Summary Against Modern Thought: The Intellect Is Not A Temperament

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

We’re still on makeup and workings of the intellect and soul! More criticisms answered this week. And then we’ll take a two-week break for Christmas and New Year, after which comes some really juicy material.

Chapter 63 That the soul is not a temperament, as Galen maintained. (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation this week.

1 The opinion of the physician Galen about the soul is similar to the previously discussed notion of Alexander concerning the possible intellect. For Galen says that the soul is a temperament.

Now, he was moved to say this because of our observation that diverse passions, ascribed to the soul, result from various temperaments in us: those possessed of a choleric temperament are easily angered; melancholics easily grow sad. And so we see that the same arguments which we used a moment ago against Alexander’s theory can serve to disprove this notion of Galen’s, as well as some arguments specifically relevant to that notion.

Note I eschewed the pun about the caloric life with the choleric temperament since this is a sober subject.

2 For it was shown above that the operation of the vegetative soul, sensitive knowledge, and, much more, the operation of the intellect transcend the power of the active and passive qualities. But temperament is caused by active and passive qualities. Therefore, it cannot be a principle of the soul’s operations. It is, then, impossible for a soul to be a temperament.

Note But then needs to be explained when my grandmother in high temper would burst out, “Oh my soul!” (That’s the last one, I promise. I’ll even leave paragraph 4 alone.)

3 Moreover, temperament is something constituted by contrary qualities, as a kind of mean between them, and therefore it cannot possibly be a substantial form, since “substance has no contrary, and does not admit of variation of degree.” But the soul is a substantial, not an accidental, form; otherwise, a thing would not obtain genus or species through the soul. It follows that the soul is not a temperament.

4 Again, temperament is not responsible for the local movement of an animal’s body; if it were, then that body would follow the movement of the preponderant element, and thus would always be moved downwards. But the soul moves the body in all directions; therefore, it is not the temperament.

5 Then, too, the soul rules the body and resists the passions, which follow the temperament. For by temperament some are more prone than others to concupiscence or anger, yet refrain more from these things because something keeps them in check, as we see in continent persons. Now, it is not the temperament that does this. Therefore, the soul is not the temperament.

6 It would seem that Galen was misled through not having considered that passions are attributed to the temperament in quite a different manner than to the soul. For passions are ascribed to the temperament as a dispositive cause in their regard, and as concerns that which is material in them, such as the heat of the blood and the like. On the other hand, passions are ascribed to the soul as their principal cause, and as regards that which is formal in them; for instance, the desire of vengeance in the passion of anger.


  1. Joy

    Number six is clearly wrong.
    Anger does not affect body temperature as is implied.
    Furthermore it is also true that body temperature and therefore blood temperature DOES affect temperament. Whatever the temperament normally is.

    It’s not clear at all, deliberately probably, what he really meant. Not that Thomas didn’t know exactly what he meant and that is wasn’t exactly clear back in the day.
    However back in the day they knew very little about the heart, the liver and pretty well all of the vital organs.
    It was believed that the humours were the source of the temperament. They were sued to describe the temperament. Hence our saying today about ‘bile’ and ‘sanguine’. They used to think phlegm did something as well but I’m too disinterested to check since it’s not true and there’s no reason to go back over it.

    People might think the subject is being taken seriously!

  2. Joy

    ‘sued’ very funny, Used was what was written.
    Note also the use of the word disinterested and not uninterested. In manner of Steven Fry and in homage to him. Who as far as I can tell does not bear false witness.

  3. Oldavid

    Now poor ole Tom is consigned to the gallows for what could be described as a figure of speech.

    I assume that you are proposing that intellect is, indeed, a temperament (shall we say the predisposition to certain moods, feelings, emotions) and that detached observation and logic have nothing to do with the perception of truth (which is the action and purpose of the intellect).

  4. Ye Olde Statistician

    So once again, the science was wrong. When Aristotle said that anger was due in one sense to a boiling of blood around the heart, but in another sense to a desire for revenge, why… it makes your blood boil, doesn’t it? But of course, if the scientific theory of blood = heat is wrong, we need only substitute the latest scientific theory by which anger causes glands to secrete hormones or whatever chemical reactions are now en vogue. If you are going to treat anger in a medical way, you can’t stray too far from the mechanical descriptor.

    But if you are going to treat it in a court of law or in an anger management session, then you might want to look at things in the second way. Moderns, heirs to the 19th century mechanistic models, seem to think, like Galen, that their souls are a consequence of their bodily mechanisms; but it is at least as likely that in the common course of nature, it is the active and passive intellect that triggers the bodily functions, as when high anxiety causes blood pressure to rise or being cut off in traffic leads to fits of anger — especially in choleric individuals.

    Notes for the perplexed: “passive” did not have the same connotations that it does today. If “active” is related to “action,” then “passive” is related to “passion,” and surely being passionate is in our categories of thought a rather active thing to be.

  5. Oldavid

    quote YOS: ” it is the active and passive intellect that triggers the bodily functions,”/quote

    I rather think that it is the will (which nature and purpose is to seek good (i.e. happiness)) is more the controller of the body and its actions or functions than the intellect. The will must be directed by the intellect which can explain why so many deceived or misguided people seek good in so many perverse and destructive ways.

    Either way, intellect is not a temperament or the product of a temperament. Temperament can interfere with intellect (and thus will) but it doesn’t cause, or determine, what intellect and will are.

    The effects of Adam’s Sin are manifest. The pure function of intellect and will are clouded and distorted.

    YOS, I look forward to another bout of us misunderstanding one another, and you defining the forest with a detailed description of every tree therein.

