The Fountain of Life (Fons Vitae) (excerpt), by Solomon Ibn Gabirol, tr. by Harry E. Wedeck , at sacred-texts.com
Master: I shall now demonstrate the existence of the simple substances according to the impression of the substances upon each other by the analytical method, although by the synthetic method it is quite evident. I ask you first for the two principles that you require in order to understand this.
Pupil: What are they?
Master: Do you grant that the body in itself is at rest and inactive?
Pupil: I would not say otherwise if I did not see simple bodies, such as fire, air, and water, each of which moves in place.
Master: Since the motion of each of them does not come from the fact that they are bodies, but from the fact that they are qualities by the qualities with which they are endowed, you must know that their motions do not in any way prevent the body from being in itself at rest and inactive.
Pupil: What proof is there that the motions of the elements do not come from the fact that the elements are bodies?
Master: If the motions of the elements came from the fact that the elements are bodies, they would not be different.
Pupil: Why so?
Master: If they came from the essence of the body, their motion would be one because the body is one.
Pupil: Why does not the body, which is one, move with different motions?
Master: Because the different motions come from different essences.
Master: Because a single motion depends on a single essence and must not be separated from it except by its destruction. Similarly, a second motion must not come without the first motion being moved aside.
Pupil: Your words make me realize that the motions of the elements do not come from the fact that the elements are bodies, and to me it is an established fact that the body in itself is at rest and inactive. That is one of the principles you ask for. But what is the other?
Master: I ask again whether the action assumes an agent or not?
Pupil: Since the action is an accident that does not exist by itself, it is necessary to say that it has an agent to make it subsist and be.
Master: It is then necessary to grant that the actions that are in the body have an agent other than the body.
Pupil: It cannot be otherwise.
Master: The body is a continuous compound of parts. It is therefore necessary to assert that it has an agent that continues and composes its parts.
Pupil: That is so.
Master: Composition and cohesion come from the motion of the parts of the compound and from their mutual attraction, and also from the fact that each of them is kept in the place where the motion and the attraction have brought it.
Pupil: That is the case.
Master: It is therefore necessary that there should
be an essence other than the body, whose property is solely to attract and keep the parts of the body.
Pupil: That is necessary. But show me, by clear proof, that the body is composed of parts.
Master: We learn that the body is composed of parts from the fact that it resolves itself in them ideally, that it divides in seven directions, that it divides in substance, measure and figure and that it has depth in the direction contrary to its natural motion.
Pupil: Add an explanation although this is sufficient.
Master: Between the body dispersed and subtle, and the body contracted and dense there is almost the same relation as between the substance of the intelligence and the sensible substance: and the density of the body comes from the union and the contraction of numerous parts. There is the proof that your question asked for.
Pupil: I understand and I see that there is a substance that composes and unites the parts of the simple body.
Master: What follows then?
Pupil: It follows that this substance composes and keeps the parts of the different bodies, as the elements are composed and kept in minerals, vegetables, and animals.
Master: Observe vegetables and animals again and you will find in them a stronger and more evident action of this substance.
Pupil: Show me this in greater detail.
Master: Do you not see that each of the vegetables and animals requires a matter to supply it with the equivalent of that which it has lost? Hence it requires a faculty to attract the parts of this matter and unite them to the parts of the body. Furthermore, it requires
a faculty to retain the parts when they unite with the body. Similarly, it requires a faculty to convert the parts of the matter and assimilate them to the parts in which they assemble. Finally, it requires a faculty to drive out the superfluous matter. It is therefore necessary that there should be in vegetables and animals a substance that effects these operations by means of these faculties.
Pupil: Yes. But what necessity forces me to say that these operations proceed from a single substance and not from different substances, from several faculties and not from one?
Master: If these operations proceeded from many substances, it would be impossible that one of these substances should be higher and more perfect than another, since its operations would not be so. Understand therefore from this that the substance that effectuates is. one. Moreover, these operations are of the same genus, for the operation of attraction is of the same genus as the expulsive and digestive operations. As for retention, it is suspension of motion.
Pupil: It is established that these operations come from a single substance. But show me that they come from different faculties.
Master: If this substance had one faculty only, it would have one operation only.
Pupil: Why so?
Master: Because the existence of the action depends on the existence of the faculty: furthermore, because there is a connection of succession between these operations.
Pupil: Now I know that there is one single substance to compose the parts of vegetables and animals and that the operations that appeared in them come from the faculties by which this substance accomplishes its natural operations. But what would you
reply to one who said these operations come from the four elements?
Master: We have already said that the body in itself is at rest and inactive.
Pupil: It is the same with the bodies of the elements. But is it then the same with the qualities?
Master: Since the qualities require a mover, understand then that they do not act by themselves.
Pupil: Now I know that there is a substance that composes and retains the parts of the simple body and the compound body and it is established that the substance that acts in two bodies is one, since these two operations belong to a single genus. It is also established that the faculties of this substance differ on account of the diversity of the operations.
Master: Your understanding has been correct. But what follows then?
Pupil: It follows that there exists a universal substance that composes and retains the parts of the universal body.
Master: Whence the necessity?
Pupil: From the necessity by virtue of which the universal body must be similar to the particular single body and to the particular body composed of the elements, on the basis of composition and cohesion. It is therefore necessary to conceive their agent as one.
Master: That is good. But still what follows that statement?
Pupil: The consequence of this is that the universal substance acting on the universal body assigns its essence and its virtue to the particular substance acting on the particular body. Therefore the particular substance corresponds to the universal substance and the particular operation corresponds to the universal operation.
Master: Thus when we see in the particular bodies the presence of some particular action due to a particular substance, will it not be necessary, according to our previous observation, to find also in the universal body the presence of a universal action due to a universal substance?
Pupil: It seems to me that you are referring to the universal substances that you previously called the three souls and the intelligence, substances designated by the particular substances that are in vegetables and animals.
Master: That is just what I wanted to do. But is this a necessary thing or not?
Pupil: When 1 observe that the particular body requires the universal body and that the particular nature similarly requires the universal nature, since it receives from it being and existence, I see in this respect the particular souls must require the universal souls and the universal intelligence, because they receive from it their being and their existence.
Master: You will find something else by observing that among these substances a higher substance gives to a lower substance.
Pupil: How is that?
Master: The inferior substances envelop the light coming from the higher substance, and the whole envelops the light of the First Author, sublime and holy, as we have already shown when we spoke of the emanation of the substance from others.
Pupil: Acquaint me with the impression of the superior substances on the inferior substances and show me the designs and the figures that they receive from others, by the analytical method, as you promised.
Master: Do you not see in vegetables the motion
of growth, of nutrition, and of generation, in which you find the evidence of the substance that causes these motions, that is, the vegetative soul, as the composition and the cohesion of the parts of the body have given you the evidence of the substance that is in the cause, that is, nature?
Pupil: It is clearly so.
Master: Consider likewise the motion of variation in the sense of the motion of thought, that of knowledge and that of reasoning, and you will find therein the evidence of the substances that cause these motions, that is, the animal soul, the rational and intellective soul.
Pupil: By virtue of which is not the substance that causes these actions one, and why do the substances that are in man differ from each other?
Master: Because these substances are separate from each other, for if they were a single substance, vegetables would not be constituted separately with growth, animals with sensation and mobility and men with thought and understanding.
Pupil: Now I know by the procedure that you have just mentioned that these substances differ from each other. But show me how they give to each other and how the operations of these substances belong to the same genus and are similar to each other.
Master: The knowledge of the impression of these substances on each other has two aspects: one is the knowledge of the action and the passivity and the other is the knowledge of the cause of the action and of the passivity. Which one do you want to investigate?
Pupil: Since my intention for the moment is to understand the existence of these substances and to know how they must come from each other, I require
at this time only the knowledge of the passivity. I see that the doctrine of the cause of passivity is higher and more noble than the present discussion.
Master: Yes, that is so. Prepare then to understand what you ask, with the aid of the following postulates.
Pupil: I am ready. But what are these postulates?
Master: One of the postulates will teach you that if two things are similar in one relationship and unite in it, although the concept that is common to them is otherwise in one than in the other, it is necessary nevertheless that this concept should be one. Let us consider for example the heat that is in fire and in the part of the air that is near fire. Must the heat that is in the fire be that which is in the air, although differently?
Pupil: It cannot be otherwise.
Master: Then it is not absurd to say that the heat that is in the air comes from the heat that is in the fire, but we must say that it is impressed by it.
Pupil: It is just as you say.
Master: If you realize that substances and their operations differ in a particular way and agree in another way, you must know that the idea in which they agree is one.
Pupil: That is so.
Master: If one of these operations is more perfect than another, must not the more perfect one be the cause of the other?
Pupil: It must be so.
Master: If then you realize that the natural operations belong to the same genus as the operations of the vegetative soul and are similar to them, and that the natural operations are inferior to those of the vegetative soul, must you not grant that the vegetative soul is the cause of nature?
Pupil: It must be so, not only for the vegetative soul and nature, but also for all substances.
Master: Listen then now. I am going to tell you how the operations of these substances belong to the same genus and are similar to each other, so that you will thus understand that they arise from each other.
Pupil: I am listening. I am quite impatient, for I have not met with this doctrine in any philosopher and I think that nothing is more useful and more effective if one wants to attain perfect knowledge of the question that confronts us.
Master: How do you know this?
Pupil: If I find that the actions of these substances belong to the same genus and are similar to each other and that as I pass I rise from the inferior to the superior, thanks to the similarity that exists among the substances, I am presented with the possibility of proceeding to the superior extremity of being and I then discover the principle of motion.
Master: That is true. And you know also the cause of which we have spoken, or the cause of the action and the passivity: you then observe the degrees of the operations: you see that all things obey the divine command and that the good moves all of them.
Pupil: Dear professor, finish then the proof that you promised me of this profound problem, and may the Dispenser of the Good grant it to you.
Master: What is the action whose origin is attributed to nature?
Pupil: The action of attraction and retention, transformation and expulsion.
