Is the Eye Like What It Sees? A Critique of Aristotle on Sensing by Assimilation

In: Vivarium
Mohan Matthen University of Toronto Canada

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Aristotle held that perception consists in the reception of external sensory qualities (or sensible forms) in the sensorium. This idea is repeated in many forms in contemporary philosophy, including, with regard to vision, in the idea (still not firmly rejected) that the retinal image consists of points of colour. In fact, this is false. Colour is a quality that is constructed by the visual system, and though it is possible to be a realist about colour, it is completely misleading to think of it as received by the retina. Moreover, such supposedly “charitable” interpretations of Aristotle’s doctrines, based on misconceptions of perception-science, distort our understanding of his historical context.

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