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Full text of "On Aristotle as a biologist with a prooemion on Herbert Spencer; being the Herbert Spencer lecture delivered before the University of Oxford, on February 14, 1913"

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HERBERT SPENCER was born when last century was 
young, and this century was in its cradle when he passed 
away. Ipse Epicurus obit, cried the poet of a philosophy 
which of all the systems of antiquity was most kindred to 
Spencer's own. A like thought passed through many 
men's hearts when Herbert Spencer died men of all 
nations and languages, for while Spencer lived his voice 
reached far and wide, even to the ends of the earth. 
He was a philosopher not speaking to the philosophers, 
nor teaching in the schools ; but he had a gift and a 
message, so in touch with the temper of his time, that it 
made him a speaker, ex cathedra, to the world. No 
philosopher of modern times, not Kant himself, has 
exercised in his lifetime so wide a dominion. Only here 
and there, among men of a very different stamp, in men 
like Byron or Rousseau or Tolstoi, do we see that strange 
power of captivating the imagination of an age, of speak- 
ing with a voice that goes out into all lands. The 
foundation under whose auspices we gather here, the gift 
of an Indian scholar, reminds us of Spencer's influence 
in the East : in still more distant Japan his counsel was 
sought when the nation issued from its seclusion to join in 
the labours and anxieties of the modern world ; he stirred 
the restless blood of Russians and of Poles ; in America 
his books were read far more sedulously than at home ; 
and all this great influence was won without literary art 



or any charm of magic words, without the fire of Tolstoi, 
the poetry of Heine or of Byron, the beauty of Rousseau's 
prose. But Spencer had something in common with all 
those men, as his popularity was commensurate with their 
own. And that bond of likeness lay in the fact that to 
men weary of old trammels and of old burdens he seemed 
to point, he tried to offer, 1 a way of emancipation, a path 
of deliverance from creeds outworn. By the world which 
he addressed he was welcomed and acclaimed, in the 
spirit in which Heine wished to be remembered, as a 
gallant soldier, ein tapfrer Krieger, in the fight for freedom. 

Let us recall, with all brevity, some few circumstances 
of Spencer's life, that our minds may keep his memory 

Of that narrow, ascetic, and fiercely independent home 
of his boyhood we have all read or heard with its 
atmosphere of struggle, of criticism, of scientific and 
political discussion, unrelieved by humour, by letters, or 
by art. We remember how he went forth as a lad to 
labour, at an age when men have not yet come up to the 
University ; and how, as an engineer's assistant, he helped 
to plan bridges and direct gangs of navvies on the great 
new road to Birmingham and Crewe, and shared in all 
the fever and haste of that great period of construction. 
These were the years that he spoke of afterwards as ' the 
futile part of his life ' ; but it is as plain as an open book 
that they were years in which his mind was moulded and 
his mechanical outlook on phenomena developed and 
confirmed. Again, we remember his years of journalism, 
during which, after the appearance of his first book, he 
soon emerged from a lonely life, and with the friendship 

1 Compare the opening passage of Social Studies (1864). ' " Give us 
a guide," cry men to the philosopher. " We would escape from these 
miseries in which we are entangled," ' &c. 


of George Eliot and Lewes, Huxley, Tyndall, and many 
more, found his place in the world of London. Hence- 
forth, his life was so quiet, simple and retired, that we 
might say of him, as Heine said of Kant, ' Er hatte weder 
Leben noch Geschichte.' 

In 1855, in the Principles of Psychology , Spencer affirmed 
his belief in the ' development hypothesis ',* as account- 
ing for the origin of species ; and as accounting also for the 
successive association of ideas, and so, by their becoming 
' innate ' and transmissible from generation to generation, 
for the gradual development of mind: which latter 
investigation, I need hardly say, has since been continued, 
by a long line of evolutionary psychologists, in their 
several and divergent ways. It is curious to learn from 
his Autobiography that about this time, in his talks with 
Huxley, it was the latter who still preserved a guarded 
attitude, and Spencer who urged upon him, but with still 
inadequate and unconvincing arguments, the hypothesis 
of organic evolution. 

Five years later, a year after the publication of the 
Origin of Species, Spencer brought out the prospectus 
of his Synthetic Philosophy, that heroic effort to combine, 
in a Philosophy of Evolution, the whole range of physical, 
mental, and social science. To discover and trace that 
one identical phenomenon of Evolution, in the progress 
of civilization, in the development of mind, in the course 
of nature, in the history of the Universe, was his single 
and life-long aim. 

He found such tools as he worked with in the current 
tendencies of political and economic thought, and in the 
recent discoveries or generalizations of science. Of these 
latter, on the physical side, the greatest was the principle 

1 As already, in 1852, he had done in his essay on the Development 


of the Conservation of Energy, the final result of the 
doctrine of the correlation of the physical forces, in 
establishing which Rumford had led the way ; while 
on the biological side he drew inspiration from the fact, 
indicated by Aristotle, developed by Wolff and Milne- 
Edwards, made into an aphorism by Von Baer, that as 
the organism grows it grows continually from the simple 
to the complex, from the homogeneous to a greater and 
greater heterogeneity. 1 

But many years before Von Baer a greater than he had 
enunciated the same truth, and had set it forth in even 
plainer and better words. It was Goethe, in his Zur 
^Morphologic, 2 who laid it down as a law that ' the more 
imperfect a being is, the more do its individual parts 
resemble each other, and the more do these parts resemble 
the whole. The more perfect the being is, the more dis- 
similar are its parts. In the former case the parts are 
more or less a repetition of the whole ; in the latter case 
they are totally unlike the whole. The more the parts 
resemble each other, the less subordination is there of one 
to the other ; and subordination of parts is the mark of 
high grade of organization.' 3 Now these words are found 
in the Life of Goethe, by Lewes, Herbert Spencer's closest 
friend. We can scarce avoid the inference that it may have 
been the poet's insight and the poet's words, quite as much 
as Von Baer's, that crystallized in his famous formula of 
evolution. And the inference is confirmed by the fact 
that, though it was to Von Baer that Spencer was after- 
wards in the habit of ascribing the law, yet, on the first 

1 The ' law of differentiation ', or of ' organic progress ', was first 
propounded by Spencer in his essay on Progress, its Law and Cause 
(1857), where he argued that it was also the law of all progress what- 

2 1807 (written in 1795). Republished in Goethe's Werke, xxxvi, p. 7. 

