Eight chapters of Maimonides on Ethics/Chapter I

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Know that the human soul is one,[2] but that it has many diversified activities. Some of these activities have, indeed, been called souls, which has given rise to the opinion that man has many souls, as was the belief of the physicians, with the result that the most distinguished of them[3] states in the introduction of his book that there are three souls, the physical, the vital, and the psychical.[4] These activities are called faculties and parts, so that the phrase "parts of the soul," frequently employed by philosophers, is commonly used. By the word "parts", however, they do not intend to imply that the soul is divided into parts as are bodies, but they merely enumerate the different activities of the soul as being parts of a whole, the union of which makes up the soul.

Thou knowest that the improvement of the moral qualities is brought about by the healing of the soul and its activities.[5] Therefore, just as the physician, who endeavors to cure the human body, must have a perfect knowledge of it in its entirety and its individual parts, just as he must know what causes sickness that it may be avoided, and must also be acquainted with the means by which a patient may be cured, so, likewise, he who tries to cure the soul, wishing to improve the moral qualities, must have a knowledge of the soul in its totality and its parts, must know how to prevent it from becoming diseased, and how to maintain its health.[6]

So, I say that the soul has five faculties; the nutritive [also known as the "growing" faculty], the sensitive, the imaginative, the appetitive, and the rational.[7] We have already stated in this chapter that our words concern themselves only with the human soul; for the nutritive faculty by which man is nourished is not the same, for instance, as that of the ass or the horse. Man is sustained by the nutritive faculty of the human soul, the ass thrives by means of the nutritive faculty of its soul, and the palm-tree[8] flourishes by the nutritive faculty peculiar to its soul. Although we apply the same term nutrition to all of them indiscriminately, nevertheless, its signification is by no means the same. In the same way, the term sensation is used homonymously[9] for man and beast; not with the idea, however, that the sensation of one species is the same as that of another, for each species has its own characteristic soul distinct from every other, with the result that there necessarily arises from each soul activities peculiar to itself. It is possible, however, that an activity of one soul may seem to be similar to that of another, in consequence of which one might think that both belong to the same class, and thus consider them to be alike; but such is not the case.

By way of elucidation, let us imagine that three dark places are illumined, one lit up by the sun shining upon it, the second by the moon, and the third by a flame. Now, in each of these places there is light, but the efficient cause in the one case is the sun, in the other the moon, and in the third the fire. So it is with sensation and its causes. In man it is the human soul, in the ass it is the soul of the ass, and in the eagle, the soul of the eagle. These sensations have, moreover, nothing in common, except the homonymous term which is applied to them. Mark well this point, for it is very important, as many so-called philosophers have fallen into error regarding it, in consequence of which they have been driven to absurdities and fallacies.

Returning to our subject of the faculties of the soul, let me say that the nutritive faculty consists of (1) the power of attracting nourishment to the body, (2) the retention of the same, (3) its digestion (assimilation), (4) the repulsion of superfluities, (5) growth, (6) procreation, and (7) the differentiation of the nutritive juices that are necessary for sustenance from those which are to be expelled.[10] The detailed discussion of these seven faculties—the means by which and how they perform their functions, in which members of the body their operations are most visible and perceptible, which of them are always present, and which disappear within a given time—belongs to the science of medicine, and need not be taken up here.

The faculty of sensation consists of the five well-known senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling, the last of which is found over the whole surface of the body, not being confined to any special member, as are the other four faculties.

The imagination is that faculty which retains impressions of things perceptible to the mind, after they have ceased to affect directly the senses which conceived them. This faculty, combining some of these impressions and separating others from one another, thus constructs out of originally perceived ideas some of which it has never received any impression, and which it could not possibly have perceived. For instance, one may imagine an iron ship floating in the air, or a man whose head reaches the heaven and whose feet rest on the earth, or an animal with a thousand eyes, and many other similar impossibilties which the imagination may construct and endow with an existence that is fanciful.[11] In this regard, the Mutakallimun[12] have fallen into grievous and pernicious error, as a result of which their false theories form the corner-stone of a sophistical system which divides things into the necessary, the possible, and the impossible; so that they believe, and have led others to believe, that all creations of the imagination are possible, not having in mind, as we have stated, that this faculty may attribute existence to that which cannot possibly exist.[13]

The appetitive is that faculty by which a man desires, or loathes a thing, and from which there arise the following activities: the pursuit of an object or flight from it, inclination and avoidance, anger and affection, fear and courage, cruelty and compassion, love and hate, and many other similar psychic qualities.[14] All parts of the body are subservient to these activities, as the ability of the hand to grasp, that of the foot to walk, that of the eye to see, and that of the heart to make one bold or timid. Similarily, the other members of the body, whether external or internal, are instruments of the appetitive faculty.[15]

