The privileging of a particular sense in the elaboration of a metaphysics is a well-known theme, and the sense that has been most privileged in Western thought has been sight, ‘the noblest of the senses’. More broadly, there is a ‘hierarchy of the senses’ in classical, medieval, and early modern periods, which extols certain senses over others and sometimes promotes deliberate avoidance of sensory experience. The senses are not just the object of ‘factual’ discussion as to their modes of knowledge, their truth and error, or their overall functioning. They also invest sensory experience symbolically with moral and cognitive significance. Plato proposes eyes as the site of entry of enthusiasmos, divine inspiration, and the path to transcendence. Ficino, Plato’s main promoter in Renaissance Europe, makes true love accessible only through sight and hearing: this is most probably why, in Thomas Kidd’s The Spanish Tragedy (1582-92), the courtship starts with eyes and ears, only to degenerate – sense by sense – into full-blown sin. This can be escalated to violence: Lavinia in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (a revision of Philomela from Ovid’s Metamorphoses), whose hands and tongue have been cut out by her violators, is reduced to sight and hearing only by force, and stands as a monstrous embodiment of Florentine Neoplatonist ideals. Luther privileges hearing over sight, and, consequently, the Word of God heard over images; and many Christian philosophers advocate the extinction of the senses as the only path to the Divine; but to this one can juxtapose the Renaissance poets’ growing need to explore sensual experiences to enrich their artistic expression, such as Sir Philip Sidney’s focus on the tactile in Astrophil and Stella (circulated 1581), or Edmund Spenser’s focus on taste in Amoretti. Radical empiricism in the early modern era tackles this sort of privileging head-on, as a challenge to idealism which culminates in proclamations such as ‘the sense of touch is atheist from birth’, or Diderot’s ‘if you want me to believe in God I would have to touch Him’. From sight to touch, the discourse of the senses, even in its most naturalistic dimensions, always implies a metaphysics and a moral valuation of the senses. In this essay we examine some aspects of the early modern privileging of touch (as a reaction to the classic, ‘idealist’ privileging of vision), whether as a ‘dirtier’, more corporeal sense or as a foundational sense in relation to which others would be derivative, and suggest that as a contact sense, touch constitutes a materialist approach to the emergence of subjectivity.
Wolfe, Charles T. (Corresponding)
|Titolo:||The Senses in Philosophy and Science: From the Nobility of Sight to the Materialism of Touch|
|Data di pubblicazione:||2014|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||3.1 Articolo su libro|