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Introduction

Dragon Ball Z has attracted so many people around the world, and it could rightly be described as one of the anime that represents the Japanese popular culture in the 90’s when anime began to be an iconic feature of Japan as promoting its unique national identity. In this sense, Dragon Ball Z, along with the other iconic anime such as Black Jack and Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka, or Draemon by Fujio F. Fujiko, may be heralded as the Japanese anime par excellence. But why do we love it so much? What is it that captures the passion and mesmerizes the hearts of the young people? It cannot simply be because of its often-criticized long-winded fighting scenes. In fact, Dragon Ball series are notoriously famous for their episodes-long battles that never seem to end. So, why is it that still succeeds to keep enchanting us in the way that never gets old? This essay is an attempt to explain the philosophical themes behind Dragon Ball Z, as I believe all art forms that are loved timelessly have deeper meanings to them. Sometimes, those meanings are not intended by the producers of the anime, and perhaps we often give them our own meanings to them in understanding the art for its receptive nature. In what follows, I will elucidate the possible philosophical meanings behind each series and attempt to explain that the Dragon Ball series in fact have various intellectual framework as substratum. And finally, I will argue that the Dragon Ball series keep captivating our mind because they are grounded in the serious philosophical argument about human nature.

Dragon Ball Z was created by Akira Toriyama, who is also known as the author of Dr. Slump Arare and character designers of the famous RPG game, Dragon Quest. Dragon Ball tells a longer story revolving around the boy named Goku and the mysterious balls that are said to grant any wishes to whomever finds and collects seven of them dispersed in the world, known as the dragon balls. The story of Dragon Ball is divided into three parts, of which the first is Dragon Ball, telling the story of Goku from his earliest years up to his adolescent years. Dragon Ball Z is a story of Goku’s adulthood, concluding with Dragon Ball GT, in which Goku becomes a child again due to a malevolent wish by his longstanding enemy.

In the North America, Dragon Ball Z is subdivided into several sagas, each of which are called, Vegeta Saga, Freeza Saga, Android Saga, Cell Saga and Boo Saga, respectively. Here, I will first discuss about the first two sagas, followed by the second two sagas, ending with Boo Saga. This division is not without reason, for I believe each segment of the series is thematically different. For instance, Vegeta and Freeza Sagas are about power, while the Android and Cell Sagas describe more of the philosophy of science. In what follows, I will argue that each segment presents itself as representing the philosophy of Akira Toriyama. Further, I venture to divide these segments according to their themes, to which I might ascribe Political Philosophy to the first two sagas, Philosophy of Science to the second two sagas and Ethics to the last saga.

 

Book I: Vegeta & Freeza Sagas as Political Realism


I: Stars incline but do not necessiate

 

Dragon Ball Z begins with the new introduction of Goku’s son, Gohan. The entire Dragon Ball Z story essentially derives from one incident in the very first episode, when Gohan gets kidnapped by Raditz, one of the four Saiyans left in the whole universe. It turns out that Raditz is Goku’s only brother, and he has come from the outer space all the way to the earth to urge Goku into helping him conquer the universe by force. Such a plan would involve destroying the earth itself and eliminating Goku’s friends along the way. When Goku refused to cooperate, Raditz took Gohan as a hostage so Goku would have no choice but listen to him. A long story short, Goku teams up with his nemesis, Piccolo, to defeat Raditz in order to save his friends and family and the earth.

Now, what is important here is to realize that the seed has already been planted, and everything that happens afterward is naturally contained in the initial offense done by Raditz. It was indeed not Goku’s intent to get involved with any of the events that ensued. However, one may arguably say that the power hungry Saiyan would never have been satisfied with the status quo, hence his involvement was inevitable, although unsolicited. In this sense, Goku’s succeeding journey is termed as soft-deterministic. I think Leibniz’ soft-determinism is very much in accordance with this, for the journey was inclined to happen while not being necessitated to occur. So what seemed like a simplistic catalyst in the anime was in fact dictated by the necessary conditions embedded in the characters themselves. This also explains rather flawlessly with consistency how each event follows one after another. In this way, it was inevitable as much as natural for Goku and Piccolo to have teamed up against Raditz, Vegeta and Nappa came to the earth in order to defeat Goku, and Goku’s eventual triumph over Vegeta, leaving Vegeta in bitter defeat.

Here it is worth while to scrutinize a little more about the situations, for everything that happened in this Vegeta saga is a precondition for what was to happen in the Freeza saga. In order to support my argument that every event in these two sagas happened naturally, one event following after another without any structural jamming, as it were, let me use some historical examples to illustrate how convincing the story development of Dragon Ball Z really is. As I have argued, Gohan’s initial kidnap instigated the successive events that would last for years onwards. Here, the first episode contains everything that was to happen, just as Leibniz’s dictum that ‘predicate is contained in the subject’, so the succeeding events are merely unfolding of the events that have occurred previously. This flow must be naturally determined, i.e. soft-determinism, in order to have a cogent effect.[1] So once again, what seemed rather innocuous kidnapping of Gohan contained in itself Goku’s revenge against Raditz and how Raditz treated Gohan and everyone else naturally increased Goku’s dislike towards Raditz. Of course, the Saiyans qua Saiyans do not care about the feelings of the others, as also seen when Vegeta killed his companion, Nappa. It is ingrained in the philosophy of the Saiyans that they only care about satisfying their own curiosities for fighting and replenishing their hunger for power. Indeed, the Saiyan philosophy is no other than the philosophy of political realism, and as such, it only thinks of itself and its survival. It is essentially self-interested, and always revolves around the self-preservation and nothing more. Let me call this the Primitive Saiyan Philosophy, for Goku’s philosophy is fundamentally different, as we will see. While the Primitive Saiyan Philosophy is individualistic and singularistic in its view (i.e. it does not accept any other idea but its own; there is only one truth, which is its own, etc…), Goku’s Philosophy is pluralistic. Here is contained the seed for empathy and therefore leaves room for ethics. In this way, Vegeta and Goku can be contracted as representing political realism and liberalism.

In summarizing the events in Vegeta Saga, it is Raditz’s independent action that led to Goku’s anger, which led to the bitter defeat of Vegeta in the end. The similarity with the whole sequence of the Great Wars in the 20th century is rather striking, for just as the Austrian prince was killed (an individual, rather politically personal event, which developed into the series of events), which triggered the allied countries to jump into the quarrel, Gohan’s kidnap triggered Piccolo’s reluctant cooperation with Goku in fighting the common enemy. It was, however political, a personal event that happened at the Kame-House in the middle of nowhere that stirred up all the subsequent events. Further, if I may be allowed to reason parallel to the specific historical event of the World Wars, Vegeta’s bitter defeat is likened to Germany’s bitter defeat at the end of the World War I. Vegeta, then, is the embodiment of the philosophy of Adolf Hitler. It is important to note here that Vegeta himself does not represent the historical Hitler, but I emphasize here that I am talking about the abstract ideology that Vegeta adhered to, and likening it to the abstract ideology of Adolf Hitler. In other words, I am not identifying Vegeta as Hitler, but rather, I am identifying the philosophy of Vegeta as the philosophy of Hitler. So it is not a matter of important who actually held such a philosophy, as long as we are clear that it is the philosophy and ideology itself that I am talking about. So, the readers will see sometimes my talking about the philosophy of Vegeta as exercised by another character, Piccolo or Krillin, for instance. I ask the readers not to equate the idea one adheres to with the characters themselves.

For in order to talk about how power behaves, one needs not to attribute players who exercise that power to any specific solid individuals. I am merely using some historical figures in order to illustrate, visualize and somewhat more easily accessible to our imagination. Also, the World Wars are the perfect examples in which each player fought for power and survival. Therefore, I cannot find any other examples that are fairly recent enough that everyone knows about that illustrates the power struggle as clear as as the two World Wars.

Having clarified my intention, let me continue. It makes sense that Vegeta and Nappa came to the earth, then, for the Primitive Saiyan philosophy is self-interested and its interest is acquisition of power and exercising destruction, but why did they have to travel such far away in order just to fight and destroy? It took them 6 months to go to the earth, when in fact they could have exercised their power and enjoyed destruction in their nearby planets? To defeat Goku, who was the only other Saiyan left in the universe? Plausibly, but not enough to drag them out of the edge of the universe to the earth. Here, again, it is their self-interest that piqued their curiosity. Desire for the dragon balls moved them away from where they were, for in order for them not only to survive but also to acquire the absolute power, the use of dragon balls was a necessity for them.

Before moving on further with the plot analysis, it is necessary to briefly go into the historical Hitler since I will be largely drawing upon him as well as the other major events during World War II.

[1] Soft-determinism in this sense differs from hard-determinism in that the former is a natural occurrence, an unfolding events given that the characters have all these qualities, while the latter type of determinism does not care about what qualities each character may have. Hard-determinism is indifferent to external influences, whereas soft-determinism is dictated by the natural phenomena. It is in this sense Leibniz argued that, in soft-determinism, you would not be doing anything contradictory to your character had you done something that you did not in fact do. This is because what you did at a particular moment in life is always a dictation of the natural phenomena occurring not just in you but also around you.

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アリストテレス(紀元前384〜322)はプラトンの弟子で、後の西洋哲学に多大な影響を与えました。残念ながら、日本語ではあまり読まれていなく、出版されているアリストテレスの訳本はありますが、言葉が哲学の専門用語ばかりで日本人には一般になじみにくい印象があります。よって、ここでは、専門用語をなるべく使わず、重要な概念を分かりやすく説明していきたいと思います。さらに、このシリーズでは主に哲学者の基本的な思想を理解するのが目的なので、細かい論点などの議論は避けようと思います。もし、私のアカデミックな記事・見解をもっと詳しく知りたい人は、同じブログ上の英語版記事を参照してください。

 

さて、シリーズ第1回目の今回は、アリストテレスの自然科学、物理学における生命や自然の産物の発生原因を説明していこうと思います。

 

自然の産物の存在理由・原因は4つあるとアリストテレスは言います。この4つの原因となるものが重なり合い、自然の生き物は生まれて来るのです。

 

①材料(何で?)

②形式やフォーム(どんな?)

③動力の源(どのようにして?)

④存在理由・目的(どうして?)