3 Lewes, Life of Goethe (1855), 3rd ed. 1875, p. 358. 


occasion when he mentions it, he speaks of it as having 
been established ' by the investigations of Wolff, Goethe, 
and Von Baer '.* 

As in former days Descartes, and as Democritus and 
Epicurus in days of old, so did Spencer find in matter and 
in motion, or rather in matter and in force, the fabric of 
a world. He draws a broad picture, confessedly of a 
mechanical kind, of alternate cosmic rhythms of the Uni- 
verse, in which as motion is dissipated, so matter cleaves^ 
from the dispersed and homogeneous into more coherent 
and more segregated shapes ; until in the turn of the great 
wheel, a new redistribution of matter and motion takes 
place, and evolution is inevitably followed by dissolution 
at its heels ; so the whole present order perishes, exitio 
terras cum dabit una dies. Nevertheless, so vast is the 
cosmic rhythm, that again the wheel turns, and the dust 
and ashes of a Universe are co-ordinated and integrated 
anew, to make ' another and another frame of things, 
For ever ! ' 

All the while Spencer recognizes that Space, Time, 
Motion, and Matter itself are remote from Absolute 
Reality, and have their source in our own Empiricism. 
The ' Persistence of Force ' is the only truth which 
transcends experience ; and what we ultimately mean by 
the persistence of force is a cause which transcends our 
conception and our knowledge. 

In his Biology Spencer takes for his keynote his concep- 
tion of life, as having for its chief characteristic a con- 
tinuous adjustment of the organism to its environment, 
of its internal to its external relations. So structure 
follows upon function and functional need, and hereditary 
transmission hands on to the next generation the advances 

1 Von Baer himself claimed no priority. ' Dieses Gesetz ist wohl nie 
verkannt worden,' Zur Entwicklungsgesch. (i), p. 153. 


that the past generation has made : life produces organi- 
i zation, and not organization life. Again, in certain 
- chapters which are by no means the least interesting of 
the book, he shows, 1 after the fashion of the engineer, 
and from the experience of the bridge-builder, 2 how the 
principles of stress and strain are concerned in the fabric, 
and in the physiology, of the organism ; how physical 
and mechanical relations alter in the organism with 
'increasing bulk; 3 and how incident forces of gravity, 
growth, and pressure control or determine the shape of 
leaf and bone and single cell. Under the guidance of 
a wholesome restraint, a whole school of morphologists, 
Roux's school of Entwickelungsmechanik, are now investi- 
gating these self-same problems, and so bringing to the 
help of morphology some of those physical concepts 
which began to be the stock-in-trade of the physiologists 
when Majendie wrote his Lemons sur les phenomenes 
physiques de la Vie (1830). 

In the Ethics, Spencer undertakes to establish ' rules of 
right conduct ' on a scientific basis, and he does not mini- 
mize the difficulty of getting rid of ' supernatural ethics ', 
nor of forming a science of ' what ought to be '. Neverthe- 
less, he does his best to connect absolute Ethics with his 
universal formula of cosmic evolution and equilibration. 
Ethics must be based on science, and not on metaphysics. 
There is, he holds, not only an Ethic for all reasonable 
beings, but a principle of Ethic for all living things ; life 

1 As in an earlier essay on The Law of Organic Symmetry, 1859. 

2 Even in his Sociology, where he discusses the place of the pontifices 
in an archaic priesthood, he seems to dally with peculiar affection 
over these old bridge-builders. 

< * A curious corollary, or case in point, is found in the fact that 
definite limits are set to the size of a terrestrial animal, and still more 
to that of a flying bird, while the aquatic animal, comparatively im- 

\ mune from gravity, increases in locomotive speed, as a ship does, the 
bigger it becomes (Princ. of Biology (2nd ed.), i. 156). 


and not reason is the essential thing. All conservation 
implies evolution, and individuality is developed by the 
inevitable changes of a changing world. 1 So Spencer 
labours, but perhaps in vain, to make the best of the 
bellum omnium contra omnes, to find in the biological 
process of adjustment a continual tendency to happiness, 
and in sociological evolution a tendency to ultimate 
harmony ; in the which a somewhat complacent altruism 
shall satisfy the egoist, and pleasure will consist in actions 
which are salutary to the individual and the race. All 
very much as Mr. Bridges puts it : 

For Nature did not idly spend 
Pleasure ; she ruled it should attend 
On every act that doth amend 
Our life's condition ; 
Tis therefore not well-being's end 
But its fruition. 

So through all the circle of the sciences, Spencer tried 
to satisfy that craving inherent in mankind for 
a constructive system, which shall, in a single unity, 
frame all the phenomena of the world : for such a unifica- 
tion as in Aristotle's hands had endured unshaken for 
nigh two thousand years. To bring the world of fact and 
the world of Intelligence into the unity of a system is the 
task which all philosophers essay, in the light of the 
knowledge and the spirit of their time ; but as knowledge 
grows, and men's ways and circumstances change, so does 
Philosophy itself, like all else in the world, undergo its 
own inevitable and endless evolution giving place, if 
not to the better, to the new. 2 

1 ' C'est la 1'idee capitale qu'il ajoute aux doctrines de Zenon, de 
Spinoza et de Volney : ' Guyau, La Morale anglaise contemporaine, 
1885, p. 268. 

* The last words are quoted from Alden, A Study of Death (1895), 
P- J 76; cf. North Amer. Review, January 1913. 


