I think we can safely say that for Aristotle the proper objects of perception are sensible forms. The proper objects of reason are intelligible forms.

It is often said that in seeing, sense and its proper object are the same. That is, the sensible form present in the object is received by sense and sense is en-formed by it. Now let's assume that a sensible form is akin to a universal. In an extended sense I can say that what I see is the object which has this sensible form (red rose).

In case of proper object then my perception transcends what is visible to me. In act of perception my eye is en-formed by a sensible form which can be found all over the world. It is purely accidental to my occurrent perception that sensible form I receive is coming from that rose rather than one behind me.

Extended sense of object is more mysterious, but I guess that still what I see are bundles of sensible forms. Therefore, what I see in extended sense is still more akin to universal. So again what I see is not the particular rose (which is individuated from other roses in virtue of different matter, but I do not perceive matter but only its form) but something universal (although not universal rose, because universal rose can be identified with its substantial form which is not seen). Therefore in perception we do not see particulars and Aristotle diverges from common sense.

Situation may look better if we assume that sensible forms are more like tropes. I am not aware of any place where Aristotle would say something which falsifies such interpretation.

However, I think that there are good reasons to think about intelligible forms as substantial forms. And these surely are more akin to universals. However, if that is the case and sensible forms are tropes, then It seems that we cannot think about sensible forms and that is not something which is false.

Now I know that it is impossible to solve all problems which stems from Aristotle's corpus. But I just want to ask if the problems I posed above are real problems which can be solved only by bold interpretative moves, or rather there is something which I clearly did not understood.

  • See Aristotle's Psychology : "A devotes a great deal of attention to perception, discussing both the general faculty and the individual senses. In both cases, his discussions are cast in hylomorphic terms. “perception comes about with <an organ’s> being changed and affected… for it seems to be a kind of alteration” (De An, ii 5, 416b33–34). So in line with his general account of alteration, A treats perception as a case of interaction between two suitable agents: objects capable of acting and capacities capable of being affected. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jun 12 '18 at 13:02
  • A is happy to speak of an affected thing as receiving the form of the agent which affects it and of the change consisting in the affected thing’s “becoming like” the agent (De An,ii 5, 418a3–6; ii 12, 424a17–21). The most immediate difficulty for A’s approach to perception concerns his claim that in sense perception the relevant sensory faculty becomes like the object it perceives. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jun 12 '18 at 13:04
  • When he says that “what can perceive is potentially such as the object of sense is actually” (De An,ii 5, 418a3–4), A seems to commit himself to a claim to the effect that a sense organ in one way or another becomes like its object when it perceives." – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jun 12 '18 at 13:05

Proper objects

Though you frame your question in terms of perception, you seem mainly concerned with the specific sense of sight. Independently of Aristotle, it is not quite clear what the proper object of vision or sight is or whether there could be such a thing. The problem is brought out by G.J. Warnock in discussing Berkeley:

After referring to the proper objects of taste and smell Warnock adds: ..This list has at least one important peculiarity which Berkeley does not bring out. It is not, so to speak, a homogeneous list; the supposed 'proper object' of sight is oddly unlike those of hearing, taste and smell. We can speak of the sound of a car, the taste of an orange, the smell of a geranium. But in the case of sight there is nothing analogous to this. . . . I heard the sound of a car; I smelled the smell of the geraniums; I saw the . . . of a tree. There is no expression that fills the gap in the last of these sentences, in the way in which 'sound' and 'smell' find an ordinary, natural place in the others. Certainly 'light and colours' would be completely gut of place in this context. (J. H. Woodger, 'Proper Objects', Mind, Vol. 65, No. 260 (Oct., 1956), pp. 510-515: 510-511.)

Aristotle appears (De Anima, II.6) to supply the gap with 'colour', a point considered below.

Aristotle on proper, 'common' and incidental objects of the senses

But we must grasp in general in connection with perception as a whole, that the sense is the recipient of the perceived forms (ton aisthetikon eidon) without their matter, as the wax takes the sign from the ring without the iron or gold - it takes, that is, the gold and bronze sign but not as gold or bronze'. (De Anima, II.12 : Lawson-Tancred: 187.)

Now in the case of each sense we must speak first about the sense-objects. The sense-object is spoken of in three ways ... Of the first two, one that is special [proper: GT] to each sense, the other that is common to all. Now I call that sense-object special [idion] that does not admit of being perceived by another sense and about which it is impossible to be deceived, as sight is connected with colour [opsis kromatos], hearing with sound and taste with flavour.


The common [koinon] objects ... are movement, rest, number, shape and size, such being not special to any one sense but common to all. For of course [for instance] a movement will be perceptible to both touch and sight.

Finally, those sense-objects are called incidental [kata sumbebekos] that are like the white thing's being the son of Diares. For this we perceive incidentally, for it is incidental to the white thing we perceive. (Lawson-Tancred: 172-3.)

Sight, colour and form

De Anima, II.7 is rather more nuanced in identifying the object of sight with colour :

While that which is the object of sight is the visible, and this comprises both colour and something which though it can be given by an account has no name. (Lawson-Tancred: 173.)

The object of sight (if we bypass the tautologous 'the visible') is colour; but colour can be seen only when a transparent substance, namely light, is actualised. Colours cannot be seen unless this substance is actualised; and so colour is not an unmediated object of vision. But it is still, so far as I can make out, the proper object of vision.

If I see a tree, grant that in conditions of standard illumination I see colour(s). As far as concerns vision, these colours are the sensible form of the tree. So Aristotle would supply Warnock's dots with : 'I saw the colour(s) of a tree'. Of course, a tree is more than its colours. The sensible forms of the tree are its texture and temperature if I touch it, its odour if I smell it, its taste if (admittedly oddly !) I lick it, its sound if it soughs in the wind.


I think there are good reasons for accepting that Aristotelian sensible forms are tropes or trope-like.

To fix ideas :

This sheet of paper is white. So is my shirt. In virtue of what are both white? Classical nominalism allows only concrete particular objects, and no universal properties. Classical realism appeals to universals, shared, or perhaps instantiated, by concrete objects, in dealing with the idea that various objects could have the same property. These theories have well known difficulties. Tropes are entities introduced in order to solve the vexing problems of universals and particulars; trope theory is an alternative to traditional realist and nominalist theories.

The main idea in trope theory is that tropes are abstract particulars: they are things like the whiteness of this paper, the hardness of the ball. The ball is hard because there is a trope, the hardness of the ball, and not because the ball participates in the universal hardness. (Fredrik Stjernberg, 'An Argument against the Trope Theory', Erkenntnis (1975-), Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jul., 2003), pp. 37-46: 37.)

It seems to me quite in line with this to say that when I see the oak tree at the end of my garden, I see the colour(s) of the tree, its Aristotelian visual sensible form, and there is a trope - namely the greenness and brownness of this particular tree. Such a view fits well with Aristotle's account of universals in which universals are to be understood neither nominalistically nor realistically but as belonging to - inhering in - individual subjects and not existing apart from them (Metaphysics, 1038b).


Aristotle, De Anima, tr. H. C Lawson-Tancred. Published by Penguin Books Ltd 1987-01-29, London (1987) ISBN 10: 0140444718 ISBN 13: 9780140444711

Fredrik Stjernberg, 'An Argument against the Trope Theory', Erkenntnis (1975-), Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jul., 2003), pp. 37-46.

J. H. Woodger, 'Proper Objects', Mind, Vol. 65, No. 260 (Oct., 1956), pp. 510-515.

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