 

がその4つです。アリストテレスはこの理論を「自然の産物」と「人が作ったもの」の2つの例を挙げて説明しています。

 

まずは「人が作ったもの」、“銅像”や“船”を例にあげて検証していきましょう。

 

人が作る物の場合:

まず、材料が必要です。銅像の場合は『銅』、船の場合は『鉄』や『木材』といったものにあたります。ただ、いくらたくさんの材料があっても、それらの質材をどのように組み立てるかが重要になります。船や銅像を造るのに、設計図がなければどのように何を組み立てれば船になるのか、わかりません。つまり、説明書のような物が必要になるのです。それが、いわゆる『形式』となります。このフォームが決まっていなければ、人はどれが船でどれが銅像か、区別がつかなくなります。例えば、“ハサミ”は“ハサミ”の形をしていなければ、いくら材質が同じでも、ハサミの効力を発しないということです。金属で作られていても、コーヒーカップの形をしていれば、“ハサミ”としては、到底使えませんし、また材質が紙やプラスチックの場合、やはり“ハサミ”としては使えないでしょう。よって、材質、そしてそれに伴う、形式・フォーム、が必要になってきます。さて、現段階では、“材料”と“計画書”はあるけれども、それらを組み立てる作業員、もしくは『動力の源』となる物がありません。そこで、人やロボットのような、材料を“調理”する人、が必要となるわけです。人が作る物の場合、大抵は人間やそれを組み立てるもの、になります。でも、一体どうしてハサミならこのような『形式』をとらなければいけない、とか、船なら『あのような形式』、銅像なら『そのような形式』と決まっているのでしょうか?ここで、物事が生まれる4つ目の原因、『存在理由』が必要となってきます。例えば、ハサミの存在理由は、紙等を切るため。船なら、人や物資を運ぶため。また、銅像なら、鑑賞するため、などです。このように、人が物を作る場合、必ず目的があります。その目的のためには、どんな素材を、どのように、どうやって、組み立てるかということが大事になってきます。

 

さて、自然の産物に関してはどうでしょうか?アリストテレス特有のドングリの木の例を挙げて説明していきます。

 

自然の産物の場合:

木は一体どこからくるのでしょうか?元々は小さな種から育ってきます。この種が、木の存在に欠かせない『材料』ということになります。でも、いくら種があっても、DNAなどでどんな木に育つのかは決まっています。アサガオの種からひまわりが育つ事はありませんし、もちろん、チューリップの種からクジラが育つ事もありません。このDNAがいわゆる『形式』となります。この2つは常に一緒に存在しています。“種”という物には木になるための必要な素材とどんな木になるかを定めるDNAが必ずセットで存在するわけです。ただ、草木の場合、太陽の光、また水など、栄養になる物がない限り育ちません。よって、“種”そのものは“木になる可能性”を秘めているにとどまり、“実際の木”にはまだなっていない、ということになります。この成長を促す物(水分や食料による気の流れ)が『動力の源』となるわけです。では、なぜ“種”は“木”になるのでしょう?それは、木になることで、自ら“種”を生み出し、またその自然の過程を繰り返すため、だとアリストテレスは言います。人はなぜ大人になるのか?という疑問も、同じように説明付けられます。子供を産んでまたその自然のサイクルを繰り返すためです。ただ、子供を産まない人や、大人になる前に亡くなってしまう人もたくさんいます。これは、他の動物や草木も同じ事が言えます。この事から読み取れるのは、自然はサイクルを繰り返す事により、種(種族)の存続を摂理としています。ただ、この存続が可能なのは、それぞれの種族にたくさんのメンバーがいるからだという事です。だから、魚や草木のように、ある程度のダメージで死に至る種族などは特にたくさんの種を生み出す、ということがいえます。人間の場合は、子供が生まれてからも長く生きます。これはなぜでしょう?もし、人が成長する唯一の目的が、“種の存続”であれば、そんなに長く生きる必要はありません。アリストテレスは、これは人間の自然界での特別な位置づけにあると唱えます。人間は知性により、物を扱い、ある意味で“自然を真似る”ことができます。人工的に物を作り出す、というのは正にその例です。芸術や詩歌などはそのたぐいのものです。よって、人間は、他の生き物には存在しない『知性・理性』をもっているため、自然を超越した部分=知性があると考えられます。体は物理的に自然により生み出されたものなので、滅びてしまいますが、純粋な知性は体を必要としない(例えば数学などは体や空間がなくても理論上出来ます)ため、永遠に滅びないという考え方も出来ます。動物は人間のように、知性を使った、空間思考が出来ない、また理性を持たず倫理的判断が出来ないため、自然界では人間と同じ地位には立てないと、いうことになります。そして、人間が唯一、子供を生んだ後も長生きする理由としては、知性・理性を使い、自然の摂理を理解するため、だといえるのです。

By the time Buddhism reached Japan in the 9th century, the Hindu astrology had already been incorporated into its teachings, and its practice was consequently spread as an esoteric form of understanding the religion by such Buddhist pioneers in Japan as Kukai and Saicho. Thus transmitted, the peculiar and localized form of the Hindu astrology came to be known as Sukuyoudou (宿曜道), or the way of telling future events by means of looking at the lunar mansions and the astrological signs. This tradition, however, dwindled rather quickly, and by the 12th century, its rival theory of On’myoudou (陰陽道) that based its system on the Ying-Yang Five Activity (陰陽五行説) prevailed. On’myoudou, too, would face the defeat against the Western science and medicine in the Edo period. What interests me, however, is not the eventual defeat of the Japanese esoteric astrology in the advancement of modern science, but the ways in which these seemingly unscientific theories such as astrology were able to account for the causes of illness and provide cure for them up to their replacement with the Western science. As in the West, astrology was not only a means to predict future events, but also preeminently a medical practice on which people depended for their health and wellbeing. My aim in this paper is to explain the mechanics of such system as introduced by esoteric Buddhist teachings, and offer an account for why such astrology had to give away. In doing so, I will specifically focus on its medical aspect, calling it a practical astrology, rather than its predictive aspect normally attributed to such a discipline. I hope to show that the esoteric Buddhist medical astrology did contribute significantly to the later theories that replaced it, and hence was essential to the advancement of modern medicine. However, its compatibility with On’myoudou and the latter’s broader applicability made it inevitable that Sukuyoudou got subsumed under it, still managing to survive being marginalized, and Sukuyoudou continued to exert influences in our everyday life even after centuries of its marginalization in history of medicine.

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During the medieval period, both the Arabic and the Scholastic philosophers tackled the account of generation and that of substantial change, advancing various interpretations drawn from the texts of Aristotle. In this section, I will 1) lay out the accounts offered by Avicenna, Averroes, Aquinas and Suarez in order to better understand the philosophical background against which Sennert was competing, and then 2) raise some issues these views present with regard to the roles played by the formal causation in each case. In doing so, I will first give a short summary of Aristotle’s own account on the generation of beings, i.e. composite substances.

Aristotle argued that there are three ways in which one can speak of generation of substances: generation can be natural, artificial or spontaneous. In all three cases, he maintains, the producer and the product must be the same in form. This does not mean that the form in question must be numerically the same, but it suffices that it is the same in type, i.e. the form of parent is numerically different but the same type of form with the form the offspring will have. So for instance, in the case of the generation of a human being, the producer (the male) have the same form as the product (the offspring), but the latter shares the same form in a different piece of matter that is provided by the female. That the producer must share the same form with the product is commonly referred to as the Synonymy Principle. This principle holds in the other cases of generation, though Aristotle struggles to offer a coherent explanation. In the case of artificial generation, for instance, it is rather difficult to accept that the form in question is the same in type as spoken of in the case of natural generation. For in making a statue, a sculptor does not pass onto the matter the form as the parent passes it onto the matter through semen. Aristotle thinks, however, the principle sufficiently holds insofar as the form in the sculptor’s mind is the cause of the material realization of that form in the bronze as a statue.[1] In the case of spontaneous generation, this principle is even harder to defend, for there is no producer that realizes the product to begin with! Yet, Aristotle wants to say that the principle holds at least partially, and hence is satisfied, because the matter out of which things come to be spontaneously already contains a part of the final product.[2] In the Metaphysics, Aristotle uses an example of spontaneous recovery from illness as a type of spontaneous generation insofar as it generates health where health was previously absent.[3] For normally, health is restored by the intervention of a doctor, who plays the role of the producer of health, it so sometimes happens, says Aristotle, that the body can spontaneously warm itself up, hence bringing an equilibrium in the bodily humour, which then restores the balance disturbed. In this spontaneous recovery of health, the agent that brings about such recovery is the heat in the body. This heat in the body, therefore, is a part of the final product, i.e. health, and since the agent is a part of the final product, some sort of partial sameness also exists between the product of spontaneous recovery, i.e. health in the agent, and what produces it, i.e. heat in the body.[4] However, even in this case, such a spontaneous recovery must presuppose a pre-existing producer as a composite substance, and such “spontaneous generation” as recovery of health in the agent seems to be nothing but an accidental generation. First, because generation must be a product of a composite of form and matter, but in the case of spontaneous recovery, there is no composite of form and matter coming into being, and second, such change as recovery of health happens in an already existing composite being, i.e. substance. Whatever happens to that being internally would not make any substantial change in its being. These then are problems that are left unanswered by Aristotle, and any new account must be able to ameliorate these issues.

Nonetheless, the medieval philosophers continued on holding the Synonymy Principle as the defining feature of the account of generation, but focused on the role form plays rather than the matter, for form alone seems to be responsible for making a specific matter distinct from any other. The Aristotelians reasoned that in the generation of substances, if the producer and the product are the same in form, it must be that form is what individuates matter, directs and orients the coming into being of sensible substances. In this way, they appealed to the pre-existence of form in the producer to explain why the generated product shares the characteristics the producer has. In a way, generation is seen as a process consisting in the transmission of a form from the producer to the product.[5] Simply put, the coming into being of composite substances is nothing but acquisition of a form of a certain kind, and the role form plays in generation is equated with the role of forming the internal structure and organization of sensible objects.

