Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology

pp 209-212


  • Christian DunkerAffiliated withInstituto de Psicologia da USP, Cidade Universitária Email author 


Catharsis is part of Aristotle’s theory of recognition in political and esthetic spheres, of Plato’s theory of knowledge and medicine, as well as magical conceptions of healing and social adjustment. The purification of the soul in regard to the body, of the body in regard to diseases, and of social imbalance in regard to harmony became central metaphors of politics in the Christian West. Catharsis included purgation (as the medical practice of the expulsion of an object or substance that is etiologically responsible for the illness), purification (as a cultural practice of reorganizing the antagonisms in a community), and clarification (as an individual practice of knowledge and rationalization).


Catharsis is a Greek word meaning purgation, cleansing, or purification. Aristotle used this concept of catharsis in his work the Politics (1342a 8–10) in reference to a cleansing of passions such as fear and piety. In the Poetics (1449b 25–30), Aris ...

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