Antoine Fabre d’Olivet – Intellectual, Metaphysical Constitution of Man

Intellectual, Metaphysical Constitution of Man






Antoine Fabre d’Olivet (1822)

Man, as I have said, belongs to a triple nature; he can therefore live a triple life: instinctive, animistic, or intellectual. When these three lives are developed, they become blended in a fourth which is the individual and volitive life of this wonderful being whose immortal source is in life and the divine will. Each of these lives has its peculiar centre and appropriate sphere.

I shall try to present to the mind of the reader a metaphysical view of the intellectual constitution of Man; but I forewarn him that he must think of nothing material in what I shall say regarding this. Although I may be obliged, in order to make myself understood, to use terms that will recall physical objects, such as those of centre, sphere, circumference, radius, etc., one must not think that anything physical, and above all anything mechanical, enters into these things. These words, which lacking others I shall employ, should be understood by the mind alone and abstraction made of all material conceptions.

Man, then, spiritually considered, in the absence of his physical organs, can be conceived under the form of a luminous sphere, in which three central fires give birth to three distinct spheres, all three enveloped by the circumference of this sphere. From each of these three fires radiates one of the three lives of which I have spoken. To the inferior fire belongs the instinctive life; to the median fire, the animistic life; and to the superior fire, the intellectual life. Among these three vital centres, the animistic is to be regarded as the fundamental point, premier mobile upon which rests and moves all the edifice of the human spiritual being. This centre in unfolding its circumference touches the other two centres and unites with itself the opposite points of the two circumferences which they unfold, so that the three vital spheres in moving one in the other communicate their diverse natures and carry from one to the other their reciprocal influence.

As soon as the first potential movement is given to the human being and as it passes into action by an effort of his nature, determined by the first Cause of all beings, the instinctive fire attracts and develops the elements of the body; the animistic fire creates the soul, and the intellectual perfects the mind. Man therefore is composed of body, soul, and mind. To the body belongs the necessities; to the soul, the passions; to the mind, the inspirations.

In proportion as each central fire grows and radiates, it unfolds a circumference which being divided by its own rays, presents six luminous points, each of which manifests a faculty, that is to say, a particular mode of action according to the life of the animistic, instinctive, or intellectual sphere.

In order to avoid confusion, we shall name only three of these faculties upon each circumference, which will give us nine in all, namely:

For the instinctive sphere: sensation, instinct, common sense.
For the animistic sphere: sentiment, understanding, reason.
For the intellectual sphere: assent, intelligence, sagacity.

The origin of all these faculties is first in the instinctive sphere; it is there that they have birth and receive their first forms.

The other two spheres, which are not developed until later, acquire their relative faculties only secondarily and by transformation, that is to say, that the instinctive sphere being entirely developed and bearing by its circumferential point, sensation for example, to the animistic centre, this centre is agitated and, unfolding itself, takes possession of this faculty which excites it and transforms sensation into sentiment. This sentiment, carried in the same way to the intellectual centre and when all the conditions are fulfilled for this, is seized in its turn by this centre and transformed into assent. Thus instinct, properly speaking, passing from the instinctive sphere into the animistic, is there transformed into understanding; and understanding becomes intelligence in consequence of its course from this last sphere to the intellectual. This transformation takes place for all the other faculties of this kind, whatever the number may be.

But this transformation which takes place upon the faculties of the sensation class—which I consider as circumferential affections, and consequently exterior—acts also upon the necessities which are central interior affections; so that necessity, carried from the instinctive centre to the animistic centre, there becomes or can become passion, and if this passion passes from the animistic centre to the intellectual centre, it can there assume the character of an inspiration and react upon the passion as passion reacts upon necessity.



At present, let us consider that all circumferential affection of the sensation class excites a movement more of less vigorous in the instinctive center and that it is immediately represented there as pleasure, or pain, according as the movement is agreeable or disagreeable and whether it had its source in physical good or evil. The intensity of pleasure or pain is relative to that of the movement excited and to its mature. If this movement has certain force, it produces, according as it is agreeable or painful, two inevitable effects: the attraction which attracts it or the fear which repels it; if it is weak and doubting it produces indolence. In the same manner as the instinctive centre perceives by sensation the physical good or evil under the name of pleasure or pain, the animistic centre develops by sentiment the moral good or evil, under the name of love or hatred, and the intellectual centre represents the intellectual good or evil under the name of truth or error. But these inevitable effects of attraction or fear, which attach themselves to the instinctive sensation, according but disappear with it; whereas in the animistic sphere the sentiment which brings forth love or hatred, drawing likewise two certain effects, desire and terror, far from disappearing with the cause of the sentiment which has produced them, persists, on the contrary, a long while after with this same sentiment, assuming the character of passions and inviting or repelling, assuming the character of passions and inviting or repelling the cause which brought them forth. The notable difference of instinctive life and of animistic life is there; the attentive and curious reader should take notice of this and reflect upon it. Instinctive sensations are all actual and their effects instantaneous; but animistic sentiments are durable, independent of the physical movement which produces them. As for intellectual assents which affirm truth or error, they are not only durable as sentiments, but are influential even more after they have passed.