 

canon of medicineFor Avicenna, substantial generation does not occur gradually, but happens all at once. Nevertheless, there are several substantial changes occurring before the seed can become an animal or a full-fledged human being. For Avicenna, substantial changes happen when sufficient amount of accidental changes, i.e. qualitative change, prepare the way for the substance to change. John McGinns gives a clear analysis of Avicenna’s generative account. Citing passages from Avicenna’s Book of Animals, McGinns explains that Avicenna conceives at least four substantial changes in the form-matter composite before an animal is generated. The initial stage involves “the churning of the semen”, which Avicenna equates it with the “actuality of the formal power”. Second, the blood clot manifests in the uterine wall; the first substantial change in the generative process. Third, this blood clot (or zygote) is replaced by yet another new substance, i.e. embryo, which leads to the generation of the heart, primary organs, blood vessels and limbs. Lastly, the animal is formed, which is yet a different substance. In this way, these changes from semen to animal take place through a series of discrete substantial changes, even though a number of gradual qualitative changes do occur, preparing the way for each discontinuous leap between substantial changes.[6] The matter, then, undergoes a substantial change only when a sufficient number of gradual accidental changes have occurred in the said matter, acquiring a new substantial form fit for the specific state of the matter. McGinns likens this process to an example of handling clay, for he says that clay is receptive at first to a number of different shapes and forms, but as soon as it is exposed to the sun, “to the degree that the Sun affects the clay and hardens it, the clay becomes less pliable and so becomes less receptive to the number of forms that the craftsman can impose upon it.”[7] The clay here is the material, i.e. menstrual blood, and the craftsman is the form, i.e. male semen. The form the craftsman imposes upon the matter is equivalent to the formative power in the male semen, i.e. efficient cause. Here, it is significant to note that, according to this analogy, Avicenna conceives of the formative power to be already in the form, that is to say, the form carries with it the power to affect the matter. This is striking in comparison with the efficient cause as an external agent, putting forth the form into the matter to work with, as it was the case with Aristotle’s account of generation. For Avicenna, clearly, the formative power, or the efficient cause, is in the form itself, i.e. semen. And this formative power gradually alters the semen qualitatively “up to the point that the seminal form is displaced and it becomes a blood clot,” continuing to develop like this “up to the point that [the developing thing] receives the form of life,” or the new substantial form.[8]

 

Averroes, however, takes a radically different approach to the account of substantial change in that for him, only a material agent can act upon matter and thus transform it in such a way as to produce another material being.[9] In order for there to be any substantial change, matter must be acted upon so as to be modified in order to bring about a coming into being of a composite substance. Nothing incorporeal can act upon the matter, so an agent that interacts with matter and is able to effect the required changes in matter must itself be material and possesses corporeal parts as well as active qualities.[10] Further, for Averroes, matter already contains a form that is potentially present in it, and generation is explained through the agent’s actualizing the potentiality, i.e. receptivity, for form in the matter. In other words, generation is nothing but the coinciding of such an emergence of the receptivity for form in matter with the transmission of an external form into the matter. So the agent, in transmitting the external formal principle, at the same time, extracts the receptivity for that form in matter. In this way, matter also plays somewhat an active role of accepting the new form, for if the matter remained absolutely the same with only the potentiality/passivity all through the generation, generation would just mean a production of a new form rather than the constitution of a new composite.[11] So for Averroes, matter too also undergoes transformation in the process of generation so that it is not simply a new form being imposed upon the existing material substratum but a new substance both in form and matter comes into being.[12] So in this way, Averroes fulfills the Synonymy Principle in that for him as well, both the producer and the product must possess the same form in type, but what is different from the predecessors’ account is that Averroes also takes this Synonymy Principle further and maintain that both the producer and the product have not only the form but also the material part with which the preexisting matter can be interacted. Again, this is due to his general principle that only matter can act upon matter in such a way to generate another material being, and if form does not have any corporeal part, it cannot modify the said matter at all. So whatever generates a new substance must be already be a composite of form and matter. Now, this may work well with the standard, natural generation, since forms are communicated to the matter through the seed, containing a natural power capable of transforming matter so as to bring about a full fledged individual of a certain species, but how does this work in the case of spontaneous generation where there is no prior composite being acting on the material substratum? Averroes wants to say something analogous with the natural generation happens in the cases where animal and plants are generated without seed.[13] In spontaneous generation, Averroes argues, animals and plants can come out of the matter without seed by receiving the formative power directly from the heavenly bodies, insofar as the heavenly bodies are themselves material beings.[14] This means that, even though the heavenly bodies do not have determinate bodily parts, since they operate through heat, which is a primary quality of bodies, the operation of the formative powers by the heavenly bodies still satisfy both the Synonymy Principle and Averroes’ general principle that only matter can modify matter.[15]

 

Although Aquinas argues also for the primacy of the composite substance of form and matter, he denies that there are forms latent in the matter, and he maintains the matter as material substratum is pure potentiality. Matter cannot pre-contain forms to be actualized afterwards, for then the form would reveal a state of actuality only of the matter, and matter would be the real subject of the form![16] Aquinas, thus, rejects both the theory of multiple hidden actual forms (latitatio formarum) in matter and the theory of inchoate forms (inchoatio formarum) that Averroes held, i.e. a theory that the acquisition of a form by matter is nothing but the bringing of the potentiality of matter into act.[17] Aquinas reasons that unless forms come to matter externally rather than emerging from within the matter, there would not be a true generation and a substantial generation, but only an accidental change in the predicate of the matter as the subject. So for him, animals as well as human beings do not pre-contain the form of an animal or of a human being, but the matter or the embryo comes to be such a state that it can acquire a fit form through changes in the matter. For the matter to come to be such a state a form of a human being, i.e. rational soul, the formative power in the semen needs to modify the matter so it forms organs suitable for living beings. Once this has been done, the matter appropriately so organized, i.e. equipped with organs, can receive a form by triggering, as it were, the actualization of the potency of the matter. This formative power is not to be confused with the soul itself, for Aquinas does not want to associate the formative power of the semen with the functionality of the souls. What the formative power does is simply organize the matter in such a way that once the soul is received, the soul can perform its functions using those organs. So the formative power is a sort of a vital operation at the moment of conception, and it is a corporeal power passed on to by the agent, which forms the matter into an organically structured stuff so it can begin to digest food if there were a soul in it. Once this digestive organs have been formed, the vegetative soul comes to be, and does its own functions of digesting, etc… The formative power, however, does not cease to be, but still keeps forming the organs to make the matter like itself, i.e. the source of itself or in this case the male semen. The formative power is indeed, what Amerini calls, “a program” for material development that “expressly tasked to structure the matter of a given body.”[18] Once the organs appropriate for sensation have been formed, the sensitive soul takes place of the vegetative soul, subsuming the powers of vegetative soul under itself. It is probably more proper to conceive of this process as transformation of an inferior soul into a superior one, an upgrade. When the organs can afford to perform more tasks, the soul too develops into a more adequate form fit for that specific matter. In this way, Aquinas avoids admitting the plurality of forms latent in the matter, yet manages to explain the various stages of biological development. Unlike Avicenna’s account, Aquinas’ account does not involve a number of distinct leaps of substantial generation in order for the semen to fully develop into an embryo, and then into an animal, but Aquinas admits a substantial generation only once at the moment of ensoulment, i.e. the union between the vegetative soul and the matter properly organized. After the vegetative soul takes its root in the matter, the soul develops into the higher soul, and throughout this entire generative process, the formative power, or the program, keeps forming the organs until it finishes its task of structuring the body.

Since Aquinas also attributes the formative power to material agent, it may be conjectured that it is some sort of vital heat that does the formation of the organs. Understood in this way, spontaneous generation is explained similarly to the account offered by Averroes that it is due to the celestial bodies providing the heat, acting upon the putrefied matter.[19]

Franciscus_Suarez,_S.I._(1548-1617)Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), on the other hand, equates rational soul with the substantial form. Aquinas avoided conflating the two (soul and substantial form) precisely because he did not want to imply that the soul, which is the efficient cause and functions with the organs, is the same as the formative power, which is merely a forming principle, i.e. its task is merely to form organs so that the soul can take on and performs its functions using the organs so organized by the formative power. It is here in Suarez that we see the Aristotle’s analogy in explaining substantial generation of artificial things and natural things starts to break apart completely. For Aristotle had argued that, in the artificial generation, the form in the sculptor’s mind is the material realization of that form in the bronze as a statue. The form in this came in the mind of the sculptor only does the formation of the material, but in forming a statue of a person, for instance, the hand so formed does not need to function as a hand. If the sculptor were to make the heart and other primary organs in making the statue, these organs either do not need to function as they would in living human body. So the formative principle, i.e. the guideline in forming a body into a specific manner, in statue-making does not involve functionality of the organs, and just as Aquinas outlines, the formative principle must be distinct from the efficient cause, which would be the sculptor in the example of the statue-making. But clearly, this cannot be the case when one is dealing with the natural generation, for in natural generation, as soon as the organs are formed, they function. In fact, even as they are being formed, they show signs of activity. It appears as though this forming principle in the case of natural generation is equipped with the active principle that is doing the forming! This point is significant, for it is true to say that the artist as the efficacious cause is necessary for the form in his mind to be expressed in the matter so as to produce an informed matter, and without the efficacious agent being present, the production halts and no further information on the matter is possible. However, with the natural generation, once the efficacious, external agent passes on to the matter a seed or semen (the corporeal matter in form that carries with it a program or structure to be actualized and realized in matter), the efficacious agent who produced such seed is no longer necessary for the rest of the formation to take place. The production, in other words, does not halt even with the absence of the external agent. The seed takes on the task of the efficacious agent at the moment of conception, as it were, and it itself performs all the functions attributed to the efficacious agent. In light of this, it is easy to see why Suarez identified the form with the rational soul. For if the forming power that also functions with the organs so formed is not the soul, what really is a soul? Is it not the case that plants are said to nurture when they are equipped with the vegetative soul? Is it not the case that animals sense and move about only in virtue of them having the sensitive soul? If so, then, it must follow that soul is that which performs all these functions attributed to the forming principle. And since the forming principle functions, i.e. is efficacious, the forming principle is not really the formal cause but an efficient cause of natural generation. Indeed, this is the path Suarez takes. For Suarez, the composite being is generated out of the matter by the efficient cause, and as a result of the matter being so organized, the new form of the composite as the substantial form of that specific composite appears. In this way, as Helen Hattab argued, the explanatory burden of accounting for natural generation and substantial change is shifted onto the efficient and material causes from the formal cause. The substantial form is now posterior to the generation of the form-matter composite, and the formal causality is reduced to a mode of the union of the substantial form to matter.[20] Since the formal causality is just a mode of union “between an already existing substantial form and an already existing matter,” it is neither the formal causality nor the material causality that performs the organic functions, but rather, it is the emergent substantial form, at least in the case of animals and plants, that is the source of efficacious causation.

