On the connection between the Animal and the Spiritual Nature in Man

On the connection between the Animal and the Spiritual Nature in Man

"It behooves us to clearly realize, as the broad facts which have most wide-reaching consequences in mental physiology and pathology, that all parts of the body, the highest and the lowest, have a sympathy with one another more intelligent than conscious intelligence can yet, or perhaps ever will, conceive; that there is not an organic motion, visible or invisible, sensible or insensible, ministrant to the noblest or to the most humble purposes, which does not work its appointed effect in the complex recesses of the mind, and that the mind, as the crowning achievement of organization, and the consummation and outcome of all its energies, really comprehends the bodily life."—MAWDESLEY, Body and Mind.

"It is an indisputable truth that what we call the material world is only known to us under the forms of the ideal world, and, as Descartes tells us, our knowledge of the soul is more intimate and certain than our knowledge of the body."—HUXLEY.


S 1.

Many philosophers have asserted that the body is, as it were, the prison-house of the spirit, holding it only too firmly to what is earthly, and checking its so-called flight towards perfection. On the other hand, it has been held by another philosophic school that knowledge and virtue are not so much an end as a means towards happiness, and that the whole perfection of man culminates in the amelioration of his body.

Both opinions [1], methinks, are one-sided. The latter system has almost entirely disappeared from our schemes of ethics and philosophy, and is, I am inclined to think, not seldom cast out with over-fanatical zeal—(nothing assuredly is so dangerous to truth as when one-sided opinions meet with one-sided opponents). The former system has on the whole been more patiently endured, since it has the greatest capacity for warming the heart towards virtue, and has already justified its value in the case of truly great souls. Who is there that does not admire the strength of mind of a Cato, the lofty virtue of a Brutus and Aurelius, the equanimity of an Epictetus and a Seneca? But, in spite of all this, the system in question is nothing more than a beautiful aberration of the understanding, a real extreme, which in its wild enthusiasm underrates one part of our human nature, and desires to raise us into the order of ideal beings without at the same time relieving us of our humanity,—a system which runs directly contrary to all that we historically know or philosophically can explain either of the evolution of the single man or of that of the entirer race, and can in no way be reconciled with the limitations of our human soul. It is therefore here, as ever, the wisest plan to hold the balance between the two opinions, and thus reach with greater certainty the middle line of truth. But, inasmuch as a mistake has very often been committed by treating the mental powers in an exclusive way, that is, in so far as they can be considered in independence of the body, and through an intentional subordination of this same body, the aim of this present essay will be to bring into a clearer light the remarkable contributions made by the body to the workings of the soul, and the great and real influence of the animal system of sensations upon the spiritual. But this is as like the philosophy of Epicurus as the holding of virtue to be the summum bonum is stoicism.

Before we seek to discover those higher moral ends which the animal nature assists us in attaining to, we must establish their physical necessity, and come to an agreement as to some fundamental conceptions.

1 Huxley, speaking of psychology and physiology (idealism and materialism), says: "Our stem divides into two main branches, which grow in opposite ways, and bear flowers which look as different as they can well be. But each branch is sound and healthy, and has as much life and vigor as the other. If a botanist found this state of things in a new plant, I imagine he might be inclined to think that his tree was monoecious, that the flowers were of different sexes, and that, so far from setting up a barrier between the branches of the tree, the only hope of fertility lay in bringing them together. This is my notion of what is to be done with physics and metaphysics. Their differences are complementary, not antagonistic, and thought will never be completely fruitful until the one unites with the other."—HUXLEY, Macmillan's Mag., May 1870.

Descartes' method (according to Huxley) leads straight up to the critical idealism of his great successor, Kant, in declaring that the ultimate fact of all knowledge is a consciousness and therefore affirming that the highest of all certainties, and indeed the only absolute certainty, is the existence of mind. But it stops short of Berkeley in declaring that matter does not exist: his arguments against its existence would equally tend to prove the non-existence of soul. In Descartes' stem, the body is simply a machine, in the midst of which the rational soul (peculiar to man) is lodged, and which it directs at its will, as a skilful engineer familiar with its working might do—through will and through affection he can "increase, slacken, and alter their movements at his pleasure." At the same time, he admits, in all that regards its mere animal life—in active functions, such as those connected with hunger, respiration, sleep, digestion; in many passive ones, such as we are accustomed to call mental, as in memory, the perception of color, sound—a purely automatic action of the body, which it pursues simply by following out its own laws, independent of the soul's direction or interference.