Reason, that faculty peculiar to man, enables him to understand, reflect, acquire knowledge of the sciences, and to discriminate between proper and improper actions.[16] Its functions are partly practical and partly speculative (theoretical), the practical being, in turn, either mechanical or intellectual. By means of the speculative power, man knows things as they really are, and which, by their nature, are not subject to change. These are called the sciences[17] in general. The mechanical power is that by which the arts, such as architecture, agriculture, medicine, and navigation are acquired.[18] The intellectual power is that by which one, when he intends to do an act, reflects upon what he has premeditated, considers the possibility of performing it, and, if he thinks it possible, decides how it should be done.[19]

This is all we have deemed it necessary to say in this regard concerning the soul. Know, however, that the soul, whose faculties and parts we have described above, and which is a unit, may be compared to matter in that it likewise has a form, which is reason. If the form (reason) does not communicate its impression to the soul, then the disposition existing in the soul to receive that form is of no avail, and exists to no purpose, as Solomon says, “Also in the want of knowledge in the soul there is nothing good”.[20] This means that if a soul has not attained a form but remains without intelligence, its existence is not a good one.[21] However, this is not the place for us to discuss such problems as that of form, matter, and the number of different kinds of intelligence, and their means of acquisition;[22] nor is it necessary for what we have to say concerning the subject of ethics, but is more appropriately to be discussed in the Book on Prophecy, which we mention (elsewhere).[23]

Now I conclude this chapter, and begin the next.

