June 14, 2009

Avicenna on form vs. meaning

"As for the internal perceptive faculties, some are for perceiving the forms of the sensibles and some for perceiving their meanings. Among these faculties, some perceive and act, and some perceive without acting. And some of them exercise primary perception and some secondary.

"The difference between perception of form and meaning is that form is what is perceived by exterior sense and interior sense together, though the exterior sense perceives it first and conveys it to the interior sense – like the sheep’s perception of the form of the wolf, by which I mean his shape and semblance and color. And so it is perceived by the sheep’s interior sense, but only after the exterior sense’s perception of it. As for meaning, it is what the soul perceives out of what is sensed, but which exterior sense does not itself first perceive. Such is the sheep’s perception of an antagonistic intention in the wolf, or the meaning which necessitates its fear of the wolf and avoidance of him, without any report of the senses whatsoever. The name of 'form' specifies that aspect of the wolf which external sense perceives before the internal sense. And what the inner faculties perceive without sense is specified in this context by the name of 'meaning.'

"The difference between perception with action and perception without action is that certain internal faculties serve to combine and divide perceived forms and meanings, thereby playing an active role in what is perceived, in addition to mere perception. Inactive perception is where the impression of a form or meaning is simply received, without any alteration being carried out on it.

"The difference between primary and secondary perception is that form occurs to primary perception much as it does in the thing itself. In secondary perception, the form of a thing occurs in relation to some other thing, which is what conveys it."

From On the soul (The Cure: Physics, book 6) I.5, continued here.

May 12, 2009

Al-Farabi on potential intellect

"Aristotle speaks of four kinds of intellect in his book On the soul. These are potential intellect, active intellect, acquired intellect and agentive intellect.

"Potential intellect is a soul, or part of the soul, or one of the soul’s faculties, or a certain something essentially disposed for abstracting the quiddities of all existing things, and their forms without their matter. For some things it makes more than one form, but for all things it makes at least one. Only when this certain something assumes the forms which reside in materials do those forms become abstracted from their materials. When this happens, the forms are called 'intelligibles,' after the abstracting faculty [of the intellect] which assumes the forms of existing things.

"This certain something resembles the matter in which forms are actualized, with one big difference. Imagine some corporeal matter like wax with an impression stamped into it, such that the impression and its form are received in its surface and its depth, and the matter is wholly taken over by that form to the point that in its totality and as a whole the matter is permeated by that form and in fact becomes that form. If you imagine that, you are close to understanding how the forms of things are actualized in that certain something, which behaves like the matter and substrate of a form but differs from all other corporeal matters in that these receive forms in their surface only, and not their depths. In its essence this certain something is identical to the forms of the intelligibles, to the extent that it becomes them, even though the forms and the certain something retain their own dedicated quiddities. For this, imagine a stamp which imparts a cubical or spherical character to wax as it plunges into it, permeates it and takes over its entire length, breadth and depth such that the wax becomes that very character, and what the one is cannot be separated from what the other is. By this analogy, you should understand how the forms of existing things are realized in that certain something which Aristotle calls 'potential intellect' in his book On the soul."

From the Treatise on the Intellect

May 6, 2009

Al-Farabi on logic vs. grammar

"When by ourselves we wish to verify the truth of a judgment, we think and inform ourselves, and set up in ourselves the matters and concepts that serve to verify that judgment. When we do this with someone else, we perform the speech though which such matters and concepts may be understood.

"It is not possible to verify any judgment we may come to using just any concepts we happen to have, nor can we disregard their number nor the condition, composition and order in which we find them. Rather, for every judgment we seek to verify, we need matters and concepts which are well-defined, known quantities, and determination of condition, composition and order. This requires that the state of the words that express these be in the same state as the words we submit to one another for verification. For this, we need rules concerning our concepts as well as our expressions for them, in order to protect us from error. These two things – I mean concepts and the words which express them – are what the ancients called logos and speech. 'Intelligibles' are what they called the internal speech and logos implanted in the soul, whose outward expression is spoken speech and logos. When he is by himself, the speech which a man uses in order to verify a judgment is that which is implanted in his soul. When he does it with someone else, he gives voice to outward speech. The kind of speech that creates analogies in order to verify judgments is called 'syllogism,' whether its terms are implanted in the soul or spoken aloud. And logic imposes the above-mentioned rules on both types of speech.

