consists of was ‘qualities’ (i. e., ‘the wet’, ‘the dry’, ‘the cold’, etc.) or ‘quality-things’; apparently they did not yet have a conception of qualities as such. Leaving out of consideration the substance-attribute distinction that might have made him approach the Aristotelian distinction between substantial particulars and non-substantial particulars, Plato subscribed to the Heraclitean view that the so-called physical objects were to be regarded as complexes rather than as clear-cut things. It is within this conceptual approach that the meta- physical distinction between ‘substance’ and ‘attribute’ would seem meaning- less to him.37Accordingly, an Aristotelian type of inquiry into the essence of spatio-temporal objects called “substances” would have been entirely beside the point to Plato. This would explain why Plato thought that the apparent world was cognitively unreliable, for if knowledge was to be tied to essences, the spatio-temporal world was in no position to provide for these kinds of entities. Reality thus is defective since it cannot purport to be what meaningful discourse and thought are about.


Once a concept of grammar was born, the issue of ’Language versus Reality’ seemed ripe for final settlement. That is the way things looked to Aristotle, who thought that due to his demarcation of ‘substantial being’ the case was about to be closed for good. However, the Stoics were to give notice of appeal; they kept the whole matter ready for a much more sophis- ticated analysis. But as a matter of fact, Aristotelianism was to be as widely successful as Stoicism was ignored, for no other reason than that it was perceived as being both over-sophisticated and primitive alike. Aristotle was the first philosopher ever to invoke language as a tool for philosophical inquiry. Not only did he manage to unwind a good deal of sophistry resultant from confusions of the possible meanings of words, etc., he also appealed, at times at least, to ordinary language use and by doing

37 Cf. G. Prauss, Platon und der logische Eleatismus (Berlin 1966), p. 70; Ding

und Eigenschaft bei Platon und Aristoteles

the present author’s Platons Ideenlehre (above, note 27), p. 43. 38 Let me in passing by call your attention to the curious fact that much of the violent attack that Stoicism has been subjected to since its inception resembles the kind of charges that have been brought against analytical philosophers, and that it was the analytically minded philosophers who rediscovered parts of Stoicism and articulated the notion of what Stoic logic was about.

”, Kant Studien 59 (1968), pp. 98-112, and

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


so conveyed the notion that he was about to recognize language-games. How- ever, this point may have been over-emphasized. 39 Unlike the Stoics, Aris- totle did not make language a topic of philosophical discourse. He had no conception of language apart from the sort of things that significant words were supposed to mean. He did not distinguish systematically between lin- guistic questions on the one hand and ontological questions on the other. In regard to words, he was interested in them only in so far as they stand for the things-that-are (onta). There is plenty of evidence to that effect, let alone the notion that it is things-that-are that are predicated of other things and that expressions such as “predicated of” and “said of”, which are meant to signify predication, accordingly designate both the linguistic/semantic relation and the ontological relation. 4O Mutatis mutandis Aristotle’s general verb for semantic relations (skmainein) - on a par with our verbs “mean”, “signify”, and “denote” - quite often is used for expressing a relation that obtains between actual things or types of things (e. g. “a particular some- thing (tode ti) signifies substance”). We also notice that Aristotle in general does not distinguish between mention and use. With regard to the well known and much discussed formula “being is said in may ways” 41, vague and obscure as it is, one cannot really be sure whether the linguistic expres- sion “being” is mentioned or used, and if the latter, precisely what kind of supposito materialis is called for. 42 All this seems astonishing to us. Yet it shows that for Aristotle, language was indeed Seinssprache and that is was considered to mirror relations that obtain between real entities existing independently from the mind. The basic structure of reality, Aristotle thinks, is “predicative”. 43 It is predicative in the sense that entities in general are supposed to be related

39 The first to interpret Aristotle along this line was W. Wieland, Die Aristote-

(Gottingen, 1963); also see his article “Aristotle’s Physics and the


Articles on Aristotle I (London, 1975), pp. 127-147. Now see B. Jones, Aristotle’s Introduction of Matter ”, Philosophical Review 84 (1974), pp. 474-500. 40 See, however, R. M. Dancy, “On Some of Aristotle’s First Thoughts about Substances”, Philosophical Review 84 (1975), pp. 338-378, who wrongly asserts that Aristotle tends to use “predicated of” instead of “said of” where it is words that are in question (p. 356). 41 On this formula see H. Wagner, Ueber das aristotelische pollachBs legetai to on ”, Kant Studien 53 (1961/62), pp. 75-91. 42 Take, e. g., Metaphysics Z 1, 1028a10-15; the literal meaning of what is said

of Inquiry into Principles ”, in: J. Barnes, M. Schofield, R. Sorabji (eds.),



in line a10 may well be

being is mentioned. However, in lines a14-15 “being” is no longer mentioned.

Aristotle switches from mention to use,

that is signified by the word

to ride over these junctions. 43 For some penetrating remarks on this matter see E. Tugendhat, TI KATA TINOS (Freiburg & Munich, 1958), p. 23.

