A note on the text 7

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titreA note on the text 7
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principle. But his apparent lack of interest in metaphysics did not preclude an examination of various manifestations of ‘reasonings’, whichever their principle might be. In this sense, Lamy seemed to want to caricature the dualist stance: for while he could declare that the ‘immaterial, immortal’, Cartesian ‘principle’ of higher thought and contemplation must remain out of sight and out of investigative bounds, he nevertheless engaged in the study of functions whose connection to the so-called corporeal soul was unclear. Not that he was interested in pursuing an explicit examination of the status and nature of these higher ‘reasonings’ - it was Locke who did this, thus bestowing on epistemology the role previously held by traditional, medically mediated psychology.884 But, as we shall see, Lamy’s Discours anatomiques were more concerned with metaphysics than one would infer from reading the statement quoted above at face value.

Lamy’s view of the sensitive soul was no less a hybrid of old and new than that of Willis or Perrault or, for that matter, Descartes. On many issues, such as blood circulation, but also, notably, reproduction, in the context of the raging debates about ovism, he even tended to favour the theories which at the time were considered least ‘modern’.885 This, however, did not stand in contradiction to his clear-cut denunciation of the recourse to finalist assumptions, which, he said, echoing Descartes, undermined a proper understanding of natural forms.886 There was no point, according to him, in looking for divine intention in nature, and no ground to the anthropocentric view that nature had been designed to suit human needs perfectly. Nature could be harmful as well as useful to us; and while our reason was indeed superior to that of beasts, it also seemed

less certain. Beasts manage, with the little reason they have, to find without study and without error what they need for their happiness; man’s reason can err in a thousand ways which cause him, more often than not, to make himself miserable through his very effort to become happy.887
Reason was the least useful of nature’s gifts to us. While such a statement might look like a standard formulation of mitigated scepticism out of Montaigne’s ‘Apologie de Raimond Sebond’, and similar to the arguments we examined earlier against the beast-machine hypothesis, in Lamy’s case it was not used in the service of faith, or as a preamble to a guide to the passions. His point, instead, was that we were not so well designed that finalism had much credibility. He began the first of the Discours with a reference to the absence of a rete mirabile in humans, suggesting at the same time that man’s preeminence over other creatures, although not visible in anatomical terms, was due to ‘the invisible spirit which animates and governs him, and which faith tells us is of a different, much nobler, nature than that of beasts, although its appearance is deceptive enough that its condition seems hardly different’.888
Views about how to determine what an organ might be for, given the natural order of things, depended on assumptions about the status of scientific investigation in a world created by God, but in which secondary causes alone were visible. And these views, in turn, inflected beliefs about what mental functions were, and which ones could be observed. Treatises on the ‘corporeal’ or ‘sensitive’ soul bear witness to the fact that quite a few aspects of the human mind were deemed analysable in other than theological or moral terms. But the visibility of this soul was not a given: it depended on a set of beliefs about the perceptual gifts that humans, and thus natural philosophers, could be deemed to possess and to be capable of using. In other words, the post-Cartesian ‘mind’, no longer soul-like, was a function of the reciprocal dependence, on the one hand, of the observability of the natural order and, on the other, of the shifting configuration of the visible mental order. What a human mind was capable of conceiving, how its perceptions were true perceptions, and why dream-experiences seemed so similar to wakeful ones, for example, were among those questions for which a new, but confined, naturalism provided materialistic answers. It did not provide, however, the means for curtailing the growth of a gap between old souls, unknown to themselves as they were acknowledged to be, and new minds - between contemplative humans and scurrying, microscopic, diligent animal spirits.

This gap grew in spite of the effort to bridge it, or rather to cover it up with a teleology in which secondary causes remained a manifestation of divine power, and so where the analysable workings of the mind were signs, too, of God’s perfection, and of his stamp on our higher, contemplative souls. As I have indicated earlier, this attachment to finalist discourse became increasingly rhetorical, simply because its actual usefulness was rapidly decreasing.889 Lamy gave it its due, when stating, early in the first of the Discours anatomiques, that in contemplating the intricacy of the human organism, students of anatomy would ‘recognize the power of the Sovereign Being, who, just by willing it, produced the various particles of matter, along with movements, by the necessity of which were formed machines embellished by the presence of so many articulations’. But, as he went on, it might seem terribly arrogant to want to penetrate the secrets of these machines, and search out the reasons for their existence, given that it was impossible to analyse how they were put together even though they were there for everyone to see. It was for this reason that he decided to focus only on the uses and functions of the parts which constituted the body.890

