[the following is a chapter summary of Medical Humanism by Hiro Hirai; feedbacks are welcome; all the quotations are from quotations in the book640px-Schegk]

Jacob Schegk (1511-1587) advanced the theory of the plastic faculty, which imposed much influence upon later thinkers such as Daniel Sennert, William Harvey and even Leibniz. What this plastic faculty is will be the main enquiry of this chapter. In this summary, I will follow Hirai’s paper structure and proceed by dividing Schegk’s work On the Plastic Faculty of the Seed into three parts, and review 1) what the plastic faculty is, 2) how it works in fetal formation and 3) its identification with intellect.


  1. What is a Plastic Faculty?


Following Aristotle, Schegk articulates that the term sperm is not the material cause

but the efficient cause of the formation of animal body. In other words, this term sperm, does not refer to the material liquid but a certain reason-principle, which he calls the plastic faculty. The efficient cause is further divided into two parts – one is the principal efficient cause, i.e. the agent in actuality, as in the male parent or the heaven, while the other is instrumental, which is this plastic faculty. We know that the male parent is, being actuality, animate and corporeal, and this faculty or the sperm cannot be animate and corporeal because then, its ontological status is identical with that of the parent, and is no longer identified as instrumental but principal. But it cannot be inanimate either, because what is totally inanimate cannot produce what is animate, the latter being nobler than the former. This leads Schegk to offer a third option, that is to say, this spermatic faculty is neither animate nor inanimate, but rather it is non-animate. What does this mean? This non-animatedness, Schegk explains, is likened to “a logos and a certain entelecheia of an organic body.”[1]

In this way, Schegk makes a distinction between an animated body and a non-animate principle endowed with, what he calls, a productive potentiality. It is potentiality because it is subordinated to another principal agent, and it is productive because it is active whole remaining in potentiality. But how is it possible? Since for Aristotle, matter is a pure potentiality, and it is pure potentiality because it is inert. Schegk argues that something productive separates from the principal agent and acts as an instrumental agent (hence, not actuality but potentiality) but it itself is not inert since it is endowed with a reason, forming principle (hence, not pure potentiality but productive potentiality). He also equates this productive potentiality with the substantial form of natural things.

Schegk continues to define what this reason-principle means. According to Schegk, Galen recognized that there is some rational in the works of nature, but not wanting to attribute intelligence to all things, Galen gave up an idea of nature as a rational principle. But Schegk tries to find a way to reconcile this apparent dilemma by arguing that there must be a non-intellectual reason-principle in nature, since without such a principle, we cannot explain why nature is regarded as rationally ordered. Here, Schegk is quick to recognize also that the works of nature are different from those of art, because the reason-principles of art are external efficient causes, i.e. artificer, while the reason-principle of nature is internal efficient causes, i.e. the spermatic faculty.


2) How does it do what it does?


The spermatic faculty is conceived as a non-animate instrumental efficient cause, and since only what is animate can produce what is animate, this faculty needs a principal cause to assist it in order to get the generation across. In generation of natural things, the principal efficient cause, i.e. the male parent, exists already in actuality. This agent cannot transmit its own essence to the offspring, because then the offspring would become identical with the parent. What the principal efficient cause does is to transmit the actuality of its existence without sending the essence of itself. And this actuality without the essence is what Schegk calls the second actuality, or the productive actuality. How does it work? What on earth is the second actuality, anyway? Heere, Schegk calls attention to the very useful analogy of perceiving visible things. When we see an apple, for instance, the species/essence of the apple stimulates our vision through its actuality, Schegk tells us, while the species itself remains in its body. So, the apple does not send its essence to us – or else, we will have another apple in our mind in actuality! But its essence only stimulates us, activating our receptivity for the actuality derived from it in our mind. This second actuality is separable from the agent and, Schegk argues, it is our fantasia that makes this reception possible. This second actuality in the seed is what is called the productive actuality, whose ontological status is intermediate between what is animate and what is to be animated, according to Schegk. This is further linked to the psychic and substantial principle, which generates a substance, i.e. the soul.

