19 Jan 2017

Bréhier (Intro) La théorie des incorporels dans l'ancien stoïcisme, “Introduction”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is summary. Bracketed commentary is my own, as is any boldface. Proofreading is incomplete, which means typos are present, especially in the quotation. So consult the original text. Also, I welcome corrections to my interpretations, because French is not my native language.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Émile Bréhier

 

La théorie des incorporels dans l'ancien stoïcisme

 

Introduction

 

 

 

Brief summary:

The Stoics should be credited for bringing the notion of the “incorporeal” into currency in philosophical debates. Just before and after the Stoics, there were prominent philosophies that centralized reality in the intellectual and Ideal. The Stoics however thought reality was to be found primarily in corporeal bodies. But then they had to acknowledge the existence of non-corporeal entities, as for example the times and places in which bodies are found. To accommodate these exceptions, they invented the category of the “incorporeal”. We should keep in mind, however, that since our only source texts give just sparse and biased information about Stoic doctrines, it will not be easy to do them justice in our descriptions.

 

 

 

Summary

 

§1
[If we look historically at the Stoics and Epicureans, we see that before and after them are philosophical views interested in grounding being in the intellectual and incorporeal, while the Stoics and Epicureans emphasize the reality of physical bodies that act and undergo action.]

 

When accounting for beings, philosophies following Aristotle reject any cause which is intelligible or incorporeal. Prior to this, we see for example that Plato and Aristotle sought the principle of beings in intellectual beings. And in such Pre-Socratics like Pythagoras and Anaxagoras, this principle was sought in elements that can be clearly understood by thought. However, the Stoics and the Epicureans wanted to see reality only in bodies, which act and suffer actions. They stand as an interlude between the physics prior to Socrates and the Platonic idealism that will be reborn after them in Alexandria.

 

Un trait caractéristique des philosophies qui ont pris naissance après celle d’Aristote, est d'avoir rejeté, pour l'explication des êtres, toute cause intelligible et incorporelle. Platon et Aristote avaient cherché le principe des choses dans des êtres intellectuels; leurs théories dérivaient, à ce point de vue, et de la doctrine socratique des concepts, et des philosophies qui comme celles de Pythagore et d’Anaxagore avaient mis le principe des choses dans des éléments pénétrables à la pensée claire. C'est au contraire dans les corps que les Stoïciens et les Epicuriens veulent voir les seules réalités, ce qui agit et ce qui pâtit. Par une espèce de rythme, leur physique reproduit celle des physiciens antérieurs à Socrate, tandis qu’après eux, à Alexandrie, renaîtra l’idéalisme platonicien, qui expulse tout autre mode d'activité que celle d'un être intelligible.

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§2
[From the historical context of the philosophical usage of the term “incorporeal”, we see that the Stoics deserve credit for giving the term currency, as it was used sparsely before them and more frequently after them.]

 

In order to understand this historical evolution, we should inquire into the role that the notion of incorporeal plays in these systems of thought. According to Sextus Empiricus, the word “incorporeal” has the following meanings: “expressible” (λεκτόν), the void, place, and time. Previous philosophies used this term very infrequently. Plato only uses it twice, when opposing himself to Antisthenes, who acknowledged the existence of bodies only. We find it also in Platonic texts dealing with the Pythagorean inspired notion of harmony (as between beings, between parts of the good, or between body parts), which for the Pythagoreans is the soul. Aristotle only uses the word “incorporeal” when designating a notion of place that he rejects. The Alexandrians, however, often used the word to designate beings that go beyond the sensible world. Thus from this historical context, we see that the Stoics gave this term currency in philosophical debates, although afterword it was often used to criticize their thinking. According to Plato’s usage of the term, it would seem that the word originally comes from Antisthenes, who, [as we noted before, only grants being to bodies, but also who] before the Stoics, rejected the idea that place and time, as incorporeals, are non-beings.

Pour trouver les raisons de cette évolution du platonisme au stoïcisme, il serait intéressant, nous semble-t-il, de chercher quelle place garde, dans ce système, l’idée de l’incorporel. Ce mot désigne chez les Stoïciens, d’après Sextus1, les chosés suivantes : l’ « exprimable » (λεκτόν), le vide, le lieu, le temps. Le mot même d’incorporel avait été peu employé dans les doctrines précédentes. Platon ne s’en sert presque jamais pour indiquer les Idées ; on le trouve par deux fois lorsqu’il veut opposer sa théorie à celle d’Antisthènes qui n’admettait, lui aussi, que l’existence des corps2. On le trouve encore pour désigner une idée empruntée au pythagorisme, celle de l’harmonie entre des êtres, soit dans le Philèbe l’harmonie des parties du bien, soit dans le Phédon l’harmonie entre des parties du corps, qui d’après les | Pythagoriciens constitue l’âme1. Aristote emploie le mot, non pas pour désigner son Dieu séparé, mais pour caractériser l’idée du lieu, dans une théorie qu’il n’accepte d’ailleurs pas2. Au contraire les Alexandrins l’emploieront habituellement pour désigner les êtres qui dépassent le monde sensible. Ce sont donc les Stoïciens qui paraissent avoir introduit l’expression dans le langage courant de la philosophie, bien qu’ensuite l’on dût s’en servir surtout pour combattre leurs idées. D’après l’usage qu’en fait Platon, il n’est pas impossible que ce mot vienne d’Antisthènes, qui, avant les Stoïciens, aurait rejeté, dans les incorporels, les non-être comme le lieu ou le temps.

1. Sext. Adv. Math. X 218 (S. V. F. d’Arnim II, 117, 20).

2. Plat. Soph. 246b ; Polit. 286 a.

__

1. Phédon 85 e ; Philèbe 64 b.

2. Phys. IV, 1, 10.

3. Nous n’avons à citer aucune etude d’ensemble sur les incorporels. Pour l’ « exprimable » et la logique, voyez Prantl Geschichte der Logik im Abendl. Brochard, sur la Logique des Stoïciens (Arch. f. Gesch. der Phil. 1892, vol. V nº 4); Hamelin, sur la Logique des Stoïciens (Année philosophique, 12e année, 1902, p. 13).

Les fragments des anciens Stoïciens ont été rassemblés par Arnim (Stoïcorum Vet. Fragm. vol. I Lipsiæ 1905 ; vol. II (Logique et physique de Chrysippe), 1903, vol III, 1903. Nous reverrons à cette édition.

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§3

[Although the Stoics place reality in bodies, those bodies still need to exist in times and places, which of course are not bodies. Thus the Stoics created the category of “incorporeal” to accommodate these non-bodily but existing things. Our textual sources of the Stoics often come in the form of sparse mentions from those critical of Stoic ideas, so it will not be easy to formulate Stoic doctrines accurately.]

 

By identifying being with bodies, the Stoics likewise are forced to admit certain exceptions, namely, that of space and time. [Without space and time, bodies could not exist, but space and time are not bodies]. To accommodate these existing ‘nothings’, the Stoics created the category of the incorporeal. In order to study this Stoic notion, we draw from the following sources: the compilers or doxagraphers (Joannes Stobaeus, Diogenes Laërtius, and Aetius of Antioch), opponents of Stoics: the Academicians [of Plato’s Academy] and the Skeptics (Cicero and Sextus Empiricus), Aristotle’s commentators (Ammonius Hermiae, Alexander of Aphrodisias, and Simplicius) and the Platonists (Plutarch, Nemesius, and Proclus). Given the nature of these sorts of treatments of the Stoics, they only give very brief indications of Stoic doctrines. Thus at times it will be difficult to understand and fill-out the sparse information they provide us.

C’est bien là, en effet, le sens général de la théorie des Stoïciens sur les incorporels ; identifiant l’être avec le corps, ils sont cependant forcés d’admettre, sinon comme des existences, au moins comme des choses définies l’espace et le temps. C’est pour ces néants d’existence qu’ils ont créé la catégorie de l’incorporel3. Les sources que nous aùrons à utiliser dans cette étude, en dehors des compilateurs ou doxographes (Stobée, Diogène Laërce, Aétius), viennent surtout des contradicteurs des Stoïciens : les académiciens et les sceptiques (Cicéron dans les Académiques et Sextus), les commentateurs d’Aristote (Ammonius, Alexandre d’Aphrodise, Simplicius) et les Platoniciens (Plutarque, Némésius, Proclus). Par leur nature, elles ne contiennent en général que des indications fort brèves sur les doctrines, et nous aurons parfois bien de la peine à comprendre, et à compléter les renseignements qu’elles nous donnent.

3. Nous n’avons à citer aucune etude d’ensemble sur les incorporels. Pour l’ « exprimable » et la logique, voyez Prantl Geschichte der Logik im Abendl. Brochard, sur la Logique des Stoïciens (Arch. f. Gesch. der Phil. 1892, vol. V nº 4); Hamelin, sur la Logique des Stoïciens (Année philosophique, 12e année, 1902, p. 13).

Les fragments des anciens Stoïciens ont été rassemblés par Arnim (Stoïcorum Vet. Fragm. vol. I Lipsiæ 1905 ; vol. II (Logique et physique de Chrysippe), 1903, vol III, 1903. Nous reverrons à cette édition.

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Bréhier, Émile. 1962. La théorie des incorporels dans l'ancien stoïcisme. 3rd Edn. Paris: Vrin.

