• Perspective

Perspective

01.12.1977

Kim H. Veltman

Review: D. C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Alkindi to Kepler, (Chicago, 1976), Annals of Science, London, Vol. 34, No. 4, (July 1977), pp. 439-441.

David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision form Alkindi to Kepler, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1976. xii +324 pp., 38 figs. £13.60.

Professor Lindberg provides the reader with an excellent introduction to a number of leading figures in a 2000 year long series of debates from Aristotle to Kepler concerning vision. For its painstaking survey of the secondary literature, its references, its bibliography (and indeed because of its careful index) the work will become a standard reference for scholars.

Lindberg identifies two problems as central to optics prior to 1600 (p. x) - the nature and propagation of light and the process of visual perception- and he devotes his work to the latter of these. By way of introduction he distinguishes three ancient approaches to visual theory: medical (Galen), physical-philosophical (Aristotle, Plato, Epicurus, etc.) and mathematical (Euclid, Hero, Ptolemy). He then turns to Alkindi and begins an impressive survey of the extramission/intromission debate in mediaeval Arabic and Latin writings. In this story Alhazen's importance is emphasized for drawing together the hitherto separate strands of the medical, physical and mathematical traditions. The thirteenth-century synthesis of Bacon, Pecham and Witelo is presented as the next important step in a story that culminates in Kepler's theory of retinal image formation.

Notwithstanding the impressive scope of the survey, a few omissions should be noted. Lindberg makes no mention of Simplicius, and although he refers in passing to Alexander of Aphrodisias, John Philoponus and Themistius, it is regrettable that he makes no attempt to analyse the significance of these four early commentators for later interpretations of the Aristotelian texts. Nor does he mention either Gregor Reisch's Margarita philosophica or Giorgio Valla's De expetendis et fugiendis rebus. Given their great popularity throughout the sixteenth century, the role, misleading or otherwise, of these encyclopaedic texts deserves attention.


Read full article