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Perceptual Errors in Late Medieval Philosophy

Chapter in book
Authors José Filipe Silva
Juhana Toivanen
Published in The Senses and the History of Philosophy / edited by Brian Glenney and José Filipe Silva.
Pages 106-130
ISBN 9781138738997
Publisher Routledge
Place of publication New York
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 106-130
Language en
Keywords History of philosophy, Medieval philosophy, Perception, Scepticism
Subject categories History of Ideas, Theoretical philosophy


Perception of the external world is an essential part of the animal (including human) life, both as a source of knowledge and as a way to survive. Medieval authors accepted this view, and despite general concerns about the reliability of the senses in the acquisition of certain and objective knowledge, they thought that for the most part our perceptual system gets things right when it comes to the perceptual features of things—but not always. Our article focuses on thirteenth- and fourteenth-century philosophical discussions of illusions and other types of perceptual errors. Reception of incorrect information, misjudgments concerning perceptual objects, the binding problem, and similar cases that explain perceptual errors will be analyzed. We discuss what might be called medieval Aristotelian/Avicennian theories of perception and the internal senses (drawing mainly from Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas), as well as the so-called perspectivist accounts of perception, especially that by Alhacen. Finally, we take up a debate between Peter Auriol and his critics, which contains elements that can be seen as precursors of later skeptical worries. The concern here is that, just like in contemporary discussions leading to disjunctivism, the absence of a secure way to distinguish between veridical and non-veridical perception leads to a general worry about the reliability of our experience of the world.

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