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Chrysippus and Posidonius on Excessive Impulse:

A Study in Stoic Moral Psychology1

I: Introduction

A Stoic theory of the emotions must solve the problem of excessive impulse.

Chrysippus, the last leader of the early Stoic school, believed that the emotions were

functions of the part of the soul called the “hegemonikon,” or “commanding part.”

Chrysippus adhered to a psychological monism that claimed that this part of the soul had

no sub-parts and had only rational powers. Thus, he maintained that emotions were

functions solely of the soul’s rational faculty. The problem of excessive impulse is the

problem of explaining how emotions can “rush out toward action on their own, beyond

reason’s ability subsequently to control and direct the action once it is underway”.2 It is a

fact of human behavior, which the Stoics recognized, that we sometimes continue to act

out of emotion even after we have perceived that our emotional response is unmerited. I

may, for example, continue to feel and act afraid for some time after realizing that a vase

was knocked over not by some dangerous intruder, but by my cat. J. M. Cooper interprets

the excessive nature of emotion as an indication that “the force of the impulse itself,

through a function of reason, is such that a sudden change of mind [my italics] will leave

it in place and it will continue (briefly) to affect your action”.3 The challenge faced by

Chrysippus, then, was that of explaining how an exercise of the rational faculty can

persist to conflict with an opposing exercise of the very same faculty. For if this faculty is

now acting in a way opposed to the way it acted previously, and there was nothing, no

other faculty of the soul, contributing to the occurrence of the initial emotion other than

This paper has benefitted greatly from comments by Steve White and Teun Tieleman.
JM Cooper (1998) “Posidonius on Emotions ” in The Emotions is Hellenistic Philosophy (J Sihvola and T
Engberg-Pedersen., eds. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers) 79
Ibid. 80

the rational faculty, how can the existence of this emotion continue past the point when

the rational faculty redirects itself?

My purpose in this paper is to argue that a monistic Chrysippean theory can

adequately account for excessive impulse. Cooper takes this excess to mean that while

one experiences an emotion, if one should abandon the judgment that constitutes the

emotion and make a new, opposing judgment, one would not at first be able to cease

performing the action caused by the initial judgment. But another interpretation is

possible: that while experiencing an emotion, one is temporarily incapable of abandoning

the judgment that constitutes the emotion even if one is presented with a new, opposing

perception to which one might assent if one were not experiencing the emotion. After

discussing Cooper’s interpretation of both Chrysippus’ and Posidonius’ views on

emotion, and laying out the machinery of Chrysippus’ theory of action, I argue that the

latter interpretation of what it means for an impulse to be excessive is the right one. I then

argue that given this interpretation, a Chrysippean monism can solve the problem of

excessive impulse by appealing to the role played by the propatheiai (pre-emotions) that

an agent experiences in determining the action he performs. His experience of

propatheiai makes him temporarily incapable of abandoning his initial judgment. Finally,

I argue that this “propathetic” solution to the problem of excessive impulse is very similar

to the one given by Posidonius. Posidonius’ theory of the emotions, therefore, was a

natural development of Chrysippus’ monistic theory, and not—as both Galen in ancient

times, and Cooper recently, have presented it—a departure from it.

II: Cooper on Stoic Psychology

A. Cooper’s Interpretation of Chrysippus


According to Cooper, an impulse is for Chrysippus “a psychic movement that is

an immediate cause of voluntary bodily movement”.4 The occurrence of an impulse in an

agent is the necessary and sufficient condition for the performance of an action. This

psychic movement “always expresses a practical view (involving both an asserted

evaluative thought and what we would call an intention to act accordingly) that we are

actually holding at the time”.5 The impulse is the assent to a proposition with a double

structure : Such-and-such is good/bad/preferred/dispreferred, and on account of that I

should act thus-and-so. Action must at least involve our rational faculty, since the

proximate cause of an action is a value judgment coupled with the normative claim—

based on that judgment—that acting thus-and-so is the thing to do. Chrysippus will claim

that an impulse is always an exercise of the rational faculty alone, and thus that actions

are purely the product of practical reasoning. He will deny the Platonic-Aristotelian claim

that irrational faculties of the soul can at least play a part in the production of action by

denying that any such faculties are ever involved in the formation of an impulse—indeed,

he will deny that any such faculties exist in adult humans. This claim sets the stage for

the peculiar difficulties his view of the emotions will have to overcome.

Cooper notes one potential problem that Chrysippus’ view does not have much

trouble handling. Children and animals do things, and yet they lack the developed

rational faculty of adult humans, and thus are incapable of the kind of complex judgment

with which Chrysippus identifies impulse. But in their case, a non-rational movement in

their souls is the cause of their actions. This movement produces their bodily movements

Ibid. 75

in the absence of anything like the judgment that causes an adult human to act .6

Becoming an adult, therefore, involves a dramatic transformation of the soul, in which

the rational faculty is actualized and the non-rational faculty ceases to be (or at least

ceases to be non-rational by changing and developing into the rational faculty.) The fact

that children and animals act is no serious problem for the Chrysippean view.

The emotions are a species of impulse. They are vicious or incorrect impulses,

since they produce actions that a soul whose rational faculty was functioning properly

would reject.7 Chrysippus gives three marks of impulses that count as emotions.8 First,

they are irrational, not in being the products of a non-rational faculty, but rather in being

at odds with right-reason. They are opposed to the impulses the soul would produce if its

rational faculty were in the best condition it could be in. Second, they are unnatural, since

we need not experience them and nature did not design our souls for the purpose of

experiencing them. And third, they are excessive. The meaning of this third mark is the

most difficult to determine, and how it is understood has great consequences for the

interpretation of Chrysippus’ theory.

Cooper claims that emotions are excessive impulses in that they “rush out toward

action on their own, beyond reason’s ability subsequently to control and direct the action

once it is underway”.9 This description of what Chrysippus holds about the excessiveness

of impulses is somewhat imprecise, allowing for at least two interpretations. It may mean

that while experiencing an emotion, if one should abandon the judgment that constitutes

the emotion and make a new, opposing judgment, one would not at first be able to cease

Ibid. 77
Ibid. 79

performing the action caused by the initial judgment. Another possible interpretation is

that while experiencing an emotion, one is temporarily incapable of abandoning the

judgment that constitutes the emotion even if one is presented with a new, opposing

proposition to which one might assent if one were not experiencing the emotion. Cooper

opts for the first interpretation, asserting that “the force of the impulse itself, through a

function of reason, is such that a sudden change of mind [my italics] will leave it in place

and it will continue (briefly) to affect your action”.10 This understanding of the excessive

nature of the emotions that he attributes to Chrysippus will prove important to the way he

sets up the problems that face Chrysippus’ theory.

Cooper interprets Chrysippus’ claim that an emotion is a “rejection” (apostrophe)

of reason by reason itself in the light of the way emotions “rush out” toward action .11 He

sees the first challenge facing Chrysippus as that of explaining how an exercise of the

rational faculty can conflict with an opposing exercise of the very same faculty. For if

this faculty is now acting in a way opposed to the one it acted in previously, and there is

nothing, no other faculty of the soul, contributing to the occurrence of the initial emotion

other than the rational faculty, how can the existence of this emotion continue past the

point when the rational faculty redirects itself?

There is a second prong to this challenge. Given that an emotion is an impulse

that exceeds reason in some way, we must ask not only how an emotion can continue to

exist after an agent has made a judgment that opposes it, but also how emotions arise in

the first place. How can the rational faculty in isolation from any other power create a

state of itself that it will later have difficulty extinguishing? Cooper believes a good

Ibid. 80
Ibid. 81

answer is available to Chrysippus, but that Chrysippus fails to give it. Cooper claims that

an emotion can be understood as an act of reason if we view the emotion as “an

appropriate, reason-generated response…to these special circumstances of good or bad

luck, favor or disfavor, in which (as [the agent] thinks) he has received something

importantly good or bad for him”.12 An emotion is excessive because the judgment that

constitutes it places excessive value on the object of the judgment. The origin of the

emotion’s excess is wholly within the rational faculty. This act of reason, moreover,

seems reasonable to the agent at the time it occurs, since the object seems either good or

bad at that time. Only later on, once he has entered the emotional state, does he make the

opposing judgment that the object is really an indifferent.

Cooper claims that instead of explaining the origin of emotions in this way,

Chrysippus does no more than attribute their occurrence to the “freshness” or vividness

of a representation of an indifferent as truly good or bad.13 Cooper argues that while the

varying lengths and intensities of emotions might be explainable in terms of how good or

bad the agent judges the object and what kind of response to the object’s presence seems

appropriate, it is hard to see how one could explain intensity based only on how vivid the

representation is, and even harder to see how freshness could account for the persistence

of the emotion after the agent has made an opposing judgment. Chrysippus seems to face

a dilemma: either he must concede that other powers of the soul partly constitute

emotions, or he must find a way for the emotional man to make simultaneous contrary

judgments. This is one of the main problems Cooper sees Posidonius as responding to.

Ibid. 83
Ibid. 84

Even if Chrysippus is able to meet Cooper’s first challenge, a second problem

remains. We need an explanation—purely in terms of the condition of the rational

faculty—for why some people are more prone than others to seeing certain indifferents as

good or bad. The second problem returns us to the question of what it means to call an

impulse excessive. Even if Chrysippus were to describe emotions as Cooper says he

should, why is it that this erroneous judgment about the appropriate response does not

disappear as soon as the agent makes the opposing judgment?

