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Headword: *peri\ prolh/yews
Adler number: pi,2495
Translated headword: on preconception
Vetting Status: high
Translation:
[There is] a difference of [= between] truth and habit. For the truth is discovered by making a genuine and complete search. But habituation, which has been admitted, whether it is true or false, is uncritically confirmed by itself. But the person admitting such a habituation is neither delighted at what is true nor grieved by falsehood. For such a person has not trusted his judgment but his preconception,[1] and has bestowed a peculiar expectation on the understanding of what is before him, making use of a non-evident fortune. And it is impossible easily to get rid of the investiture belonging to one's father, even though such investiture appears to him as being extremely distressful and ridiculous. Chrysippus holds in the twelfth book of his Physics that the criteria are sense-perception, knowledge, and preconception. Furthermore, he says that preconception is a natural conception of universals.[2] The philosopher Epicurus says[3] that preconception is as if it were a grasp, or correct opinion, or a conception that is a universal notion stored in us, i.e. a memory of what often appears to us from the external world. For instance, "such a thing is a man"; for as soon as the word "man" is pronounced its distinguishing feature is immediately conceived of due to preconceptions, since the senses serve as a guidance. Therefore, what primarily falls upon each name is something evident. And we would not have investigated what is an object of investigation if we had not known it first. For example, what is standing in front of me, is it a cow or a horse? For by means of preconception we should have known at some time the shape of horse or cow. We would not have given a name to anything if we had not first learned its distinguishing feature by means of preconception. Consequently, preconceptions are evident. And what is an object of opinion depends upon something prior and evident, by referring to which we ask: "how can we know if this thing is a man?" They also call the opinion "supposition".
Greek Original:
*peri\ prolh/yews: diafora/ e)stin a)lhqei/as kai\ sunhqei/as: h( me\n ga\r a)lh/qeia gnhsi/ws zhtoume/nh pa/ntws eu(ri/sketai. to\ de\ e)/qos, o(poi=on a)\n paralhfqei/h, ei)/te a)lhqe\s ei)/qe yeude/s, a)kri/tws u(f' e(autou= kratu/netai: kai\ ou)/te a)lhqei= o)/nti au)tw=| h(/detai o( paralabw\n ou)/te yeudei= a)/xqetai. ou) ga\r kri/sei, a)lla\ prolh/yei o( toiou=tos pepi/steuke, gnw/mh| tw=n pro\ au)tou= e)p' a)dh/lw| tu/xh| th\n i)di/an e)pidedwkw\s e)lpi/da. kai\ ou)k e)/sti r(a|di/ws a)podu/sasqai th\n pa/trion peribolh\n, ka)\n pa/nu au)tw=| dei/knutai lupra\ kai\ katage/lastos ou)=sa. o( de\ *xru/sippos e)n tw=| ib# fusikw=| lo/gw| du/o fhsi\n ei)=nai krith/ria, ai)/sqhsin, gnw=sin kai\ pro/lhyin. e)/sti de\ pro/lhyis e)/nnoia fusikh\ tw=n kaqo/lou. *)epi/kouros de\ o( filo/sofos pro/lhyin le/gei, oi(onei\ kata/lhyin h)\ do/can o)rqh\n h)\ e)/nnoian h)\ kaqolikh\n no/hsin e)napokeime/nhn, toute/sti mnh/mhn tou= polla/kis e)/cwqen fane/ntos. oi(=on to\ toiou=to/n e)stin a)/nqrwpos: a(/ma ga\r tw=| r(hqh=nai a)/nqrwpos, eu)qu\s kata\ pro/lhyin kai\ o( tu/pos au)tou= noei=tai, prohgoume/nwn tw=n ai)sqh/sewn. panti\ ou)=n o)no/mati to\ prw/tws e)piteteugme/non e)narge/s e)sti: kai\ ou)k a)\n e)zhth/samen to\ zhtou/menon, ei) mh\ pro/teron e)gnw/keimen au)to/. oi(=on to\ po/rrw e(stw/s, bou=s e)stin h)\ i(/ppos; dei= ga\r kata\ pro/lhyin e)gnwke/nai pote\ i(/ppou kai\ boo\s morfh/n. ou)d' a)\n ou)=n w)noma/same/n ti, mh\ pro/teron au)tou= kata\ pro/lhyin to\n tu/pon maqo/ntes. *)enargei=s ou)=n ei)si\n ai( prolh/yeis: kai\ to\ docasto\n a)po\ prote/rou tino\s e)nargou=s h)/rthtai: e)f' o(\ a)nafe/rontes le/gomen, oi(=on po/qen i)/smen ei) tou=to/ e)stin a)/nqrwpos. th\n de\ do/can kai\ u(po/lhyin le/gousi.
Notes:
[1] A technical word -- see already pi 2494 -- used by the Stoics and Epicurus (for Epicurean preconception cf. fr. 255 Usener). A preconception is literally a 'grasp' or an 'apprehension' that has been attained before an inquiry. For further discussion see Asmis (1984) 22-24.
[2] See Diogenes Laertius 7.54. For the Stoics the commanding part of the soul (hegemonikon) is like a sheet of paper ready for writing upon (cf. Aetius 4.11). However, there are 'inborn preconceptions' which are natural rational components whose function is to determine and to help to interpret the stuff provided by the senses (see Plutarch, On Stoic self-contradictions, Moralia 1041E). The function of preconception in the Stoic theory of knowledge seems to have been searching for and finding out a new knowledge (see Clement, Miscellanies 6.14 and Olympiodorus, On Plato's Phaedo 125.7).
[3] Diogenes Laertius 10.33. Epicurus' criteria of truth are said to be sense-perceptions (aistheseis), preconceptions (prolepseis) and passions or emotions (pathe). See Diogenes Laertius 10.31, quoting Epicurus'Canon.
References:
E. Asmis, Epicurus' Scientific Method, (Ithaca and London, 1984)
G.B. Kerferd, "The Problem of Synkatathesis and Katalepsis in Stoic Doctrine", in J. Brunschwig (ed.), Les stoiciens et leur logique (Paris 1978) 251-272
M. Schofield, "Preconception, Argument and God", in M. Schofield, M. Burnyeat, J. Barnes (edd.), Doubt and Dogmatism. Studies in Hellenistic Epistemology (Oxford 1980) 283-308 (especially 291-307)
D.N. Sedley, "Epicurus on Common Sensibles", in P.Huby & G. Neal (edd.), The Criterion of Truth (Liverpool 1989) 123-136
C.C.W. Taylor, "All Perceptions are true", in M. Schofield, M. Burnyeat, J. Barnes (edd.), Doubt and Dogmatism. Studies in Hellenistic Epistemology (Oxford 1980) 105-124
Keywords: definition; ethics; philosophy
Translated by: Marcelo Boeri on 5 November 1999@09:28:01.
Vetted by:
Scott Carson on 3 January 2000@21:37:27.
Scott Carson on 11 February 2000@16:04:47.
David Whitehead (cosmetics) on 16 January 2003@07:18:41.
Marcelo Boeri on 12 June 2006@15:23:28.
David Whitehead (x-ref) on 16 April 2010@10:00:11.
David Whitehead on 16 October 2013@06:11:31.
Catharine Roth (coding) on 23 January 2015@23:57:42.
Catharine Roth (more coding) on 27 February 2015@00:30:46.

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