  6. Joy

    So my point is proved,
    Oldavid doesn’t read or understand what is written because he can’t see past the red.
    YOS’s statement now implies that figurative speech is now somehow perfectly clear and fine. It appears without the ‘tossed off’ or the accusations of sociopathy or whatever other purely logical remarks he choses to insert.

    This is the kind of ambiguity to which I refer.

    As for Thomas A being lead to the gallows, that’s plain silly and not remotely what I said. The ones who should be lead to the gallows figuratively, of course, for misrepresentation are those who feign misunderstanding by way of a policy.

    Aristotle also said flies have only four legs,
    women have fewer teeth than men.
    He, like all men, was not infallible and it his as well not to pretend that he was above making mistakes.

    “Blood boiling,”
    “have the gall”
    “bile ridden invective,”
    Well known phrases but actually were meant entirely literally in the sense that it was believed as I stated above.
    “blood boiling” is that part which has been introduced in the commentary which is figurative. At no point in history did anyone consider that the blood boiled.

    So it’s important in discussing a sober subject to be clear and sensible. Especially if the purpose is other than filler or self reassurance for people who already don’t want to think about the text again but simply read it.

    Aristotle and Thomas A don’t need protection. They have no feelings.

    As to the strange pseudo psychology? hmm. It’s okay when it’s okay and it’s not when it’s not. That’s psychology for you.

    The parts of psychology which are not disputed and which are employed in clinics are necessary because somebody has to help patients. They cannot be left with Thomas A’s theory or whoever’s classical student’s favourite pet ideas.

    When the rubber hits the road in reality the chaff is sorted quickly from the wheat. The inadequacies of the discipline are well known and tolerated just as all of medicine. Only a pure logistician idealist would think that reasonable isn’t good enough.

  7. Ye Olde Statistician

    Aristotle also said … women have fewer teeth than men.

    Bertrand Russell once wrote that while Aristotle held that women have fewer teeth than men, “it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths.” This meme has been repeated by folks who never thought to verify Russell’s statement by examining Aristotle’s books. However, it reinforces modern feelings of superiority.

    Now the Stagerite did claim that “Males have more teeth than females in the case of men, sheep, goats, and swine…,” but he goes on to say, “…in the case of other animals, observations have not yet been made>/i>,” which clearly implies that in the cited cases observations had been made (cf. On the Parts of Animals: Book III). Aristotle may have been wrong, but not for the stupid reason Russell made up.

    The paradox is resolved by the old adage: “One child, one tooth.” Pre-modern pregnancies resulted in tooth loss due to calcium depletion. Since childbearing commenced early, before the last molars had erupted, adult women really would have possessed fewer teeth. Pace Russell, examining his wife’s mouth would not likely have told Aristotle any differently.

  8. Joy

    YOS, do you ever get a feeling of deja vu?
    Aristotle just didn’t know about flies legs or teeth. Seriously, who could blame him for not checking inside his wives mouths by means of visualisation, I mean. I’m sure he checked them well enough!

    I don’t mean to be rude but how many men have checked inside their wives mouthes? I’m not defending Bertrand Russell but is is funny. I don’t feel superior either, I hope that’s clear enough! It just makes me quibble when you quibble. I have never met these moderns you speak of.

    I mean why even bother defending it. When this point is defended it makes me think the following,* but actually it’s just easier to consider that there is bound to be things he wrote that weren’t accurate. Imagine in a few hundreds or thousands of years, what you have written might turn out to be wrong. What’s wrong with that? It is by no means a proof of anything. It is just to say that we haven’t discovered all htere is to know yet.

    *The one child one tooth is an excuse for a quite understandable mistake for the day.
    Mistake it was.
    Whether Russell or “moderns” feel the need to feel superior is more imbuing motive.
    It does seem that the best source of information for teeth in humans would b e the human mouth. It also is true despite the pleading about women losing teeth during pregnancy, that women have their full compliment of teeth prior to puberty.
    So, if it was known as you claim that “one child one tooth” is a true statement then the person checking would simply count the children! Failing that they would do the obvious thing and check girls who have become women but not yet had children.

    Like I said quite seriously, Aristotle probably had extra teeth himself. That what I think happened. Some people do have extra when their milk teeth fail to be shed and some have more wisdom teeth emerge than others. Not everyone acquires the full four.
    Aristotle was a hero! It is silly to say he wasn’t. It was also silly to excuse what doesn’t need excusing.

    It’s the same for Thomas. He can’t have been expected to know what we know today. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve alluded to implied or stated that about either of the men. However the truth of what someone says or theory still needs to be open to questioning even by those people who know less about them than many or most. If not we’re in a strange place in time.

  9. Scotian

    The number of wisdom teeth can vary. I had four, my dauther had two, and my wife had (has) none. What does that tell you? That people assume to knowledge that they do not possess.

  10. Oldavid

    I have a record of lengthy arguments with Tomophiles (who assume that everything Tom says is right just because he said it) but in such arguments I specify what I think is wrong, why I think it wrong and offer what I consider a more realistic alternative.

    Such, however, is not the way of Tomophobes who ignore the guts of the argument (or explanation) seeking instead any peripheral, pernickety quibble (often maliciously misrepresented) in their frenzy to discredit and dismiss the great man’s thought-work. Of course, the main aim of such is not the great man himself, but the implications of Christian theology therein.

    Tom does not enjoy a supernatural infallibility. Indeed, I am quite sure that in his humility he would be very pleased to be shown to be wrong using the very scientific (Scholastic) method he developed.

    In this case he has provided some very cogent reasons to show that intellect is not a temperament. That one might not like the conclusion is of no consequence at all to the argument. If one thinks it’s wrong the onus is on them to say why.

