Aristotelous peri psuxes = Aristotle on the vital principle online

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the contrary, does revert to its point of departure.
Definitions, however, are always limited. If, more-
over, the same periphery recur often, the mind will
be driven to think often upon the same subject, and



thinking, besides, seems rather to be a kind of rest
and a halt than motion ; and this applies equally to
the syllogism. As every condition, besides, which is
compulsory and ungenial must be unhappy, so unless
movement be an essential property of that mind, it
must be moving against its nature, and it cannot but
be painful for it to have been so connected with the
body as to be unable to free itself from it; nay more,
it is a lot to have been avoided, since it is better for
the mind, as is commonly said, and to many seems
reasonable, not to have been connected with a body
at all. The cause too, of the circular movement of
the sky is obscurely stated for the essence of the
Vital Principle is not the cause of that movement, as
it never does, excepting it be by chance, so move, nor
can the body be the cause, as it is the Vital Principle
rather which gives motion to it; neither is it ex-
plained how it is better for the Vital Principle to be
so circumstanced, and yet it ought to have been
shewn that God had caused it to have a circular
movement, as better for it to be in motion than at
rest, and to move in that rather than in any other
direction. But as this is an inquiry which belongs
rather to other studies, it may, for the present, be laid

The same incongruity which occurs in most of
the theories upon Vital Principle is met with here, in
that writers join Vital Principle to and place it in a


body without having first settled for what purpose the
body is to receive it, or how it is fitted for the office.
It would seem, however, to be necessary that this
should be settled, as it is through this connexion that
the one acts and the other is acted upon, that the one
moves and the other is moved ; and these are relations
which cannot be attributed to casual associations.
There are writers who content themselves with saying
what Vital Principle is, without determining any
thing about the body its recipient, as if it were ad-
missible, according to Pythagorean legends, that any
kind of Vital Principle might clothe itself with any
kind of body; but every thing, on the contrary, seems
to have its own particular character and form. Such
opinions are, in fact, very much like maintaining that
the builder's art may be undertaken with musical in-
struments; but we affirm that as each art must employ
its own instruments, so each Vital Principle must
employ its own body.



THIS chapter opens with a definition of harmony, and
proceeds to shew that the then prevailing opinion
concerning the Vital Principle, as related to har-
mony, is not maintainable ; it is not quite agreed
upon whether the popular disquisitions here alluded
to are Aristotle's commentary upon the Phsedo ; or
his dialogue of Endemus ; or a digest of his own
oral teachings. The words in the original (\6yov<: 2'
oto-rrep evQvvas, K.T.X.), which are rendered " found to
be wanting" (Gallice, dont nous avons deja fait justice),
signify strictly the scrutiny or passing of the accounts
of magistrates at the close of their period of service,
and while the result was yet on the balance ; but, to
judge by the context, they seem here to imply rather
an unfavourable issue, and this is the purport of
other versions " alia qusedam opinio de anima
tradita reprobata tamen, et his rationibus quae in
communisms sermonibus fiunt" The chapter closes
with a confutation of the opinion of Xenocrates, that
the Vital Principle is a number with self-motion.


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 con-
traries. But although harmony is a certain propor-
tion 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 recon-
cile them to one another. If harmony, besides, may


be spoken of with reference to two points as appli-
cable, most especially, to the composition of particles
in masses which have motion and proportion, when-
ever 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 compo-
sition 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 composi-
tion 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, how-
ever, 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 phseno-
mena are produced by the displacement of certain
particles in motion, and others by change, the expla-
nation 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 neither
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 some-
thing 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-

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 insuper-
able objections ; those, in the first place, which result
from the idea of motion, and then those more particu-
lar 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 sur-
face, 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 Prin-
ciple 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 Prin-
ciple 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 dif-
ferent, 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 Prin-
ciple, why have not all bodies Vital Principle ? Now
there seem to be points in all bodies, and those infi-
nite 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 ?


