On Youth and Old Age

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On Youth and Old Age (350 BCE) 
by Aristotle, translated by George Robert Thompson Ross
Parts are numbered in the context of their part in the entire work (On Youth and Old Age, On Breathing and On Life and Death)

On Youth and Old Age[edit]

Part 1[edit]

We must now treat of youth and old age and life and death. We must probably also at the same time state the causes of respiration as well, since in some cases living and the reverse depend on this.

We have elsewhere given a precise account of the soul, and while it is clear that its essential reality cannot be corporeal, yet manifestly it must exist in some bodily part which must be one of those possessing control over the members. Let us for the present set aside the other divisions or faculties of the soul (whichever of the two be the correct name). But as to being what is called an animal and a living thing, we find that in all beings endowed with both characteristics (viz. being an animal and being alive) there must be a single identical part in virtue of which they live and are called animals; for an animal qua animal cannot avoid being alive. But a thing need not, though alive, be animal, for plants live without having sensation, and it is by sensation that we distinguish animal from what is not animal.

This organ, then, must be numerically one and the same and yet possess multiple and disparate aspects, for being animal and living are not identical. Since then the organs of special sensation have one common organ in which the senses when functioning must meet, and this must be situated midway between what is called before and behind (we call 'before' the direction from which sensation comes, 'behind' the opposite), further, since in all living things the body is divided into upper and lower (they all have upper and lower parts, so that this is true of plants as well), clearly the nutritive principle must be situated midway between these regions. That part where food enters we call upper, considering it by itself and not relatively to the surrounding universe, while downward is that part by which the primary excrement is discharged.

Plants are the reverse of animals in this respect. To man in particular among the animals, on account of his erect stature, belongs the characteristic of having his upper parts pointing upwards in the sense in which that applies to the universe, while in the others these are in an intermediate position. But in plants, owing to their being stationary and drawing their sustenance from the ground, the upper part must always be down; for there is a correspondence between the roots in a plant and what is called the mouth in animals, by means of which they take in their food, whether the source of supply be the earth or each other's bodies.

Part 2[edit]

All perfectly formed animals are to be divided into three parts, one that by which food is taken in, one that by which excrement is discharged, and the third the region intermediate between them. In the largest animals this latter is called the chest and in the others something corresponding; in some also it is more distinctly marked off than in others. All those also that are capable of progression have additional members subservient to this purpose, by means of which they bear the whole trunk, to wit legs and feet and whatever parts are possessed of the same powers. Now it is evident both by observation and by inference that the source of the nutritive soul is in the midst of the three parts. For many animals, when either part-the head or the receptacle of the food-is cut off, retain life in that member to which the middle remains attached. This can be seen to occur in many insects, e.g. wasps and bees, and many animals also besides insects can, though divided, continue to live by means of the part connected with nutrition.

While this member is indeed in actuality single, yet potentially it is multiple, for these animals have a constitution similar to that of Plants; plants when cut into sections continue to live, and a number of trees can be derived from one single source. A separate account will be given of the reason why some plants cannot live when divided, while others can be propagated by the taking of slips. In this respect, however, plants and insects are alike.

It is true that the nutritive soul, in beings possessing it, while actually single must be potentially plural. And it is too with the principle of sensation, for evidently the divided segments of these animals have sensation. They are unable, however, to preserve their constitution, as plants can, not possessing the organs on which the continuance of life depends, for some lack the means for seizing, others for receiving their food; or again they may be destitute of other organs as well.

Divisible animals are like a number of animals grown together, but animals of superior construction behave differently because their constitution is a unity of the highest possible kind. Hence some of the organs on division display slight sensitiveness because they retain some psychical susceptibility; the animals continue to move after the vitals have been abstracted: tortoises, for example, do so even after the heart has been removed.

Part 3[edit]

The same phenomenon is evident both in plants and in animals, and in plants we note it both in their propagation by seed and in grafts and cuttings. Genesis from seeds always starts from the middle. All seeds are bivalvular, and the place of junction is situated at the point of attachment (to the plant), an intermediate part belonging to both halves. It is from this part that both root and stem of growing things emerge; the starting-point is in a central position between them. In the case of grafts and cuttings this is particularly true of the buds; for the bud is in a way the starting-point of the branch, but at the same time it is in a central position. Hence it is either this that is cut off, or into this that the new shoot is inserted, when we wish either a new branch or a new root to spring from it; which proves that the point of origin in growth is intermediate between stem and root.

Likewise in sanguineous animals the heart is the first organ developed; this is evident from what has been observed in those cases where observation of their growth is possible. Hence in bloodless animals also what corresponds to the heart must develop first. We have already asserted in our treatise on The Parts of Animals that it is from the heart that the veins issue, and that in sanguineous animals the blood is the final nutriment from which the members are formed. Hence it is clear that there is one function in nutrition which the mouth has the faculty of performing, and a different one appertaining to the stomach. But it is the heart that has supreme control, exercising an additional and completing function. Hence in sanguineous animals the source both of the sensitive and of the nutritive soul must be in the heart, for the functions relative to nutrition exercised by the other parts are ancillary to the activity of the heart. It is the part of the dominating organ to achieve the final result, as of the physician's efforts to be directed towards health, and not to be occupied with subordinate offices.