B. Cooper’s Interpretation of Posidonius

Such is Cooper’s exposition of Chrysippus’ theory and the problems it faces. I

shall now briefly discuss his understanding of Posidonius’ theory, and then proceed to

develop a quite different account of both theories. Cooper claims that Posidonius solves

Chrysippus’ problems by reincorporating some aspects of the Platonic-Aristotelian view.

He understands Posidonius as asserting that “given that reason does turn and transform

itself under certain conditions so as to generate excessive impulses, what is responsible

for its so transforming itself then?…Something else must be involved in the generation of

the impulses, in addition to…reason”.14 Emotions are always caused by an exercise of

reason, but not by reason unaided. Non-rational powers of the soul must be activated in

order for an emotion to occur. Posidonius calls this additional psychic-energy produced

by the non-rational faculties the pathetike kinesis, “affective movements of the soul.”

This type of energy “derive[s] directly from the further psychic powers, the appetitive

and spirited, that Posidonius took over from Plato”.15 Cooper notes that this energy is not

a species of impulse at all; rather, to experience these affective movements is “to feel

Ibid. 82
Ibid. 85

inclined (to decide) to act in some way”.16 With this innovation, Cooper believes

Posidonius has the necessary theoretical tools to solve Chrysippus’ two problems.

Regarding the first problem, “Posidonius’ answer is that because we are all

constructed by nature so as to experience (right from birth) the ‘affective movements’

that he has postulated…we find ourselves already attracted toward or repelled, more or

less strongly, by various experiences and events”.17 Our very physical constitution

endows us from the beginning with this non-rational psychic-energy, which inclines us to

see indifferents as good or bad. This energy remains with us through our maturation.

Once we reach the age at which we can no longer act without judgment, these affective

movements will make it more or less likely that we will judge it good to pursue or avoid a

particular object. Moral education is the process of strengthening the reasoning faculty to

the point at which these affective movements are no longer powerful enough to steer

reason into accepting the erroneous representations that these same movements make us

prone to receive.

The non-rational faculty solves Chrysippus’ second problem as well. Cooper

claims that “it is the specific condition of a person’s non-rational capacities that

determines when, how intensely, and for how long that person experiences these

[affective] movements”.18 Posidonius can now tell a fully physicalist and determinist

story to explain why different people at different times feel various emotions to various

degrees. One’s physical constitution at birth determines the initial state of one’s non-

rational faculties. From then on, one’s interactions with the external world determine how

the states of these faculties change. The precise condition of these powers at a certain

Ibid. 87
Ibid. 89

time determines not only what erroneous representations one will receive, but also how

intense one’s impulses will be after the representations have been accepted by reason.

Since these affective movements are exercises of powers separate from reason, they will

persist past the rejection of the initial erroneous judgment. Reason must be active to

produce an impulse, and thereby an action, but neither the impulse nor the action

produced results from the exercise of reason alone. The action results from an impulse

that is a compound of rational and non-rational activity. The presence of the non-rational

energy causes the impulse to exceed the control of reason.

III: Chrysippus’ Theory of Action

I begin my discussion of Chrysippus by giving a detailed account of the series of

causal interactions that lead from the reception of an impression to the performance of an

action. This material, at least in part, will be familiar to some, but a clear view of the

essentials of Chrysippus’ theory of action is necessary for understanding my claim that a

solution to the problem of excessive impulse can be constructed entirely out of

Chrysippean elements. My description of Chrysippus’ account of human action,

moreover, has the virtue of presenting a complex theory that has come down to us only in

fragments from a variety of authors in a clearer, more organized, and more concise way

than has generally been done. I will then develop my propathetic solution to the problem

of excessive impulse while adhering to Chrysippus’ extant views on action, emotion and

psychological monism.

A. The Stoic Account of the Soul

The Stoics claimed that the human soul had eight parts: the five senses, the seat of

reproduction, the seat of vocalization, and the commanding faculty (hegemonikon). This

last is “the soul’s highest part, which produces impressions, assents, perceptions and

impulses. They also call it the reasoning faculty”.19 Chrysippus held that the hegemonikon

is a single part of the soul with no sub-parts. This part is identical with rationality (in a

sense to be explained below), and thus there are no appetitive or spirited faculties. Rather

than explain vicious behavior by appealing to these other powers, he held that “the

passionate and irrational part is not distinguished from the rational by any distinction

within the soul’s nature, but the same part of the soul…becomes virtue and vice as it

wholly turns around and changes in passions and alterations of tenor…and contains

nothing irrational within itself”.20 Chrysippus’ challenge is clear. As a psychological

monist, he must explain the ability of emotions to persist after we have recognized that

they are erroneous without appealing to any non-rational power of the soul. The nature of

our rationality itself must be adequate to explain this phenomenon.

We must, however, be quick to note what view of the hegemonikon Chrysippus

did not hold. His monism was not extreme. He did not believe that the hegemonikon did

nothing other than engage in the process of reasoning, of forming judgments about data

that would have to be presented to it by some other part of the soul. While the

hegemonikon has no parts and exercises no non-rational powers, it does do more than

form judgments. The single region of pneuma that constitutes the hegemonikon has four

powers: presentation, assent, impulse, and reason.21 The possession of these distinct

powers is possible because “the mind’s pneuma can retain many distinct modifications of

its structure, that is many distinct tonoi or tensions, for long periods of time…even a

Aetius Dox. Graec. 4.21.1; SVF 2.836. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are from AA Long and
DN Sedley (2003) The Hellenistic Philosophers Volume 1: Translations of the Principal Sources, with
Philosophical Commentary (Cambridge: CUP).
Plutarch Moralia 440E-441D
Stobaeus Ecl. 1.369

materialistic psychology can accommodate genuine and enduring powers in one and the

same body”.22 Our search for a solution to the problem of excessive impulse begins with

an examination of these distinct powers.

Since the emotions are a species of impulse, our first step is to understand the

process that causes an impulse to occur and the effects an impulse has. The process

begins with two elements, one with an origin internal to the soul and one with an external

origin. The first is the set of tensions (tonoi) mentioned above.23 The hegemonikon’s

“faculties are differentiated by a peculiarity of quality in regard to the same substrate”.24

The peculiarity of quality is the tension, and the conditions of these tensions determine

the hexeis—dispositions, faculties, or powers—possessed by the hegemonikon. These

“[hexeis] can be intensified and relaxed”, and thus will differ in the quality of their

operation.25 The hegemonikon’s exercise of assent, for example, may be a better or worse

approximation of a power of assent that is in accord with right-reason. These dispositions

continue to exist when they are not active, and thus may be modified at any time by

changes in their constituting tensions caused by interaction with the external world.26

B. From Impression to Action

The other element needed to begin the process of action-production is an

impression, “an affection occurring in the soul, which reveals itself and its cause…an

impressor”.27 The hegemonikon, with its power of presentation, receives and

conceptualizes representations of external objects from the sensory parts of the soul,

B Inwood (1987) Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism (Oxford: OUP) 39
I do not wish to become entangled in issues of Stoic ontology. The tensions seem to be peculiarly
qualified bodies of the qualified body that is the hegemonikon.
Iamblichus De Anima; SVF 2.826
Simplicius In Ar. Categorica 237; SVF 2.393
B Inwood (1987) 41
Aetius Dox. Graec. 4.12; SVF 2.54

which themselves receive these impressions directly from the external world. In an adult

human, every impression is matched with a proposition (axioma)—generated by

“thought”, i.e. the reasoning power—with the content of the impression.28 The

presentative power must conceptualize the impressions to make them linguistically


Once a proposition corresponding to an impression has been generated, there is an

opportunity for exercising the power of assent. To understand assent and the transition

from assent to impulse, however, we need a more detailed understanding of the

impression and its proposition. According to the On Impulse of Arius Didymus, early

Stoic moral psychology (of which Chrysippus’ theory is the latest form) referred to the

kind of impression that could be the distal cause of an impulse as a phantasia hormetike

(“impulsive impression”), and attributed two special features to it.29 First, impressions of

this kind not only represent objects or states of affairs, as all impressions do, but do so in

an evaluative way, as good, bad, preferred, or dispreferred. Second, the propositions that

correspond to them have a complex structure. They express the obtaining of the state of

affairs as well as its evaluative status, and the expression of the evaluative status itself has

two parts. The first is an evaluative judgment of the object or event perceived, and the

second is a judgment concerning the type of action it is appropriate (kathekon) for one to

take given that one is confronted with that state of affairs with that evaluative status.

Both parts of the evaluative expression are necessary. No impulse can be formed

without a judgment that something is worth pursuing or avoiding, the content of the first

part. An impression, moreover, can only lead to an impulse if it is capable of “directly

Diogenes Laertius 7.49; SVF 2.52
Stobaeus Ecl. 2.85; SVF 3.168

impelling a proper [my italics] function”, i.e. an act that is judged kathekon. In order to

directly impel an act that is judged kathekon, the content of the impression must also

include a reference to the action that the agent receiving the impression believes is

appropriate in the sort of situation represented by the impression.30 Assent to the

proposition that expresses the content of the impression will then also be assent to the

performance of an action, and so the impression will lead to an impulse. For example, say

I am standing in front of a hole in the ground, and I receive an impression of it. The

following complex proposition will be generated:

(1) Here before me is a hole in the ground.

(2) (a) That there is a hole in the ground before me is bad/dispreferred AND

(b) It is therefore appropriate for me to avoid it by walking around.

