Philosophy of the Arts


The aspect-blind

In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein discusses the ambiguous duck-rabbit picture as illustrating a specific kind of seeing, seeing-as: we see the drawing now as a duck, now as a rabbit. Wittgenstein thinks seeing an aspect means seeing the internal relations of the thing with its surroundings. (The duck looks to the left, the rabbit to the right.) He wonders what happens when the next aspect dawns. And he asks whether it be possible for someone to be aspect-blind.

The duck-rabbit

“what I perceive in the dawning of an aspect is not a property of the object, but an internal relation between it and other objects.” (Philosophical Investigations, 212:a.)

Someone who is aspect-blind misses somehow the internal relations of a thing with its surroundings. He fails to recognise the orientation of the thing, in which direction it is threatening, or inviting, and so on. The aspect-blind misses the affordances.
It is one thing to have this incapacity with pictures—yet something entirely different to also suffer from it in real life. Imagine your clumsiness with chairs, tables, doors, people….


Gibson, J.J. 1986. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. London, Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations. Blackwell, Oxford, 1953.