The Stoics’ Understanding of Philosophy of Knowledge

The Stoics’ Understanding of Philosophy of Knowledge

July 1, 2021 Off By Felso

The Stoics are the philosophers who contributed the most to the subject of logic in the First Age, after Aristotle.

Stoics, who interpreted logic as a tool like Aristotle and defined it as the science of rational discourse, divided this science into two areas as rhetoric and dialectic. As they departed from Aristotle and approached Plato on the subject of dialectics, they contrasted dialectics, which they saw as a demonstrative science, a discipline dealing with the true nature of things, with rhetoric, as a practical discipline, in which language and reasoning were the two essential features or aspects of themselves.

When it comes to dialectics, the Stoics gave the first place to the subject of impression, language and thought. According to them, language and thought are not innate elements or capacities that are a priori in man. The ability to speak and think is something that develops in a person after a long period. The human mind is like a tabula rasa at birth, a blank slate well prepared or arranged for printing. In this sense, the empiricism of the Stoics precedes the empiricism of Locke, who argues that the human mind is a blank slate at birth. The first mark that falls or is printed on a blank page is a result of sense perception. Objects other than humans affect the sense organs and cause an impression in the mind. If the impressions are cognitive, that is, if they give rise to the consciousness that they are the result of an object other than the human, and provide the approval of the mind, and therefore, if they are permanent and permanent and give rise to memory-images, the mental act we call perception emerges. The repetition of impressions and the images and records they create in the mind lead to the birth of general concepts. According to the Stoics, although the basis of general concepts is based on experience, concepts such as death, time and space are formed by mental operations such as similarity, analogy, bringing together and contrasting. The mind’s capacity to form general concepts is innate, but for the realization of this capacity, experience, experience of the outside world, is needed.

According to the Stoics, general ideas, which are called common ideas, are formed from impressions and images if they are based on common experiences. These general ideas, which are the same in all people, cannot be wrong. Therefore, impressions and therefore sense perception are the basis of all kinds of materials and all knowledge formed in the mind. The mind can form general ideas, concepts and therefore universal judgments based on impressions. This faculty or faculty of thinking and speaking in the mind, which is one and the same with the universal mind or logos that pervades the entire universe, is called intellect. The human mind can comprehend the world order because the mind in itself and the universal mind are one and the same in their essence. Since there is a rational order in the universe, the human mind, which shares the same rationality, can understand this structure and order and reach its objective knowledge.

As it can be understood from here, the Stoics placed an objective rationality and intelligible reality in the material world, not in a separate world of Ideas. The Stoics, who defend that only particulars, individual beings have a real existence and see universals as purely subjective abstractions, therefore rejected not only Plato’s view of the transcendent universal, but also Aristotle’s understanding of the concrete universal. According to the nominalism and empiricism of the Stoics, knowledge is the knowledge of the individual and sensuous beings that we show as “that”, based on perception and the concepts and general ideas that are the result of perceptions. In this understanding of knowledge, an image is true when it is an exact and true copy of its object, when a concept matches the common qualities of similar things. But the Stoics say that perceptions and concepts can be true and false, an approach that is unacceptable to many philosophers. Accordingly, we need a criterion of knowledge to distinguish right from wrong. For them, the criterion of truth is perceptive perception or design; that is, it is the perception, that is, the clear perception, that compels the soul to give its approval.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook, “History of Philosophy” Ahmet Cevizci