To assent to (1), which is purely descriptive, is to form the belief that the hole is real,

rather than illusory. To assent to (2)(a) is to judge that a hole in one’s path is a

bad/dispreferred thing; and to assent to (2)(b) is to judge it appropriate to take the action

of avoiding it on the basis of its being bad/dispreferred. If my impression represents (and

so my proposition expresses) the hole as bad, it is erroneous; and if it represents it as

dispreferred, it is correct. This is a difference in the quality of the impression, made

possible by differences in the condition of the presentative power. These differences are

caused by variations in the tensions that constitute this power. We shall see below that

emotion begins with erroneous impressions of this kind.

Once the soul generates a proposition of this kind, it may assent to it. Assent to a

proposition like (2)(a) does not guarantee assent to a proposition like (2)(b). One may

judge that something is bad without also judging that some action is therefore
Stobaeus Ecl. 2.86; SVF 3.169

appropriate. Chrysippus indicates that impulsive impressions have just this sort of

structure in his discussion of the cessation of mourning, where he distinguishes between

the judgment that something bad is present and the judgment that a contraction of one’s

pneuma is also appropriate. The first of these judgments may persist after the second is

abandoned.31 This could only happen if the evaluative part of the proposition has this

double structure. Assent to a proposition like (2)(b) will only occur if the evaluative

impression expressed by proposition (2)(a) is sufficiently “fresh.” Chrysippus

understood assent to a fresh impression as a judgment that something so bad (or good) is

present that a reaction of depression (or elation) is therefore appropriate.32 The content of

this judgment is what is represented by a fresh impulsive impression: that something very

bad indeed is present. As the text indicates, assenting to an impression33 like this causes

assent to an impression that some action is appropriate 34 : given how bad the situation is,

some action must be taken.

An act of assent generates an impulse, an exercise of the last power. The impulse

is not directed toward the proposition as a whole. Rather, “impulses are directed toward

predicates”.35 The whole proposition provides a linguistic expression of what I assert to

be the case when I assent to the proposition. The predicate of the first conjunct of the

evaluative part provides a linguistic expression of the motivation for the action caused by

Galen De Placitis 4.7.12-17. Teun Tieleman reaches a similar conclusion about the structure of the
evaluative part of impulsive impressions based on this passage. See T Tieleman (2003) Chrysippus’ On
Affections: Reconstruction and Interpretation (Leiden: Brill) 124.
Stobaeus Ecl. 2.89; SVF 3.172
I will use the phrase “assent to an impression” as shorthand for “assent to a proposition expressing the
content of an impression.”
Assent to an erroneous fresh impression only causes one to assent that some action is appropriate if one’s
soul is weak. A “progressor,” one who is in moral training, will assent that some good or evil is present
without assenting that some action is therefore appropriate. A sage will not even assent to the first of these
if the impression is erroneous.
Stobaeus Ecl. 2.88; SVF 3.171

the impulse. The predicate of the second conjunct expresses the content of the action. In

the above example, these would be “bad/dispreferred; walk around.” By assenting to the

proposition as a whole, I assent to the predicates contained within it. This later assent is

the impulse. Once I have formed it, my limbs are set in motion, I perform the action of

walking around, and that action completes the causal process that began with the

reception of the impression.

In order to claim that the hegemonikon is a rational, unified part of the soul,

Chrysippus must claim that each of its four powers are rational in at least some minimal

sense (we shall see that there are certain ways in which they can be called irrational as

well). Thus far, there is good reason to think this is true. The presentative power receives

and conceptualizes impressions. To conceptualize an impression is to organize its content

in such a way that that content can be represented linguistically. This conceptualizing

activity distinguishes it from the presentative powers of children and animals, whose

impressions are “non-rational”.36 The reasoning power then generates linguistic

structures, the propositions.37 These propositions represent the content of the

conceptualized impressions. The assenting power judges whether or not to endorse these

propositions, and the impulsive power is directed at their predicates. The exercise of each

power bears what is for the Stoics the mark of rationality—standing in relation to lekta,

linguistic structures.38

C. Chrysippus’ Account of Emotion

Diogenes Laertius 7.51; SVF 2.61. Since the impressions received by children and animals are non -
rational, and thus cannot be assented to, their actions are not “full-blooded.” Action, for the Stoics, is
always a product of assent. Children and animals “yield” to their impulses, rather than act on them, strictly
speaking. See Diogenes Laertius 7.51; SVF 2.61; cited in B Inwood (1987) 75.
Diogenes Laertius 7.49; SVF 2.52
Sextus Empiricus Adv. Math. 8.70; SVF 2.187

Now that we have examined the causal process that leads from impression to

action by way of impulse, let us briefly review Chrysippus’ taxonomy of the emotions.

The emotions are vicious impulses, experienced only by non-sages. Experiencing an

emotion means assenting to the predicates of a proposition that erroneously represents

indifferents as truly good or bad. There are four emotions, defined as follows:39

Pleasure: This (present) thing is good AND it is appropriate for me to be elated

about it (for my pneuma to expand).

Pain: This (present) thing is bad AND it is appropriate for me to be depressed

about it (for my pneuma to contract).

Desire: That (future) thing is good AND it is appropriate for me to pursue it

(initiate action that moves me toward it).

Fear: That (future) thing is bad AND it is appropriate for me to avoid it (initiate

action that moves me away from it).

These definitions provide, in a general form, the evaluative parts of the propositions that

one would assent to in order to generate the corresponding emotional impulse. Emotions,

as a species of impulse, are therefore judgments—they are assents to the predicates in

certain propositions. This is the sense in which the Stoics were “cognitivists” about

emotion—they believed that emotions were a species of judgments. We shall see when

we come to the discussion of propatheiai, however, that the Stoic theory of emotion was

more nuanced than a simple cognitivism.

We now have all the background we need to discuss the problem of excessive

impulse and propose a Stoic solution to that problem. There are three features of

emotions that distinguish them from non-emotional impulses: they are irrational,
Andronicus Peri Pathon 1; SVF 3.391

unnatural, and excessive. They are irrational because they are “ ‘disobedient to reason.’

For every passion is overpowering, since people in states of passion frequently see that it

is not suitable to do this but are carried away by the intensity”.40 I mentioned above that

Cooper understands the experience of emotion to be one in which the impulse continues

to exist and cause an action after the agent has rejected the proposition that he earlier

assented to, and has assented to a contrary proposition. The other possibility is that the

agent is presented with a contrary impression, and his reasoning power generates the

corresponding contrary proposition, but he is not able to assent to it. The first stage in

arguing for the second of these possibilities is interpreting the passage just quoted on the

irrationality of emotion. We have seen that reason and assent are listed as distinct powers

of the hegemonikon. Since the presentative power receives and conceptually structures

impressions, and the assenting power endorses, suspends, or rejects a proposition

expressing this impression, the role of the reasoning power must be the generation of the

proposition. Since an impression may be either “kataleptic”—that is, “clear and

distinct”—or not, the proposition that expresses it must contain an operator indicating the

epistemic status of the impression, if it is to express the impression adequately.41

Kataleptic impressions reveal their epistemic status by being such that they “could not

arise from that which is not”.42 When reason generates a proposition that includes the

kataleptic operator, it is as if the proposition itself demands assent. The kataleptic is a

normative category. A sage’s soul is in accord with right-reason because he gives only

strong assent to only kataleptic impressions. These impressions, therefore, are the ones

that ought to be endorsed according to right-reason.

Stobaeus Ecl. 2.88; SVF 3.378
Diogenes Laertius 7.46; SVF 2.53
Sextus Empiricus Adv. Math. 7.252; SVF 2.65

The connection between the reception of a kataleptic impression and assent,

moreover, is no more than normative—specifically, it is not causal. One can reject or

suspend such a proposition, and the non-sage will often do so. When one experiences an

emotion, one is “disobedient to reason” by not being able to reject a prior erroneous

assent and assent to a new kataleptic impression. To call the emotion irrational, the later

contrary impression must be kataleptic. Otherwise, one would not disobey reason by

failing to assent to it, since non-kataleptic impression ought not be assented to. Someone

experiencing an emotion “sees that it is not suitable” when his reasoning power generates

a contrary proposition to which he should assent. Everything is in place for him to do as

rationality requires, but there is a failure on the part of the separate power of assent. Why

the assenting power fails to do what it should at this point will be discussed below, when

we come to the feature of excess.

In addition to being irrational, emotions are “‘contrary to nature’…something that

happens contrary to the right and natural reason”.43 I have already employed the notion of

being contrary to right-reason to explain the feature of irrationality. There is, however,

another sense for this notion that is available in the current context. A sage, someone who

has fully developed his soul, has become that which nature intends us all to be. The acts

of his soul fully accord with right-reason. He could never experience an emotion, because

he would never assent to a non-kataleptic impression in the first place. Emotions are

unnatural in that they conflict with right-reason by being caused by assents that one

should not make.

