Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

The Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology, vol. 3: Ins-Pla
Todd, Robert Bentley
its countless living inhabitants. Have we, then, 
any more reason to assume that a vital prin¬ 
ciple or organic agent governs the concerns of 
each of these beings, than to suppose that the 
Creator has delegated to a subordinate the care 
of each individual globe ? Or is it not more 
consistent to suppose that upon the elements 
of all He impressed those simple properties, 
from whose mutual actions, foreseen and pro¬ 
vided for in the laws according to which they 
operate, all the varieties of change which it 
was His intention to produce, should necessa¬ 
rily result ? 
By another illustration of a different cha¬ 
racter we hope to set this point in a still 
clearer light, and to be able to dismiss the 
subject without entering upon it as an abstract 
question. We shall suppose a young physio¬ 
logist, entirely ignorant of physical science, but 
educated in implicit faith in the vital principle, 
witnessing for the first time the action of a 
steam-engine. Here he would perceive a ma¬ 
chine composed of a number of dissimilar 
parts connected together, and moving by some 
secret agency which he desires to unveil. We 
may imagine him trying various experiments 
upon its functions,—such as shutting off the 
communication between the boiler and the cy¬ 
linder, or between the cylinder and the con¬ 
denser,—or applying cold where heat should 
be, and kindling a fire under the cold-water 
cistern. Hence he may arrive at the just con¬ 
clusion that the actions performed by each 
part, when the machine was in regular opera¬ 
tion, have all a tendency towards one common 
object—the maintenance of its moving power. 
He will also perceive that these actions are as 
dissimilar as the structure of the parts exhi¬ 
biting them ; and he will not escape being sur¬ 
prised that the opposite influences of heat and 
cold should be essential to their production. 
Hence he may safely conclude that the whole 
series of phenomena is due to one presiding 
agency—a u steam-engine principle,”—by the 
operation of which upon the material structure, 
its actions are produced, and made to har¬ 
monize with each other, and with their ultimate 
object. And this conviction would be very 
much strengthened if he saw the machine en¬ 
dowed (as we may, for illustration, imagine 
quite possible) with the means of supplying 
its own wants,—regularly adding fuel to its fire, 
and cold water to its condensing cistern,—rand 
even repairing for itself the loss it sustains by 
wear of material. Would such a person, en¬ 
tirely unacquainted with the properties of 
steam, be acting more unphilosophically in en¬ 
tertaining this notion, than in attributing the 
actions exhibited by living beings to the opera¬ 
tion of a vital principle ? We think not. In 
each case the machine or organism is framed 
to take advantage of the properties with which 
the Creator first endowed matter ; and the dif¬ 
ference is that, while the design of man con¬ 
structed the first to bring into operation those 
properties which alone he can control, the de¬ 
sign of Omnipotence constructed the second, 
and adapted it to develope properties of matter, 
which can only be exercised under the condi¬ 
tions which a living being supplies, and of 
which man, therefore, cannot avail himself. 
We may conclude, then, that if we can refer 
vital actions to the properties of the organs 
which exhibit them, called into operation by 
their appropriate stimuli, we do not require 
any other explanation of their mutual adapta¬ 
tion and dependence than the original design 
of the Creator. “ No agent,” it has been well 
remarked, “ can be required to adjust and re¬ 
gulate the actions which ensue from this mu¬ 
tual adaptation, since they are, like all other 
phenomena in the universe, under the control 
of laws inseparable from their very existence.” 
But the question next arises, by what means 
have organised bodies become possessed of these 
peculiar properties ? It is, as we have before 
remarked, a mere verbal alteration to attribute 
the vital actions of an organ to its peculiar pro¬ 
perties ; since we understand by these proper¬ 
ties only the capability of giving rise to the 
changes which we witness, and we only know 
of their existence by the observation of these 
changes. The real causes of the phenomena 
must be sought for in the events which were 
concerned in the formation of the structure, 
and its first endowment with the properties 
which it exhibits; and this leads us to consider, 
IV. The connection between vita¬ 
lity and organisation.—When our en¬ 
quiry into the laws of Physics terminates in 
referring any of its phenomena to the action of 
one of the universal properties of matter, we 
feel satisfied that we can trace the operation of 
second causes no higher ; and that the existence 
of this property as inseparable from matter, 
and therefore as essential to our idea of it, is 
the immediate result of the will of the Creator. 
But in a great variety of instances we cannot do 
so ; and we observe properties restricted to 
and inseparable from certain forms of matter, 
the laws of whose action, however, are as de¬ 
finite as in the first case. Such properties, 
therefore, form a part of our notion of those 
particular forms of matter ; thus, the magnetic 
properties of iron, or the energetic attraction 
which potassium has for oxygen, are characte¬ 
ristics of these substances, which combine 
with others to distinguish them in our minds 
from other forms of matter possessing many 
properties in common with them. But these 
properties will not be manifested except under 
peculiar conditions ; and according to the ra¬ 
rity of the occurrence of those conditions will 
be the probability of our remaining ignorant 
of the property. We are obliged to admit, 
therefore, that every form of matter with which 
we are acquainted may have properties of 
which we know nothing, simply because it has 
not been placed in the circumstances adapted 
to call them into activity ; since it is only by an 
action of some kind that the mind can become 
cognisant of their existence. We see, then, 
that it is very possible that all matter, or at 
least all those forms of it capable of becoming 
organised, may be possessed of properties 
which shall give rise to the actions termed 
vital, when they are placed in certain condi¬ 
tions ; and that the mere absence of any mani-


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