THE argument against the opinion of Xenocrates that
the Vital Principle is "a number with self-motion"
is continued, and Aristotle, having already objected
to it as number, proceeds here, after a brief allusion
to what had been advanced, to object to it as being
motive. If the Yital Principle be some kind of body,
then however attenuated its parts, there must be two
bodies in one ; if it be a number, then as the unit is
a point, unless that number be innate and peculiar,
every kind of body must have Vital Principle, and
this cannot be admitted. With respect to its motion,
it had been shewn that the unit, being homogeneous,
that is without parts, cannot be so acted upon as to
move ; if it be motor and moved, it must, as entity,
have some distinction, and then it is no longer to be
regarded as an unit. The resemblance between this
theory and that of Democritus is again alluded to, as
the same objection is applicable to both ; for it mat-
ters not whether the motor be a monad, or point, or


corpuscle in motion, since their motion is the cause of
motion in other things ; thus, both systems maintain
a blind force, and ignore the influences of sensibility
and will. It will probably be said that the topic has
been too long dwelt upon, but it should be recollected
what an important part was assigned by the Pytha-
goreans 1 to number, which they derived from the
monad or unit, and regarded as the origin, the mat-
ter, and the essential properties of beings, and as con-
stitutive of the heavens. It has already been said
how, as numbers were the first entities in nature,
they perceived resemblances to beings and qualities
in them rather than in the elements fire, <fec. ; and
hence made one combination to be justice, another
mind, and so on.

1 Metapkys. I. 4, 5.


THE peculiar incongruity to which we have alluded,
belongs as well to those who suppose Vital Principle
to be some kind of "body with tenuity of parts, as it
does to those who with Democritus maintain that the
body is moved by the Vital Principle; for if the
Vital Principle is in the whole sentient body, then,
being some kind of body, there must necessarily be
two bodies in one and the same body. And it may
be objected to those who speak of it as a number,
that if so, there must be many points in a single point,
or every kind of body must have Vital Principle,
unless it is a number innate and different as well from
other numbers, as from the points which are in the
body. It results too from this theory, that an animal
is moved by a number much in the same way that
Democritus, as we have said, gives motion to it ; for
what matters it whether we speak of spherules, or
large units, or units simply in motion? In either
case, the animal is compelled to move from their being
in motion.


Such and many other such objections may be
urged against those who represent Vital Principle as
an intimate combination of motion and number ; as it
is not only impossible therefrom to give any definition
of Vital Principle, but we affirm that it cannot even
account for one of its accidents. And this would be
evident to any one who should attempt, by this
theory, to explain the affections and functions of the
Vital Principle, its reasonings, sensations, pleasures,
pains, and other such manifestations ; for it would be
difficult, as we have already said, to form even a
conjecture concerning them from it.

Now three modes of defining Vital Principle have
been transmitted to us : some have represented it as
the most mobile of entities from being self-motive ;
some as the most attenuated, and others again as the
most incorporeal of entities; but we have already
reviewed those opinions, and shewn how very ques-
tionable and contradictory they are. There remains
for us then only to consider in what sense Vital
Principle can be said to be derived from the elements.
This opinion has been adopted in order to explain
how the Vital Principle can perceive and recognise
all beings and things; but it necessarily involves
many and weighty objections. The supporters of
this opinion lay it down as a fact that like recognises
like, which is very much like assuming that Vital
Principle is, in some way, the things themselves ;


but things are never homogeneous, as they contain
many other particles besides their own; and many or
rather infinite in number are their mutual combina-
tions. Thus even if it be conceded that the Vital
Principle may recognise and perceive the elements of
which anything is constituted, by what is it to per-
ceive or recognise the thing as a whole, whether it
be a man, or flesh or bone ? The same question may
be put for any other compound body ; as the elements,
constitutive of every such body unite, not in any
fortuitous manner, but in a certain proportion and
combination, just as Empedocles expresses himself
with respect to bone " The bounteous earth, in her
vast furnaces, out of eight parts has had allotted to
her two of liquid light, of fire four, and bones were
made white." It would be to no purpose then, that the
elements should be in Vital Principle, unless propor-
tion and combination were there also ; for although
each element may recognise its like, there will still
be nothing whereby to recognise a bone or a man,
unless such things be present with it also. But it is
scarcely necessary to say that this cannot be; for
who can have a doubt whether a stone or a man is
or is not present in Vital Principle ? or good or ill,
or any other quality? As the term being, besides,
admits of several significations (for it signifies some-
times a particular object, sometimes quantity or quality,
or other one of the specified categories), shall it or


not be said that Vital Principle is derived from them
all ? Now, there do not appear to be any elements
which are common to all the categories. Shall it
then be formed only from such elements as pertain to
the essence? How, in that case, is it to recognise
each of the others? Shall it be said that there
are, for each genus, elements and peculiar principles
wherewith the Vital Principle may be formed? If
so, it will be quantity, and quality and essence;
but it is impossible that from the elements of
quantity there should be eliminated essence without

Such and other such difficulties concur to oppose
the opinion of those who say that the Vital Principle
is formed from all the elements.