 

 

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Bréhier, La théorie des incorporels dans l'ancien stoïcisme, entry directory

 

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La théorie des incorporels dans l'ancien stoïcisme

 

Introduction

 

1.1 [on incorporeality and causality]

 

 

 

 

 

Bréhier, Émile. 1962. La théorie des incorporels dans l'ancien stoïcisme. 3rd Edn. Paris: Vrin. PDF of a microfilm version available at:

https://archive.org/details/lathoriedesincor00brhi

 

 

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La théorie des incorporels dans l'ancien stoïcisme

 

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11 Jan 2017

Uexküll (2) Theory of Meaning, ‘The Meaning-Carrier’, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is summary. Bracketed commentary and boldface are my own, unless otherwise noted. Citations refer first to the German 1940 edition, secondly to the 1982 English edition, and thirdly to the 2010 English edition. When quoting, the source version will be indicated in citation by having its page numbers underlined. I apologize in advance for typos, as proofreading is incomplete. Note: quotations from the 1982 edition may contain asterisks, which “appear before words contained in the Glossary the first time they occur in the text” (79). I will give that glossary definition when the appear. Also, German terms are repeatedly inserted to facilitate comparison with translations of other Uexküll texts]

 

 

Summary of

 

Jakob von Uexküll

 

Theory of Meaning

[Bedeutungslehre]

 

2. The Meaning-Carrier

[Carriers of Meaning]

[Bedeutungsträger]

 

 

 

Brief summary:

From the perspective of a biologist, there are no neutral objects. Each thing has a meaning depending on which Umwelt (subjective world of an animal) it is in and what role it plays in that animal’s life. The stem of a flower, for example, serves a different role in the lives of a girl, an ant, a cicada, and a cow. For the girl, the stem is a way for her to fix the flower in her clothes as decoration. For the ant, the stem is a path to its food source, the petals. For the cicada, the stem is the storage place for sap that it will extract and use as a housing substance. And for the cow, the stem is simply food. Objects as things with such functional significance in an animal’s Umwelt and life are thus meaning-carriers (Bedeutungsträger). Objects have many properties. But depending on the role they play, certain properties will have certain statuses. One set of such statuses involves the role they play in the object’s functionality for the animal. What makes an object a useful object is the structural ways that the parts or properties lend to the functioning of the whole. We consider a transparent glass bowl and two of its properties, namely, its roundness and its transparency. When it is used as a window pane, its main function is to allow light through it, and thus its key or leading property [leitende Eigenschaft] is its concavity. But its secondary function is to obscure what is going on inside the house, and thus its subsidiary or supporting property [begleitende Eigenschaft] is its concavity. However, suppose we set it on the table and fill it with a liquid. In this case, its leading property is its concavity, as this allows it to hold the fluid, while its subsidiary property is its transparency, as this serves the secondary function of allowing us to view its contents better. Another way to classify the properties of an object has to do with the functional circles [Funktionskreise], which are similar to stimulus-response reflexes, except they involve meaning creation and transformation. Certain properties take on a significance for the animal in that they inform the animal about an action they may want to take. These properties that the animal is receptive to sensorily are perceptual cue-carriers [Merkmalträger]. They trigger the animal to make an effective action in the world, often times acting upon the very same thing that trigger the action. The object will have certain properties or parts that the animal interact with specifically, and by doing so, the animal either physically transforms the properties of the object or at least transforms its significance. The properties involved in the animals effective action, but which are not necessarily perceived by the animal, are the effector cue-carriers [Wirkmalträger], because they serve to facilitate the effective action and/or they possess marks of the result of that effective action. Since the effective action may either transform the object physically, thereby altering the properties that were once perceived, or it will at least transform its meaning so that the properties that were once perceived are no longer relevant after the action is completed. Either way, the effector cue-carriers extinguish the perceptual cue-carriers. The cow, for example, senses things about the flower and its stem (its taste primarily) which tell it to eat the flower. But after eating it, those properties are not longer sensible, and the chewed flower carries the effector cues. So physically the perceptual cue-carriers were extinguished. But also, the flower went from some thing in the field to food. This transformation of meaning makes the perceptual cue-carriers no longer relevant, because its new meaning has designated it as food, and thus there need no longer need to continue perceiving its properties, which only serve to make that designation anyway. So in that sense the effector cue-carrier extinguishes the perceptual cue-carrier. And finally, after the cow eats, it is full, and thus no longer is interested in perceptual cue-carriers indicating food. Thus in this way again the perceptual cue-carrier has been extinguished by effector cue-carrier. Yet the perceptual cue-carriers and the effector cue-carriers do not exhaust all the properties of the object. There are still others which serve  in forming the objective connecting structure [Gegengefüge]. This notion remains vague, but it is defined as the physical component of the object which connects the perceptual cue-carriers to the effector cue-carriers. We might then think of the object as a unity of properties. There is something structural about it responsible for how those properties hang together (which could be simply physical connections of material parts or it could be things which lend themselves to different sorts of sensible properties, like vibration being something both visible and audible).

 

 

Summary

 

 

§16

[When we see winged insects, we think they have complete freedom to go anywhere in the world.]

 

When we see winged insects flying around a field, we think that their world is boundless, because they seemingly move about from place to place at will (3/26/139).

 

 

§17

[Even many earthbound animals seem to have this freedom of movement.]

 

This freedom seems to hold for many earthbound animals as well, like frogs, mice, snails, and worms (3/27/139).

 

 

§18

[But in fact, all animals are limited to a particular dwelling-world (habitat / Wohnwelt), and ecologists should study these limits.]

 

But in fact, all animals are limited to their habitat.

This impression is deceptive. In truth, every free-moving animal is bound to a specific habitat [dwelling world / Wohnwelt] and it remains the task of the ecologist to investigate its limits.

(3/27/139, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§19

[There is a comprehensive world out of which the animal carves its habitat (Wohnwelt). Within its habitat is a limited range of objects (Gegenstände), with which the animal has a limited range of interactions, which biologists can study.]

 

[So each creature has its own habitat. And within its habitat are certain limited range of objects. And the creature’s range of interactions with those set objects might itself be more or less limited. This can seem to present to biologists the task of finding the certain uniform ways that creatures interact with the limited range of objects in their habitat.]

We do not doubt that a comprehensive world [enclosing world / umfassende Welt] is at hand, spread out before our eyes, from which each animal can carve out its specific habitat [dwelling world / Wohnwelt]. Observation teaches us that each animal moves within its habitat [dwelling world / Wohnwelt] and confronts a number of objects [Gegenständen], with which it has a narrower or wider relationship. Because of this state of affairs, each experimental biologist seems to have the task of confronting various animals with the same object [Gegenstand], in order to investigate the relationships between the animal and the object [Gegenstand]. In this procedure, the same object represents a uniform standard measure in every experiment.

(3/27/139, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§20

[Experiments have been done on rats’ relations to a labyrinth.]

 

Uexküll notes that this sort of analysis has been carried out by American researchers with respect to animals in their relationship to a labyrinth (3/27/139).

 

 

§21

[The problem with these experiments is that they wrongly assume that animals can enter into a relationship with a neutral object (Gegenstand).]

 

Uexküll says that these experiments fail, because they are “based on the false assumption that an animal can at any time enter into a relationship with a *neutral object [(just ‘object’) / (just ‘Gegenstand’)] ” (3/27/139, bracketed insertions mine).

[From the Glossary:

Neutral object (Gegenstand) An object in the *Umwelt of an indifferent observer. It is never contained in the Umwelt of an animal. ‘Because no animal ever plays the role of an observer, one may assert that they never enter into relationships with neutral objects.’ (J. v. Uexküll; above, p. 27).”

(85)

Reference:

(This text)

]

 

 

§22

[Consider if we scare off a dog by picking up a stone from the road and throwing it at the dog.]

 

To explain why these attempts fail, Uexküll uses the following illustration. Suppose we are walking down a country road, and an angry dog barks at us. To scare off the dog, we pick up a stone from the road and throw it toward the dog to frighten it off. At this point, we can note that it was one and the same stone that previously was on the road and secondly was thrown at the dog (3/27/140).

 

 

§23

[The physical composition of the stone did not change; only its meaning changed.]

 

Nothing about the stone’s physical properties or chemical composition has changed at all, however, its meaning has changed with the new role it plays in this situation.

Neither the shape, nor the weight, nor the other physical and chemical properties of the stone have altered. Its color, its hardness, and its crystal formation have remained the same and yet, a fundamental transformation has taken place: It has changed its meaning [Bedeutung].

(3-4/27/140, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§24

[While the stone was on the road, it functioned to support the walker’s feet, and thus at that time had a path-quality (path tone / Wegton).]

 

While being on the road, it had a “path-quality” [“path tone” / “Wegton”], because it was “incorporated in the country road” and it “served as a support for the walker’s feet” (4/27/140, bracketed insertions mine).

 

 

§25

[But when it is thrown, a new meaning is imprinted upon it, namely, a throw-quality (throwing-tone / Wurfton), because its function changed and thus its meaning changed.]

 

But when being thrown, it obtained a “throw-quality” [“throwing tone” / “Wurfton”], because it now functions as a missile. So it loses its old quality, and this new one is “imprinted upon it”, when its function alters (4/27/140, bracketed insertions mine).

 

[The following collects the above paragraphs in quotation.]

The proof of this seemingly surprising assertion is easy to demonstrate by means of a simple example: Let us suppose that an angry dog barks at me on a country road. In order to drive it off, I pick up a stone and frighten it off with an adept throw. Nobody who observes this process and afterwards picks up the stone would doubt that it was the same object, ‘stone’, which first lay on the road and then was thrown at the dog.

 

Neither the shape, nor the weight, nor the other physical and chemical properties of the stone have altered. Its color, its hardness, and its crystal formation have remained the same and yet, a fundamental transformation has taken place: It has changed its meaning.

 

As long as the stone was incorporated in the country road, it served as a support for the walker’s feet. Its meaning in that context lay in its playing a part in the performance of the path, we might say that it had acquired a ‘path-quality’ (Weg-Ton).

 

This changed fundamentally when I picked up the stone to throw it at the dog. The stone became a missile – a new meaning became imprinted upon it. It had acquired a ‘throw-quality’ (Wurf-Ton).

(3-4/27/140)

 

[from the other translation:]

 

The proof of this surprising-sounding assertion can be provided by a simple example. The following case is treated as given: An angry dog barks at me on a country road. In order to get rid of him, I grab a paving stone and chase the attacker away with a skillful throw. In this case, nobody who observed what happened and picked up the stone afterward would doubt that this was the same object, “stone,” which initially lay in the street and was then thrown at the dog.

 

Neither the shape, nor the weight, nor the other physical and chemical properties of the stone have changed. Its color, its hardness, its crystal formations have all stayed the same — and yet it has undergone a fundamental transformation: it has changed its meaning. As long as the stone was integrated into the country road, it served as a support for the hiker's foot. Its meaning was in its participation in the function of the path. It had, we could say, a “path tone.” That changed fundamentally when I picked up the stone in order to throw it at the dog. The stone became a thrown projectile — a new meaning was impressed upon it. It received a “throwing tone.”

(3-4/27/140)

 

 

 

§26

[When one is an objective observer of neutral objects, they have no meaning, because meaning is imprinted on objects when they enter into a relationship with a subject. Animals never relate to neutral objects, because they are never mere observers.]

 

Uexküll then has us think of an observer holding the stone in her hand, with the stone being a relationless object. But the stone becomes a carrier of meaning when it enters a relationship with a subject. [The idea seems to be that insofar as the object is not related to something else but is merely something noted by an uninvolved observer, it is not carrying meaning. But as soon as it involves other subjects to which it plays some role in their lives or experiences, then it becomes a meaning-carrier.] Uexküll then says that animals never play the role of observers, and thus every object carries meaning for them. [I am not certain however why animals cannot be disinterested observers.] This meaning is endowed to the thing by some subject.

The stone lies in the objective observer’s hand as a neutral object [relationless object / beziehungsloser Gegenstand], but it is transformed into a *meaning-carrier [carrier of meaning / Bedeutungsträger] as soon as it enters into a relationship with a subject. Because no animal ever plays the role of an observer, one may assert that they never enter into relationships with neutral objects [“object” / “Gegenstand”]. Through every relationship the neutral object [object / Gegenstand] is transformed into a | meaning-carrier [into the carrier of a meaning / in den Träger einer Bedeutung], the meaning of which is imprinted upon it by a *subject.

(4/27-28/140, bracketed insertions mine)

[From the Glossary:

Meaning-carrier (Bedeutungsträger) The properties of a *neutral object that | acquire a meaning in the *Umwelt of a *subject. Every neutral object ‘is transformed into a meaning-carrier as soon as it enters into a relationship with a subject ... The meaning ... is imprinted upon it by a subject.’ ‘... the meaning-carriers ... in various Umwelts ... remain identical in their structures. Part of their properties serve the subject at all times as perceptual cue-carriers, another part as effector cue-carriers’. (J. v. Uexküll; above, pp. 27-28, 31)

(84-85)

Reference:

(This text)

 

Subject (Subjekt) The point of reference for any *meaning, since the value of a subject does not reside in something else, ‘but rather lies in its own existence, in its own self’. It is also the center of an *Umwelt, which is built up by the subject as a receiver of *signs that are interpreted according to a species-specific code. In its reactions the subject works as a sender of signs. ‘Perception and action [operation] are the life-tasks of the animal subject.’ (J. v. Uexküll; above, pp. 70, 74) Even cells are *autonomous subjects. ‘The subject is the new factor of nature which Biology introduces in Natural Science.’ (J. v. Uexküll 1931b: 389)

References (in order of appearance):

(This text)

von Uexküll, Jakob (1931b). Die Rolle des Subjekts in der Biologie. Die Naturwissenschaften 19, 385-391.

]

 

 

§27

[Consider an example of how a neutral object can take on various meanings depending on its use. A round glass bowl, when placed in an outer wall, takes on the meaning of a window, but when we put water and flowers in it, it takes on the meaning of a vase.]

 

Uexküll then gives a couple more examples for how such meaning changes have an influence that “exercises on the properties of the object”. He gives the example of having a round glass bowl. [See this example in Theoretical Biology §§515-517]. Were we to put water in it and use it as a vase, it would have one meaning. But were we to install it as a window in our house to allow light to come in but not make the inside visible to the outside, it would have another meaning (4/28/140).

The influence that the transformation of meaning [change in meaning / Bedeutungswandel] exercises on the properties of the object [Gegenstandes] is clarified by two further examples. I take a domed glass dish, which can serve as a neutral object [simple object / Gegenstand] because it has not performed any previous function for human beings. I insert the glass dish into the outside wall of my house and transform it in this way into a window that lets in the sunlight; but, because it also reflects light, it screens out the glances of the passers-by. However, I can also place the glass dish on a table, fill it with water, and use it as a flower-vase.

(4/28/140, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§28

[Properties of an object that lend to its main function are called key [leading / leitende] properties, and those that lend to a secondary function of the object are called subsidiary [supporting / begleitende] properties.]

 

We might think that the properties of the object remain the same regardless of the changes in its meaning. This is so, but what has changed in the different uses of the bowl is that “its various properties acquire a rank-order of importance”: in the case of it being a window, its transparency is its higher ranking property, and its curvature less so; but when it is a vase, its curvature is the key property and its transparency is less important (4/28/140). When the property is the important one, then it is called the “leading property”, but when it serves a lesser important function, then it is a “supporting property”. [For more on this distinction see Theoretical Biology §519].

The properties of this neutral object [object / Gegenstandes] are not altered at all during these transformations. But as soon as the glass dish has been transformed into a meaning-carrier [carrier of meaning / Bedeutungsträger], ‘window’ or ‘vase’, its various properties acquire a rank-order of importance. The transparency of the glass is a ‘key’ property [“leading” property / “leitende” Eigenschaft] of the window, while its curvature represents a subsidiary property [supporting property / begleitende Eigenschaft]. In the case of the vase, the obverse is true: The curvature is the key [leading / leitende] property and the transparency the subsidiary [supporting / begleitende] property.

(4/28/141, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§29

[Scholastic philosophers distinguished essential and accidental object properties. Since these correspond to key and subsidiary properties, they must have been thinking of objects in terms of meaning-carriers (for otherwise there would be no ranking to the properties).]

 

Uexküll relates this to the scholastic distinction of essentia and accidentia. This distinction only holds for meaning-carriers, where certain features are essential (or “key”) and others are accidental (or “subsidiary”) (4-5/28/141).

 

 

 

§30

[Another example: consider two long poles connected by a series of smaller poles between them. Stood vertically, it is a ladder. Stood horizontally, it is a fence.]

 

His other example is a “neutral” object that is made of two long poles that are connected to each other by a series of other poles spanning between them, at regular intervals. If we lean the long poles up against a wall, then it “acquires a ‘ladder-quality’ (Leiter-Ton) [“climbing tone” / “Kletterton”]; but it takes on the quality of a fence when we place the long poles horizontally on the ground (5/28/141, bracketed insertions mine).

 

 

§31

[When the pole-structure is used as a fence, the distance between the cross-poles is accidental, because they need not be equally spaced to support the top beam. But when it is serving as a ladder, the equidistance becomes a key property, because it is meaningful for that particular usage.]

 

When it is acting as a fence, the distance between the cross-poles is accidental [because they could be irregular and it would still serve as a fence], but when it is acting as a ladder, that equidistance becomes key, because that is important for its meaning or use as a ladder (5/28/141).

It soon becomes apparent that, in the case of the fence, the cross-poles play a subordinate role [nebensächliche Rolle]. In the case of the ladder, however, they must be distanced at regular intervals so as to make steps possible. A simple spatial construction-plan [einfacher räumlicher Bauplan] is, therefore, already apparent in the meaning-carrier [carrier of meaning / Bedeutungsträger], ‘ladder’, which makes. the performance of step-climbing possible.

(5/28/141, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§32

[It is wrong to believe that we can think of human implements simply as relationless objects only by subtracting humans from the picture, like thinking of a normal house but without the people in it.]

 

Thus it is incorrect to treat the useful things in our world as relationless objects. We see this if we consider a human house with all its items and think of it objectively by removing the humans.

In an imprecise manner of expression, we designate all our useful things [objects / Gebrauchsdinge] (even though they are one and all carriers of human meaning [human meaning-carriers / menschliche Bedeutungsträger]) simply as objects [Gegenstände], as if they were simple, relationless objects [beziehungslose Objekte]. Indeed, we treat a house along with all the things [Dingen] found in it as objectively existent, whereby we leave human beings as dwellers in the house and users of the things [Dinge] completely out of the picture.

(5 / 28 / 141, bracketed insertions mine)

[Note, I did not use the 2010 English edition, because certain terms and structures did not match. See for example the inclusion of “Ton” below, which is not in the 1940 German edition (but perhaps is in some other one).]

It is inaccurate to refer to all the uses to which objects are put (although they are, each and all, human meaning-carriers as if they were neutral, devoid of quality (Ton). We even regard a house, with all the things contained in it, as if it existed ‘objectively’ as a neutral object, in that we totally disregard the people who occupy the house and use the things in it.

(5 / 28 / 141)

 

 

§33

[Subtracting humans from the house still keeps the human-centered meanings of the things in the house. This becomes apparent when we think of adding a dog to the human-less house. The dog would not recognize the household objects in the same way.]

 

But we notice the problem with this when we instead think of a dog living in the house and we consider its relations to the things in the house.

That this view is wrong is demonstrated immediately if we replace the human being with a dog as occupant of the house and envisage its relationships to the things in it.

(5/28/141-142)

 

 

§34

[A dog trained to the command ‘chair’ will sit on a human chair, but if one is lacking, it will seek out some other sort of seating that is not fitting for a human.]

 

[To reinforce his point, Uexküll mentions a phenomenon that can happen when training a dog to learn the command ‘chair’. Apparently it will learn to sit on a human chair, as originally instructed. But when you remove all human chairs from the vicinity, and still command “chair”, it looks for some other sort of thing appropriate for a dog to sit on. In other words, what makes something a chair for the dog is not the properties assigned to it but rather its potential to serve as a thing to sit on, which for a dog can be many other sorts of things that humans would not normally call a chair. I will quote, and note the idea of “being on the look-out”, which Deleuze speaks of with regard to animals and signs in his Abécédaire interviews.]

 We know from Sarris’s experiments that a dog trained to the | command ‘chair’ learns to sit on a chair, and will be on the look-out for other seating-accommodations if the chair is removed; indeed, he searches for canine sitting-accommodations, which need in no way be suitable for human use.’

(5/28-29/142)

 

 

§35

[The dog chooses other objects for chairs because these other objects have a sitting-quality for dogs, even though they do not have that quality for humans.]

 

The reason the dog will find other objects it was not trained to sit on is because for the dog, these other objects have the same sitting-quality as the human chair, (even though they do not have that quality for humans).

 

The various sitting-accommodations all have the same ‘sitting-quality’ (Sitz-Ton) [sitting tone / Sitzton]; they are meaning-carriers [carriers of meaning / Bedeutungsträger] for sitting because they can be exchanged with each other at will, and the dog will make use of them indiscriminately upon hearing the command ‘chair’.