  11. Ye Olde Statistician

    who could blame him for not checking inside his wives mouths

    Aristotle was famously an empiricist, which put him rather at odds with other Greek philosophers, who were rather more taken with Theory. Don’t forget the second half of his actual statement: that ‘in the case of other animals, observations have not yet been made.’ This is why Russell’s non-empirical claim about his wife’s mouth does not ring true. Of course, Aristotle was wrong on this point, at least from the modern perspective, but he was not stupidly wrong. The truly ironic weird thing is that he was wrong as a matter of Aristotelian principle: women in fact had fewer teeth than men back when loss of calcium to developing babies was a serious issue, and women were considered adults at age 12. But it was not an essential property. It was an accidental property; but there was no way to assess this back then.

    Regarding the number of legs on a fly, I would have to know where he wrote this, so I could understand what he wrote rather than what other people claim he wrote. Go, go, google….

    Hunh. I find another folklore site saying that Aristotle claimed flies had eight legs. Go figure. Ah… here we are… Biologist John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts, very much a modernist, writes:

    Here is the offending text, from History of Animals, 490a.b:

    “All creatures that are capable of motion move with four or more points of motion; the blooded animals with four only: as, for instance, man with two hands and two feet, birds with two wings and two feet, quadrupeds and fishes severally with four feet and four fins. Creatures that have two winglets or fins, or that have none at all like serpents, move all the same with not less than four points of motion; for there are four bends in their bodies as they move, or two bends together with their fins.

    Bloodless and many footed animals, whether furnished with wings or feet, move with more than four points of motion; as, for instance, the dayfly (ephemeron) moves with four feet and four wings: and, I may observe in passing, this creature is exceptional not only in regard to the duration of its existence, whence it receives its name, but also because though a quadruped it has wings also.

    All animals move alike, four-footed and many-footed; in other words, they all move cross-corner-wise. And animals in general have two feet in advance; the crab alone has four.”

    Wilkins continues:

    Now several things should be noted: he [Aristotle] doesn’t say all flies have four legs [emph. added]; he mentions a particular animal, the “ephemeron”, which is most likely a species of mayfly, or Ephemeroptera, of which there are over 2000 species. Go look at the left hand photograph of the Hexagenia species shown here:


    How many legs does it have? Well, it is standing on four, because the forelegs are specialised simply to hold onto the female during mating in flight (the sole task of the adult mayfly). Aristotle, who counts legs based on their functionality, is in fact correct, if that is the kind of species he was observing. We say it has six legs because the forelegs are homologous with the hindlegs. He said four because the forelegs aren’t used for walking. [emph. added]

    Secondly, note that Aristotle mentions the ephemeron in the context of *walking*, where he makes the point that motion requires four points of contact with the ground, even if the animal has no legs. Moreover, it is “not less” than four. So he may be excused for not using modern concepts and criteria, but he is not guilty of misobservation, as so many want to make out. In fact, Aristotle was a damned good naturalist observer. For example, he observed and reported live birth among dogfish some 2200 years before that observation was made by modern scientists. If Aristotle wasn’t a scientist and a good observer, nobody ever has been. …

    Moreover, Aristotle knew that insects had six legs. In the Parts of Animals he wrote:

    “The anterior legs [of insects] are in some cases longer than the others, that they may serve to wipe away any foreign matter that may lodge on the insect’s eyes and obstruct its sight, which already is not very distinct owing to the eyes being made of a hard substance. Flies and bees and the like may be constantly seen thus dressing themselves with crossed forelegs. Of the other legs, the hinder are bigger than the middle pair, both to aid in running and also that the insect, when it takes flight, may spring more easily from the ground. This difference is still more marked in such insects as leap, in locusts for instance, and in the various kinds of fleas. For these first bend and then extend the legs, and, by doing so, are necessarily shot up from the ground. It is only the. hind legs of locusts, and not the front ones, that resemble the steering oars of a ship. For this requires that the joint shall be deflected inwards, and such is never the case with the anterior limbs. The whole number of legs, including those used in leaping, is six in all these insects.

    IOW, unlike other errors which Aristotle did in fact make, the flies-have-four-legs one wasn’t in fact one of them.

    It is always best to find out what people actually have said, and what the words meant when they said them, before you hang them.

  12. Joy

    Scotian, as my comment makes clear,
    It is common knowledge that the full compliment of wisdom teeth is four and that they do no all necessarily emerge if at all.
    It is also common knowledge that insects have six legs. Some people, however still do not know this, which is to say that common knowledge is not universal knowledge of all of humanity.

  13. Joy

    Oldavid, your record’s not looking great from here.

  14. Joy

    Wrong is still wrong whoever says it.
    Why not write to the BBC and complain or ask for proof?
    If you turn out to be correct they will include the information in the next series.
    My money’s on Aristotle being wrong about those thing.
    We are never going to agree about the teeth. If it boils down to whether he was plain wrong or stupidly wrong then
    1 you introduced a new premise which I never even implied!
    2 We have begun an new discussion.
    “was Aristotle just wrong or stupidly wrong?’
    Conclusions from there can only be Subjective.
    I’m guessing Aristotle would have been more magnanimous.

    One moment you have him as famous for empiricism but not checking the relevant animals which would underpin such a statement, then you given the excuse that he only had women with silly teeth as an example!
    You dan’t have it both ways. He either made the claim without the evidence or he made the claim assuming the evidence. Go easy on the fellow because mistakes are okay.

    I think he was just normal in frailty, a hero of his time. He doesn’t need an excuse. There’s an awful lot the apparently clever don’t know without google and without reference materials.

