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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.

I: What is Ninja?

As popular as Ninja may be in our modern society, not much is known about them. This is due to the fact that Ninja were an organized intelligence agency that operated covertly in espionage, assassination, counter-intelligence and unconventional warfare. In a way, one could see Ninja as a prototype of the American CIA or the Russian KGB. Such was the nature of Ninja that their activities remained almost exclusively invisible for the general public. In fact, activities of Ninja were so secretive that no one knew who the Ninja were, and a Ninja whose name is most known to us is by definition a Ninja who did not do his job well done. In other words, the most skilled Ninja were the ones whose existence is not even known to us. Hence, it is not hard to understand why they did not leave any manuscripts, and thus scholars of Ninja must work with historical records left by the government officials and oftentimes secondhand account provided by the offspring of Ninja families, many of which were written three generations after the period in which Ninja were most active.[1]関ヶ原の戦い

During the Warring State Period, i.e. Sengoku Period, in the 16th century Japan, feudal lords were raising their army to conquer the lands and claim the country. Warfare in Japan was particularly advanced compared to that in Europe at the time both in the number of soldiers employed and in the preparations for the provisions. For example, the only countries in the world that could afford to mobilize soldiers over 100,000 in the 16th century were Ming Dynasty in China, India and Turks. Even the Hapsburg in Spanish Empire could only mobilize 50,000 soldiers in number. However, in Japan, at the end of Warring State Period in the 16th century, each feudal lord had about 20,000 soldiers at their disposal and in the Battle of Sekigahara (the battle which ended the Warring State Period and opened Edo period) in 1600, over 150,000 soldiers were mobilized. The number of soldiers employed in this battle exceeded the number of soldiers in all Europe combined.[2] From this, it also followed that the demand for swords, guns as well as food was accelerated, and those militia groups who could not keep up with the provisions were naturally at disadvantage. Driven by such necessities, Japanese were forced to find a way to maximize the communication system amongst themselves, while minimizing the leak of information to the outsiders. One of my aims in this paper is to briefly explain in what aspects of warfare Ninja were employed for and to what extent. In passing, a general philosophy of Ninja is discussed. Then, I will present their methods of activity as the collectivity in Japanese empirical science, discuss about the medical practices of Ninja, analyzing if what they practiced can be called a medical knowledge, and conclude with overview of their science. However, we must begin by discussing a little about the primary sources for my findings as well as a brief history regarding the origin of Ninja as such.正忍記

There are three Ninja manuscripts that we use as semi-primary sources. These are 1) Bansenshukai[3], 2) Shouninki[4] and 3) Ninpiden[5]. Each of these includes detailed descriptions on how-to guide for any aspiring Ninja to become one. Here, we might wonder why they cared to write down any of their secrets, if indeed their prosperity was dependent upon appropriation of their own unique knowledge. It seems to be the case that after entering Edo period, centuries-long conflict had ended, and there was not much demand for a covert political organization. Although Ninja still lived among people and trained for a possible employment in the near future, it became increasingly evident that Ninja were no longer needed in this peaceful time. As the name suggests, Ninja is someone who sneaks in with a sword over his heart.[6] It signifies someone whose life is always in danger of death, requiring an attentive performance to do the job, but the current state of affairs offered them no such situations. Ninja families, hence, decreased in number and gradually less and less people practiced Ninjutsu. Fearing that the techniques that once determined the course of Japanese history would become forever lost, the offspring of Ninja decided to write down their secrets. In this way, they chose to preserve their tradition rather than disappearing into the shadow of the history. The nature of their writings is such that there necessarily includes fabrication of techniques later added to exaggerate their merit and incredible accounts of their activities. It is even plausible that, although Ninja who wrote down their tradition were admired as Jo-Nin, they did not quite understand some of the techniques described there. Hence, historians of science must not take their records at face value, and instead try to distinguish a fable from a true claim by comparing various manuscripts passed down to us as well as performing empirical experiments.

Their essential activities, however, are known to us beyond dispute. These can be reduced into four divisions mentioned above, namely 1) espionage, 2) counter-intelligence, 3) conspiracy and 4) unconventional warfare. Ninja were most fitted for all of these activities than any other groups of people. For instance, their ability to move swiftly in small numbers enabled them to deliver information about the enemy’s movement or act in disguise in enemy’s territories to collect inside information as well as leak false information in their favour. The performance of such activities depended on the knowledge of orology. Engaging in unconventional warfare too was a tactic often employed by Ninja. Ninja may throw poison into a well, where they know their enemy gets their water from, or set fire on their provisions. Disguising as a mercenary in the enemy’s territory and spreading a rumour, saying, “we have no chance of winning this war, it’s all over!” also served as a way to demotivate the soldiers. [7]

III: Philosophy of Ninja

Seeing that Ninja primarily served as a covert military organization, who would basically do whatever is asked to do, there is always a concern for the potential employers whether Ninja would not betray them in the end. What distinguished Ninja from bandits or simple criminal organizations were the codes of conduct they firmly adhered to. These are the principles of Jo-nin. Jo-nin means a ninja par excellence. Jo-nin must be “dutiful (giri) to the employers, without desire… knowledgeable in all matters… faithful to Confucianism and Buddhist teachings… respectful to codes of warriors (i.e. Bushi-do)… familiar with the geography and customs… skillful at tactical thinking” and so on.[8] In reality, no one is this talented, and most Ninja were not erudite. These “codes” of conduct are therefore to be taken only as an ideal to be aimed at, and not actually laws that were enforced upon Ninja. This “principle as an ideal” seems to be the central theme in Ninja philosophy, as we will see over and over again in their science. As a matter of fact, Ninja were internally bounded between their members more than they were to their employers, and they believed it utmost duty to help one another in times of difficulties. This gave them a limited but relative freedom as to exchange information amongst them, and Shouninki tells us that this is why some first rate secrets were often concealed from them in their employment.