‘I the term being is used in several senses ”. In other words,

for being here is clearly the sort of thing

being ”. - The ambitious translation of H. Apostle tends


Andreas Graeser

to one another in ways which Aristotle attempts to clarify by the use of expressions such as “belong to”, “be in”, “coincide with”, “f~ll~~”,“said of”, “predicated of”, etc., not all of which are interchangeable salva veritate. For Aristotle, the “is” of predication cames various values; it somehow is affected by the paint that the respective subject and predicate entities are coated with. Much of Aristotle’s philosophical analysis is devoted to an inquiry into the structure of this very ontological relation. Accordingly, he came to recognize ‘accidents’ - that is, references of non substantial predi- cates. Language, which he takes to consist of symbols of mental events that in

turn are approximations to and likenesses of

posedly mirrors this basic structure. Just as a sentence “Socrates is white” purports to articulate a thing-like-relation that holds between two under- lying things, so sentences (logoi) in general are “true similarly as things are”. 45 The correspondence theory of truth that is being invoked here is a rather crude one, one that implies that what nouns and adjectives (or the equivalent verbal phrases) stand for are in fact particulars, either substan- tial or non substantial ones. 46 It is obvious, however, that this simplistic outlook will not do once we have to deal with expressions for two-place-predicates and other nice- ties. Apparently Aristotle was in for the kind of trouble experienced by the

younger Russell. Unlike Russell, however, he did not think that he had to extend his meaning-postulate to prepositions. 47 But that did not prevent him from considering all expressions for predicates to refer to real entities alike. Even though one may seriously disagree over quite a number of issues relating to the notorious question, whether or not the position Aristotle assumes with regard to these matters in the Categories (if they are his work) should be regarded as being on a par with what he says in the Metaphysics, it is obvious that non-substantial things such as qualities, quantities etc. continue their existence elevated as things-that-are (om).48 They exist precisely because there are things such as substances that are qualified by them. 49 As for the so called universals, one cannot be that sure after all.

real entities (pragrnata), 44 sup-

44 Cf. De Interpretatione 16a3-8; for a good account of this text see N. Kretz-

man, Aristotle on Spoken Sound”, in: 1. Corcoran (ed), Ancient Logic and its Modern Interpretations (Dordrecht & Boston, 1974), pp. 3-22. 45 De lnterpretatione 19a33; two possible lines of interpretation have been

Satz und Tatsache ”, in: H. Delius, G. Patzig (eds.), Argu-

indicated by G. Patzig,

Festschrift fiir J. Konig (Gottingen, 1964), p. 170, reprinted in G. Patzig,


Spruche und Logik (Gottingen, 1970), p. 39. 46 Cf. G. M. E. Anscombe, Three Philosophers (above, note 36), pp. 8-9.

47 Cf., e. g., Aristotelis Fragmenta 166 (Rose, ed.).

48 Cf. Metaphysics Z 1, 1028a18-20.

49 Cf., e. g., K. Specht, Das ontologische Problem der Qualitaten bei Aristote- les ”, Kunt Studien 55 (1964), pp. 102-118.

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


Aristotle maintained the realist theory of meaning that he inherited from Plato; however, he did not like the ideas and tried to do away with them, yet in the Categories species and genera count as “secondary substances”, although Aristotle admits that this classification may seem misleading in that it tends to render the universals as exemplifications of what he calls “a particular something” (tode ti). By contrast, in the Metaphysics Aristotle claims that universals must not be regarded as substances (cf. e. g. 1038b8- 9). However, there is evidence to the effect that the form of a “particular something” has to be regarded as a universal (1034a5-6). And from the discussion of substance we may safely infer that Aristotle was prepared to argue that “substance” means “form” (cf. e. g. 1032b1-4, 1033b17). There is a dilemma. 50 We had better leave this matter undecided. We may as well return to the distinction between substantial entities such as genuine particulars on the one hand, and non-substantial entities on the other. This distinction clearly evolves from the criterion of predicability. Terms signifying substances may not enter the predicate position, Aristotle says, and terms signifying things other than substances may not be treated as subjects. Elsewhere he seems to recognize, however, that universals (that is, their names) may enter the subject position. Aristotle’s account of this mat- ter can be indentified as the “traditional doctrine” alluded to in Strawson’s Individuals. Yet Aristotle was in no position to exploit fully the possible line of his argument. Partly because of confusions in his argument, he did not furnish adequate explanations for this matter. Much of what he is saying concerning predication in good logical form and improper predication in is need of further clarification. This is particularly true of those kinds of state- ments that he takes as expressing some sort of inverse ontology, that is, claims to the effect that a genuine substance is allegedly predicated of a genuine non-substance. Many the same kinds of problems occur, I submit, in connection with Aristotle’s account of perceptual judgements such as “The white is Socrates”.51 Not only does he fail to realize that what or- dinarily he would consider to be an instance of ‘improper predication’ is, in fact, a statement expressing an identity relation. He also seems to be unaware of his treating the white both as some F and F-thing. 57 From the

50 This dilemma has been brought out well by I. Lesher, “Aristotle on Form,

Substance, and Universals ”, Phronesis 16 (1971),pp. 169-171. 51 On perceptual judgements see S. Cashdollar, Aristotle’s Account of Incidental


52 See the present author’s article Aristotle’s Framework of Sensibilia ”, in G. E.

R. Lloyd, G. E. L. Owen (eds.), Proceedings of the Vllth Symposium Aristotelicum (Cambridge Univ. Press, forthcoming).

”, Phronesis 18 (1973),pp. 156-175.