  15. Ye Olde Statistician

    If it boils down to whether he was plain wrong or stupidly wrong

    Only if you are also willing to state that Copernicus and Galileo were wrong; that Galileo was wrong; that Newton was wrong; that Darwin was wrong; and so on down the line. You will notice that all of these folks were wrong because the narratives they sprung across their data points were interpreted incorrectly from our point of view. (And sometimes indeed their data was not well-observed; though this was less often the case with Aristotle.) But when for example Chaucer said that whales were “fissh” he simply did not mean the same thing that we mean by the modern category of “fish,” any more than “floegel” meant what we mean now by “bird.” In the passage in question — and this passage was actually reproduced right here in this thread! — Aristotle spoke of “legs” (it was actually a Greek word) defined as being a means of locomotion rather than as an homologous structure. He wrote that insects like flies had six legs, but cited the anomalous case of a kind of mayfly in which the first pair are not actually used as legs but as grippers for holding the females in flight for mating. There was even a link to a photograph of one such species. It is clearly four-legged insofar as locomotion is concerned; and just as clearly Aristotle referred specifically to this particular kind of insect. He never wrote that flies in general were four legged. Yet the legend persists.

    It is most peculiar that of all the ancient Greeks, Aristotle alone is singled out for being wrong. Plato is seldom mentioned. Empedocles is never brought up; nor Aristarchus, not even Democritus, nor any of the other dudes — except to praise them for their “pioneering” efforts. (Then the same folks turn right around and criticize the medievals for having forgotten or neglected all the wonderful Greek science!)

    The real problem is presentism. That is, viewing the past through the mind-filter of the present and praising or criticizing our ancestors accordingly as they approximated or fell short of our own point of view.

  16. Joy

    See above pint six again in the post. It is meant entirely literally. See the humours of the body. It cannot now be considered as a point of literature. It just be taken in i’s original sense or again the reader is done a disservice.

    “The narrative they string across their data points!“!, okay.

    Not the same thing at all to make a list of scientists who were wrong, as you construct it, and say that is the same. Nor is it anything to do with viewing the past through modern eyes.

    Teeth and flies haven’t changed in the thousand year timeframe. Even with the weak argument about women losing teeth through pregnancy. Incidentally they don’t lose one tooth per child. The effect is systemic and general. Certain teeth are more susceptible no doubt due to shape and blood supply at a guess. So patterns of loss will be seen, not one per child literally. When teeth are lost there is a gap. There’s no conceivable reason to even bother making the claim without checking, especially for an empiricist. Aristotle himself wouldn’t make this fuss, surely. At least now he wouldn’t have to burst people’s bubble that he was never wrong. He wold be released from that burden.

    The point is that Aristotle was so trusted that nobody checked HIM! Can you blame them? Look what happens when somebody questioned a beloved intellectual authority. Cat fights, spite, spitting, gauging of eyes of small fury beach frequenting creatures.

    “Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent.”
    Well I still trust plenty of agents but reserve the right not to. I’ve never questioned a single thing John Lennox says as yet. I’ve looked a few things up for reference but not to check his word. There is no reason to assume he isn’t telling the truth and the claims are of the nature which deal with rather less accessible, provable, tangible facts than how many legs on a fly.

    Write to the BBC. They will respond. If they tell you ’he meant the pincered appendages at the front to be classed as legs” then it might explain why he said they had four. Problem is now that you’ve represented my comment on the use of Thomas’s writings as those of a sociopath, it gives me cause to doubt your comprehension or imagination or at least fairness on this particular string of pearls on the data points. Call me old fashioned.

    As to Chaucer, whales and fish, that’s quite separate. Literature is not philosophy or science. It is not intended to underpin, such as in the case of philosophy in particular, a method of thinking or a world view or and approach to thought and discovery itself. It makes no such claim. Literature is like a garden from which one can pick and chose and stroll through to enjoy the scenery. Poetry being the highest form. Finding the good ones is easy because they are famous.
    In that sense, a whale is still a fish.

    The Elephant is still in the room though. I refer you back to the source of our disagreement.
    YOS I have to let this go now and say that you are very wrong in the personal summary of my take on the use of Aquinas by tyrants and domineering agencies. It is not okay to use a self evidently wrong notion to underpin teaching of morals by manipulative gross reasoning that misses out so much.

    Jesus did not teach morals the Catholic way. We will never agree. No doubt our experiences are different which inform opinion. I do believe Jesus is the correct example to follow. When it comes to preaching and teaching, If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing The Way Jesus did it.

    just let it deeply be,

  17. Joy

    Intellect is not a temperament because we need temperament to live downstairs that we can blame it later. Like Ted Bundy did.

    I say that it’s daft to speak of what an intellect is, to insist on a medieval interpretation of what one is. This is my conclusion. It’s clear why the word mind is avoided at all costs in discussion of the text. It’s very important to Catholics to consider the temperament as separate from the mind.
    You can always blame someone else or something else.

    This is to show that someone who’s being called a odern in such an arbitrary way simply is being misrepresented.

  18. Ye Olde Statistician

    Teeth and flies haven’t changed in the thousand year timeframe.

    But to be fair, the teeth thingie seems to have been based in firm empirical observation, in which the essence (equaity of toothiness) was disguised by an accident (tooth losses in pregnancies). And the fly thingie is simply a tendentious misreading of something he never wrote — even after his actual passages have been placed before you! (So the lack of empirical observation is as much a modern fault as an ancient one. Reliance on fable is a universal.)

    Where ancient natural philosophy really did go off the beam was in the humour theory. That was because hydraulic engineering was the most highly developed technology of the era, so everyone tended to interpret things in terms of fluid flow and balance. Starting in the 18th century, this gave way to a mechanical metaphor as machines became the dominant technology and we began to see the mind and body as mechanisms. More recently, the deterministic mechanistic metaphor has been yielding to a computer metaphor with the “software everywhere” model revitalizing the vitalistic approach. But each of these metaphors — hydraulics, mechanics, cybernetics — provided some insight into the body.

    now that you’ve represented my comment on the use of Thomas’s writings as those of a sociopath…


    As to Chaucer, whales and fish, that’s quite separate. Literature is not philosophy or science.

