Studia Philosophica

Volume 63, Issue 1, 2016

Daniel Špelda
Pages 47-68

Louses and Gulliver
The Optical Relativity in Early Modern Age

The article deals with some of the epistemological consequences which had the use of optical devices in the 17th century. As a illustrative framework of these consequences, I use the famous novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift which present a literary and imaginative context for some of the consequences. In the first part, I try to outline the reasons of unthinkability of optical devices in the Greek natural philosophy. Then I pres­ent the anthropological discovery of human unimportance in the universe brought about by telescopical observation of the sky. The second part deals with the Cartesian theory of perception and its importance for the understanding of microscopical observation. The result of the microscopical experience was a bitter detection of non-privileged status of human perception of the world. In the third part, it is outlined that modern optical de­vices were interpreted by early modern scientists (and consequently by Swift) as means showing epistemological inaccesibility of the very substance of nature. However, the epistemological reluctance of the early modern science was compensated by the idea of progress. Swift who stood at the side of anciens in the famous querelle did not consider the idea of scientific progress as a persuasive solution although he could not refuse the new scientific worldview. Eventually, he could only dream about a better pristine utopi­an world of eternal wisdom.