Ancient Philosophy Workshop - Self-causation and Unity in Stoicism

Reier Helle MA will present a paper in the Ancient Philosophy Workshop. The paper is entitled: "Self-causation and Unity in Stoicism“.

Abstract:  According to the Stoics, unified bodies – animals, plants, and inanimate natural bodies – each have a single cause of unity: ‘breath’, pneuma. In each such body there is pneuma, which blends with its matter, thereby causing the body to be what it is and unifying it. In animals this pneuma is soul, in plants it is nature, and in inanimate natural bodies it is ‘mere hexis’. Pneuma itself, however, has no distinct cause of unity; on the contrary, our sources indicate that the Stoics think that it is a cause to itself, in virtue of its characteristic tensile motion. Tensile motion is supposed to explain both that pneuma is a cause to itself and that it is able (self-sufficiently) to unify other bodies. As one of our sources point out, it is difficult to see how pneuma can be a cause of this kind, given that it itself is a composite, specifically, a blend of air and fire, and that it has tensile motion because it is such a composite. In this presentation, I examine the Stoic position on pneumatic self-causation, and I propose an account of how pneuma may properly be conceived as self-causing in virtue of tensile motion, despite the fact that it has tensile motion because it is a composite of air and fire.

There may come more material for this presentation but people interested may wish to have a look at Reier’s paper in Phronesis dealing with related issues

Reier Helle is a PhD student in the joint program for Philosophy and Classics at Yale University. Within ancient philosophy, he specializes in the Stoics and their metaphysics; his dissertation is on the Stoic notion of a unified body. He has a Master's degree from the University of Oslo, where he wrote a thesis on Cicero's De Natura Deorum II.


Published Aug. 12, 2019 9:47 AM - Last modified Aug. 13, 2019 4:06 PM