    But the blogger to whose article I linked is a professional philosopher of 25+ years standing, whose motto is ?????? ?????? and whose online pseudonym is Eve Keneinan. Her point was that we have to understand the meanings of words as they are/were used by the people using them. Scientifically speaking, there is no such thing as a “fish” (i.e., it is not a clade) and to insist that when Chaucer wrote of whales as “fissh” he just had to mean the now-obsolete Class Pisces and got it wrong is merely tendentious. It’s like saying the Bible is wrong because it includes bats among the birds, when in fact it includes bats among the oits. An oit is simply a “flying animal.” So when Aristotle wrote that the ephemeron (not “flies”) ha four “legs” and four wings (i.e. eight points), he was talking about points of locomotion, not about homologous structures in anatomy.

    The book is an easy read, and you can see why Darwin said that had he read it he could have saved himself a lot of work. You can also see what a keen observer of life Aristotle actually was and how hard people have to work to find the errors.

  19. Joy

    I do understand your reasoning. We’re imagining different scenarios with Mr A peering inside or not inside mouthes. I’m not arguing that he wasn’t sensible or clever or genius!

    Teeth leave gaps where they used to reside. Children are not born without the mother noticing! Where teeth break which is what also happens, leaving stumps it is easy to notice. Women know of course if they loose teeth! There would be considerable pain from each stump or place where the teeth came away since infection is the likely outcome where complete clean shedding of the tooth doesn’t occur. Aristotle didn’t look and probably had a milk tooth fail to shed. Since the error could well be not that he got the number of female teeth wrong but the number of male teeth wrong. Thinking about it, dental hygiene and poor diet would mean that teeth wouldn’t be a pretty sight without loss due to mineral depletion. I just find it endearing. You’re m;making him out to be a Mr invincible.

    Let’s say teeth are ambiguous and be done! I promise never to bring them up again.

    We agree that Where ancient natural philosophy really did go off the beam was in the humour theory. (not that I know a thing about ancient natural philosophy.) As to the reasons, it’s understandable when you look inside a body there’s a lot of wet and warm. No wonder they thought all the strange liquids related to personality. They were looking for the person’s workings.

    The sociopathy thing? Was in the previous Sunday or the one before where the comments went to about a zillion. It will be towards the end of the discussion.
    As to Chaucer, whales and fish, that’s quite separate. Literature is not philosophy or science.

    Here YOS I don’t take much notice of what some online blogger says we should or shouldn’t do with respect to literature. That’s the beauty of it, I really mean non fiction since strictly speaking darwin’s books are also literature. Over analysis is not a good thing. It’s hard to know what’s just enough analysis to help someone enjoy a piece of writing that might be difficult to understand and what’s a step too far. I used to think at lowly A-level that we were being asked to read into things way too much and imbue motive and meaning that the writer never probably meant. English teachers, although I was lucky, may like to read all sorts of politics and extra feeling that is more in their own head. Every little thing was given significance, sometimes because there wasn’t a lot to say!“…But the blogger to whose article I linked is a professional philosopher of 25+ years standing, whose motto is ?????? ?????? and whose online pseudonym is Eve Keneinan. Her point was that…” I just tell you what I think and why, I wouldn’t know Eve from Adam, well perhaps I would. The point is science and the philosophy of science are in a class of their own. Accuracy matters in a real way that differs greatly from understanding or interpretation of Chaucer, for example. I like the idea that whales are fish in a poem. In science that’s unacceptable because the rules of classification or nomenclature forbid it.

    We have to understand a scientist as a scientist and a philosopher as such. So we can follow the trains of thought from the past to the present. That will still leave ancient philosophers in the wrong on occasion, surely, it goes with the territory of being first.

    The bible is both philosophy and literature. The danger with the bible is the number of translations and each one losing potential meaning over time. It’s not the same as Shakespeare. Even Thomas A has not been translated so many times with each occasion acting as an overlay a potential mistake. The claims in the bible can be tested with modern methods of science and historical study but it leaves a lot of unknowns still. Historians have all agreed that Jesus did exist. Even Dawkins admits this after some pressure was applied. So it’s whether or not what he said was true which counts.

    When Thomas spoke of temperament he was referring to the four types contained within the humours of the body. The geography can be ignored and the temperaments kept but they are still rough approximations of a person and quite unsatisfactory. Just as Yin and Yang are even more simplistic. They are fun dalliances to me though it doesn’t mean I take the thing deeply seriously. I did Tai Chi for a couple of years. It was a phase. In order to understand things people break them down for simplification but it doesn’t mean they break the thing down properly or in useful ways. That’s my problem with this soul grinding and intellect dissection.

    On the point you made about computers and software, yes. The analogy is very weak and as for being the truth, it simply isn’t like a computer. I discovered yesterday, on the subject of fluids, that in every ’normal’ male ‘parcel’ there is 15875 Gb of information! Which is roughly 7500 computers equivalent. Humans are nowhere near.

    The BBC can give you the definitive answer as to where the evidence was sourced. It is likely not to have been a Google webpage! Sometimes the obnoxious barracks on the programme don’t give Fry a chance to talk sensibly and as the programme used to be more entertaining it has become something of a competition between comedians. Sometimes it’s a competition to see who can be the filthiest these days. They’ve also embraced diversity! No surprise there.

    I promise to read the article linked here over Christmas week.

  20. Ye Olde Statistician

    The point is science and the philosophy of science are in a class of their own.

    Hence, the opinion of a philosopher and historian of science like the one I cited should carry some weight.

