The power of images: Mathematics and metaphysics in Hobbes's optics

This paper deals with Hobbes's theory of optical images, developed in his optical magnum opus, 'A Minute or First Draught of the Optiques' (1646), and published in abridged version in De homine (1658). The paper suggests that Hobbes's theory of vision and images serves him to ground his philosophy of man on his philosophy of body. Furthermore, since this part of Hobbes's work on optics is the most thoroughly geometrical, it reveals a good deal about the role of mathematics in Hobbes's philosophy. The paper points to some difficulties in the thesis of Shapin and Schaffer, who presented geometry as a 'paradigm' for Hobbes's natural philosophy. It will be argued here that Hobbes's application of geometry to optics was dictated by his metaphysical and epistemological principles, not by a blind belief in the power of geometry. Geometry supported causal explanation, and assisted reason in making sense of appearances by helping the philosopher understand the relationships between the world outside us and the images it produces in us. Finally the paper broadly suggests how Hobbes's theory of images may have triggered, by negative example, the flourishing of geometrical optics in Restoration England.
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DOI 10.1016/S0039-3681(00)00039-X
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References found in this work BETA
Francis Bacon (1969). The Works of Francis Bacon. St. Clair Shores, Mich.,Scholarly Press.

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Citations of this work BETA
Daniele Cozzoli (2010). The Development of Mersenne's Optics. Perspectives on Science 18 (1):pp. 9-25.
Thomas M. Lennon (2007). The Significance of the Barrovian Case. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 38 (1):36-55.

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