Translated by J. Beare.
35 pages - You are on Page 4
This theory, however, solves one question only to raise another; for, unless on the hypothesis that a person who is in his full senses can see an object of vision without being aware of it, the eye must on this theory see itself. But then why does the above affection not occur also when the eye is at rest? The true explanation of this affection, which will contain the answer to our question, and account for the current notion that the eye consists of fire, must be determined in the following way: Things which are smooth have the natural property of shining in darkness, without, however, producing light. Now, the part of the eye called 'the black', i.e. its central part, is manifestly smooth. The phenomenon of the flash occurs only when the eye is moved, because only then could it possibly occur that the same one object should become as it were two. The rapidity of the movement has the effect of making that which sees and that which is seen seem different from one another. Hence the phenomenon does not occur unless the motion is rapid and takes place in darkness. For it is in the dark that that which is smooth, e.g. the heads of certain fishes, and the sepia of the cuttle-fish, naturally shines, and, when the movement of the eye is slow, it is impossible that that which sees and that which is seen should appear to be simultaneously two and one. But, in fact, the eye sees itself in the above phenomenon merely as it does so in ordinary optical reflexion.
If the visual organ proper really were fire, which is the doctrine of Empedocles, a doctrine taught also in the Timaeus, and if vision were the result of light issuing from the eye as from a lantern, why should the eye not have had the power of seeing even in the dark? It is totally idle to say, as the Timaeus does, that the visual ray coming forth in the darkness is quenched. What is the meaning of this 'quenching' of light? That which, like a fire of coals or an ordinary flame, is hot and dry is, indeed, quenched by the moist or cold; but heat and dryness are evidently not attributes of light. Or if they are attributes of it, but belong to it in a degree so slight as to be imperceptible to us, we should have expected that in the daytime the light of the sun should be quenched when rain falls, and that darkness should prevail in frosty weather. Flame, for example, and ignited bodies are subject to such extinction, but experience shows that nothing of this sort happens to the sunlight.
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