Light in philosophy


Are we sure about what light really is? The word ‘light’ which originates from Greek refers to the root of the verb ‘to show’, ‘to portray’. For the ancient Greeks, light guided human intellect to truth, just like a lighthouse guides lost sailors to safety. Over the centuries it has always been a symbol of superior and transcendent dimensions, the symbol of what human reasoning gravitates to.

Pythagoras believed that the eye was like a lighthouse for the soul, that shone a light to help us explore the environment around us and allow us to perceive it. Democritus, a very influential exponent of the atomists, believed that light travelled from the object to the eye thus triggering sight.


In the Middle Ages light represented the divine, during the Age of Enlightenment it reached its peak becoming a metaphor of the means by which man can “emerge from his self-imposed nonage”, as written by Kant, portrayed by the obscurantism of the Counter-Reformation as the human incapacity to autonomously make use of one’s intellect.

Why does light have such a deep relevance? Only when it is absent and darkness fills its place does man acknowledge its importance and its magic. Light is what allows man to experience reality and interpret its beauty with our own eyes, giving us the freedom to live appreciating its magnificence without limiting life to a struggle for survival. Without light the world would be a place of confused colourless masses because thanks to light we can perceive colours, important elements that make reality seem like a painting and transform ordinary shapes into works of art. From its brightness colours are born and from colours beauty is born, this is the primary characteristic of the reality man can perceive thanks to the brilliance and pure energy of light; it is the fulcrum, the fifth element that gives origin to the first four, passing through our eyes and reaching our intellect allowing us to be aware of water, air, land and fire, all things that without light would not exist in our sight.

So let us close with a quote from Plato: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
Maddalena Bellasio

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