Scientific Visions

  • Suzannah Biernoff
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


R oger Bacon, in what was to become one of the most influential works on optics in the Western Middle Ages,2 reflected that the superiority of sight over the other senses was manifest in two ways: in visual pleasure, and in the necessity of sight for knowledge of the natural universe. We ‘take especial delight in vision’, he wrote in his introduction:

and light and color have an especial beauty beyond the other things that are brought to our senses, and not only does beauty shine forth, but advantage and a greater necessity appear. For…vision alone reveals the differences of things; since by means of it we search out experimental knowledge of all things that are in the heavens and in the earth.3


Geometrical Optic Experimental Knowledge Twelfth Century Intuitive Cognition Physical Causation 
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  1. 2.
    David Lindberg discusses the impact and dissemination of Bacon’s optical theories in Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 116–22.Google Scholar
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    As with any such generalisation, the polarisation of scholastic philosophy into Augustinian and Aristotelian traditions has attracted due criticism. For an overview of the issue, see F. C. Copleston, A History of Medieval Philosophy (London: Methuen, 1972), 156–9.Google Scholar
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    Bacon, Opus majus 1: 43–5 (2.5). Z. Kuksewicz outlines the major positions on this issue, including the variations within Bacon’s writings, in ‘The Potential and the Agent Intellect’, The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Disintegration of Scholasticism 1100–1600 , ed. N. Kretzmann et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 595–601.Google Scholar

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© Suzannah Biernoff 2002

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  • Suzannah Biernoff

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