Aristotelous peri psuxes = Aristotle on the vital principle online

. (page 16 of 19)
Online LibraryAristotleAristotelous peri psuxes = Aristotle on the vital principle → online text (page 16 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

upon like, that the organ of the sense, when in potenti-
ality, should be also dry, and so, in due relation to

1 Anal. Comparee, 15* kfon.

284 NOTES. [BK. n.


Note 1, p. 114. Colour, however, is not thus made
visible.] The opinion here objected to originated with
Democritus. Aristotle 1 held it to be absurd to suppose
that colour and vision could be a process of emanation
from the eyes ; for colour produces sensation, he observes,
not by emanation but, by contact, and so it is better, at
once, to admit that vision is produced by the action of the
medium. There are 2 , it is said, seven distinctions of colour
and as many of savour ; and in another work 3 seven
vowels, seven pleiads, and seven chords.

Note 2, p. 114. No object, however, which is without
humidity.] This is little more than a repetition of what
had been said concerning sapid substances. Aristotle 4
seems to have adopted a theory, derived from mechanics,
for explaining the solubility of objects Whence comes it,
he asks, that an earth is both melted and moistened by
fluid (KCLI TtjKeTai KOI reyyerai) while soda (TO Be v'npov) is
melted but not moistened ? The answer is, because there
are pores throughout the soda which cause its parts to
be, at once, separated by the fluid ; while the pores in

1 De Sensu et Sens. 3. 15. 3 De Sensu et Sens. 4. 18.

3 Metapkysica, xm. 6. 5. 4 De Meteorol. iv. 9. 4.

CH. X.] NOTES. 285

the earth are in alternate rows, so that the influence of
the fluid, in whatever way it may gain access, cannot but
be different.

Note 3, p. 114. As vision is perceptive, &c.] The
argument here is interrupted and obscured by parentheti-
cal explanations; but the purport is, that the senses are
the sole judges of sentient impressions through all their
degrees of intensity, and that, as sensibility is a mean,
they cannot discriminate such as are far above or below
the allotted medial standard. There is a seeming discre-
pance, however, in employing the term invisible as ana-
logous to impossible on other subjects, as vision is not
altogether lost in any darkness; but a creature without
feet could not continue its existence, nor a fruit without
the kernel continue its species.

Note 4, p. 115. The impotable as well as the potable,
<fec.] The impotable implies, of course, whatever is neither
moist nor capable of becoming moist, and every such sub-
stance must, necessarily, pain be very disagreeable to, that
is and pervert the Taste. All these passages, however,
while proving that moisture is required for savour, point to
a want of knowledge of the salivary and mucous glands
which were yet to be discovered. But over and above the
due conditions of moisture, there was still required the
knowledge of the nervous sysbem to account for the many
perversions of Taste which are manifested, both in sick
and well ; and manifested, at times, without any apparent
cause. It will occur to many, besides, how differently the

286 NOTES. [BK. n.

Taste is affected by the same substance, as sugar for in-
stance, in different persons, and even, at times, in the
same person.

Note 5, p. 116. Kinds of savour are like shades of
colour, &c.] There must ever be difficulty in fixing
upon terms for savours or other sentient qualities, and
still greater difficulty in settling what are the exact
equivalents for such terms in another, and that not
a cognate tongue ; for although some savours, as bitter
and sweet, may be supposed to have an universal accep-
tation, there are others which, being far less definite,
are subject to variation, according to climate and race.
So that, with the exception of bitter and sweet, it can
hardly be pretended that the other terms, as oily, pungent,
rough, astringent, <fec., are perfect representatives of those
in the text.

Note 6, p. 116. In fine tJie sapid sense, &c.] This
passage does but repeat what has been already insisted
upon, that the sense, in potentiality, that is, when inactive,
is identical with that which is to act upon it; but that,
having been acted upon, it is brought into the state of
reality, and then becomes perceptive of the qualities of the

CH. XI.] NOTES. 287


Note 1, p. 118. Each sense seems to be perceptive,
<tc.] This passage seems to imply that all sentient im-
pressions may, in a strict sense, be tangible impressions.
Aristotle 1 , in another treatise, observes that sentient
bodies are bodies sensible of tangible impressions, and that
tangible impressions only have contraries, which, in kind,
are specific and causative. And, "thus, neither white-
ness and blackness, sweetness and bitterness, or any
other contraries save those alluded to, can form element-
ary distinctions." All which implies, perhaps, that the
Touch is either the origin of or coeval with animal
existence ; and that the other senses are but for the
higher forms of being. The properties, besides, which
are attributed, so to say, to the Touch are, in con-
tradistinction to those of the organs of relation, mainly
concerned in the changes continually going on in inert
bodies ; and this consideration may have, in part, con-
tributed to the speculative opinion just quoted.