Ninja philosophy is essentially derivable from Chinese philosophy, though some are more obvious than others. Shouninki, for instance, mentions Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War as the central source for their philosophy, according to which Ninja are supposed to be able to “master the languages of their enemy and become one of them.”[9] Further, they must “talk about an event as if you were there when you were not, speak of someone whom you have never met as if your best friend, buy things when you do not have any money and get drunk when you have not drunk at all. You go out at night and never stay at an inn, sometimes you get surprised by the voice of a deer, and hide in the shadows of the trees, avoiding moonlight and ensconce yourself in an uncomfortable place.” It ends the chapter with a remark “what a sad life and full of hardships we suffer! Yet, one must keep such experiences to yourself, lest not to divulge his identity to others. It is probably for these reasons that people think Ninja are strange. But let them think so, if they do not understand the hardships we go through. If we are asked, ‘Aren’t you stupid to live like that?’ let us respond, ‘yes, we are.’ This too is a way of Shinobi. The Unreal is the Falsity and the Real is the Truth.”[10]

Here, the concept of Falsity-Truth dichotomy deserves some attention. In the philosophy of Ninja, everything is flowing and nothing is absolute. This is an obvious reference to Yin-Yang theory, which states everything is in motion.[11] The success in a mission depends upon perceiving the change in things accurately, and knowing when to act. Shinobi states that whatever disadvantageous is the Falsity and whatever causes benefit and power to them is the Truth. Hence, when times are in the Falsity, one must wait until the right time comes. Acting hastily could ruin the entire operation as well as his own life. “When samurai warriors fight one another, it is a fight between the Truth and the Truth, but when a Ninja fights, you are always the Truth and the enemy always the False. In such cases, it is important to have the enemy believe he is winning until his ultimate defeat.”[12] It is by this means that Ninja can make himself the Truth while keeping the enemy the Falsity. This philosophy is vividly seen in the chapter that talks about Enemy Prevention. Here the text says that “even if the opponent becomes angry obviously because you did something wrong, you should blame the responsibility to someone else and disappear as soon as possible. They say that blaming others for what you did is wrong, but that is just what they say in general. There is no need for you to think such a general principle also applies to you.”[13] Although I have said that Ninja help one another in times of difficulties, we must not forget that what is of utmost importance to them is the fulfillment of their mission. It would negate their whole purpose of existence if helping out a fellow Ninja would mean abandoning the mission. In order to complete the mission, Ninja must do whatever it takes. As such fidelity to mission takes precedence to ethics, they can justify aforementioned unconventional warfare, such as poisoning the enemy, destroying their weapons in advance as well as assassination and arson.[14] Following this philosophy, Ninja believed anything is accomplishable. If you still fail at your mission, then your reason may be troubled by emotions or preconceptions about things, which lead to a lack of conviction or impatience. To prevent this psychological instability, one must maintain the qi at all times. As with Taoism, Ninja teaches us that “human mind is mysterious and comprehends natural elements (activities) namely Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Human heart is thus like the universe itself… When our heart is at calm and observes nature, we can adapt to any situations like flowing Water. It is like Fire changing its force depending on what it burns, and Wood growing roots and leaves in their surrounding climate. If wind tries to sweep down the Wood, accept it and you will wave in unison with the wind, but should you resist it, you will be defeated. Similarly, Metal is hard but changes its shape according to the human deeds. Earth relates to all the Five Activities, and keeps nature in harmony.”[15]

In this way, Ninja must obey the natural occurring of events as they unfold, and act without going against the flow of the nature. Only by attaining this state of detachment of the self can we recognize pure reason, and only through the use of pure reason can we be mindful to the subtleties in nature. Thus, Ninja attack with the absolute detachment of the self that “even if you ask for him, he is shapelessly merged into the universe, and even if you ask of him, he is so detached that there is no answer. He will act only in accordance with the pure reason.” This part of Ninja philosophy is largely taken by Zen philosophy, which states that “the state of bodhisattva[16] is inexpressible in words and is only attainable by pure experience.”[17]

This view of activities as a part of the cosmic nature and that we must respect the laws of nature is prevalent in Chinese medical philosophy.

IV: Philosophy of Medicine

It is unfortunate that Ninja did not elaborate on their medical theories and seemed to think it unimportant to subject their views to a theoretical analysis. This makes sense to some extent, since Ninja were not philosophers or scientists by profession, but only agents in covert operation. They had neither time nor interests in knowing how things worked, but only in that they worked. As a result, the parts in Shouninki where medicine is treated are limited to describing how to make what and when to use it. In fact, there are only two places where medicine is explicitly mentioned in Shouninki, and only few places mention medical recipes in a more philosophical manuscript Bansenshukai. But we know that medical knowledge played an important role in Ninja activities. This is because one of the most basic tasks of Ninja was to get information in the local areas. Whenever people needed to hide their identities in a foreign village, they would often disguise either as monks or as pharmacists in those times. Ninja, too, followed the suit. But they only needed the medical knowledge to the extent necessary, i.e. it must have been enough to be able to answer questions about medicine they were selling when asked about them. Because they were not certified doctors or experienced in medical knowledge but rather “part-time doctors”, they carried simple medicine that would most often be used by the general public. This worked in their advantage, as these medicines would be useful for Ninja themselves during their missions.

Chinese medical philosophy is explained in complex combination of Yin Yang theory and the Five Agents doctrine.[18] Yin and Yang are opposite but complimentary forces, elements or principles, the former being “negative, passive, weak, and destructive, and [the latter,] positive, active, strong, and constructive.”[19] Yin Yang theory sees the events as containing both yin and yang qualities, thus “[e]ach thing or phenomenon could be itself and its contrary,” that is to say, “Yin contains the seed of Yang and vice versa, so that, contrary to Aristotelian logic, A can also be Non-A.”[20] Adding to that is the Five Agents doctrine, which introduces to Yin Yang theory a concept of rotation. These Five Agents are conceived of at the level of Chinese cosmogony; for instance, Water generates Wood, which generates Fire, which generates Earth, which generates Metal, which then generates Water. The concept of generation here is similar to the Four Elements in Greek philosophy. In Chinese philosophy, however, Water assumes an important basis, and is the beginning of the sequence. There are two other sequences that are significant in understanding how the agents interact with one another. One is called the Controlling Sequence in which each Agent controls another and is controlled by one. Thus, Water controls Fire, Fire controls Metal, which then controls Wood, which again controls Earth and back to Water. This sequence ensures that the balance is maintained among the Five Agents. It self-regulates its balance as well, in combination with the generating sequence we have just mentioned. In this model, Water controls Fire, but Fire generates Earth, which controls Water. Similarly, on the one hand, Water controls Fire but also generates Wood, which controls Fire, and so on. This sequence is a key model for sustaining health when dealing with sickness or illness. The second sequence is called The Insulting Sequence, which works the opposite of the Controlling Sequence. Hence, Water insults Earth, Earth insults Wood, which insults Metal, which insults Fire, and which insults Water. When there is an imbalance in the body, causing sickness, it is normally because agents are insulted and the order no longer maintained.[21]五行説

