Nicholas of Cusa on Rational Perception

Christian Kny, José Filipe Silva

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Despite being one of the major figures in late medieval thought and being the subject of numerous studies, certain topics concerning the Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) remain in need of further investigation. One of these is an aspect of his theory of cognition: his account of sense perception. It is our aim in this study to systematically look at his scattered remarks on the topic and make a number of suggestions as to the nature of his thought on how we come to know external things. It is not our purpose to offer a comprehensive account of his theory of cognition. Our focus in this article is on his account of perception and the specific claim that Nicholas develops a model whereby reason operates together with the senses in perceptual experience. Despite being tentative our claim is grounded on suggestions found in the scholarship on Cusanus; but these suggestions remain quite vague and in need of exploration. In this article, we closely examine the textual evidence and develop our claim based on this examination. In order to substantiate it, we proceed as follows: first, we consider the core theses on perception in several of Nicholas’ works. Second, we bring these elements together and propose a reading of how perception is rational according to Cusanus. Despite being an academic outsider and employing terminology in a way that sometimes obstructs interpretive access, our paper shows that Nicholas is well-acquainted with the different traditions in the philosophy of perception, especially perspectivist optics and medieval Augustinianism. In addition, and as the result of the role he attributes to reason in our experience of the world, Cusanus occupies an important place in the history of the development of theories of perception.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBulletin de philosophie médiévale
Pages (from-to)177-213
Number of pages37
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 611 Philosophy

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