"Logic shares with grammar its function of giving rules for utterances, but insofar as grammar gives rules for the utterances of a given nation, the science of logic is different since its rules govern the utterances of every nation. Now words present certain aspects that are the same for all nations, such as whether they are simple or compound, whether they are nouns, verbs or particles, whether or not they are endowed with meter, etc. But language differs from language in many ways: its case endings and article usage are only two of many features by which Arabic is distinguished from other languages. Every language is distinguished in ways like these. The domain of grammar does include features common to the utterances of every nation, but those who practice it take them up as encountered in terms of the language in which they happen to be working."

"By contrast, when logic gives rules for the use of words it does so for the words of every nation, which it takes up in their common aspects, avoiding those which are specific to one nation in particular. When logic does take up an expression specific to a given language, however, it does so according to the grammatical authorities on that language.

"As for the rubric 'logic,' the totality of its meaning is clearly announced in that it is derived from logos, a word said by the ancients to mean three different things:

1. Outward speech, spoken aloud. Its expression is made possible by the tongue.
2. The speech that is implanted in the soul, made up of the intelligibles that words signify.
3. The spiritual faculty instilled in man, by which he is distinguished from the other animals, and through which the intelligibles arise for him, together with the sciences and the arts. It makes judgment possible, and moral distinctions between good and bad actions. All men have this -- even children, though in children it is trifling since it cannot yet carry out all its functions. In this it is like the child's leg not wholly fit for walking, or a fire of low intensity which cannot yet ignite the palm branch. Even drunks and crazy people have it, though in them its purview is narrowed, and in the sleeper it has gone out. For the sufferer of a petit mal it is as if a veil had come between him and it."

From Catalogue of the Sciences, ch. 2

My Callousness

A hundred steps I have to climb.
Ascend I must, and hear you cry:
"Cruel one! Made of stone are we?"
A hundred steps I have to climb.
A step is not much fun to be.

Friedrich Nietzsche, "Prelude in German Rhymes" (no. 26)
to The Gay Science

February 7, 2009

Philo of Alexandria

Wisdom is the art of arts, and although it seems to vary with its materials it must be recognized that its true form never changes. This is evident to those with sharp eyes, but not those who incline to the stuff surrounding [wisdom's] essence, seeing only the character stamped on it by the particular craft. The sculptor Phidias made statues out of bronze, ivory, gold and other materials besides, and in all of these he left the mark of his one same art, by which the craftsman's authorship was recognizable to connoissseur and layman alike. Art, which represents nature, also emulates nature's habit of re-using the same mold, as in the case of twins when it imprints two likenesses differing only in slight details: a perfected art outlines the same forms and fills them in alike no matter how many different materials it takes up. And so its products are siblings, twins and the closest possible kin to one another.

On Drunkenness XXII.88-90


Leibniz on perception

One is obliged to confess that perception and what depends on it are inexplicable by mechanical reasons, i.e. in terms of forms and movements. Let's imagine a machine whose structure permits it to think and feel and have perceptions, and go on to enlarge it in our minds, maintaining its proportions, until one could go inside it as into a mill. This being posited, on a visit to its interior one would find nothing but parts pushing against one another, and nothing to explain how perception works. And so it is in the simple substance, and not the composite (i.e. the machine) that we must seek it out. Indeed, perceptions and their alterations are all we find in simple substances. In these alone consist all internal actions of simple substances.

