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Katalepsis: Wikis


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Katalepsis (Greek: κατάληψις, "grasping") in Stoic philosophy, meant comprehension.[1] It is a term that originally refers to the Stoic philosophers and was to them, a landmark ideological premise regarding one's state of mind as it relates to grasping fundamental philosophical concepts.


According to the Stoics, the mind is constantly being bombarded with impressions (phantasms), some of which are true and some false. Impressions are true when they can be truly affirmed of anything, false if they are wrongly affirmed, such as when one believes an oar dipped in the water to be broken because it appears so.[2] When Orestes, in his madness, mistook Electra for a Fury, he had an impression both true and false: true inasmuch as he saw something, viz., Electra; false, inasmuch as Electra was not a Fury.[2] The Stoics said that one ought not to give credit to everything which is perceived, but only to those perceptions which contain some special mark of those things which appeared.[3] Such a perception then was called the cataleptic phantasm (Greek: φαντασία καταληπτική), or comprehensible perception.[3] The cataleptic phantasm is that which is impressed by an object which exists, which is a copy of that object and can be produced by no other object.[2]

Katalepsis was the main bone of contention between the Stoics and Academic Skeptics of Plato's Academy, during the Hellenistic period.[3] The Greek Skeptics (who of course chose the Stoics as their natural philosophical opposites) debated much of what the Stoics eschewed regarding the human mind and one's methods of understanding greater meanings.[4] To the Skeptics, all perceptions were acataleptic, i.e. bore no conformity to the objects perceived, or, if they did bear any conformity, it could never be known.[5]

Modern era

Informally in modern times, katalepsis means that one has reached a state of complete understanding (regarding all things, almost literally "beyond" everything). It is also referred to extensively in the book "Darwin's Blade" by Dan Simmons, first in the context of a Vietnam era sniper (the protagonist in his earlier life) who reaches a complete killing state without conscious hindrance [albeit out of complete and proper/morally approved necessity. Essentially without negative moral or social connotation]. From then on, the author's subsequent use of the term implies that modern humans [specifically the main characters] can reach this "state of katalepsis" in any given critical situation, especially those that require mental or spiritual fortitude.


  1. ^ Charles Porterfield Krauth, William Fleming, Henry Calderwood, (1878), A vocabulary of the philosophical sciences, page 589
  2. ^ a b c George Henry Lewes, (1880), The history of philosophy: from Thales to Comte, page 360
  3. ^ a b c Thomas Woodhouse Levin, (1871), Six lectures introductory to the philosophical writings of Cicero, page 71
  4. ^ See Ancient Greek Skepticism at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy for information about katalepsis and the Skeptics attack on it.
  5. ^ George Henry Lewes, (1863), The biographical history of philosophy, Volume 1, page 297


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