Suarez argues further that the human substantial form as the rational soul is essentially different from the other types of substantial forms, i.e., material substantial forms. These material substantial forms are educed out of the matter, rather than created out of nothing by God, and hence they cannot survive the material death.[21] These material substantial forms too are still united by the formal causality, i.e. the union, but because they are educed from and attached to matter, they do not properly come to be out of nothing, and what was considered as a substantial generation for Aristotle and Aquinas was reduced to the status of accidental change happening within the same subject, just like the example of Aristotle on the generation of health in a body. So for Suarez, whereas the human substantial form is created by God ex nihilo, the material substantial forms emerge out of the prime matter, and hence they do not count as a substantial generation, but only as an accidental generation.[22]

I agree with Helen Hattab that Suarez’s redefinition of the substantial form as an incomplete substance, which together with the matter makes one per se composite substance, his attribution of the efficient causality to the seed separate from the generator, and the reduction of formal causality to mode of the union of the substantial form and matter made it conceptual ground for which a new corpuscular mechanistic worldview to take roots. But I find it a little hard to believe Suarez was solely responsible for the transition from the Scholastic philosophy into the mechanical philosophy, as well as the devaluation of formal causality to the efficient causality. In fact, I believe it is somewhat too much a leap for us to come to Descartes and proclaim with him the dispensability of the formal causality after Suarez. For even Suarez utilized, in a much weakened manner, the distinction between formal causality and the other causalities. Without the formal causality, even for Suarez, it would be impossible to have the substantial form attached and united to the matter appropriate. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine why Descartes, who had had a difficulty in explaining the mind-body union could discard such a convenient cause as formal causality. In what follows, I will attempt to elucidate more in detail the general attitudes towards the use of Aristotelian causality in the beginning of the 17th century. In discussing the case of Daniel Sennert (1572-1637) and his account of causality in natural generation, I hope to show that all the groundwork for the new mechanical philosophy to take place has been laid out, and our understanding of the devaluation of formal causality, the conflation of it with the efficient causality and finally getting rid of the formal causality altogether in Descartes will be made more accessible.

[1] 1032a32-b6

[2] Gabriele Galluzzo, The Medieval Reception of Book Zeta of Aristotle’s Metaphysics: Aristotle’s Ontology and the Middle Ages – The Tradition of Met., Book Zeta, 96.

[3]

[4] Galluzzo, 98.

[5] Ibid., 182.

[6] John McGinns, Avicenna, 239.

[7] Ibid., 240-241.

[8] Ibid., 241-242.

[9] Galluzzo, 188.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 187.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 198.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Fabrizio Amerini, Aquinas on the Beginning and End of Human Life, 23.

[17] Ibid., 24

[18] Ibid., 16.

[19] See Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Book I, Q45. Reply to Obj. 3, where he says “For the [spontaneous] generation of imperfect animals, a universal agent suffices, and this is to be found in the celestial power to which they are assimilated, not in species, but according to a kind of analogy.  Nor is it necessary to say that their forms are created by a separate agent.”

 

[20] Helen Hattab, “Suarez’s Last Stand for the Substantial Form” in The Philosophy of Francisco Suarez, 101-118.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

René_Descartes_i_samtal_med_Sveriges_drottning,_Kristina

Actions and passions play a significant role in Descartes’ conception of the union between mind and body. Having explained to Princess Elizabeth that to conceive of the mind-body union is nothing but to conceive the mind as material and to Mersenne that the fact that the mind cannot be imagined does not render the union any less conceivable, Descartes moves onto illustrate the account of emotion and how the passions of the soul are the result of this very union. In the letter to Chanut, he gives a more detailed description of how the soul is inclined to unite with the body by appealing to the four passions the soul possesses prior to its attachment to the body. According to this account, the soul feels desire for the body, and when the body is well nourished and in a good condition, the soul attaches itself to the body through the reciprocation of love, and remains attached to it. In this paper, I aim to explore the role of the passions in the mind-body union and try to make sense, given his philosophical system, what it is that keeps the soul united to the body, thus making an individual rather than accepting the view some of his contemporaries held that the mind can migrate one body to another at its will.[1] In doing so, I will primarily focus on the intellectual passions Descartes discusses, and draw attention to the duality of the passions and its explanatory role in understanding what a human individual may be.

Descartes begins The Passions of the Soul with an assertion that what is a passion in the soul is an action in the body.[2] He gives a definition, following the common usage of the term, that we call “a ‘passion’ with regard to the subject to which it happens and an ‘action’ with regard to that which makes it happen.”[3] So when external objects stimulate our senses, they act upon our body and these stimuli become actions that act upon the soul, which receives them as passions. Passions, then, are nothing but the soul’s reactions against external influences. In this way, the soul does not initiate movement in the body or impart heat to the body but reacts only as a recipient, just as a sponge bounces back up when you push it with a finger in it. This well accords with his view that it is a mistake to think that the body dies when the soul leaves it, but rather “the soul takes its leave when we die only because this heat ceases and the organs which bring about bodily movement decay.”[4] This is an important to point to note, since it suggests that it is not the soul that makes something alive, but rather it is the arrangement of the organs and the cessation of their functions that make the soul leave the body. This is why Descartes is able to say without contradiction that animals do not possess souls, for a living animal can be without a soul as an infant in the womb is. For he says “it is not credible that the soul was put into the body at a time when the body was not in a good condition,” it follows that there was a time in which the human body was not united with the soul.[5] Further, because the body is not in a good condition when “there [are] nearby some matter suitable for food” and “[t]he soul, uniting itself willingly to that new matter,” would have felt sadness had there been no food, it is unlikely that the soul would attach itself to the body simultaneously, as it were, as soon as the body comes into being. It is Descartes’ own contention that the soul would not unite with a body unless it first perceives “some present or absent good, which it judges to be fitting for itself… and the good in question as forming two parts of a single whole,” thereby causing the sensation of love in the soul.[6] We are told that love was caused before birth only by suitable nourishment. But if this judgment that the soul makes of the perceived object as good is love, and if it is this love that urges the will of the soul to either desire to be united with it or feel sadness for the recognition that it is not feasible to attain it, these ‘four passions’[7] as Descartes calls them must have been present prior to the union. Indeed, not being united with the body, he explains, the soul possesses only so many intellectual sensations, one of which is love that unites the soul and the body in a reciprocal manner.[8] So it is not the specific body that individuates the human beings from one another, but rather it is the soul’s choosing specific body as desirable to be united with itself. This conclusion that the soul can have the will guided by these ‘passions’ can be deduced from a number of passages in his letter to Chanut, for he says that the will of the soul, whose movement is constituted by love, joy, sadness or desire, could exist in the soul even if it had no body, “in so far as they are rational thoughts and not passions.”[9] Here, he is making a distinction between feelings such as love caused by the passions and sensations that are perceived intellectually. But a problem arises: did he not say that there are passions in the pure soul prior to the union, namely, love, joy, sadness and desire? How is it possible for the body-less soul to have passions, which we have seen are none other than reactions to the external influence? Or are these passions different from simple passions? For he clearly thinks love, desire, joy and sadness are passions that the soul could possess without the body and that “the only ones we had before our birth.”[10] There are two kinds of will, Descartes tells us. One consists of the actions that terminate in the body, and the other consists of the actions of the soul that terminate in the soul itself.[11] The first kind is the type of will that is constituted by the passions such as love and joy, while the second kind is the intellectual will that we have “as when we will to love God or, generally speaking, to apply our mind to some objects which is not material.”[12] So clearly, when he talks about the will of the soul that is constituted by love prior to birth, wanting to be united with body, he is not talking about the intellectual will, as such a will desires a material body. On this account, Deborah Brown seems to accept Descartes’ claim and argue with him that “[i]nsofar as it is not dependent upon any movement of the spirits, however, rational love is not a passion and could exist in a disembodied mind.”[13] But how the soul can have intellectual love for a material body without depending upon any movement of the animal spirits is left unanswered, and she moves on to say that the rational love can accompany sensuous love as long as it is united with the body.[14] While she thinks it “perfectly understandable” that an object is necessary to account for a passion and affirms that “[t]he will is blind without an object,” she does not seem to be concerned with Descartes’ claim that the soul feels the rational love for the body and desires to be united with it, which is rather sensuous than rational according to the Descartes’ definition.[15] Descartes, however, endeavors to take care of such worry in offering an account of perception that is both an action and passion. Perceptions, he explains, can be called either actions of the soul or passions with respect to the soul. When the soul loves something rationally, and consequently will to be joined with it “as forming two parts of a single whole,” while the act of willing is the action proper with respect to the soul, “the perception of such willing may be said to be a passion in the soul.”[16] This perception, he tells us, is really one and the same thing as will, and because “names are always determined by whatever is most noble, we do not normally call it a ‘passion’, but solely an ‘action.’”[17] So we do call perceptions actions then. Nevertheless, he quickly reminds us, all our perceptions are, strictly speaking, passions with respect to our soul, and hence we use the term ‘passion’ to signify only perceptions that refer to the soul itself. However, he then concludes that perceptions are passions insofar as they are caused by animal spirits, “maintained and strengthened by some movement of the spirits,” and in that respect differ from volitions or will which are caused by the soul itself.[18] But animals spirits must of necessity material.[19] So the soul without a body cannot have such spirits. So the difference between passions from volitions consists solely on this: their originating causes are different – passions are caused by the agitation of the spirits and volitions or actions of the soul are caused by the soul itself.

