A PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVE ON ALHAZEN'S OPTICS 1
Although numerous studies have been conducted on the Optics (Kitab al-Manazir) of Alhazen (al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, d. 1040 C.E.), and on its reception, assimilation and maturation within the course of development of the perspectivae traditions in the history of science and art, ambiguities do hitherto still surround the epistemological and ontological entailments of his theory of visual perception. In addressing this question, our inquiry herein is principally philosophical in scope and our textual reading combines exegesis with hermeneutics. While we observe the delicate procedures of historiography and philology, we do not unguardedly assume that they are exhaustive of all rigorous methods of thoughtful investigation. Moreover, in heeding the internal coherence of Alhazen's text, we do not simply lock his views within reductive contextual chronologies, or readily confine them to epochal matters of textual transmission. Our endeavour is therefore not exclusively set in view of serving the purposes of archival documentation, even if we preserve a thorough and sound sense of historicity. We ultimately recognize the philosophical pertinence of numerous subtle leitmotifs within Alhazen's thinking that speak to us in an effective timely manner, which is significantly relevant in its attuned bearings to the thrust of phenomenological theories of perception.(Published Online August 5 2005)
1 This paper complements research efforts that I have conducted elsewhere; see: Nader El-Bizri, ‘La perception de la profondeur: Alhazen, Berkeley et Merleau-Ponty’, Oriens-Occidens, 5 (2004): 171–84; Nader El-Bizri, ‘La phénoménologie et l'optique géométrique’, Actes du congrès de la Société Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences et des Philosophies Arabes et Islamiques (Namur, forthcoming); Nader El-Bizri, ‘La conception du lieu dans la théorie de la perception d'Alhazen’, invited talk at the CNRS, Paris, 30th April 2004; Nader El-Bizri, ‘Alhazen's optical and geometrical conception of place’, invited talk at the Institute of Architecture, University of Nottingham, 10th March 2004; Nader El-Bizri éAlhazen's treatise on place’, Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science, International Conference, Université Laval, Quebec, 24th May 2001.