Visual Perception as Patterning: Cavendish against Hobbes on Sensation

History of Philosophy Quarterly 33 (3):193-214 (2016)
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Many of Margaret Cavendish’s criticisms of Thomas Hobbes in the Philosophical Letters (1664) relate to the disorder and damage that she holds would result if Hobbesian pressure were the cause of visual perception. In this paper, I argue that her “two men” thought experiment in Letter IV is aimed at a different goal: to show the explanatory potency of her account. First, I connect Cavendish’s view of visual perception as “patterning” to the “two men” thought experiment in Letter IV. Second, I provide a potential reply on Hobbes’s behalf that appeals to physiological differences between perceivers’ sense organs, drawing upon Hobbes’s optics in De homine. Third, I argue that such a reply would misunderstand Cavendish’s objective of showing the limited explanatory resources available in understanding visual perception as pressing when compared to her view of visual perception as patterning.

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Marcus P. Adams
State University of New York, Albany


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