Note 2, p. 120. It may be a question whether as all
bodies, <fec.] This is an argument to prove that, as there
cannot be absolute contact of bodies in water, so neither
1 De Gen. el Corr. n. i. i.

288 NOTES. [BK. n.

can there be in air ; and thus that the flesh can be only
the medium for tangible impressions that there must
ever be air interposed, that is, between the object and the
surface of the body. It may seem now to be supereroga-
tory, but, as the atmosphere had not then been experi-
mentally investigated, crude and contrary opinions, as
might be supposed, were entertained concerning it, and
its manifold relations 1 . The term "third magnitude" is
derived from, or associated with the Pythagorean doc-
trine of number as of magnitude, continuous length is
referrible to one, breadth to two, and depth to three ; and,
thus, depth is the " third degree " of or relation to

Note 3, p. 122. But tangible differ from visible, &c.]
"It will be evident that whatever may, in these passages,
be erroneous, is traceable to the flesh being regarded as
the sense or the medium for the sense of Touch, as, in
either case, the Touch, differing from every other sense,
would, from what has been maintained, require two media.
There seems to be something like forgetfulness in with-
drawing, so to say, the medium in the example given of
tangible impression, and supposing that the man and his
shield can be simultaneously transfixed.

Note 4, p. 122. The different states of the body as a

body, &c.] As the Touch was regarded as a primal or

elementary sense, so the qualities, of which it is perceptive,

(as hot and cold, dry and moist, <fec.) were also regarded

1 Metaphysica, IV. 13. i.

CH. XI.] NOTES. 289

as elementary qualities ; and distinguished from visual or
sonorous impressions, by being necessary to animal exist-
ence. It is uncertain whether the work "upon the
Elements" here alluded to was a distinct work, or a
chapter in one of the treatises which have been cited ;
but the question is of little consequence, and foreign,
besides, to the purpose of these notes.

Note 5, p. 123. TJie mean, in fact, is critical, &c.] This
is a transfer, so to say, of moral to physical relations.
"Whatever is continuous and divisible comprehends," Aris-
totle ' says, " the three terms, more, less, and equal, which
all bear a relation either to the thing itself or to our-
selves ; for the equal is a given mean between excess and
deficiency. Now, the mean implies that which is equi-
distant from either of the extremes, and it is one and the
same in all material conditions ; but the mean, in relation
to us, implies a state in which there is neither excess nor
deficiency." Thus, temperance nourishes and preserves
the body, while excess or deficiency of food and drink
tends to destroy it. Moderate exercise increases, while
immoderate or insufficient exercise impairs the strength ;
and so for other conditions which are readily adducible.

Note 6, p. 123. As vision was said to be in tome
sense, &c.] The passage is obscure, but it seems to repeat
a former observation, that, as the senses can judge of sen-
tient properties only in their mediate state, the terms
invisible and intangible are, strictly speaking, incorrect
1 Ethica Nicom. II. 6. 5.


290 NOTES. [BK. n.

and inapplicable. " The air ', moving in currents, was said
to be wind ; " and, when at rest, it was supposed, like
all else, when either in excess or deficiency, to be with-
drawn from sentient perception.


Note 1, p. 125. It is the primal organ, &c.] Philo-
ponus and Simplicius, according to some commentators,
believed that the "mind" was the organ or principle
here alluded to ; but Saint Hilaire is disposed to regard
it as "sensibility, irrespective of any thinking principle."
Trendelenburg inquires, what means the term ' primal '
quid hoc y>irror? He seems, however, to consider the
mind as the special seat of the faculty in question " quod
primum dicitur, id tacite mentem spectari videtur, quse
propria est hujus facultatis sedes ; et ea prima quidem,
si ab intimo fonte projidscaris." It may, however, with
some confidence, be assumed that this primal organ points,
suggestively, to the brain ; for it evidently implies a cen-
tral organ connected with each of the senses, and receptive
of all sentient impressions. Thus, such an organ, -while
receptive of form, may well be said to be identical with
the object ; and yet, seeing how opposed are the manifes-

1 Jfeteoroloffica, L 13. 2.

CH. XII.] NOTES. 291

tations of the sensibility to the properties of matter, not
be so, in an absolute sense. The organ, like the brain, in
fact, being perceptive of forms and properties through
the senses, is identified, pro tanto, with objects ; although
it cannot but differ from them absolutely, in mode of
being, that is in essence.

