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Book: Social and Cognitive Perspectives on the Sermon on the Mount

Chapter: 2. It's All in How You Look at It: The Eyes and Morality in Matt 6:22-23

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.32045


Colleen Shantz’s contribution investigates the intriguing saying about the eye as a lamp (6:22-23). Seeing is embodied and enactive. From the beginning of life, the embodied character of the human visual system affects how and what we know, as well as what is possible for the purpose of acting in the world. With this fact in mind, Shantz employs the growing research field of embodied, embedded, enactive and extended cognition (the four E’s) to renew the analysis of how the saying might appeal to the listener. Jesus’s saying about the “evil eye” is embedded in an agonistic culture where the jealous gaze was considered a dangerous force. Thus, the cultural construct of the evil eye weaves morality into the perceptual potentials of vision. Studies of infants and children reveal our deep-seated capacity to use our eyes in our interaction with other humans and to take the perspective of others. The eye is therefore central to reciprocal action. Moreover, cognition is enacted, that is, not mere perception, but arises from a combination of the visual input and intent of the seer. What you see depends on your motivation. The enacted understanding of vision allows us to understand the saying about the eye as a lamp, since a lamp acts on the world with its light. How you see is also how you act.

Chapter Contributors

  • Colleen Shantz ( - cshantz) 'University of Toronto'