We receive erroneous impulsive impressions because of the state of our

presentative power. The condition of this power is determined by the particular tensions
Stobaeus Ecl. 2.88; SVF 3.389

that constitute it. One’s initial tensions are determined by the conditions of one’s birth,

and so different individual’s presentative powers are defective to different degrees. Some

people are thus more prone to receive certain impulsive impressions than others are. Once

we have matured, our presentative power begins to conceptualize the impressions it

receives, but there is no reason to think that it ceases to be prone to receiving the same

erroneous impressions it was previously susceptible to. Even a sage continues to receive

such impressions, though his soul is strong enough never to assent to them. That he

continues to receive them reveals the “scar” on his soul from the time before he became a

sage, the lingering imperfection that no human being can transcend.44

A non-sage is not just prone to receive certain impulsive impressions; he is prone

to assent to the propositions that express them. The non-sage’s assenting power is

characterized by its weakness.45 He assents to propositions hastily, without considering

their epistemic status. His assent to an impulsive impression will naturally be even hastier

than to a non-impulsive one, since the former explicitly represent themselves as relevant

to his well-being, which nature has designed him to be concerned with from birth.46 His

proneness both to receive and to assent to erroneous impressions is determined by the

imperfect (since opposed to right-reason) condition of the tensions of his minimally

rational hegemonikon.

The third mark of the emotional impulse is excess. The excess of an emotion is

the reason why the hegemonikon cannot immediately reject the erroneous proposition

once a contrary kataleptic one has been received. Once we have determined why the non-

sage’s assenting power fails in this way, we shall have a Chrysippean solution to the

Epictetus Diss. Fr. 9; in Gellius Noct. Att. 19.1.17-18
Stobaeus Ecl. 2.89; SVF 3.172
Cicero On Ends 3.17

problem of excessive impulse. In developing a Chrysippean answer to it, I will have to

rely to some extent on conjecture, since the extant textual evidence is insufficient to

reconstruct the Chrysippean view without leaving significant gaps. But the view I will

construct is consistent with all the extant evidence; it is a view Chrysippus could have

held, a view that was open to him given all his other known commitments. Moreover, it

introduces no new theoretical terms, but solves the problem using only notions that are

established elements of Chrysippus’ theory. It merely applies these notions in a way that

is not attested. All the pieces of the puzzle, so to speak, are there in what we know of

Chrysippus’ view—they are simply waiting to be assembled. Once I have shown how a

Chrysippean would solve this problem, I will argue that the answer I have constructed is

precisely the addition Posidonius makes to Chrysippus’ theory in giving his own account

of excessive impulse.

Why, then, is the man experiencing an emotion incapable of abandoning his

assent at the first opportunity? We find the beginning of an answer in the Stoic claim that

“the illnesses of the soul are dispositions that correspond to the passions”.47 The excess

that defines an emotion is explained by some defect, or illness, in the assenting power.

Chrysippus explicated the problem of excess with the analogy of the runner:

When someone walks in accordance with his impulse, the movement of his legs is not
excessive but commensurate with the impulse, so that he can stop or change whenever he
wants to. But when people run in accordance with their impulse, this sort of thing no
longer happens. The movement of their legs exceeds their impulse, so that they are
carried away and unable to change obediently, as s oon as they have started to do so.
Something similar, I think, takes place with impulses, owing to their going beyond the
rational proportion. The result is that when someone has the impulse he is not obedient to

B Inwood (1987) 128
Galen (quoting Chrysippus) De Placitis 4.2

We have seen that there is a close connection between the irrationality and the excess of

emotions. Emotions are irrational in that their occurrence prevents something demanded

by right-reason, namely, assent to a kataleptic impression. Excess is the quality that

allows emotions to prevent the assent that would dissolve them. I suggest that the key to

understanding this quality is the notion of the propatheiai, or pre-emotions. These are an

involuntary effect of erroneous impulsive impressions.49 In contemporary parlance, we

would identify them as non-cognitive emotional responses. Modern philosophers

distinguish between cognitive emotions, which are at least partly constituted by (and

some would say, agreeing with the Stoics, identical to) judgments, and non-cognitive

emotions, which are physiological responses that are caused by external stimuli. The

Stoic’s term “pathon” which I have translated simply as “emotion” refers to cognitive

emotion, and I am suggesting that “propatheia” refers to non-cognitive emotion. The

traditional view of the Stoics as rigid cognitivists about emotion is an oversimplification.

The Stoic theory has room for both varieties of emotion and, as we shall see, for

interesting interactions between them.

The cringe we experience when we suddenly hear an unexpected loud noise is an

example of a propatheia. Since it is an event we experience, it causes an impression

which, like all impressions, must be received by the hegemonikon.50 So the person who

hears and reacts to the sound of a crash in the next room receives two impressions: the

original impulsive impression produced by the noise itself, and the additional impulsive

impression produced by the experience of the propatheia caused by the first impression.

The proposition expressing the propathetic impression will be something like:

Epictetus Diss. fr. 9; in Gellius Noct. Att. 19.1.17-18
B Inwood (1987) 177

(1) I am trembling.

(2) (a) That I am trembling is bad AND

(b) It is therefore appropriate for me to perform action A (e.g. tread carefully and be

alert to any signs of danger).

This is the familiar structure of an impulsive impression. We know from Epictetus that

impressions of propatheiai have this structure, and thus that they are impulsive

impressions, and perform the same function as the impulsive impressions that directly

cause propatheiai to occur in the first place. He tells us that when a sage experiences

propatheiai, he “does not…assent to such impressions nor does he add an opinion to

them, but he rejects and belittles them and finds nothing in them that should be feared”.51

The sage certainly knows that he is trembling, so the first, purely descriptive part of the

impression cannot be what he rejects. The natural interpretation is that what he does not

assent to is (2)(a), the first component of the evaluative part. The sage does not assent to

the claim that his trembling is a bad thing; instead he “rejects and belittles” the

impression that it is bad. The claim that the sage also fails to “add an opinion” to the

impression should be read as indicating his rejection of (2)(b). Recall that the second

evaluative component refers to the action that the agent judges appropriate in the sort of

circumstance he perceives himself to be in. The sage does not judge any action to be

appropriate on account of his trembling. He knows that it is indifferent and that since it

occurs involuntarily, there is nothing he can do to cease it. A non-sage who judges it a

bad thing will also judge that he should act to distance himself from its cause.

Epictetus Diss. fr. 9; in Gellius Noct. Att. 19.1.17-18. Sages experience propatheiai because even they
receive erroneous impulsive impressions.

Let us assume that the person having this experience is a non-sage, and so he

assents to the two impressions. He believes, and acts as if, both the sound of the crash and

his trembling are bad things. He takes them both to be indicators of the presence of

danger. He now looks around, and sees nothing worth fearing—sees perhaps that his cat

has knocked over a vase. Yet he is still afraid—his fearful impulse is excessive. If we

merely ask why he cannot now reject the first impressio n and assent to the new one, we

may think we are caught in a real problem. But we now see that there is more to the story

than this. The loud sound has come and gone, but its effects—a body shaking, a heart

pounding, skin gone pale—persist. The specific condition of his pneuma will determine

the intensity and duration of these propatheiai. With each successive moment that the

propatheiai persist, the agent receives a new impulsive impression. There is not just one

impression of the occurrence of a propathetic reaction following his initial impression,

but a whole series of them. The assents of the non-sage, moreover, are weak—should he

receive a kataleptic impression, he would not be capable of assenting to it with “firmness

and tenor and…fixity”.52 My conjecture is that when he receives the contrary kataleptic

impression he does assent to it and reject his prior impression, but he is able to do so only

for an instant, until he receives the next in the series of impressions of his propathetic

reaction. Since this reaction is involuntary, his momentary assent to the kataleptic

impression has no power to stop it. To hold to his assent to the kataleptic impression for

more than a moment in this situation would require just the kind of strength of assent that

the non-sage cannot muster. If he manages to assent to the kataleptic impression again

later on, he will again loose his grip on it provided that the propathetic reaction persists.

Stobaeus Ecl. 5.906; SVF 3.510

The extremely brief periods in which he assents to the kataleptic impression will

be too brief for him to notice and too brief to cause any noticeable change in the

emotional action he is performing. His next assent to an impression of his propatheiai

will sustain the action initiated by the original erroneous impression. This happens

because an assent to the propathetic impression entails a renewed assent to part of the

original impression. The action referred to in the second evaluative part of the propathetic

impression will be the same as the action referred to in the corresponding part of the

original impression. The propathetic impression will represent as appropriate whatever

action was represented as appropriate in the impression that caused the propatheiai to

arise in the first place. This is because both the loud crash and the racing of his heart

indicate the same thing: danger. He will react to both with actions appropriate to a

dangerous situation. The non-sage’s weak power of assent will be enough to stop his

emotional action only once the propatheiai have faded, once the last one has occurred

and its impression can be rejected. We can thus understand the experience of an emotion

as a series of very short episodes of pseudo-akrasia. The emotion and the emotional

action are not strictly continuous. The experience of the propatheiai, however, is

continuous, and so interruptions to the emotion and the action will be too brief to notice.

That the agent does not notice these interruptions explains why he feels carried away by

the emotion. He feels like he is trying to abandon his assent, but cannot do so. He will

only succeed when his propatheiai finally die down. As they diminish in intensity his

impressions of them will lose their freshness, they will cease to indicate that something

worth reacting to is present, and he will finally be able to abandon his erroneous assent.