Monadology §17

February 6, 2009

Stoic roundup

"So much for the Peripatetics. The beliefs of the Stoics remain to be discussed. These men call their criterion of truth 'apprehensive imagination.' Once we have learned what this was to them, and on what points their concepts differ, we will understand what this imagination is.

"According to them, imagination is the striking of an imprint in the soul. On this point they were divided from the outset. Cleanthes took 'imprint' [literally] to mean a combination of ridges and indentations, such as result from the stamp of signet-rings in wax. Chrysippus however found such a notion absurd. To begin with, he says, thinking simultaneously of a triangular figure and a rectangular one would require the imaginative organ to take on different outlines at the same time, simultaneously assuming the shape of a triangle and a rectangle or a circle, which is absurd. Furthermore, when many imaginings arise in us at the same time, the soul would be seized by a multitude of outlines, which is less persuasive still. So he understood Zeno's use of 'imprint' to mean an 'alteration,' rendering the formula: 'Imagination is an alteration in the soul.' The absurdity is removed, if a single organ is to take on a multitude of alterations when many imaginings arise in us at the same time, just like the air: when many people are speaking at the same time it receives untold different blows at once, and sustains many alterations. The ruling element beset by elaborate imaginings will undergo something analogous to this."

"For when we call a man the composite of a soul and a body, or death the separation of soul from body, we are speaking in particular of the [soul's] ruling element. Likewise, whenever we make choices by virtue of their benefits to the soul, the body and its accessories, it is not the entire soul we are reflecting on but its ruling part, to which affections and benefits accrue. And so when Zeno says that 'Imagination is the striking of an imprint in the soul,' we are not to understand not the entire soul but a part of it, and to render the formula as 'Imagination is an alteration of the ruling element.' But even when it's put this way objections remain, for impulse, agreement and apprehension are alterations of the ruling part, and are not the same as imaginations. Whereas imagination is essentially a passive disposition of ours, the former are active faculties. So it's a bad definition, prescribed for too many different cases. It's like when someone defines 'man' by saying 'Man is a rational animal': the meaning of 'man' is unsoundly adumbrated, since a god is also alive and rational. Thus whoever deems imagination to be 'an alteration of the ruling element' goes wrong, since this no more describes it than any of the motions listed here.

"In answer to an objection like this, Stoics revert to 'implications,' saying it is necessary to understand that 'by a passive faculty' is additionally meant. For just as the definition of eros as 'the urge to create a close relationship' implies 'with youths in bloom' (even though this is not stated explicitly, given that no one feels eros for old men past their prime), they say that to define imagination as 'an alteration of the ruling element' implies an alteration resulting from a passive faculty, and not an active one. But not even by these means do their beliefs escape reproach."

Sextus Empiricus, Against Logicians I.227-31, 234-40

February 4, 2009

Peripatetic roundup

"Seeing that the nature of all things falls into one of two categories (sensible and intelligible, as I was saying), the schools of Aristotle and Theophrastus and the Peripatetics generally acknowledged two criteria for truth: sense for the sensible, and intellect for the intelligible. According to Theophrastus, what is 'manifest' can belong to either category. As a criterion, perception obeys no logic and is not subject to proof, and though it appears prior to intellect in temporal order, intellect has priority over it in terms of its capacity. The sense is stirred by what is sensible, and in the soul of higher animals (such as are capable of movement of their own) another movement is produced from it, in proportion to its clarity with respect to sense. This movement they identify with memory and imagination. Memory is of an affection to the sense, and imagination is of the sensible object which caused the sense to be affected. And so they speak of this kind of movement by analogy to a footprint. Just as the footprint is produced by and from some thing -- by the pressure of a foot, but from some person, let's say Dion -- so too is the above-mentioned movement of the soul produced by some such affection of the sense, and from something quite like the object of sense, to which it retains a certain similarity.

