In 1688 the Irish scientist and politician William Molyneux sent a letter to the philosopher John Locke. In it, he asked him a question: could someone who was born blind, and able to distinguish a globe and a cube by touch, be able to immediately distinguish and name these shapes by sight if given the ability to see?
The philosophical puzzle offered in Molyneux’s letter fascinated not only Locke, but major thinkers such as Leibniz, Berkeley, Diderot, Reid, and numerous others including psychologists and cognitive scientists today. Does such a question represent a philosophical puzzle or a problem that can be solved by experimental tests? Can vision be fully restored after blindness? What is the relation between vision and touch? Are the senses linked through learning or bound at birth?
Molyneux’s Question and the History of Philosophy is a major collection of essays that explore the long-standing issues Molyneux’s problem presents to philosophy of mind, perception and the senses. In addition, the volume considers the question from an interdisciplinary angle, examines the pre-history of the question, and aspects of it that have been ignored, such as perspectives from religion and disability.
As such, Molyneux’s Question and the History of Philosophy presents a set of philosophically rich, empirically informed, and scientifically rigorous original investigations into this famous puzzle. It will be of great interest to students and researchers in philosophy, psychology, and the cognitive sciences including neuroscience, neurobiology and ophthalmology, as well as those studying the mind, perception and the senses.
Table of Contents
Part I: Historical Advances in Molyneux’s Question
Introduction to Part I
1. Epicureanism and Molyneux's Question
2. Molyneux, Mysticism, Empiricism, and Independent Thinking
Lenn E. Goodman
3. A Spinozistic Answer to Molyneux's Question
4. Amo on Molyneux's Question
5. Margaret Cavendish and Molyneux’s Question: Patterning, Perception, and Touch
Marcus P. Adams
6. Dmaris Masham and Molyneux’s Question: What Response would Masham have given?
7. Molyneux’s Question: The Irish Debates
Manuel Fasko and Peter West
8. Molyneux’s Question at the Erasmiaans Gymnasium, Rotterdam
9. Molyneux's Vision
Nicholas J. Wade
Part II: Ethical Advances in Molyneux’s Question
Introduction to Part II
10. The Cult of the Born Completely Blind Man, Revisited
11. The Molyneux Cult
Part III: Empirical Advances in Molyneux’s Question
Introduction to Part III
12. Molyneux's Question and the Semantics of Seeing
Berit Brogaard, Bartek Chomanski and Dimitria Electra Gatzia
13. Molyneux's Question and Neuroscience of Vision
14. No Yes Answers to Molyneux
Part IV: Philosophical Advances in Molyneux’s Question
Introduction to Part IV
15. Molyneux’s question and interpersonal variations in multimodal mental imagery among blind subjects
16. Molyneux’s Question and Perceptual Judgments
17. Action at First Sight
18. Molyneux’s Question and Somatosensory Spaces
19. Molyneux’s Question on LSD
20. What Was Molyneux’s Question a Question About?
Jonathan Cohen and Mohan Matthen
Gabriele Ferretti is a NOMIS Fellow at the Eikones – Center for the Theory and History of the Image at the University of Basel, Switzerland.
Brian Glenney is Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Program at Norwich University, USA. He is co-editor of The Senses and the History of Philosophy (Routledge, 2019).