Here we are given a different account of the passions, for earlier he says that all perceptions are passions of the soul, and now he says that perceptions can be actions if they are caused by the soul itself. To understand better what may be going on here, we need to have a clearer view on Descartes’ view on will and perception. It would be a mistake to think of the will as having a cause solely in the soul. In fact, he never says that will originates in the soul, but only that will terminates in the soul or in the body.[20] Is it, then, possible that will can originate in the body? It is unlikely, since will is the activity of the soul. Here the nature of perception will better aid us, for perceptions have a rather opposite aspect from will in that perceptions originate either in the soul or in the body, but does not terminate in either.[21] So what happens here is that we first have the perceptions of some object either from the soul or from the body, and once the soul judges this perceived object as good, then the soul wills either to desire or not to desire for the perceived object. So while the perception may come from the soul, as in when judging something to be beautiful, depending on whether the object of such beauty is material or not, the will can result in the actions that terminate in the body. For example, if we perceive an apple (a physical object) as beauty, then the soul may will to pursue it in order to obtain it, but not for the sake of eating it (for it if were for the sake of eating it, it would result in the material pursuit) but for the sake of obtaining it. It is in this sense that Descartes speaks of the will as intellectual, as when “our merely willing to walk has the consequence that our legs move an we walk.”[22] This is made no more obvious in the passage where Descartes illuminates us with the examples on how “our well-being depends principally on internal emotions which are produced in the soul only by the soul itself,” providing us with the ways in which these intellectual emotions are different from the passions of the soul.[23] To illustrate the point clearly, he gives us two situations where the difference between the intellectual emotions and sensuous emotions is acute. “[w]hen a husband mourns his dead wife,” Descartes recounts, “it sometimes happens that he would be sorry to see her brought back to life again,” because, however he may feel torn by the sadness aroused in him by the display of the funeral and by the loss of the person whose company he was so accustomed that it may be that some remnants of love or of pity for her occur in his imagination, drawing genuine tears from his eyes, he cannot help but feel “at the same time a secret joy in his innermost soul, and the emotion of this joy has such power that the concomitant sadness and tears can do nothing to diminish its force.”[24] In what way this ‘secret joy in his innermost soul’ differs from sensuous joy caused by the actions of the body is described by Susan James that if the joy is the result of “an involuntary memory of his wife’s complaining, together with his realization that he will never have to humour her again,” it is a passion proper caused by the pineal gland, and would be distinguished from the intellectual joy originating in the soul alone. Rather, for this ‘secret joy’ to be an intellectual one, it needs to be the result of “a judgment based on a reflective assessment of his marriage” and hence needs to stand at one step removed from the bodily events.[25] I venture to disagree with her reading, for even such an assessment of his marriage must involve experiential referent, i.e. his actual marriage from experience. Further, if we look at the second example Descartes gives immediately after the funeral display example, even though at first glance, he seems to be talking about a completely different, and more relatable, example about the nature of intellectual joy. For he tells us of any feelings that are aroused by reading an adventure book or seeing a play acted out on a stage as a cause for an intellectual joy, since even when we feel overwhelmed by sadness in reading a protagonist die in a book, or feel terror in seeing a play, we nonetheless “have pleasure in feeling them aroused in us,” and such pleasure “may readily originate in sadness as in any of the other passions.”[26] This second example is about a joy that you feel in feeling various emotions, that is to say, you feel joy by virtue of having these passions, however sad you may be feeling. The funeral example, however, can be seen as a joy that you have only upon reflection on the experience. It is then a joy that can be felt only in retrospect. I do not believe that is what Descartes has in mind, and in fact, I believe the two examples he lists are meant to be read in tandem. Just as the second example about the joy you feel in feeling the passions, I believe the first example illustrates the same point in the more forcible way. In the funeral example, he brings out some of the most traumatic experience one could ever have, i.e. the death of a loved one. In such situations, the passions he feels of sadness are so extreme that there is no way one could feel a sensuous joy. But even in such extraneous circumstances, one cannot help but feel a ‘secret joy’ in the very act of feeling these acute passions that “the concomitant sadness and tears can do nothing to diminish its force.”[27] In this way, Descartes clearly illustrates the bifurcation of joy as an action in one sense – perceiving of the passions – and as a passion in another – sadness from the death of the loved one and excitement from reading of a book.

Having seen now how intellectual love and joy are to be conceived of in relation to the roles will and perception play, the problem raised at the beginning as to how the soul is said to possess intellectual love without it being united with the body which gives rise to agitations of the animal spirits, i.e. passions, in the soul becomes easier to grasp. For even though the soul perceives the body that is material as good and wills to be united with it, it is not the kind of love that terminates in the body – the soul does not desire the body for its materiality but it is the very union with such a body that the soul loves, and it is this very recognition of the union that makes the soul feel joy. In other words, the soul loves the very thought of being united with the body it perceives as good and agreeable to itself. This explains also why the soul is united to a particular body as opposed to another body elsewhere, for the very constitution of various bodies gives the soul an option to choose from as to which body is so constituted that it agrees with the soul in particular. Perhaps this still does not explain whether soul is individuated prior to the union, but from what Descartes tells Princess Elizabeth about how to properly conceive of the mind and body as well as their union, it seems blatantly obvious that we cannot think of the soul in terms of divisibility that is a principal attribute of body substance and not of mind substance. He also writes to Mersenne in July of 1644 that there is no wonder in our inability to imagine what the soul is like, for “our imagination is capable of representing only objects of sense-perception,” the soul cannot be represented by a corporeal image.[28] As for the reciprocity of intellectual love between the soul and the body, it is perhaps explained in the similar vein as I did above about how it is possible for the body-less soul to have intellectual love for the body. Simply, it is not the body that the soul desires but rather the union with that specific body that agrees with the soul that it loves. Being united with the body, the body reciprocates love by simply being agreeable to the soul. Hence, so long as the body remains to be in the functioning condition, the soul remains united with it, explaining why the soul is united with the body for as long as it does.


[1] See Louis de la Forge, Traité de l’esprit de l’homme (1664) for instance.

[2] Descartes, The Passions of the Souls, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes.

[3] Ibid, art. 1.

[4] Ibid., 5.

[5] Descartes, to Chanut, 1 February 1647.

[6] Ibid.

[7] These are love, joy, sadness and desire.

[8] It is certainly unclear what it means for the body to reciprocate the love of the soul, but it will be made clearer once I have elucidated my main thesis.

[9] Descartes, To Chanut, 1 February 1647. (italics mine)

[10] Ibid.

[11] Passions of the Soul, 18.

[12] Ibid. italics mine.

[13] Deborah J. Brown, “Wonder ad Love” in Descartes and the Passionate Mind, 147.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 149.

[16] Ibid., 19.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 29.

[20] The Passions of the Soul, 18.

[21] Ibid., 19.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Passions of the Soul, 147.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Susan James, Passions and Actions: the emotions in Seventeenth Century Philosophy, 198.

[26] Passions of the Soul, 147.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Descartes to Mersenne, July 1644.

An_Experiment_on_a_Bird_in_an_Air_Pump_by_Joseph_Wright_of_Derby,_1768
I

“…the distinction drawn since the Enlightenment between the universal and the particular was revealed to be false, because what had been called universal was the particular from the point of view of power… [and similarly] subjective/objective division was revealed to be false, because the objective standpoint was specifically the view from the male position of power.” – Catherine A. MacKinnon,

“Are Women Human?”[1]

Can there be a feminist science? Helen Longino asks in her article in a socio-political context. Though with some reservation, her answer is yes, but on condition that we change the present conceptual framework in which science is promoted in view of making money and waging war, i.e. our science must meet standards set by the social, political, and economic contexts.[2] But what must we do if we want to achieve that goal? Do we need to abandon everything about our society and start from the scratch? Or are we, with the postmodernists, to deny the reality and reject the possibility of rationality and of coming to terms with one another? More importantly, are we not stuck in this perpetual debate about what rationality is and is not without making visible progress? By continuously criticizing among the scholarly circles that we are against totalizing discourses, are we not guilty of academic elitism? What does a “totalizing discourse” even mean?[3] In this paper, I will use Deborah K. Heikes’ recently published book, “The Virtue of Feminist Rationality”, to discuss the three prominent feminist theories of science on the binary tensions (i.e. between objective and subjective, between reason and emotion, etc…) that we have looked at in class, and argue with Heikes that rationality is not only compatible with, but also preferable to, feminist science. As Heikes lays out in a concise manner, these three approaches can be summarized as follows: 1) feminist empiricism: allows the binary oppositions to be genuine but claims women’s equal alignment with the valorized term, 2) standpoint theory, et al.: allows the opposition but valorizes the traditionally half of each pair, and 3) postmodernism: rejects the oppositions entirely.[4] In arguing for the notion of rationality that encompasses many of the demands appealing to the feminists from all three approaches, I hope to show my understanding of Heikes’ attempt to harmonize the disputes among the feminists and to unify the account of rationality as a virtue concept by introducing the idea of reasonableness. I shall, first, start with the problems with the postmodernist approach, and instead, propose that the virtue ethics can offer us into the right direction.

II

“…the secrets of nature are better revealed under the torture of experiments than when they follow their natural course.”[5] – Francis Bacon

In Novum Organum, Francis Bacon set up a project that promoted inductive reasoning and experimental science. Nature, endowed with generative principle, was likened to femininity, and at the same time became the object to be experimented upon, to be subordinated to masculinity and to be conquered by men. With Descartes, reason became independent from emotion, firmly establishing mind-body dichotomy. From thence on, scientific enterprise became associated with mind, reason, and objectivity while matters of insignificance and uncertainties were viewed as bodily, irrational and subjective; or simply, feminine. In this scheme, women had no place in intellectual arena. After all, women are seen as passivity; bodily appetites and emotions can only disrupt the intellective activity of forming ideas by attentive mind. Even though Descartes’ notion of mind had no gender, mind is an essentially active principle, and reason is essentially distinct from body so much so that Descartes himself could not explain how mind and body interact with one another.[6] Such an essentially disembodied, disengaged and self-sufficient entity as mind is not part of this world; it is utterly detached, separated and distinct from the world of objects it can attend onto to itself and its own ideas. In this way, reason obtains objectivity so as to ground the objective knowledge of a world independent of myself.[7] This view of science as a quest for objectivity, rationality, and hence conquest of men [masculinity] over nature [femininity] outlined the scientific thinking of the Enlightenment up to the present era. No wonder, then, Victor Frankenstein absolutely refused to create a female counterpart to the alchemically created monster in Mary Shelley’s novel. Frankenstein wanted to create the society devoid of emotion and bodily distractions.[8] In a society whose preoccupation was a scientific certainty, surely women would have no place to be. This is also why the women in Laputa desire to leave, for male-dominated as it is, the men only think about mathematical formulae and busy themselves with astronomy. Jonathan Swift captures well on the social roles ascribed to women when he depicts women as adulterous and always longing for bodily pleasure, while the husbands are oblivious of their wives’ affairs because they are too busy with abstractions.[9]