In this way, Chinese model may be comparable to that of Greek humoural medicine. What is different from the Western medical thought is that each Agent has so many correspondences, and what makes it more complex is that it is interlaced with the Five Agents doctrine. Just to give an example, Water corresponds to the kidney in the organ; Wood corresponds to the liver; Fire to the heart; Earth to the spleen; and Metal to the lungs. In this scheme, the liver controls the spleen and generates the heart; the heart controls the lungs and generates spleen; the spleen controls the kidneys and generates the lungs; the lungs control the liver and generate kidneys; and the kidneys control the heart and generate the liver.[22] Further, Yin and Yang correspond to body parts, such as Front-Back, Body-Head, Interior-Exterior, Structure of organs-Function of organs, and Yin organs-Yang organs.[23] Just as the Five Agents aim at maintaining the balance in the body, Yin-Yang theory is applied to medicine to tonify either Yang or Ying quality or to eliminate the excess of Yang quality or eliminate the excess of Ying quality.

For example, a seed of a fruit such as of a peach corresponds to Metal in the Five Agents scheme, whereas in Yin-Yang theory, it corresponds to Yang quality since it is hard rather than soft. Metal also corresponds to repelling of evil spirits, generating Water, which is the beginning of the generation cycle, but it also has a quality to insult Wood, which represents Spring. In this way, Japanese people throw roasted soybeans outside the house on the first day of spring to repel evil spirits for the new cycle of the year. We also throw the beans inside the house, exclaiming “Demons out! Luck in!” The soybeans signifying Metal goes out to guard against the evil demons, while at the same time, the quality of Metal inside the house is weakened by us gnawing the beans to strengthen the quality of Wood.[24]

As you can see, while such was the basic working principles in medical thought in the pre-Modern Japan, it would have been too much to ask of crypto part-time doctors to memorize and understand all the correlations among the Yin-Yang Five Agents Doctrine, not to mention the measurements and dosages of each medicine. In effect, even one of the most celebrated Buddhist doctors in Japan once lamented, “[o]ne cannot memorize all this.”[25] Did Ninja then not understand medicine when they talked about painkillers or antidotes? Their poisons seem to have worked well enough and it is historically true that they made poisons out of surrounding plants to kill. In order to determine their philosophical framework regarding the formulation of medicines, we will now take a look at two of the medical formulae that appear in the most authoritative text and discussed in detail, and see if they follow the medical philosophy of the East.

The first medicine is called “Suikatsu-gan” (水渇丸), which, if taken in a dire need of quenching your thirst, will make you suffer no more. The recipe for which is rather simple and composed of three ingredients:

−        梅干しの肉 1両(4匁)    = Plum without skin, 37.3

−        氷砂糖 2匁       = Rock sugar, 7.5g

−        麦芽(麦門冬/麦角)1匁 = Malt, 3.75g[26]

You will mix them and powder it, and then make a small ball and take one whenever you are thirsty.

The second medicine is “Kikatsu-gan” (飢渇丸), which will render no food necessary when taken three each day.

−        人参(キタネニンジン) 10両      = carrot, 373g

−        蕎麦粉 20両           = soba flour, 746g

−        小麦粉 20両        = (all-purpose) flour, 746g

−        ヤマノイモ(山芋 20両   = Japanese mountain yam, 746g

−        天草/耳草(はこべ類) 1両 = stellaria (or, chickweed, stitchwort) 37.3g

−        ヨクイニン(ハトムギ果)10両 = Job’s Tears, 373g

−        糯米粉 20両         = rice flour, 746g[27]

When you mix them all, you marinate it in five liters of sake for three years, and when sake completely dries out, you make balls of about two centimeters in diameter.

Now, if you follow this recipe verbatim, it will rot before even sake gets dried out.[28] Perhaps you will need to find a way to dry sake out much quicker. But even if it worked, will it have the effect they claim it does? Will it work in theory? As I have mentioned earlier, Ninja did not elaborate at all on their theories but seemed to care only that they worked. Any reflections on their medicine in light of Yin-Yang Five Agents doctrine will be necessarily speculative and unfounded. So the question, which concerns us most, now becomes: did they work? The answer seems to be a disappointing one, that is, yes and no. Although Ninja medicine was not compatible to the Yin-Yang Five Agents doctrine, it did accord with the other prevalent philosophy in medicine as well as in Buddhist philosophy, that is, the transformation or the imbalance of Qi. Qi is the source of all movement in human physiology, and assumes “different forms depending on its state of condensation or dispersal… [and] is transformed, changed, transported, it enters, exits, rises, descends and disperses.”[29] Further, Qi forms a material body and has a Yin quality when condensed, while it has a Yang quality when it is dispersed and in motion. So when “Qi is flourishing there is health, if it is weak there is disease, if it is balanced there is quiet, if it moves in the wrong direction there is disease.”[30] Indeed, already by the 13th century, it was commonly believed that the disorder of Qi within the body was the cause of many illnesses, as a famous Buddhist monk in the 13th century repeatedly remarked in his medical corpus that “medicines that readjust the qi thereby treat the myriad illnesses and can’t go wrong,” categorizing the illnesses arising from the mind as internal causes of ailments.[31] After stating that “internal causes [of ailment] are found where illnesses are produced from the disorder of the seven qi vital energies of joy, anger, melancholy, worry, sadness, fear and fright,” he recounts us “the well-known Chinese story of Yueguang, who exhibited severe symptoms and became ill because he had imagined that he had swallowed a snake.” Apparently, he had mistaken the reflection of a bow in his drink for a snake and believed that he had drunk the snake.[32] In this way, it was conceived that the evil passions and the source of mistakes arise from the imbalance of the qi, which is in the mind. Once this becomes apparent, “emotions are neither produced nor activated, the blood and qi are harmonized, and the mind and the body are at rest.”[33] This philosophy resembles much of what we have spoken of when we saw that Ninja abided themselves by the principle of absolute detachment as discussed towards the end of Shouninki.[34] I would also like to mention in passing that when Ninja talked about using amulets to protect themselves from danger and spells[35] to accomplish their missions, they also stated explicitly that “to actually expect they will work is to be utterly ignorant about the world, yet because there is no particular reason to disregard them as mere superstitions, the decision to use them or not depends upon you.”[36] As the commentator of Shouninki also explains, it seems that if something works actually or not was not a concern to them, as long as it works at least apparently. It is in this sense that Ninja medicine worked. That is, if amulets or medicines had a positive influence to control qi in the person, that is all what was required for. From these considerations, it seems reasonable to suggest that the fruit of Ninja medicine lies in the maintenance of the order of qi rather than depending on the effects of the specific medicaments.[37]