So, this productive actuality (the second actuality derived from the principal cause) is communicated through this spermatic faculty, i.e. the productive potentiality. Again, it is productive potentiality because it assists the actuality to be communicated to the offspring. And just as the soul of the heaven is corporeal while it is immaterial, this active principle too is corporeal as its principal efficient cause is an animate body in actuality. Like the celestial soul, the productive actuality does not have a substantial matter, hence it is immaterial, but because it animates the body, it must share corporeity with the body it animates. Further, it must be inseparable form a body in order to perform its actions. But the second actuality itself lacks its body as it is only communicated through the body. So, what happens is that when ① the principal efficient cause dispatches in ② the spermatic faculty (i.e. productive potentiality) the second actuality (i.e. productive actuality), ③ the second actuality is tied to and has never left a body, though it gets transmitted from one body to another, for the spermatic faculty is potentiality, i.e. corporeity without materiality, and in this way the spermatic faculty is essential in generation and formation of fetuses since it acts as a vehicle for the second actuality (i.e. the form) to get to the pure potentiality (i.e. the matter). It is in this way that Schegk calls the spermatic/plastic faculty a divine body (corpus divinum).


① The principal efficient cause => ② the second actuality in the instrumental efficient cause => ③ the second actuality gets communicated to the material cause.


This status of having a divine body marks the distinction between the spermatic faculty and the intelligence, which is wholly devoid of matter or corporeity. In sum, this spermatic faculty is different from the celestial element, and this is why Aristotle did not identify this divine body with the celestial element but only said that this divine body is only analogous to the element of the stars.[2] Hence, this spiritual vehicle of the plastic faculty stands between the soul and nature in the ontological hierarchy. Such a spiritual body is called a vital faculty, and is identified as the life-giving heat contained in the seeds and in the residue of animals. It seems that the plastic faculty, spermatic faculty, divine body, spiritual body and vital faculty are all the same thing with different names. This faculty needs a vehicle as its manifestation because the formative energeia, i.e. the second actuality, cannot alone wield its power without an intermediate body.


  1. Intellect and the Human Soul


In this way, the difference between the intellect and the spermatic faculty has been established – the former is without materiality or corporeity but the latter is without materiality and is corporeal. This leads Schegk to say that the only human soul is separable from matter and all the other souls are generated in the proper sense of the term, that is, drawn from the potentiality of matter by the plastic faculty with the help of its spiritual vehicle which itself is inseparable from matter. So when the soul enters the body in order to animate it, the plastic faculty disappears and is replaced by the soul completely. The plastic faculty as the instrumental efficient cause gets replaced by the former cause proper, i.e. the soul, which remains in the spiritual body. And the human soul, as Schegk tells us, “is not drawn from the potentiality of matter by the plastic logos but is introduced into matter thanks to the intellect’s divine and immortal essence, which may be created but not generated.”[3] So the human soul is consubstantial to this spiritual, divine body, and once the plastic faculty generates the organic body, the soul begins to vivify and the preserve the formed body.


To recap:

  • The principal formal cause and the actuality= the male parent
  • The instrumental formal cause = the spermatic faculty, formative power, plastic faculty, divine body, spiritual body
    • Productive potentiality, because it assists the actuality to get communicated to the matter
  • The second actuality = the movement derived from the male parent
    • Productive actuality, because it is without the substantial matter yet but is a pure movement transmitted from the first actuality, i.e. male parent
  • Human soul = preexists and is introduced into the fetus once the second actuality is communicated to the matter; it also replaces the spermatic faculty.
  • Intellect = celestial element and the human soul; not equivalent with the plastic faculty or the second actuality, which is corporeal without being material.







[1] Schegk quoted in Hiro Hirai, Medical Humanism, 84-85.

