Stages in the Apprehension of Concepts for Knowledge to Be Possible

There are, actually, three major stages in the apprehension of a concept before knowledge becomes possible. These are perception, abstraction, and judgment.


This is the first stage, which involves an activity that does not make us different from animals. Animals also perceive their surroundings, including the thing around them. There are two types of perception “external perception and internal perception.” External perception happens when we perceive things using our five senses. The result of the process of external perception is called percept. Consequently, once you use any and all of your five senses to perceive the world, you have these percepts. For example, when you perceive a chair, you have the percept of a chair. Percepts are the immediate product of external perception. Internal perception, on the other hand, happens when you use your imagination and memory. From these percepts, you could close your eyes and use your imagination and memory to recreate the percept into an image or phantasm, which is the product of this process.


Abstraction is the second stage that distinguishes us from animals. This process was described by Charles Coppens, S.J. as a simple apprehension or conception: “Simple apprehension is the act of perceiving the object intellectually, without affirming or denying anything concerning it. To apprehend is to take hold of the thing as if with the hand; an apprehension, as an act of the mind, is an intellectual grasping of an object.” Thus, it involves the use of the intellect where we grasp what is universal among the different particulars that we have observed from perception. For example, you would be able to abstract what is universal or essential for something to be called a chair. Upon perceiving different kinds of chairs in the world, you would be able to grasp through the process of simple apprehension, the concept of a chair. You would now be able to apply this concept of a chair and identify other chairs that you would see in the future. Thus, the results of this process of abstraction or simple apprehension or conception are concepts. From the percepts and images, you were able to arrive at the concepts using your intellect.

Thus, it is the mind or the intellect that is responsible for the formation of concepts. Concepts, therefore, exist in the mind. We perceive only particulars in the world. Our mind has the capacity for constructing concepts as general terms like your concept of a chair, or even abstract concepts like love or beauty. In abstract terms, the mere auditory percept of these abstract concepts enables one to directly form the concept without having to go through internal perception and its corresponding imagery or phantasm. You need not have an image of ‘democracy’ or ‘love’ to be able to form these abstract concepts. You may form the image of the lady in blindfold holding a weighing scale as a representation of the concept ‘justice’ but your concept of ‘justice’ is more than the image or phantasm used to represent it. Moreover, the formation of these abstract concepts requires maturity on the part of the perceiver. A two-year-old child may not be able to give an adequate answer to the questions, “What is love or democracy or justice?”

This process is not yet complete. Concepts are said to be the building blocks of knowledge. You have the blocks, but you need to put the blocks together for knowledge to be possible. They do not have any truth value at this point. You have not done anything yet to your concept. According to Aculia, concepts could either be vague or precise, sufficient or insufficient, but they are neither true nor false. Thus, concepts have no truth value because you have not made any claim regarding your concept. When words express concepts, they are technically called terms. Consequently, to complete the process of abstraction, we need a third stage.


This is the second stage in order to complete the act of the mind. This is where we are going to make a knowledge claim because we are going to take at least two concepts and put them together in order to make a statement or a proposition that could either be true or false about the world. You are therefore affirming or denying something about the concept, or you may be pronouncing an agreement or disagreement between these two concepts. For example, you take one concept ‘blue’ and another concept ‘sky,’ then you put them together to make the statement: “The sky is blue.” This constitutes making a knowledge claim that is either true or false about the world, that is, you could check whether or not the claim is true depending on the weather that day. This process is called judgment and the result of this process is a statement or proposition. It completes the act of the mind for knowledge to become possible. If ‘concepts are considered as the building blocks of knowledge, you need the statements to cement them together in order to build a house, in this case, to construct an argument. This reflects the process of reasoning. From this stage onwards, the accumulation of knowledge and information and the construction of arguments are now possible.