— Zeno's proof that the Universe employs reason —

Topic definition

Zeno, the father of Stoicism, was quoted by Cicero and Sextus Empiricus, on a proof he gave to establish that the Universe employs reason.

Zeno’s proof as quoted by Cicero in De Natura Deorum (II, 20)

What employs reason is better than what does not
But nothing is better than the Universe
Therefore the Universe employs reason.

Tags : zeno syllogism cicero universe reason

Flagged fallacies

equivocation by GhiOm


I would say there is an ambiguity in the term better, which is not properly defined.

The term better has to be defined in terms of measure. What is preferred has to be measurable, or else it is not an objective argument.

In the first premise, better is taken in a very narrow definition, while comparing rational capacity of beings, where reason is preferred to no reason.

In the second premise, better is not in regard of a measure of anything but a property of the Universe.


Agree with GhiOm
posted by John B. Brown on January 30, 2010 20:13

I agree this is an equivocation for the reasons stated (differing meanings of “better”).

subverted_support by John B. Brown


There is an unspoken assumption that there exists a teleologic end to the universe and to beings in general—that a rational being is closer to achieving its end than a non rational being. This assumption of an end, or purpose, could also be seen as the error of “Subverted Support” in which the phenomena being explained does not exist. In this case, that phenomena is the “end” or “purpose” of being.


Perhaps "Nothing" IS better?
posted by Andrew Kenworthy on February 26, 2010 02:24

The existance of the universe has given us man and his ability to reason. The misuse of mans reason is the cause of evil as there is no evil in nature. In this way the universe is comprised of both good and evil things.

Now let’s say that NOTHING existed at all. If man is the cause of evil and nothing existed there would be no evil.
In this way one could argue that “Nothing” really IS better than the universe as it is completely void of evil!

Still a "better" equivocation
posted by GhiOm on February 27, 2010 06:52

One could… But that would be an instance of equivocation as well. “Good is better than bad” and “nothing is better than everything” do not use the same notion of better. But I am not sure an ancient Stoic would have said that Nature comprises evil. Although virtue is a corporeal, lack of virtue is not. Just like void, they are incorporeals. That would have made it hard to make them comparable.

But there is merit in the argument...
posted by Andrew Kenworthy on March 02, 2010 02:59

If one accepts for a moment the equivocation offered by Cicero but can then turn it on it’s head as I think I have… can that not still stand as an argument against Cicero’s logic?
In other words, if you use someone’s distorted logic against them and your own version holds true can you not say that it defeats the argument?

My head hurts now… :)

Also, Nature does not comprise evil, but where else could it exist other than the universe?