The Stoic Theory of Action: On the Notion of Assent

Vladimír Mikeš

This paper offers an interpretation of the Stoic notion of assent which lies at the core of the Stoic theory of action. It is due to the original ambiguity of this notion that the Stoics have been presented by many as the philosophers of freedom, while others have asserted that their determinism rules out any possibility not only of freedom, but even of responsibility. Aiming at the solution of this paradox, the paper puts the notion of assent in its proper context of the Stoic concepts of the nature of man and the nature of human reason. This last, being depicted by the Stoics in three different ways representing different points of view, helps in understanding that the ambiguity of the notion of assent also results from different perspectives of description. Having explored the full scope of this ambiguity, the paper draws the conclusion – against the prevailing modern interpretation – that Stoic assent is a reflexive act of reason in which the reason turns to itself to approve its interpretation of the world. Insofar as assent is not sufficiently distant from the collection of notions which constitutes reason, it is determined; insofar as it sets up distance from this same reason in the act of reflecting it, it is in our power.