[2] Schegk quoted in Hiro Hiral, Medical Humanism, 92-93. “This body [the spermatic/plastic faculty] differs from the celestial element because it evidently has no nature separable from its matter nor from seminal liquid. Because of this, Aristotle says that it is not celestial but similar by analogy to the celestial [element], or ‘analogous to the higher element.’ This body penetrates all matter, forming and figuring it, and distinguishes it by the natures of its parts […]. Indeed, this body is totally spiritual and most akin to the substance of the plastic logos. It is established that this [logos] is a certain energeia of the first actuality and, so to speak, the second yet substantial actuality of another animate and physical body. But [the body of the plastic logos] is evidently itself not a physical body. For otherwise, a physical body cannot enter and penetrates its matter because there is no [mutual] penetration of physical bodies.”

[3] Ibid., 99.

Chapter 2 turns to the French physician Jean Fernel (1497-1558), and his interpretation of Galen in the neo-Platonic flavour. Contrary to Leoniceno via Simplicius, Fernel draws upon Marsilio Ficino to argue for the divinity of the soul. This chapter’s primary aim is to establish Fernel’s position on the status of the soul as essentially divine and argue for the divine presence in natural and medical philosophy. Using the “World-Soul” theory of Ficino, Fernel tried to reconcile Plato with Aristotle via Galen. Hence, it is natural that Fernel holds the view he holds, since his primary source of reference is, as we have seen in the previous chapter, Galen, who held that the soul must be divine, even though Galen himself does not know what that view would entail. So one may see Fernel’s attempt to explain the divinity of the soul as an elaboration of what Galen could have argued for, given his commitment to the divine origin of the soul.



Fernel’s WorldviewJean Fernel


Having argued that the heaven as the fifth element furnishes the composite natural beings with the forms or species, and the eternal circular motion of the heaven is the cause of generation and corruption, he adds that Aristotle held that God the simple and immutable divine substances inside and outside heaven, which in turn sustain the life of all natural beings and enable heaven to rotate on its axis with regularity. So the life on earth depends upon the circular motion of the heavens, but that circular motion in turn depends upon the life on earth, which is sustained by these simple, immutable and divine substances. What are these divine substances? Fernel explains that they are the forms or the seeds according to kinds and species, and the infusion of the forms into matter “activates” life on individual things.

Nothing is more divine in a natural body than the form, which is simple and indestructible. While the matter is a composite of the terrestrial and corruptible elements, the form does is not composed of the mixture of the elements, but rather partakes in the divinity. According to Fernel, the forces of the form are much more powerful than that of the four elements, but at the time, we humans cannot know what they are or how and where they originate because we are limited in our human capacity to know what is hidden by God and made inaccessible to human mind. These hidden things in nature are called occult properties. Since these occult properties exceed the limits of natural philosophy, they are rightly called divine and belong to the realm of divinity. Here, Fernel does something Galen didn’t. While Galen remained agnostic about the nature of the soul and did not explicitly admit the divinity in explaining the realm of natural things, Fernel explicitly introduced the notion of divine force into the natural beings, bringing it down to earth.

Fernel went beyond Galen, and thus expanded on Galen’s conviction that the soul must be divine. In short, Fernel went from “the soul must be divine” to “the soul is of divine nature.” Further, what makes the soul divine is that it pertains to the simple and immutable form that God created and infused upon the natural beings on earth.