Andreas Graeser

way Aristotle expresses himself it would seem that he regards the white of this object as a particular. The same may be said with regard to his treat- ment of the predicate being, as can be seen from his notion of focal mean- ing. 53 However, it is not just the class of non-substantial entities that escapes into darkness. Much the same occurs with Aristotle’s notion of “substanceyy. “Substanceyycertainly is a classification, but whether primarily of things or concepts (words) seems difficult to determine. 54. As it is impossible to review all of what should be said concerning this matter, let me just focus on some specific points. The syntactical behaviour of the Greek word “ousia” is such that it may occur in two distinct types of grammatical en- vironment. It may occur in sentences like “X is an ousiu” or in “Y is the ousiu of 2”. These two distinct types of grammatical environment 55 one of which shows ousiu carrying a dependent genitive, apparently have been recognized by Aristotle in the concluding section of the respective chapter in the ‘PhilosophicalLexicon’. 56 Yet it seems that he did not attach much signi- ficance to this distinction. In fact, there is evidence to the effect that he tends to assimilate the conceptual status of substance, to that of substance,. Per- haps he thought that what a proposition such as “Y is the ousia of 2” im- plies is that Y is a substance just like X,and that hence he was entitled to treat both types of substances as conceptual equals. In fact, by extending the notion of “a particular something” and “separate” to essence-like-substances (i. e., substance,) he makes this type of substance look similar to the type of entity which he had defined with reference to these terms in the first place, and he almost blurs to above distinction. And when he suggests that some things are “no different from their substances”, the above distinction collapses completely. Yet on the whole, it would seem that Aristotle did not want this distinction to collapse. He seems to have wanted to extend his notion of the fundamentally predicative structure of reality even to the

53 The notion of “focal meaning” entered the discussion via Owen’s “Logic

of Aristotle ”, in: I. During, G. E. L. Owen

(eds.), Arisrotle and Pluto in the Mid-Fourth Century (Goteborg, 1960), pp. 163-190.

See, however, also K. E. Specht, Ober die primare Bedeutung der Worter bei Aristo-

”, Kant Studien 51 (1959/1960), pp. 102-113, and G. Patzig, Theologie und Onto-

logie in der Metaphysik des Aristoteles ”, Kanr Studien 52 (1960/1961), pp. 185-219. 54 Cf. G. E. M. Anscombe, Three Philosophers (above, note 36), p. 12. 55 Attention was paid to this matter by, e. g., D. Cousin, “Aristotle’s Doctrine

and Metaphysics in Some Earlier Works


of Substance”, Mind 42 (1933), pp. 319-373; 44 (1935), pp. 168-185, and R. M Dancy, Sense and Contradiction. A study in Aristotle (Dordrecht & Boston, 1975), p. 95. 56 Metaphysics 1017b23-28; for a different account of this passage see J. Deniger,

Philosophie des Aristoteles (Meisenheim, 1961), p. 75, following

Thomas Aquinas, In Meraph. 903-904 (Cathala, ed.), p. 209.

Wahres Sein in der

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


range of genuine particulars, such as the ones formerly called “primary substances”. Although he insists that substances are the ultimate subjects of predication, he nevertheless finds it possible to suggest that substance in the sense of form, being “a particular something” and “separate” in that it can be isolated by thought or reflection, is some real component, just as matter. The way in which these fundamental components seem to relate to each other is again that of ‘predication’. It is because of this kind of metaphysical relationship that Aristotle’s ontology becomes interesting, in that it inevitably tends to call for further discussion of the actual status of what Aristotle understands by “matter” and “form” respectively. Are “mat- ter” and “form” philosophical categories and conceptual tools rather than real entities after all? I doubt that this question can be answered conclusively. However, if “matter” and “form” stand for real entities, much of Aristotle’s efforts on behalf of the articulation of a criterion for assigning dissimilar ontological correlates to different types of expressions would have been in vain. In any case, the results of Aristotle’s inquiry into the basic structure of reality are disappointing. Once the essentialist’s notion of substance in the sense of form prevails over the grammarian’s concept of what was called “primary substance” the fundamental recognition of basic differences, such as the ones between names and general terms, or subject and predicate position, no longer looks like an irreducible distinction. What the Aristotelian ontol- ogy amounts to is, on this interpretation, a classification of “things-that- are” - one that evolves from the notion that whatever can be said about a given object belongs to the realm of existing things. It has been largely because of his realist theory of meaning that much of Aristotle’s philosophy provoked criticism on the part of the Stoics. They held that what is said are “things signified” (s2malnomena) and “things meant” (lekta) rather than “things-that-are”. These lekta 57 are signified by their respective linguistic expression and subsist along with a rational presen- tation, one that can be articulated in speech. 58 But the sense of a sign is

57 On the lekton as that what is meant see, e. g., W. & M. Kneale, The Devel-

of Logic (Oxford 1962), p. 75; G.Watson, The Stoic Theory of Knowledge

(Belfast, 1966), p. 41 prefers rendering this term as that which can be expressed ”.

In the article mentioned above (note 32) I argue that Iekton should be adopted in the sense of what is meant. 58 Cf. Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta I1 61; the specific character of a logikk

is its ability to be articulated. What is presented can be revealed by speech;

A. A. Long, Language and Thought in Stoicism ”, in: A. A. Long (ed.), Problems

in Stoicism (London, 1971), p. 83. The

is ambiguous, see U. Egli,




term logikos”

Zur Stoischen Dialektik (Bern & Basel, 1967), p. 18, and the present author’s Zenon von Kition. Positionen und Probleme, p. 29 n.16.


