In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek and Roman Logic

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Origins of Ancient Logic
  • Dialectical School
  • Contradiction/Negation

Classics Greek and Roman Logic
Robby Finley, Justin Vlasits, Katja Maria Vogt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0341


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

General Overviews

For an introduction to the main themes of ancient logic, see Bobzien 2016, as well as the relevant sections of Bochenski 1961 and Kneale and Kneale 1962. Gabbay and Woods 2004 offers more detailed introductions to particular topics in ancient logic. Indispensable tools for research are Barnes 2007 and Barnes 2012. Still useful as the most comprehensive account of the history of logic ever written is Prantl 1855–1870. Gourinat and Lemaire 2016 is a recent collection of in-depth studies of Greek logic, broadly conceived, up to Proclus. Fink 2012, as well as Bénatouïl and Ierodiakonou 2018, survey the notion of dialectic from its beginnings in Plato and Aristotle into Hellenistic and Imperial times. Martijn, de Haas and Leunissen 2011 survey the notion of demonstration.

  • Barnes, Jonathan. 2007. Truth etc.: Six lectures on ancient logic. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The most comprehensive recent account of ancient logic. Based on his John Locke Lectures at Oxford, Barnes does not approach the topic chronologically, but topically. Working from the texts themselves, with no references to secondary literature, this book is challenging for the student but essential reading for serious scholarship.

  • Barnes, Jonathan. 2012. Logical matters. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A collection of twenty-seven essays on ancient logic by one of the foremost scholars of ancient logic, on authors ranging from Aristotle to Ammonius and Boethius.

  • Bénatouïl, Thomas, and Katerina Ierodiakonou, eds. 2018. Dialectic after Plato and Aristotle. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The proceedings of the 13th Symposium Hellenisticum and the first volume dedicated to dialectic (a close cousin of and sometimes identified with logic) from Aristotle’s immediate successors to Sextus Empiricus and Galen.

  • Bobzien, Susanne. 2016. Ancient Logic. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ.

    A succinct introduction to ancient logic, with a focus on Peripatetic and Stoic theories of syllogisms.

  • Bochenski, Józef Maria. 1961. History of formal logic. Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press.

    A historical survey of logic, originally published in German as Formale Logik, from the point of view of modern logic, inspired by the work of Łukasciewicz. Part II discusses in detail the origins of logic, Aristotle, and Megarians/Stoics. Notably, there is very little on ancient logic after the Stoics and throughout, there is a narrow focus on syllogistic, although there is recognition that logic extends beyond these confines to include methodology and semiotics.

  • Fink, Jakob, ed. 2012. The development of dialectic from Plato to Aristotle. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Collection of articles on dialectic, broadly construed, in Plato and Aristotle, dealing with topics such as the dialogue form and its relationship to dialectic, the types of question at issue in dialectical argumentation, and the sorts of arguments considered (refutation, induction).

  • Gabbay, Dov M., and John Woods, eds. 2004. Handbook of the history of logic. Vol. 1: Greek, Indian and Arabic logic. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    A recent collection of in-depth articles aiming for broad coverage of, inter alia, Greek and Roman logic.

  • Gourinat, Jean-Baptiste, and Juliette Lemaire, eds. 2016. Logique et dialectique dans l’Antiquité. Paris: J Vrin.

    Collection of articles on ancient logic broadly conceived, starting with discussion of dialectic and Socratic elenchus and covering ancient Greek theories relevant to the history of logic up to and including Proclus.

  • Kneale, Martha, and William Kneale. 1962. The development of logic. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    A detailed chronological account of logic (understood narrowly as the study of valid argumentation) from antiquity through the time of writing. The first three chapters concern (1) the origins of logic, (2) Aristotle, and (3) the Stoics and Megarians, while the fourth chapter briefly touches on logical writings in Latin before moving to the medieval period.

  • Martijn, M., F. A. J. de Haas, and M. E. M. P. J. Leunissen, eds. 2011. Interpreting Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics in late antiquity and the Byzantine period. Philosophia Antiqua, No. 124. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    A collection of essays on the later Greek reception of Aristotle’s treatise on demonstrative syllogisms, the Posterior Analytics.

  • Prantl, Karl von. 1855–1870. Geschichte der Logik im Abendlande. 4 vols. Leipzig: Hirzel.

    Still an indispensable work on the entire history of logic, unparalleled in scope, although many of his judgments about the value of ancient logicians after Aristotle, particularly the Stoics, are no longer widely accepted. Unlike the tradition following Łukasciewicz, Bochenski, and later authors, Prantl does not take Aristotle to have developed a “formal” logic at all and he argues that all later formal logic was a corruption of the “pure” original, which was deeply connected with metaphysics.

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