But let me not omit to say a word of Spencer's attitude 
to ' the insoluble mystery ', of his confessio ignorantis, of 
his share in that Agnosticism for which Huxley found a 
name. ' At the utmost extent of his tether/ to borrow 
words from Locke, ' he sat down in quiet ignorance of those 
things which he found to be beyond the reach of his 
comprehension . ' 

By a bold abstraction Spencer puts asunder things that 
our thought insists shall be conjoined. And, through 
relation, association, and causation, he carried to their 
bitter end those theories of empiricism, and of the 
relativity of knowledge, that were no new thing in 
philosophy, but had percolated down to him through 
Mansel and through Hamilton, from Locke and Hume 
and Kant, through all those who had discussed the 
possibility of knowledge in itself ; carried them to their 
bitter end, and stripped them bare of the garments of the 
old philosophy, of intuition, or of faith, wherewithal they 
were wont to be clothed. And in so doing it may seem 
to many of us that he stopped short but a little way along 
that steep and narrow road, that parvus trames, which is 
the Pathway from Appearance to Reality. 

Ipse Epicurus obit, decurso lumine vitae ' when the 
lamp of life ran low'. And so too Spencer died as it 
were but yesterday full of years and of honour. 
And to the multitude of friends, disciples, mourners, 
gathered at his grave, a wise and eloquent man spoke 
a few noble words. He spoke of Spencer's deep affec- 
tions and lasting friendships, of the houses that he 
entered as an habitual guest and honoured friend ; of 
the magnitude of his task, of his unwearied struggle, and 
of his joy when his work was done ; of his ' coherent, 
luminous, conception of the evolution of the world ' ; of 
his exaltation of man's individual freedom, of the ethical 


purpose that underlay his quest of truth. And, lastly, 
Lord Courtney spoke of Spencer's last brave effort, in the 
Riddle of the Universe, to face and scrutinize the im- 
placable facts of life : of how in the end he had confessed 
himself overawed by the vastness of the unknowable, 
appalled by the great vision of Everlasting Law, and 
silent in the contemplation of the Infinite and the 

And now that I have tried to pay, in not ungrateful 
words, our annual tribute to Spencer's memory, as to one 
who has been a great influence in our world, whose words 
have become part of our familiar speech, and whose 
thought has interpenetrated and commingled with our 
own, let me proceed for what time remains towards 
another, but I hope a cognate, theme. 

In passing from Spencer to Aristotle, we turn from the 
one philosopher of our own times who has made biology 
an intrinsic part of his sociology and his psychology, to 
the great biologist of antiquity, who is maestro di color 
che sanno, in this science as in so many other departments 
of knowledge. And by the analogy of contrast, we can 
scarce think of Herbert Spencer's biology without recur- 
ring to that of Aristotle, so reverting from a great teacher 
of mechanical causation to him who taught us our first 
clear lessons of the phenomena of Life. But, save only by 
repeating what I have said, that Spencer came to the study 
of biology in the spirit and with the equipment of the 
engineer, and by declaring that Aristotle seems to me to 
have been first and foremost a biologist, by inclination 
and by training, I will not attempt to pursue the com- 
parison. Let us simply glance at some parts of Aristotle's 
Natural History, and attempt to show, in a partial and 
elementary way, the influence of that study upon his mind. 


The naturalist is born a naturalist, and we may be sure 
that Aristotle was a lover and a student of nature from 
a boy ; but it would help us to trace the relation of his 
biological studies to his philosophical work if we could 
ascertain when his chief biological work was done. It 
has often been held that Aristotle devoted himself to 
biology as an old man's recreation, after his retirement to 
Euboea. This theory is not adequate, and I do not think 
it is true. Another legend, that Alexander sent his pupil '. 
specimens from his campaigns, Cuvier accepted and 
Humboldt denied ; there is no evidence for it, direct or 
indirect, in Aristotle's writings, and this tradition also 
I believe to be worthless. But there is evidence, of 
a geographical kind, that helps us to answer our pre- 
liminary question. 

Among the isles of Greece there is a certain island, 
insula nobilis et amoena, which Aristotle knew well. It lies 
on the Asian side, between the Troad and the Mysian 
coast, and far into its bosom, by the little town of Pyrrha, 
runs a broad and sheltered lagoon. It is the island of 
Lesbos. Here Aristotle came and spent two years of 
his life, in middle age, bringing his princess-bride from the 
petty court of a little neighbouring state where he had 
already spent three years. It was just before he went to 
Macedon to educate Alexander ; it was ten years later that 
he went back to Athens to begin teaching in the Lyceum. 
Now in the Natural History references to places in 
Greece proper are very few indeed ; there is much more 
frequent mention of places on the northern and eastern 
coasts of the Aegean, from Aristotle's own homeland 
down to the Carian coast ; and to places in and round 
that island of Lesbos, or Mitylene, a whole cluster of 
Aristotle's statements and descriptions refer. Here, for 
instance, Aristotle mentions a peculiarity of the deer on 


a neighbouring islet, of the weasels by the wayside near 
another island town. He speaks of the big purple Murex 
shells at Cape Lectum, and of the different sorts of 
sponges found on the landward and the seaward side of 
Cape Malia. But it is to the lagoon at Pyrrha that 
Aristotle oftenest alludes. Here were starfish in such 
abundance as to be a pest to the fishermen ; here the 
scallops had been exterminated by a period of drought, *s 
and by the continual working of the fishermen's dredge ; 
here the sea-urchins come into season in the winter time, 
an unusual circumstance. Here among the cuttlefishes 
was found no octopus, either of the common or of the 
musky kind ; here was no parrot-wrasse, nor any kind 
of spiny fish, nor sea-crawfish, nor the spotted nor the 
spiny dog-fish ; and, again, from this lagoon, all the 
fishes, save only a little gudgeon, migrated seaward to 
breed. And though with no special application to the" 
island, but only to the Asiatic coast in general, I may 
add that the chameleon, which is the subject of one of 
Aristotle's most perfect and minute investigations, is 
here comparatively common, but is not known to occur 
in Greece at all. 