Indolence, which excites a movement weak or doubtful in the physical sensation, is transformed into apathy in the moral sentiment and into a sort of indifference in the intellectual assent which confuses truth and error and leaves one as unconcerned as the other. This condition, habitual in the infancy of the individual as in the infancy of the kingdom, rules equally in that of society.

This triple form existence of man—although it may appear already very complicated on account of the many actions and reactions which operate incessantly some with regard to others: the instinctive necessities, the animistic passions, and the intellectual inspirations—would still be very simple and would offer scarcely more than a being acting under necessity if we had not to consider this fourth life which includes the other three and gives to man the liberty which he could not have without it.

Let us redouble our attention here, for the subject is important and difficult.

In the very centre of the animistic sphere, primal cause of the spiritual human being, is another centre which is inherent there, the circumference of which, in unfolding, touches the extreme points of the instinctive and intellectual spheres and likewise envelops them. This fourth sphere, in the interior of which the three spheres of the instinct, soul and mind are moved into place according to the mode which I have tried to describe, is that of the efficient and volitive power, whose essence, emanated from the Divinity, is indestructible and incontestable as It. This sphere whose life incessantly radiates from the centre to the circumference, can expand or contract itself in the ethereal sphere, to bounds which might be called infinite, if GOD were not the sole infinite Being. And this is the luminous sphere which I mentioned in the beginning of this article.

When this sphere is sufficiently developed, its circumference, determined by the extent of its rays, admits of a great number of faculties, some primordial, others secondary, weak at first, but which gradually strengthen in proportion as the ray which produces them acquires force and grandeur. Among these faculties we shall enumerate only twelve, six primordial and six secondary, commencing with the most interior and finishing with the highest.

These twelve faculties are: attention and perception, reflection and repetition, compassion and judgement, retention and memory, discernment and comprehension, imagination and creation.

Volitive power, which carries its faculties everywhere with it, places them where it wills in the instinctive, animistic, or intellectual sphere; for this power is always where it wills to be. The triple life which I have described is its domain; it uses it as it wills, nothing being able to attack its liberty but itself, as I shall relate in the continuation of this work.

As soon as a sensation, sentiment, or assent is manifested in one of the three lives which are submissive to it, it has perception by the attention that it gives to them, and, using its faculty to procure repetition even in the absence of their cause, it examines them by reflection. The comparison that it makes according to the type of what it approves or disapproves determines its judgement. Afterwards it forms memory by the retention of its own labour, reaches the point of discernment, and consequently comprehension, and finally assembled and brought together by imagination, the ideas disseminated, it arrives at the creation of its thought. It is indeed wrong as one sees, that in the vulgar language one confuses an idea with a thought. An idea is the simple effect of a sensation, sentiment, or assent; whereas a thought it a complex effect, a result sometimes immense. To have ideas is to feel; to have thoughts is to act.

The same operation that I have just described concisely, takes place in the same manner, in the necessities, passions, and inspirations; but in this last case the labour of the volitive power is central; whereas in the first case, it was circumferential. It is here that this magnificent power, shown in all its splendour, becomes the type of universe and merits the name of microcosm, which all antiquity has given it.

Just as the instinctive sphere acts by necessity, the animistic by passion, the intellectual by inspiration, the volitive sphere acts by determination, and upon that depends the liberty of Man, his force, and the manifestation of his celestial origin. Nothing is so simple as this action which the philosophers and the moralists have had so much trouble to explain. I shall endeavour to make it understood.

The presence of a necessity, a passion, or an inspiration excites in the sphere, where it is produced, a rotary movement more or less rapid, according to the intensity of the one or the other; the movement is ordinarily called appetite or appetence in the instinct, emotion or consent in the soul and in the mind; often these terms are substituted for each other and are changed by synonyms, the sense of which expresses more or less the force in the movement. The volitive power which is disturbed has three determinations of which it is free to make use: first, it yields to the movement, and its sphere turns to the same side as the agitated sphere; secondly, it resists and turns to the opposite side; third, it remains in repose. In the first case it allows itself to be compelled by the instinct, drawn along by the soul or stirred by the mind, and connives with necessity, passion, or inspiration; in the second it resists them and deadens their movement by its own; in the third it suspends or rejects acquiescence and considers what is most fitting to do. Whatever may be its determination, its efficient will, which is manifested freely, finds the means of serving its diverse appetites, of resisting them or meditating upon their causes, their forms, and their consequences. These means, which are in continuous radiation from the centre, are very numerous. I shall here describe only those which attach themselves most particularly to the twelve faculties already named:

Attention and perception act by individualization and numeration.
Reflection and repetition, by decomposition and analysis.
Comparison and judgement, by analogy and synthesis.
Discernment and comprehension, by induction and deduction.
Imagination and creation, by abstraction and generalization.