"Furthermore, this movement which can be called memory and imagination includes a third movement after these. This is 'rational imagination,' which is left up to our judgment and follows our choice. This very movement is spoken of as thought, and it is spoken of as mind -- as when for example someone, on encountering Dion, is affected by a sensation and turns away, and by the affection of his sense some image is engendered in his mind (which we earlier called memory, and said it was like a footprint), and from this same image he willfully draws up and fashions a phantásma, such as the category "man." The Peripatetic school of philosophers observe a distinction in this movement of the soul, dividing it into thought and intellect: thought when it is potential, and intellect when it is actualized. For when the soul is capable of fashioning (i.e. is of a nature to do so), it is called thought; and when it is actually engaged in doing so it is called intellect.

"Now from the intellect and thinking arise comprehension, knowledge and art. For thinking is sometimes about individual forms, and sometimes it is about individuals and classes together. The act of making connections between phantásmata of the intellect and gathering individual cases under universal headings is called comprehension, and the final result of all this gathering and classifying are knowledge and art -- knowledge being precise and inerrant, art not so much."

Sextus Empiricus, Against Logicians I.217-24

February 3, 2009

Jean Pépin on Sentence 16

hai noēseis ouk áneu phantasías

"This is Aristotle's celebrated thesis, more or less as formulated in On the Soul III.7 and again in the short treatise On Memory and Recollection. The passages in question are:
(1) oudépote noeî áneu phantásmatos hē psychē (On the Soul 431a)
(2) Tà mèn oûn eídē tò noētikòn en toîs phantásmasi noeî (On the Soul 431b)
(3) noeîn ouk éstin áneu phantásmatos (On Memory 449b-50a)
One could of course mention other passages, among them On the Soul III.8: 'Speculative thought is necessarily applied to some mental image. For mental images are just like objects of sense, except that they are without matter' (432a). Noēmata are not the same as phantásmata, but they cannot exist without them."

"Of the above formulations, (1) and (3) make it clear that the phántasma is necessary for the intellect to function, but they do not say strictly whether it comes first. (2) on the other hand -- 'As for the forms, the intellectual faculty thinks of these in images' -- gives us to understand that phantásmata are not only necessary for operations of the intellect, but exist prior to them."

Commentary in Porphyre / Sentences, ed. by Luc Brisson
(Paris: Vrin, 2005), vol. 2, 447-8

January 11, 2009

One more from Porphyry

"Intellect is not the first principle of all things, for the intellect is a plurality, and before the many can exist there must exist the One. And the plurality of the intellect is quite clear. The thought on which it dwells is not single but always multiple, and between these thoughts and the intellect there is no difference. So if it is the same as they, and they are many, then the intellect must be a plurality.

"The identity of intellect with the intelligibles may be demonstrated in this way. Anything it contemplates must either be held inside itself or be set in some other medium. The fact of its contemplation is clear, for with thought it comes to be, but the intellect bereft of thought is bereft of its very essence. A theory of contemplation must therefore be sought in the experiences that go with the various kinds of cognition.

"The cognitive faculties assembled inside us are perception, imagination and intellect. Whatever is attended to by means of perception is regarded externally: contemplation is not effected by union with its objects, but takes only an imprint from the encounter with them. No identity between the eye and the thing seen is therefore possible, for if it did not stand apart from its object it could not see. The object of touch would likewise cease to exist if it were brought into identity [with what senses it]. From these examples it is clear that perception and all activities involving perception must be outwardly applied, if any perceptible object is to be apprehended."

"The imagination tends outwardly in much the same way. The image generated through its operations is made to stand outside it, where by these same operations it is received as an externalized image. In this way are objects of sense and imagination apprehended: focused on themselves, these faculties would never hit on a single object, be it perceptible or imperceptible in form.