    Accuracy matters in a real way that differs greatly from understanding or interpretation of Chaucer, for example.

    Hence, the need to understand what a word actually meant in the era when it was used. Chaucer was not using the word poetically. “Fissh” just did mean “aquatic animal” period, without distinction. It was not a “poetic use.” In a similar vein, Aristotle was writing about locomotion, not anatomy, and referred to ephemeron, not flies. I do not claim that Aristotle was right; only that his critics are wrong about what he was wrong about.

    When I was a kid, “science” told us that there was a Class called Pisces, but this is no longer the case. Fish do not even constitute a clade but a paraphyletic classification among vertebrates that includes some aquatic vertebrates but excludes others.

    I like the idea that whales are fish in a poem. In science that’s unacceptable because the rules of classification or nomenclature forbid it.

    Yes. Now. But that was not the case then. A great deal depends on purpose, if not on porpoise. There is more than one right way to classify living things because there are more than one useful criterion for classification; in fact, more than one science. There are some fish, for example, that spend part of their lives on land like amphibians. They have been seen in Australia’s Northern Territory, for example, not only walking through the mud flats but even perched on the branches of trees, croaking like frogs. How is ecology any less important than ancestry?

    There have been three distinct infillings of the rodent niche:
    1. Tritylodonts. During the late Triassic, a family of mammal-like reptiles developed into specifically rodent-like reptiles. They varied from mouse-size to rabbit-size, had enlarged incisors followed by a gap and then a battery of multi-cusped cheek teeth very much like modern rodents. They lasted 50 million years, into the mid-Jurassic.
    2. Multituberculates possessed dentition similar to the Tritylodonts, but were full-monte mammals. They took over from the Tritylodonts in the mid-Jurassic and thrived until late Eocene times. They were the most successful group of mammals ever, and the only mammal group ever to become completely extinct.
    3. True Rodents. Began to thrive as the Multituberculates faded. Some prehistoric rodents, like Telicomys, were the size of rhinos!
    Basically, since the appearance of seed-bearing plants there has always been at least one group of critters to gnaw on the hard parts; and they all sported the same general body plan and dentition, even though one group was comprised of “reptiles.”
    BTW, “reptiles” are another paraphyletic group that is no longer considered a clade in biology.
    Quite clearly, from a scientific POV, for one purpose (ecology), tritylodonts, multituberculates, and rodents are three specifics of one generic type. But from another scientific POV, for a different purpose (common descent) the three groups belong to three branches of the family tree, one among the so-called “reptiles” and two on different branches among the mammals. Which scientific POV is correct?

    Which brings us back to the ephemeron. Aristotle wrote that it moved about by means of four legs and four wings, making eight points of locomotion and an unusual example of a quadruped with wings. Moderns ought to be more startled at his pronouncement that humans go about of four points: two legs and two arms. But observe humans climbing a tree or a hillside and you will see that we still make use of our hands for locomotion. The dayfly does not make use of its third pair of “legs” for locomotion in any way whatsoever, but only to grasp its partner for mating while in flight. Hence, since accuracy is important in science, they are not “legs” in the relevant sense even though anatomically they are homologous structures.

  21. Oldavid

    Keep at it, YOS. Your version of relativism is no more valid than Joy’s. You should marry the two and live happily ever after.

  22. Ye Olde Statistician

    Relativism, Oldavid? A word used by different language communities at different times to refer to similar-but-not-identical categories actually is variable. Why insist that it is the benighted Other that is using it “wrongly”? Russians use two different words [siniy, goluboy] where we would say simply “blue.” Fact is, different language-users have different needs of expression, and so divide the world into different categories of thought. The ancient Greeks did not mean the same thing by kinesis that we mean by “motion,” and we cannot understand what they intended if we do not understand what they meant by the words they used — even if they used them differently than we would have used them. Perhaps we are using the word wrongly. They are ancient Greek words, after all. Augustine of Hippo noted this problem in translating Scripture from Greek into Latin.

    In particular, other than for their size, it didn’t matter to the Anglo-Saxons that some aquatic animals were mammals. Whaling was not high on their list of priorities, and even so what mattered was how to fish for them was more important than whether their remote ancestors had once walked upon the land.

    Perhaps, as Eve Keneinan noted sarcastically at it was the very person who made up the word fisc to begin with used it incorrectly!

    [Old English fisc “fish,” from Proto-Germanic *fiskaz, “any animal that lives entirely in the water,” hence also shellfish, starfish, etc. And as long as the subject has come up, Old English hwæl meant not only “whale,” but also also “walrus” (whale-rus) ult. from PIE *(s)kwal-o-, which is also the source of Latin squalus, “a kind of large sea fish”. This is indicated by its colloquial usage for large size (“a whale of a problem”) rather than for any mammalian properties.]

  23. Joy


    Aristotle is unwrong! I, however, am right.

    The Thomas Aquinas text is being approached as a work of truth, of genius, drawing upon science and philosophy and philosophy of the day.
    It’s ’truth’ claim comes with a price. It must stand the full scrutiny of anyone and everybody. Poetic licence isn’t an option really. Oh well when he said humours in the body were part of the makeup of the discussion about the soul but not the soul itself! he was presenting an argument which is by today’s standards a straw man, whatever was believed at the time. What people care about is the truth of the claims not whether he was a silly billy. I don’t think he was a silly billy apart from his hat.

    One moment he says, ( you claim,) that the soul is what the living thing does. Then all through we are offered the words the soul ‘is’. The intellect ‘is’.
    Yet we are told also that the soul ‘does’ nutrition’. So here is where the confusion and faults are in the exercise of soul mapping. The faulty argument is hidden within the confusion of meanings, actual meanings then and now.