The search for the correlation between form and function, as we made clear in the preceding chapter, presupposed a one-to-one relationship between the two. In the medical field, what counted as explanatory of symptoms was identified as a substance, as Gaston Bachelard suggested many years ago in La formation de l’esprit scientifique. Form - organic structure - was thought to ‘directly realize’, as he put it, the identified function; an ‘active principle would create substance’.891 Humoural theory survived, in this picture, as one manifestation of the need to transform qualities into substances, and effects into essences. When Lamy - avowedly following ‘the opinion of the ancient authors’ - allocated the ‘parts used for the animal functions, that is, sensation and voluntary motion’ to the head, he was identifying the actual, physical place with the actual, physical cause of sensation and voluntary motion. The same held, of course, for the chest, which ‘houses the tools for vital functions, that is, the pulse and breathing which are the two essential signs for distinguishing a living from a dead animal’, and for the abdomen, which ‘contains the parts used for the natural functions, that is, nourishment and reproduction’.892 But for Lamy, and as I shall attempt to show, the localization of function was not explanatory of how the soul worked in quite the same way that it had been under faculty psychology.

In some respects, it took little conceptual work to undermine Galenic teleology, given that this was a time when practical concerns with the modalities of empirical investigation, and with quantifying methods in physics, were no longer bound up with the definition of qualities.893 Lamy, for one, resorted to quite similar arguments to those used, for example, by Hobbes against Aristotelian forms. According to Hobbes, these forms explained natural phenomena such as heaviness by attributing to them the cause of their result: ‘so that the cause why things sink downward, is an endeavour to be below: which is as much to say, that bodies descend, or ascend, because they do’.894 Lamy was equally ironic in dismissing as invalid the tendency of Galenists to explain all things as resulting from the ‘intention’ of nature, which they believed they fully understood: ‘one can ask why the eyes are not on the heel, the ears on the stomach, the nose on the shoulder’, and so on.895 In opposition to the Galenists, he set up the followers of ‘Democritus, Hippocrates, Epicurus, Lucretius’, for whom motion inhered in matter: the parts of bodies depended upon the configurations of matter and of its necessary, rather than divinely imposed motions. Bodies were constrained to be what they were from the atomic level upwards, just as the sum total of three dice must figure between three and eighteen. The function of bodies, in turn, resulted from these forms to which atoms, seed-like, gave birth. Their parts ‘were formed by the blind necessity of matter’s motions without being destined for any end; rather, their use derives from their disposition, and from the tasks of the animal that uses them.’896 And so it was that, as he put it, echoing Lucretius,897 ‘one should not say that eyes were made for seeing but that we see because we have eyes’.898 An organ might do a particular job because of its particular configuration, while another might be more flexible, like ‘teeth, feet, hands’. But the organ’s function could not possibly precede the formation of its structure. Anti-Galenists agreed, wrote Lamy, that ‘when something is built for an end, one has to have known the end before it exists; for example, we have built beds in order to rest, but we knew what rest was before building bed.’ Similarly, ‘it is impossible that we knew what seeing was before eyes existed, what hearing was before ears existed; and so eyes are not there for us to see, nor ears for us to hear, but rather eyes and ears have found the uses they have by necessity.’899

Clearly, the rejection of teleological discourse did not in itself contradict the working hypotheses of post-Aristotelian natural philosophers, for whom the analysis of individual organic form was a prerequisite to the understanding of organic function. Again, Lamy was close to Descartes, as well as to what actual empirical enquiry required, in thinking that final causes, whether presumed of bodies or as an aspect of the enquirer’s research programme, were ‘useless’, since knowledge of what a part was for sufficed.900 One should not speak ‘as if one had been God’s confident and had read the book of all his plans’.901 Steno, it will be recalled, had subscribed to the same credo.902 Efficient causes were explanatory of complex organic structures and mechanisms without having to refer to the ends towards which they seemed to work; and, inversely, the end of a willed action was not explanatory of its efficient cause, either in animals or, indeed, in man.903 As for man, he was too sorry and too unhappy a creature to be considered perfect, especially when one compared him to animals. Montaigne’s arguments against the legitimacy of human pride are clearly behind Lamy’s Epicurean views on the origins of life.904 Final causes, moreover, were ‘always uncertain, because those believed to be most evident are very doubtful’, Lamy wrote, ‘and because God’s mind, infinite as it is, sees infinite ends we do not see’.905 Final causes did exist, insofar as God existed. But there was no need to take them into account in anatomical enquiry, or in the physician’s practice. They were best considered absent from nature as we humans experienced and saw it, for they could lead to absurd conclusions: ‘if there ever was to be a new world with winged men, and Galen were also to be resurrected, he would undoubtedly write a large book on the usefulness of wings’.906

Foremost in Lamy’s mind, then, was the need to secure a plausible theory of matter which would account at once for its genealogy and for its actual, multiple, functional forms. The ancient atomists, he reported, had developed just such a theory: natural selection, in their view, had operated on what were initially randomly shaped organisms, produced, like everything else in the universe, by ‘the blind necessity of the movements of matter’.907 At first these creatures might be deprived ‘of eyes, or of a mouth, or of reproductive organs’, but these ‘perished because unable to feed, or to reproduce by mating’.908 Better equipped species, on the other hand, survived, and they were those extant in our day:

Those equipped with feet walked, those with wings flew, those with neither feet nor wings swam in the sea or crawled on the ground, those with teeth chewed, the strongest or most agile became masters of the others, in such a way that there is no need to look for ends in those kinds of principles.909
While noting that the original Epicurean view was in clear opposition to religion, Lamy nevertheless seems to have adopted it even in its ancient, non-Christianized, that is, pre-Gassendian, state. Humans were too imperfect to be the culmination of God’s work that Galenists supposed they were. Such a God, furthermore, would be inappropriate, for it was unlikely that he should have exhausted all his resources in the creation of man.910 The parts of an organism belonged to the whole, and the whole was created not only by but also for the ‘Author of nature’, who had laboured entirely for his own pleasure, creating matter and particles, the motions of which produced an infinitely varied array of shapes. The changes of matter, Descartes had written in Le monde, were attributable to the ‘laws of Nature’, rather than to God himself.911 All the natural philosopher could study were the particles which composed matter.912 The machine analogy held here too, as a by-product of turning the organism into an object of study, crafted by its creator, but held together in virtue of physical laws and of the individual organism’s natural habitat. Lamy’s naturalism with regard to the design of creatures worked in parallel to his rejection of the teleological amalgamation of perfection with necessity and purposefulness. In his case, however, it is hard to say which one, the naturalism or the rejection of teleology, came first.

The consequence of denying any heuristic value to the notion of ultimate purposefulness in nature was that, unless one accepted the Cartesian postulation of an immaterial, immortal res cogitans, it was no longer possible to read function into structure on the basis of a metaphysical stance. This left the soul in the lurch. Writing in Gassendist mode,913 Lamy pointed out, appealing to Seneca, that everyone agreed ‘that we have a soul that governs us’. But no one could ‘clearly say what it is. One person thinks it is a spirit; another, a harmony of all parts of the body; another, a divine virtue and a particle of divinity; another, a very subtle air; another, an immaterial power. Some even say it is blood or heat’.914 In brief: according to some, the soul was incorporeal, while to others, it was corporeal. The soul obviously had some sort of connection to the brain; and it made sense to allocate mental functions to parts of the brain. But, for Lamy, neither localization, nor the identification of the soul with substances such as blood or fire, nor, even, the recourse to observable functions or faculties, helped define what sort of thing the soul was.

This view might be clarified with the help of an observation made some fifty years ago, that ‘there is no logical connection between cerebral localization and materialism. The former only asserts a topical connection between mind and brain and is actually silent on the nature of their relationship.’915 Lamy, then, did not contradict the received notion that the soul was housed mainly in the brain, ‘where it exerts its most noble functions’. Brain injury, for example, usually went along with disorders in mental functions; and it took just a little opium, or a few glasses of wine, for the soul to follow in the body’s weakness.916 These facts showed that the reasoning faculty was not based in the heart, contrary to what Epicurus had affirmed.917 There simply was no doubt that mind and body interacted and affected each other, and thus that the soul must be material in some way. Descartes’s extreme dualism was ‘a chimera he has conceived with the purpose of seeing how the world would react to it, or for some other reasons which can easily be guessed at.’918 Moreover, to say, as Descartes had done, that the soul was a thinking substance, was merely to state the obvious; it said nothing about what
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