It is absurd to maintain that like is unimpression-
able by like, and yet assert that like is able to perceive
and recognise like by like ; and the more so, as these
writers set down feeling as they do thinking and
recognising, as some kind of impression and motion.
But to shew how many doubts and difficulties beset
the opinion adopted by Empedocles, that "objects
are recognised by the corporeal elements in the rela-
tion of like;" we have only to observe that all
those parts in animal bodies, which are simply of
earth, as bones, sinews and hairs, seem to be alto-
gether without feeling, and consequently without any
feeling of UJce, and yet, according to the theory, they



ought to be perceptive. There will be a larger amount
of unconsciousness than perception, besides, allotted
to each principle, as each will recognise its own
individuals, but be unconscious of the many others
all the others, in fact, which are unlike. It follows,
too, from this theory, that the god must be the most
senseless of beings, as he alone cannot recognise the
element " repulsion," of which all mortal beings can-
not but be conscious, since each of them is derived
from all the elements.

But wherefore, let us ask, have not all beings a
Vital Principle, since every thing is either an ele-
ment, or derived from one or from more than one, or
from all the elements ? Thus, it is necessary to every
being that it should recognise some one thing, or
more than one, or all things. But we are at a loss
to know what that is which individualizes things:
the elements are like matter; but that, whatever it be
which binds the others together, must of all be the
most influential. Now, it is scarcely possible that
any thing should be more influential and dominant
than the Vital Principle, and quite impossible that
any thing should be more so than the mind; for it
is probable that the mind was the first-born and
sovereign in nature, while these philosophers main-
tain that the elements were the first of entities.

None of these philosophers, however, neither they
who maintain that the Vital Principle is derived from


the elements, on account of its recognising and per-
ceiving things, nor they who regard it as the most
motive of beings, can be said to speak of every Vital
Principle ; for all sentient creatures are not motive,
as there are animals which appear to be fixed abid-
ingly to the same spot, and yet locomotion seems,
according to these philosophers, to be the only motion
imparted to animals by the Vital Principle. They,
too, equally err who form mind and sensibility out of
the elements for plants appear to be alive, without
partaking either of locomotion or sensibility; and
many animals have no understanding. But even if
we may pass over these objections, and admit that
the mind as well as the sensibility may be a part of
the Vital Principle, still no general theory could be
framed for every Vital Principle, or for it as a whole,
or for it individually. Thus, the reasoning in the
so-called Orphic verses has been stamped with this
same error, for the poet says that " the Vital Prin-
ciple, borne by the winds, enters from the universe
into animals during respiration." But this cannot
possibly be applicable to plants or to some animals,
since there are some which do not breathe. This
fact, however, had escaped the attention of those who
first adopted the hypothesis.

But even if it be well to form the Vital Principle
out of the elements, it by no means follows that it
should be out of them all, as one or other part of the



contraries is able to judge both itself and its oppo-
site. Thus, by the straight we know both the
straight and the curve, as the ruler is the judge of
both, while the curve is the judge neither of itself
nor the straight.

There are writers who maintain that the Vital Prin-
ciple has been diffused through the universe, whence
probably Thales was led to think that all things are
full of gods. But the opinion is not without its diffi-
culties. Why, it may be asked, does not the Vital
Principle, when in the air .or fire, form an animal
rather than when in the elements in combination,
although seemingly more generally situated in either
of those elements alone ? It might also be inquired
why the Vital Principle, which is in the air, is more
exalted and more enduring than that which is in
animals. On either side, in fact, we are met by
absurdity and contradiction ; for it is very unreason-
able to speak of air and fire as animals, and absurd
to say that they are not so when Vital Principle is
conceded to them. Those philosophers, in fact, seem
to have assumed that Vital Principle is in those
elements, because the whole ought to be specifically
as its parts ; and so it was forced upon them to admit
that Vital Principle must be, specifically, the same as
its parts, if creatures become living creatures by
taking in something from that which surrounds them.
But if the air, however subdivided, is still homogeneous,


and the Vital Principle heterogeneous, it is clear that

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