Rationality or objectivity has achieved the status of being a metaphysical template for which any persons claiming to be rational or objective must fit. Such metanarrative has been criticized by many feminist thinkers as well as by the postmodernists. For according to this view, “good” science must meet the criteria set up in the course of scientific revolution – the criteria that exclude emotions, subjectivity and anything men have associated with femininity. That there is such a fixed metanarrative is utterly denied by the postmodern feminists, such as Haraway or as presented by Bordo, who view the concept of situated knowledge as impossible.[10] For the postmodernists, the epistemological perspective of the knower is simply free of the physical locations and limitations of embodied existence, and a ‘feminine’ body can “identify with and enter into the perspectives of others, to accept change and fluidity as features of reality.”[11] As such, such multiplicity of perspectives can easily escape taking responsibilities for which their otherwise situated body must take. At this point, Bordo perhaps rightly asks, “what sort of body is it that is free to change its location and shape at will, that can become anyone and travel anywhere?” Since the body is supposed to be the locatedness in space and time, i.e. the finitude of human knowledge and perception, the postmodern body is not a body at all.[12] This is what Catherine MacKinnon means when she also criticizes the postmodernist attitude of reality,

Postmodernism derealizes social reality by ignoring it, by refusing to be accountable to it, and, in a somewhat new move, by openly repudiating any connection with an “it” by claiming “it” is not there. Postmodernism is a flag flown by a diverse congeries, motley because lack of unity is their credo and they feel no need to be consistent… Postmodern feminists seldom build on or refer to the real lives of real women directly; mostly, they build on the work of Frenchmen, if selectively and often not very well.[13]

MacKinnon is right, when she questions the ‘grand narratives’ of feminist theory as described by Lyotard and as criticized by Nancy Fraser and Linda Nicholson as being non-postmodern feminism and quasi-metanarratives. These grand-narratives are purportedly anti-essentialist in that “there is no such thing as ‘women’ because there are always other aspects to women’s identities and bases other than sex for their oppression.”[14] The postmodernists get rid of standpoint and perspectives, and see ‘women’ as homogeneous and plural concept, but as MacKinnon observes, it is not certain where they get the idea of ‘women’ in the feminist theory as an abstract entity. Perhaps, anything and everything is an abstract entity in the theory where ‘quasi’ can be prefixed to ‘meta’ anything.[15]

However, as Longino concerns, what postmodernists and feminists are essentially worried about is “the idea that there is a template of rationality in which all discourses fit.”[16] In other words, “any appeal to a universal will erase diversity and perpetuate the myth of neutrality and objectivity. That is, it will perpetuate masculine ideals of rationality.[17] This is a fair worry, since as we have seen, women have always been denied moral and epistemic agency through the invention of reason-emotion dichotomy. But if we reject the possibility of metanarratives completely, do we not also lose the very possibility of defending claims to injustice and to women’s rights as rational agents?[18] Does such a move not pose “the threat of fragmentation and incommensurability that come with the absence of all universals?”[19] How are we to reconcile this tension? Deborah Heikes here proposes a type of virtue theory that takes into account of the major dissatisfactions of the feminists with the concept of rationality, and tries to situate rationality as a context-based concept that can only exist within diversity. In order to do so, we must bypass the scientific invention of rationality, and go back to the pre-modern concept of what rationality is. In other words, we must get rid of the relatively recent notion of the rationality as a tool for scientific discoveries, and look at the broader concept of rationality.

III

“I believe that Aristotle’s account of human functioning does offer us a promising way of criticizing [the inequality of women. Although] Aristotelian feminism [is] concerned not just with gender, but also with class. Its goal becomes general goal of capability equality, its enemies whatever structures – economic or cultural or political or religious – prevent equality from being realized. This, I think, is as it should be, since I think that American feminism is too much propelled by questions of narrow self-interest, too little by a more generous and general concern for human functioning.”[20] – Martha Nussbaum

Sandra Harding criticizes the notion of objectivity/neutrality for not being able to detect the scientific methods that “arise from widespread criticisms in feminist, anti-racist, postcolonial, environmental and other movements for social justice that systematically distorted results of research in the natural and social sciences.”[21] Hence, she makes a distinction between the objectivity in the traditional sense and the objectivity in the sense she uses it, calling the former strong objectivity and the latter weak objectivity or objectivism. The strong objectivity, she argues, provides us with a method that can detect a) values and interests that constitute scientific projects, b) ones that do not vary between legitimated observers and c) the difference between those values and interests that enlarge and those that limit our images of nature and social relations.[22] And this is done by recognizing the social inequality and start off from there in order to explain not only those marginalized lives but also the rest of the micro and macro social order.[23] In this way, the strong objectivity, or the standpoint theory, distances itself from the postmodern concept of women as a homogeneous and abstract entity, but rather tries to aim at a collective political and theoretical achievement. This point is further made obvious when she writes that “standpoint theory is not arguing that there is some kind of essential, universal woman’s life from which feminists should start their thought.”[24] This notion of strong objectivity, she argues, is unlike the traditional sense of neutrality and impartiality that do not take into account of any social situations in that strong objectivity believes that “[i]n any particular research situation, one is to start off research from the lives of those who have been disadvantaged by, excluded from the benefit of, the dominant conceptual framework.”[25]

This is all good and fine. We do need a theory that is not only inclusive and sensitive to the socially disadvantaged but that is also capable of “maximizing our ability to block ‘might makes right’ in the sciences.”[26]  But what I find lacking in the standpoint theory is that Harding does not say how this social attitude can be acquired in any near future, and even if it is implemented, the project seems too narrowly-focused in the sense that it is essentially concerned with the socially oppressed in doing science (e.g. social science, political science, et al.) rather than putting an proportionate weight to all structures that prevent equality so as to achieve an overall healthy, ethical society. Further, the standpoint theory is at this point, as Harding herself admits, a theory. I agree with Heikes that “instead of focusing narrowly on particular debates within academic feminism, we should follow Martha Nussbaum’s advice to engage in a broader concern with human functioning, which is ultimately the concern of rationality.”[27] I believe feminist issues in society and science are even larger and graver than a theory whose focus is somewhat localized. We need not just a theory to be less false, but an action and attitude that is less false. For this, I now turn to the exposition of virtue theory and feminist rationality as expounded by Heikes.

IV

“As Aristotle tells us about ethics: the point is not to know the good but to actually be good. The same is true for our cognitive endeavors: the point is not to define rationality but to be rational.”[28] – Deborah Heikes

Here, what needs to be clarified is 1) whether the concept of rationality is, as most feminist literature suggests, inherently masculine, and 2) what is meant by rationality. For if rationality is inherently masculine and is in fact inseparable from male thinking, it does not seem to explain how almost universally feminists come to the rational conclusion that the inclusion of women in the social, political and moral lives in their communities is to be realized. And this reasoning happens even in the cultures that are largely content with their practice of exclusion of women. Not only does this not square with the claim that rationality is inherently masculine, but also if the claim is true, such feminists’ arguments that argue for the inclusion of women “lack intellectual authority and offer little ground for the cessation of exclusionary and oppressive practices for those cultures happily engaging in such practices.”[29] As Heikes argue, “[i]f masculinity is truly inseparable from rationality and feminist must abandon it, we stand to lose a great deal.”[30] It seems that we cannot simply get rid of rationality as inherently masculine, as such a claim involves a necessary circular argument. Indeed, giving up rationality is a complete philosophical surrender, since without rationality, normative claims such as equality and inclusion of women, et al. in epistemology, metaphysics and ethics lack sufficient grounds for their defense.[31] What is rationality then? The mainstream notion of rationality that is the center of attention or criticism is in fact not how rationality was always conceived. The mind-body, reason-emotion and objective-subjective dichotomies are inventions of the Early Modern period when the scientific revolution was at its peak. So it is understandable that we look at the period and seek for the justification for critiquing the social construct of women as the inferior of the binary pair. It seems to make sense to point at specific period in time and say, “Look, ever since the moment science was conducted, women were divorced from the intellectual activity!” But to do so is to accept the dichotomous thinking artificially invented by the male predecessors. To keep criticizing the dichotomy is to fall into the prey of the Enlightenment thinking. As I alluded earlier, this was the time when science was conducted under torture to find out what nature can do, as opposed to what nature does. Why do we need to stick to the conception of what rationality is, defined by the conductors of experimental science? The traditional concept up to then of science was to understand the nature in its natural unfolding, and not in its violent motion, as Aristotle would have it. The rationality defined in the scientific revolution is the rationality defined violently, i.e. contrary to how it is. Why not return to the original sense of the meaning of rationality, which posed in no way a mutual exclusive relationship with emotion, etc.? For virtue theory of Aristotelian feminism, rationality is heavily contextualized and cannot exist without emotion. The dichotomy is still there, but the binary distinction is not diametrically opposed with one another. It is interdependent. If we look at rationality in its pre-modern understanding “that understands reason as a faculty that engages the world in a variety of ways, we find a much broader and richer concept” of rationality.[32] As Heikes argues, “[i]f we take rationality to be a virtue concept, we can move the feminist debate beyond the issues that have occupied it for several decades.”[33] Would that not be a marvelous thing? Virtue ethics takes emotion to be integral part of rational cognition. Therefore, it naturally follows that “social and cultural differences matter in determining the rationality of belief and action, and that objectivity cannot be a matter of achieving some transcendent, value-neutral perspective.”[34] In fact, taking rationality as a purely methodological concept admits of no distinction between reasoning well and reasoning poorly – you are either right or wrong. While one cannot be rational and wrong at the same time with the Enlightenment conception of rationality, with the broader conception of rationality, i.e. virtue rationality, one can reason poorly and still be rational at the same time. The task for the virtue theorists is then to determine who better express rationality in the continuum, and why.[35] This is because the broader conception of rationality, like the strong objectivity of Harding, situates rationality as “embodied and is always responding to the world around it rather than being disengaged from the world.”[36] What is distinctively different from the standpoint theory of Harding about rationality as a virtue concept is that feminist rationality admits of reasonableness, which is a strong tool for assessing a perspective while not denying rationality to such a perspective. For instance, Heikes discusses from her own experience that she has once met a male philosopher who felt perfectly at ease to express to her that women cannot act professionally when they were talking about some third female faculty member whose behaviors were actually far from professional. In referencing this side story in passing, Heikes that this man’s automatic reaction about women are unreasonable rather than irrational, as “[p]erfectly intelligent human beings whose rationality would otherwise never come into doubt can express an uneducable second nature, but this should not necessarily lead us to question the person’s rationality.”[37] Bad reasoning, indeed, does not imply the lack of rationality.