Certainly, however, all saguineous animals have the supreme organ of the sensefaculties in the heart, for it is here that we must look for the common sensorium belonging to all the sense-organs. These in two cases, taste and touch, can be clearly seen to extend to the heart, and hence the others also must lead to it, for in it the other organs may possibly initiate changes, whereas with the upper region of the body taste and touch have no connexion. Apart from these considerations, if the life is always located in this part, evidently the principle of sensation must be situated there too, for it is qua animal that an animal is said to be a living thing, and it is called animal because endowed with sensation. Elsewhere in other works we have stated the reasons why some of the sense-organs are, as is evident, connected with the heart, while others are situated in the head. (It is this fact that causes some people to think that it is in virtue of the brain that the function of perception belongs to animals.)

Part 4[edit]

Thus if, on the one hand, we look to the observed facts, what we have said makes it clear that the source of the sensitive soul, together with that connected with growth and nutrition, is situated in this organ and in the central one of the three divisions of the body. But it follows by deduction also; for we see that in every case, when several results are open to her, Nature always brings to pass the best. Now if both principles are located in the midst of the substance, the two parts of the body, viz. that which elaborates and that which receives the nutriment in its final form will best perform their appropriate function; for the soul will then be close to each, and the central situation which it will, as such, occupy is the position of a dominating power.

Further, that which employs an instrument and the instrument it employs must be distinct (and must be spatially diverse too, if possible, as in capacity), just as the flute and that which plays it-the hand-are diverse. Thus if animal is defined by the possession of sensitive soul, this soul must in the sanguineous animals be in the heart, and, in the bloodless ones, in the corresponding part of their body. But in animals all the members and the whole body possess some connate warmth of constitution, and hence when alive they are observed to be warm, but when dead and deprived of life they are the opposite. Indeed, the source of this warmth must be in the heart in sanguineous animals, and in the case of bloodless animals in the corresponding organ, for, though all parts of the body by means of their natural heat elaborate and concoct the nutriment, the governing organ takes the chief share in this process. Hence, though the other members become cold, life remains; but when the warmth here is quenched, death always ensues, because the source of heat in all the other members depends on this, and the soul is, as it were, set aglow with fire in this part, which in sanguineous animals is the heart and in the bloodless order the analogous member. Hence, of necessity, life must be coincident with the maintenance of heat, and what we call death is its destruction.

Part 5[edit]

However, it is to be noticed that there are two ways in which fire ceases to exist; it may go out either by exhaustion or by extinction. That which is self-caused we call exhaustion, that due to its opposites extinction. [The former is that due to old age, the latter to violence.] But either of these ways in which fire ceases to be may be brought about by the same cause, for, when there is a deficiency of nutriment and the warmth can obtain no maintenance, the fire fails; and the reason is that the opposite, checking digestion, prevents the fire from being fed. But in other cases the result is exhaustion,-when the heat accumulates excessively owing to lack of respiration and of refrigeration. For in this case what happens is that the heat, accumulating in great quantity, quickly uses up its nutriment and consumes it all before more is sent up by evaporation. Hence not only is a smaller fire readily put out by a large one, but of itself the candle flame is consumed when inserted in a large blaze just as is the case with any other combustible. The reason is that the nutriment in the flame is seized by the larger one before fresh fuel can be added, for fire is ever coming into being and rushing just like a river, but so speedily as to elude observation.

Clearly therefore, if the bodily heat must be conserved (as is necessary if life is to continue), there must be some way of cooling the heat resident in the source of warmth. Take as an illustration what occurs when coals are confined in a brazier. If they are kept covered up continuously by the so-called 'choker', they are quickly extinguished, but, if the lid is in rapid alternation lifted up and put on again they remain glowing for a long time. Banking up a fire also keeps it in, for the ashes, being porous, do not prevent the passage of air, and again they enable it to resist extinction by the surrounding air by means of the supply of heat which it possesses. However, we have stated in The Problems the reasons why these operations, namely banking up and covering up a fire, have the opposite effects (in the one case the fire goes out, in the other it continues alive for a considerable time).

Part 6[edit]

Everything living has soul, and it, as we have said, cannot exist without the presence of heat in the constitution. In plants the natural heat is sufficiently well kept alive by the aid which their nutriment and the surrounding air supply. For the food has a cooling effect [as it enters, just as it has in man] when first it is taken in, whereas abstinence from food produces heat and thirst. The air, if it be motionless, becomes hot, but by the entry of food a motion is set up which lasts until digestion is completed and so cools it. If the surrounding air is excessively cold owing to the time of year, there being severe frost, plants shrivel, or if, in the extreme heats of summer the moisture drawn from the ground cannot produce its cooling effect, the heat comes to an end by exhaustion. Trees suffering at such seasons are said to be blighted or star-stricken. Hence the practice of laying beneath the roots stones of certain species or water in pots, for the purpose of cooling the roots of the plants.

Some animals pass their life in the water, others in the air, and therefore these media furnish the source and means of refrigeration, water in the one case, air in the other. We must proceed-and it will require further application on our part-to give an account of the way and manner in which this refrigeration occurs.