The agent’s perception of his propatheiai becomes a rival source of information

about his situation once he has ascertained that what he presumed was present or

immanent is actually not. One may see that a vase has been knocked over by a cat and

that there is no intruder and, on the basis of that information, momentarily form the

judgment that there is nothing to fear. But one’s non-cognitive emotional response, the

physiological reaction to the sound of the crash that features much of the same

phenomenology as cognitive fear, provides opposing evidence. One’s perception of this

response leads one back to the judgment that something bad must be immanent. One’s

increased heartbeat and tensed muscles, after all, are generally reliable indications that

something is wrong. It is very difficult indeed not to judge on the basis of one’s

perception of this response that something frightful must be immanent, even after

receiving other contrary perceptual evidence. Perceiving one’s non-cognitive response—

one’s propatheiai—leads one back to judging that danger looms—the judgment that the

Stoics identified as the pathos, the cognitive emotion, of fear.53

Understanding the contribution of the propatheiai to the persistence of emotional

action allows us to make sense of another puzzling feature of emotion: the fact that the

intensity and duration of emotional responses varies across both individuals and

occasions. This is puzzling for the Stoics, at least prima facie, because everyone who

experiences a particular emotion makes a judgment with the same content. Propatheiai,

however, do vary in intensity and duration. These features of them are determined by the

condition of the body’s pneumatic tensions. A weak pneuma will experience fierce and

This description is only meant as a reconstruction of the Stoic view on the interaction between pathe and
propatheiai; it is worth noting, however, that neuroscientists are beginning to study the influence of our
non-cognitive physiological responses on the formation of cognitive emotions. Though I cannot address
this research here, it may turn out that much of the Stoic theory will conform fairly well to contemporary
scientific findings about emotion.

prolonged propatheiai upon receiving an erroneous impulsive impression, while a strong

pneuma will experience short and mild ones. Since the pneumata of different people—or

the pneuma of one person at different times—will differ in their condition, the intensity

of propathetic reactions will also differ. One’s experience of an emotional impulse will

thus feel different to oneself and appear different to others on different occasions. Moral

training (which includes leading a physically healthy lifestyle) affects the conditions of

these tensions—it strengthens the pneuma that constitutes both one’s body and one’s

soul. The closer one is to being a sage, therefore, the less time it will take one to recover

both from one’s propathetic reactions and from the erroneous assents that these reactions

sustain. Training, however, can only affect future reactions; so long as one is

experiencing propatheiai, one can do nothing to control them.

It is important to note that the propatheiai themselves are distinct from emotional

action. Emotional action begins with the soul receiving impressions of propatheiai.

Brennan is right to insist that propatheiai themselves are not part of any intentional

action, since they do not result from assent.54 That impressions of their occurrence play

the crucial role allows the excess of emotion to be explained in terms of propathetic

experience while preserving the Chrysippean claim that an emotion is nothing other than

an exercise of a unified rational soul.

One might wonder whether the production of the propatheiai by the initial

impulsive impression is possible, given that the impression is at least minimally rational

and the propatheiai themselves are not (though the impressions of them are minimally

rational, like all other impressions). The propatheiai are dispositions of the body, and the

T Brennan (2005) “Stoic Moral Psychology” in The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics (B Inwood, ed.
Cambridge: CUP) 275

body is not rational. Chrysippus’ adherence to physicalism, another plank of orthodox

Stoicism, allows us to explain this phenomenon. The reception of an impression is a

change or movement in the pneuma of the hegemonikon, which, because it is pneuma, is

perfectly capable of interacting with the other parts of the soul as well as with the body,

which is also pneuma. The propatheiai are the effects manifested in the body of an

interaction between the hegemonikon and the body. The change in the hegemonikon that

is the reception of the impression initiates this interaction. So no non-rational hegemonic

powers need be posited to explain the production of the propatheiai. There is nothing

mysterious about this interaction between the hegemonikon and the body, as both soul

and body are constituted by pneuma. The creation of propatheiai is one result of contact

between these different regions of pneuma.

IV: Reinterpreting Posidonius on the Powers of the Soul

I have argued that once Chrysippus’ monistic rationalist psychology is properly

understood, and a full account of the psychological mechanisms that cause emotional

action has been given, the nature of the emotions can be understood without positing the

existence of non-rational hegemonic powers. Inwood notes that some descriptions of the

propatheiai make them sound functionally quite similar to the pathetike holke—

“emotional pull”—of Posidonius.55 My discussion of the impressions generated by

propatheiai implies that they can serve precisely this function by making it impossible

for an agent’s hegemonikon to adhere to an assent to a kataleptic impression that is

contrary to them. I will now argue against the claim, which traces back to Galen, that

Posidonius broke with Chrysippus by positing irrational powers. Rather, we should read

the Posidonian texts quoted by Galen as revealing an attempt by Posidonius to give a

B Inwood (1987) 180

version of the Chrysippean theory, one with greater causal precision and explanatory


Galen quotes and paraphrases numerous passages from Posidonius that express

dissatisfaction with Chrysippus’ theory. For example:

(1) “Everyone is agreed that the emotional condition is a form of mental illness; but

that is not the question, but how the soul is moved or moves in emotion; and that

hasn’t been explained” (direct quote of Posidonius). 56

(2) “And time and again in his work On Emotions, [Posidonius] asks Chrysippus and

his sympathizers what is the cause of the excessive impulse”.57

I will argue, however, that a close examination of the Posidonian texts reveals no deep

disagreement between Posidonius and Chrysippus. Galen distorts or misinterprets

Posidonius’ text when he claims it endorses the existence of non-rational hegemonic


Galen concedes that Posidonius, like Chrysippus, was a psychological monist. He

“refuses the terms ‘forms’ and ‘parts’ of mind, but says they are faculties of a single

substance”.58 The question is whether Posidonius believed the tensions of the

hegemonikon constituted any powers in addition to the ones described by Chrysippus—

powers that would be roughly comparable to Plato’s notions of spirit and appetite, and

that could not be called rational in any sense. I will focus on the two main arguments

Galen makes against Chrysippus by citing Posidonius’ text: the argument from the

behavior and education of children, and the argument from the cause of emotions. In each

I. G. Kidd (2004) Posidonius: Vol 3: The Translation of the Fragments (Cambridge: CUP) Fragment
164. My references to texts by or about Posidonius are to Kidd’s fragment numbers unless otherwise
indicated, and translations are from this edition.
Fragment 34B
Fragment 146

case I will develop an interpretation of Posidonius’ text that reveals him to be faithful to

Chrysippus’ views on the soul.

Galen quotes Posidonius’ claim that “this is the best education for children, a

preparation of the emotional faculty of the soul so that it be most conformable to the rule

of the rational faculty”, and then goes on to paraphrase Posidonius as having said that “at

first this rational faculty is small and weak, but achieves strength and fitness about the

age of 14, when now it is appropriate for it to control and rule”.59 We must first ask what

Posidonius meant by the “rational faculty.” Since he spoke of it as that which began to

control at the age of fourteen, he may have been referring to the hegemonikon itself—

“the commander.” This would mean the “emotional faculty” is something outside the

hegemonikon. The fact that Posidonius wrote of rational and emotional faculties rather

than parts, however, counts heavily against this interpretation. So let us assume that the

“rational faculty” refers to one or more of the four Chrysippean powers of the

hegemonikon. It must be the reasoning, the assenting, the impulsive, or a combination of

these, since these do not have non-conceptual counterparts. The “emotional faculty”

would then be either the quasi-presentative power—which is all Chrysippus need invoke

in explaining child-action—or some further faculty not accepted by Chrysippus.

We can make perfect sense of Posidonius’ remark without positing any further

faculty. This quasi-hexis of presentation is non-rational, since it receives non-rational

impressions and does not conceptualize them.60 It is therefore appropriate to contrast it

with a “rational faculty.” This latter faculty, the other three powers, is dormant in the

child’s soul—there are no “quasi” versions of these powers operating. This distinguishes

Fragment 31C and D
Diogenes Laertius 7.51; SVF 2.61

them from presentation even after maturity, when all four become (at least minimally)

rational. Only presentation is the development of an earlier functioning non-rational

power. The “rational faculty” guides the “emotional” in maturity because presentation

loses the power its underdeveloped form had to produce action on its own. The impulsive

impressions that previously produced action must now be accepted by the other powers—

they must be prepared for and receive assent, or no impulse will be formed and no action

will result.

Furthermore, the point of early moral education is to affect the tensions that

constitute the quasi-presentative power so that by age fourteen it is in relatively good

(though necessarily far from perfect) condition. Despite receiving non-conceptually

structured impressions, it will still resemble its developed form in being more or less

prone to receive certain impulsive impressions and not others. Child-rearing shapes this

power so that it receives fewer erroneous impressions than it otherwise would. When the

power matures, it will then conform to the “rational faculty”—the other three powers—in

another sense as well. It will deliver fewer impressions that do not accord with right-

reason to the other three powers, and so support their proper functioning. Once further

education (in what we would call the “young adult” stage) has improved these other three

powers, particularly the power of assent, so that more erroneous impressions are rejected,

the inferior place of the presentative power becomes even clearer.

Yet another way in which the presentative power may be singled out as in a sense

irrational is based on the fact that even a sage experiences propatheiai.61 The sage’s

reasoning, assenting, and impulsive powers are in perfect order; but his presentative

power continues to receive occasional erroneous impressions. It is always in principle

Epictetus Diss. fr. 9; in Gellius Noct. Att. 19.1.17-18

capable of initiating an emotion, though it never does. This is why the sage, impressive as

he is, is not a god. His soul is in accord with right-reason as far as is humanly possible. A

god would not even receive erroneous impressions. 62

There is no need to invoke anything like a Platonic appetite or spirit to make

sense of Posidonius’ comments on the behavior and education of children. We now turn

to Galen’s argument from the cause of emotions. Galen reports that Posidonius “believes

that emotions were neither judgments nor what supervened on judgments, but were

caused by the spirited and desiring powers or faculties, in this following completely the

old account”.63 Whether or not Posidonius was “following the old account” in saying this

is just what is at issue. Galen elsewhere reports that “while a creature’s impulse was

sometimes born in the judgmental decision of the rational faculty, most often it occurs in

the movement of the emotional faculty”.64 Kidd glosses “the judgmental decision of the

rational faculty” as “the impulse toward the morally good”.65 The “movement of the

emotional faculty” is here contrasted with a movement of the soul that accords with right-

reason, rather than with a movement of a rational faculty distinct from an emotional one.

