On the Vital Principle/Book 1/Chapter 4
|←Prelude to Chapter 4||On the Vital Principle by , translated by Charles Collier
Book 1, Chapter 4
|Prelude to Chapter 5→|
-- Chapter 4 --
Another opinion upon the Vital Principle has been handed down, which to many is not less acceptable than any one of those already alluded to, but which, having been scrutinized in our popular disquisitions, has been found to be wanting. The supporters of this opinion say, that the Vital Principle is some kind of harmony; that harmony is a mixture and compound of contraries, and that the body is constituted of contraries. But although harmony is a certain proportion or compound of particles mixed together, it is not possible that the Vital Principle should be the one or the other; for it forms no part of harmony to produce motion, but all writers agree in assigning motive power to the Vital Principle as its most characteristic property. The term harmony, besides, is applicable rather to health and the corporeal powers in general, than to the Vital Principle, as would be very manifest to any one who should undertake to account, by any harmony, for the emotions and functions of the Vital Principle; for it would be scarcely possible to reconcile them to one another. If harmony, besides, may be spoken of with reference to two points—as applicable, most especially, to the composition of particles in masses which have motion and proportion, whenever they may so coalesce as not to admit of any which are homogeneous, and then as applicable to the proportion of the commingled particles, yet in neither sense can it be reasonable to regard Vital Principle as harmony, nor can the Vital Principle be the composition of the parts of the body: for the composition of the parts (and many and various are the compositions of the parts) is quite open to examination—but of what can we suppose that the mind, or the sentient, or the appetitive faculty is a composition? or how is any one of them to be composed? It is equally absurd to think that the Vital Principle can be the proportion of the mixture, since the mixture of the elements which forms flesh is differently proportioned from that which forms bone. It will happen, too, from this theory, that there are many Vital Principles, and many in every body, if all bodies are from the elements in combination, and if the proportion of the combination is harmony and Vital Principle. We might inquire too of Empedocles, who maintains that each of those bodies exists in a certain proportion, whether Vital Principle is the proportion? or whether rather is it present in the members, as something different from proportion? Is affinity, besides, the cause of a fortuitous or a definite combination of parts? And then, again, is affinity the proportion, or something besides the proportion?
Such are the difficulties which present themselves; but if the Vital Principle is something different from the composition, what is that which is simultaneously destroyed with the life, in the flesh, and other parts of an animal? Besides these questions, since each of the parts of the body has not Vital Principle, unless the Vital Principle is the proportion of the composition in the parts, what is that which is destroyed when the Vital Principle has forsaken the body? It is then clear, from what has been adduced, that Vital Principle can neither be any kind of harmony, nor be moving in a circle.
But to maintain that the Vital Principle is moved by accident is to maintain, as we have said, that it moves itself as it is moved in that in which it is, and which is moved by it; and that it cannot possibly have locomotion in any other way. It might, however, with greater probability be doubted, and for the following considerations, whether it moves at all—for we are accustomed to say that the Vital Principle is daring or afraid, is angry too, and both feels and thinks, and as all these seem to be motions, it might be supposed that the Vital Principle does move. But yet this is no necessary consequence—for if to grieve, to rejoice or think are motions, in the fullest sense, then each of them is motion, and motion may be said to emanate from the Vital Principle, as anger or fear is produced by the heart being moved in this or that manner, and thinking may be some analogous or different kind of motion; but some of these phænomena are produced by the displacement of certain particles in motion, and others by change, the explanation of the quality and manner of which is foreign to the present inquiry.