Andreas Graeser

clearly distinct from its associated idea, and the Stoics claimed that there is no body corresponding to the thing meant. Historians, when pointing to the essentially materialist position assumed by the Stoics with regard to matters of existence, tend to let themselves be caught in the snares of Pla- tonic and Neoplatonic polemics and thus fail to realize precisely what the original source of the controversy was about. It is important to bear in mind that what the Stoics were interested in was a fundamentally intensional theory of meaning. Not only did they hold that what words mean are incorporeal entities that somehow belong to the sign by which they are signified and yet coexist with rational thought, they also insisted that there is no isomorphic correlation between thought on the one hand and things-that-are on the other. Unlike Aristotle, they implied that ontological analysis is bound to be subjective or functional rather in that it is man’s mind that superimposes its concepts on reality. In other words, there is no Aristotelian thing-like body of complex entities cor- responding to our statements. One of the key terms employed by the Stoics comes in with the expression “upon reflection” (kar’ epinoian). It is “upon reflection” that we arrive at logical constituents such as “parts” and “wholes”, “cause” or “event”, even when the physical components are in- separable. 59 And it is “upon reflection” that we arrive at a conceptual under- standing of reality in so far as it can be articulated in meaningful discourse. The Stoics were interested in organizing the surrounding world in terms relating to the disposition of universal matter, and they accordingly showed considerable interest in the problem of how the facts of nature could be converted into descriptive language. “All that is real is existing substance”, Posidonius is said to have emphasized, and “as far as reality is concerned this existing substance is different from matter only in thought”. 6o He may have added that God too, is more of a Fregean ’sense’, that is, something connoted rather than denoted. He seems to have recognized structure (lo- gos) and its demiurgic counterpart matter (hyZ2) as contributions of func- tional thought. There is evidence to the effect that he so called “principles” (archai) God, matter or activity and passivity were like time, space, and the void, regarded as incorporeals (ashara). 61 In other words, while tra- ditional ontology proceeded from the tacit assumption that terms like “mat- ter”, “form”, “God”, and “principle” have genuine denotations, the Stoics

59 Cf. G. Watson, The Stoic

Theory of Knowledge (above, note 57), p. 42 n. 1

(with regard to Stoicorum Veterum Frugmenta I1 408.409).

60 L. Edelstein, The Philosophical System of

Posidonius ”, American Journal

of Philology 57 (1936), p. 317. 61 See the present author’s Zenon von Kition. Positionen und Probleme, pp. 94-107.

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


thought of them as indicating meanings and providing contributions of func- tional thought.

In this context, it is important to bear in mind that the Stoics had no word to express our concept of denotation. In fact, the traditional verb for semantic relations (sErnainein) on a par with our “mean”, “signify”, and “denote”, in Stoic semantics exclusively designates a relation that holds between a sign and its sense. The absence of a term for expressing the con- cept of denotation may be due to the fragmentary state of the sources that account for all we know about Stoic logic. However, I do not think that the absence of a term for expressing the concept of denotation should be explained simply in reference to bad philological luck. There is evidence to the effect that the Stoics favoured a rather narrow concept of reference, one that is based on the notion of deixis. Consider that in Stoic logical theory, the basic type of singular propositions, on whose truth depends that of others, is what was called “definite proposition”, one in which the subject referred to is not indicated by a proper name but by deixis: “This (man) is walking”. The Stoics held that the indefinite proposition (i. e., “Someone is walking”) and the intermediate case with a proper name or a common

walking”, “A man is walking”) become true when

noun (i. e., “Socrates is

a corresponding definite proposition is true of a subject at presently existing, indicated by deixis. 62 Also notice that what proper names stand for are, according to Stoic theory, not individuals but what they called individual qualities. The most complete account of Stoic semantics is the one given by Sextus. It reads as follows: “The Stoics say that three things are linked together, that which is signified, that which signifies, and the object; of these that which signifies is speech, as for example, ‘Dion’, that which is signified is the thing itself which is revealed by it and which we apprehend as subsisting with our thought but the barbarians do not understand although they hear the spoken word, while the object is that which exists outside, as for example Dion himself. Of these, two are corporeal, that is speech and the object, while one is incorporeal, that is the thing signified, i. e. the lekton which is true or false”. 63 (This account is misleading in that it suggests that all lekta are either true or false. In fact, the semantic predicates “true” and “false”

62 Cf. C. H. Kahn, “Stoic Logic and Stoic Logos”, Archiv fur Geschichre der Philosophie 51 (1969), pp. 159-160. 63 Sroicorum Veterum Frugmentu I1 161; further see R.Haller, Untersuchungen zum Bedeutungsproblem in der antiken und mittelalterlichen Philosophie ”, Archiv fur Begriffsgeschichre 7 (1962), pp. 78-87, and A. A. Long, in: Problems in Stoicism (above, note 58), p. 94.