(5 / 29 / 142, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§36

[The things in the human house may either have the same qualities for the dog, as the staircase has a climbing quality for both, or they make take on different qualities, as the furniture has a sitting-quality for humans but an obstacle-quality for dogs, or they may have no quality, as spoons for example have no use value for dogs.]

 

Thus with regard to the example of the human house with a dog occupant, all the things will take on different qualities depending on how the dog relates to them (5-6/29/142). For example, a lot of furniture [which has a sitting-quality for humans] will have an “obstacle-quality” for the dog. And “All of the small household effects, such as spoons, forks, matches, etc. do not exist for the dog because they are not meaning-carriers” (6 / 29 / 142).

 

 

§37

[Thus it is insufficient to use the dog’s qualities of the household items for a human-centered description.]

 

Thus it is insufficient for a human inhabitant were the house’s contents to be described simply in terms of the qualities that the dog imparts to them (6/29/142).

 

 

§38

[If we think of a forest, we will see that it is inadequate to describe it in human terms.]

 

[So it is insufficient to describe a human house in dog terms.] We can further gather that if we simply describe a forest in human terms, we will fail to grasp its full meaning.

Are we not taught by this example that the forest, for instance, which the poets praise as the most beautiful place of sojourn for human beings, is in no way grasped in its full meaning if we relate it only to ourselves?

(6 / 29 / 142, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§39

[For, the things in the woods have a plurality of meanings, depending on what sort of person or which kind of animal is interacting with them.]

 

This is because the forest has different constituent meanings depending on the sort of person or mode of interaction with it.

Before we follow this thought further, a sentence from the Umwelt chapter of Sombart’s book About the Human may be cited:

No ‘forest’ exists as an objectively prescribed environment. There exists only a forester-, hunter-, botanist-, walker-, nature-enthusiast-, wood gatherer-, berry-picker- and a fairytale-forest in which Hansel and Gretel lose their way.

(6 / 29 / 142, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§40

[And since there are many animals each relating to the woods in its own way, we can think of there being a vast plurality of different meanings for the same things in the woods.]

 

And this is even more the case when we consider the different ways that the other animals engage with the things in the woods.

The meaning [Bedeutung] of the forest is multiplied a thousandfold if its relationships are extended to animals, and not only limited to human beings.

(6/29/142, bracketed insertions mine).

 

 

§41

[Given the breathtaking number of meaning worlds in one forest, we might simply enjoy our wonderment of them all. However, we should now examine a typical case to see the network relating the many Umwelten.]

 

[At this point we might be amazed by the idea of all the meaning worlds of each creature overlapping in one forest.] Uexküll says that we should not become “intoxicated with the enormous number of *Umwelts (subjective universes) [Umwelten / environments] that exist in the forest” (6/29/143, bracketed insertions mine). He will instead examine a typical cases to analyze the “relationship-network of the Umwelts [tissue of relationships among the environments / Beziehungsgewebe der Umwelten]” (6/29/143, bracketed insertions mine).

[From the Glossary:

Umwelt (subjective universe, phenomenal world, self-world) (Umwelt) The part of the environment of a *subject that it selects with its species-specific sense organs according to its organization and its biological needs. Everything in the Umwelt is labeled with the *perceptual cues and *effector cues of the subject. ‘Every subject is the constructor of its Umwelt.’ (J. v. Uexküll 1931a: 217)

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Reference:

von Uexküll, Jakob (1931a). Der Organismus und die Umwelt. In Das Lebensproblem im Lichte der modemen Forschung, H. Driesch and H. Woltereck (eds.), 189-224. Leipzig: Quelle und Meyer.

]

 

 

 

§42

[As an example of the same object having different meanings for different animals, and thus as having a different meaning in different Umwelten, we consider a flower-stem in a meadow. {1} A girl uses the stem to affix the flowers on herself as decorations. {2} An ant uses the stem as a path to climb to its food source at the petals. {3} A cicada-larva bores into the stem to obtain sap it needs to construct a living structure. And {4} a cow eats both the stem and flower as food.]

 

Uexküll has us consider a flower blooming in the meadow, and in particular we are to think of the flower’s stem. [It is a part of many Umwelten, as many as there are different creatures in the meadow that relate to it in their own way.] We will limit our attention to just four Umwelten, and we will note the role the flower stem plays in each:

     {1} the role it plays “In the Umwelt of a girl picking flowers, who gathers herself a bunch of colorful flowers that she uses to adorn her bodice” (6/29/143);

     {2} the role it plays “In the Umwelt of an ant, which uses the regular design of the stem- | surface as the ideal path in order to reach its food-area in the flower-petals” (6/29-30/143);

     {3} the role it plays “In the Umwelt of a cicada-larva, which bores into the sap-paths of the stem and uses it to extract the sap in order to construct the liquid walls of its airy house” (6/30/143); and

     {4} the role it plays “In the Umwelt of a cow, which grasps the stems and the flowers in order to push them into its wide mouth and utilizes them as fodder” (6/30/143).

 

 

§43

[Thus the flower plays the following roles corresponding to its Umwelt-stage (Umweltbühne): {1} ornament, {2} path, {3} spigot, and {4} food.]

 

There is a different “Umwelt-stage” (Umweltbühne) for each usage. [Perhaps we may think of it as like the same theatrical scene being staged in different ways to bring out different perspectives or meanings.] Thus for the four creatures above, the flower stem serves the following roles in each respective Umwelt: {1} ornament for the girl, {2} path for the ant, {3} spigot for the cicada-larva, and {4} food clump for the cow.]

According to the Umwelt-stage [(missing) / Umweltbühne], on which it appears, the identical flower stem at times plays the role of an ornament, sometimes the role of a path, sometimes the role of an extraction-point, and finally the role of a morsel of food.

(6 / 30 / 143, bracketed insertions mine).

 

 

§44

[The flower-stem has a design suited to diverse multiple functions. It is thus far superior in design to human-made machines, which are much more limited in functionality.]

 

[I am not certain of the next point. Uexküll might be noting that human machines often are designed for and normally serve one or a limited range of functions, but the flower stem serves many functions. Insofar as a mechanism is defined as an object serving functions, we might say that the stem is a far more sophisticated mechanism than any human-made machine. Also, Uexküll characterizes the stem as consisting of “well-planned interwoven components [planmäßig ineinander gefügten Komponenten]” (6-7 / 30 / 143, bracketed insertions mine). This idea of ‘plan’ is important, but difficult at the same time. My own knowledge of it is so far limited to the ideas from section 4.6 of Theoretical Biology. We begin with the notion of a human tool having certain meaningful relations between its parts, which are ordered as such to serve its particular function. So the ladder has a design or plan calling for there to be two long vertical parts and a series of evenly spaced horizontal ones. It does not matter so much the material being used, so long as it supports enough weight. We then broaden this notion to the life forms in nature. They each can be said to have anatomical structures (and behavioral patterns) with functional purposes that thus seemingly accord with a “plan” or design. We furthermore see how all animal’s have their own plans or designs which place them into reciprocal relations with the plans or designs of other animals (we see this with symbiotic relations but also even with predator-prey relations, where the abilities or strategies of one creature are countered by those of another creature.) These sorts of intertwinings of creatures give us the sense that they all fit within an even larger plan of nature. And given that the materials in the inorganic world have certain specific properties that lend to life, we might even see a plan arching over all of the world, both organic or inorganic.]

This is very astonishing. The stem itself, as part of a living plant, consists of well-planned interwoven components [components connected to one another according to a plan / planmäßig ineinander gefügten | Komponenten] that represent a better-developed mechanism than any human machine.

(6-7/30/143, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§45

[The components of the stem are given different structuralizations depending on the functional use it has for the particular animal giving meaning to it. Also, there will be a part of the animal’s body corresponding to the stem; it will be the part that interacts with the stem.]

 

[Uexküll’s next point continues with the notion of plan, but this time with “building-plan”. As I am unsure I understand it well, please consult the quotation below. Uexküll might be saying the following. The stem has certain components, both structural in nature and material in nature. These parts can take on different building-plans, depending on who is relating to the stem. Perhaps we might say that for the stem itself, the stem means a number of things, given its functions, which are supported by its structures. So the stem props up the blossom, which is its means of reproduction. So it is structured to support weight and to rise up off the ground. It also channels water and sap. So perhaps from the perspective of the flower (supposing we can consider it from a plant’s perspective), the stem’s building-plan is its particular arrangement of cells of certain types so that it channels water and supports weight. For the girl, the stem is what pokes into her garments. So for her, the stem’s building-plan is simply the structural features making it firm, but it does not include those features allowing water to rise through it. For the ant, the building-plan might be simply those structural features that allow its feet to climb it and also that allow there to be petals at the top end of it. For the cicada-larva, the building-plan is perhaps the structural features that allow the sap to flow through the stem, and also maybe the features making the stem somewhat woody. For, the larva is anatomically suited to bore into things with such a feature. And for the cow, the building-plan is perhaps the chemical make-up of the stem, which provides nourishment to the cow, but also its particular structural features that enable it to be chewed. Uexküll’s next idea seems to be the following. Consider the anatomy of the larva, which is “designed” so to speak to bore into the stem. Or recall how the cow’s teeth and stomach are “designed” to eat and digest the flower. From this, we might gather the following idea. Consider any living or non-living object that appears in an animal’s Umwelt. This means that it relates to that animal in some functional way. That furthermore means that the animal somehow interacts with it. That even further means that there is some part of the animal that interacts with the object (or some part of it, at least), like a “complement” to it. Let me quote:]

The same components that are subjected to a certain building-plan (Bauplan) [construction plan / Bauplan] in the flower stem are torn asunder into four different Umwelts [environments / Umwelten] and are integrated, with the same certainty, into various new building-plans (Baupläne) [construction plans / Bauplänen]. Each component of an organic or inorganic object, on appearing in the role of a meaning-carrier [carrier of meaning / Bedeutungsträgers] on the life-stage [stage of live / Lebensbühne] of an animal subject [Tiersubjectes], has been brought into contact with a ‘complement’, so to speak, in the body of the subject that becomes the *meaning-utilizer [consumer of meaning / Bedeutungsverwerter].

