Foreword: as an Italian student, I hope that I will not make many mistakes in translating the lexicon from my native language to English; sometimes this will happen, and so putting the Italian word in curved braces seems to me the best thing to do to avoid confusion or misinterpretation.

Trying to understand stoic thought (especially stoic logic), I came across the doctrine of anticipation, which is the foundation for discussing stoic nominalism.

I understood that all the representations (rappresentazioni, from the greek phantasia kataleptiké) given by things from the real world leave a sign into the soul; after the representations disappear, what remains is a set of remembrances which, if the representations was of the same kind, is called "experience" (esperienza). The concepts arise from experience by a natural process called anticipation or common concept (nozione comune, form the latin communes notitiae, or from the greek prólepsis).

At this point, my textbook (1) says that

"anticipation is the natural concept/notion of the universal" (or "l'anticipazione è la nozione naturale dell'universale"), from Diog. L, VII, 54.

From there the author starts talking about individual reality, and says that the universal exists only in anticipations, making stoic thought a form of nominalism.

The thing that I don't get is what does it mean for the prólepsis to be the natural notion/concept (nozione naturale) of the universal.

(1) Storia della filosofia, Volume 1; N. Abbagnano; UTET.

  • The English translation has "preconception" for "anticipazione". Oct 14, 2018 at 11:09

1 Answer 1


See English transl of Lives, Book VII (Stoics), 54 :

"The standard of truth they declare to be the apprehending presentation, i.e. that which comes from a real object – according to Chrysippus in the twelfth book of his Physics [...] while Chrysippus in the first book of his Exposition of Doctrine contradicts himself and declares that sensation and preconception are the only standards, preconception being a general notion which comes by the gift of nature (an innate conception of universals or general concepts)."

Thus, it seems that Diogenes Laertius attrbutes to Chrysippus a docrtine about the innate origin ( "gift of nature") of universals ("general concepts").

See also Philosophy of Mind and Stoic Logic and Chrysippus : Epistemology.

For “implanted preconceptions” [prolepseis] see :Matt Jackson-McCabe, The Stoic Theory of Implanted Preconceptions (2004).

  • First of all, thank you! If I understood well, the sentence "preconception is the natural notion of the universal" actually means that a preconception is a universal: preconceptions are notions (concepts, in the common meaning of the term - something like the Aristotelian concept of form, which is intelligible) obtained from a natural process (this is the meaning of "natural") form real things.
    – user35385
    Oct 14, 2018 at 13:37
  • In fact seems to me that the problem with the interpretation of such sentence was only "linguistic": to say that "la prolessi è un concetto generale degli universali" (Diog. L. "Vite e dottrine dei più celebri filosofi", Bompiani) o "l'anticipazione è la nozione naturale dell'universale" is nothing more than a repetition of what I have reported one line above: from real things preconceptions ("le anticipazioni") are (the only) general concepts, obtained by a natural process (gift of nature), from Chrysippus.
    – user35385
    Oct 14, 2018 at 15:06

You must log in to answer this question.