Now to maintain that the Vital Principle is angry is very much like saying that it weaves or builds, and thus it would, perhaps, be better to say, not that Vital Principle pities, learns or thinks, but that the man, by his Vital Principle, is so affected or so engaged. It is not, however, hereby implied that motion is in the Vital Principle, but, on the contrary, that sometimes it proceeds to, and sometimes comes from it; as sentient impression is from external objects, and recollection comes from it to the movements or impressions abiding in the sentient organs. The mind seems to be a peculiar innate essence, and to be indestructible; were it destructible, however, it would, in an especial sense, be so by the dulness attendant upon age, when probably that happens to the mind which takes place in the sentient organs; for if an aged person could take an eye of a certain character, he would see as well as a young man. Thus, the infirmities of age are attributable, not to the Vital Principle having been in aught affected, but to its recipient suffering, as it does from drunkenness or maladies. Thus, too, thought and reflexion languish when any thing within the body has been destroyed, but that which thinks is impassive. The properties, therefore, of thought, love and hatred belong, not to it, but to that which contains it, and as it contains it; so that when this recipient is destroyed, it can either recollect nor love, as those emotions emanate not from it, but from that which was in common with it, and which has perished. But the mind is probably something more divine, and it is impassive.
It is, then, manifest from what has been adduced, that Vital Principle cannot be in motion; and if altogether without motion, it cannot clearly be self-moved.
The most unreasonable by far of all the opinions upon Vital Principle is that which holds it to be a number with self-motion, for it is beset with insuperable objections; those, in the first place, which result from the idea of motion, and then those more particular objections to speaking of it as a number. How, indeed, is it possible to think of an unit in motion? by what or how, being indivisible and homogeneous, is it to be moved? If said to be both motor and moved, it must have distinction of some kind. Since, besides, they say that a line in motion forms a surface, and a point in line, then units in motion will form lines, as the point is distinguished from the unit only by position; and thus the number of Vital Principle has already locality and position. If, again, from any number there be subtracted a number or an unit, there remains a different number; but plants and many creatures, after having been divided, live on, and appear still, in a specific sense, to possess the same Vital Principle. It might also be supposed to make no difference whether we speak of the Vital Principle as formed of units or corpuscles; for if points are substituted for the spherules of Democritus and quantity alone remains, there will still be in that quantity, as in all continuity, a motor and a moved; for the theory takes account neither of greatness or smallness, but only of quantity. Thus, there must of necessity be something to impart motion to the units. But if the Vital Principle is the motor in an animal, so must it be in the number, and thus the Vital Principle, being no longer motor and moved, is the motor only. Even admitting that the Vital Principle may, in some way, be an unit, there must still be some distinction between it and other units; but what distinction, save that of position, can there be between one unit and another? If then the units and points which are in the body are different, the units will be on the same spot as the points, for the unit will occupy the place of the point; but what then is there to prevent them from being infinite in number on the same spot, even if there be only two, as things are indivisible of which the locality is indivisible? But if the points in the body are the number of the Vital Principle, or if the number formed from the points in the body is the Vital Principle, why have not all bodies Vital Principle? Now there seem to be points in all bodies, and those infinite in number. How besides is it possible for the Vital Principles to be separated and set free from bodies, since lines are not divisible into points?
Note 1, p. 38. It is equally absurd to think, &c.] This is an unanswerable objection to Empedocles and bis followers who made all bodies to be combinations, in differing proportions, of the elements—for whether the Vital Principle be harmony or a combination of particles, there must, as combinations are various, (since that which forms bone is not that which forms flesh,) be several principles in each member of the body; and if it be not proportion, there must then be a second Vital Principle to maintain that relation. The succeeding passages are, necessarily, from the absence of precise knowledge concerning atomic proportion and relation, obscure; but they point to opinions which, although not based on experimental science, anticipate, when closely looked into, much that is now admitted.
Note 2, p. 40. Now, to maintain that Vital Principle, &c.] The argument reverts to the question whether the Vital Principle can be subjected to motion casually produced—be subject, that is, to motion through the body which is moved by it, and thus partake of locomotion; but the Vital Principle, being an essence, cannot be subject to casual motion; and then it has been shewn that a motor is not, necessarily, itself in motion. There seems, however, to have been some difficulty in refusing all motion to the Vital Principle, since the emotions and passions which emanate from it seem to be motions, or combined with motions,—as passion excites and fear depresses the motions of the heart, and deep thought furrows the brow; but Aristotle, in order to reconcile these with his own opinion, has recourse to an hypothesis which is left for future inquiry. It is well said, however, that the man rather than the Vital Principle is moved by passions and emotions; and thus motion may descend from it, as the first motor, and at rest, to the several organs, (act, that is, upon the temperament,) or ascend to it, by perception of the external world, for memory. Philoponus, commenting upon this passage, observes, as proof that recollection originates in the Vital Principle and thence permeates to the body, that, "when reminded of any fearful incident we turn pale, and when recalling a voyage we become qualmish."