Andreas Graeser

were applied to assertoric Zekta only, that is, to what the Stoics called axid-

mata. 64)

Let us further examine their semantics. With regard to significant speech, which indicates the thing thought, the Stoics were accustomed to recognize at least four “elements” or “parts” which are, in fact, classifications of words. Of these it seems proper for us to speak in terms of syntactic catego- ries. They were labelled as proper name or common name respectively, verb,

connective particle (including prepositions), and article (including demon-

strative pronouns). According to its classification in a respective category, each linguistic sign is, in Stoic theory, indicative of a meaning which is said to subsist with our thought. These syntactic categories have semantic counter- parts. That is to say, the much discussed terms subject, qualified, disposed, and relatively disposed are probably meant to serve as classifications of the basic types of meaning signified by linguistic expressions according to their classification in different syntactic categories. Thus a sign belonging to the class of significant expressions referred to by “proper name” signifies a meaning which conveys an “individual quality”, such as ‘Socrates’ whereas a sign belonging to the class of words called “common name” is indicative of a meaning that conveys a “common quality” such as ‘man’, ‘horse’. Let us next consider verb: The Greek technical term ist “rh&ma”, which even before Plato, had been taken to denote a sign that indicates any affection of the subject named or anything which characterizes it. A rh&ma in Stoic theory signifies a predicate (kategorh&ma).It is by no means sure, however, whether or not the Stoics managed to take into account predicative expres- sions consisting of an adjective (or noun) and the copula. In any case, from

64 That the Stoic axiBrnatn are not exactly propositions has been pointed out by

M. Frede, Die Sroische Logik (Gottingen, 1974), pp. 48 ff. - It is important to realize

that the Stoic axiBmata differ from the meanings postulated of eternal assertoric state- ments in that many if not most of them are temporally indefinite rather than eternal, timeless or omnitemporal. In other words, unlike analytic sentences which abstract

from reference to particular objects or groups and unlike the timeless sentences of e. g., mathematics, and unlike law-sentences which are omnitemporal and refer, if at all, to open classes, most of the sentences mentioned as expressing complete assertoric lekta such as ‘I Dion is running” or “It is day” are definitely not temporally unre- stricted. They are not on a par with the sentences to which we assent or from which we dissent once for all. Rather they seem to be sentences whose meaning or content clearly depends of the circumstances in which they are uttered. To many modern philosophers and logicians who try to avoid using sentences of this kind wherever possible these Stoic axi6rnata would be on a par with what is known as occasion- sentences. In fact, the uxiBrnata seem to differ from propositions in that they are temporally indefinite in the same way as occasion sentences. From this it followed,

as was pointed out by J. Hintikka (Time and Necessity. Studies in Aristotle’s Theory

(Oxford, 1973), p. 84), that the Stoics spoke freely of changes in the

truth values of lekta.

of Modality

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


the semantic point of view the verb undoubtedly belongs in the category cal- led disposition. We know that the Stoics liked to explain states of affairs expressed by a sentence such as “Socrates is running” in terms of reference to the subject’s soul being in a certain disposition, and there is good reason to suppose that their attributing a disposition, D, so something qualified, a, has to be related to their view of the external world as a moving conti- nuum. While it is not difficult to see that the categories called qualification and disposition respectively were meant to serve as classifications of the basic types of meaning carried by any expression belonging to the respective syn- tactic categories called name and verb, less evidence is available in the case of the categories called subject and relation. Without entering into the dis- cussion of the intricate theory of articles and pronouns, we may call atten- tion to the fact that within the range of what they called “definite articles” the Stoics recognized a subclass the members of which apparently approxim- ate Russell’s notion of “logically proper name”. In fact, as the truth of an indefinite or intermediate proposition depends on the truth of the corres- ponding definite one it seems sound to infer that the definite article cor- responds to the category called “subject”. As for the category called “rela- tion”, one may feel tempted to make use of what the Stoics called “syndes- moi”. Yet connective particles (including prepositions) cannot be presumed to carry meanings of their own. In fact, Aristotle maintained that connective particles have syncategorematicmeanings only and therein express a relation that actual carriers of meanings have to one another. However, the Stoics might have held a different opinion. This we do not know. On the whole it would make more sense to allow for the possibility that the Stoic, when thinking of relation, had in mind deficient lekta such as the ones signified by transitive verbs and other expressions for two-place-predicates. The Stoic theory of syntax and semantics clearly suggests a corres- pondence between linguistic expressions as carriers of meaning and the meanings themselves signified by them. But how does this set of categories relate to reality? Upon a close look at the evidence accessible to us we can identify an- other set of terms called categories: the self-sufficient, that which is accord- ing to the differerztia,and things relatively disposed. 66 From the evidence

65 Cf. A. C. Lloyd, “Grammar and Metaphysics in the Stoa”, in: Problems in



der stoischen Ethik

Stoic Categories ”, in: J. Brunschwig (ed.), Les Stoiciens et leur logique (Pans, 1977,


(Berlin, 1933), pp. 70-84; I have dealt with this passage in “The

problems involved in this testimony has been provided by 0. Rieth,

(above, note 58), p. 74.