(7/30/143, bracketed insertions mine)

[From the Glossary:

Meaning-utilizer (Bedeutungsverwerter) A *subject or a part of a subject’s body that is brought into contact with a *meaning-carrier. ‘Each component of an organic or inorganic object, on appearing in the role of a meaning-carrier on the life-stage of an animal subject, has been brought into contact with a ‘complement’, so to speak, in the body of the subject that becomes the meaning-utilizer.’ (J. v. Uexküll; above, p. 30)

References:

(This text)

]

 

 

 

§46

[But, given the invariability of the body’s plan and variability of the Umwelt’s plan, there seems to be a contradiction between these types of plans.]

 

[I do not grasp the next point, so please consult the quotation. I will guess it conveys the following ideas. The animal body has fixed functional parts to it, and these parts relate to the things in its Umwelt. However, the things in its Umwelt do not have fixed relations between their parts, because they vary depending on which animal is relating to it. Because the things in the Umwelt can structurally vary, that makes it incomplete as a system, at least in comparison to the animal’s body; for, the Umwelt is always open to other arrangements, but the animal’s body is not. (By the way, I would think that even the animal’s body has a structure that varies, but here according to which other creature is using its body. For example, the fat in its body might function to give it warmth, but to another creature who eats this first animal, the fat might function to give nourishment.) What this suggests, somehow, is that there is an apparent contradiction in nature. For, I am guessing, the plan of the body would have one sort of structure, (namely a fixed one) while the plan of the Umwelt will have a different sort of structure (namely a variable one). Please check the quotation.]

This conclusion draws our attention to an apparent contradiction in the fundamental features of living nature. The fact that the body structure is ordered according to a plan (Planmässigkeit) [the planned quality of the body structure / Planmäßigkeit des Körpergefüges] seems to contradict the idea that the Umwelt structure is also ordered according to a plan (Planmässigkeit) [the planned quality of the environmental structure / Planmäßigkeit des Umweltgefüges].

(7/30/143, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§47

[The variability of the Umwelt’s structure might make us think it is less systematically complete than the animal’s body, but this is an illusion.]

 

[The things in the Umwelt can vary in their structuralization depending on which animal is giving it which functional meaning. But the structuralization of the animal in the Umwelt remains fixed (for that animal at least). This makes the Umwelt seem like an incomplete system in comparison with the animal’s body. But this is an illusion.]

One must not be under the illusion that the plan to which the Umwelt structure [environment structure / Planmäßigkeit des Umweltgefüges] accords is less systematically complete than the plan according to which the body structure [bodily structure / Planmäßigkeit des Körpergefüges] is ordered.

(7 / 30 / 143-144, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§48

[But an Umwelt is for its creature an enclosed unit, being of limited space and contents.]

 

[I am not certain, but these seem to be the next points. We recall the idea that the Umwelt is not a “complete” system, because its parts can vary in structure. However, this is perhaps to look at an Umwelt from the outside. An Umwelt is a subjective world. From the perspective of the subject, the Umwelt is a closed unit or system, because its parts do not vary in meanings for itself in the way they vary with respect to the many other different animals in the vicinity. The limitedness of that world is not just with the meaning-structures the things bear. It is also a spatial matter. The animal’s sense organs and perceptual apparatus produce space around the animal that is limited both in scope and in internal division into specific localities. (See Theoretical Biology section 3.2 on the spatial “bubble” surrounding the animal.)]

Each Umwelt [environment] forms a closed unit in itself, which is governed, in all its parts, by the meaning it has for the subject. According to its meaning for the animal, the stage on which it plays its life-roles (Lebensbühne) [life-stage] embraces a wider or narrower space. This space is built up by the animal’s sense organs, upon whose powers of resolution will depend the size and number of its *localities (Orte). The girl’s field of vision resembles ours, the cow’s field of vision extends away over its grazing-area, while the diameter of the ant’s field of vision does not exceed 50 centimeters and the cicada’s only a few centimeters.

(7 / 30 / 144, bracketed insertions mine)

[From the Glossary:

Locus (place, locality) (Ort) The smallest element of space; it is a projected *local sign and as such a *perceptual cue for *objects of the motor activity of subjects.

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§49

[The space is distributed differently for each animal Umwelt.]

 

The places in space have a different distribution in each Umwelt, since every creature lives in a different scale and finds certain sorts or things and surfaces significant.

The localities [Orte] are distributed differently in each space: The fine pavement the ant feels while crawling up the flower stem does not exist for the girl’s hands and certainly not for the cow’s mouth.

(7 / 30 / 144, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§50

[Different parts or features of the object will be important for some creatures but not for others.]

 

The structures and chemistry of the flower stem are not important for the girl or ant, but they are for the cow, who must digest the material (7 / 30-31 / 144).

 

 

§51

[The Umwelt will be divided into things according to the functional structures that interest that Umwelt’s animal.]

 

[The next points seem to be the following, but please consult the quotation. All the things in an animal’s Umwelt have some meaning or other. If there is some component that is not important to that animal, then it is not really in the Umwelt, since only meaningful structures are. (Or perhaps we should say that objects without meaning in an Umwelt are really grouped with meaningful objects neighboring them, and so with everything belonging to one meaningful object or another, there is nothing left out.) We noted before that the spoon might be in the house, but it does not have any functional meaning for the dog. As such, it perhaps simply melds with whatever is around it, like it is part of a pile of useless shiny junk. Or, things that previously had no particular structure can gain them. I am not sure what would be a good example with the dog. But perhaps there are things maybe in the garbage that it distinguishes by smell, but that humans would have just lumped together as one pile of refuse.]

Everything that falls under the spell of an Umwelt (subjective universe) [environment] is altered and reshaped until it has become a useful meaning-carrier [carrier of meaning / Bedeutungsträger]; otherwise it is totally neglected. In this way the original components are torn apart without any regard to the building-plan [structural plan / Bauplan] that governed them until that moment.

(7-8 / 31 / 144, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§52

[Although the functional structure of an object varies for each Umwelt, it retains the same interactive structure, in which there are two parts, the perceptual cue-carriers (carriers of perception marks / Merkmalträger) and the effector cue-carriers (carriers of effect marks / Wirkmalträger)]

 

[I am not sure I follow the wording in the next paragraph. Let me quote it first.]

The contents of the meaning-carriers are different in the various Umwelts, although they remain identical in their structures. Part of their properties serve the subject at all times as *perceptual cue-carriers, another part as *effector cue-carriers.

(8 / 31 / 144)

 

As different as the carriers of meaning are in their respective environments according to their contents, they are just as completely similar in their structure. Part of their qualties serves the subject as carriers of perception marks, another part as carriers of effect marks.

(8 / 31 / 144)

 

So verschieden die Bedeutungsträger in den verschiedenen Umwelten ihrem Inhalte nach sind, so völlig gleichen sie sich in ihrer Bauart. Ein Teil ihrer Eigenschaften dient stets dem Subjekt als Merkmalträger, ein anderer als Wirkmalträger.

(8 / 31 / 144)

[I was confused, because one interpretation of the first sentence could be that that the same thing, like the flower stem for example, will have the same contents in the four different Umwelten but different structures. That would seem to be the opposite of what was said before, where the same thing has different structures but is composed of the same material. Given what is said then in the following sentence, I gather the structure here is not the same structure we mentioned before, namely, the functional structure, but is now a different sort of structure, in this case, the perceptual-effectual structure. So I will guess that he is saying that while the functional structure will vary per Umwelt, the general two-part interactive structure will remain the same.]

[From the Glossary:

Perceptual cue (Merkmal) A projected *perceptual sign appearing as a property of the *object that releases a specific *operation.

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Effector cue (operational cue) (Wirkmal) A projected *impulse to action (operation). The change of the *perceptual cue as an effect of the action (operation) establishes the feedback loop of the *functional circle.

(84)]

 

 

§53

[Different features of the same thing can serve as different perceptual cues for different animals.]

 

In each Umwelt, the flower stem has features that the creature perceives and finds significant. For example, the girl selects the flowers for decoration, so the color of the blossom serves as a cue to its suitability for that purpose. The cicada larva uses smell to find where to bore into the stem [so presumably the stem has parts to it with a certain smell that serve as perceptual cues for where to bore.]

The color of the blossom serves as an optical perceptual cue [optical perception mark / optisches Merkmal] in the girl’s Umwelt [environment], the ridged surface of the stem as a feeling perceptual cue [tactile perception mark / Tastmerkmal] in the Umwelt [environment] of the ant. The extraction-point presumably makes itself known to the cicada as a smell perceptual cue [olfactory perception mark / Geruchsmerkmal]. And in the cow’s Umwelt [environment], the sap from the stem serves as a taste perceptual cue [taste perception sign / Geschmacksmerkmal].

(8 / 31 / 144-145, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§54

[There will be some part or feature of the object that the animal will work upon and create an alteration to. There will be the location of the effect mark.]

 

[I might not have the next point right. It may be that there are certain features of the object that will receive the effect marks. For example, on the flower stem, there will be a weak part along it. When the girl pulls on the flower, that weak part is where the break happens. It receives the effect mark, because it is there that the change is shown. Another possibility is that the effector cue is not necessarily the mark of the effect of the animal’s action, but rather it is the feature that the animal acts on specifically. So perhaps the girl feels for the weak part, and pulls at that point.]

The effector cues [effect marks / Wirkmale] are mostly imprinted upon other properties of the meaning-carrier [carrier of meaning /  Bedeutungsträgers] by the subject: The thinnest point of the stem is torn apart by the girl as she picks the flower.

(8 / 31 / 145, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§55

[For the ant walking on the stem, the unevenness of the surface is something it is feeling for, and is thus a perceptual cue, but it is also moving its feat in accordance with that unevenness, and thus it is as well an effector cue.]

 

[In the next illustration, we are to think of the stem having an unevenness to it. The ant uses its feelers to detect the places (presumably uneven parts of the stem) where it will put its feet. So that unevenness of the surface serves both as the perceptual cue, because it is what the animal is perceiving as significant for its actions. And, it is the effector cue, because it applies its action also to those same uneven places it detected. Or, if an effector cue is the mark left from the result of the action, then perhaps the steps of the ant leave some sort of chemical trail or some other change in the surface.]

The unevenness of the stem’s surface serves the ant both as a touch perceptual cue [tactile perception mark / Tastmerkmals] for its feelers and as an effector cue-carrier [carrier of the effect mark / Wirkmalträger] for its feet.