  1. For a discussion of the contents of this chapter, see Scheyer, Psychol. Syst. d. Maim., c. I; Jaraczewski, ZPhKr., XLVI, pp. 9—10; and Rosin, Ethik, p. 45 ff. A summary of the Peraḳim is found in Speier, The Threefold Cord (London, 1891), Appendix.
  2. In Moreh, I, 41, M. explains the term soul (נפש‎) as being "the vitality which is common to all sentient beings." Cf. Aristotle, De Anima, c. 1 (ed. Hicks, pp. 50 and 51), "Hence soul is the first actuality of a natural body having in it the capacity of life." On the homonymous use of the word נפש‎, see Moreh, loc. cit.
  3. Hippocrates, the creator of medical science. See Rosin, Ethik, p. 45; Wolff, Acht Capitel, p. 1, n. 2; M. Schloessinger, in JE., VI, p. 403.
  4. M. opposes the belief in the existence of three souls, but uses this classification to designate a threefold division of the soul's faculties, although, later in this chapter (see infra, pp. 38—39), he divides the faculties into five classes. In Moreh, III, 12, he points to the threefold division of the faculties, where he says, "all physical, psychical, and vital forces and organs that are possessed by one individual are found also in the other individuals." See, also, ibid., III, 46 (end), where the appetitive (התאוה‎), the vital (החיונית‎), and the psychic (הנפשײת‎) faculties are enumerated. Baḥya, Ibn Gabirol, and Ibn Zaddik seem to have believed in the existence of three souls in man. See I. Broydé in JE., vol. xi, art. Soul. Abraham ibn Daud, in Emunah Ramah, I, 6 (ed. Weil, 1842), also, opposed the belief of the physicians, supporting the Aristotelian view of the unity of the soul, as did M. Consult Scheyer, Psychol. Syst. d. Maim., p. 11, n. 3; Munk, Guide, I, p. 355, n. 1; idem, Mélanges, p. 38, n. 1; p. 40, n. 3; p. 54, n. 2; Rosin, Ethik, p. 45, n. 1; Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, p. 398, n. 60.
  5. The phrase, the improvement of the moral qualities (תקון המדות‎, Ar. אצלאח אלאכלאק‎), is one which M. probably borrowed from Ibn Gabirol, author of Tiḳḳun Middot ha-Nefesh (The Improvement of the Moral Qualities) to designate the practical task of ethics. Cf. Rosin, Ethik, pp. 12, 37, n. 5. M. is not concerned with a theoretical discussion of ethics, but with the problem as to how one's moral qualities are to be improved, which is a practical question. Therefore, the science of curing the soul is to him as practical as is that of healing the body. What Aristotle says in Eth. Nic., II, 2 may well apply here. "Since, then, the object of the present treatise is not mere speculation, as it is of some others (for we are inquiring not merely that we may know what virtue is, but that we may become virtuous, else it would be useless), we must consider as to the particular actions how we are to do them, because, as we have just said, the character of the habits that shall be formed depends on these."
  6. Philo, too, speaks of a physician of the soul (Quod Omnis Probus Liber, I, 2). Cf. Eth. Nic., I, 12, where Aristotle states that it is necessary for the Politician (moralist) to have a certain knowledge of the nature of the soul, just as it is for the oculist to have a knowledge of the whole body, and in fact more so, as Politics (ethics) is more important than the healing art.
  7. M. agrees with Aristotle as to the number of the divisions of the faculties of the soul, but instead of the latter’s faculty of motion, has that of imagination. δυνάμεις δ' εἰπομεν ϑρεπτικὸν (הזן‎), ὀρεκτικόν (המתעורר‎), αἰσϑητικόν (המרגיש‎), κινητικὸν κατὰ τόπον, διανοητικόν (השכלי‎). De Anima, II, 3, ed. Hicks, pp. 58 and 59. M.’s division is preferable to that of Aristotle, motion being subservient to the appetitive and the rational faculties, as Aristotle himself states (De Motu Animalium, chaps. 6 and 8). M. considers motion, especially that of the limbs of the body, to be dependent upon the appetitive faculty (see infra, p. 43), and to be “an accident pertaining to living things” (Moreh, I, 26). Cf., also, ibid. I, 46 (שהתנוע אינה מעצם החי אבל מקרה דבק בו‎); and Aristotle, Physics, V, 2. See Scheyer, Psychol. Syst. d. Maim., p. 11, n. 3; p. 14, n. 4. Al-Farabi (התחלות הנמצאות‎, in ספר האסיף‎, Leipzig, 1849, p. 2) divides the faculties as follows: הכח המדברת‎ (השכלי‎ of M.) והכח המתעורר והכח המדמה והכח המרגיש. In making his division, M. seems to have had in mind the divisions of Aristotle and al-Farabi. By adding the nutritive faculty (הזן‎), which Aristotle includes in his list, to the list of al-Farabi we have M.’s list. See Rosin, Ethik, p. 47, n. 4.
  8. See Hebrew text, c. I, p. 9, n. 9.
  9. בשתוף השם‎; Ar. באשתראך אלאסם‎, homonymously, i. e. the participation of two things in the same name. In Millot ha-Higgayon, c. XII, M. defines this term as follows. “If a noun has a number of significations it is a homonym ....... The word עין‎, which is used to designate the eye which sees, and a fountain, is a homonym. The common or appelative noun (see Munk, Guide, I, Introd., p. 6, n. 2) designates something common to two or more things, and by such a word we recognize, as regards each of these things, the class to which it belongs on account of the conception of the thing which each shares in common, as, for instance, the word living (חי‎) which is applied to a man, a horse, a scorpion, and a fish; for life, which consists of nutrition and sensation, is a common possession of each one of these species.” In this sense, the words nutrition (נזון‎) and sensation (מרגיש‎) are homonyms. See Munk, Guide, I, Introd., p. 6, notes 2 and 3; and Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, pp. 420, n. 91, 460, n. 148, 461, n. 149.
  10. The first four of these powers are discussed with more detail in Moreh, I, 72. See Munk, Guide, I, p. 367, n. 5.