Note 2, p. 126. But why do not plants feel, &c.] The
answer to this question, by assigning to the organ a defi-
nite locality and function, seems to lend support to the
explanation offered in the foregoing note. The passage
in the original TO /*>/ e^eii/ /xe<roT/Ta is rendered too
freely, perhaps, in this version, as mediate faculty ; but
the French "qualite moyenne" is to the same purport.
The Latin is, " neque id medium, tanquam mensuram et
modum habent, quo sensus quasi judicant." It may be
that as Aristotle had refused, so to say, sensibility to the
brain, he found himself constrained, in order to explain
the function of the senses and their power of recalling
images, to adopt a central organ, to be as well the source
of sensibility as the sensorium or store-house, for the
mind and memory. He had been led, in fact, to regard
the brain as insentient, because of its not imparting
sensation when touched, and as subsidiary to the respira-
tion for tempering the internal heat, because of its appa-
rent coldness. All this was the settled conviction of this
great man ; Democritus, however, seems to have perceived
that the brain is either the organ or the seat of sensi-
bility, although the opinion was not generally admitted.


292 NOTES. [BK. u.

Plato agreed with physiologists in making the seat of
the senses to be the liver and neighbourhood of the heart,
but he differed from Aristotle in believing the brain to be
continuous with the spinal chord, and to be the source of
the intellectual faculties. He held the brain, in fact, to be
the seat if not the source of the higher faculties, while he
assigned the appetites and coarser passions to the viscera.
Hippocrates ', who lived some years before him, assigns to
the brain the guardianship of the mind, and makes it to
be not only the first percipient of all the changes of the
seasons, but also the source and seat of all the more deadly
and complicated maladies.

Note 3, p. 126. It may be questioned, &c.j The
argument, in these passages, is to account for the changes
which are constantly going on in bodies, and for which
that age could assign no adequate cause ; but still it was
perceived that tangible and sapid qualities (hot and cold,
wet and dry, acid, saline, astringent, and others) must be
the agents principally concerned in their production.
Thus, although neither light nor darkness, sound nor
odour, can act upon bodies, yet something present with
them may, and this seems to point, suggestively, to those
imponderable and invisible forces (heat, magnetism, elec-
tricity, &c.), for which, as yet, even " no plausible theory
has been adopted."

Note 4, p. 126. But all bodies are not impi-essionable,
&c.] These passages are very obscure ; but their purport
1 Epistola, T. in. 824 ; T. i. 614.

CH. XII.] NOTES. 293

seems to be, that odour and sound can act only upon such
bodies as, like the air and water, are neither limited
nor stationary are made to be the carriers, as it we're,
of delicate emanations and vibrations to sentient organs.
Thus, it is added, the air, having been impressed by odour,
readily gives it out, and, then, through the smell, becomes
perceptible to the sentient being. But neither odour nor
sound, as such, can in aught contribute to the changes to
which all inert bodies are subject ; and the actions of
sound and odour, therefore, seem to be limited to sen-
tient, that is, living properties. This may be to us a
truism, but it must be recollected that even to Aristotle
the olfactory passages were but imperfectly known ; that
the opinions upon the Atmosphere were hypothetical ; and
that the processes by which changes are wrought in
inert matter were still to be detected.



Note 1, p. 131. The sentient organs, however, are con-
stituted, &c.] The senses were formed, according to that
age, from the elements as the hearing from air, and the
eye, which alone was supposed to have a special organ,
from the purest part of the fluid secreted by the brain ; and
vision is the result, according to Aristotle, of refraction.
Thus, Democritus ' was held to be right in saying that the
eye is water but to be wrong in supposing vision to be
caused by reflection, (jo opav elvm Ttjv ^0a<r<i/) as vision
is, not in the eye but, in the percipient; for "vision is re-
fraction " (a'iaK\a<r<? jap TO irdBoi). Aristotle shews that,
according to the admitted doctrines, these two elements
only constitute the sentient organs of all animals which
are perfect ; and adds, as if to guard against a possible
objection, that the mole has eyes although they may not
be very apparent. It is then argued that, unless there is
some kind of body or mode of impression different from all

1 De Sensu et Sens. 2. 10.

CH. I.] NOTES. 295

with which we are acquainted, no sense can be wanting;
and Cuvier 1 adopted a similar argument to prove that no
animal, unknown to Zoology, remains to be discovered.