(8 / 31 / 145, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§56

[The cicada uses smell to find the extraction-point.]

 

As we noted, the cicada uses smell to find a suitable place to bore into and extract sap for its house building material (8 / 31 / 145).

 

 

§57

[The taste of the stem tells the cow to eat more flowers.]

 

And the taste of the stem tells the cow to eat more flowers [because the taste indicates to the cow that they are nourishing] (8 / 31 / 145).

 

 

§58

[The effector cue assigns a new meaning to the object that the animal is reacting to. This extinguishes the perceptual cue that originally spurred the effective action, because that cue no longer is significant after the effective action has been completed.]

 

[The next idea is very tricky, and I do not have it all clearly in my mind yet. I will guess it to be the following. Consider the ant walking up the stem. The perceptual cue tells it how to move up the stem. Prior to it walking up the stem, the stem was just a part of the Umwelt and not appropriated meaningfully as something related to the ant itself. It is like a potential path for the ant. But only when the ant actually walks upon the stem has it left its mark on it and designated it as a path. So we can see how the effective action leaves its mark on the world and in that sense endows it with certain functional meanings. But we also need to see how the effector cue extinguishes the perceptual cue. One possibility is that after it has served its function, it no longer becomes interesting, and thus its features that would normally spur a certain action no longer do so (consider for example how we notice the smell of food easily when we are hungry but then would rather not smell it after we eat a lot). This was the sort of interpretation we gathered from Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men (see the Introduction, §§39 and 43). The other possibility is that the actual feature itself is destroyed or altered, like the cow eating the stem. At any rate, there are two possible senses for “extinguish” when the effector cue extinguishes the perceptual cue: {1} it puts the perceptual cue out of relevance and concern, “dephenomenalizing” in the sense that while it might still be sensed, it does not take the animal’s interest, and {2} the effector cue destroys or alters the perceptual cue by effectively transforming the feature. I am inclined to go with the first meaning, which could be found in the second, because were the feature destroyed, that would also make it no longer perceptible anyway.]

Because the effector cue [effect mark / Wirkmal] that is assigned to the meaning-carrier [carrier of meaning / Bedeutungsträger] extinguishes in every case the perceptual cue [perception sign / Merkmal] that caused the operation, each *behavior is ended, no matter how varied it may be.

(8 / 31 / 145, bracketed insertions mine. Note the translation of Merkmal as perception sign. I am used to seeing “Merkzeichen” translated as perception sign, and it is something different from the perception cue.)

[From the Glossary:

Behavior (Verhalten) The activities of living beings as they appear to the observer.

(83)]

 

 

§59

[A creature’s effective actions transform the object into something with particular meaning in that creature’s Umwelt, like how the cow transforms the flower into food by eating it.]

 

The effective action of the creature transforms the object into something with a new meaning for that creature. For example, by picking the flower, the girl transforms it into an ornamental object. By walking up the stem, the ant transforms it into a path (8 / 31 / 145). By eating the flower, the cow transforms the stem into food.

 

 

§60

[Actions have two parts: {1} a perceptual part that detects features which trigger effective actions, and {2} an effectual part that transforms the otherwise meaningless object into a meaning-carrier related to the animal subject, and it does this by imprinting a meaning onto that object.]

 

So action has two parts to it, a perceptual and an effectual. The effectual imprints a meaning onto an otherwise meaningless object.

Every action, therefore, that consists of perception and operation imprints its meaning on the meaningless object and thereby makes it into a subject-related meaning-carrier in the respective Umwelt (subjective universe).

(9 / 31 / 145)

 

In this way, every action impresses its meaning on a meaningless object and makes it thereby into a subject-related carrier of meaning in each respective environment.

(9 / 31 / 145)

 

So prägt jede Handlung, die aus Merken und Wirken besteht, dem bedeutungslosen Objekt ihre Bedeutung auf und macht es dadurch zum subjektbezogenen Bedeutungsträger in der jeweiligen Umwelt.

(9 / 31 / 145)

 

 

§61

[The meaning-carrier cues an action from the subject by means of perception, then the subject commits an action which transforms the meaning-carrier. This then is a functional circle.]

 

Uexküll then places these ideas into his functional circle schema. [We discuss it in greater detail in Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men, Introduction, §42.]

Because every behavior begins by creating a perceptual cue and ends by printing an effector cue on the same meaning-carrier, one may speak of a *functional circle that connects the meaning-carrier with the subject (Figure 1).

(9 / 31 / 145)

Uexkull. Theory Meaning

 

Since every action begins with the production of a perception mark and ends with the impression of an effect mark on the same carrier of meaning, one can speak of a functional cycle, which connects the carrier of meaning with the subject.

(9 / 31 / 145)

Uexkull. Stroll. subject object perception effection Circuit.fig 3.2010edn.600p

 

Da jede Handlung mit der Erzeugung eines Merkmals beginnt und mit Prägug eines Wirkmals am gleichen Bedeutungsträger endet, kann man von einem Funktionskreis sprechen, der den Bedeutungsträger mit dem Subjekt verbindet .

(9 / 31 / 145)

Uexkull. Theory Meaning. Abb1

[From the Glossary:

Functional circle (Funktionskreis) The cyclic connection between parts of the *environment of a living being, its *perception, and its behavioral answer (or *operation). A methodological tool to investigate and reconstruct its *Umwelt. There are four main circles: *medium, food, enemy, and sex.

(84)]

 

 

 

§62

[The most important functional circles are of the physical medium, food, enemy, and sex.]

 

There are four primary functional circles, namely, those of the physical medium, food, enemy, and sex (9 / 33 / 145).

 

 

§63

[Because of their functional interaction, the meaning-carrier (the significant object with which the subject is interacting) becomes a complement to the subject. Some of its properties are leading, while others are subsidiary. The features of the object which serve neither as perceptual nor as effector cues (and as well the overall coherence of the whole object in terms of its various properties) is the objective connection structure (Gegengefüge), because it (structurally) connects the perceptual and effector meaning-carriers.]

 

So we understand the object as a meaning-carrier, because it has entered into the animal’s functional circle, which causes it to have some significance in the animal’s functioning. Thus [while it may have begun as a relationless, neutral object] the meaning-carrier becomes a complement of the animal subject. [It in a sense has linked up with it.] [Now, the meaning-carrier has a variety of properties.] Some of the meaning-carrier’s properties play a leading role either as a perceptual cue-carrier or as an effector cue-carrier. However, other properties may simply play a subsidiary role as a cue-carrier. [I am not sure how that would work, unless the object has multiple functions, with certain properties indicating primary functions and others indicating secondary functions. We examined the case of the glass bowl. Suppose we were selecting a glass vessel for drinking wine, where both options before us have the same suitable shape, but one is transparent and the other is not. Our primary aim is to drink the wine. So the shape is the leading indication for both. But since it would be better, although not necessary, to inspect the color of the wine as well, the transparency of the transparent one would serve as a subsidiary indication. I am guessing.] [There is another important but tricky part of the meaning-carrier’s structure. It does not just have a perceptual cue-carrier and an effector cue-carrier. It also has a connecting structure that links them together. In Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men, Introduction, §42, we tried to elaborate on this concept. It is still very unclear to me. Let me consider some possibilities. The previous interpretation we gave it was that there are certain properties in the object that are related such that a change in one results in a change in the other. Here also we interpreted the effector cue-carrier as the causal result of the interaction. So in the tick example we examined, the animal skin had relations between its parts such that the bite to the skin resulted in changes in the skin’s appearance. But now we are considering the possibility that the effector cue-carrier is not the causal result of the animal’s action but rather an indication of where on the meaning-carrier specifically to interact. In that case the objective connecting structure is less obvious. In the case of the ant feeling the places to put its feet, they are spatially connected. But for the girl picking the flower, the color of the petals was the perceptual cue-carrier while the weak part in the stem was the effector cue-carrier. What then would be the objective connecting structure? Is it simply the physical connections from the petals down to that weak part of the stem? There was also the example of the bee and honey in Theoretical Biology, section 3.6, §394d (which was not in the German second edition). Here, the smell of the honey was perhaps a perceptual cue-carrier, and the fluidity was perhaps an effector cue-carrier (at that time, those terms were not used, but rather these properties we divided into world-as-sensed and world of action.) The smell acted on the bee, but the fluidity is what allowed the bee to take action, namely, to drink the honey. But here again it is not clear what the objective structure would be, besides the fact that the same material which has a certain smell also has a certain degree of fluidity. I will quote.]

Due to its integration into a functional circle, every meaning-carrier becomes a complement of the animal subject. In the process, particular properties of the meaning-carrier play a leading role as perceptual cue-carriers or effector cue-carriers; and other properties, on the other hand, play only a subsidiary role. The biggest part of the body of a meaning-carrier frequently serves as an undifferentiated *objective connecting structure (Gegengefüge) whose function is only to connect the perpetual cue-carrying parts with the effector cue-carrying parts.

(9 / 33 / 145-146)

[From the Glossary:

Objective connecting structure (Gegengefüge) The material connection between carriers of *perceptual cues and carriers of *effector cues. This connection exists only in the *Umwelt of the observer and remains outside the Umwelt of the observed animal.

(85)]

 

Thanks to its insertion in a functional cycle, every car- | rier of meaning becomes the complement of the animal subject. Thereby, some individual properties play a leading role as carriers of perception marks or of effect marks, while others only play a supporting role. Frequently, the greatest part of the body of a carrier of meaning only serves as an undifferentiated counterstructure, which is only there in order to hook up the perception sign-carrying parts with the effect sign-carrying ones (compare Figure 3).

(9 / 33 / 145-146)

 

Dank seiner Einfügung in einen Funktionskreis wird jeder Bedeutungsträger zum Komplement des Tiersubjekts. Dabei spielen einzelne Eigenschaften als Merkmalträger oder Wirkmalträger eine leitende, andere Eigenschaften dagegen nur eine begleitende Rolle. Häufg dient der größte Teil des Körpers eines Bedeutungsträgers als ein undifferenziertes Gegengefüge, das nur dazu da ist, um die merkmaltragenden Teile mit wirkmaltragenden aneinander zu knüpfen.

(9 / 33 / 145-146)

 

 

 

 

Works cited (in this order):

 

Uexküll, Jakob von. 1940. Bedeutungslehre. Leipzig: Barth.

