Chapter 9


There is one other term I want to bring back from ancient times, and which is still with us in something close to the sense I want to give it:

A faculty is a part of the body organized with a sub-unifying energy such that its instabilities and recovery from them provide the living body with its living properties and allow it to control them.

The faculty, then, is the mechanism by which the living body performs (and does not perform) its living acts. The fact that it is a kind of "body" integrated into the whole body is what enables the body to turn its properties on and off.

What happens here is that the body (which exists, remember, at a super-high energy level, and so has reserve energy) can send energy from some other part of itself into the faculty, which then makes the faculty unstable; and its recovery of its equilibrium produces an act, which is the property the body "wants" to perform at that moment.

Thus, lowering of the blood sugar triggers a flow of energy into the digestive system and the nervous system, making you feel hungry; and it activates the program called the "hunger drive" in the brain, by which you start imagining things like chocolate cake or a thick steak broiling; and this in turn sends energy into the motor nerves putting your muscles into an instability which involves rolling out the old grill and firing up the charcoal and so on, and whose purpose is having the blood sugar and other lacking elements back at biological equilibrium.

Obviously, these mechanisms are horrendously complex, and don't just involve one organ, or even one "system," such as the digestive or respiratory or nervous system. Hence, there isn't a one-for-one correspondence between the faculty in the philosophical sense I want to use it and the various "systems" biologists talk about; though there is a connection between the two. But, for example, the nutritive faculty would include both the digestive system and the respiratory system, because these are the ways we get and keep our energy level.

Again, there isn't much of a problem here, once it is realized that there is nothing wrong with the biological way of looking at things, which works for the purposes for which the biologists want to study the living body, and the philosophical way of looking at the body, which works for the philosopher's different focus.

But precisely because of this difference in focus, I think it is useful to speak of a "faculty" rather than a "mechanism" or "subsystem," so that the subsystem we are referring to philosophically doesn't get confused with the biological subsystem which may or may not be identical with it (Some are identical; I don't see any real difference between the faculty of reproduction and the reproductive system, for instance.)

The term itself is from the Latin facultas, which means an "ability" in the sense of an "aptitude" for doing something; and this in turn is a translation of the Greek dynamis, which is the ordinary word for "power" or "ability." The notion of a "power" in more or less the sense I defined it originate in Plato (in Book V of Republic, to be specific), and was considerably refined by Aristotle (in De Anima). The idea there was that it was a kind of more specific notion of "nature," which was the organism looked on as the ability to perform its properties. A "faculty" was the power to do some definite act, and as Republic shows, the implication was that each different act implied a different faculty. Plato, for instance, has the faculty of "knowledge," by which we arrive at what is, and the faculty of "intuition," (doxa) which gives us opinions about things that are midway between "really existing" (the Aspects) and nothing--the individual objects of our world. Since the objects reached are different, he argues that this implies different faculties. Aristotle similarly defines a faculty as specified by its act (and hence its object).

I would not want to make faculties that detailed and specific. Just as a body can have many different instabilities it can get into, so a subsystem of the body can have different instabilities and therefore perform different acts in recovering equilibrium. The faculty I call "instinct," for instance, is the basic program of the brain, by which it monitors the state the body is in and the input coming in from the senses, and selects behavior patterns appropriate to both sets of information. But these behaviors are many, and include all the drives that we have, and involve all the emotions we experience. Instinct also, because of its control of energy-flow in the brain, is the faculty of attention, by which we are not conscious of "unimportant" information and the "important" input is highlighted.

It is because I am concentrating on what the part of the body does because of its organization into a subunit rather than on the act as implying the "power" to do it that "faculty" in my sense is rather broader than the traditional sense of the term.

I think my way of looking at things is rather more useful. A "power" as such is not anything at all; one has to ask "What reality is it that is the reality of this "power." The power in question is not the same as the power of an inanimate body to act--to reradiate a certain wave length of light and be a certain color, for instance--because the inanimate body can't help doing this. The "power" that is a faculty is the power to act and not act, to turn the act on or off, without its being done so from outside the body. This is something that makes living bodies distinctive.

But then what is this power to act and also not act? It is the subsystems of the body. If these systems are shut down or defective, then the body cannot perform the act in question, even though it is fundamentally capable of doing so from the way it is organized (its soul). We can see this from organs that break down and then are fixed. A detached retina, for example, makes the person blind; but if it is attached, he can see again.

So the soul controls the body by controlling how the reserve energy is distributed within the body, and whether it goes into one faculty or another. Once the energy gets into the faculty, it makes it unstable, and everything from then on is automatic and more or less mechanical (or at least physico-chemical). The soul cannot act without the parts of the body in question; and of course, the parts can't act by themselves without the regulation by the soul. But that the action is mechanical can be seen from how we can keep organs "doing their thing" mechanically after the body actually has died, if we mimic what the soul did by sending the right energy and so on into them.

So a faculty has to be a part of the body (or if you will, an organized set of parts of the body--but this, as we saw in the preceding part of this book, is a part). From this it follows that a pure spirit has no faculties, because it can't turn its acts on and off; it is always acting. So, after we die, for instance, we will no longer be able not to do whatever acts we have left (our spiritual acts of thinking, choosing, and the spiritual "dimensions" of our sensations); we can't forget anything, because this requires the faculty of consciousness which is the brain and nervous system.

If this is so, then we can say the following:

Conclusion 23: God has no faculties; he is pure activity and cannot be inactive.

Thus, God does not "have" an "intellect" and a "will." He is thinking and choosing as a single act, and cannot not think of everything he is thinking of eternally. He can't turn his act on and off--which is fortunate, since if he did, everything (including himself, of course) would go out of existence, as we saw in Section 3 of the second part of this book.

But this doesn't just apply to God, but to pure spirits also, if any, in addition to disembodied souls, as I said. Actually, it is this fact that our consciousness--all of it--becomes eternally active all together when we die that makes it vastly to your advantage to be moral and never choose a goal that you can't in principle achieve, because then you eternally intend (and try) to be something that you eternally know you can't be. We can forget the mess we have made of our lives here; we can't forget hereafter.

A word should be said about the difference between a faculty and a feedback mechanism, such as we find in a computer or a thermostat. Since the thermostat is pretty simple, I will use it as a model. All a thermostat is, really, is a switch that uses a curved piece of metal as one of its contacts.

The mechanism is adjusted so that at the temperature desired, the switch is closed; and this turns on the furnace which puts heat into the room. As the room and the thermostat in it heat up, then the curved piece of metal begins to expand, increasing the radius of curvature, which makes the free end of the curved piece move away from the other contact, thus opening the switch-- which, of course, turns the furnace off, allowing the room to cool down, and the curved piece of metal to contract. When the desired temperature is reached again, the two pieces of metal are again in contact, the furnace goes on, and the cycle is repeated. The idea of this is that some of the heat put out by the furnace works the switch, which turns on the furnace; and so some of the energy of the furnace is "fed back" into it, regulating it.

The main difference (aside from complexity) from living bodies and their faculties is that a feedback mechanism needs an external source of energy. That is, a thermostat and a furnace will not work by themselves; you have to plug the furnace into an energy source, or the switch (the thermostat) won't turn it on and off, because it has to be pushed above its ground state to produce heat. The living body, on the other hand, has in itself reserve energy (which it keeps supplying for itself from outside, to be sure) which it can send into the various feedback mechanisms of the faculties to turn the proper acts on and off. Other than that, many of the faculties of the lower forms of life work like feedback mechanisms.

Let this be enough about life in general, then, and the lowest form of life. It is time to pass on to properties that only some living bodies have, and see what this says about the way they are organized.