    What is ‘is’ isn’t being discussed, apparently.
    What it is, is!
    Then I learn that
    What it does is being discussed after all.

    What it does is never clear with respect to mind, which isn’t mentioned at all in the modern chatter.

    What the word intellect actually means is also hidden because it is said that that is the purpose of the text itself, to define ‘what it is’.
    Then there is the claim that temperament. which has a special definition, is not part of the soul.
    It’s a storm in a teacup.

    A keen English scholar should take this text in hand and argue nicely about it. They would find it’s merits without confusion. A glossary of terms would be a good thing. *not for me, I’m beyond help.

    Of course Chaucer isn’t a poet but even you have a go every now and then, what’s the porpoise? Just the fun of it.

    “ Chaucer was not using the word poetically. “ “Fissh” just did mean “aquatic animal”
    Just as when Shakespeare said ’the big ones eat up the little ones.” we are left to decide and envision for ourselves what he meant by fish. In my reading, he means big whales, not just sharks.
    Since Darwin classified living creatures hundreds of years later and those who care haven’t finished yet, it is known without needing even to say it that Chaucer’s whale was a fish. It’s a deduction which people make when they read literature or talk to each other.

    In the real world, a fish is still a watery creature just as a banana isn’t considered very berry. To a gardener a tomato is a fruit, to a chef it’s a vegetable. So what? Everybody knows what they mean don’t they?
    To say that Chaucer wasn’t being poetic about his biological classification is to state a known which only someone very ignorant of biology wouldn’t know. If they were that ignorant they wouldn’t be reading Chaucer because it’d be beyond them. He was writing literature he was absolutely being poetic. It remains poetic even after the biologists have got hold of it. We have added another layer because we now have science jumping in hypothetically to claim Chaucer was wrong. Chaucer was right and is still right because right and wrong doesn’t come into that consideration within the literature. Was Beatrix Potter wrong?

    We don’t have to go back to Old English literature to make that point.
    1 He never made claims as a philosopher of science and truth.
    2 GIVEN 1 being untrue, He never said “a whale is a fish.” He just said ‘fish’
    3 If anyone even today speaks about all the fishes living in the sea they are quite at liberty to refer to all watery creatures together under the one word ‘ fish’. This is the world. Poetry and literature and speech and language exists and people will write it and enjoy it. A scientist might become angry because a person’s treating a tomato as a vegetable on their shopping list but they are simply failing to take context into account. They are approaching the situation with a view that the person must be corrected in their wrongness. As if all life were a lab experiment The ONLY purpose for exacting language in science is for clarity. So science is approached differently. If a man wearing a white coat approaches me with a banana I know to refer to the thing as a berry or I’ll be wrist slapped. To me, a tomato is a vegetable in culinary terms but a fruit in the garden. A banana will never be a berry to me. As long as I keep that secret I won’t go far wrong. Berries are round and shiny or covered in a bloom, small, perfumed in their sweetness they are a product of the summer but are autumnal, wintery, Christmassy and lovely. Bananas are on their own!

    Legs are different don’t you think? When he said legs he meant locomotive parts? Shall we leave it there? It’s like crushing a butterfly on a wheel. That’s the only quote I remember from Mary Midgley. To analyse something you have to break it into smaller parts. It’s one way but it won’t work with the soul or with intellect. It didn’t work for Aristotle’s flies because we’re still arguing about them. It is called methodological reductionism. So there! YOS I am here to educate you about these things because you need my help.

    Aristotle wouldn’t be in any trouble if he weren’t a philosopher of the standing that he is. If Chaucer had said it nobody would bat an eyelid!
    Can I just say that although I do understand what you’re saying, I still think Aristotle is wrong.
    He meant locomotive parts you say. If that’s true he is unwiring.

    “Hence, the opinion of a philosopher and historian of science like the one I cited should carry some weight.”
    Nah, the opinion offers nothing to the discussion. Your opinion is good enough. She doesn’t even know we’re discussing it. I didn’t read what she said YOS please don’t be angry.

    To repeat:

    Accuracy matters in a real way that differs greatly from understanding or interpretation of Chaucer, for example.

    1 It matters so that everybody knows what everybody is talking about.

    2 It matters in this discussion because of what Aristotle was.

    3 It matters because it is a lesson to people to check any empirical claim whoever is making it.

    4 It matters if we want to get to the truth or the nub to help us move to the next question.
    5 Aristotle is in the clear because he didn’t hide the data.

    The mudfish are remarkable. I have a feeling some of those rats you speak of didn’t actually die out though. There are some strange creatures lurking in the deep.

    Merry unbirthday!

    “Statistics proves…”

  24. Ye Olde Statistician

    A keen English scholar should take this text in hand

    Or perhaps a keen Latin scholar. Part of the problem, though, is that scientists no longer know Latin and Latinists no longer know science, and no one knows when Thomas is using a now-obsolete science as an illustration of a point rather than as evidence for a point. He is not trying to prove that an excess of blood is the cause of a sanguine temperament. He simply assumes that the science is settled. He certainly knew that there were people who reacted quickly and strongly to almost any stimulation or impression, but whose reaction was usually short-lived. He knew (or believed) that this was rooted in their physiology and believed it was the blood. Being much more knowledgeable than he, we believe it is rooted in the glands and blood chemistry and can be treated not by draining off some of the blood, but by applying chemicals orally or intravenously.

    IOW, temperaments are very real to psychologists. It is only the particular materialistic explanation that is now obsolete.