The movement of the emotional faculty that most often leads to impulse is the reception

of an erroneous impulsive impression to which the soul then assents, rather than a

kataleptic impression representing what is actually good. Assent to the latter would form

an impulse toward the good.

This observation makes sense of one of Posidonius’ criticism of Chrysippus . Posidonius asserted that
“sickness of the mind is not, as Chrysippus had assumed, that sickly bad condition of the body…mental
sickness is rather like either physical health with its proneness to dis ease, or disease itself” See Fragment
163B. The non-sage’s sickness is an actual disease—emotion is for him always either occurring or
inevitably in his future. The sage is healthy as can be, but his soul retains a “scar” from his previous
condition, which results in his propatheiai. Though he will never in fact become sick again (experience an
emotion,) the imperfection of his presentative power makes it a possibility in principle.
Fragment 34A
Fragment 169E
IG Kidd(2004) 234, note 128

There is a movement in the emotional faculty when an erroneous impulse is

caused—when the defective presentative power, which has delivered an erroneous

impression, initiates the production of an action. I have already argued that this power is

the referent of Posidonius’ use of “emotional faculty.” Actions are most often initiated by

erroneous impressions because most people are non-sages, non-sages assent to these

impressions more often than not, and most of the non-sage’s impressions are erroneous.

The tendency toward erroneous assent is a function of the tensions of their imperfect

souls. The term “emotional faculty,” moreover, is equivalent to the terms “spirited and

appetitive faculties.” Both terms refer to the presentative power. Posidonius used the

latter phrase to draw a distinction between the types of objects that can be represented as

being good. Animals are supposed to have both a spirited and an appetitive faculty,

whereas plants only have the latter. We should understand this distinction as identifying

the different kinds of impulsive impressions that animal and plant quasi-presentative

powers receive. Plants only receive representations of their own stimulation as either

good or bad—they are only concerned with pleasure and pain (in the ordinary,

phenomenal senses of these words.) Animals receive presentations of their own

stimulation and the stimulation of other animals as good and bad, since they are

concerned with victory and loss.66

The presentative power of a human being receives three types of impulsive

impressions: those that represent pleasure as good/preferred, those that represent victory

as good/preferred, and those that represent virtue as good .67 These three things are the

three natural affinities (oikeoses) of the human soul. The presentative power functions

See Fragment 33.
See Fragment 160.

rationally—that is, in accord with right-reason—when it represents pleasure and victory

as preferred and virtue as good. It functions irrationally—not in accord with right-

reason—either by representing pleasure as good or by representing victory as good.

Posidonius’ attention to the different types of impulsive impressions we receive reminds

us that we must be careful not to confuse what is good—which is only virtue—with the

other things to which our souls have a natural affinity. There are two different ways in

which our presentative power can fail us, by misrepresenting the evaluative status of our

two lesser affinities, and we must be aware of and attentive to both of them. Galen’s

repeated insistence that Posidonius believed in two irrational faculties, despite sometimes

referring to a single irrational or emotional faculty, should be interpreted as a

(misleading) report of Posidonius’ discussion of the two distinct ways in which the

presentative power can function erroneously.68

While Posidonius apparently did criticize Chrysippus for failing to recognize

pleasure and victory as natural human affinities, this criticism does not point to a

disagreement between their theories of emotion. Posidonius pointed out that it was

unrealistic and problematic of Chrysippus to maintain that humans are by nature only

attracted to virtue.69 Chrysippus then had to claim that the experience of pleasure

somehow corrupts the human soul, disposing it to believe falsely that pleasure is good.

He derived the power of pleasure to corrupt from two sources: the fact that others who

have already been corrupted speak highly of pleasure, and that pleasure itself has an

alluring power.70 Posidonius was dissatisfied with both of these explanations. Without a

natural affinity for pleasure, the testimony of others would be insufficient to cause one to

See Fragments 142-148.
See Fragment 160.
See Fragment 169D.

believe it good and seek it. If one has no natural affinity for pleasure, moreover, the

prospect of pleasure can hold no allure—the thing itself can have no power of attraction.

By claiming that we have natural affinities to pleasure and victory as well, Posidonius

could explain why the vast majority of people wrongly believe these things are good:

from birth their presentative powers are disposed to represent them as good, and their

souls are too weak to resist assenting to these impressions.

My entire interpretation of Posidonius thus far has relied on a crucial assumption:

that the mature presentative power is for Posidonius a minimally rational faculty, in that

it conceptualizes the impressions it receives. If this is not right, then Posidonius did refer

to a non-minimally-rational power when he speaks of the “irrational” or “emotional”

faculty, precisely because he is referring to the presentative power. For if the erroneous

impressions received by this power are never conceptualized, they may be able to bypass

reason and assent, and directly produce a sort of quasi-action. Long and Sedley claim that

Fragment 162 “shows [Posidonius] interpreted reason more restrictively than Chrysippus,

counting a perceptual impression on its own as something ‘irrational’”.71 In Fragment

162, Posidonius asked “how could you move the irrational rationally, unless you thrust

before it a vivid mental picture similar to one you can see?” But this shows the opposite

of what Long and Sedley claim. The “irrational” (i.e. the presentative power out of sync

with right-reason) is moved rationally when it receives an impression. This rational

movement is the initiation of the causal chain that ends in an action, a chain that begins

with a fresh impression—a vivid picture of good or bad circumstances. If the presentative

power were fully irrational, the reception of an impression could not be a rational

AA Long and DN Sedley (2003) 423

movement of it. And if the impressions were irrational, they could not move the soul


If, moreover, Posidonius believed in a hegemonikon with a single rational power

and one or two fully irrational ones, as Galen thinks he does, he would certainly not

attribute the rational movement of the irrational power to the reception of an impression.

He would instead make the Platonic point that the irrational is moved rationally when the

rational faculty, having grown sufficiently strong, issues a command to the irrational that

the latter cannot resist. The fact that Posidonius did not do so is another reason for

thinking Galen has misinterpreted the Posidonian texts of Fragment 31, which Galen cites

as evidence that Posidonius has a Platonist view of the development of the rational


V: Reinterpreting Posidonius on Emotion

I will now argue that Posidonius solves the problem of excessive impulse in

essentially the same way as my Chrysippean reconstruction does. Fragment 169E

connects the movement of the emotional faculty with the occurrence of the emotional

pull. Posidonius was explicitly dissatisfied with an explanation of the cause of emotions

that stopped with the reception of an erroneous impulsive impression by a weak soul. He

claimed that no matter how good or bad the object of the impression was, or how weak

the agent’s soul was, these two factors could not explain the excessiveness of emotion:

“And if in addition to the magnitude of impressions of good and evil, they are going to

put the blame on excessive weakness of soul as well…the question isn’t solved by that

either”.72 Galen reports that Posidonius wanted to fill the gap in the early Stoic account of

emotion by locating a cause that would explain why reason has such difficulty
Fragment 164(2)

terminating emotional impulses. To this end, Posidonius “tries to show that the cause of

all false suppositions, when they occur…in the emotional sphere they arise because of the

emotional pull; this pull is preceded by false opinions when the ruling faculty has become

weak in regard to judgment”.73 He went on, according to Galen, to explain that these

emotional pulls were produced by “different physical temperaments”.74 The “movement

of the emotional faculty,” therefore, must mean more than I have said thus far. In addition

to an assent to an erroneous impression delivered by a defective presentative power, there

is the further event of “emotional pulling.” This emotional pulling is the cause of the

difficulty reason faces in attempting to terminate an emotion.

Given Posidonius’ discussion of the emotional pull, need we reintroduce irrational

hegemonic powers to explain his view of the cause of emotions? I think not. I argued

above that a Chrysippean theory of emotion need not stop at the point that dissatisfied

Posidonius. The emotional man fails to abandon his assent to the initial impression

because that assent is supported from moment to moment by a sequence of impressions

of the propatheiai caused by the initial impression. If the series of propathetic

impressions were not produced, he might be able to reject the initial impression as soon

as he received a contrary one, because the contrary impression would be more recent and

there would be no later impression to tempt him away from it. If the initial impression is

of something really bad—and so the impression is fresh—the agent should be all to ready

to reject it once a new impression comes along and reveals that no real evil is present.

And if the agent’s soul is weak, his assent to the first impression should be unsteady, so

that the new impression would be likely to lead him away from the old one. These

Fragment 169E
Fragment 169F

observations are what dissatisfied Posidonius about the truncated explanation.

Incorporating the role of the propatheiai solves this problem. We can understand

Posidonius’ view of emotion by equating his phenomenon of emotional pulling with the

propatheiai. The movement of the emotional faculty, then, would be the reception of an

erroneous impulsive impression by the presentative power and the direct effect of this

reception on the agent’s pneuma, the propathetic reaction.

