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PTypes Making proper use of impressions In our power




Cognitive Impressions (phantasiai kataleptikai)


Pierre Hadot (pg. 84) translates phantasiai kataleptikai as "adequate representations:"

"As is well known, the Stoics held that only those representations should be accepted into the mind which they called kataleptikai, a term which is usually translated as "comprehensive." This translation gives the impression that the Stoics believed a representation to be true when it "comprehends," or seizes the contents of reality. In Epictetus, however, we can glimpse a wholly different meaning of the term: for him, a representation is kataleptike when it does not go beyond what is given, but is able to stop at what is perceived, without adding anything extraneous to that which is perceived. Rather than "comprehensive representations," then, it would be better to speak of "adequate representations."

"An objective or adequate representation is one which corresponds exactly to reality, which is to say that it engenders within us an inner discourse which is nothing other than the pure and simple description of an event without the addition of any subjective value-judgment" (Hadot, pg.104).


Epictetus, Discourses 3.8.1-6

"As we exercise ourselves against sophistical questions, so we ought to exercise ourselves daily against appearances; for these appearances also propose questions to us. "A certain person son is dead." Answer: the thing is not within the power of the will: it is not an evil. "A father has disinherited a certain son. What do you think of it?" It is a thing beyond the power of the will, not an evil. "Caesar has condemned a person." It is a thing beyond the power of the will, not an evil. "The man is afflicted at this." Affliction is a thing which depends on the will: it is an evil. He has borne the condemnation bravely." That is a thing within the power of the will: it is a good. If we train ourselves in this manner, we shall make progress; for we shall never assent to anything of which there is not an appearance capable of being comprehended [phantasia kataleptike]. Your son is dead. What has happened? Your son is dead. Nothing more? Nothing. Your ship is lost. What has happened? Your ship is lost. A man has been led to prison. What has happened? He has been led to prison. But that herein he has fared badly, every man adds from his own opinion. "But Zeus," you say, "does not do right in these matters." Why? because he has made you capable of endurance? because he has made you magnanimous? because he has taken from that which befalls you the power of being evil? because it is in your power to be happy while you are suffering what you suffer; because he has opened the door to you, when things do not please you? Man, go out and do not complain."


"What Epictetus means is that the idea according to which a certain event is a misfortune -- as well as the consequences that such a representation may have on the desires and tendencies of the soul -- is a representation which has no basis in reality; rather, it goes beyond an adequate vision of reality, by adding to it a false value-judgment. Such a representation can arise only in a soul which has not yet assimilated the fundamental dogma of Stoicism: happiness is only to be found in moral good, or virtue; and misfortune is only to be found in moral evil, in faults and vice" (Hadot, pp. 85-86).


"The discipline of assent [see also Seddon, "The Discipline of Assent"] consists essentially in refusing to accept within oneself representations which are other than objective or adequate" (Hadot, pg. 100)

"In the discipline of assent (sunkatathesis): "Each representation (phantasia) which presents itself to us must be subjected to criticism, so that our inner dialogue and the judgment we enunciate with regard to it may not add anything "subjective" to that which, within the representation, is "adequate" to reality; only thus will we be able to give our assent to a true judgment. We have already seen the importance of this theme in Stoicism, for which good and evil are not to be found anywhere else than in our faculty of judgment" (Hadot, pg. 87-88).


Epictetus, Discourses 3.12.14-15

"The third exercise-theme concerns assent, and in particular seductive and attractive representations. Just as Socrates used to say that an unexamined life is not worth living, so we must never accept an unexamined representation" (trans. Hadot, pg. 97).

"Thus, in this description of lived logic, or logic put into practice, we recognize the proper use of representations which is, in fact, the basis and foundation of all the other exercise-themes" (Hadot, pg. 97).



Hadot, Pierre (1998). The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Translated by Michael Chase. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.



Hellenistic Stoicism: 40 The Criteria of Truth by D. L. Hitchcock.

Stoic Philosophy of Mind by Scott Rubarth.



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