In the tenth book of the Republic, Socrates differentiates the maker of an object, such as a bed, made in accordance with the Idea of the thing (this is its eidos or form) , from the artist, proceeding in a quick and easy fashion, as if using a mirror. But "What should a painting be called," asked Alberti, "except the holding of a mirror up to the original as in art?"
For Leibniz, each monad is a world in itself, a self-contained cosmos that mirrors the whole universe in its own way. But all these individual worlds are united with one another through a preestablished harmony, inasmuch as they are expressions of the same universal order. The blind man in Diderot's Lettre sur les Aveugles could conceive of mirrors only as machines that create three-dimensional images of ourselves. "Un mirroir est une machine qui nous met en relief hors de nous-même."
In The Mirror and the Lamp, M.H. Abrams contrasts two antithetic metaphors of mind, one comparing the mind to a reflector of external objects, the other to a radiant projector which makes a contribution to the object it perceives. The former was characteristic of much of the thinking from Plato to the eighteenth century, (based on a concept of representation) while the second typifies the prevailing romantic conception of the poetic mind. (see imagination) The concept of illumination carries a religious connotation as well-- in the act of grace and revelation.
In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty proposes to move beyond epistemological philosophy that concerns itself with"accurate representation," in favor of a pragmatist conception of knowledge which eliminates the Greek contrast between contemplation and action, between representing the world and coping with it. (pp10-11)
According to Jacques Lacan, the mirror phase (or stage) is "a phase in the constitution of the human individual located between the ages of six and eighteen months. Though still in a state of powerlessness and motor incoordination, the infant anticipates on an imaginary plane the apprehension and mastery of its bodily unity. This imaginary unification comes about by means of identification with the image of the counterpart as total Gestalt ; it is exemplified concretely by the experience in which the child perceives its own reflection in a mirror. The mirror phase is said to constitute the matrix and first outline of what is to become the ego. " (Laplanche and Pontalis)
While some primates such as chimpanzees may have the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror, and even take pleasure in doing so, the mirror does not play the genetic role that Lacan attributes to humans. For Lacan, the premature birth of humans ( see neoteny ) and their lack of motor coordination is offset through their imaginary identification with an ideal ego in the mirror. (see narcissism see also desire) Lacan draws attention to "the triumphant assumption of the image, with the accompanying jubilant mimicry and the playful complacency with which the specular identification is controlled." (see Écrits 1 )
The mirror has traditionally been the way the mind pictures itself. Thus the mirror phase serves as the image of coming to self- consciousness.
The classical operations of the mirror are an optics of identity, reflection, and mimetic correspondence. See Jonathan Crary's discussion of Manet's Before the Mirror, in Suspensions of Perception, pp 109-110. Marx criticizes Feuerbach for his "speculative criticism," mirroring the contradictions of its subject matter.