Pavel Gregoric on "Aristotle's perceptual optimism"

We are very pleased to announce that Pavel Gregoric, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy, Zagreb, will deliver a talk for Filosofisk seminar this semester. The seminar is open for everyone, and will be followed by an informal reception.

Photograph of Pavel Gregoric
Photo: Vjekoslav Skledar


Aristotle was a direct realist about perception: he believed that perception puts us in direct contact with the world. What activates our senses are actual properties of physical objects. This secures the infallibility of our senses, at least at the most basic level and in normal circumstances. These properties that activate our senses Aristotle calls ‘special sensibles’ and he defines each sense with reference to one type of special sensible, e.g. vision with reference to colours, hearing with reference to sounds, etc. Aristotle’s division of special sensibles into types is meant to be both exclusive and exhaustive: it is exclusive because a special sensible of one type belongs only to that type, which means that it can be perceived only by the corresponding sense; and it is exhaustive, because there are no types of special sensibles other than those with reference to which the five senses are defined. That Aristotle’s division of special sensibles into types, set out in De anima II.7-11, is indeed exhaustive, follows from his argument at the beginning of De anima III.1 to the effect that there cannot possibly be any sense-organ other than the five familiar ones that house the five senses. With that argument Aristotle secures the thesis that there are no types of special sensibles in the world to which we have no access. Of course, Aristotle would readily agree that there are many imperceptible properties of physical objects, but he would deny that there are any properties which are in principle perceptible, or which are perceptible by some creatures, but not perceptible by us. More to the point, in De sensu 6 and 7 Aristotle seems to argue that there are no special sensibles which are, in principle, too small (or, by extension, too large) for us to perceive. These three theses – perceptual realism, access to all types of special sensibles, and no outlier special sensibles  – constitute what I call ‘Aristotle’s perceptual optimism’. In effect, Aristotle thought that we can perceive all there is to perceive. I will argue that Aristotle's perceptual optimism is necessary for his concept of science (epistêmê). Should any one of the three identified theses fail to obtain, Aristotelian science would collapse. 

About Pavel Gregoric

Dr. Pavel Gregoric obtained his BPhil and DPhil degrees from the University of Oxford, he has taught philosophy at the University of Zagreb from 2000-2017 and now holds the position of a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy in Zagreb. He has held visiting positions at Central European University in Budapest, Humboldt-Universität in Berlin, UC Berkeley, and at the University of Gothenburg. 

Dr. Gregoric wrote the book Aristotle on the Common Sense (Oxford University Press, 2007) which has become the standard scholarly work on the Aristotelian notion of a common sense, a higher-order perceptual capacity which monitors operation of the five special senses and compares and integrates their reports. This notion looms large in three texts of Parva Naturalia—in De sensuDe somno et vigilia and De insomniis—and it has been taken up by later Greek, Arabic and Latin commentators. Dr. Gregoric’s expertise on this topic is of interest to the members of the group who are working on related topics for the volume of papers on the senses and for the volume of papers on sleep and dreams, planned for completion by the end of 2019. 

About the seminar series

Philosophical Seminar is a philosophy colloquium series, hosted by the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas at UiO. The departmental colloquium has previously hosted renowned philosophers such as Charles Taylor, Peter Railton,  Galen Strawson, Julia Annas, Martin Kusch, Stephen Darwall, Berit Brogaard, John Sallis, Robert B. Pippi, Serena Parekh and Laurie Paul.

The colloquia are open to everyone and followed by an open and informal reception on the third floor in the same building. Students are especially encouraged to attend, and all participants are invited to the reception afterwards.


Filosofisk seminar
Published Mar. 29, 2019 12:28 AM - Last modified May 3, 2019 5:09 PM