Now, what about poisons? Poisons enjoyed a distinct status in Ninja science in that they actually worked. However, here too, it seems that how they concocted deadly poisons had not much to do with the monastic medical philosophy, but simply to do with pure experience. With the healing medicines, it was possible to argue that whether they work or not depended on how detached you are according to the Buddhist philosophy, but because one cannot deceive another with a poison that does not actually work or whose effects depend upon the enemy’s conviction that it works, Ninja had to actually test them in a number of occasions, and they left recipes for those poisons that did work. In fact, although there are only so few references as to healing medicines, the list of poisonous medicines is incomparably large. There are recipes that use the ingredients like toad’s oil, red spider lily, Japanese star anise, as well as cannabis and nux vomica, but here I will list a few of the deadliest poisons. The first of which is the poison called Machin (馬銭), whose main ingredient is nux vomica. It is a deciduous tree native to India and Southeast Asia, which is highly toxic. Strychnine in the seed is said to kill you if you ingest a mere gram.[38] Ninja used this primarily to kill dogs that guarded the house they tried to sneak into. They studied psychology and human behaviors, and they were able quite accurately to predict how people would react to unknown noises at night or if they would fall for a deception. But dogs were different. Even Ninja could not read dogs’ mind to deceive, since dogs react to movements immediately. In a way, dogs were the Ninja’s enemy par excellence, whom they could not draw in to their side. So the elimination of dogs would give them an advantage, and hence was the basic Ninjutsu. They did this by first taming the dogs of the house, giving them rice balls, a few days before they would sneak into. If they were completely tamed by the night of mission, they would cause them no harm, but if the dogs were still cautious of them, Ninja would give them rice balls mixed with powdered nux vomica. The dogs would remain at the verge of death for a while, and if the missions were accomplished before they died, Ninja would give them water, which would revive them. If you absolutely had to kill the dogs, you would give them rice balls mixed with nux vomica and finely ground iron.[39] Another famous poison is called, loosely translated, ‘the poison of the teahouse.’ It uses Gyokuro, a rare type of tealeaves. You make an extra strong tea, and pour it into a bamboo tube. You will then bury it under the earth, and take it out after a month. It is said that a few drops would make you sick in one month and die in two months.[40] Yet another unique poison includes a mole, a newt and the blood of a snake mixed with other herbs. If you light fire on it and throw it into the enemy’s house, the enemy who inhaled the smoke would sleep or hallucinate, and would die in 70 days.[41] But this probably did not work. There is another medicine that probably did not work but is praised as a ‘medicine of the enlightened,’ which uses black soybeans and cannabis in the ratio of 5:3. You mix them, powder it and make a ball out of it. Then, you smoke it, and powder it again. If you drink a cup of tea made from this formula, you can apparently maintain your energy and do not have to eat or drink for seven days. If you drink two cups, you can stay alive without food or drink for 49 days, and with five cups of it, you will live for 16,807 days.[42]

As we can see, Ninja corpus includes medicines that would and would not work in tandem. This is probably due to the fact that they wrote the manuscripts long after their prime time, and they were writing in part to heroicize their past glory in times of relative peace, but also because their focus in medicine was more about controlling the qi rather than following a theoretical formula.

V: Psychology, Animal Philosophy and Observational Science

Although Ninja medicine lacked in a theoretical rigor, their observation excelled in natural philosophy. Some of their astonishing scientific discoveries based on pure observation include the colour of their costume, cat clock, as well as the accurate observation of the sleeping patterns of human beings. People now take it for granted that Ninja wore a black uniform, but a Ninja scholar, Yamakita, rightfully points out two major problems with this common belief. First of all, wearing such a costume all the time is utterly conspicuous, and illustrates insanity. Why would you wear clothes that speak out ‘I am a Ninja!’ when you want to be invisible to the public eyes? As has been stated earlier, the activities of Ninja primarily include information gathering, as such, they travel between the cities and meet people very frequently. If they really wore black uniforms at night, they must have carried additional clothing for the daytime activities. But carrying extra stuff in addition to several items to be used in their activities is already a huge burden. This is also why Ninja had to invent medicines such as Suikatsu-gan (mentioned above) that are tiny and do not take up space. Considering practicality, it would be much easier and convenient for them to have worn clothes that are darker in colour but could be worn in daytime as well without appearing suspicious. Secondly, pure black colour is rather expensive. Ninja who would sneak into houses and castles were normally the lower rank Ninja, and it would not have been plausible that they could have afforded to have uniforms with pure black colour made for them for everyday use. These are rather technical difficulties, but there is one more crucial scientific reason why they could not have worn black uniform. We now need to look at the structure of human eyes briefly. In retina of the eye, there are two layers of segments: retinal cone photoreceptor cells and rod cell outer segments. The cone photoreceptor cells are converged in the center of the eye and detect colours in daytime or in bright spaces, whereas rod cell segments have photic sense and can see in dark places but detects only light or dark. In short, human eyes can detect colours well only when we see something with the center of the eye in fairly bright places. On the contrary, we cannot detect colours well if we see something at the edge of the eye or in dark places. The cone photoreceptor cells stop detecting colours starting with the ones with longer wavelength. So the colour red which has the longest wavelength in the primary colours become invisible first, and then yellow loses its colour, leaving the blue alone to be seen in the end. This is why at dawn, everything looks somewhat blue-ish, because the photoreceptor cells are inactive due to the lack of light, and as a result, we see things with the rod cell segments of the eye. When you consider this fact, pure black clothing is actually a disadvantage. The reasons being that, even at night, it is not a pitch black. There are moonlight, starlight and candlelight from houses, and almost everything including plants and rooftops reflect tiny amount of light. However, pure black suit would not have any luminosity, so in a place where your surroundings emit some amount of light, you would be more easily found because of the contrast your clothes creates. Now, in daytime, if you hide behind trees or walls, it can be quite dark. Of course, if somebody sees you directly from the front, then there is no chance you can avoid detection, but wearing darker coloured clothing that has similar degree of luminosity as the surroundings would be beneficial if you are seen with the corner of the eye, you may be able to escape their detection. Now we see that clearly, black coloured uniforms are not practical for a covert operation. In fact, the reason why we see Ninja wearing pure black in movies and shows is because it is cool and also it is easy to spot. What Ninja in fact wore was a uniform in dark reddish brown. This is because the cone photoreceptor cells lose colour red before they lose yellow and blue, it is the first colour to disappear in the dark, and because it is not completely pure black, it has the benefit of attaining some level of luminosity, allowing it to be mingled with the surroundings.[43]Cat Clock

