Article ID: CBB538368407

Aristotle on Light and Vision: An ‘Ecological’ Interpretation (2022)


Scholarship on Aristotle’s theory of visual perception has traditionally held that Aristotle had a single, static, conception of light and that he believed that illumination occurred prior to and independent of the actions of colours. I contend that this view precludes the medium from becoming actually transparent, thus making vision impossible. I here offer an alternative to the traditional interpretation, using contemporary conceptual tools to make good philosophical sense of Aristotle’s position. I call my view the ‘ecological’ interpretation. It postulates two conceptions of light: non-visible mobile propagated light and visible static illumination produced by the interaction of propagated light with the environment’s coloured textured surfaces. I argue that these contemporary conceptual tools can find a foothold in and consistently enrich Aristotle’s extant position and that, with their aid, we can restore coherence to his theories of light and vision.

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Authors & Contributors
Smith, A. Mark
Darrigol, Olivier
Katsos, Isidoros
Marasy, Mohsen
Adams, Marcus P.
Tucci, Pasquale
Apeiron: Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Quaderni di Storia della Fisica
Tarikh-e Elm (The Iranian Journal for the History of Science)
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
University of North Carolina Press
University of Chicago Press
Visual perception
Metaphors; analogies
al-Kindī, Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqub ibn Isḥāq
Suhrawardī, Yaḥyá ibn Ḥabash
Time Periods
17th century
Early modern
13th century
Rome (Italy)
Middle and Near East
Ikhwān al-Ṣafā (Brethren of Purity)

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