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David Lindberg presents the first critical edition of the text of Roger Bacon's classic work Perspectiva, prepared from Latin manuscripts, accompanied by a facing-page English translation, critical notes, and a full study of the text. Also included is an analysis of Bacon's sources, influence, and role in the emergence of the discipline of perspectiva.

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This work represents Roger Bacon’s formative work on optics and visual theory. This work describes his emphasis on “light, colour, and vision” (xx).
It is interesting that while he paved the way
for future western science, he borrowed liberally from contemporary Islamic scientists—e.g., Alhacen, Ibn al-Haytham, Avicenna, and others (xi). In fact, by the late 1240s, Bacon “experienced a dramatic broadening of his philosophical outlook..., breaking out of the confines of Aristotelian philosophy and devoting himself…to the study of a variety of other sources available in translation from Greek and Arabic” (xviii). Bacon, having joined the Franciscan Order, sent this and other materials to Pope Clement IV in 1267 (xix). This hasty compilation of his previous materials served as his outline approach to mend the major woes of Christendom and may have influenced the papal staff.
Bacon’s major contribution was his ability to link physical science to philosophy. Vision, he contends, is a primary means by which man experiences his internal and external world. “Through vision we also experience things here on earth, for concerning this world the blind can have no experience worthy of the name” (xx). It is solely through “vision” that man can “’experientially test’ what we have thus come to believe” (xx).
Bacon concludes the work by examining the relationship of vision science and theology in the final four chapters (xxi). He articulates the constructive and complementary relationship between science and God. He presents four major ideas (xxi-xxii):
1. Knowledge of the natural sciences supports Biblical explanation
2. Visual science (i.e., perspectiva) directly relates to scriptural study
3. Perspectiva helps explain spiritual allegories
4. This science will help arm Christianity with technological advancements vs. its foes
He concludes that mathematics is the “first science” in that it is necessary to describe and learn all other sciences (xliii). For example, we tend to take for granted what Bacon made obvious—the geometrical analysis of optics (xlvi).



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About the author (1996)

David C. Lindberg is a Hilldale Professor of the History of Science at University of Wisconsin.

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