Just as Posidonius’ texts provide good reason not to interpret him as attributing

spirited or appetitive powers to the soul, they provide good reason for interpreting the

emotional pull as analogous to the propatheiai. I will now argue that if we disregard

Galen’s improbable claim that the emotional pull is the activity of the spirited and

appetitive faculties, what emerges from this passage is a close variant of the Chrysippean

account of emotion given in Section III.

We are first told that “all false suppositions in the emotional sphere…arise

because of the emotional pull”. Suppositions, or judgments, are false insofar as they are

assents to erroneous impressions. For these judgments to lie in the “emotional sphere,”

they must be assents to erroneous impulsive impressions. An emotional pull, then, is a

cause of erroneous impulses and the actions that follow on those impulses. In other

words, emotional pulls cause emotions and emotional actions. Posidonius makes two

other important claims in this fragment: that all false judgments in the emotional sphere

are caused by—“arise because of”—emotional pulls; and that in a weak soul, emotional

pulls are “preceded by false opinions”. The false opinion Posidonius referred to is an

assent to the first evaluative component of an erroneous impulsive impression—the part

that represents something as good or bad, but does not refer to any action. Posidonius’

point was that while a weak soul would assent to this impression, such impressions alone

are never sufficient to cause assent to the second evaluative component—the one that

represents some action as appropriate.

One might object to this reading of 169E on the grounds that it takes Posidonius

as accepting that emotions are a type of impulse, where impulses are understood—as

Chrysippus understands them— as being caused by assent to a certain type of

presentation. It might seem that one of Galen’s texts casts doubt on this claim:

And time and again in his work On Emotions [Posidonius] asks Chrysippus and his
followers what is the cause of the excessive impulse. For reason, whatever else, could not
exceed its own business and measures …[I]n Chrysippus’ explanation of the definition of
emotion [as ‘excessive impulse without judgment’], ‘judgment’ was used in the sense of
‘circumspection’, so that the phrase ‘without judgment’ was used as the equivalent of
‘without circumspection’; but where he says that ‘emotions are judgments’, one might
say that he is using ‘judgment’ as a term for impulse and assent. But if one were to
accept that, emotion will be an excessive assent and again Posidon ius will ask what is the
cause of the excess.75

But note that at no point is any indication given that Posidonius does not understand

emotions to be impulses in precisely the way Chrysippus does. Posdonius’ concern is

simply the already familiar one of formulating an adequate causal explanation for the

excessiveness of emotions. Significant damage has been done, however, by the

misleading nature of Galen’s discussion here. Kidd notes that many commentators have

found the text of 169E inconsistent with what they take to be Posidonius’ view—i.e. the

Platonic view he is presented as holding by Galen—on account of this talk of the

emotional pull causing false judgments.76 For if the emotional pull were the activity of a

distinct, irrational power of the soul, which causes action even in opposition to judgment,

how could it have an effect on judgments themselves? Rather than seeing the way in

which Galen’s discussion of Posidonius is misleading, however, Kidd takes Galen’s

Fragment 34B, C
See IG Kidd (2004) Posidonius Vol. II: The Commentary: (ii) Fragments 150-293 (Cambridge: CUP)
Commentary on Fragment 169E.

overall presentation largely at face value and then attempts to explain away the apparent

contradiction in this text.

Kidd identifies the movements of the emotional power with the emotions

themselves, and then argues that in Posidonius’ view, these movements can not only

affect the body to produce action, but also, in a very weak soul, affect the power of

assent, causing it to judge that the emotional action is appropriate.77 But given what the

text says about the emotional pull being preceded by false opinions, and arising when the

rational faculty is weak, Kidd must go on to argue (1) that the movements of the

irrational power of the soul are caused by assent to false evaluative impressions; and (2)

that those movements are able to become excessive—i.e. become emotions—owing to

the weakness of the rational power of the soul.78 These excessive emotional movements

then affect both the body (causing emotional action), and the soul’s power of assent if the

soul is very weak (causing further assent to the appropriateness of the emotional action).

This activity affecting the body, and in some cases the rational soul as well, is what Kidd

takes to be the referent of Posidonius’ term “emotional pull”.

This interpretation, however, is impossible: it makes a hash of what we know to

be Posidonius’ primary and persistent criticism of Chrysippus. We have seen that

Posidonius held that however bad an impression may present some object or event as,

and however weak the rational power of individual’s soul may be, these two facts by

themselves do not suffice to explain the excessiveness of emotion. But on Kidd’s Galenic

interpretation of Posidonius, that is all the latter’s explanation of the excessiveness of

See IG Kidd (2004) Posidonius Vol. 3: The Translation of the Fragments (Cambridge: CUP) headnote to
Fragment 153; and (2004) Posidonius Vol. II: The Commentary: (ii) Fragments 150-293 (Cambridge:
CUP) Commentary on Fragment 169E.
See IG Kidd (2004) Posidonius Vol. II: The Commentary: (ii) Fragments 150-293 (Cambridge: CUP)
Commentary on Fragment 169E.

emotion and emotional action amounts to. The term “emotional pull” has become nothing

more than a name for the activity of a movement whose existence, excessiveness, and

effect on judgment are wholly causally explained by precisely those two factors—the

badness of an impression and the weakness of the rational power—which Posidonius

considers insufficient for providing these very causal explanations. Given the choice,

then, between this conclusion and the view that Posidonius understood emotions to be

impulses in the way that Chrysippus did, but was unsatisfied with his causal explanation

for their excessiveness, it is clear that we should prefer the second option.

Chrysippus claimed that if such an impression represented some situation as very

bad (or good)—that is, if it were fresh—that impression would cause one to assent to the

impression that some act of avoidance (or pursuit) is appropriate. Posidonius rejected this

claim because he observed that people sometimes cease to experience an emotion without

ceasing to judge that what happened was as bad as they first thought.79 This led him to

conclude that the freshness of an impression—its efficacy in inducing emotion—must lie

in its ability to cause some event in the agent’s soul that would be sufficient to cause an

assent to the further impression that some action is appropriate; this event, unlike the

judgment that something very bad (or good) is present, must not persist beyond the

emotion’s termination.

According to Posidonius, for an impression to be fresh is for it to be unfamiliar

and to take one by surprise: “The reason [why only fresh impressio ns cause emotions] is

that if anything we are unprepared for or strange to us suddenly hits us, it knocks us off

balance and displaces our old judgments”.80 An impression will not have this effect—will

See Fragment 164.
Fragment 165

not be fresh—on account of how bad (or good) it represents a situation as being. If one’s

soul were not weak enough to assent to the initial impression that something bad (or

good) is present without the shock of receiving the impression, that shock would cause

one to make such an assent. This experience would “displace one’s old judgment.” To

experience this shock is to be “knocked off balance,” insofar as one will not be able to

resist assenting to the further impression that some action is appropriate. When a soul that

is weak experiences this shock, the disturbance causes it to go from weak to infirm. The

shock takes a soul that was “prone to disease,” that is, emotion, to the state of “disease

itself”.81 This is why the shock caused by the impression accomplishes what the

impression itself could not: it weakens the soul to the point where it cannot resist not only

the erroneous impression that some good or evil is present, but also that some action is


We need to determine, then, what event in the soul a fresh impression causes,

what happens when an unfamiliar impulsive impression “knocks us off balance.” Once

we remember Posidonius’ other claim about the cause of emotions—that they are all

caused by emotional pulls—the answer is clear. The shock to the soul caused by the

reception of such an impression is the emotional pull. This sets the stage for identifying

emotional pulls with propatheiai. When an impulsive impression suddenly takes one by

surprise, the sort of non-cognitive emotional response I have identified with the

propatheiai is precisely what one would expect to experience.

There are numerous functional similarities between the propatheiai in my

Chrysippean account and the emotional pulls in Posidonius’ account. (1) Fresh, erroneous

impulsive impressions cause both propatheiai and emotional pulls. (2) In both cases,
Fragment 163B

these impressions cause the phenomena on account of their freshness, though the

definitions of freshness differ. Emotional pulls are caused only by impulsive impressions

that take one by surprise, while propatheiai are caused by impressions that represent a

situation as so good or bad that assent to the impression causes assent to the further

impression that some action is appropriate. (3) When an impression of an emotional pull

or a propatheia is received, one assents to that impression in its entirety—to both

evaluative components as well as the descriptive part. One assents to the impression of

the emotional pull because the occurrence of the pull has left one’s soul too weak to resist

any part of the impression—just as it leaves one’s soul too weak to resist any part of the

original impression that caused the pull. One assents to the impression of the propatheiai

because it represents the situation as being as good or bad as the initial impression does,

and so one is compelled to renew one’s assent that some action is appropriate. In both

cases, this whole-scale assent sustains the emotional action. (4) The occurrence of both

emotional pulls and propatheiai are outside one’s immediate control. They are

involuntary responses caused by the reception of fresh impressions. (5) One’s

susceptibility to both emotional pulls and propatheiai, as well as their duration and

intensity, is determined by one’s pneumatic tensions. (6) Finally, both emotional pulls

and propatheiai are offered as explanations of the excessiveness of emotion, and both

explain this phenomenon in the same way. Having rejected Galen’s claim that emotional

pulls are the activity of an irrational power that continues to function after the rational

power has made a new assent, the only way to explain the excessiveness of emotion by

means of emotional pulls is to claim that, like the propatheiai, they make it impossible

for one to permanently abandon one’s emotional impulse until they begin to die down,

even if one receives new, contrary kataleptic impressions. For as long as they occur, one

continues to receive fresh impulsive impressions that something good or bad is present

and that emotional action is appropriate, and one’s soul is too weak to resist assenting to

these impressions.