God the Creator and Fetal Formation


Fernel advances his own interpretation of Galen that there is supreme intelligence and power in fetal formation and argues for the presence of an architect with a plan as if by theatrical machinery. But this power is not the same as the soul of the fetus, at least not in the sense the Stoics meant by “nature” which lacks any reason-principles. It is rather, according to Galen, some very wise and powerful force, introduced from the outside. Galen held that the efficient and the formative cause of the body is the animal’s congenial heat: a single substance, such as ‘soul’, ‘nature’, ‘native heat’ and ‘implanted temperament’. But Fernel here wants to reject this materialistic conception of the soul as corporeal and destructible substance. For if the soul is simply a congenial heat and a temperament, it is nothing but a mixture of the four elemental qualities, making the soul corruptible and subject to decay. Although Galen usually attributed the causes of natural phenomena to the forces of the temperament and of the elements, he also criticized those who did not recognize a crafting faculty in the body as the formative cause of the body. Drawing upon Galen’s On the Temperaments and On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body, Fernel concludes that Galen, along with Aristotle, considered the formative cause to be beyond the realm of the four elements.[1] In the passage quoted below, Fernel makes Aristotle, Galen and Plato all agree on the influence of the higher intelligence on the terrestrial sphere. In this way, Fernel concludes that even Galen, who did not discuss about the immediate causes of the formation of living beings, affirmed and argued that there must be the primary cause that is responsible for the formation of living beings. Such ultimate cause must, then, be the divine Creator, and neither his substance nor his way of operation can be grasped by the human mind.


The Divine and Celestial Nature of the Soul


Fernel tackles the problem of what the essence of the soul is by citing Galen. According to On the Doctrine of Hippocrates and Plato, Galen’s view states that the soul is a completely simple, and uniform, incorporeal substance, and is more excellent than the pneuma, which is the soul’s primary instrument for its functions. Upon the departure of the pneuma, the life ceases to function and, on the contrary, life is restored when pneuma returns to the soul. Pneuma is distinguished from the soul in yet another way that the former is corporeal and essentially belongs to the body, whereas the latter is free of body and can subsist by itself. Galen further elucidates the status of the soul in his later work, On My On Opinions, that the soul is neither a property of the bodily substance nor simply an incorporeal substance. It is somewhat half way between being a substance and being a property. What this means is that the soul is both incorporeal and subject to the needs of the body. It needs the body as its house to function, so it is not a substance in a complete sense.[2] It can subsist by itself but it needs the body to function. Fernel agrees with Galen and advances his own argument as to what the consequence of such a reasoning may be. For if the soul is constrained by the bodily boundary, it is not free and independent of body to exercise its functions. If the soul is inextricably attached to the body, it also runs the risk that the soul can be damaged when the host body becomes ill or poisoned. To this, Fernel answers that the soul does not suffer any damage that the body may undergo, despite the fact that it is inextricably attached to the body. What gets damaged is the chain of bonds, or the mode of union, that connects the soul and the body. So if a body suffers poison, then this union gets loosened, as it were, and when the union is broken, the soul flees itself, as if it had been freed from a chain tied to the body. This union or bond is nothing but the innate heat or spiritus, Fernel explains. In this way, the relation of mind to the body is likened to the relation of God to nature, that is, the soul is not linked to the body in such a way that it requires the body’s constant aid, but neither God nor soul is tied down to the body of whose control it has charge. “For in order to think,” Fernel continues, “the soul has no need of the agency of anything to use as an instrument, but by itself and on its own it enters upon reasoning and achieves understanding.”[3]

In short, spirit or the innate heat is what connects the soul and the body, and this mode of union is dissolved, the soul departs the body, and body ceases to be alive.



On the Notion of Faculty and the Formative Force


Fernel explains that by faculty (dunamis) all that Galen meant was the efficient cause of each thing by the term. Faculty is a potency of action and something that the substance of a thing uses as a principle for action. In other words, it is that which designates the active property, which resides in a thing but is different from the thing itself. It is something that emanates from the substance itself.

So the formative force is the same as that which is an efficient cause and the principle of action for the substance, distinct from the substance itself. Because this formative power arises out of the substance from the very beginning, and is distinct from it while sharing intellect, not only the highest part of soul, i.e. rational soul, but also the inferior parts of the soul too must possess some divinity as well. Fernel argues this by citing Galen where he argues that “there should be one soul that both shaped us and the past and makes uses of our individual parts in the present.”

Fernel takes this as Galen making connection between the force which forms the body and the force which governs the body. So, the force which forms the body is formative power that emanates from the substance itself and shares divinity, while the force which governs the body is the tripartite souls of the ancients. Instead of seeing them separately, Fernel argues that Galen advocated one soul to perform both functions. So there is a conflation of the view between the formative power and the souls in Fernel that what molds the body also possess the ability to function each part of the formed body. Because the formative power is divine as has been established, the soul that governs too must be divine as well, being one and the same soul. This all powerful soul is identified with the cosmic mind in Galen, which builds the parts of the human body and embraces all bodily parts without discrimination.

However, such conception of the seed as the substance which gives rise to this celestial mind may be seen to be inconsistent with the earlier claims that 1) if the celestial mind in the seed receives its force form the seed as Galen suggested, this nature cannot produce these forces by itself since it comes after the seed, nor can it be described as celestial or divine since it derives its origin in the earthly matter. Further 2) this view of the seed’s possessing the power to give rise to this formative force may be seen as claiming that the seed which is material is the active principle, rather than a vehicle that carries such power. Fernel responds to the first objection that Galen was here simply speaking commonsensically to make the analogy so we understand in what manner this formative power is in the seed. To the second objection, Fernel is careful to add that the seed is not identical with the formative power, but the celestial mind is placed in the seed.[4]


Recap: The formative force is different from the seed, but the seed is merely a vehicle which carries the divinely arrived formative power. This formative power in turn is identified with the soul that governs the body and the human soul to that extent shares its part in divinity. Further, the formative power needs the body as a house to function well. When the house is damaged, the bond that linked the body and the soul/formative power is broken, resulting in the fleeing of the soul from the body, causing the body death.



The Spiritus and the Innate Heat = On the Union of Mind and Body


Spiritus is more like a body, though it is close to incorporeal beings by virtue of being invisible. It is a means used by any substance devoid of body and hidden to human senses to communicate its force to the body. God too communicates his power through the spiritus and this divine spiritus potentially holds souls and directs them wherever it wishes. Such spiritus is the all-penetrating animus mundi, or the World –Soul, of Plato. So the spiritus is naturally said to be the basis of the soul and its forces, and in it lies the innate heat as well. The nature and the soul’s forces are enclosed in the spiritus and the innate heat. Spiritus and the innate heat, hence, are of divine origin, not sharing in the elementary bodies. The nature residing in the spiritus, then, has a more excellent and divine character than the spiritus itself.

So this “nature” is necessarily God, who uses his spiritus and innate heat to form the living beings. So, when this spiritus and its innate heat are extinguished, having lost its vitality, the life ceases to be. Fernel holds thus that this divine spiritus is that which maintains life in living beings and its extinction causes naturally their death.

What exactly doe she mean by ‘divine’? Fernel answers that it is anything that corresponds and shares with the element of the stars, i.e. the fifth element and aether, and that such element too bestows its own force when the four terrestrial elements merge into the composition of natural beings. Hence, for Fernel, this aether provides the soul’s powers and implants the spiritus in natural beings, determining their form. What is divine is determined by whether the effect of a natural thing exceeds the force of nature or not. So, the composition and mixture of the elements can be the force of nature but the formation of specific organs and heterogeneous parts seems to exceed the capacity attributed to nature. In other words, there needs some other extraneous principle to guide through the formation of fetuses and living beings. Hence, Fernel attributed the cause of concoction to celestial heat, and not merely to the mixture of elements and their moderate heat. Without the celestial aid, concoction is noxious and destructive.

This conclusion has a medical significance, for it supposes a new etiology of diseases, because it is no longer just the imbalance of the four elements/humours that causes the disease, but the elemental heat itself s conceived as something that is potentially bad for the body.


In sum, the living body is seen as a house in which the soul resides, and the spiritus and its innate heat are the instruments of the soul that enables incorporeal power to affect the corporeal body. It is the link or the bond that ties the soul and the body together. Because of this, when this link is broken, the heat is dintiguished and hence the life ceases to be. Such divine spiritus cannot have the terrestrial origin, for then it would be destructible and without reason. The very idea that the formative power is endowed with a rational principle prevents Fernel from concluding that the spiritus is made up of the terrestrial elements. Because it is more divine than the four elements, what controls it, i.e. the world soul, must be more divine than the spiritus it uses. As the spiritus cannot come from the simple mixture of the four elements, it must be implanted into the natural beings at the time of generation, from then onwards directing the fetal formation and taking charge of the nourishment of the body. To this extent, the spiritus of the living body is governed by and closely united with the World Soul.

[1] Fernel quoted in Hiro Hirai, Medical Humanism, 53-54. “Who could be such a crazy enemy and opponent of the works of nature as not to see at once right at the start, from the skin itself, the skill of the creator? Who will not go on to reflect that some mind or intelligence, endowed with marvelous power, travels through the lands and extends into all parts? For there is nowhere that creatures are not seen to be generated, creatures that all have received some remarkable structure… If some animals are generated in mud, filth, bogs, plants and fruit when they rot – animals that display the marvelous brightness of the being that generates – what should we think [happens] in higher bodies? If the mind and intelligence that reached into such filth is outstanding, how great should its excellence be reckoned in the case of the sun, moon and most of the stars? Certainly, when I brood over this, a mind of no small dimension seems to extend throughout the air surrounding us. If anyone gazes round thoroughly on this with unfettered mind, seeing a mind residing despite it all in such a welter of flesh and humours, seeing too makeup and structure of each living thing (for they all display the evidence and standing of their wise creator), he will admire the greatness and excellence of the mind that is in the heavens.

[2] Hiro Hirai, Medical Humanism, 61. Fernel quoted, “[w]hen a craftsman is in sound health, yet confined to a house, if he is going to complete any task correctly, he should not just be provided with a suitable tool, but also with a properly lit house, which should not be dark or gloomy; I certainly declare that in the same way the soul, while enmeshed the toils of the body, for the purpose of reasoning and understanding needs a sound state of body, not as an instrument but as a house.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fernel in Hiro Hiral, Medical Humanism, 66-67. “The incorporeal nature confined in the seed receives its powers from this [seed] just as a craftsman receives his [force] from his instrument. But in reality they have arrived divinely.”