  11. M. defines imagination in Moreh, I, 73, Tenth Proposition, Note. It is the opposite of the intellect which "analyzes and divides the component parts of things, it forms abstract ideas of them, represents them in their true form as well as in their causal relations, derives from one object a great many facts, which—for the intellect—totally differ from each other, just as two human individuals appear different to the imagination; it distinguishes that which is the property of the genus from that which is peculiar to the individual,—and no proof is correct unless founded on the former; the intellect further determines whether certain qualities of a thing are essential or non-essential. Imagination has none of these functions. It only perceives the individual, the compound in that aggregate condition in which it presents itself to the senses; or it combines things which exist separately, joins some of them together, and represents them all as one body or as a force of the body. Hence it is that some imagine a man with a horse's head, or with wings, etc. This is called a fiction, a phantasm; it is a thing to which nothing in the actual world corresponds. Nor can imagination in any way obtain a purely immaterial image of an object, however abstract the form of the image may be. Imagination yields, therefore, no test for the reality of a thing." Further (ibid. II, 36) it is stated that part of the functions of the imagination is to retain impressions by the senses, to combine them, and chiefly to form images. The most perfect developement of the imaginative faculty results in prophecy. See infra, p. 47, and n. 3.
  12. The Mutakallimun were a sect of dogmatic or religious philosophers who tried to harmonize Mohammedan theology with Aristotelian philosophy. Starting with the "word of God" (kalām, Λόγος), as contained in the Koran, they endeavored to reconcile revelation with philosophy. I. T., in his Glossary of Strange Words, harshly criticizes them as "a sect of pseudoscientists without wisdom." T. J. De Boer says of their system of philosophy, "An assertion, expressed in logical or dialectic fashion, whether verbal or written, was called by the Arabs,—generally, but more particularly in religious teaching—Kalam (Λόγος), and those who advanced such assertions were called Mutakallimun. The name was transferred from the individual assertion to the entire system, and it covered also the introductory, elementary observations on Method,—and so on. Our best designation for the science of the Kalam is 'Theological Dialectics' or simply 'Dialectics', and in what follows we may translate Mutakallimun by 'Dialecticians'," Geschichte der Philosophie im Islam, Stuttgart, 1901, p. 43 ff.; Eng. ed., London, 1903, pp. 42-43. To M. we are indebted for a knowledge of the details of the system of the Mutakallimun, which he describes in a masterly way in his famous attack on the Kalam (Moreh, I, 71—76). He is vehemently opposed to them, not because of the views they held in regard to the universe and God, many of which coincided with his own, but on account of the method they pursued in arriving at their conclusions. On the Mutakallimun, and the Kalam, see Yehudah ha-Levi, Cuzari, c. V; Munk, Mélanges, pp. 311-312, 318 ff.; idem, article Arabes, in Dictionnaire des Sciences philosophiques; idem, Notice sur R. Saadia Gaôn, p. 156 ff.; idem, Guide, I, p. 335, n. 2; Steinschneider, Heb. Lit., p. 117; idem, HUb., p. 415; Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, see index; M. Gutmann, Das Religionsphil. Syst. d. Mutakallimun nach der Berichte des Maimun, Leipzig, 1885; Ludwig Stein, in AGPh., vol. XI, pp. 330-334; Schreiner, Der Kalâm in der jüdischen Literatur, Berlin, 1895; S. Horovitz, in ZDMG, 57, p. 177 ff.; I. Goldziher, Vorlesungen über den Islam, (Heidelberg, 1910), p. 100 f.; 127 f.; 129; 172 f.; 177 f.; etc.
  13. Cf. Moreh, I, 73, Tenth Proposition, in which M. describes the theory of admissibility of the Mutakallimun, which forms the principal support of their doctrine (ההקדמה העשירית היא זאת ההעברה אשר יזכרהו וזהו עמור חכמת המדברים‎). Everything conceived by the imagination, they maintain, is admitted as possible. Cf., also, ibid., I, 49; III, 15. See Scheyer, Psychol. Syst. d. Maim., pp. 12-13; Munk, Guide, I, p. 400, n. 2.
  14. המקרים הנפשיים‎, psychic accidents. Cf. Moreh, I, 51. "It is a self evident fact that the attribute is not inherent in the object to which it is ascribed, but it is superadded to its essence, and is consequently an accident." See, also, ibid., I, 73. Fourth Proposition. With M.'s description of the appetitive faculty compare that of al-Farabi, in התחלות הנמצאות‎, p. 2:
    והמעוררת היא אשר בה יהיה ההתעוררת האנושית כשיבקש הדבר או שיברח ממנו, או שיתעבהו או שימאסהו, או שירחיקהו, ובו יהיה השנאה והאהבה, והריעות והאיבה, והיראה והבטחון, והכעס והרצון, והאכזריות והרחמנות ושאר מקרי הנפש‎.
  15. Cf. Moreh, I, 46.: הכלים כולם באמת אחד הנראה מהם והפנימי כולם כלים לפעולת הנפש המתחלפות וכ׳‎. All the organs of the body are employed in the various actions of the soul. Cf. Aristotle, De Anima, III, 10, ed. Hicks, pp. 152 and 153.
  16. Cf. Millot ha-Higgayon, c. XIV (beg.): "The word dibbur as used by former philosophers of cultured nations, is a homonym having three significations. In the first place, it is used to designate that power peculiar to man by which he forms conceptions, acquires a knowledge of the sciences, and differentiates between the proper and the improper. This is called the reasoning faculty or soul." Cf. Ibn Daud, Emunah Ramah, I, 6.
  17. Cf. Eth. Nic., VI, 3: "What science is is plain from the following considerations, if one is to speak accurately, instead of being led away by resemblances. For we all conceive that what we scientifically know cannot be otherwise than it is … So, then, whatever comes within the the range of science is by necessity, and therefore eternal—because all things are so which exist necessarily—and all eternal things are without beginning, and indestructible.”
  18. Cf. Millot ha-Higgayon, loc. cit.: והשם מלאכה אצל הקדומים שם משתף יפילו על כל חכמה עיונית ויפילוהו גם כן על כל המעשים המלאכתים, ויקראו כל חכמה מחכמת הפילוסופיא מלאכה עיונית, ויקראו כל אחת מהנגרות והחצבות ומה שדומה להן מלאכה מעשית‎. Cf., also, Eth. Nic. VI, 4, on “Art.”
  19. With M.’s definition of the rational faculty compare that of al-Farabi (התחלות הגמצאות‎, p. 2): והכח המדבר הוא אשר בו יאחוז האדם החכמות והמלאכות‎. See Rosin, Ethik, p. 47, n. 4; Kaufmann, Attributenlehre, p. 398, and note 60. On this faculty and its functions, see Scheyer, Psychol. Syst. d. Maim., pp. 14-29; Rosin, Ethik, pp. 49-51, and Wolff, Acht Capitel, p. 7, n. 1.