66 Cf. Stoicorum

Veterum Fragmenta

I1 403;

an extensive





Andreas Graeser

that can be gained from the account given by Simplicius, it is quite clear that the members of this set of terms are meant to indicate classes of things- that-are. In any case, it is not difficult to see that this classification cannot

be equated with the

the ones referred to as semantic categories. In fact, it would seem strange to expect that both sets of terms might be equated in the first place. Why should the Stoics have been anxious to work out more than one classification of things-that-are? 67 Let us see if a consideration of the ontological impact deriving from these terms serving as classificationsof beings gets us anywhere closer to an under- standing of the way in which meanings are supposed to mirror reality. I think it is important to realize that the classification of basic types of things furnished by the so called ontological categories still allows for different interpretations. They differ from each other in that they assume various degrees of ontological commitment. A strict Aristotelian reading of these categories would most likely lend itself to the belief that they stand for classes of different types of being and thus must be considered as “natural” classes of extra-linguistic entities. (This interpretation can be traced back to the one put forward by Plotinus. 68) The most significant feature of this understanding of the Stoic categories would be that each extra-linguistic entity is, in virtue of its own existence, bound to fall under its appropriate category. Another way of trying to make sense of the classification provided by these categories may evolve from the assumption that Stoic ontology, which conceives the total sum of existence in terms of a moving continuum, is not likely to commit itself to the position that physical existents eo ips0 belong to one category only. That is to say, in referring to things as being particulars of such-and-such kind, we must be aware that we are approaching reality through predicates and propositions and that we are talking about segments of the universe, and that it is our mind which divides and articu- lates reality, arriving at logical constituents even where the physical compo- nents are inseparable. Hence it is by meaningful language which always implies a connection between word and reality that we articulate reality. To talk about something as being in a certain disposition need not prevent

us from talking about it in terms of reference to something individually

four categories that have been mentioned so far, i. e.

67 H.4. Kramer takes both classifications as classes of existents, see his Platonis-

mus und Hellenistische Philosophie (Berlin & New York, 1972), pp. 85-86.

68 On Plotinus’ treatment of the Stoic categories see the present author’s Plotinus

and the Stoics. A preliminary study (Leiden, 1972), pp. 87-100.

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


qualified. 69 Accordingly, the categories may be called general reference classes. 70 One problem that deserves careful consideration is indicated by the question of how the Stoic categories relate to those of Aristotle. Once we realize that the Stoics recognized at least two kinds of categories, the noto- rious problem looks less frightening. We are quite able to understand why the Stoics could not simply adopt the Aristotelian categories which were partly about language and partly about things-that-are but basically about things that names signify. 71 It is certainly not difficult to imagine that the Aristotelian categories, had they been adapted to Stoic philosophy, would not be about things-that-are but about incorporeal meanings signified by expressions. What is signified, in Stoic theory, is a lekton, which is to say the meaning carried by significant words. One set of categories does, in fact, concern classifications of the basic types of meanings signified by words according to their belonging to syn- tactical categories, while the other set of terms serves as a classification of ontological constituents (i. e., property-entities and carriers of properties) which by their very nature are bound to fall under one appropriate cate- gory. The existence of these two sets of categories can be accounted for, provided it is understood that the Aristotelian categories once adapted to Stoic philosophy cannot any longer concern both linguistic items and extra- linguistic items. So much then for this matter. Now the Stoic shared Herac- litus’ belief that Logos was part of nature; they also claimed that language exists “by nature”. So there is a connection between word and reality. Pre- cisely how this connection was perceived seems difficult to determine. For if the lekta are, in fact, patterns of thought which mind naturally tends to impose on reality 72 then it is difficult to see how the Stoics may have believ- ed that the “true proposition has a structure corresponding to a similar

69 J. Pinborg asserts: Ein Ausschnitt der Wirklichkeit gehort nicht eo ips0 in ein bestimrntes Bezugssystern, sondern kann verschieden zugeordnet werden, je nach der

Frage, die gestellt wird

sondern das Produkt des menschlichen Intellektes und ihrer Abstraktion, ein Ergebnis der Artikulierung ”, see his Das Sprachdenken der Stoa und Augustins Dialektik ”, Classica et Medievalia 23 (1962), p. 151. 70 Cf. J. Christensen, An Essay on the Unity of Stoic Philosophy (Copenhagen, 1962), p. 48. 71 Cf. J. L. Ackrill, Aristotle’s Categories and De Interpretatlone (Oxford, 1963), p. 71; also see G. Patzig, Bernerkungen zu den Kategorien des Aristoteles ”, in: E. Scheibe, G. Siissrnann (eds.), Einheit und Vielheit. Festschrift fur C. F. von Weizsak- ker (Gottingen, 1973), p. 69 (“ Die onta, von denen Aristoteles in der Kategorienschrift spricht, sind also die Dinge, sofern wir sinnvoll von ihnen sprechen konnen ).

72 Cf. G. Watson, The Stoic Theory of Knowledge (above, note 57), p.40; also see, however, A. A. Long, in: Problems in Stoicism (above, note 58), p. 94.

Die Dinge, wie wir sie auffassen, sind nicht natiirlich’


Andreas Graeser

structure in the object describeP73 or that “features of description there- fore were features of nature”. 74 *