Note 2, p. 132. And this ive are able to do, &c.]
This passage is elliptical and obscure ; but, as " the rela-
tive is too closely connected with the example something
sweet to admit of being separated," it may imply that the
sight may, by colour and refraction, determine the quality
of a particular fluid. But, as no sense can judge, excepting
indirectly, of compound qualities, the perception of such
is accidental, a kind of guess, that is, just as it would be
in the case of a fair individual, in the example of Cleon's

Note 3, p. 133. The senses, however, do perceive casu-
ally, &c.] This passage remains, according to its wording,
unintelligible, notwithstanding the attention bestowed upon
it by commentators, because of the difficulty of attaching
any sense to the assumption, that the senses can become
as one. The comment " si unum et idem uno et eodem
tempore a diversis sensibus percipitur, ni sensus in unum
coalescunt," assumes but does not shew that the senses can
so coalesce, and then judge of impressions made upon them
individually. And thus here again is required a central
organ, the common origin of the perceptive power of the
senses, to which all impressions are to be referred and by
which they are to be compared; and such an organ is the
brain. But still, from the moment that we judge of more
1 Discours sur lea Revolutions de la terre, 66 67.

296 NOTES. [BK. in.

than a simple impression or a single idea, there is liability
to error, as was observed and exemplified in the case of a
fluid, which, from being bitter and yellow, is at once
assumed to be bile because those are the known qualities
of that fluid. Many of our errors arise, no doubt, in like
manner, from our not sufficiently scrutinising the impres-
sions derived from external objects.


Note 1, p. 135. It is then manifest that perception
&c.] This is a conclusion drawn from the reasoning
of a former chapter, and its purport is to shew that our
senses enable us to judge even of privative conditions, as
darkness and silence ; and, further, that, being receptive
of forms without matter, they can retain images, and so,
through the sensorium recall objects after their with-

Note 2, p. 136. The action of the object of percep-
tion, &c.] It has been attempted, by some of the
ancient commentators, to annex this to the preceding
argument, and shew that, as sight must first be imbued
with colour, so the hearing must, in order to perceive
sounds, be first sensible of the actions of sonorous bodies.
But the more obvious signification, and which is equally
supported by the text, is, that there must be simultaneous-

CH. II.] NOTES. 297

ness of action between the object and the sense, although
the modes of that action are as different as material are
from living properties. The succeeding passage is, by its
wording, obscure, but yet it admits of being elucidated
by the term on which its meaning chiefly depends ; for
hearing, when in potentiality, must involve both sound
(as without hearing there is no sound,) and hearing, in
reality, just as the Vital Principle must exist, innately
in the body in potentiality, but which, under genial
circumstances, is to be acted upon and made a reality ;
and thus, too, the power which impels may, itself, be
at rest.

Note 3, p. 136. But while for some senses tfiese two
states, &c.] It is scarcely possible, owing to the difficulty
of fixing upon synonyms, to make this passage clear to
the general reader the text instances two terms (\//o0>;-
<ri? KCCI tj ciKovo-i?), as potential conditions of sound and
hearing (-v|^o'0os KO.\ tj awtf), and it may be assumed that
they conveyed a modified signification of the action and
sensation, which another language, even were the meaning
quite evident, may fail in imparting. But even the
plastic Greek fails, in many instances, in discriminating,
without periphrasis, the two conditions ; for vision,
although potential, is still vision, nor has it any other
designation when made reality by colour, and this applies
equally to the taste ami savour. In this version, the
double condition of sound is rendered by sound and
sounding, that of the sense by hearing, and audition for

298 NOTES. [BK. in.

want of a vernacular term ; the French version gives
them as " le son et la resonnance, et 1'acte de ce qui pent
entendre est Fouie ou audition." It is clear that hearing
and sound, and other senses and actions, in reality, must
coincide to eliminate sensation ; although this does not,
of course, apply, as the text observes, to the senses in
potentiality. And, hence, in this state, there are, for a
sentient being, no such qualities as white or black, bitter
or sweet, as they depend, for their reality, upon a given
condition of the sensibility, which depends again, in part,
upon the will.