I take it then as probable, or even proven, that an 
important part of Aristotle's work in natural history 
was done upon the Asiatic coast, and in and near to 
Mitylene. 1 He will be a lucky naturalist who shall go 
some day and spend a quiet summer by that calm lagoon, 
find there all the natural wealth uvaov AeV/3os . . . e^ro? 
ee'pyei, and have around his feet the creatures that 
Aristotle loved and knew. Moreover, it follows for certain, 
if all this be true, that Aristotle's biological studies 
preceded his more strictly philosophical work ; and it is 
of no small importance that we should be (as far as 

1 Perhaps it was here also that Aristotle found his ' Lesbian rule '. 


possible) assured of this, when we speculate upon the 
influence of his biology on his philosophy. 1 

Aristotle -is no tyro in biology. When he writes upon 
Mechanics or on Physics we read him with difficulty : 
his ways are not our ways ; his explanations seem 
laboured ; his science has an archaic look, as it were 
coming from another world to ours, a world before 
Galileo. Speaking with all diffidence, I have my doubts 
as to his mathematics. In spite of a certain formidable 
passage in the Ethics, where we have a sort of ethica more 
geometrico demonstrata, in spite of his favourite use of the 
equality of the angles of a triangle to two right angles as an 
example of proof indisputable, in spite even of his treatise 
De Lineis Insecabilibus, I am tempted to suspect that he 
sometimes passed shyly beneath the superscription over 
Plato's door. 

But he was, and is, a very great naturalist. When he 
treats of Natural History, his language is our language, 
and his methods and his problems are wellnigh identical 
with our own. He had familiar knowledge of a thousand 
varied forms of life, of bird and beast, and plant and 
creeping thing. He was careful to note their least details 
of outward structure, and curious to probe by dissection 
into their parts within. He studied the metamorphoses 
of gnat and butterfly, and opened the bird's egg to find 
the mystery of incipient life in the embryo chick. He 

1 Pursuing my geographical inquiries a very little further, I have 
discovered that of the very large number of place-names mentioned 
in the Problems, by far the greater number are situated in Southern 
Italy, that is to say in Magna Graecia, or in Sicily ; and I live in 
hopes of seeing this work, or a very large portion of it, expunged, for 
this and other weightier reasons, from the canonical writings of 
Aristotle. In the treatise De Plantts, which is already acknowledged 
to be spurious, only three or four geographical names, I think, occur ; 
but they likewise are every one of them situated within the bounds of 
Magna Graecia. 


recognized great problems of biology that are still ours 
to-day, problems of heredity, of sex, of nutrition and 
growth, of adaptation, of the struggle for existence, of 
the orderly sequence of Nature's plan. Above all he was 
a student of Life itself. If he was a learned anatomist, 
a great student of the dead, still more was he a lover of 
the living. Evermore his world is in movement. The 
seed is growing, the heart beating, the frame breathing. 
The ways and habits of living things must be known : 
how they work and play, love and hate, feed and pro- 
create, rear and tend their young ; whether they dwell 
solitary, or in more and more organized companies and 
societies. All such things appeal to his imagination and 
his diligence. Even his anatomy becomes at once an 
anatomia animata, as Haller, poet and physiologist, 
described the science to which he gave the name of 
physiology. This attitude towards life, and the knowledge 
got thereby, afterwards helped to shape and mould 
Aristotle's philosophy. 

I have no reason to suppose that the study of biology 
4 maketh a man wise ', but I am sure it helped to lead 
Aristotle on the road to wisdom. Nevertheless he takes 
occasion to explain, or to excuse, his devotion to this 
study, alien, seemingly, to the pursuit of philosophy. 
' Doubtless,' he says, 1 ' the glory of the heavenly 
bodies fills us with more delight than we get from 
the contemplation of these lowly things ; for the sun 
and stars are born not, neither do they decay, but are 
eternal and divine. But the heavens are high and afar off, 
and of celestial things the knowledge that our senses give 
us is scanty and dim. On the other hand, the living 
creatures are nigh at hand, and of each and all of them 
we may gain ample and certain knowledge if we so desire. 

1 De Part. Anim. i. 5. 


If a statue please us, shall not the living fill us with 
delight ; all the more if in the spirit of philosophy we 
search for causes and recognize the evidences of design. 
Then will Nature's purpose and her deep-seated laws be 
everywhere revealed, all tending in her multitudinous 
work to one form or another of the Beautiful.' In some- 
what similar words does Bacon, 1 retranslate a familiar 
saying : ' He hath made all things beautiful according 
to their seasons ; also he hath submitted the world to 
man's inquiry.' On the other hand, a most distinguished 
philosopher of to-day is struck, and apparently per- 
plexed, by ' the awkward and grotesque, even the 
ludicrous and hideous forms of some plants and animals '. 2 
I commend him, with all respect, to Aristotle or to that 
Aristotelian verity given us in a nutshell by Rodin, 
1 II n'y a pas de laideur ! ' 

To be sure, Aristotle's notion of beauty was not 
Rodin's. He had a philosopher's comprehension of the 
Beautiful, as he had a great critic's knowledge and under- 
standing of Poetry ; but wise and learned as he was, he 
was neither artist nor poet. His style seldom rises, and 
only in a few such passages as that which I have quoted, 
above its level didactic plane. Plato saw philosophy, 
astronomy, even mathematics, as in a vision ; but Aristotle 
does not know this consummation of a dream. The 
bees have a king, with Aristotle. Had Plato told us 
of the kingdom of the bees, I think we should have 
had Shakespearian imagery. The king would have had 
his ' officers of sorts ', his magistrates, and soldiers, his 
' singing masons building roofs of gold '. Even Pliny, 
arid encyclopaedist as he is, can now and then throb 
and thrill us as Aristotle cannot do for example, when 

1 De Sapientia Veterum (Eccles. iii. u). 

2 Ward, op. cit., p. 85. 


he throws no little poetry and still more of music into his 
description of the nightingale's song. 1 

But let us now come, at last, to exemplify, by a few 
brief citations, the nature and extent of Aristotle's zoologi- 
cal knowledge. And here, brevity bids me choose between 
two ways : either to deal with Aristotle's theories or 
his facts, his insight or his erudition. The former are of 
the highest possible interest to us, and their treatment 
partly includes the latter. But it would take more than 
all the time I have, to deal with any one of Aristotle's 
theories of generation, for instance, or of respiration 
and vital heat, or those still weightier themes of 
variation and heredity, the central problems of biology, 
or again the teleological questions of adaptation and 
r design. 

Let me therefore confine myself, almost wholly, to a few 
fragments out of his storehouse of zoological and embryo- 
logical facts. 

Among the bloodless animals, as Aristotle called what 
we call the Invertebrates, he distinguishes four great 
genera, and of these the Molluscs are one. These are the 
cuttle-fish, which have now surrendered their Aristotelian 
name of ' molluscs ' to that greater group, which is seen 
to include them with the shell-fish, or * ostracoderma ' 
of Aristotle. These cuttle-fishes are creatures that we 
seldom see, but in the Mediterranean they are an article 
of food, and many kinds are known to the fishermen. 
All, or wellnigh all, of these common kinds were known 
to Aristotle, and his account of them has come down 
to us with singular completeness. He describes their 
form and their anatomy, their habits, their development, 
all with such faithful accuracy that what we can add 
to-day seems of secondary importance. He begins with 

1 H. N. x. 43 (29). 



a methodical description of the general form, tells us of 
the body and fins, of the eight arms with their rows of 
suckers, of the abnormal position of the head. He points 
out the two long arms of Sepia and of the Calamaries, 
and their absence in the octopus ; and he tells us, what 
was only confirmed of late, that with these two long arms 
the creature clings to the rock and sways about like a ship 
at anchor. He describes the great eyes, the two big teeth 
forming the beak ; and he dissects the whole structure 
of the gut, with its long gullet, its round crop, its stomach 
and the little coiled caecal diverticulum ; dissecting not 
only one but several species, and noting differences that 
-, were not observed again till Cuvier re-dissected them. 
He describes the funnel and its relation to the mantle-sac, 
and the ink-bag, which he shows to be largest in Sepia of 
all others. And here, by the way, he seems to make one 
of those apparent errors that, as it happens, turn out 
to be justified : for he tells us that in Octopus the funnel 
is on the upper side ; the fact being that when the 
creature lies prone upon the ground, with all its arms 
spread and flattened out, the funnel-tube (instead of 
being flattened out beneath the creature's prostrate body) 
is long enough to protrude upwards between arms and 
head, and to appear on one side or other thereof, in a 
position apparently the reverse of its natural one. He 
describes the character of the cuttle-bone in Sepia, and 
of the horny pen which takes its place in the various 
Calamaries, and notes the lack of any similar structure in 
Octopus. He dissects in both sexes the reproductive 
organs, noting without exception all their essential and 
complicated parts ; and he had figured these in his lost 
volume of anatomical diagrams. He describes the various 
kinds of eggs, and, with still more surprising knowledge, 
shows us the little embryo cuttle-fish, with its great 


yolk-sac, attached (in apparent contrast to the chick's) 
to the little creature's developing head. 

But there is one other remarkable structure that he 
knew, centuries before it was rediscovered almost in our 
own time. In certain male cuttle-fishes, in the breeding 
season, one of the arms develops in a curious fashion 
into a long coiled whip-lash, and in the act of breeding 
may then be transferred to the mantle-cavity of the female. 
Cuvier himself knew nothing of the nature or the function 
of this separated arm, and indeed, if I am not mistaken, 
it was he who mistook it for a parasitic worm. But 
Aristotle tells us of its use and its temporary development, 
and of its structure in detail, and his description tallies 
closely with the accounts of the most recent writers. 

Among the rarer species of the group he knew well the 
little Argonaut, with its beautiful cockle-shell, and tells 
how it puts up its two broad arms to sail with, a story 
that has been rejected by many, but that after all may 
perhaps be true. 

Now in all this there is far more than a mass of frag-" 
mentary information gleaned from the fishermen. It is 
a plain orderly treatise, on the ways and habits, the 
varieties, and the anatomical structure of an entire 
group. Till Cuvier wrote there was none so good, and 
Cuvier lacked knowledge that Aristotle possessed. 

Not less exact and scarcely less copious is the chapter 
in which Aristotle deals with the crab and lobster, and 
all such crustacean shell-fish, nor that in which he 
treats of insects, after their kind. Most wonderful of all, 
perhaps, are those portions of his books in which he 
speaks of fishes, their diversities, their structure, their 
wanderings, and their food. Here we may read of fishes 
that have only recently been rediscovered, 1 of structures 

1 e.g. Parasilurus A ristotelis, a siluroid fish of the Achelous. 


only lately reinvestigated, of habits only of late made 
known. 1 And many such anticipations of our knowledge, 
and many allusions to things of which we are perhaps still 
ignorant, may yet be brought to light ; for we are still 
far from having interpreted and elucidated the whole 
mass of Aristotle's recorded erudition : which whole 
recorded mass is only, after all, tanquam tabula nau- 

There is perhaps no chapter in the Historia Animalium 
more attractive to the anatomist than one which deals 
with the anatomy and mode of reproduction of the cartila- 
ginous fishes, the sharks and rays, a chapter which moved 
to admiration that prince of anatomists Johannes Miiller. 2 
The latter wrote a volume on the text of a page of 
Aristotle, a page packed full of a multitude of facts, in 
no one of which did Johannes Miiller discover a flaw. 
The subject is technical, but the gist of the matter is this : 
that among these Selachians (as, after Aristotle, we still 
sometimes call them) there are many diversities in the 
structure of the parts in question, and several distinct 
modes in which the young are brought forth or matured. 
For in many kinds an egg is laid, which eggs, by the way, 
Aristotle describes with great minuteness. Other kinds 
do not lay eggs, but bring forth their young alive, and 
these include the Torpedo and numerous sharks or dogfish. 
The eggshell is in these cases very thin, and breaks 
before the birth of the young. But among them there 
are a couple of sharks, of which one species was within 

1 e.g. the reproduction of the pipe-fishes (Syngnathi), the hermaphro- 
dite nature of the Serrani, the nest-building of the Wrasses, &c., &c. 

2 Cf. Cavolini, in his classical Mem. sulla Generazione dei Pesci, 
Naples, 1787 : ' E quando io . . . scorro la Storia degli Animali di 
Aristotile, non posso non essere da stupore preso, in esse leggendo 
veduti quei fatti, che a noi non si son potuti che a stento manifestare : 
e rilevati poi con tutta la nettezza, e posti in parallelo coi fatti gia 
riconosciuti nel feto del gallo ; ' &c. 


Aristotle's reach, where a very curious thing happens. 
Through the delicate membrane, which is all that is left 
of the eggshell, the great yolk-sac of the embryo becomes 
connected with the parental tissues, which infold and inter- 
weave with it ; and by means of this temporary union the 
blood of the parent becomes the medium of nourishment 
for the young. And the whole arrangement is physio- 
logically identical with what obtains in the higher animals, 
the mammals, or warm-blooded vivipara. It is true that 
the yolk-sac is not identical with that other embryonic 
membrane which comes in the mammals to discharge the 
function of which I speak ; but Aristotle was aware of the 
difference, and distinguishes the two membranes with 
truth and accuracy. 

It happens that of the particular genus of sharks to 
which this one belongs, there are two species differing by 
almost imperceptible characters ; but it is in one only of 
the two, the yaAeo? Aetos of Aristotle, that this singular 
phenomenon of the placenta vitellina is found. It is 
found in the great blue shark of the Atlantic and the 
Mediterranean ; but this creature grows to a very large 
size before it breeds, and such great specimens are not 
likely to have come under Aristotle's hands. Cuvier 
detected the phenomenon in the blue shark, but paid little 
attention to it, and, for all his knowledge of Aristotle, did 
not perceive that he was dealing with an important fact 
which the Philosopher had studied and explained. In* 
the seventeenth century, the anatomist Steno actually 
rediscovered the phenomenon, in the yaAeo? Aaos, the 
Mustelus laevis itself, but he was unacquainted with 
Aristotle. And the very fact was again forgotten until 
Johannes Miiller brought it to light, and showed not only 
how complete was Aristotle's account, but how wide 
must have been his survey of this class of fishes to enable 


him to record this peculiarity in its relation to their many 
differences of structure and reproductive habit. I used 
to think of this phenomenon as one that Aristotle might 
have learned from the fishermen, but, after a more careful 
study of Johannes Miiller's book, I am convinced that this 
is not the case. It was a discovery that could only have 
been made by a skilled and learned anatomist. 

In a lengthy and beautiful account Aristotle describes 
the development of the chick. It is on the third day 
that the embryo becomes sufficiently formed for the 
modern student to begin its study, and it was after just 
three days (a little earlier, as Aristotle notes, in little 
birds, a little later in larger ones) that Aristotle saw the 
first clear indication of the embryo. Like a speck of 
blood, he saw the heart beating, and its two umbilical 
blood-vessels breaking out over the yolk. A little later 
he saw the whole form of the body, noting the dispropor- 
tionate size of head and eyes, and found the two sets of 
blood-vessels leading, the one to the yolk-sac, the other to 
the new-formed allantois. In the tiny chick of the tenth 
day, he saw the stomach and other viscera ; he noted the 
altered position of the heart and great blood-vessels ; he 
traced clearly and fully the surrounding membranes ; he 
opened the little eye to seek, but failed to find, the lens. 
And at length he describes in detail the appearance and 
attitude of the little chick, the absorption of the yolk, the 
shrivelling of the membranes, just at the time when the 
little bird begins to chip the shell, and before it steps out 
into the world. While this epitome contains but a part 
of what Aristotle saw (and without a lens it would be 
hard to see more than he), it includes the notable fact of 
the early appearance of the heart, the punctum saliens of 
later writers, whose precedence of all other organs was 
a chief reason for Aristotle's attributing to it a common, 


central, or primary sense, and so locating in it the central 
seat of the soul. And so it was held to be till Harvey's 
time, who, noting the contemporaneous appearance of 
heart and blood, held that the contained was nobler than*? 
that which contained it, and that it was the blood that was ( 
' the fountain of life, the first to live, the last to die, the 
primary seat of the soul, the element in which, as in a 
fountain-head, the heat first and most abounds and 
flourishes ' ; so harking back to a physiology more 
ancient than Aristotle's ' for the blood is the life thereof.' 7 ) 
All students of the Timaeus know that here Aristotle 
parted company with Plato, who, following Hippocrates, 
and Democritus, and others, placed the seat of sensation, 
the sovereign part of the soul, in the brain. Right or 
wrong, it was on observation, and on his rarer use of 
experiment, 1 that Aristotle relied. The wasp or the 
centipede still lives when either head or tail is amputated, 
the tortoise's heart beats when removed from the body, 
and the heart is the centre from which the blood-vessels 
spring. To these arguments Aristotle added the more 
idealistic belief that the seat of the soul, the ruling force 
of the body, must appropriately lie in the centre : and he 
found further confirmation of this view from a study of 
the embryo plant, where in the centre, between the seed- 
leaves, is the point from which stem and root grow. And 
Ogle reminds us how, until a hundred years ago, botanists 
still retained an affectionate and superstitious regard for 
that portion of the plant, calling it now cor, now cerebrum, 
the plant's heart or brain. 

And now is it possible to trace directly the influence of 
Aristotle's scientific training and biological learning upon 

1 Aristotle's experiments were akin to Voltaire's, who employed 
himself in his garden at Ferney in cutting off the horns and heads of 
snails, to see whether, or how far, they grew again. 


his sociology, his psychology, or in general on his philo- 
sophy ? That such an influence must have been at work 
is, prima facie, obvious. The physician who becomes 
a philosopher will remain a physician to the end ; the 
engineer will remain an engineer ; and the ideas of pure 
mathematics, Roger Bacon's ' alphabet of philosophy ', 
will find issue and expression in the philosophy of such 
mathematicians as Plato, Leibnitz, Spinoza, or Descartes. 
Moreover, it is not only the special training or prior 
avocation of the philosopher that so affects his mind. 
In divers historical periods the rapid progress or the 
diffused study of a particular science has moulded the 
philosophy of the time. So on a great scale in the present 
day does biology ; so did an earlier phase of evolutionary 
biology affect Hegel ; and in like manner, in the great days 
after Lavoisier, the days of Dalton, Davy and Berzelius, did 
chemistry help, according to John Stuart Mill, to suggest a 
' chemistry of the mind ' to the ' association ' psychologists. 
A certain philosopher, 1 in dealing with this theme, begins 
by telling us that ' Mathematics was the only science that 
had outgrown its merest infancy among the Greeks '. Now 
it is my particular purpose to-day to show, from Aristotle, 
that this is not the case. Whether Aristotle's biological 
forerunners were many or few, whether or not the Hippo - 
cratics (for instance) had failed to raise physiology and 
anatomy to the dignity of a science, or having done so, 
had only reserved them, as a secret cult, to their own 
guild ; in short, whether Aristotle's knowledge is in the 
main the outcome of his solitary labours, or whether, as 
Leibnitz said of Descartes, praeclare in rem suam vertit 
aliorum cogitata, it is at least certain that biology was in 
his hands a true and comprehensive science, only second 
to the mathematics of his age. 

1 Ritchie, Darwin and Hegel, p. 39. 


The influence, then, of scientific study, and in particular 
of Biology, is not far to seek in Aristotle's case,. / It has 
ever since been a commonplace to compare the state, the 
body politic, with an organism, but it was Aristotle who 
first employed the metaphor. Again, in his exhaustive 
accumulation and treatment of political facts, his 
method is that of the observer, of the scientific student, 
and is in the main inductive. Just as, in order to under- 
stand fishes, he gathered all kinds together, recording 
their forms, their structure, and their habits, so he did 
with the Constitutions of cities and of states. Those two 
hundred and more TroAireuu which Aristotle laboriously 
compiled, after a method of which Plato would never have 
dreamed, were to form a Natural History of Constitutions 
and Governments. And if we see in his concrete, objective 
treatment of the theme a kinship with Spencer's Descrip- 
tive Sociology, again, I think, a difference is soon apparent, 
between Spencer's colder catalogue of facts and Aris- 
totle's more loving insight into the doings and into the 
hearts, into the motives and the ambitions, of men. 
,. But whatever else Aristotle is, he is the great Vitalist, 
the student of the Body with the Life thereof, the historian 
of the Soul/ 

Now we have already seen how and where Aristotle 
fixed the soul's seat and local habitation. But the soul 
has furthermore to be studied according to its attributes, 
or analysed into its ' parts '. Its attributes can be 
variously analysed, as in his Ethics Aristotle shows. 
But it is in the light of Biology alone that what amounts 
to a scientific analysis, such as is developed in the De 
Anima, becomes possible ; and in that treatise it is only 
after a long preliminary physiological discussion that 
Aristotle at length formulates his distinctive psychology. 
There is a principle of continuity, a wvtytia, that runs 



through the scale of structure in living things, and so, little 
by little, by imperceptible steps, does Nature make the 
passage from plant, through animal, to man. It is with 
all the knowledge, summarized in a great passage of the 
Natural History, and embodied in this broad generaliza- 
tion, that Aristotle afterwards proceeds to indicate the 
same gradation in psychology, and to draw from it 
a kindred classification of the Soul. 

There is a soul which presides over the primary physio- 
logical requirement of nutrition, a soul already inherent in 
the plant and inseparable from life itself ; it is ?/ TT/)(UTT? 
X/O>XT}. Common likewise to all living things are the 
physiological functions of growth and reproduction, and 
the psychical agencies directing these are concomitant 
with, and in fact identical with, the nutrient soul. Sensa- 
tion or sensibility, whereby the animal essentially differs 
from the plant, distinguishes the atV^rtKr/ ^vxn f the 
sentient soul ; and the soul of movement, undisplayed in 
the very lowest of animals, presently accompanies the 
soul of sensibility. At length the reasoning soul, the 
biavorjriKri ^vyji, or vov<s, emerges in man, as the source of 
his knowledge and his wisdom. 1 In a brief but very 
important passage, 2 with a touch of that Platonic 
idealism never utterly forgotten by him (and so apt to 
bring Wordsworth to our own minds), Aristotle tells us 
that this soul ' cometh from afar ' povov OvpaOev fircuri&ai, 
KOL 6tiov clvai fiovov. Yes, in very plain Greek prose, 
this is no less than to assert that ' trailing clouds of glory ', 
' it cometh from afar.' 

But however glorified be the reasoning soul, yet these 
parts, these subdivisions of the soul, do not stand apart in 

1 I have here borrowed some words from a former address, and from 
my notes on the Histona Animalium. 

* De Gen. An. ii. 3, 736 b 27. Cf. Brentano, Aristoteles' Lehre vom 
Ursprung des menschlichen Geistes, 1911, p. 18. 


mutual exclusiveness, but just as we may discern a triangle 
within a square, so is each lower grade of 'tyvyji implicit 
in the higher. And as the higher organisms retain the 
main physiological faculties of the lower, so do they retain 
such psychological qualities as these possess : and 
gradually (more and more as we ascend the ladder) do we 
find adumbrations of the psychical qualities that will be 
perfected in the higher forms. Among the higher 
animals, at least, a comparative psychology may be 
developed ; for just as their bodily organs are akin to one 
another's and to man's, so also have we in animals an 
inchoate intelligence, wherein we may study, in one or 
another, the psychology of such things as fear, anger, 
courage, and at length of something which we may 
call sagacity, which stands not far from reason. And, 
last of all, we have a psychology of childhood, wherein 
we study in the child, at first little different from the 
animal, the growing seeds of the mind of man. 

But observe before we leave this subject that, though 
Aristotle follows the comparative method, and ends by 
tracing in the lower forms the phenomena incipient in the 
higher, he does not adopt the method so familiar to us all, 
and on which Spencer insisted, of first dealing with the 
lowest, and of studying in successive chronological order 
the succession of higher forms. The historical method^ 
the realistic method of the nineteenth century, the 
method to which we so insistently cling, is not the only 
one. Indeed, even in modern biology, if we compare 
(for instance) the embryology of to-day with that of thirty 
years ago, we shall see that the pure historical method 
is relaxing something of its fascination and its hold. 
Rather has Aristotle continually in mind the highest of 
organisms, in the light of whose integral and constituent 
phenomena must the less perfect be understood. So was 


it with one whom the Lord Chancellor of England has 
called ' the greatest master of abstract thought since 
Aristotle died '. For Hegel, 1 as surely for Aristotle also, 
Entwicklung was not a ' time-process but a thought- 
2 process'. To Hegel, an actual, realistic, outward, his- 
torical evolution seemed but a clumsy and materialistic 
philosophy of nature. In a sense, the ' time- difference 
has no interest for thought '. And if the lower animals 
help us to understand ourselves, it is in a light reflected 
from the study of Man. 