That Ninja were particularly observant as regards with lightness and darkness is also seen from their use of cats in determining what time it is. Clocks existed back then, but they were not portable. In order to find roughly what time it is, Ninja looked at eyes of the cats nearby, and made a song to memorize: 6 when it’s round, 5 or 7 when it’s egg-shaped, 4 or 8 when it’s a seed of a persimmon, and 9 when it’s a needle.[44] This finding of knowing the time by looking at the cat’s eyes was employed to argue in support of knowing the best time to sneak into a house. Because the success of sneaking in depends on the time when they sneak in, they left an instruction on when to do it with most success in Shouninki. Here I will quote the article almost in full citation.

“although there is not a fixed time that is best to sneak in, you should in general aim for when people are off-guard, like when they are busy. Do not be inpatient. Some of the best times are at twilight, 10 pm, midnight, 4 am, 6 am, noon and 6 pm. Should you not know what time it is, you should make an effort to know it through experience. Even cat’s eyes become thin or round depending on the time of the day, it is implausible that humans cannot be susceptible to it. In general, people go to bed at around 9 to 10, and are in a deep sleep at 1 to 2 am, waking up at 5 to 6 am. If you are in a deep sleep, the breathing sounds are irregular, if they are regular, you are probably pretending to be asleep. Even if they are deep asleep, people often wake up regularly and you need to be careful to detect when they are in a deep sleep and when they are in a shallow sleep… When climbing the rooftop and walking on it, you will use your sword as a stepping stone and try not to make any sound. If you see something unfamiliar on your way, throw a stone at it and see how it will react. If they notice your presence, use the technique called “Ryofuri (両降り)”, or “Falling from Both Sides”, and throw a stone at the opposite direction to the one you are going to, and make a run for it.”[45]

Ninja were well aware that the eyes of cats are much more receptive and their eyes could be thin even at noon if they are in the shadow. The commentator of Shouninki states that the intent of this article is to encourage you to use all the senses possible, and detect any information necessary to know the time by listening for bells at temples, cries of animals or smells of food being prepared, etc… What is most interesting here is the depiction of sleeping patterns. This is a clear reference to what we now call REM sleep, when breathings become irregular and when we most likely dream. It appears once every two hours or so, and lasts for 5 to 30 minutes. People in REM sleep look as if they are at the verge of waking up but in fact they are in the deepest sleep and would not easily wake up.[46]

Ninja also employed psychological means to hide their identity, and they learned their survival techniques mostly from animals around them. For instance, when you hide by the trees or in the shadows, it was possible for people to still hear heartbeats or breathing sounds especially at a quiet night. There was not a single noise of a car to help you make up for any sound you make. In such situations, Ninja often imitated animals for a disguise. Although this sort of techniques is often used for a comical effect nowadays, when your life depends on how well you imitate, the imitation must have been of the highest quality. When people hear some unknown noise, they would be uneasy and a desire to know what that noise is arises. Ninja observed this fact, and they answered that if people are anxious to know what the noise they had just heard is, only false information was necessary to make them believe they understood the cause of it. If they heard a cat immediately after hearing the strange noise, they would reason that the sound they just heard must have been of the cat they are hearing now. Once they are convinced, even if they hear a stranger sound consequently, they would assume that the cat must be of a big one or must be sick, and so on, to try to stick to the original conclusion they have reached. Further, because they imitate the sound of animals, even if they constantly make some noise, people would just think that cats are being noisy. Since cats and dogs were often found in and out of the house, Ninja were particularly trained to disguise as cats or dogs and were good at it.[47] In addition to this, Ninja used a number of hiding techniques learned from various animals. The famous instances of which are ‘Kitune-gakure (狐隠れ)’ [the Way of Foxes], ‘Tanuki-gakure (狸隠れ)’ [the Way of Raccoon-dogs], and ‘Kakure-mino (隠れ蓑)’ [Hiding in the Straw]. Kitsune-gakure is the one in which Ninja hide underwater. It received its name from the fact that foxes have strong smell, so when they are chased after by hunting dogs, they are said to escape their detection by traversing in the water. Here, Ninja will usually leave the face above the surface to breathe. With water grass and algae around, it is difficult to be found. They probably did use a bamboo tube or a scabbard (a sheath; a case for katana) to breathe, completely submerging themselves under water, but the problem with it is that it would be unnatural and overtly conspicuous if there is a bamboo tube sticking out where there is nothing else around. In any case, to prevent Ninja from hiding, samurai warriors often cleared any water grass or algae in the ponds in advance.[48] This is also known as ‘Suiton no Jutsu (水遁の術) which is a collective name for a escaping method using water. Although it is famously employed often in Ninja themed stories, it is not something you would want to do, as you would be completely wet and anyone who sees you would be suspicious of you.[49] On the contrary, Tanuki-gakure is when you hide on the trees, camouflaging with the leaves. As long as you are not seen climbing the tree, it probably works quite well. We are not used to checking what is above us, so this too is a tactic that studied human psychology.[50] Lastly, Kakure-mino is what you use when there is absolutely no time to climb trees or hide under water without making any splashing sound. In Kakure-mino, you will find a space or a container of rice, for example, to hide and wait until the enemy is gone. If you do this, however, you are deprived of your freedom to move, and once you are found, you probably get killed without a further ado.[51]

