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The Metaphysics of Stoic Corporealism

Vanessa de Harven
From the journal Apeiron

Abstract

The Stoics are famously committed to the thesis that only bodies are, and for this reason they are rightly called “corporealists.” They are also famously compared to Plato’s earthborn Giants in the Sophist, and rightly so given their steadfast commitment to body as being. But the Stoics also notoriously turn the tables on Plato and coopt his “dunamis proposal” that being is whatever can act or be acted upon, to underwrite their commitment to body rather than shrink from it as the Giants do. The substance of Stoic corporealism, however, has not been fully appreciated. This paper argues that Stoic corporealism goes beyond the dunamis proposal, which is simply an ontological criterion for being, to the metaphysics of body. This involves, first, an account of body as metaphysically simple and hence fundamental; second, an account of body as malleable and continuous, hence fit for blending (krasis di’ holou) and composition. In addition, the metaphysics of body involves a distinction between this composition relation seen in the cosmology, and the constitution relation by which the four-fold schema called the Stoic Categories proceeds, e.g. the relation between a statue and its clay, or a fist and its underlying hand. It has not been appreciated that the cosmology and the Categories are distinct — and complementary — explanatory enterprises, the one accounting for generation and unity, the other taking those individuals once generated, and giving a mereological analysis of their identity and persistence conditions, kinds, and qualities. The result is an elegant division of Plato’s labor from the Battle of Gods and Giants. On the one hand, the Stoics rehabilitate the crude cosmology of the Presocratics to deliver generation and unity in completely corporeal terms, and that work is found in their Physics. On the other hand, they reform the Giants and “dare to corporealize,” delivering all manner of predication (from identity to the virtues), and that work is found in Stoic Logic. Recognizing the distinctness of these explanatory enterprises helps dissolve scholarly puzzles, and harmonizes the Stoics with themselves.


Corresponding author: Vanessa de Harven, Philosophy Department, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, USA, E-mail:

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Published Online: 2021-02-11
Published in Print: 2022-04-26

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