    The following scheme will elucidate the divisions of the functions of the rational faculty, according to M.

    Reason (הנפש המדברת, הכח הדבור, הכח השכלי‎; Ar. אלנאטק‎)
    Practical (מעשי‎; Ar. עמלי‎)
    Theoretical (מלאכה עיונית, עיוני‎; Ar. נטרי‎)
    Mechanical (מלאכת מחשבות מלאכת מעשית,‎; Ar. מהני‎)Intellectual (מחשבי‎; Ar. פכרי‎)Sciences (חכמות‎; Ar. עלום‎)
    Architecture, etc.
  20. Prov. XIX, 2.
  21. M. considers matter and form in the Aristotelian sense. The principia of all existing, transient things are matter, form, and the absence of a particular form (Moreh, I, 17). Matter (מאדה̈, חומר‎, ἡ ὔλη) consists of the underlying, basic substance of a thing, which has a potential but not a real existence, its true nature consisting in the property of never being without a disposition to receive a form (ibid., III, 8). Every substance is endowed with a form (צורה̈, צורה‎, το εἴδος), or incoporeal being (ibid., II, 12), by means of which that substance is what it is. That is, through form that which is potentially in existence comes into real existence (Aristotle, Physics, II, 3; Metaphysics, I, 3), and upon it the reality and essence of a thing depend. When the form is destroyed, the thing’s existence is terminated (Moreh, III, 69). As soon as a substance has received a certain form, the absence or privation (אלעדם, ההעדר‎) of that form which it has just received has ceased, and it is replaced by the privation of another form, and so on with all possible forms (ibid., I, 17). Cf. Aristotle, Physics, I, 5-7; also רוח חן‎, c. IX. Matter is constantly seeking to cast off the form it has in order to receive another, and so form does not remain permanently in a substance. M. aptly compares matter to a faithless wife, who, although not being without a husband, continually seeks another man in his place (Moreh, III, 8). The soul, according to Aristotle, is the form of the body which, as matter, has merely a potentiality for existence. See supra, p. 37, n. 2. He says, “It must follow, then, that soul is substance in the sense that it is the form of a natural body having in it the capacity of life.” (De Anima, II, 1, ed. Hicks, pp. 48 and 49). M. agrees with this, and says in Yesode ha-Torah, IV, 8. “The soul of all flesh is its form which God has given it.” The human soul, however, needs in turn a form in order that it may become a reality. The soul’s form is, as M. states here, reason (עקל, שכל‎, νους), or more definitely the acquired reason (שכל הנקנה‎; see Scheyer, Psychol. Syst. d. Maim., c. III; also p. 59, note E; p. 65 ff., especially p. 66), and it this that makes man what he is. Cf. Moreh, I, 7. “It is acknowledged that a man who does not possess this form, ....... is no man.”
  22. See Moreh, I, 68; Scheyer, ibid., c. II, c. III, and especially Munk, Guide, I, pp. 304-308, note.
  23. In Perek Helek, Seventh Article of Faith (Holzer, Dogmenlehre, p. 24; I. Friedlaender, Arabic Writings of M., p. 32), M. mentions his intention of writing a Book on Prophecy and a Book of Harmony (ולפיכך אניח אותו למקומו אם בפירוש הדרשות אשר יעדתי או בספר הנבואה שאני מתעסק בו וכ׳‎), for the purpose of elucidating the exoteric lessons of the prophets and of the Midrashim. After having started, however, he abandoned this intention, and later incorporated the material for the Book on Prophecy in the Moreh, Part II, in chapters 32 to 48, and that of the Book of Harmony (ספר ההשואה‎) he scattered throughout the Moreh. See Moreh, I, Introd.; Bloch, Charakteristik und Inhaltsangabe des Moreh Nebuchim, in Moses ben Maimon, I, pp. 7, 8 and 15.