The employment of these means and of many others that would be too long to name is called meditation. Meditation constitutes the force of the will which employs it. The acquiescence of this will or its resistance, according as they are well or badly applied, according as they are simultaneous or a long time debated, makes of man a being either powerful or weak, elevated or base, wise or ignorant, virtuous or vicious; oppositions, contradictions, storms of all sorts which arise in his breast have no cause other than the movements of the three vital spheres, instinctive, animistic, and intellectual, often opposed to each other and more often still contradictory to the regular movement of the volitive will, which refuses its definite adherence or which gives it only after violent combats.

When the determinations of the will take place upon objects of the source of sensation, sentiment, or assent, acquiescence or resistance follows simultaneously the impulse of instinct, understanding, or intelligence and bears their name: when they are preceded by mediation, they assume the character of common sense, reasons, or sagacity and are said to belong to them and even to be their own creation.

After having traced this rapid outline of the intellectual and metaphysical constitution of man, there is no need, I think, to say that it is only sketched and that it demands, on the part of whoever would grasp it in its entirety or in its details, a concentrated attention and repeated study, I should indeed have liked to spare my readers so much trouble, and perhaps they will think that I should have succeeded, if I had gone into more details myself; but they are mistaken; I should only have lengthened my description with no result other than lessening the clearness of it. I have said all that was essential to say; I have exercised great care in the examination of the subject as a whole. As to the details, it is necessary to avoid them as much as one can in a subject where they are infinite, as is precisely the case here. Besides, in the work which follows, there will be many opportunities of applying and developing the principles which I have laid down. All that remains for me now to do is to anticipate several difficulties which might be found in the application.

Man, never having been analysed before as vigorously in his ensemble, and his metaphysical anatomy never having been so plainly presented, one is accustomed very often to take for the whole. only one of his parts and call it soul, for example, not only the soul, properly speaking, but also the three vital spheres and even the volitive sphere which envelopes them. Other times one is content to name this ensemble, mind, in opposition to body, and then, again, intelligence, in opposition to instinct. Sometimes one has considered understanding alone as the union of all the facilities, and reason as the universal rule, true or false, of all the determinations of the will. This abuse of terms will not be dangerous when it can be appreciated. What we have done by force of habit, we can continue for the convenience of the discourse and to avoid the prolixity of disconcerting verbosity; but we must take care not to do it through ignorance. If we would know Man in himself, we must consider him such as I have just described, for he is thus.

When I say, however, that Man is thus, it ought to be understood only as man in general, considered abstractly in the possibility of his essence. Even today when the kingdom of Man enjoys great power in nature, the individual man is very rarely developed in all his mental modifications. In the infancy of the kingdom, the mass of humanity was far from being that which it is at present; the preponderating life in the individual was the instinctive life; the animistic shed only feeble lights, and the intellectual existed as yet only in the germ. Just as one sees an infant, born with weak organs, deprived even of the greater part of his physical senses, without any sign of the imposing faculties which he is one day to have, develop himself little by little, gather strength, acquire hearing and sight which he lacked, grow, understand his needs, manifest his passions, give proofs of his intelligence, instruct himself, enlighten himself, and become at last a man perfect through the use of his will, so must one consider the Kingdom of Man, passing through all the phases of infancy, adolescence, youth, and manhood. An individual man is to a great nation what a great nation is to the kingdom in general. Who knows, for example, how many men have completed their career from the earliest dawn of life to its extreme decline among the peoples of Assyria or of Egypt, during the long existence of these two people? And who knows how many similar peoples are destined yet to shine and to become extinct upon the scene of the world before universal Man reaches caducity?

In tracing this metaphysical picture, I have considered Man in the greatest development that he can attain today. This same development does not belong to all men; it does not belong even to the majority of them. Nature does not make men equal; souls differ still more than bodies. I have already announced this great truth in my Examens des Vers dorés of Pythagoras, in showing that such was the doctrine of the mysteries and the thought of all the sages of antiquity. Equality without doubt is in the volitive essence of all, since this essence is divine; but inequality insinuates itself into the faculties by diversity of employment and difference of exercise; time is not measured equally for all; positions have changed, courses of life have become shortened or lengthened, and, although it is certain that all men having preceeded from the same principle must arrive at the same end, there are many, and indeed the greatest number, who are very far from arriving; whereas some have already done so, others are about to, and many, obliged to recommence their course, could not have escaped the nothingness which would have engulfed them if the eternity of their existence had not been assured by the eternity of its Author.

The animistic equality is then in the actuality of things a chimera still greater than the equality of the instinctive forces of the body.

Inequality is everywhere and in the intelligence still more than in all the rest, since it is among existing men and above all among a great number of men whose civilization is only sketched, whose intellectual centre is not yet on the path of development. As for political inequality, we shall see, further on in the work which follows, what one should think regarding it.