Meaningful “Seeing”

We ordinarily “see” things with the appearance of immediate meaning — for instance, not just patches of color but recognizable objects and individuals. We experience these as having properties that we expect to hold under various conditions that do not apply at present. We also seem to immediately apprehend subtler aspects of situations that presuppose what Kant and Hegel called “reflection” to discern and express at all. This goes far beyond any simple passive registering of sense data.

The Stoics tried to bridge the gap between a theorized passivity of perceiving and knowing and the already meaningful character of experience in a naturalistic way, by positing some kind of material transmission of “phantasms” from objects to the perceiver.

Variants of this were adopted by many Latin scholastics under the name of “sensible species”. By analogy, Aquinas and others argued for the real existence of “intelligible species” that could be passively received by the intellect.

However, medieval nominalists already anticipated modern empiricism in rejecting both sensible and intelligible species, and medieval Augustinians argued for a much larger role of active powers of the soul in the apprehension of meaning.

Kant and Hegel broadly agree with the nominalist and empiricist critique of the theory of passive transmission of species, and with an abstracted version of the Augustinian thesis of the role of active capabilities in perception and knowledge.

How this all relates to Aristotle involves many subtleties, some of which are mentioned in Aristotle on Perception.

(See also Berkeley on Perception; Kantian Synthesis; Imagination: Aristotle, Kant; Taking “Things” as True; Husserl on Perception; Primacy of Perception?; The Non-Primacy of Perception; What We Saw.)