Greek and Roman Logic

Oxford Bibliographies in Classics (2019)
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In ancient philosophy, there is no discipline called “logic” in the contemporary sense of “the study of formally valid arguments.” Rather, once a subfield of philosophy comes to be called “logic,” namely in Hellenistic philosophy, the field includes (among other things) epistemology, normative epistemology, philosophy of language, the theory of truth, and what we call logic today. This entry aims to examine ancient theorizing that makes contact with the contemporary conception. Thus, we will here emphasize the theories of the “syllogism” in the Aristotelian and Stoic traditions. However, because the context in which these theories were developed and discussed were deeply epistemological in nature, we will also include references to the areas of epistemological theorizing that bear directly on theories of the syllogism, particularly concerning “demonstration.” Similarly, we will include literature that discusses the principles governing logic and the components that make up arguments, which are topics that might now fall under the headings of philosophy of logic or non-classical logic. This includes discussions of problems and paradoxes that connect to contemporary logic and which historically spurred developments of logical method. For example, there is great interest among ancient philosophers in the question of whether all statements have truth-values. Relevant themes here include future contingents, paradoxes of vagueness, and semantic paradoxes like the liar. We also include discussion of the paradoxes of the infinite for similar reasons, since solutions have introduced sophisticated tools of logical analysis and there are a range of related, modern philosophical concerns about the application of some logical principles in infinite domains. Our criterion excludes, however, many of the themes that Hellenistic philosophers consider part of logic, in particular, it excludes epistemology and metaphysical questions about truth. Ancient philosophers do not write treatises “On Logic,” where the topic would be what today counts as logic. Instead, arguments and theories that count as “logic” by our criterion are found in a wide range of texts. For the most part, our entry follows chronology, tracing ancient logic from its beginnings to Late Antiquity. However, some themes are discussed in several eras of ancient logic; ancient logicians engage closely with each other’s views. Accordingly, relevant publications address several authors and periods in conjunction. These contributions are listed in three thematic sections at the end of our entry.

Author Profiles

Robby Finley
University of Maine
Justin Vlasits
University of Illinois, Chicago


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