Note 3, p. 40. The mind seems to be a peculiar innate essence, &c.] Aristotle has nowhere denned this great faculty, to which he attributed so high a destiny and such lofty privileges—"intellectus nihil patitur; est atque manet;" but the opinion was not exclusively his, nor did it originate with him, for Anaxagoras, and before him, Hermoticus made the "mind to be the cause as well of existence in animals as of the universe and universal order." There is, evidently, here a want of distinction between mind and Vital Principle; and it may be that, in order to avoid the obvious objection of two bodies in one, Aristotle has always delineated this faculty as homogeneous and pure; that is, as immaterial.
Note 4, p. 40. For if an aged person.] This allusion to diminished perception, by changes, from the influence of time, in the sentient organs, implies all that can now be said; for could the organ be restored to its pristine form, and its energies be, so to say, revived, the aged person would see or hear as he did when young. The body is modified, in fact, by age, just as it is, to use Aristotle's apposite reflexion, by maladies and rioting, which anticipate the otherwise slower processes of time; "Senectus non eo existat, quod anima sed quod id patitur in quo inest, i. e. corpus, sicut in ebrietate et morbis."
Note 5, p. 41. Thus, too, thought and reflexion languish.] Quid sit, quod intus perire dicatur, commentatores quærunt; sed nihil definiendum, nisi quod oculi similitudini respondeat; but Philoponus, who is here cited, clearly perceived that the passage pointed to the destruction of a corporeal organ, and not to a mere change of form. Whenever, in fact, there is destruction, however brought about, of a corporeal organ, there is almostuniversally mental disturbance and delirium.
Note 6, p. 41. The most unreasonable by far of all the opinions, &c.] These passages are so associated with the peculiar doctrines of the Pythagoreans, that they can hardly, within the compass of a note, be made intelligible to the general reader. These held the unit, it may be said, to be the origin of number, and the point to be the origin of the line; and so they made unit and point to belong to one common genus. But the unit was said to be a point without position, and, therefore, an abstract entity, which, being without parts or distinctions, cannot be either motor or moved, and, therefore, cannot represent the principle of all motion. Thus, the opinion is objected to as making the Vital Principle a number, which deprives it of locality or position, and then as attributing motion to it which, as a number, it is not susceptible of. The following passages, which treat of the division of plants and insects, further prove, by analogy, that the Vital Principle cannot be a number, as, unlike a number, each part seems to have, after division, all the properties which it had while yet conjoined with the whole. The argument is then turned against the doctrine of Democritus, if the corpuscles be regarded as points, there must still be in each point, as quantity, a motor and a moved; and the theory depended for support upon quantity, rather than relations of size. Unless, then, the Vital Principle be both motor and moved, which it evidently cannot be,there must be a motor power for those corpuscles.
Note 7, p. 41. How, indeed, is it possible.] This passage is very elliptical and obscure, but its purport seems to be an objection to the doctrine of Xenocrates, a follower of Plato, who maintained that the Vital Principle might be separate from the body. The argument runs thus: if the Vital Principle be a number, and if each unit be a point, how, as the point is not separable from the line, can the Vital Principle be separate from the body? Although the point may be, abstractedly, apart from the line, yet as the line is not divisible into points, (since points are but the termination of the line) it follows that the Vital Principle, when regarded as a point, cannot be, actually, separate from the body. The Latin paraphrase is, "Insuper qui fieri potest ut separentur et absolvantur a corporibus, ipsa puncta? siquidem lineae non dividuntur in puncta;" the French is, "Comment est-il possible que les âmes se séparent et se délivrent des corps, puisque les lignes ne se divisent pas en points?"
- Metaphys. I. 3. 10.
- Trendel. Comment.
- Topica, I. 18, 8.
- Acad. Reg. Borussica.