As far as the conceptual framework of linguistic usage goes it would seem fair to say that ancient Greek philosophy was not really well disposed towards the recognition of an “ontology of facts”. There was a general tendency to view knowledge as a kind of immediate relation to its objects, - that is, as some sort of direct relation between the knower and the objects of knowledge based on the paradigm of acquaintance. This tendency had a natural linguistic counterpart in the use of verbs for knowing together with a direct grammatical object. Recently J. Hintikka has argued, convin- cingly in my view, that the assimilation of the logic of the propositional construction to that of the direct-object-construction should not be regarded just as a humus heap of confusions over linguistic matters, for it seems to be closely connected with the “situational character” of Greek epistemology such as the reliance on “methods of individuation” 75 which in turn depend on the personal situation. It is this situational character based on the para- digm of acquaintance which clearly favoured the rise of a conception of a world of things and objects rather than a world of facts and states of affairs. The world under consideration was one that would not yet have to be approached through predicates or propositions but through names pinning down massive bodies and the references of mass terms as well as places and persons, and thus rendering all things as equally real. What the world is made up from are things, character-powers, qualities or even things- components of objects. Yet the very fact that early Greek philosophers came to reckon with paradoxical entities such as quality-things, focussing on component ingre- dients of objects etc., indicates that some day they would have to realize that the paradigm of acquaintance could not really take care of the majority of individuals to be encountered. In other words, there were tensions inherent in the naive metaphysics of things, that is, tensions indicated - as was pointed out by A. P. D. MoureIatos - by the incompatibility between the requirement of thinghood and the recognition of polarity for instance. The first man to perceive this incompatibility, according to Mourelatos follow- ing Popper, was Heraclitus. His and Parmenides’ philosophies can be re- constructed as offering “alternative resolutions of the tensions implicit” in

73 W. & M. Kneale, The Development of Logic (above, note 57), p. 153. 74 A. C. Lloyd, in: Problems in Stoicism (above, note 58), p. 71. 75 J. Hintikka, Knowledge and its Objects in Plato (above, note 6), p. 21.

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


the naive metaphysics of things, and Heraclitus takes the revolutionary step of abandoning the postulate of thinghood. Parmenides is seen as counter- revolutionary, radicalizing both the “postulate of thingshood and the rec- ognition of polarity”. 76

Revolution or not, Eleaticism became quite popular. Subsequent ontolo- gists subjected themselves to the Parmenidean law of being and conformed, in one way or another, to the new radicalization inherent in the conception of thinghood. Moreover, Eleaticism proved influential in that it prompted at least two theses seemingly incompatible with any common sense notion whatsoever. The theses in question were, first, that it is impossible to believe or assert anything false; and second, that it is impossible to contradict. 77 Both claims derive from the notion that, if you speak at all, what you say (i. e. your statement), whatever it may be, necessarily is. Therefore nobody can say what is not, and therefore nobody can say what is false; as the notion of thinghood extended to the references of sentences expressing factual proposition the world seemed about to become a pile of nameable com- plexes, real segments of existence. In any case, what is important to bear in mind is that any such theory of sentence meaning and truth proceeds from the assumption that ‘saying-tsaying somethingAsaying what is prem- ise’ commits us to the position that to any statement p there corresponds an object rpl annexed to it, and that factual propositions in general must be treated as claims involving an assertion of existence of this very object rpl annexed to it. In fact, much of Plato’s discussion of the problem of falsity and truth may be taken to suggest that the truth-condition of the statement made by a sentence “p” was held to be the following:

True p

Not only does the extension of the notion of thinghood to the references of sentences square perfectly with the paradigm of acquaintance and lead to a display view of sentence meaning, it also is consistent with the notion of to be real as the fundamental meaning of “be” in philosophical Greek, particularly when its construction is absolute. In other words, whether states of affairs identified by descriptive sentences or straight particulars denoted by names, they were thought of as nameable portions of reality. In any case, as long as sentences were treated as names and properties of sentences

(9x) (x = ‘PI).78

76 A. P. D. Mourelatos, “Heraclitus, Permenides, and the Naive Metaphysics of Things (above, note 7), p. 47. 77 These theses are ascribed to various thinkers, see G. Nuchelmans, Theories of the Proposition (above, note ll), p. 9.

78 Cf. D. Wiggins, “Sentence Meaning, Negation, and Plato’s Problem of Not- Being”, in: G. Vlastos (ed.), Pluto I. Metaphysics and Epistemology (above, note 231, p. 278.


Andreas Graeser

tended to be applied to things sentences are about, the veridical “is” does not in itself make the ancient philosophers’ world of things turn into a totality of what is the case. More was needed. And the Stoics might have been the ones to provide it. Approaching reality through predicates and propositions rather than through names, they were the first to realize that there was no body corresponding to our statements. In contrast, the prede- cessors of Plato thought there was (see above, p. 364). While a modern philosopher may be prepared to argue that a fact somehow is a citizen of two worlds - a linguistic entity in so far as it is defined by the true sentence asserting it, an extra-linguistic entity in so far as it is commonly held to account for what makes the very sentence true79 - the predecessors of Plato assimilated the conceptual status of facts to that of nameable objects. Considering that the paradigm of acquaintance prevailed as did the notion that factual propositions have to be regarded as claims of existence of the object annexed to it, there was not really much that could be done on behalf of a clarification of the various issues involved in this matter.

However, Plato did a great deal to dispel some of the fog. For one thing, he did away with the notion that it is impossible to believe or assert anything false, and that it is impossible to contradict. (To be sure, the definite account of this matter provided in the Sophist ao does not convey the impression that Plato reached a satisfactory understanding of the problem in question, for it seeks to replace the form of Not-Being by that of Difference.Yet the very fact that Plato found it possible to talk about what is not, taking it

it, perhaps, the sense of a

second-order concept word, shows that he was about to free himself from the snares of Eleaticism. He did so at the expense of recognizing classes of ideas of negative predicates such as “not-large” and becoming thus more than ever liable to Ockham’s razor.) Plato also promoted the notion that the spatio-temporal world must be approached through propositions rather than through terms reflecting “natural” categories of things. His postulation of a variety of ontological configurations that would account for what makes certain types of propositions true or false (above, p. 369) may be taken to suggest that in this matter Plato would have sided with the Stoics against Aristotle. However, the general impression one gets from the way Plato

back into the sphere

of Logosa7, and making

79 See G. Patzig, Satz und Tatsache (above, note 45).

80 Cf.Sophist 263b; see D. Keyt, “Plato on Falsity”, in:

Exegesis and Argument

(above, note 3), pp. 285-305; J.

