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Whether the non-living is naturally prior to the living.

The nature and generation of animals," etc. In this seventh book the Philosopher makes a determination concerning the disposition and behaviors of animals. One asks first in this seventh book why the Philosopher says in the text, "nature proceeds from the non-living to the living," and whether the non-living is naturally prior to the living.

1. It seems not. In the order of the universe there is one first [thing] which is prior by nature to that which is nearest to it. Thus the intelligences are naturally prior to the celestial bodies, and the celestial bodies are prior to those below them. But in the natural order the living, since it is analogous to intelligence, is nearer to the first [thing] than is the non-living; therefore, etc.

2. Moreover, that thing is prior by nature that exists more according to nature's intention. But nature intends to produce living things more than non-living. An indication of this is that it does not send forth an embryo before life is introduced into it. And this is also proved because by nature we seek to desire that which is better and we also seek to create something better out of things which are contingent, according to the Philosopher.

To the contrary. Whatever enters into the composition of a thing is prior to it. But the non-living enters into the composition of the living and not the other way around, just as the elements enter into the composition of something mixed; therefore, etc.

Moreover, whatever adds to another is posterior to it. But life adds something to the <non>-living. Therefore, the living is posterior to it.

One must reply that this is said in many ways, as is evident from the fifth book of the Metaphysics. Thus, something can be prior by nature in two ways: either with respect to intention or with respect to execution. With respect to intention, the end is prior to those which exist for the end, and, generally speaking, the perfect is prior to the imperfect, because nature operates for the sake of an end and for the sake of perfection. But with respect to execution, the imperfect is prior to the perfect. For nature operates and proceeds by composing and by proceeding from the more common things to individual things, as can be understood from the first and third books of the Physics? Thus in nature the living is prior to the non-living when considered in the first way, but it is posterior to the non-living when considered in the second way.

By this [the response] to the arguments is apparent, for they proceed along their own paths.

Whether there is something intermediate between living and non-living.

Next one inquires whether there is something intermediate between living and non-living.

1. It seems not. There is no intermediate between contradictories. But living and non-living are just like contradictories, and therefore, etc.

2. Moreover, species of things are incapable of mixing. But living and non-living are distinct with respect to species. Therefore, they are not capable of mixture and, as a result, there is no intermediary between them because an intermediary enjoys the nature of its two extremes.

3. Moreover, the relationship between the living and nonliving is the same as the relationship between the rational and the non-rational. But between the non-rational, which is a brute beast, and the rational, which is a human, there is no intermediary. Therefore, neither will there be an intermediary between the living and non-living.

The Philosopher says the opposite in the text.

To the first argument one must reply that an intermediary is spoken of in many ways: in one way by the negation of both extremes. In this way, an intermediary is placed between health and sickness and good and evil, according to the Philosopher in the Categories? In another way, it is spoken of according to the mixture of the extremes, and thus the dusky is midway between black and white. In a third way, an intermediary can be understood as something equidistant between extremes, and in this way virtue is midway between two vices or a point is between the two ends of a line. In a fourth way, an intermediary can occur through the participation of properties, so that if something participates in the nature of one thing in some way and in the nature of another in another way, it can be called an intermediary between the two.

And in this way the Philosopher posits intermediaries between mixed living things and mixed non-living things. And, seen in this way, plants are a sort of intermediary between the living and the non-living. For they are immobile with respect to place just like the non-living, and they do not change in a material sense; nevertheless, they are nourished and grow just like living things. Thus the genus of plants, when compared to the non-living, is living, but, compared to animals, is non-living.

And still more to the point. Between the non-living and plants there is some intermediary, like the mushrooms and truffles [tuberes et fungi], which are very abundant in woods around Cologne.[1] And in the same way there is something that is like an intermediary between plants and animals, like the marine sponge, for it moves by expansion and contraction just like an animal and yet has leaves in the manner of a plant, which we have seen with our own eyes in the sea. And likewise a child is a sort of intermediary between a brute beast and a human, since he drinks and eats the whole day just like a beast. Thus children, in their manner of living, participate in the nature of the brute beastthis is why drunken and intemperate men are said in the third book of the Ethics to have childish vicesand yet they differ in that they participate in the rational soul.

1. To the first argument one must reply that non-life can be spoken of in two ways. It can be as a negation lying outside the genus (and in this way there is no intermediary between life and non-life), or there can be a negation within the genus, such that it may indicate the negation of some particular life. In this way an intermediary does fall between life and non-life. Or it can be, as we propose, that matter is an intermediary between being and non-being and yet it is not an intermediary between contradictories, because it is established as an intermediary between being in act and what is being in no way at all, that is, being in potency. So it can be said in the proposition that a mushroom is an intermediary between the living with respect to the perfected life of a plant and what is living in no way at all, like a rock. And in the same way a sponge can be said to be an intermediary between plant and animal, and a child can be said to be an intermediary between a human and a brute beast.

2. To the second argument one must reply that an intermediary is not established between the living and the non-living by means of a mixture of extremes, as the dusky is an intermediary between white and black, but rather according to a participation in properties.

3. To the third argument one must respond that a child can be said to be an intermediary between a human and a brute beast in a certain sense, because a human "does not understand without a phantasm," as is clear in On the Soul. But there are no ordered phantasms in a child, owing to its excessive moisture, a moisture that is in the first rank of the soul's confusion according to Galen in the first book of the Book on Internal Illnesses,[2] because the power of the phantasm [virtus phantastica] is receptive of the sensible species, and this is why the child does not understand, just as a brute beast does not.

  • [1] The English "truffle" is, in fact, derived from tuber through Old Provencal.
  • [2] The citation seems to be to Galen's De locis affectis (Kuhn 8: 1-452). In the ancient translation it is entitled De interioribus passionibus membrorum.
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