Chrysippus often talks as if there is a third option when we might expect that two options in response to a question are exhaustive. Things are true, false, or neither; equal, unequal, or neither; the same, different, or neither; and so on. There seems to be a general pattern here that calls for a general explanation. This paper offers a general explanation of this pattern, preserving Stoic commitments to excluded middle and bivalence, arguing that Chrysippus employs this trichotomy move when he wishes to argue that apparent contradictories are only contraries, and wishes to endorse a third option. This general explanation of the pattern of trichotomies sheds light on a number of interpretative puzzles, including Chrysippus’ response to Democritus’ paradox of the cone. The purpose of these trichotomies is also discussed, and it is suggested that they originate from the dialectical context in which philosophical problems were posed.
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