Reasonableness, then, in this way, “gives us a means to determine, in a principled manner, which views to discount, not because they are necessarily false, but because they are uncooperative and exclusionary.”[38] Four central qualities Heikes take to be for reasonableness are objectivity, fallibilism, pragmatism and judiciousness. By objectivity, she means simply that we are able to step back from our own situated self, rather than detach ourselves entirely to acquire a bird’s eye view, and acknowledge and engage with other points of view. The idea here is the willingness to genuinely listen and respond to alternatives.[39] In this way, reasonableness asks us to not only to consider those views that support our own, but also those views that oppose to ours. By fallibilism is meant the ability to be able to make cognitive mistakes and admit that one is wrong, as well as the capacity to reflect on how mistakes are made and why one has made them.[40] Because virtue rationality is grounded in experience and shared practices, which are by no means free of errors, those who cannot admit of their own mistakes or are incapable of reflecting upon their own actions show a certain unreasonableness.[41] Judiciousness in reasonableness is demonstrated when Heikes discusses about children who find tobacco and are tempted to try it out. Reasonable adults would judiciously wait and see through the event without asserting themselves in the situation. The result is that the kids experience a bitter encounter with tobacco and heuristically come to discover that tobacco makes them sick. In the end, the adult achieves the desired outcome, i.e. not to encourage smoking, simply through inaction. Such character too is a sign of reasonableness.[42] Lastly, pragmatism asks us to act contextually depending on the practical needs necessary within the given context. Sometimes, the context demands little precision as in the case of telling a vacation story to a friend, whereas at another time it may require a great precision, as in a case for testifying at a court of law.[43] Reasonable people, she argues, understand this and remain sensitive to the varying contexts. In addition, reasonable people must understand that they do not need to know everything and cannot know everything, because their human condition have limits to what we can know. We must then assess each situation within the context we find ourselves in, and such exercises must necessarily “show reasonableness to lie more within the domain of the subjective, personal, and social aspects of our lives.”[44] As Heikes tells us, “it is in the shift to reasonableness that feminists can truly find an expansion of the realm of the rational into subjective and emotive aspects of human life. [For r]easonable people will not ignore human needs and purposes.”[45] Once again, there is no clear demarcation between reason and emotion in the rationality as a virtue concept, and to expect such a distinction is to accept the Enlightenment way of thinking. By bypassing the scientific revolution and going back to the original conception of rationality, we find an account of rationality that rejects modernism.

V

In conclusion, I believe that Heikes succeeds in providing us with the virtue theory that reconceives many of the feminist concerns about destructiveness of polarized thinking seen in the traditional dichotomy in the line of what Martha Nussbaum would call Aristotelian Feminism. Her account of feminist virtue theory includes a broader conception of rationality that situates rationality in experience and contexts, and sees the traditional philosophical dichotomies of reason and emotion et al. as not mutually exclusive concepts but as interdependent aspects of what it means to be a human. This way of reconceiving the issues also reconciles and is compatible with a lot of feminist worries about the association of masculinity with rationality, and promotes the view that rationality really is an activity that engages with the world and requires constant assessment of its practice for even though there is a standard of rationality, i.e. a rational person, this standard is neither fixed nor transcendent. Claims that appeal to such a standard, I believe, allows feminists to ground their basic metaphysical, epistemological and ethical claims about social inequality, oppression and injustice.[46]


[1] Catherine A. MacKinnon, “Postmodernism and Human Rights” in Are Women Human? 46.

[2] Helen E. Longino, “Can There Be A Feminist Science?” in Hypatia.

[3] This is a criticism raised by MacKinnon against postmodernists in general, but in particular she has Donna Haraway in mind of her article “Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980’s” where Haraway writes, “Fragmentation, indeterminancy, and intense distrust of all universal or ‘totalizing’ discourses (to use the favoured phrase) are the hallmark of postmodernist thought.” See footnotes on MacKinnon’s article “Postmodernism and Human Rights.”

[4] Deborah K. Heikes, The Virtue of Feminist Rationality, 11.

[5] Francis Bacon, Novum Organum Bk. I Aphorism 98. The phrase is variously translated and on some versions read, “…so things in Nature that are hidden reveal themselves more readily under vexations of art than when they follow their own course.”

[6] See primarily Descartes’ correspondence with Princess Elizabeth for the discussions on the mind-body union.

[7] Heikes, Feminist Rationality, 29.

[8] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

[9] Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels.

[10] See Bordo, “Feminism, Postmodernism and Gender-Scepticism”, or/and Haraway, “Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980’s”.

[11] Bordo.

[12] Ibid.

[13] MacKinnon, “Postmodernism and Human Rights” in Are Women Human? 49, 55.

[14] MacKinnon, 51.

[15] See MacKinnon, footnote. “No ‘meta’ I have ever encountered has also been ‘quasi.’”

[16] Longino quoted in Heikes. The article from which this excerpt is from is “Circles of Reason: Some Feminist Reflections on Reason and Rationality” (2005) Episteme 2(1): 79-88.

[17] Heikes, 42.

[18] Ibid, 41.

[19] Ibid, 42.

[20] Martha Nussbaum quoted in Heikes. “Aristotle, Feminism and Needs for Functioning”, Texas Law Review 70 (4): 1019-28.

[21] Sandra Harding, “Strong Objectivity” in Syntheses 40:3, Feminism and Science (Sep. 1995), 331-349.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Heikes, 6.

[28] Heikes, 44.

[29] Heikes, 46.

[30] Heikes, 20.

[31] Heikes, 9.

[32] Heikes, 7.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Heikes, 31.

[35] Heikes, 58.

[36] Heikes, 31.

[37] Heikes, 64.

[38] Heikes, 65.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Heikes, 66.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Heikes, 67.

[43] Heikes, 68.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Heikes, 70.

“Neighbors are presumed to be hostile and may be witches. They spy on you and rob your garden, no matter how poor you may be. You should never discuss your affairs in front of them or let them know in case you acquire sudden wealth by some stroke of magic, for they will denounce you as a thief if they fail to steal it themselves.”

- Robert Darnton, “The Great Cat Massacre”[1]

witches preparing infants

I began my research on the history of witchcraft in order to find out whether there was any theoretical as well as philosophical basis for being labeled as witches, and if there was, whether such a requirement was consistently applied in identifying witches. Further, if they were identified as such according to a rigorous systematic investigation, whether the authorities who persecuted the witches had any legitimate grounds for arresting, torturing and in many cases burning them. Moreover, if the primal reasons for prosecuting them were their alleged association with the devils and their ‘superior’ understanding of medicinal practices, whether there were any philosophical evidence that the witches were indeed serving the devils, from whom they supposedly acquired their skills for midwifery, and if they constituted as magic – that is, in what respect were their methods of healing different from those practiced by barber-surgeons during the same period. The common beliefs about witches also intrigued me to further study the literature so as to get to the bottom of it, so to speak, and uncover whatever philosophical arguments made for the witches’ use of ‘flying ointment’ in order that they could be transported through space and time instantaneously to the Sabbath, where they expressly met with the devils for orgiastic rituals. In doing my research, I also wished to explicate whether such orgiastic rituals had any significance (for instance, why did they have to do it?) as well as elucidating the philosophy behind their cannibalistic nature in devouring unbaptized children.

Thus, I set out to answer, at least, some of the questions I had regarding the witchcraft, only to find myself wandering about from texts to texts without encountering a bit of theoretical rigor in the reasoning propounded by the prosecutors. Assuredly, the most infamous manual for witch-hunt was Malleus Maleficarum, or the Hammer of Witches, co-written by the two Dominican Inquisitors, Heninrich Godfrey Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, in 1486 and published in the following year. In this book, which is written in the form of a scholastic disputation – much like that of Thomas Aquinas’ – the authors made a giant leap in claiming that the disbelief in witchcraft is in itself a heresy, for “such an opinion is altogether contrary to the authority of the saints and is founded upon absolute infidelity” and therefore “those err who say there is no such thing as witchcraft.”[2] In this way, Kramer and Sprenger established the existence of witchcraft, and subsequently labeled those who did not believe in witchcraft adamant heretics and the enemy of the Catholicism. This is somewhat troublesome – for if you profess that you do not believe in witchcraft, you are a heretic to be prosecuted, but if you say that you believe in witchcraft, you must explain what makes you believe that witchcraft exists. You cannot say that you believe in witchcraft because you are a witch, so the only conceptual resort you have left is to say that you have seen it happen. However, if you have seen it happen, then you must report such an incident, otherwise they believe that you are hiding a witch, or you yourself are a witch. So now you are involuntarily pushed to the edge and forced to ‘confess’ and name someone whom you have never seen performing the said witchcraft.

Granted that the Inquisitors did not go around asking people if they believed in witchcraft or why, the psychological pressure for the people to believe in witchcraft must have been high. This conceptual twist set the scene for the grand scale witch-hunt to take place offered no possibility of anybody speaking out that there was no such thing as witchcraft. Why did they have to insist that witchcraft was real? This is because the witchcraft signified the pagan rituals, and the pagan religion threatened the advancement of Christianity during the medieval period. Hence, this explains why witches were believed to be worshipping the ‘devil’ named Diana, a pagan god from whose name the Latin word for god, deus, is derived. In the same vein of reasoning, paganism came to be associated with black magic, as opposed to high or white magic. Magic could be anything that requires rituals in order to bring about a desired effect, often to solve a crisis or avoid bad luck. So in reciting a prayer, a priest is said to be invoking heavenly assistance to guide the people to safety. Because magic was a necessary component not only in religion but also in science (alchemy and divination were referred as high magic), a distinction was made between magic that is beneficial and magic that is harmful (maleficia).