 

Uexküll, Jakob von. 1982. The Theory of Meaning. In Semiotica: Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, 42(1), pp.25–82. Translated by Barry Stone and Herbert Wiener.

 

Uexküll, Jakob von. 2010. A Theory of Meaning. In A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, with A Theory of Meaning, pp.139-208. Translated by Joseph D. O’Neil. London/Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.

 

For quotations from the Glossary

Uexküll, Thure von.1982. “Glossary.” In Uexküll, Jakob von. 1982. The Theory of Meaning. In Semiotica: Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, 42(1), pp.25–82. Translated by Barry Stone and Herbert Wiener.

 

 

10 Jan 2017

Uexküll (4.6) Theoretical Biology, “Object and Implement”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is summary. All boldface and bracketed commentary is my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos. Page citations refer to the 1928 German edition first and to the 1926 English edition second. Note: German terms are repeatedly inserted to facilitate comparison with translations of other Uexküll texts.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Jakob von Uexküll

 

Theoretical Biology

[Theoretische Biologie]

 

Ch.4 Object and Living Organism

[Gegenstand und Lebewesen]

 

4.6 Object and Implement

[Objekt und Gegenstand]

 

 

 

Brief summary:

Physics sees things being ordered merely by causality. But biologists also recognize an additional ordering principle, namely, conformity to plan. “Objects” are things whose organizing relations are understood simply as causally governed and whose composition is explained merely on the properties of its constituent materials. But we call “implements” those things whose organizing relations are understood as fitting within a larger plan (or functional system) and whose essential properties are understood as those contributing to its functionality. The parts of an implement relate to the whole in a meaningful way, namely, in how they contribute to the implement’s functioning. If we do not know how the object conforms to a plan, that is, how it has a certain functionality that places it within a larger system of practical human activities, then we do not see how its parts relate meaningfully to the whole. A ladder for example, to those who never have seen one or have never had need for one, would simply appear as planks arranged with holes between them. But after learning its function and how it is used, they would realize that it is designed with certain essential features. The essential properties of an implement, that is, those properties that serve the implement’s function, are called “leading” properties. Those that do not serve the function are “accompanying” properties. The same thing can be used different ways, which will cause the leading properties to become accompanying and vice versa. For example, consider two properties of a concave piece of glass: it is rounded in shape, and it is transparent. When it is used as a window-pane, its transparency is the leading property and its concavity is its accompanying property. But when it is used as a saucer to hold liquid, its concavity is its leading property, and its transparency is its accompanying property. To complicate things further, implements have main functions and subsidiary functions, and accompanying properties can serve the subsidiary functions. So when the concave glass is used for a window-pane, its concavity serves the subsidiary function of making it hard to see what is going on inside the house. And when it is used as a saucer, its transparency serves the subsidiary function of helping us discern its liquid contents. There are still yet other accompanying properties which do not even serve subsidiary functions. These simply express properties of the materials composing the implement. For example, a wooden boat has planks that express features of the trees they came from, and these properties are completely inessential to any aspect of the functionality of the boat (for example the color of the wood, which is hidden under the paint.) There are no other properties of a implement than those that serve its functioning and those that do not.

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

§494

[Physics only recognizes causality as what orders things (which under this view we call “objects”), but biology recognizes a second organizing rule, namely, conformity with plan (Planmäßigkeit).]

 

Uexküll will distinguish physics and biology. Physics says that the things [Dinge] in nature only obey causality, and Uexküll’s term for causally ordered things is “objects [Objekte]” (83-84 / 103). Biology also acknowledges causality, but it says “there is a second, subjective rule whereby we systematise objects [Gegenstände]: this is conformity with plan [Planmäßigkeit], and it is necessary if the world-picture [Weltbildes] is to be complete” (84 / 103, bracketed insertions mine). [I am not sure, however, why this is considered a “subjective” rule.]

 

 

§495

[A piano hammer hitting the string and playing a note is a series of causally related events, but the note has its place in a melody, which is another series and which is not causally ordered.]

 

Uexküll illustrates with the example of a hammer in a piano striking a string. [The idea seems to be the following. We have a series of events organized by causality. The hammer hits the string, which causes a note to be played. But there is another sort of series. The note is one in a melody, so it is a part of another series which is non-causal. Perhaps it is something like final-cause (the note happens because the melody was moving toward that part where it is played), but I am not sure. Or perhaps it is like another layer of order. There is the causal layer of ordering relations, but the note occurs in a context where it is ordered according the parts of a melody. Or maybe simply we are to think that the way the notes are arranged in the melody is not a necessary succession, as it could have been otherwise, but in this case it was decided and “planned” in a sense. Let me quote.]

When the hammer strikes the string of a piano and a note sounds, that is a purely causal series. If this note belongs to a melody, it is interpolated in a sound-series, which also exhibits arrangement, but not of a causal kind.

(84 / 103)

 

 

§496

[When a carpenter builds a ladder, she does so through a series of causal events which result in the ladder. But this production is unlike normal causal relations between moving bodies as studied in physics. The thing produced has a certain meaningful arrangement of its parts that cannot be explained by causal relations.]

 

He gives another example. A carpenter is building a ladder. While it is being made, there is a causal chain of events. She chops the wood for the parts and assembles the ladder. [But suppose we are simply physicists looking at the interacting of objects, the carpenter and her materials. We see a causal series, but it is unlike other kinds of interactions between inert sorts of objects, like rocks colliding. Here the “causal” result is an object that has a certain meaning or sense to it. We cannot simply regard the ladder like it were any object whatever. It has a particular structure that would not arise just by causality alone. Instead, there is a meaningful relation between the parts that govern its structure.]

When the carpenter’s axe chops up the wood into planks and pegs, and when the drill bores through the planks and the hammer drives the pegs into the holes, these are all of them in causal succession. But the structure emerging from this process, the ladder, cannot be interpreted by causality; it can be understood only from a knowledge of the designed arrangement [planvollen Anordnung] of the rungs with relation to the main planks, and of all the parts to the whole.

(84 / 103, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§497

[When an object cannot be explained just by causality on account of the parts standing in a meaningful relation to the whole, we call it an “implement” (Gegenstand).]

 

Uexküll gives the name “implements” [“Gegenstände”] to such objects that cannot be explained simply by causality, “since in them the parts stand in the same relation to the whole as the individual sounds do to the melody” (84 / 103).

 

 

§498

[Mere objects have only the structural features provided by their constituent matter. Implements, however, have the additional planned structure governing the meaningful relations between the parts and the whole.]

 

He explains that the only structure an object has is what its constituent matter provides it with. Implements, however, have an additional structure that connects the parts to the whole in a meaningful way, in accordance with plan.

Both objects [Objekte] and implements [Gegenstände] consist of matter [Stoff]; but in the object [Objekt] there is no arrangement of the parts [Anordnung der Stoffteile] other than that which the structure of the substance [Stoffes] brings with it. In | the implement [Gegenstand], there is, in addition, a framework which connects up the parts into a whole that expresses plan [ein Gefüge, das die Teile zu einem planvollen Ganzen verbindet].

(84 / 103-104, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§499

[Objects and implements both have the same sorts of material properties, but implements have an organization that is recognizable to those who can see its meaning or plan.]

 

He then notes that both objects and implements have the same sorts of material properties. But to those who recognize the plan in the implement, they see an additional structure. This is like words in a foreign language. To those who do not know the language, it is a meaningless series of squiggles. But to those who do know the language, there is a meaningful arrangement of strokes forming linguistic symbols.

In outward appearance, objects [Objekte] and implements [Gegenstände] are indistinguishable from one another. The same local signs [Lokalzeichen] and content-signs [Inhaltszeichen], enclosed by the same schema, form them both; just as the words of a language present the same optical appearance to the man who knows the language as they do to the foreigner. But the one knows the laws determining the juxtaposition of the letters in the word, while the other, not having this guide, stares uncomprehendingly at the words of the foreign tongue. The one sees before him only various assemblages of letters; the other reads words.

(84 / 104, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§500

[Some inorganic objects are simply objects, because their parts can be rearranged in any which way without the whole changing, as for example a heap of sand. Physicists normally consider things in the inorganic world as not having design or plan.]

 

Of course even for the biologist many objects are simply objects. In these cases, the parts can be “interchanged in every direction without the whole being in any way affected”, like a heap of sand. They become implements only when used by humans. Physicists will acknowledge that human artifacts have a plan, but there they do not recognize any conformity with plan among inorganic things.

Undoubtedly to the biologist of the present day many things [Dinge] around him appear to be objects [Objekte] pure and simple — such, for instance, as a heap of sand, or the water in a vessel. In both instances, the parts can be interchanged in every direction without the whole being in any way affected. We shall admit, therefore, even from the biological standpoint, that there are objects without design [planlose Objekte], or mere heapings together of matter, in which at the present day we are unable to discover conformity with plan [keine Planmäßigkeit]. The whole of inorganic nature [Natur] is usually looked on as consisting of objects [Objekten] governed by causality alone. Inorganic objects [Objekte] are at present treated as substances [Stoffe] held together by a schema, and forming designed implements [planvolle Gegenstände] only when they are used for the products of human beings. The plan [Plan] in such implements [Gegenstände] is exclusively a human one; matter [Stoff] is merely the medium employed in their construction. Even the physicists cannot deny that there is a plan [Plan] in human products, but they refuse to admit any other kind of conformity with plan [Planmäßigkeit] in the things [Dingen] of the inorganic world [Welt].

(84-85 / 104, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§501

[However, the ancient Greeks saw everything in the world as having plan.]

 

[So the physicist recognizes that a very limited number of things in the world have design or plan, and those are the things made by humans.] Humans did not always see the world as being fundamentally without design. The ancient Greeks saw everything as having design.

Men did not always think in this way. According to the Greek view, nothing in the world was without design [Planloses]. The entire inorganic world seemed to them as much a work of art | as the organic. Sun, moon, planets and the heaven of the fixed stars united in a vast work of art expressing plan [planmäßigen Kunstwerk], in which every substance [Stoff] occupied its appointed place. The water flowed on the earth and gave life to it, just as the blood does in the body. There was no such thing as dead matter [toten Stoff].