    We may define temperament as the pattern of inclinations which proceed from the physiological constitution of the individual. It is a dynamic factor which takes into account the manner in which the individual organic structure will react to stimuli of various kinds. Since it is rooted in the physiological structure, temperament is something innate and hereditary; it is that element of personality which makes the personality unique, since individuality is rooted in matter, and temperament is the natural inclination of the somatic structure. It is, therefore, something permanent and admits of only secondary modification; one’s temperament can never be totally destroyed without destroying the individual. The axiom “grace does not destroy nature but perfects it” has its most obvious application in the area of temperament.

    The classical four-fold “classification” of the temperaments is nothing more than a handy framework which has been constructed according to the predominant characteristics of various physiological constitutions. It is by no means exclusive or definitive, nor does it signify that there are “pure” temperaments. As a matter of fact, individual persons generally manifest a combination of the characteristics of several temperaments. Whenever there are several elements combined in any composite, however, one or another will usually predominate at any given time, and in the matter of temperament we find that, although persons are usually a composite of many characteristics, one or another characteristic will specify the temperament.

    Hence, you can see why we might confuse person with personality and hence the intellect with the temperament. IOW, even today, this can be a live question, even though the organic [or “somatic”] origin of the temperament is no longer considered to be simply the blood, the bile, etc., but a rather more complex interaction of enzymes and other bodily secretions that make us more phegmatic or more sanguine, etc. under various stimuli. Doctors no longer “let blood,” but they may prescribe medicines for depression [melancholy] or to calm us down [if we are too choleric].

    The reason for the traditional four temperaments rather than the more numerous Meyers-Briggs temperaments is that they are based on only two axes:
    1. Speed of reaction to stimuli: quick vs. slow (extrovert v. introvert)
    2. Duration of reaction: short vs. lasting.
    These define four personality states.
    The Extroverts: are the sanguine (quick reaction but short duration) and the choleric (quick reaction but lasting)
    The Introverts: are the melancholic (slow reaction but lasting) and the phlegmatic (slow reaction but short duration)
    (The four axes of Meyers-Briggs are simply a different set of categories of thought for classifying temperaments. The traditional temperaments are more readily observed objectively by third parties.)

    The mudfish are remarkable.

    They were describes in an essay by Loren Eiseley entitled “Still Coming Ashore.”

    Out of the choked Devonian waters emerged sight and sound and the music that rolls invisible through the composer’s brain. They are there still in the ooze along the tideline, though no one notices. The world is fixed, we say: fish in the sea, birds in the air. But in the mangrove swamps by the Niger, fish climb trees and ogle uneasy naturalists who try unsuccessfully to chase them back to the water. There are things still coming ashore. ”
    ? Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

    I used that as the title of a SF story a number of years ago, “Still Coming Ashore.”

    Eiseley was imho a much better naturalist-writer than were Gould or Dawkins. See also “How Flowers Changed the World.”

    “The truth is, however, that there is nothing very ‘normal’ about nature. Once upon a time there were no flowers at all.”
    ? Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

    His description of pine cones as “wooden flowers” has always struck me and I have never looked at a pine cone the same way since.

  25. Oldavid

    You berks are still at it, eh?

    Trying to drown the issue in pernicketies.

    Fact remains; intellect is not a temperament and it is not a result of “Evolutionary” accidents.

    If you don’t like that then provide a reasonable explanation of what it is, in your opinion.

  26. Joy

    Deliberate dodgy typo alert which I’ve just spotted. Curious that it doesn’t occur at the first occurrence of the word at the top of the comment. I typed ‘unwrong’ but unwiring appears: One knows when something is a typo or not and whether something is changed on posting.
    “He meant locomotive parts you say. If that’s true he is unwiring.”
    Let’s hope 2017 less passengers.

    “Hence, you can see why we might confuse person with personality”

    Some mad people might but I can’t imagine such a person, the words are distinct.

    Nobody is confused about the difference between personality and person.
    If they are it’s not pertinent to the discussion.

    Personality is an explanation and generalisation.
    This is the difference between what is and stories about what is.

    (not to use the technical words. They are sophistry and flatter the philosopher.)

    When a text is wrong it is wrong.
    When a text is unclear it is wise to point ut that fact.
    When people are glossing over important points of incorrect assumption and points of science it is also fine to point this out.

    As to the soul, the text does not reveal anything new. There is no revelation.
    There is much flattery of the obvious. That is obvious from first principles of thought without reference to any other information regarding axioms, philosophy, theology or religious doctrine. Just experiencing life as a human in the modern age is enough to draw most of the conclusions. I am sure the same was true for those who could afford the time to think deeply even in medieval times or before.

    I say an English literature scholar (which was what I meant) because there is not enough clarity of explanation between where Thomas is speaking figuratively and where literally. In fact I hadn’t thought there was any figurative language in the text until you said there was. The text has become so closely tied, it seems, to Catholic teaching that it is likely there is no clear and balanced explanation that will be forthcoming. Too much is riding on it.

    There’s a lot of hiding behind appeals to alternative descriptions and paragraphs of text to describe a thing about which we all are guessing. Where people agree is also never clear and disagreement is assumed always.

    Incidentally, Drs don’t prescribe medicine to treat the personality. They are treating symptoms.

    Symptoms which are experienced by patients are real and are of a piece with their very being. To say otherwise is to force compartmentalisation of human experience again which is in my view dangerous, especially for those who are not in control of their emotions or their basic instincts.

    Think of extreme examples to illustrate the point. We do blame criminals for doing what they do. There is free will. What we don’t do is blame people because of how they feel. (although it might be very creepy if they let on how they feel and it is not what we want to hear.) This is a very important distinction. I’m thinking of patients presenting with symptoms of rape fantasies or murderous feelings. They are supposed to have the benefit of the doubt for presenting prior to action.
    Nor do we, or should we if we are not intellectual tyrants, blame people because of what they might think.
    What to think and how to think are not the same.
    It needs saying again.

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