"The intellect's mode of apprehension is different, for its contemplation is focused and carried out on itself. As an 'eye' fixed on its own activities, if it were to go beyond contemplation of these it would intelligize nothing. Now the intellect's relationship to the intelligible is on the one hand analogous to that of sense and the sensible. But the latter contemplates its object outwardly, deriving the sensible from external matter. Intellect on the other hand concentrates on itself. Otherwise its direction would be outward -- as in the opinion of those who rejected the distinction between imagination and intellect as one of mere nomenclature. For they took intellect to be the imaginative faculty of a rational being. But if matter and the nature of bodies were (as in their view) the basis for all things, and it followed that intellect too depended on these, then whence would our contemplation derive its conceptions of beings, corporeal and otherwise? As abstractions, it is obvious that intellectual entities have no location in material space, and that intellection takes them up only insofar as they are intellectual, uniting them with the intellect and its intelligibles. In processing intelligibles the intellect observes itself; its operations take place through its approach to itself. And since the intelligibles are many -- for the intellect dwells on many things and not one -- it necessarily follows that intellect is a plurality. But prior to the many there is the One, and thus the One is necessarily prior to the intellect."

Sentence 43

January 8, 2009

Commentaries on Phaedo 66b-d

OLYMPIODORUS THE YOUNGER: "Imagination [phantasía] is a constant impediment to the operations of our intellect.... And so Odysseus needed the moly and straight talk of Hermes to escape the apparition of Kalypso, which obscured his reason as clouds obscure the sun. Not for nothing is she somewhere called "mirage with trailing robes" -- Kalypso was herself a kálymma [a 'covering']. Accordingly, the Kalypso episode was preceded by Odysseus's landing on the island of Kirke, who (as the daughter of the sun) stands for perception.

"Thus does imagination constitute an impediment to our intellect. And when in the grip of a divine visitation we let imagination intrude, the divine energy lapses. For enthusiasm and imagination are directly opposed. And so Epictetus bids us to say within ourselves: 'You are an apparition, and in no way a true appearance' [Encheiridion I.5] -- and [yet] under the influence of imagination the philosophical choir of Stoics understood God to be a corporeal entity. For imagination is what wraps the incorporeal in a body.

"What, then, does [Aristotle] say? 'Without imagination, there is no thought'? But surely, what the soul knows of universals owes nothing to the activity of the imagination."

DAMASCIUS THE SUCCESSOR: "The existence of knowledge without visualization is made plain by our knowledge of such indivisibles as the unit, the point, and the now, and also by our knowledge of universals (for any imprint surely constitutes an individual 'this'). It is also clear from those things that cannot be visualized at all (such as justice and moderation), and from those self-sufficient forms which are demonstrably indivisible and incorporeal, and from the proofs of incorporeal existence generally. This is how to take this passage: not to fall back on perception and imagination as if they led indivisibly to cognition, for these are what Plato shuns.

"How is it that 'We do not think without imagination'? It's that imagination accompanies thought, not as a complement but as a persecutor, the way a storm accompanies the sailor on the sea."

January 6, 2009

3 Sentences of Porphyry

15. "Memory is not the conservation of mental images, but a putting forth again of what the mind formerly entertained."

16. "The soul contains the reasons for all things, and busies itself with them when called to the task by something else. Either that or it turns to them inwardly, at its own behest. When summoned from without, it tallies sensory perceptions against external facts; when turning inward, it deals with conceptions of the intellect. External perception is not possible without some affection of a living being's sense-organs, and in like manner the operations of the intellect are impossible without imagination. By this analogy, the 'imprint' is accessory to the living sense in the same way that imagination accompanies the soul's intellectual activity."

28. "Containment of the incorporeal within a body cannot be like the beast's enclosure in its den; the body is altogether incapable of encaging or comprehending it in this way. Nor can the incorporeal be contained like air or fluid in a bladder. Rather, it necessarily subsists in its union with outward-tending faculties that direct its descent and implication into a body. In this way does an unspecifiable extension of the incorporeal produce its connection to the body. Nothing binds it but itself, and what liberates it is not the destruction of the body, but its self-guided turn away from sharing the body's sufferings."