Models pp 211-230 | Cite as

Rules and Representation: The Virtues of Constancy and Fidelity Put in Perspective

  • Marx W. Wartofsky
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 48)


In this paper I will argue that the widely accepted theory of perceptual constancy, and the equally widely held account of fidelity in representation rest on the same mistake. My argument (which derives from and extends Nelson Goodman’s, in Languages of Art) is that this theory of perceptual constancy is based on a theory of vision which is false, namely, the standard theory which interprets vision on the model of Euclidean geometrical optics. Further, I will argue that the view which takes the rules of linear perspective to be the norm for fidelity in pictorial representation is based on the same false theory (or on its mirror image, that is, on the theory that pictorial representation’s norm for fidelity is the mirror image).


Retinal Image Pictorial Representation Visual World Perspective Representation Linear Perspective 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Euclid’s Optics (c. 300 B.C.) already gives the essential theorems for these transformations. The interpretation of the eye as camera, with the projection of an inverted image on the retina, by means of convergence of the light rays by a lens, is formulated by Kepler, Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena (1604), and Descartes (Dioptrique, 1637) among others. The pinhole camera obscura, which forms such an inverted image, was already used by, and theoretically understood by Alhazen (c. 965–1039). Kepler’s work is a commentary on Vitellio (13th century), whose work is a commentary on Alhazen. For an excellent account of the elements and a brief history of the theory of vision, see M. H. Pirenne, Optics, Painting and Photography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970, chapters 1–6.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See, for example, David H. Hubel, ‘The Visual Cortex of the Brain.’ Scientific American, November 1963; Stephen W. Kuffler, ‘Discharge Patterns and Functional Organization of Mammalian Retina’, Journal of Neurophysiology, January, 1953; David M. Hubel, ‘Integrative Processes in Central Visual Pathways of the Cat’, Journal of the Optical Society of America, January, 1963; D. H. Hubel and T. N. Wiesel, ‘Receptive Fields, Binocular Interaction and Functional Architecture in the Cat’s Visual Cortex’, Journal of Physiology, January, 1962; Ragnar Granit, ‘The Visual Pathway’, The Eye, Volume II: The Visual Process, Academic Press, 1962;Google Scholar
  3. 3a.
    J. Y. Lettvin, H. R. Maturana, W. H. Pitts, and W. S. McCulloch, ‘Two Remarks on the Visual System of the Frog’, Sensory Communication, The M.I.T. Press, 1961;Google Scholar
  4. 3b.
    S. W. Ranson (revised by S. L. Clark), The Anatomy of the Nervous System, Tenth Edition, W. B. Saunders Company, 1959, pp. 264–266.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    M. Wartofsky, ‘Pictures, Representation and the Understanding’, in R. Rudner and I. Scheffler (eds.), Logic and Art-Essays in Honor of Nelson Goodman, Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972, pp. 150–162.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See my discussion of this in M. Wartofsky, ‘Perception, Representation and the Forms of Action: Towards an Historical Epistemology’, in Ajatus Vol. 36, Yearbook of the Philosophical Society of Finland: Aesthesis, Essays on the Philosophy of Perception, 1976, pp. 19–43.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See, for example, T. G. R. Bower, ‘Slant Perception and Shape Constancy in Infants’, Science, Vol. 151, pp. 832–834; ‘The Visual World of Infants’, Scientific American, Vol. 215, No. 6, pp. 80–92; and Development in Infancy, San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1974.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Robert L. Fantz, ‘Pattern Vision in Young Infants’, The Psychological Record, Vol. 8, pp. 43–47, and his ‘The Origin of Form Perception’, Scientific American, Vol. 204, No. 5, pp. 66–72.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See especially the following works of J. J. Gibson: The Visual World, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950;Google Scholar
  10. 9a.
    The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966;Google Scholar
  11. 9b.
    ‘The Information available in Pictures’, Leonardo, 1971, 4, 27–35; and An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (forthcoming).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 9c.
    See also the excellent discussion of Gibson’s view in relation to these issues in Margaret Hagen, ‘Picture Perception: Toward a Theoretical Model’, Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 81, No. 8 (1974), pp. 471–497; and also the Gibsonian approach in John M. Kennedy, A Psychology of Picture Perception, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1974.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 11.
    See R. H. Thouless, ‘Phenomenal Regression to the Real Object’, Parts I–II, British Journal of Psychology, Vols. 21–22 (1931);‘Individual Differences in Phenomenal Regression’, British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 22 (1932); and his later article, ‘Perceptual Constancy or Perceptual Compromise’, Australian Journal of Psychology, Vol. 22 (1972).Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    The literature here is vast. See the large bibliography in Margaret Hagen and Rebecca K. Jones, ‘Cultural Effects on Pictorial Perception: How Many Words is One Picture Really Worth’, in Walk and Pick (eds.), Perception and Experience (forthcoming). See also Jan B. Deregowski, ‘Pictorial Perception and Culture’, Scientific American, Vol. 227, (1972), pp. 82–88; and John M. Kennedy, op cit., Chapter 5 (‘Picture Perception across Culture and Species’);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 12a.
    and M. H. Segall, D. T. Campbell, and M. J. Herskovits, The Influence of Culture on Visual Perception, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    See ‘Pictures, Representation and the Understanding’, op. cit., pp. 155; and H. Leibowitz, I. Waskow, N. Loeffler, and F. Glaser, ‘Intelligence Level as a Variable in the Perception of Shape’, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol. 11, (1959), pp. 108–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 15.
    For Example, M. Herskovitz, Man and His Works, New York: Knopf, 1948. Goodman quotes this, in Languages of Art, fn. 15, p. 15. See above, fn. 12, for reference to further cross-cultural studies.Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    See Robert Schwartz, ‘Representation and Resemblance’, The Philosophical Forum, Vol. V, No. 4 (1974), pp. 499–511, for an excellent discussion on this point.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marx W. Wartofsky

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations