I’m trying to understand Aristotle’s views on blindness, as given in these passages:

"just as the blind remember better, being released from having their faculty of memory engaged with objects of sight." -Eudemian Ethics VIII 2, 1248 b 1-3

"They [the senses] bring in tidings of many distinctive qualities of things, from which the knowledge of truth, speculative and practical, is generated in the soul.

Of the two last mentioned, seeing, regarded as a supply for the primary wants of life, and in its direct effects, is the superior sense; but for developing intelligence, and in its indirect consequences, hearing takes the precedence. The faculty of seeing, thanks to the fact that all bodies are coloured, brings tidings of multitudes of distinctive qualities of all sorts; whence it is through this sense especially that we perceive the common sensibles, viz. figure, magnitude, motion, number: while hearing announces only the distinctive qualities of sound, and, to some few animals, those also of voice. indirectly, however, it is hearing that contributes most to the growth of intelligence. For rational discourse is a cause of instruction in virtue of its being audible, which it is, not directly, but indirectly; since it is composed of words, and each word is a thought-symbol. Accordingly, of persons destitute from birth of either sense, the blind are more intelligent than the deaf and dumb." -De Sensu, book 1

Why does Aristotle think this? And within that, I would like to know

  • How does blindness relate to knowledge and memory in Aristotle's thought?
  • Is this linked with the importance of hearing for learning and knowledge?
  • Do his views relate to or show influence of wider Greek culture, like the self-blinding of Sophocles' Oedipus, or Homer’s blindness?
  • Are there any scholia or medieval commentaries on these views about blindness?
  • Hello and welcome, Micheal : you ask eight questions. More focus is needed.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Sep 4, 2022 at 8:04

1 Answer 1


Just by including the quotes you can see Aristotle does relate how he values vision and hearing, to learning and knowledge.

The first passage is given in the context of discussing prophecy:

"What is the starting-point of motion in the spirit? The answer then is clear: as in the universe, so there, everything is moved by God; for in a manner the divine element in us is the cause of all our motions. And the starting-point of reason is not reason but something superior to reason. What, then, could be superior even to knowledge and to intellect, except God? Not goodness, for goodness is an instrument of the mind; and owing to this, as I was saying some time ago, those are called fortunate who although irrational succeed in whatever they start on. And it does not pay them to deliberate, for they have within them a principle of a kind that is better than mind and deliberation (whereas the others have reason but have not this): they have inspiration, but they cannot deliberate. For although irrational they attain even what belongs to the prudent and wise—swiftness of divination: only the divination that is based on reason we must not specify, but some of them attain it by experience and others by practice in the use of observation; and these men use the divine. For this quality discerns aright the future as well as the present, and these are the men whose reason is disengaged. This is why the melancholic even have dreams that are true; for it seems that when the reason is disengaged principle has more strength—" - Eudemian Ethics 1248a

This directly precedes that first about the blind having better memory.

I would say the case here is that a blind person has to know more about the data of the world and hold it mind, rather than simply keep looking to confirm how things stand. This then enables not just mental calculations, but direct intuitions about the world.

It's important to understand Arustotle's perspective on the 'common sense', and it's relationship to cognition, and generating cohesive objects in the mind. This expands on Plato's ideas, by allowing a picture of the way animal minds work and their limits, in relation to understanding human minds. Aristotle was not clear about the relation between the common sense and the imaginative faculty, and Alexander of Aphrodisias, Al-Farabi, Gregoric, Avicenna and Augustine all discuss this issue.

Evenius was a mythological figure who was blinded, and then granted the gift of prophecy - some argue this is an account of how prophecy arose. There are multiple cases of blind people in Greek mythology being granted special abilities by way of 'compensation'.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .