Optics and Empiricism in Gassendi’s Thought
Delphine Bellis (Université Paul Valéry - Montpellier)

May 30, 2022, 5:00pm - 7:00pm

This event is online


  • European Commission, Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 892794


University of Venice
University of Venice

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Venue: online Zoom meeting

Zoom link: https://unive.zoom.us/j/84571640858?pwd=MWFJbFgxRjlnaVJLWUpIOWJwQlZVUT09

Zoom meeting ID: 845 7164 0858; Passcode: gMi180


In this talk, I would like to show how Gassendi’s empiricist theory of knowledge was elaborated in connection with his scientific research, in particular in optics. From an empiricist point of view, if sensible ideas are the source of all knowledge, it becomes crucial to understand their genesis in order to ascertain their nature and their capacity to give us access to the external world. Gassendi exemplifies 17th-century reactions to the demise of Scholastic theories of sense perception and attempts to integrate the results of Keplerian optics into a broader philosophical framework. Being an heir to Keplerian optics and a fierce opponent of  Aristotelianism, Gassendi had to reinvent an interpretation of vision that would guarantee our access to the external world through the senses, but on the sole basis of the communication of light rays to the eye. What is specific to Gassendi’s approach to experience and what makes it particularly relevant from a historical point of view is that it at the same time promotes a theory of knowledge based on the senses and involves a study of optics and observational practices that are crucial for the elaboration of explanations of natural phenomena. What deserves specific inquiry is thus the articulation between Gassendi’s theory of knowledge, his theory of vision, and his experimental practice. In particular, Gassendi and Peiresc had some problems accepting the function ascribed by Kepler to the retina in the process of vision. My hypothesis is that it was due to the threat that the discovery of the inversed and reversed retinal picture posed to an empiricist theory of knowledge.

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