Though this last point is a conjecture on my part, Posidonius’ explanation of the

excessiveness of emotion cannot stop with the claim that emotional pulls weaken the soul

enough to make assent to emotional action irresistible. Such an explanation would not

make sense of the property of excess. He must also claim, as I have, that assent to the

stream of impressions of these pulls sustains emotional action past the point when the

soul has an opportunity to assent to a new, contrary kataleptic impression. This is even

more important for the Posidonian theory, since it places such emphasis on the infirmity

of the emotional soul. Such a weak soul could not hold to its assent to the original

impulsive impression if faced with a new contrary one, unless something prevented it

from abandoning that original impression. Thus, the emotional pull must play the same

role as I have claimed for the propatheiai in sustaining emotional action.

There is one important difference, which is typical of Posidonius’ style of causal

explanation. In my Chrysippean version of the account, a weak soul’s assent to the initial

erroneous impression may be sufficient to initiate an emotional action, but assents to

subsequent propathetic impressions are needed to sustain it. The occurrence of

propatheiai explains why emotions are excessive, but does not necessarily explain why

emotions occur in the first place. The Posidonian version locates a single cause for the

occurrence of emotions that also explains why they are excessive. This single cause is the

occurrence of an emotional pull, which, like a propatheia, is caused by the reception of


an erroneous impulsive impression. Only receiving an impression of an emotional pull

can cause the soul to assent that emotional action is appropriate. The fresh initial

impression may cause the pull as it causes propatheiai, but it cannot cause an emotional

impulse on its own. The pull is needed to weaken the soul further so that assent to

emotional action becomes irresistible. We will now see that this emendation makes the

Posidonian account superior to the Chrysippean reconstruction in its ability to account for

a wide range of emotional phenomena.

Posidonius discussed four situations in which people typically experience or fail

to experience an emotion, and tested his theory by determining whether it could explain

all of them. In three of the four, his theory performs better than the Chrysippean theory I

reconstructed in Section III. Posidonius’ two key revisions are his reinterpretation of

freshness and his insistence that assent to a fresh impression cannot initiate an emotional

impulse on its own. In every case, however, we will see Posidonius’ emotional pull

playing practically the same role as the propatheiai do in my Chrysippean account, and

only by playing this role does the emotional pull complete the explanations of the


(1) Lack of Emotion

Posidonius searched for an explanation of the fact that “most people…often weep

when they don’t want to, unable to restrain their tears, and others stop weeping before

they want to.” According to Galen, Posidonius’ answer was “it is obviously because of

the emotional movements, either pressing violently (and so beyond the control of the

will,) or completely at rest (and thus no longer capable of arousal by it)”.82 I will deal

first with the case of those who cease weeping before they want to, since the Chrysippean
Fragment 165D

theory can deal with it adequately. Weeping, which Posidonius identified as an (outward

manifestation of an) emotional movement, is a propathetic reaction to an impression that

something bad has happened. Both the propatheiai and Posidonius’ emotional pull occur

independent of any judgment. One may continue to judge that something bad has

happened, and that the voluntary emotional action of mourning is still appropriate, and

yet one’s propatheiai or emotional pull may die down—one may stop weeping before

one wants. The duration and intensity of both the emotional pull and the propatheiai

depend on the state of one’s pneumatic tensions. One cannot control them as they occur.

Even in this case, however, Posidonius’ theory has a little more to offer. It allows for the

additional insight that for the emotional pull to fade is for the soul to become accustomed

to the impression that initially took it by surprise. The Chrysippean must merely posit

that the impact of a fresh impulsive impression is finite and limited by the condition of

the pneumatic tensions.

(2) Unwanted Emotion

The case of one who weeps even though he does not want to is more difficult for

the Chrysippean. One who does not want to weep has judged that what has happened is

not all that bad, is not worth weeping over. That he does weep, however, shows that his

impression of the situation causes a propathetic reaction. For the Chrysippean, this

reaction must be caused by a fresh impression—one that represents the situation as very

bad. The Chrysippean would have to explain why it is so common for people to receive

fresh impressions of bad events and resist the inclination to assent to them. This is no

problem for a sage—in whom weeping, if he were to weep, could not be taken as a sign

of an emotion, but rather merely as a propatheia. But most people are not sages.

Posidonius has a much easier time explaining the phenomenon, because he understands

fresh impressions as those that take one by surprise. A sudden unexpected impression of

some evil causes an emotional pull that manifests as weeping. Such an impression,

however, need not represent an especially great evil; it need only be unexpected. If the

impression represents some small misfortune, it is not surprising that one would judge

that what has happened is not really bad. The unrelated fact that it was sudden and

unexpected, and that the soul of the average person is too weak to withstand even a small

jolt, explains why one weeps nonetheless.

(3) Differences in Emotional Response between Agents

The third case is one in which “Two persons may have the same weakness and

receive a similar presentation of good or evil, yet one may incur emotion, the other

not”.83 Posidonius sharpened the challenge even further by insisting that one of the two

may actually be weaker than the other, “who supposes that what has befallen him is

greater” and yet he “is not moved.” The Chrysippean can only explain differences in

experiencing emotion by appealing to differences in the degree of good or evil

represented or in the condition of the soul. Posidonius asserted that differences of the

latter kind are not required for differences of the former. Both of Posidonius’ key

revisions are needed to solve this puzzle. An impression may come suddenly and

unexpectedly to the stronger of two individuals and not to the weaker, even though the

weaker perceives what is happening as worse. This will cause an emotional pull in the

stronger but not the weaker. Assuming the stronger one is not a sage or undergoing moral

training, the surprise of the impression will put his soul into a weaker state than his

companion’s. Now he will not be able to resist assenting to the impression that emotional
Fragment 164

action is appropriate, and so he will form an emotional impulse while his companion does

not. The man who is initially weaker in this case must have grown accustomed to the sort

of bad event that has happened, so no emotional pull and thus no emotion is caused in


(4) Persistent, Unemotional Erroneous Judgment

In the fourth case, Posidonius discussed Agamemnon’s visit to Nestor for counsel

after the Greek army suffered a defeat.84 Agamemnon was first “struck with unspeakable

grief,” but when “the emotion subsided, although his supposition of what had happened

was still there, and so was the weakness of his reasoning powers, inactivity no longer

seemed right,” and he sought Nestor’s counsel. Posidonius complained that in referring to

the weakness of Agamemnon’s soul and the magnitude of the evil he judges has

happened, “Chrysippus has not given the cause of the emotion in its entirety,” since both

of these remain after the emotion has faded. The Chrysippean does have an explanation

for the cessation of mourning: at some point, the propatheiai begin to die down and the

initial impulsive impression loses its freshness. The agent then ceases to judge that what

has happened is as bad as it first seemed. Posidonius’ example rules out this explanation.

Agamemnon’s judgment has not changed; he continues to believe that what happened is

as bad as it first seemed. The Chrysippean has no trouble with the fact that his

propatheiai die down, but so long as he assents to the initial impression that something

very bad has happened, and this impression has not lost its freshness, he should be

compelled to assent that emotional action is appropriate. Posidonius’ revisions again

make an explanation possible. After a while, Agamemnon ceases to be shocked at what

happened; he becomes accustomed to the news of the defeat. His emotional pull subsides,
See Fragment 164.

even though his judgment of how bad the situation is has not lessened. When the surprise,

and thus the emotional pull, dissipates, his soul is no longer so weak that it assents to

emotional action. While retaining his initial judgment of the magnitude of the evil, he is

now free to judge that seeking counsel and responding to the situation are appropriate.

VI: Conclusion – Posidonius’ Perplexing Terminology

I have argued that for Posidonius, “movements of the spirited and appetitive

faculties” meant “movements of the emotional faculty,” which meant the activity of a

defective presentative power, plus the subsequent assent to impressions of the

propatheiai produced by the activity of that power. These impressions are the emotional

pull, and they explain the excessive nature of emotion. Posidonius has in fact given a

more causally precise version of the explanation of emotion which I developed in Section

III out of explicitly Chrysippean elements.

If my interpretation of Posidonius is correct, it leaves us with a puzzling question:

why did Posidonius talk in terms of “spirited and appetitive faculties” if he did not mean

by these terms what Plato meant?85 On this I can only speculate, but a good reason is

available. Certain behavioral phenomena are only explainable in Platonic psychology on

account of the roles played by the non-rational parts of the soul. Adherence to a monistic

rational psychology might look like an abandoning of any attempt to explain those

phenomena. Posidonius may have been emphasizing the fact that his development of

Chrysippean psychology was perfectly capable of explaining all the phenomena which

Plato explained with these other parts. Though the presentative power is by no means an

TeunTieleman argues that Posidonius did not use these terms at all, and that the appearance that he did is
due to Galen’s misrepresentations of his writings and his views . I have taken the traditional view that
Posidonius did use Platonic language, but of course, my argument that he was a faithful Chrysippean, and
that his notion of emotional movements played the same role that propatheiai should have played in
Chrysippus’ theory, is not weakened if Posidonius did not use Plato’s language. See T Tieleman (2003).

emotional faculty in Plato’s sense, its functional role gives Stoic psychology an

explanatory range equal to that of Plato’s theory.