‘Among the Rest of the Senses…Proved Most Sure’: Ethics of the Senses in Pre-modern Europe

  • Danijela KambaskovicEmail author
Part of the Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind book series (SHPM, volume 15)


Are our five senses a reliable basis for perceiving the world truthfully, and acting within it morally? Opinions on this differ in Medieval and Renaissance thought, to suggest that ethical and epistemological interpretations of the work of the five senses found in Medieval and Renaissance thought—whether doctrinal, scientific or literary, are often complex and contradictory. The iconography of the senses often elides the moral and cognitive aspects of the work of a particular sense is often elided with its sensual function. Cognition and morality are topics most often discussed in the context of the functioning of the human senses: individual senses are associated with particular types of cognition and memory, and almost always with morality. This is significant as doctrines which govern human conduct, including religious doctrines, always engaged with the work of the human senses. This article reviews the most significant ideas on the ethical and epistemological aspects of the senses from Plato, through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Reformation, to the beginnings of modernity and a new understanding a virtuous life as defined by a sensual exchange in harmony with the senses.


The senses The five senses Sensory perception History of the senses Senses in philosophy Senses in literature Senses in the history of science Ethics and sensory perception Epistemology and sensory perception Cognition and sensory perception 



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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia

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