Medical Humanism Hiro Hirai Bookcover [The following is a summary of the book by Hiro Hiral, Medical Humanism and Natural Philosophy (Brill Publishing, December 30th, 2011). Work in progress, and feedbacks are more than welcome.] Chapter 1 discusses about the historiographical survey of the concept of formative power by the humanist physician Leoniceno (1428-1524). Leoniceno’s embryological treatise, On Formative Power (De virtute formativa), includes the analyses of the concept employed by the medical authorities in antiquity onwards, from Aristotle to Averroes, and interprets what was meant by the formative powers. This chapter follows the line of exposition demonstrated in Leoniceno’s book, thereby the focus of this chapter is: reconstruction of Galen’s view on the concept, criticism of Pietro d’Abano for identifying the celestial heat with the formative power by examining Aristotle’s own opinion. Then, Leoniceno gives us his own interpretation on the issue, closing with refuting the account offered by Averroes. Galen, d’Abano and Leoniceno’s Commentary on Them Galen accepts that there must be a supreme intelligence in directing the formation of fetuses, but was uncertain whether or not to equate it with the soul. Traditionally, it was equated with the vegetative soul as it nourishes the fetus, but Galen thought of such vegetative soul to be without intelligence or reason, and hence irrational. Although Leoniceno attributes to Galen the view of Hippocrates that the vegetative soul must be possessed, above all, by the fetuses and it must be that which fashions the body. However, the formation of the fetus and the augmentation, or the nourishing, of the body are two different ideas, for the vegetative soul can nourish the body without intelligence but cannot direct the form of the fetus there is a forming principle. Further, Leoniceno points out the apparent disagreement of Galen with himself in suggesting that the formation of the fetus is attributed to both 1) the vegetative soul and 2) the natural heat, but tries to make sense of these two different ideas by equating them with one another. Leoniceno here appeals to Hippocrates again as the paradigmatic authority of the Greek physicians, and explains that Hippocrates taught the body’s natural heat or the constituent is referred to as body’s temperament, or the mixture of the four elemental qualities. Leoniceno justifies his use of the word temperament to mean the body’s natural heat as the vegetative soul by citing Galen’s own work, On Tremor, in which Galen calls the soul the animal’s natural heat. This heat, then, is neither of external origin as some argued of it as the celestial heat, nor does it come after the animal’s birth, but congenial to it. Here, we see the origin of the Galenic theory of the native or inbred heat. According to Galen, Aristotle wondered if the formative power should be attributed to something more divine. Leoniceno locates the source of such doubt in Meteorology 4.12, where Aristotle attributes the formation of the homogeneous parts to the active qualities of hot and cold, while invoking another cause for the organization of heterogeneous parts. The former is the mutative cause, as it forms organs and alters the shapes for fitting ones, while the latter is the formative cause proper, in that it assumes the supreme art and intelligence of the Creator, who directs the organization of the heterogeneous parts in the human whole. Pietro d’Abano also aligns with Galen and argues that the formative power is of the divine origin and hence active and superior to any other generative power. However, it being immaterial, it cannot act directly on matter, so it needs a certain vehicle that carries it. This subtle body of vehicle is the spirit. In addition, such formative power needs the celestial heat, which is always vivifying and never destructive, as well as the elemental heat, which can vivify and preserve the natural things with the help of celestial heat. Leoniceno, however, disagrees with d’Abano and criticizes him for contradicting Arostotle’s teaching. Although Leoniceno recognizes two kinds of heat involved in the generative process (one is used by nature in generation of animals while the other is used in art for perfection of its own works), he argues that the heat residing in the seed of animals is far from divine or celestial origin. Even though Aristotle himself says that this heat in the seed is analogous to celestial heat, Leoniceno insists that it remains an analogy as Aristotle adds that this vital heat is not fire but the foam-like natural principle in the breath, since as we see no generation happening in solids or liquids under the influence of fire, the heat of the sun which generates is neither fire nor derives its origin from fire.[1] [Q1: But when Aristotle speaks of the vital principle in the generation of animals as analogous to the celestial heat, and it itself is neither fire nor derives its origin from fire, is he not saying that it is not the elementary heat and that it is more like or identical to the celestial heat?] From this textual evidence, Leoniceno argues that this vital heat is enclosed in the seed or the spirit (i.e. breath), and concludes that what is analogous is not identical. In addition to the two heat (one by nature, the other by art), Leoniceno admits a third type of fire, which results from the elemental fire but is more suitable for generating living beings. [Q2: So this vital principle Aristotle speaks of is of elemental fire but is different in its nature?] Leoniceno thus refuses to identify the external celestial heat as the formative power internal to the seed of animals. Leoniceno’s Analyses on Alexander of Aphrodisius and Simplicius Alexander of Aphrodisius likened the vital, formative power in living beings as an irrational mechanism, calling it “nature” and compared its movements to those of marionettes. This is a visualization of Aristotle’s view that the father first introduces the seed a force which moves the matter, along with the form of the father. This first movement activates the second stage of fetal formation, the third activates the fourth and so on. Once the first movement is activated, the rest follows rather indifferent to choice or reason. This is how Alexander qualified “nature” as an irrational power while conceiving it as a determined principle inserted into matter. It is an irrational principle only relative to the reason-principle, producing in a cognizant manner. Simplicius, from whose commentary on Alexander we know much about Alexander’s writings, agrees that nature is like marionettes producing the consistency and exactness, but disagrees with the latter that nature is irrational, even in the relative sense of the term. For Simplicius cannot understand why it is that natural things exist in a way that preserves order and consistency without having any cognition to reach a definite end like the movement of marionettes. It seems rather reasonable to say that nature is not irrational but co-responsible with the immediate causes of things that are generated and corrupted. These immediate causes, in turn, are governed by the celestial bodies according to which beings on this earth are modified. Simplicius, in this way, conceived such formative power as auxiliary to the celestial and intellectual causes. Nature (or formative power) then is the concause with the celestial cause for Simplicius. Leoniceno agrees with Simplicius in conceiving the formative power as auxiliary to the soul, and distinguishes the nature from the soul itself. Leoniceno quotes Simplicius as a conclusion and argues that the seed’s inner nature is the cause for animal generation.[2] Averroes and Themistius Averroes, in like manner, argues that this generative/formative power differs from the other natural powers in animal bodies and that compares such power as belonging to intellectual cause. Since this power acts with the help of the seed’s inner heat, it is obvious that it lies in the seed as a form. For Averroes, this form is distinct from the animal’s innate heat but is comparable to the soul in celestial bodies. Here, we see a divergence from Leoniceno’s, and Simplicius’s, argument that the formative power is not the same as the celestial heat, and Averroes goes back to the identification of the innate heat with the external celestial heat. Leoniceno criticizes him for erroneously drawing upon the conclusion from Themistius and Avicenna’s theory of Giver of Forms, and explains that Themistius’s theory does not demand the existence of a higher agent separated from the body in animal generation, as it would in the case of the Giver of Forms. According to Themistius, Leoniceno wants to argue, the soul residing in the seed is sufficient to form matter. In sum, Leoniceno agrees with Simplicius and refuses to identify the formative power with the external celestial heat, while Pietro d’Abano and Averroes belong to the other camp due to the misunderstanding of the interpretations of Aristotle offered by Themistius and Avicenna. Galen is situated somewhat in the middle ground in that he equates the formative power as not something from external heat nor does it come after the birth, but is congenial to the birth of the animals. Although Galen himself is uncertain of the origin of this formative power, it accords with Leoniceno’s view that it is the animal’s native heat. Galen, however, also argues that this formative power is of a divine origin. To that extent, Leoniceno and Simplicius differ from Galen’s view on what this generative heat really is. Formative Power is… For Galen => of divine origin and shows a sign of intellect; is congenial to the animal’s birth For Pietro & Averroes (via Themistius & Avicenna) => is of divine origin and distinct from the inbred heat. For Leoniceno & Simplicius => is NOT of divine origin and auxiliary to the soul or external heat, but instead is the animal’s power or aptitude in virtue of which lifeless things can be moved an changed. [1] “All have in semen that which causes it to be productive; I mean what is called vital heat. This is not fire nor any such force, but it is the breath included in the semen and the foam-like, and the natural principle in the breath, being analogous to the element of the stars. Hence whereas fire generates no animal and we do not find any living thing forming in either solids or liquids under the influence of fire, the heat of the sun and that of animals does generate them. Not only is this true of the heat that works through the semen, but whatever other residue of the animal nature there may be, this also has still a vital principle in it. From such considerations it is clear that the heat in animals neither is fire nor derives its origin from fire.” See Aristotle, Generation of Animals, Bk. II, 3. 736b32-737a7. [2] Simplicius quoted in Leoniceno. “But since bodies are far removed from indivisible and incorporeal nature as well as from the life that subsists in absolute being, and since they are lifeless and do not breathe at all in themselves, too chilled for any kind of life, they have within themselves the last sort of life, which relates that which we call “nature” to power and aptitude. Because of it, even lifeless things can be moved and changed, and it is even said that they are born and act passively on each other.” See, page 38 of this book.

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*Work in progress (feedbacks welcome)


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

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

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


Book I: Vegeta & Freeza Sagas as Political Realism

I: Stars incline but do not necessiate


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

























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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

[1] 1032a32-b6

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


[4] Galluzzo, 98.

[5] Ibid., 182.

[6] John McGinns, Avicenna, 239.

[7] Ibid., 240-241.

[8] Ibid., 241-242.

[9] Galluzzo, 188.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 187.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 198.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

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

[17] Ibid., 24

[18] Ibid., 16.

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


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

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.


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