Problems in epicurus' theory of vision

Epicurus emphatically asserts the veracity of perception, including visual perception, yet most of the literature on Epicurus’ atomistic theory of vision pays scant attention to what Epicurus believed transpires outside the body that leads to it. The treatments by DeWitt, Everson, Hicks, and Rist are all very brief; Glidden focuses primarily on the processes occurring inside the perceiver; and while the discussions by Asmis and Bailey are more detailed, they hardly more than note in passing that the process is problematic.1 In this paper I will critically examine Epicurus’ theory of vision, in particular his theory of the events occurring between perceived objects and the eye. I will argue that while certain common objections to Epicurus’ theory may be answerable, it nevertheless suffers from serious problems. These problems, in turn, occur on two levels. On the mechanical level, it demands that dissimilar atomic complexes behave in strikingly similar ways. And on the theoretical level, there is tension created by the need for the intermediary between objects and the observer to be both like objects and unlike them.
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