Witches, then, were those pagans who practiced religious rituals according to their own religion, independently from Christianity. They were seen as heretics, as they did not observe what the Church ordained them to observe. Heretics could not possibly worship God, and therefore, what the pagans called their god must be nothing but a devil in disguise. In this way, witches (or malefici/maleficae, as the performers of maleficia were referred as) were conceptually associated with ‘bad doings’ (male + facere). In people’s mind, witchcraft and diabolism – the worship of the Devil – therefore came hand in hand.[3] Because those who came to be accused of performing witchcraft could also be the wielders of high magic, and because high magic required one to be literate and erudite, men as well as women were subject to such accusations.[4]

As we now know what witches are, we can ask if these people who were called witches actually performed maleficia, sacrificing unbaptized children as offerings for the Devil, flying on a broomstick at night, instantaneously transporting themselves through space. The common belief such as the mass gathering of witches at the Sabbath, devouring the infants along with the devils, has yet never been witnessed.[5] Because the belief in the night flight of the witches is tightly connected with the belief in the Sabbath (as night flight of the witches was a necessary explanation if witches need to gather in one distant place during the night and all go home by morning), this belief is also groundless, and hence rather an ad-hoc belief to justify the already existent belief of the Sabbath. This may explain why there seemed not to be any potent properties in the recipes for the flying ointment, which was applied to the vehicle of flight. Unlike the powder of sympathy or alchemically prepared medicament in the later periods, the ingredients for the flying ointment seems arbitrary at best, and the recipe is supported by no theoretical framework. Surely, the excrement from toads may have had a hallucinogenic effect, yet the other ingredients like bat’s blood and soot would not have had any significance but incite abomination in ordinary people for those who used them.[6] Even the application of a hallucinogenic substance has nothing to do with the flying ability but only suggests that those witches who confessed to have flown to the Sabbath may have been hallucinating. In fact, twentieth century experiments with the ingredients showed that these ointments “contained atropines and other poisons which, when rubbed into the skin, can produce high excitement, delusion and lifelike dreams.”[7] Further, witches were said to fly on a number of different objects, among them are sticks forked in the manner of a divining rod, pitchforks or tridents as well as animals. However, these can also be explained by the fact that divination was associated with the pagan rituals, tridents are traditionally what devils carry, and animal sacrifices were the norms in paganism. In the light of these findings, orgiastic rituals that the witches allegedly performed with the devils may have socio-historical significance, but not so much with regard to philosophy. What was made up without evidence or theory is an important factor to be considered in doing a social history, but in doing philosophy it is nothing but a vacuous claim. Similarly, official records tell us that witches would often steal milk from neighbours’ cows[8] or deprive men of their virile member[9], but how they did it is unknown, but only that it happened so that those witches could “collect male organ in great numbers, as many as twenty or thirty members together, and put them in a bird’s nest, or shut them up in a box, where they move themselves like living members, and eat oats and corn.”[10] The belief that one’s penis disappears can be psychiatrically analyzed in terms of koro, but it is highly unlikely that those who claimed to have their penis deprived suffered the same gradual process of torment in losing their penis as koro patients do.[11] Devouring of unbaptized infants can also be traced back to the Christian conception of Paganism, as pagans were often distinguished from Christians by their barbaric customs such as cannibalism and uncivilized manner of living. As a result, what is most repulsive to think about were associated with them who lived outside the commonsense. The reason why only the unbaptized infants were the witches’ targets is probably to encourage and promote christening of the children, which would offer them a supposed immunity from witchcraft. In light of all this, it seems safe to say that the alleged orgiastic rituals of the witches with the demons at the Sabbath too had only a socio-historical significance rather than a philosophical one.

Perhaps a word or two needs to be said about the witches’ extensive knowledge about medicinal recipes, using herbs or animals. In fact, this is what I set out to discover, amongst other things already mentioned, which is to find out what sort of medical knowledge these alleged witches as well as midwives in the period had. For one of the claims we hear often about the witches is that they used herbs or exotic ingredients extensively in order to cure or harm others according to socially unacceptable means, i.e. magic. This is what distanced the ‘witches’ from barber-surgeons or physicians of the time. Respected doctors cure by means of physical contact or divine intervention. What this divine intervention amounts to is difficult to observe, but one can see why a group of people who apparently cured or harmed others by performing action from distance to be suspected of getting help from the devils. For one thing, such a means never offers a consistent result, but also even if it works, its inner working is hidden from rational explanation. This is also why in the 17th century Europe, some of the alchemical cures were thought to be rendering devil’s help, and thus must be condemned as heretical.[12] Just as we have seen earlier, the belief that the witches used bat’s blood or excrement of a toad, if true, abhors us. If such a means could cure people, it must be the work of the devil.[13] Indeed, the standard belief was that magic could not be performed without idolatry, i.e. the invocation of evil spirits, as all forms of magic was a result of magicians making pacts with the devil, as we have seen.[14] However, if we look closely, not only medieval high/white magic[15] but also classical medicine from the early Christianity is teemed with such practices. For example, Apuleius, the 2nd century Latin prose writer, believed that “nails from cross possess magical potency”, drawing from a folk belief that “fingers and noses of crucified individuals have great power,” a clear reference to the relics of Christ.[16] Augustine in the 5th century also acknowledged “the mysterious qualities of the magnet, the power of goat’s blood to shatter the otherwise indestructible adamant, and the salamander’s capacity to survive fire.”[17] Furthermore, a manuscript from Gaul around the year 800 on the uses of vulture contains an account of a cure:

“The skull, wrapped in the skin of a deer, cures headaches. Its brains, mixed with unguent and stuffed into the nose, are effective against head ailments. The kidneys and testicles cure impotence if they are dried out, pulverized, and administered in wine.”[18]

Another treatise on everyday medicine, known as the leechbook of Bald, from the 10th century, speaks in the minutest detail on the recipe of the medicine for skin disease:

“Take goose-fat, and the lower part of elecampane and viper’s bugloss, bishop’s wort, and cleavers. Pound the four herbs together well, squeeze them out, and add a spoonful of old soap. If you have a little oil, mix it in thoroughly and lather it on at night. Scratch the neck after sunset, and silently pour the blood into running water, spit three times after it, then say ‘Take this disease and depart with it.’ Go back to the house by an open road, and go each way in silence.”[19]

This is a combination of herbal medicine and the procedure for transferring illness to running water, which is magical, and such a practice would be likened to witchcraft in a few hundred years later. This prescription is most likely a compilation of recipes from various sources, but it is truly a wonder what the ‘scratching of the neck after sunset’ has anything to do with it.

It is true that witches were said to have used not only herbs and animal parts but also used infants, taking “a bone from an unbaptized baby out to a crossroad, burying it there, and saying various formulas on that spot over nine days.”[20] Yet, there seems nothing essentially different from folk medicine listed above that was not condemned as heretical. Indeed, no Inquisitors of witch-hunt cared about what people in the past had practiced, but only that there were witches who were doing what the Inquisitors deemed condemnable at that time. This fact alone is a proof that this event, witchcraft, was not philosophical in nature and it never intended to be treated as such by the contemporary. For if it was meant to be philosophical, and if it was concerned with making coherent sense to make the correct judgment according to their religious commitment, witchcraft too had to be treated rigorously as the case was with the doctrine of transubstantiation, which included the thorough analysis of its history from the first use of its term in the 8th century onwards for finding any contradictions or inconsistencies so that the belief in it would be as error free as one could be.[21]

In conclusion, I have not been able to find in witchcraft anything that pertains to a systematic investigation of theoretical justifications for making accusations of, arresting, prosecuting, torturing, executing the witches, nor did I find any substantial grounds for which why we should believe witches must exist or what qualifies one as a witch. The whole rhetorical framework under which people were operating sums up the entire project of witch-hunt well: “it has never yet been known that an innocent person has been punished on suspicion of witchcraft, and there is no doubt that God will never permit such a thing to happen.”[22] In other words, if someone is executed as a witch, he must have been a witch, and there is no mistake about it that he was a witch. It tantamount to say that whoever dies is a witch and whoever doesn’t is not a witch. In the world of such arbitrariness, surely there is no meaningful philosophy to be found.


[1] Robert Darnton, “Peasants Tell Tales,” in The Great Cat Massacre, 54 (NY: Basic Books, Inc., 1984).

[2] Kramer, Heinrich Godfrey & Sprenger, Jacob, Malleus Maleficarum (1487), Part 1, Question 1.

[3] Brian P. Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (London, UK: Pearson Education Limited, 1987), 4-8.

[4] The ratio throughout Europe between the male witches and female witches accused, convicted and executed is about 1:4, with the only exception in France where more male witches were executed. See Witchcraft in Europe: 400-1700, edited by Alan Charles and Edward Peters.

[5] See Levack, 19. “…there is no proof that witches ever gathered in large numbers for any purpose, diabolical or otherwise.”

[6] Ibid., 49. See also for the extensive research done by Sarah Lawless on her blog for more information, http://witchofforestgrove.com/2011/09/10/on-flying-ointments/

[7] Ibid.

[8] See Malleus Maleficarum for how the witches are said to dry up the milk from the cows. “…a witch will sit down in a corner of her house with a pail between her legs, stick a knife or some instrument in the wall or a post, and make as if to milk it with her hands. Then she summons her familiar who always works with her in everything, and tells him that she wishes to milk a certain cow from a certain house, which is healthy and abounding in milk. And suddenly the devil takes the milk from the udder of that cow, and brings it to where the witch is sitting, as if it were flowing from the knife.” Part 2, chapter 14.

[9] Malleus Maleficarum tells us of an instance of which a young man lost his member, but having confronted the woman with violence whom he suspected to have bewitched him, she restored to him the health of his body. He then “plainly felt, before he had verified it by looking or touching, that his member had been restored to him by mere touch of the witch.” Part 2, chapter 7.

[10] Malleus Maleficarum, ibid.

[11] See Ivan Crozier’s scholarly article, “Making Up Koro: Multiplicity, Psychiatry, Culture, and Penis-Shrinking Anxieties,” on more details for koro disease. In the article, witches are also believed to be the cause of it as well.

[12] Of this, the most obvious example is the aforementioned ‘Powder of Sympathy’ – for more information on this medicament, see my article on the Weapon-Salve at http://isseicreekphilosophy.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/sympathetic-magic-the-weapon-salve-and-the-powder-of-sympathy-in-the-17th-century-europe/

[13] Though, here, the basic underlining theme is not too different from that of early modern alchemists, who believed that nature hides the most valuable secret in least appealing places. Hence the belief in the transmutation of base metals into the high metals, and similarly, phosphorus was discovered out of fermented dungs and human feces.

[14] See also Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, 39. Also Richard Keickhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 41.

[15] An activity that was included in the broad definition of witchcraft, i.e. white witchcraft, which normally denoted “either the practice of magical healing or the use of rather crude forms of divination in order to foretell the future, locate lost objects or identify enemies. See Levack, 11.

[16] Keickhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages, 36.

[17] Ibid., 39.

[18] Quoted from Keickhefer, 66.

[19] Quoted from Keickhefer, 64. A leechbook is a doctor’s book, and Bald is the name of the person that appears in a poem in the book for whom this book was written.

[20] Ibid., 59.

[21] For a detailed historiography on the philosophy of transubstantiation, see my article at http://isseicreekphilosophy.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/history-and-philosophy-of-transubstantiation/

[22] Malleus Maleficarum, Part 2, chapter 11.

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