Seeing with the Hands

Seeing with the Hands : Blindness, Vision and Touch After Descartes

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A literary, historical and philosophical discussion of attitudes to blindness by the sighted, and what the blind `see'

Why has there been a persistent fascination by the sighted, including philosophers, poets and the public, in what the blind `see'? Is the experience of being blind, as Descartes declared, like `seeing with the hands'? What happens on the rare occasions when surgery allows previously blind people to see for the very first time? And how did evidence from early experimental surgery inform those philosophical debates about vision and touch? These questions and others were prompted by a question that the Irish scientist, Molyneux, asked an English philosopher, Locke, in 1688, but which was to have implications for British empiricism, French sensationism, and the beginnings of psychology that outlasted the long tail of the Enlightenment. Through an unfolding historical and philosophical narrative the book follows up responses to this question in Britain and France, and considers it as an early articulation of sensory substitution, the substitution of one sense (touch) for another (vision). This concept has influenced attitudes towards blindness, and technologies for the blind and vision impaired, to this day.

Key Features

Unfolds the history of `blindness' from 17th century that shades into the beginnings of psychology
Questions the assumed centrality of vision and the eye in Enlightenment philosophy and science
Traces the core idea of `sensory substitution' from hypothetical speculations in the 17th century to present day technologies for the blind and vision impaired
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Product details

  • Paperback | 224 pages
  • 156 x 234 x 15.24mm | 327g
  • Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1474405320
  • 9781474405324
  • 2,176,750

Back cover copy

'Paterson surveys the long and checkered history of the Hypothetical Blind Man from Enlightenment philosophy to contemporary cognitive science. Both lucid and comprehensive, his account takes the fresh approach to set these traditional representations against the testimony of actual blind people, creating a more nuanced and complex understanding of blindness.' Georgina Kleege, University of California, Berkeley A literary, historical and philosophical exploration of blindness, the possibilities of sensory substitution, and the perennial fascination with what the blind 'see' The 'man born blind restored to light' was one of the foundational myths of the Enlightenment, according to Foucault. With ophthalmic surgery in its infancy, the fascination by the sighted with blindness and what the blind might 'see' after sight restoration remained largely speculative. Was being blind, as Descartes once remarked, like 'seeing with the hands'? Did evidence from early cataract operations begin to resolve epistemological debates about the relationship between vision and touch in the newly sighted, such as the famous 'Molyneux Question' posed by William Molyneux to John Locke? More recently, how have autobiographical accounts of blind and vision impaired writers and poets advanced the sighted public's understanding of blind subjectivity? Through an unfolding historical, philosophical and literary narrative that includes Locke, Molyneux and Berkeley in Britain, and Diderot, Voltaire and Buffon in France, this book explores how the Molyneux Question and its aftermath has influenced attitudes towards blindness by the sighted, and sensory substitution technologies for the blind and vision impaired, to this day. Mark Paterson is in the Department of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. His books include The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects and Technologies (2007) and Touching Space, Placing Touch (co-editor, 2012). He current book project on neurology and modernity is entitled How We Became Sensory-Motor. His research website is Cover design: [EUP logo] ISBN (cover): 978-1-4744-0532-4 ISBN (PPC): 978-1-4744-0531-7
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About Mark Paterson

Dr Mark Paterson is in the Department of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh. He has authored Consumption and Everyday Life (Routledge, 2005, soon to have a Second Edition), The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects and Technologies (Bloomsbury, 2007), and co-edited Placing Touch, Touching Space for Ashgate (2012). He has published book chapters and journal articles on the senses, blindness, and sensory technologies. He is currently working on a monograph about the genealogy of bodily sensations, How We Became Sensory-Motor.
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