Psychological disease and action-guiding impressions in early Stoicism

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 29 (5):784-805 (2021)
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The early Stoics diagnose vicious agents with various psychological diseases, e.g. love of money and love of wine. Such diseases are characterized as false evaluative opinions that lead the agent to form emotional impulses for certain objects, e.g. money and wine. Scholars have therefore analyzed psychological diseases simply as dispositions for assent. This interpretation is incomplete, I argue, and should be augmented with the claim that psychological disease also affects what kind of action-guiding impressions are created prior to giving assent. This proposal respects the Stoic insistence that impression-formation, no less than assent, is an activity of reason. In so far as the wine-lover’s reason is corrupted in a different way from the money-lover’s, the two vicious agents will form different action-guiding impressions when faced with similar stimuli. Here I juxtapose the Stoic account of expertise, according to which experts form more precise action-guiding impressions compared to the amateur, in virtue of possessing a system of grasps (katalēpseis). So expertise enhances, whereas psychological disease degrades, the representational fidelity of the impressions that prefigure action. With these commitments, the Stoics can be seen to offer a nuanced and principled theory of cognitive penetration and to anticipate some recent proposals in epistemology and cognitive science.

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Simon Shogry
Oxford University

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