The Stoic Account of Apprehension

Philosophers' Imprint 14:1-21 (2014)
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Abstract
This paper examines the Stoic account of apprehension (κατάληψις) (a cognitive achievement similar to how we typically view knowledge). Following a seminal article by Michael Frede (1983), it is widely thought that the Stoics maintained a purely externalist causal account of apprehension wherein one may apprehend only if one stands in an appropriate causal relation to the object apprehended. An important but unanswered challenge to this view has been offered by David Sedley (2002) who offers reasons to suppose that the Stoics (or at least Zeno, the founder of the Stoa) did not make such a causal stipulation. I offer a defence of the traditional, causal reading against the challenges raised by Sedley but also argue, against the traditional view, that the Stoic account incorporated an internalist element. On the hybrid account defended here, in order to apprehend not only must the agent stand in an appropriate causal relation to the object apprehended but the agent’s appearance of the object must also be clear (a feature which is accessible to the epistemic agent). The traditional scholarly view rejects internalist interpretations because it is thought that such interpretations cannot make sense of the Stoics’ discussion of the ‘automatic assent’ produced by kataleptic appearances and a purely externalist view is taken to be charitable insofar as it saves the Stoics from a vicious regress which they would otherwise face (were they internalists). I spell out how the regress might be taken to function and defend an internalist interpretation against both these charges. The internalist element embraced by the Stoics does not lead to the problems it is often thought to and the account defended here not only does justice to the textual evidence but also sheds light on the Stoic debates with their sceptical opponents and grants the Stoics an epistemic account fit for purpose
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