There are many other tricks or items Ninja used in their daily operations, some of them ingenious while others are utterly useless. Before I conclude my paper, I would like to mention one more invention of Ninja that most likely did not work but is seen as the most characteristic item of Ninja, and that is: Mizugumo.[52] As you can see in the photo, it is virtually impossible to walk on water, let alone run from the enemy. It is apparently made with a foxglove tree, but in order to float a person weighing 50 kg, you will need to wear a cone tube that is 50 cm in diameter and 20 cm in height on both legs. You may be able to float, but you certainly cannot move smoothly.[53] Further, you would be looking like a crab, unable to move on water, that you are an excellent target for the enemy to throw stones at. Although it is hoisted as one of Ninja’s most famous invention, and also is recorded in Bansenshukai, it is generally attested that such a device did not exist but was later added by the offspring who left the manuscripts.[54]mizugumo

This concludes my findings on the philosophy of Ninja. I have illustrated that Ninja were a professional spy organization, and hence needed to master techniques to find out inside information, poison the enemy before the battle begins, and disguise themselves so as to escape the enemy’s detection. In doing so, I have briefly discussed the basic Chinese philosophy that was on the foundation of Japanese medical theory since the 12th century onwards, such as Yin-Yang theory, Five Agents doctrine as well as transformation of qi energy, and I have argued that Ninja medicine had not much to do with any particular philosophical doctrines but rather much to do with being in control of their own emotions and qi energy. In this respect, it is largely a reflection of Zen philosophy, more so than of other schools of thought. I then concluded with some discussions on their psychology, animal philosophy as well as scientific discoveries for your information, which I term observational science. In sum, I believe Ninja did not know and did not have any interest to Chinese medical corpus but rather collected information on their own through experience and observation. Their interest rather lied with the philosophy of warfare, and although they obtained a lot of information from the Chinese books, their scientific enquiry remained limited and never left their own circle for criticisms and improvement.


[1] This would be the late 16th century, as is discussed below.

[2] Atsushi Yamakita, All Things About Ninja (概説 忍者・忍術) (Japan: Shinkigensha, 2004), 21. Also as opposed to the number of soldiers carrying guns being only 10% of the army in Europe, 30% of the army were equipped with guns in Japan.

[3]萬川集海 was written in 1676, written by Fujibayashi Yasutake.

[4]正忍記 was written in 1681, written by Fujibayashi Masatake.

[5]忍秘伝 was written in 1652-1727, presumably by Hattori Hanzo in 1560, originally.

[6] That is, to be in the state of absolute detachment from the self, as if to kill his own heart. See Shouninki, 39.

[7] Yamakita, All Things About Ninja, 27.

[8] Ibid., 29.

[9] Shouninki, 35.

[10] Ibid., 39.

[11] See Wing-Tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 246. “the yin ang theory has also put Chinese ethical and social teachings on a cosmological basis. It has helped to develop the view that things are related and that reality is a process of constant transformation.

[12] Ibid., 40.

[13] Ibid., 123.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 183-184.

[16] Satori (悟り), or enlightenment.

[17] Shouninki, 188-189.

[18] Also known as ‘Five Movements’ or ‘Five Actualities’.

[19] Wing-Tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, 244.

[20] Giovanni Maciocia, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists, 1.

[21] Ibid., 18-20.

[22] The sample list of correspondences of the Five Agents can be found in the handout. (from p.21)

[23] Ibid., 7.

[24] Makoto Takemitsu, The Wisdom of Onmyo-do Every Japanese Should Know, 126-127. The festivity is called Setsubun for those who wish to further research on this topic.

[25] Andrew Edmund Goble, Confluences of Medicine in Medieval Japan, 51. Kajiwara Shozen (1265-1337)

[26] Referenced in Shouninki, 52.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Yamakita, All Things about Ninja, 183.

[29] Maciocia, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, 59.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Goble, Confluences of Medicine, 63.

[32] Ibid., 62

[33] Ibid.

[34] See Gokuhi-den in Shouninki, 189.

[35] Shouninki,129.

[36] Ibid.

[37] This view is also contested by the other scholars working on Ninja, such as Yamakita Atsushi. See his All Things About Ninja.

[38] Shouninki, 97.

[39] Ibid., 96-97. See also Masayuki Yamaguchi, Shinobi and Ninjutsu, 155.

[40] Yamakita, All Things About Ninja, 183. However, I have yet to locate where he is getting this information, as Gyokuro was first used in 1835, a long after Ninja had dwindled.

[41] Ibid., 184.

[42] Ibid., 183.

[43] Ibid., 154.

[44] Ibid., 202-203. In Bansenshukai, it is stated that “6 when it’s round, 5 or 8 when it’s egg-shaped, 4 or 7 when it’s a seed of persimmon and 9 when it’s a needle.” Yamaguchi Masayuki thinks it is a mis-scribe and offers the above mentioned interpretation.

[45] Shouninki, 90-92. Here, I quoted the article almost in full.

[46] Shouninki, 92-93.

[47] Yamakita, All Things About Ninja, 207-208.

[48] Ibid., 215-216.

[49] Ibid., 217.

[50] Ibid., 214.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Literally, ‘water-spider’.

[53] Yamakita, All Things About Ninja, 177.

[54] It was most likely taken from a Chinese book on warfare that I have not yet been able to locate.