So grows up, upon a broad basis of Natural History, 
the whole psychology of Aristotle, and in particular that 
great doctrine of the tripartite soul, according to which 
created things ' by gradual change sublimed, To vital 
spirits aspire, to animal, To intellectual ! ' 

In this \j/vx^ of Aristotle there was (in spite of the 
passage which I have quoted) a trace of the concrete 
and the all but material, which later Greek as well 
as Christian thought was not slow to discern and to 
modify. But, as a philosopher of our own day reminds 
us, it was in relation to a somewhat idealized Body 
that Aristotle described that somewhat unspiritual Soul. 
Such as it is, it has remained at the roots of our 
psychology, even to this day. 

/Bergson only partially gets rid of it when he 

/recasts Aristotelian psychology on the lines of that 

\ branching tree which modern evolutionary biology sub- 

\stitutes for the scala Naturae of Aristotle : ./and when he 

sees, for instance, in psychological evolution, not the 

successive grades of continuous development, through 

sensibility and instinct to intelligence, but rather the 

splitting up of an original activity, of which instinct 

1 Ritchie, op. cit. Cf. Hoffding, in Darwin and Modetn Science. 
Cambridge, 1909, p. 449. 


and intelligence are not successive, but separate and 
diyrging, outgrowths. 

,/In our recent science the Aristotelian doctrine is not 
dead. For but little changed, though dressed in new 
garments, this Aristotelian entelechy, 1 which so fascinated 
Leibnitz, 2 enters into the Vitalism of Hans Driesch ; and 
of those who believe with him, that far as physical laws 
may carry us, they do not take us to the end : that the 
limitations of induction forbid us to pass in thought and 
argument from chemistry to consciousness, or (as Spencer 
well knew) from Matter to Mind ; 3 that Life is not merely 
' an outstanding difficulty, but a veritable exception to 
the universal applicability of mechanical laws ' ; that not 
to be comprehended under the category of physical cause, 
but to be reckoned with apart, is the fundamental con- 
ception underlying Life and its Teleology. 4 

It is easy so to sketch in simple words the influence of 
Aristotle's biological studies upon his method of work, 
or to see in his Psychology and his Ethics the results of 
his biological analysis of the soul. But his natural science 
seems to send a still deeper influence running through the 
whole of his philosophy, for better or for worse, which 

H ioriv 

* Cf. Jacoby, De Leibnitii studiis Aristotelicis, Berlin, 1867. 

/ * Cf. Spencer, Princ. of Psychology (para. 63) : ' Though of the two it 
' seems easier to translate so-called Matter into so-called Spirit, than to 
/ translate so-called Spirit into so-called Matter (which latter is indeed 
wholly impossible) ; yet no translation can carry us beyond our 
/ symbols. Such vague conceptions as loom before us are illusions con- 
i jured up by the wrong connotations of our words.' 

* Cf. Kant's views in the Kritik der Urteilskraft and elsewhere, on the 
teleological aspect of living organisms, with (for instance) Schleiden 
in the Preface to his Grundziige der Botanik (1860) : ' . . . durch die 
Darwinsche Lehre die Teleologie aus der Naturwissenschaft voll- 
standig heraus, und in die erbauliche oder poetische Rede, wo sie 
hingehort, verwiesen wurde 1 ' Cf. also Professor Sidgwick's remarks 
on Spencer's ' avoidance of teleological explanation ', in the Ethics 
of T. H. Green, &c., p. 141. 


influence I lack the needful learning to fathom and to 
describe. I can only see dimly, and cannot venture to 
explain, how his lifelong study of living things led to his 
rejection of Plato's idealistic ontology, and affected his 
whole method of classification, his notion of essentials and 
accidents, his idea of ' Nature ' that ' makes nothing in 
vain ', his whole analysis of causation, his belief in, 
and his definition * of, Necessity, his faith in design, his 
particular form of teleology, his conception and appre- 
, hension of God. 

And now, to close my story. It is in no derogation 
of Spencer's commemorative honour that I have spoken 
of him together with a greater Philosopher, and one of 
the greatest of men. So I have used my hour of Oxford 
to speak, and to salute, the name of Aristotle, here where 
his spirit has dwelt for six hundred years I who have 
humbly loved him since my day began. 

We know that the history of biology harks back to 
Aristotle by a road that is straight and clear, but that 
beyond him the road is broken and the lights are dim. 
And we have seen that biology was no mere by-play of 
Aristotle's learned leisure, but was a large intrinsic part 
of the vast equipment of his mind. 

This our science is no petty handicraft, no narrow 
discipline. It was great, and big, in Aristotle's hands, 
and it is grown gigantic since his day. 

It begins in admiration of Nature's handiwork, as she 
strews it by the way. It bids us seek through the land, and 
search the deep places of the sea. It toils for the health 
and wealth of men. It speaks of things humble; it 
whispers of things high. It tells (if I dare use the old 
theologian's word 2 ) of Laws, ' whose Voice is the harmony 
of the World, and whose Seat is the bosom of God.' 

s ex (iv - * Hooker. 


Sometimes, as to-day, it brings us by a by-way to the 
study of the history of human thought and knowledge, 
and introduces us to a company of great men, dwellers 
in the ' clear air ' of Athens. 

The little Greek I know, first learnt at my Father's 
knee, is but a child's plaything to that of many a scholar 
here. But I hear, now and then, a welcome given, in 
old Hellenic speech, to men who call at that Interpreter's 
House wherein Plato and Aristotle show us ' excellent 
things, such as will be a help to us in our journey '. 




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