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Noesis ( for "insight") is a word meaning (in philosophical context) "understanding as the ability to sense, or know something, immediately".


In Ancient Greek philosophy, modern European Continental philosophy as well as the philosophy of mind the term can be translated from Greek, to mean intellection or insight, intelligence, and under-standing akin to hypostasis. It is cognate with the verb noein (νοεῖν) and its object to noeton (νοητόν). In a wider sense noesis is thought, in contrast to sensation (Greek αἴσθησις—aisthesis).

Noesis and Dianoia

In its narrow sense, noesis is identified as noetic with the nous being immediate or intuitive thinking and it is contrasted to dianoia (διάνοια) which is rational or discursive thinking. Despite that noesis is also sometimes used to denote the activities (energeia) or processes of the mind or nous, it might also be said to include dianoia. It is the thought that constitutes the being of the Unmoved Mover in Aristotle's Metaphysics and it is pure intuitive apprehension in Neoplatonism. In Plato's Analogy of the divided line, noesis is beyond dianoia, and while dianoia is concerned with mathematical entities, noesis is the highest state of the mind which reasons from Forms to Forms, reaches first principles, first causes and the axioms of axiology, and then deduces conclusions from them. It is rational intuitive or instinctive rather than dialectical or discoursive reason in Hellenic philosophy and also Russian philosophy (see N.O. Lossky). As mankind's rational consciousness is limited via discursive thinking, mankind has to validate any premise intuitively or instinctually. The limits of discursive logic to valid realism or objective reality where validated epistemologically by Gödel's incompleteness theorems. Noesis as intuitive apprehension is a means to transcend discursive limitation.

Noesis and Noema

Noesis encompasses the processes of the thoughts and the types of thoughts along with psyche episodes or moments (states), in consciousness. Noema (νόημα) is the object of focus of the nous or consciousness. Usually the term noema is used when one engages in the perception of an object. The focus of noema can be object external to the human consciousness and objects within the human consciousness.

Continental Philosophy

In phenomenology, it is an act of consciousness. "Thinking", "loving", "hating", "imagining" are all verbs applying to what minds do. One would never call "loving" a belief, because it is something you do, not something you merely hold to be true. In modern times, the contrast between noesis and noema became fundamental to Husserl's phenomenological account of intentional experience. “Life is defined in the case of animals by the power of perception, in that of man by the power of perception or noesis (thought).” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics BOOK IX, chapter 9). Noema here is the object in and of itself what is being thought about. Noesis in contrast is the nous' activity or rather the act of thinking. In this case the nous' perception, interpretation and absorption of the object into itself. Since once an object is perceived it becomes part of the human consciousness. The event of the object becoming part of human consciousness is called memory. It is this process that Husserl set out to define in his philosophy which he named phenomenology. Which was the study of perception as the study of objective encounter in a detached, theoretical attitude of consciousness. Later Husserl's student Martin Heidegger broke from the tenets of German Idealism, phenomenology in order to validate realism or objective reality, dialectically. Heidegger's break in Continental Philosophy from the phenomenological to Heidegger's ontological Philosophical anthropology (consciousness as first-person experience) called "being in the world" or "Being and Time". This change showing a shift in the understanding of human consciousness from an internal and external phenomenon detached form of observing the noesis or processes of consciousness to the validation of being as a shared and therefore limited phenomenological ontology. These being two distinct Epoché. Here the substance or essence of things is unlimitedly indeterminate outside of noesis or the processes of human consciousness (i.e. value is given only as a noetic conscious construction). Where as Aristotle and Hellenistic philosophy hold that the whole of an object has ousia "essence" that are the basis for determency.


Eastern Othodoxy Christianity

Faith (πίστις—pistis) is sometimes used interchangeably with Noesis in Eastern Christianity. The noesis is the activities of the nous or spirit. Faith being characteristic of the noesis or noetic experience of the nous or spirit. Faith here being defined as intuitive truth, meaning as a gift from God, faith is one of God's uncreated energies (Grace too is another of God's uncreated energies). Noesis is the internal faculty, as faith, in which one faces the unknownable or randomness of the future. The God in Trinity is uncreated or incomprehensible in nature, being, substance or essence. Therefore in Eastern Christianity, unlike in Western Christianity (see Actus et potentia), God's essence or incomprehensibility is distinguished from his uncreated energies. This is clarified in the Essence-Energies distinction of Gregory Palamas. Faith here beyond simply a belief in something. Faith here as an activity or operation of God working in and through mankind. Faith being a critical aspect to the relationship between man and the God, this relationship or process is called Theosis. Faith as an operation in contemplating of an object for understanding. Mankind's analysis of an objects properties: enables us to form concepts. But this analysis can in no case exhaust the content of the object of perception. There will always remain an "irrational residue" which escapes analysis and which can not be expressed in concepts: it is this unknowable depth of things, that which constitutes their true, indefinable essence that also reflects the origin of things in God. As God in Trinity, as the anomalies of God's essence or being. In Eastern Christianity it is by faith or intuitive truth that this component of an objects existence is grasp. Though God through his energies draws us to him, his essence remains inaccessible. The operation of faith being the means of free will by which mankind faces the future or unknown, these noetic operations contained in the concept of insight or noesis.

Other uses

Noesis may also refer to:

See also


  1. Glossary of terms from the Philokalia pg 430 Palmer, G.E.H; Sherrard; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). The Philokalia, Vol. 4 ISBN 0-571-19382-X Noesis—not an abstract concept or a visual image, but the act or function of the intellect (q.v.) whereby it apprehends spiritual realities in a direct manner.
  2. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy-Phenomenology
  3. If we look deeper into the nature of things, a virtuous friend seems to be naturally desirable for a virtuous man. For that which is good by nature, we have said, is for the virtuous man good and pleasant in itself. Now life is defined in the case of animals by the power of perception in that of man by the power of perception or thought; and a power is defined by reference to the corresponding activity, which is the essential thing; therefore life seems to be essentially the act of perceiving or thinking.
  4. The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy Edited by: Nicholas Bunnin and Jiyuan Yu eISBN 9781405106795 [1]
  5. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy-Edmund Husserl [2]
  6. Husserl and Heidegger on being in the world By Søren Overgaard Published by Springer, 2004 ISBN 1402020430, 9781402020438 pg 82–85 [3]
  7. Glossary of terms from the Philokalia pg 430 Palmer, G.E.H; Sherrard; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). The Philokalia, Vol. 4 ISBN 0-571-19382-X Faith- not only an individual or theoretical belief in the dogmatic truths of Christianity, but an all-embracing relationship, an attitude of love and trust in God. As such it involves a transformation of man's entire life. Faith is a gift from God, the means whereby we are taken up into the whole theanthropic activity of God in Christ and of man in Christ through which man attains salvation.
  8. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1991. (ISBN 0-227-67919-9) pg 21, pg 71
  9. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1991. (ISBN 0-227-67919-9) pg 71
  10. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, by Vladimir Lossky SVS Press, 1997, pg 33 (ISBN 0-913836-31-1). James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1991, pg 71 (ISBN 0-227-67919-9).
  11. Νόησις - Κεντρο Διάδοσης Επιστημών και Μουσείο Τεχνολογίας
  12. Philadelphia Slick

Further reading

  • On the Inner Nature of Things and on the Purification of the Intellect: One Hundred Texts by Nikitas Stithatos (Nikitas Stethatos) The Philokalia volume four Palmer, G.E.H; Sherrard, Philip; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). ISBN 0-571-19382-X

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