Sophist ”, in: Parrerns of Thought in Plato (above, note 6), pp. 192-212.

Kostman, “‘False Logos and Not-Being in Plato’s

81 Cf.D. Wiggins, op. cit. (above, note 78), p. 302. 82 For some good remarks regarding this matter this see W. Kamlah, Phtons

On Language, Thought, and Reality in Ancient Greek Philosophy


expresses himself on this matter is that the paradigm of acquaintance is still dominant. In fact, it is this very tendency to think of knowledge in terms of some sort of direct acquaintance with the object of knowledge, e. g., in terms of seeing or witnessing them, which in both Plato and Aristotle com- bines with the tendency to think of temporally indefinite sentences as the typical vehicle of communication to the notion that we can have knowl- edge only of what is eternal or at the very least forever changeless and stable. 83 In any case, Plato prefers speaking of hypotheses which are clearly meant to be propositions of some kind as things, treating them as objects of acquaintance. And in discussing topics relating to what may be called the logic of explanation, Plato tends to assimilate the non-linguistic counterpart of the Greek word “aitia” (“cause”, “explanation”, “reason”) to the con- ceptual status of things. Aristotle too tends to identify the causes, so called, with actual things, a notion that may well be in agreement with the sug- gestion made by Moravcsik that the main classification of the four types of aitiai arises out of reflection on the nature of an Aristotelian substance of which the “causes” are aspects. 85 Although the syntactical behaviour of the term aitia clearly was such that it could occur in two distinct types of gram- matical environment, 86 the linguistic option had not yet been perceived

83 Cf. J. Hintikka, Time and Necessity (above, note 64), p. 72. - Let me quote in full what Hintikka has to say on the question of how the idea of genuine knowl- edge as an eyewitness-knowledge is applied to the kind of knowledge that can be expressed by means of temporally indefinite sentences in the case that things are not under our present observation: “When does his claim ‘I have seen it’ amount

to a conclusive evidence that the things are now as he says they are? Only if the thing in question never changes. Only on this condition does it follow from his earlier


in the interval between his seeing it and making the statement. If the snow sometimes melts from Mount Olympus, then the fact that 1 have seen the snow there does not go to show that there is snow there now. Only if the snow never melts does the 1 have seen it’ assertion amount to knowledge concerning the present state of affairs. Hence, the two tendencies I mentioned made it very natural for the Greeks to adopt the view that there can be genuine knowledge only of what is unchangeable (and perhaps also

of what is being perceived at the present moment). (op. cit., pp. 74-75).

New Essays on Pluto

and Aristotle

85 J. E. M. Moravcsik, Aristotle on Adequate Explanation ”, Synthese 28 (1974),

pp. 3-17, esp. p. 5, 10. However, Moravcsik holds that For though it was emphasized above that the classification of aitiai is a classification of what elements of reality can do, or how they can function, the scheme itself is not a categorical classification of reality (op.cit., p. 10). 86 In discussing the notion of aitia in Plato’s Phedo, E. Burge points out that

in many expressions


of some kind: “Even where a rejected form of explanation is expressed propositionally as a general law, it is hard not to feel that what answers to the aitia is the hot and the cold rather than the whole clause in which they are named ”, Phronesis 16 (1971), p. 3 (above, note 34).

. If the puported object of his knowledge changes, it may have changed

84 Cf., e. g., K. Hare, “Plato and the Mathematicians”, in:

(above, note 4), pp. 22-23.

of candidates for being reckoned aitiai, the ‘what’ of the assumed

because of what corresponds not to a proposition but to an object or entity


Andreas Graeser

as a philosophical option. By contrast, the Stoics not only distinguished be- tween to aition (i. e., that which causes) and aitiu (i. e., the bgos of that which causes) respectively, but also insisted that the so called “effect” is no body but something incorporeal.*7 Thus it is that with regard to the pene- trating refinement of traditional conceptual assumptions, the scattered frag- ments of the philosophical writings of Chrysippus and other Stoics seem to ring in a new age for philosophy. 88

Universitat Bern

87 See Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta I 89 and elsewhere. I have discussed this


88 I should like to express gratitude to Professor Bruce Cutler who during his stay as a visiting professor in American Literature at the University of Berne was kind enough to check the English of an earlier draft of this paper. Also I am indebted to various members of the conference for helpful suggestions. In particular I should like to thank Professors Avrum Stroll and Julius Moravcsik. Professor Harold Cherniss was kind enough to send me a number of critical comments. It goes without saying that any errors are my own. Other versions of this topic were presented at the Universi- ties of Amsterdam and Heidelberg where I had the benefit of profiting from discus- sions with Marga Jager and Woldemar Gorler.

in my Zenon von Kition

(above, note 31), pp. 82-89.


Vol. 31,No 3-4 (1977)