These are some of the (semi-)recent news about AKB48′s dehumanization of women in Japan. Here, I’ll just post articles in English, that is to say, just the ones that made it into the north american readers. (the photo below is from the recently reported news – to see the articles, go to the articles #5-8)

Minami Minegishi

1) http://jpopcentral.yuku.com/topic/1264#.UQ1HV3hFWCK (on suicide campaign)

2) http://www.japanator.com/candy-ad-comes-under-fire-for-controversial-akb48-kiss-23082.phtml (candy CM – shown on TV 24/7)

3) http://www.cnnasiapacific.com/press/en/content/757/ (CNN interview, Jan. 2012)

4) http://blog.japantimes.co.jp/japan-pulse/akbaby-invites-fans-to-breed-with-their-favorite-pop-idols/ (on AKBaby)

5) http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2013/02/01/music/akb48-members-penance-shows-flaws-in-idol-culture/#.UQ1EUHhFWCI

6) http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/01/22/how-tos/akb48-unionize-and-take-back-your-lost-love-lives/#.UQ1IsXhFWCJ

7) http://www.japantoday.com/category/entertainment/view/akb48-singer-shaves-her-head-as-act-of-contrition-for-dating

8) http://www.jpopasia.com/news/akb48s-minami-minegishi-demoted-to-trainee-shaves-head-as-punishment-for-scandal::12951.html

This list will be updated as more news come to my attention. Meanwhile, if you are new to this or would like to know more about it argued, visit my articles on AKB48 on this blog)

Before I start, it must be noted that there are two types of religious people – those who do not impose their religious views onto others and those who do. By ‘those who impose their religious views’, I do not necessarily mean those who aggressively try to convert you as they are speaking to you, nor do I necessarily mean those who come to your door to preach to you. I primarily mean that those who do not take you seriously if you disagree with you on their basic assumption that there is such a thing as God the creator of the world. Having clarified this point, let me express that anything I write against them here is directed to solely to those who impose their religious views in the way elucidated above, and continue with my argument.

god-delusion_2542_500I say the ‘Christians of the 21st Century’ but the kind of traits found in the modern sense, spiritual Christians, is already obviously expressed in the works of C. S. Louis. That is basically this: “I know God exists. I also understand there are people who do not believe in God. I am utterly aware that people have wronged in the past in the name of Christianity. I know that is why you believe Christianity is bad. I know that. But you see, Christianity is not in fact about wars and ugly fighting. Disagreement among Christian sects in the past, fights over what the Church said or did not say, having to come up with a clever rational argument about how God in fact exists, and so on… They do not reflect true Christianity. In fact, they are not about Christianity at all. You say you loath what Christians in the past have done. I agree with you. I loathe what these people have done in the past in the name of Christianity. True Christians are not like that. As a Christian, I know that for certain. You people misunderstand what Christianity is about. No, no, no. It is not at all Christian! Before I knew God, I too thought of Christianity as repugnant like you. But it is all misunderstood! You see, if you think there is an order in the world, if you think there is anything to be studied systematically in the world, if you think you can do good, you already believe in God. Because without God, there cannot be an order, there will not be anything worth learning, and you will not have inclination to do good at all. It’s easy to forget that you know God, because there is so much distance from the creation and you. But it is important to remember that you are thinking as you do now because of God.”

This is how the argument goes. I’ve come across this sort of argument more than frequently, and every time I hear it, a bundle of inconsistencies hits me. Perhaps I should explain what I mean. First, it completely ignores the history, hence the basis upon which Christianity is founded. It bypasses all the means to maintain the position Christianity has had in history and only accepts as the fact that God exists. In other words, it conveniently disregards how it came about, and it is applied to people in the modern world anachronistically. More significantly, it radically ignores the fact that had the Christians in the past not acted in the way they did according to the Christian beliefs, there would not be a Christian at present. This brings to my second criticism that modern Christians assume that they know better than the Christians in the past to the extent that they deny Christianity in the truest sense to the past Christians. They create a clear break from the past Christians without breaking the link with the Christianity. This is perhaps a similar view with the one held by the Early Moderns who believed that they resumed the life of the ancients after a long inactivity marked by ignorance during the Middle Ages. The Christians in the modern society often assume that the violence attached to Christianity is their Middle Ages, and anything from the Crusades to the Iraq War is utterly dissociated. I call such Christians enlightened for obvious reasons. They live in peacetime, they are globalized in their thinking that they are willing to entertain distinct schools of thought as their own, and they believe they have wised up.

Anyone who studies history and history of ideas would understand that their view is unlike any other period’s. Descartes never claimed St. Augustine or St. Aquinas stupid who misunderstood God, nor Kant dissociated himself from the tradition of Christianity since antiquity. From the perspective of the history of ideas, this seemingly ego-centric view that ‘We are the one who knows God’ seems to arise from Hegel’s phenomenology in the 19th century. I suppose this is partly the result of the progress of physics, science and global philosophy in general, as can be seen the interesting hybrid views of the creationist account and evolutionist account of the beginning of the universe (i.e., Intelligent Design) and the top-down Christianity and Spinozistic pantheism (i.e., God is the energy) which is further fueled by the acquisition of the Eastern philosophy, such as Taoism and Confucianism. Moreover, what was once a meaningful statement by Luther: “a personal relationship with God” is now taken to mean nothing more than “a personal interpretation of God.” Indeed, anything goes. I assure you, Christians who are reading this, that you cannot find two people who agree on the definition of what God is now. The notion of God has been reduced to nothing but a personal ‘gut feeling’. One fervent Christian told me once she does not believe in abortion on the basis of the Scripture, whereas another yet fervent Christian told me that it is not her business on the basis of the emphasis on the personal relationship with God. Such a disagreement would not have been fine before the 19th century. But now, it is to be welcomed! Because Christianity is not about disagreement over some doctrines! All seems well, except that you have reduced God into a personal God, nothing more than a pop singer, a movie star or a politician, whoever it happens to be affecting your life philosophy at the moment. Very well, then. I do not care whomever you worship, but I do not care either to listen to what your own personal God wants from me.

