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Theories of Vision: Augustine of Hippo and the Augustinian Tradition

From: 2019-11-14 To:2019-11-15

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  • Thematic Line

    Medieval & Early Modern Philosophy
  • Research Groups

    Aristotelica Portugalensia
    Reason, Politics & Society
  • International Meeting

    Theories of Vision: Augustine of Hippo and the Augustinian Tradition

    Porto, Faculdade de Letras, 14th and 15th November, 2019
    Sala de reuniões 2 - piso 2 ( Meetings' Room 2 - 2nd floor)



    14th November


    Opening words


    10.30 – 11.30

    Chair: Paula Oliveira e Silva

    Giovanni Catapano (Università degli Studi di Padova), Seeing and Believing in Augustine’s De videndo deo

    11.30 – 11.45 Coffee break



    Chair: Lídia Queiroz

    Georgina Rabassó (Universitat de Barcelona), Visions of Time: Augustine of Hippo, Hildegard of Bingen, Nicholas of Cusa

    Yael Barash (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin - Tel Aviv University), Comprehension of Divine Visions and from Illustrations in Hildegard’s Scivias

    13.00 Lunch 


    15.00 – 17.00

    Chair: João Rebalde

    Emmanuel Bermon (Université de Bordeaux-Montaigne), Comment pouvons-nous imaginer des choses que nous n’avons jamais vues? À propos de la Lettre 7 d’Augustin à Nebridius

    Paula Oliveira e Silva (Universidade do Porto), O que S. Paulo não sabe e porquê. Visão intelectual e bem-aventurança no Livro XII, De gen. ad Litt.

    17.30 h – Porto Wine

    20. 00 - Participants Dinner 


    15th November

    10.00  – 11. 00

    Chair: Daniel di Liscia

    José Higuera (Universidade do Porto), Spiritus visibilis et phantasticus: some Physiological Remarks about Vision Theories

    Bernardo Machado Mota (Universidade de Lisboa), The Teaching of Optics and Philosophy in the Colégio das Artes (Coimbra) in the Early 17th Century

    11.15 Coffee break


    11.30 – 12.30

    Chair: José Meirinhos

    Lydia Schumacher (King’s College London), The Reception of Augustine with Aristotle and Avicenna in Early Franciscan Psychology



    Concluding words.



    Menti hoc est intelligere quod sensui videre (De ord., 2: 3, 10) - Understanding is to the mind what perceiving is to the bodily sense.

    This simple sentence -from one of Augustine’s first dialogues- points out one of the keystones of his metaphysical system. In Augustine’s theory of knowledge, sensorial vision is the model for intellectual vision, and both are correlated. This theory is an emblematic part of Augustine’s philosophical project and it is based on Augustine’s belief that all beings, their inner structure and their external links are formed by and committed to a relational framework. Hence, this framework is, unsurprisingly, also the basis of Augustine’s explanation of human knowledge.

    However, Augustine’s theorizing and questioning required innumerable questions that became increasingly complex, both in the context of his own work and in the wider philosophical tradition of which it formed a part. Here are some of the key issues:

    How is it possible to see material bodies by means of a non-material vision? Is the non-material vision still a bodily vision? If it isn’t, how is it possible to validate the human knowledge of the bodily structure of the world? If this immaterial vision of material bodies is possible by means of imagination and memory, how can we differentiate between imaginary visual experiences in the state of vigil and those had while dreaming?  Do they share the same origin? Is there any relationship between imagination and reason, and between both and the intellect? Is light, in the Augustinian view, a requirement for knowledge of the corporeal world and does it also illuminate the intelligible forms in the mind?  What is the structure of the human knowledge when producing physical science? Is it the same for pure theoretical sciences, like mathematics and geometry? And what is the role of God in the process? Is he the supreme intelligible and the light of lights that illuminates the inner self? If so, is it possible for humans to produce a natural science of God? Furthermore, how is it possible for humans, in the beatific state of matter, to see the invisible God? Is it, in the end, wholly transcendent to humans and the created world? 

    This Meeting aims to offer a broader perspective on Augustine’s theory of vision and its reception throughout the Middle Ages. As P. O. Lewry said about De spiritu phantastico of Robert Kilwardby, the Augustinian approach to the internal senses and their relationship with the external perception was enriched with Aristotelian elements. This task pursued a sort of balance between the “internal perception” of ontological notions and the “perceptual” influence of the divine light, of which there were several examples in the Middle Ages, particularly after the translation of the Aristotelian and Avicennian works on the soul.

    Topics for discussion:

    • Augustine’s conception of the different types of vision and the Augustinian notion of the “Eye of the mind”.
    • Augustine and the Medieval notion of internal senses.
    • The Medieval reception of De quantitate animae, De genesi ad litteram XII and De Trinitate VIII-IX.
    • Visual experience and the comprehension of geometrical and linguistic representations.
    • The relation between vision and other senses.
    • Sensorial vision and the faculties of the soul.
    • Visual experience in dreams and the states of imagination.

    Proposals must include an abstract and title of the communication, author's name, institutional afiliation, contact information, and should be sent by email to Lídia Queiroz lqueiroz@letras.up.pt until September 15th.
    Accepted languages are: English, French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese.
    Presentations must be no longer than 20m, followed by 10m discussion. Authors will be notified of acceptance of their abstracts until September 30th.

    Important dates:
    15th September: Submissions deadline
    30th September: Notifications of acceptance
    14th - 15th November: Meeting


    Paula Oliveira e Silva (dir.) — José Higuera — Lídia Queiroz.

    RG Reason, Politics and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy
    Instituto de Filosofia da Universidade do Porto - FIL/00502
    Project From Data to Wisdom. Philosophizing Data Visualizations in the Middle Ages and Early Modernity (13th-17th Century) - FDTW (POCI-01-0145-FEDER-029717)

    Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) | Universidade do Porto - Santander Universidades

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