Master: What is the action that proceeds from the vegetative soul?
Pupil: The action of growth and generation.
Master: What is growth and what is generation?
Pupil: Generation is procreation from the self of a thing similar to itself. Growth is motion of the vegetative parts from the centre toward the extremities.
Master: Now attraction and repulsion are motion in place of the parts of the nutriment by an opposite motion. These actions must therefore belong to the same genus as the motion of the vegetative parts from the centre toward the extremities.
Pupil: That must be so.
Master: Alteration or nourishing is the change of the body of the nourishment from its form and its assimilation to the form of that which is nourished. It is therefore also necessary that this action should belong to the same genus as generation.
Pupil: That must also be so.
Master: Since this is so, it is necessary that one of the substances that produce these actions should impress on the other, one of its faculties, by which it produces its particular effect.
Pupil: It must necessarily be so.
Master: Now what is more perfect acts on the less perfect and marks it with its impression.
Master: The action of nature is less perfect than that of the vegetative soul.
Pupil: What proof is there?
Master: The proof is that the vegetative soul moves the body in all its extremities, and nature does not do this. Further, the only object of the action of nature is not so perfect as the object of the action of the vegetative soul.
Pupil: You have given me to understand that these actions belong to the same genus. But what do you understand by the retentive faculty in the vegetative soul?
Master: Retention is the resting and weakening of motion.
Pupil: What is the proof of this?
Master: The proof is that motion is stronger than rest. Wherever therefore there is motion, there is power, and where there is rest, there is weakening.
Pupil: What do we gain by this reasoning?
Master: We gain by this, that we understand that the vegetative soul acts on nature because it is more perfect and stronger than it.
Pupil: You have shown me the action of the vegetative soul on nature, and I understand how the actions of these substances belong to the same genus. Show me also the action of the sensitive soul on the vegetative soul and explain how the actions of these substances belong to the same genus.
Master: What is the action of the sensitive soul on the vegetative soul?
Pupil: The action of moving the vegetative parts toward the extremities.
Master: What is the action of the sensitive soul in the animal?
Pupil: Sensation and locomotion.
Master: Is it not necessary that these two motions should belong to the same genus, since the characteristic of each of them is to move the body in place?
Pupil: It is.
Master: Since the action of the animal soul consists in moving the body in its entirety and in making it pass in its entirety from one place to another, and since the action of the vegetative soul consists in moving the parts of the body without displacement of the whole from one place to another is it not necessary that the action of the animal soul should be stronger than that of the vegetative soul?
Pupil: It must be so.
Master: Moreover, the animal soul surpasses the vegetative soul in this respect, that it is united with the forms of bodies that agree with it in subtlety, whether more common or more eminent and draws them out of their corporeal forms, while the vegetative soul unites with the essence of the bodies, because it agrees with them in density and it does so at close quarters only and without an intermediary.
Pupil: That is so.
Master: It is therefore necessary that the animal soul should act on the vegetative soul since it is more perfect and stronger than it.
Pupil: It must be so.
Master: Using the method that I showed you for these three substances, we must similarly discuss the rational soul and the intelligence. And in order not to protract this dialogue, but to bring it into public notice, I shall here condense my talk.
Pupil: Condense it then and give me a general conspectus of it, as you usually do.
Master: The action of the animal soul consists in perceiving the forms of the dense bodies in time, in moving in place, in uttering its voice and in regulating it without the order that indicates understanding. The action of the rational soul is to perceive the subtle forms of the intelligibles, to move in the intelligibles beyond time and space, and to utter its voice, and regulate it in proper order and in a sequence that indicates understanding. Finally, the action of the intelligence is the perception of all the intelligible forms beyond time and space, without inquiry, without effort and without any other reason except its essence, for it is completely perfect.
Pupil: What proof is there that the substance of the intelligence differs from the rational soul?
Master: You must first examine that which proves
that the intelligence is a substance. But that is not relevant to the purpose of our investigation. As for the proof that the substance of the intelligence differs from the substance of the rational soul, it is the very proof by virtue of which the rational soul differs from the animal soul and from the vegetative soul. Furthermore, the proof of this is that the rational soul perceives the exterior while the intelligence perceives the essence. Now the essence is more simple than the exterior. Therefore the form of the intelligence is more simple than the form of the soul.
You see then, if you have understood, the action of the intelligence on the rational soul and the action of the rational soul on the animal soul, and you know how the actions of these substances belong to the same genus and are similar.
Pupil: I think you have made me understand. But I am going to show you what I mean.
Master: Say then what it is.
Pupil: I find that the substance of the intelligence is the most subtle and the most perfect of the intelligible substances: that it possesses every form: that it unites with everything, that it perceives and knows everything. I find that the rational soul is inferior to it in that it has some forms only, that it does not unite with everything and does not know everything. Similarly, I find that the sensitive soul is inferior in that respect to the rational soul. And as the actions of each of these substances belong to the same genus and are similar, I know that among them a substance more perfect and stronger is an active cause for a weaker and more imperfect substance, as has been said previously of the other substances.