Attention, Perceptual Content, and Mirrors: Two Medieval Models of Active Perception in Peter Olivi and Peter Auriol

Perception in Scholastics and Their Interlocutors (2017)
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In the paper I argue that medieval philosophers proposed several notions of the senses’ activity in perception. I illustrate the point using the example of two Franciscan thinkers – Peter Olivi (ca. 1248–1298) and Peter Auriol (ca. 1280–1322). Olivi’s notion of active perception assumes that every perceptual act demands a prior focusing of the mind’s attention. Furthermore, Olivi is partially inspired by the extramissionist theories of vision and reinterprets the notion of a visual ray postulated by them as a useful model for explaining attention and attentional shifts. In Auriol’s view, perception is active because it participates in producing a perceptual content. e senses not only receive information from the environment, they also actively process it and, in Auriol’s words, put the external object into apparent being. e peculiar feature of Auriol’s account is his obvious tendency to conceive perceptual content as both dependent on our perceptual activity and external to the senses. Finally, I consider the two theories in the context of mirror perception – while Olivi focused on the ability of mirrors to switch attention’s direction, Auriol investigated the metaphysical nature of mirror images.
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