Epicurean Prolepsis - David Glidden 1.0.0

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Excellent article on Epicurean Prolepsis, arguing that both the account of Cicero and of Diogenes Laertius give distorted views of preconceptions.


The paper I presented at the SAGP session was NOT the same as my much longer paper that was subsequently published in Oxford Studies, where I had by then established a fuller philosophical accounting of Epicurean prolepsis as akin to non-conceptual pattern recognition, a purely perceptual facility used by humans and other animals alike. (In this way, my dog recognizes other dogs and distinguishes them from other animals, just as we recognize kinds of things in nature and kinds of situations in our socializing, before we conceptualize and define what we are already habituated to recognizing.) So, the paper I gave to SAGP was more of a prolegomenon to that full accounting in Oxford Studies.

The SAGP paper was more narrowly conceived as a cautious analysis of textual evidence, where I sought to separate the Stoic use of prolepsis as a conceptualized sortal device from the original Epicurean invention of prolepsis as an extended form of aisthesis that recognized patterns presented to our senses over time, much like Aristotle’s commonly sensed perceptual recognitions. I argued that Stoicized sources had been read back into Epicurus by later critics, thereby infecting Epicurean views with the Stoic conceptualized understanding of prolepsis, an understanding that would have proven fatal to the sort of mechanical, physiological empiricism Epicurus so clearly espoused. I argued that Epicurean prolepsis was a synthesizing, somewhat mechanical effort by dianoia to detect natural kinds and common situational characteristics and respond to them, after the fashion of other animals and prior to the invention of language and conceptualizing or definitions. So, prolepseis, aistheseis, and the pathe of pleasure and pain provided the non-conceptual evidentiary basis for Epicurean empiricism, prior to the interpretation of such data —very un-Kantian.


David Glidden presented "Epicurean Prolepsis" to the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy at its meeting with the American Philological Association in Philadelpia in 1982. A much longer (and otherwise different) version was published in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 3 (1985) 175-217.