Note 4, p. 137. If a, voice of any kind is harmony,
&c.] This deviation from the immediate subject of the
chapter, which was to prove that the five senses satisfy
all our wants as sentient creatures, and that, therefore,
there can be no other sense besides them, is, no doubt,
episodical, although it is annexed, by the extremes of
sounds, to the general argument upon sensibility. But
the phrase itself is by its wording obscure, and, by its
conclusion unsatisfactory, for it may not follow that,
because voice may be harmony and harmony proportion,
the hearing must be proportion also. It 1 has been
suggested that, by a slight change of position in the
words, and so, instead of the present wording, making
harmony, voice to be (el S* ;' <pwv^ (rv/icptovia vice el %rj o-uju-
(fxatiia (pwvti -m) of any kind, it might be assumed that
hearing should be harmony. Aristotle 2 , by allotting
1 Vide Trendel. Comment. a De Part. Animalm, iv. 9. i.

CH. II.] NOTES. 299

" vowels and consonants, which constitute speech, to the
larynx, tongue and lips," seems, by this variety of sounds,
to consider voice as a kind of harmony ; and Cuvier says,
that all the modifications of sound which are expressible
by the letters of the alphabet, " take place in the mouth,
and depend on the relative mobility of the tongue, and
still more the lips, whence the perfection of man's speech
is derived."

Note 5, p. 138. But since we judge of white, sweet,
and each other, &c.] The only answer to this, as it was
to a former inquiry, is, that the brain is that general-
ising faculty, and that it fulfils all the conditions, however
enigmatically described, which are required in the text.
It is impossible to refuse to the brain the property of
receiving and comparing contrary impressions, simultane-
ously, and receiving them, therefore, in the words of the
text, as an indivisible principle, just as the mind can
compare opposite ideas ; and all the speculations upon
impulses and the divisibility and indivisibility of that
which is to perceive and judge only shew the want of a
central organ for the reception and comparison of indi-
vidual sensations. And many of these passages are
necessarily obscure, owing to their partaking of the
character of inquiry or suggestion, rather than didactic
statement ; but their obscurity may be, in part, seen
through by the introduction of that source of sensibility,
which is said, in the closing paragraph, to constitute
animal in contradistinction to mere vegetive life.

300 NOTES. [BK. HI.


Note 1, p. 142. Thus, t/ten the ancients affirm, &c.]
Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Empedocles and Democritus,
are cited by Aristotle 1 as maintaining the doctrine
alluded to in the text ; but as Homer 8 can hardly be
said in the passage quoted to have adopted it, there is
probably an error in the reference. The arguments of
these writers, in support of the doctrine, are derived from
the uncertain and varying nature of sentient impressions
which, as they depend upon individual organisms, cannot,
for the attainment of truth, be brought under any absolute
law. Thus, they held that it belongs not to the many
nor even the few to judge of truth, since the selfsame
fluid, when tasted, seems to some to be sweet, to others
bitter ; so that if all were sick or mad, and two or three
only well or sane, then these and not the others would
seem to be in that state. Many things, besides, appear
to have for many animals opposite qualities from what
they have for us; and even for the same individual,
similar substances do not always produce the same
sensation. So that it is uncertain which of these are true
or false, since these are neither more nor less true than

1 Metaphysica, III. 4. 8. 9. * Odyss. xvm. 135.

CH. III.] NOTES. 301

those ; and this made Democritus say, that either nothing
is true, or else that truth is for us uncertain (alri\ov).
From their assuming, as a general proposition, that
reflection is sensation, they maintained that reflection
is change, and that the apparent, through sensation, is, of
necessity, true ; and it is from such conclusions, Aristotle
adds, that Empedocles and Democritus as well as their
followers became fettered by those opinions. For Em-
pedocles affirmed, that men, by changing their habit
(ef?) change also their judgment, " for man's wisdom is
enlarged," &c. ; and elsewhere he says, that " in so far as
men are capable of change, in so far they are capable of
forming different judgments." The opinion of Parmenides
is to the same purport ; and there is a recorded saying of

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19

Online LibraryAristotleAristotelous peri psuxes = Aristotle on the vital principle → online text (page 16 of 19)