The third criticism is that the view held by the enlightened Christians denies all learning unless you accept that God exists. Sure, Descartes would agree with you had it not been your own personal God you are worshipping. In fact, it is understandable that smart people like Descartes would say such a thing, but people like you and me, who have not the understanding of the past or philosophy well enough could not say “whatever you are learning is worthless unless you believe/do not believe in X”. What these people are saying is tantamount to admitting that they do not understand a thing, or they firmly believe they understand things. This brings us to the fourth criticism that they evade objections easily. Because they suppose the role of the wise without being specific about what they mean by God (as they like to say God is an energy, God is the goodness, or God is the love, for instance), they can easily dodge the objections and reformulate their argument, very much like a pathological liar who is so convinced by his own lie that he comes to believe in it, and makes any necessary changes in his story whenever he is faced with inconsistencies.

These are some of the main criticisms I have of those enlightened Christians who speak down to you when it comes to understanding or learning. If you say that you are a deist, they will ask you, “What do you mean by that?” “I mean I believe in some kind of force or a principle of nature.” And he will say gladly, “Ah, then you do mean God.” These people do not know or understand deism was equivalent to atheism and a denial of God in the 18th century. But again, as revisionists who claim to be open-minded like to do, they once again comprehend the terms used negatively favourably to their own liking, and argue that it meant all along exactly like they define it, like they did with Darwinism.

Moncriff sets out an ambitious project of arguing against the traditionally accepted view by the medical doctors that mixed diet or eating vegetables is more nutritious for us, and instead takes a view that an exclusive animal diet is the true path to follow if we want to be healthy. He argues that consulting doctors about what our diet should be is ridiculous, since “the healthy want no doctors, and if they wish to know how to preserve their health, they must first study themselves, and then learn from others the means by which these have actually succeeded,” and warns the doctors that they too should learn from his principles, which offers “perfect health and true enjoyment of life.” He repeatedly instructs us that it is important not to consume anything that is disagreeable to our stomach, however agreeable it may appear to be to our palate. It is in this spirit that he writes his account of the philosophy of the stomach as “a seed of life strewn in the future.”

He begins his investigation by supposing that we should be able to tell naturally what food is hurtful to us and what is not, just as “brutes can spur whatever is hurtful to them, and distinguish poisonous plants from salutary, by natural instinct… [and] only such as either accidentally or pressed by extreme hunger eat of it.” But our experience tells us that we taste junk food agreeable to our palate, even though we know it is bad for us. Can we really tell what is disagreeable to our stomach simply by something’s being agreeable or disagreeable to our palate?

Having first complained that his paper was rejected by a number of journals for his novel, and consequently incredible, idea of commencement of exclusive animal diet, he explains to us that the present condition of our palate is not conducive to the experiment to finding out that animal diet is in fact the healthiest human diet. This is because our palate, after a long abuse by eating artificially added condiments on cooked food, has been confused as to what tastes essentially good to us. So his first step is to get rid of this confusion from our palate, and only then can we have a sound appetite, as he is convinced that “there could be no unison between a sound, or true appetite, and a false one; that a perfectly healthy man could have only one appetite, and this a sound one, while the false appetite could only exist with imperfect health.” He argues that had we been truly healthy and our palate not corrupted, we would be able to know instinctively, just like those brutes in the wild, what is wholesome and would come to “reject everything unwholesome to [us], not out of a knowledge of its unwholesomeness, but simply because it was repulsive or indifferent to [our] taste.” In order to achieve a immaculate taste, as if in infancy, he spends six months or so “exclusively or mainly upon plain milk, without sugar, salt, or any condiment whatever,” and “I thus made myself, as it were, a baby again, fancying for a moment dietetics as a ‘tabula rasa,’ and myself as having nothing to guide me except my own experience.”

After six months of nothing but milk and almonds, “[m]y face, from being rather shallow, became clear and youthful, my eyes serene and mirrors of happiness,” and “[i]t gave me unknown, or rather, forgotten pleasure, to jump over ditch and hedge, and to make those exercises which required muscular strength.” In this way, he recounts that he had never been happier and felt healthier than before, resulting in him being “always cheerful, indulging frequently in songs.” Indeed, he now tells us that it is such a miserable pittance to have a sumptuous dinner, compared to having a single hour of perfect health and true enjoyment of life.

However, this is only the first phrase of his project. He now spends the next twelve months eating only fresh meat and milk. It has frequently been said in opposition to animal diet that it can be least economical in supporting us. Yet, he fends off this claim by providing us with the information about how much quantity of meat and milk he has consumed, and proves that it is much more economical than mixed diets.

He further reports that since he began his exclusive animal diet, he has “not felt the slightest disagreeableness arising from the bowels, either in the shape of eructations from the stomach, or obstruction, or dysentery, or of any denomination whatever.” Further, he entertains us with the empirical account of his that the “quantity of both urine and feces is, as might be expected, much less than formerly,” and is pleasantly surprised that “no bad odour is to be detected in the latter.”

He also has a rather teleological as well as functional argument that meat does not injure our teeth either mechanically or chemically, as vegetables are known to do with fibres and grains mechanically, and with fruits chemically, for “[a]cid, even when considerably diluted, corrode the enamel, and penetrate in small quantities into the dental sac,” not to mention there is this inconvenience arising from “the cracking of hady substances, as nuts, &c., by which the enamel is often being broken,” which results in the “subsequent destruction of the teeth unavoidable.”

In like manner, he argues that fruits are to be consumed only by birds who are destitute of teeth,” and concludes that “there is not a slightest doubt in my mind that there will be a time when the entire human race will live upon an exclusively animal diet.”

His extensive empirical study of the stomach is resonant of the period in many ways, as his argument is based on a quantitative science as is echoed from his citation from Lavoisier, yet his argument from functions and teleology shows the kind of science done during the period, as Darwin would publish his book on the Origin of Species in the following years. His inclination to empiricism does not, however, reject a rational theoretical science, as he says at one point that “a man without grand theories will never arrive at a great fact.” Yet in the end, his commitment in the science lies in the belief often seen in the progressive thinkers that when the fact is found, “the theories must be relinquished or corrected without hesitation.” In sum, this book offers an alternative view on a rational ground to the currently predominant view that vegetable diet is healthier than and preferable to the exclusive animal diet.

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