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A propos de l'assentiment stoïcien

Abstract : As a central concept in Stoicism, alongside φαντασία and ὁρμή, assent (συγκατάθεσις), which Zeno introduced into his theory of sensation, founded both Stoic epistemology and Stoic ethics. Like the comprehensive representation, assent was a bone of contention in the debates that opposed Academics and Stoics. Here, a list is given of the various ways in which the Stoics spoke of assent : as a body, a rational living being, a tensional motion of the pneuma of the hegemonic part, an εἶξις envisaged from the viewpoint of its validation, and therefore a judgment and a belief. We also enquire in what sense assent is called upon in the definition of impulse proposed by Arius Didymus, when he affirms that "all impulses are assents", all the more so in that this assertion is followed by the qualification "but the practical impulses contain, in addition, the power to set in motion", implicitly establishing a distinction between practical and non-practical impulses, which has the consequence that all these impulses must be assents. Among the difficulties one encounters when one wishes to analyze the Stoic doctrine of assent, there is one that has been pointed out by some commentators, but little studied : the appearance, in some testimonies, of the concept of εἶξις, "submission". It is not easy, at first glance, to discern in what it consists in rational living beings, and how it is articulated with that of συγκατάθεσις. The indispen-sable attempt at clarification of the relation between these two concepts has allowed us to show that they are inseparable, because they in fact express one and the same act, envisaged according to two different modalities, one of which translates the passivity of the hegemonic part which lets itself be swept along by a representation, and the other of which manifests that this same act, once subject to the control of reason, is a voluntary choice that depends on us. When a εἶξις/συγκατάθεσις is granted out of weakness, and therefore illegitimately, to a representation that lacks self-evidence or is false, the assent is said to be precipi-tous or false. If it is to the true or to the good that one yields and gives one's legitimate assent, the assent is a comprehension, common to the sage and the ordinary man. In addition, this reflection on εἶξις / συγκατάθεσις invites us to ask ourselves whether the Stoics applied these two concepts both to animals and to men, which resurrects the recurrent debate over the possibility of animal assent in Stoicism. Besides the testimonies of Alexander of Aphrodisias and Nemesius that are constantly evoked in favor of such an assent, we have singled out three texts, one of which, and it is a decisive one, by the Stoic Hierocles, points in this direction. Like συγκατάθεσις, the word εἶξις was certainly a technical term of Stoicism. We can therefore enquire into its disappearance from Stoic writings later than Chrysippus, which was not the case for συγκατάθεσις. Perhaps the reason must be sought in its potential danger, of which Chrysippus' successors must rapidly have become aware : εἶξις favors an amalgamation with animals, of which the works of Alexander of Aphrodisias provide a good testimony. What is more, the definition of assent as a εἶξις ὑπ᾽ ἀσθενείας, which implies that man can lose all control of his representations, was an argument that the Academics did not hesi-tate to use to justify their will to suppress assent in the process that moves from representation to action. Finally, in a system that strove to reconcile fate and assent ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν, the presence of the εἶξις risked making the balance swing in favor of determinism, as people like Plutarch or Alexander of Aphrodisias had well understood. Another of the objectives of our contribution is also to show that all the assents of the ordinary man, including his comprehensions -- agreement on this point is not unanimous -- are opinions and weak beliefs, pertaining to ignorance. To support this hypothesis, we appeal to texts by Arius, Cicero (a new interpretation of Lucullus 41 is proposed), and by Sextus, and we point out on this occasion the fundamental role played by the notion of τόνος, both in knowledge and in ethics. In an appendix, we evoke a highly complex passage from Galen (SVF III 172), which has until now been more or less left aside, in which, outside of any Stoic context, there arises a nomenclature of assents (false, precipitous and weak) borrowed, in our opinion, from Stoicism by Galen, who adapts it to his needs. Whereas we lack, to a surprising degree, testimonies on the comprehensions of the ordinary man in Stoicism, this text supports our hypothesis that such comprehensions are weak assents, and therefore faults to the same degree as false or precipitous assents.
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Contributor : Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé <>
Submitted on : Thursday, October 6, 2011 - 9:07:01 AM
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Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé. A propos de l'assentiment stoïcien. Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé. Études sur la théorie stoïcienne de l'action, VRIN, pp.73-236, 2011, Textes et Traditions, n° 22. ⟨halshs-00629478⟩

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