(85 / 104-105, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

 

§502

[Ancient Greek water jars, for example, seem like a faithful reflection of the water it holds. This is because they recognized a larger plan of nature governing the shapes water takes, and their vessels reflect that plan rather than imposing human purposes onto the water.]

 

We notice for example that ancient Greek water jars “represent as completely as possible a clothing of the water itself” (85 / 105). [Perhaps he is referring to the water-droplet sort of shape they often have. I am not sure how this illustrates his point. Maybe the idea is that today our water vessels are designed simply for human practical interests, but the ancient Greeks saw water itself as having a certain planned form that should be reflected in its vessel. Thus the human artifact is coherent with the larger plan of Nature of the cosmos.] He notes how this is like the way that rhizopod shells are shaped; “thus we get the impression that, in those old Grecian jars, the water created for itself the only envelope that would exactly fit it, and that this was subsequently made use of by man. In their perfection, these ancient vessels are true forms of Nature in art” (85 / 105).

This must be obvious to any naturalist who passes through the museum at Athens, and looks critically at the ancient water-jars, which differ so essentially from our own water-vessels. While our own, when they are good, reproduce in every detail of their form man’s preoccupation with his own affairs, in the ancient jars these signs recede into the background, and the vessels come to represent as completely as possible a clothing of the water itself.

 

They are strikingly reminiscent of certain rhizopod shells, with which the fluid protoplasm of these wonderful organisms invests itself. And thus we get the impression that, in those old Grecian jars, the water created for itself the only envelope that would exactly fit it, and that this was subsequently made use of by man. In their perfection, these ancient vessels are true forms of Nature in art.

(85 / 105, paragraphs are one in the German edition)

 

 

§503

[In light of the ancient Greek view, perhaps biologists should also see both the organic and inorganic as conforming to plan.]

 

So the Greeks see both the organic and inorganic worlds as conforming to plan. Biologists just see the organic as conforming to plan, while physicists see nothing (except human tools) as conforming to plan. Uexküll, noting the Greek view, wonders if biologists ceded too much to the physicists (85 / 105).

 

 

§504

[But given that the properties of inorganic materials are precisely conducive to life, we might wonder if in fact the inorganic is not designed according to plan as well.]

 

[Uexküll’s next point I think is that there is still reason to wonder if the inorganic world is governed by plan. He exemplifies this with the idea that were the physical properties of water slightly different, life may not be able to survive. I am not sure I get the reasoning, because I would think that one could argue were the properties of water different, life would have evolved differently to adapt to it. Let me quote.]

There are a number of facts that can be used in support of this view. It is certainly no proof of the lack of plan in Nature that water is heaviest at 4° C., for this prevents the inland lakes from being frozen up, and so animal life is preserved. Neither does the formation of snow-flakes suggest that there is no plan [Planlosigkeit], for if in winter the water poured down on | us in the form of icicles like so many winged arrows, the life of every creature would be imperilled.

(85 / 105-106, bracketed insertion mine)

 

 

§505

[For now, however, it will prove more fruitful to develop the argument that the organic world conforms to plan.]

 

[I think his next point is that we will not try to argue for the plannedness of the inorganic world, because it will prove more fruitful to continue developing the argument that the organic world conforms to plan.]

For the moment, however, it is not advisable to lead the attack in this direction, for the defence offers us more important strategic positions.

(85 / 106)

 

 

§506

[Even physicists acknowledge that human artifacts conform to plan, because they are designed, created, and used with a sense of how they fit within a system of practical uses, and thus they have particular features that give them their place in that system.]

 

Even physicists acknowledge that human products and tools have a design and thus conform to plan. The reasoning for this is that had we no knowledge of plan for them, we would be unable to create them or to use them. [So here plan is understood as fitting within a system of practical operations. Things are designed so that they fit within that system, and they are used in such a way that they appropriately serve those practical purposes.]

The design expressed in our human products and tools [Planmäßigkeit unserer menschlichen Erzeugnisse und Gebrauchsdinge] is incontestable, and it is not denied even by the physicists that these are invariably to be reckoned as implements [Gegenständen], for without knowledge of plan [Planmäßigkeit] in them we could neither create nor use them.

(86 / 106, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§507

[An African native, upon first seeing a ladder, initially only saw a mere object with its own particular structure. Only after learning how to use it did he realize that it had a meaningful structure that related to its functionality.]

 

Uexküll illustrates with an experience he had with a young African native who lived in the interior of Africa but traveled with Uexküll to the coast. The native was unable to climb small ladders, because he did not know what the object was [presumably never having need of one nor having coincidental experience of one before.] But the native of course saw the object and its given structure, namely, an arrangement of planks such that there are large holes set throughout it. But after he learned how to use it, he did so expertly. [The object then made a transition from a mere object without a plan to one with a plan.]

An instance that I experienced myself brought the truth of this assertion home to me with peculiar force. A clever young negro, whom I took with me as my “boy” from the interior of Africa to the coast, was unable to climb up a short ladder placed before him, because he did not know what sort of a thing it was. “I see nothing but planks and holes,” he said. After someone else had demonstrated ladder-climbing to him, he could at once imitate him, for he was a superb climber. The ladder was not shrouded in mist; it stood right there in front of him; he could see it and touch it; and yet for him it was not an implement [Gegenstand], but an object without plan [planloses Objekt], of which he could make no use.

(86 / 106, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§508

[Since the functionality is what determines the meaningful relation between parts and whole in an implement, we can speak of its functionality instead of its plan.]

 

The example shows us that the rule of action governing the ladder’s use is what converts it in our minds from a “confused medley of sticks and holes” into a ladder. Thus it is the thing’s function which tells us the meaningful arrangement of the parts into its whole. Without knowing the function, we cannot recognize the thing’s design. This means that instead of referring to the implement’s plan, we can also speak of its “functionality”.

From this example, we recognise what it is that binds the parts into a whole. The fixed rule of the action of climbing at once brought order into the confused medley of sticks and holes, and formed the ladder. It is only the knowledge of the rule of action pertaining to its “function” [“Funktion”] that arranges the parts into the whole. If we do not know the function, which establishes fixed relations, we cannot know the design [Planmäßigkeit], and we do not recognise the significance of the implement [Bedeutung des Gegenstandes]. Accordingly, instead of the plan [Planmäßigkeit] expressed by an implement [Gegenstandes], we may speak of its “functionality” [“Funktionsmäßigkeit”].

(86 / 106, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§509

[The fact that we recognize implements on the basis of their use is reflected in the fact that the name for many tools indicates their use (saw, hammer, etc.).]

 

[Uexküll’s next point seems to be that we often name tools in accordance with their use (rather than their other properties). We might think of our own examples, like ‘hammer’, ‘drill’, ‘saw’, ‘rake’, and so on. This reinforces his point that we recognize an implement on the basis of its use.]

On closer consideration, it will be clear to everyone that by the word with which, for our mutual understanding, we | describe the implement [Gegenstand], we make allusion to its “functionality” [“Funktionsmäßigkeit”]. A bench [Stuhl], for instance, may be called a “settle” [Sitzgelegenheit]; and in the word “steps” [Steige] for “stairs” [Treppe] the function [Funktion] is clearly expressed.

(86 / 106-107, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

 

§510

[Children often refer to objects simply by the uses they have, and thus they live in a world of implements.]

 

Children often refer to objects simply by the uses they have or the activities the objects partake in. Only adults strip the function from objects and think of them as a sum of properties and capacities. Thus “the child’s world [Welt] is still entirely built up of implements [Gegenständen], and that the object [Objekt] is a creation only of later reflection” (86 / 107, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

 

§511

[The importance of relating properties to functions in all things is seen especially in cases where an implement is invented or when a mere object is converted into an implement.]

 

[Perhaps an important idea here is that the child refers to many natural things (and not just human artifacts), like the clouds and stones, in terms of their function or activity. He then concludes that it is fundamentally important to consider the relation between a thing’s properties to its functions. I am not sure why, however, because it was not yet explained why the child’s approach is better. In other words, while it is obvious why an implement should be explained in terms of how its properties serve its functions, why is it best to do this with all things? His next point is that the best examples for this sort of description are with new implements or with the conversion of an object into an implement. Here, in order to understand how the object becomes an implement, we of course should understand which properties are responsible for its use and how those properties contribute to that use.]

Accordingly, for the understanding of all things [Dinge], it is of fundamental importance to take exact account of the relations of properties to functions [Funktion]. The most instructive examples in this direction are those in which a new implement [Gegenstand] arises, or an object [Objekt] is transformed into an implement [Gegenstand].

(87 / 107, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§512

[A boy selecting stones for skipping does so on the basis only of those properties that have bearing on their skippability, and taking no heed of their other “inessential” properties.]

 

Uexküll then uses an example to show that the only properties of a thing that are considered for its classification are the ones that lend to the use we have for it. In this case, a boy selects stones for skipping over water not on the basis of their smell, color, taste, etc., which have no bearing on how they skip over water (and thus they are considered “inessential”). Rather, he selects them on the basis of their being hard, flat, circular, and having a certain weight, all of which do determine their suitability for skipping. This also means that when we refer to the “nature” of an implement, we really mean its function.

When a boy collects “skipping-stones,” which he wants to send dancing across the surface of a lake, there arises out of the general implement [Gegenstand] “stone” (whose function [Funktion] in general is to be thrown) a particular implement [Gegenstand], the properties of which group themselves round the special function [Funktion] of “skipping.” The skipping-stone is hard, flat, circular and of a certain weight. These are the properties required for this special function [Funktion]; the other properties it possesses, over and above these, — such as colour, smell, taste and resonance, — are “inessential” [“unwesentlich”], and are not determined by the function [Funktion]. It follows from this that, by the much misused word “nature” [“Wesen”] of an implement [Gegenstandes], we always mean its function [Funktion].

(87 / 107, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

 

§513

[“Leading” properties (leitenden Eigenschaften) are those essential ones that lend to the functioning, while those that simply express the (inessential) properties of the implement’s constituent materials are “accompanying” properties (begleitenden Eigenschaften).]

 

Uexküll will now introduce some terminology based on this distinction he has made between properties based on functions. Those properties that lend to the function of the thing are called “leading” properties. Those that do not contribute to the functioning but rather simply express the material of the implement are called “accompanying” properties.

I shall call leading [leitenden] properties those which are necessary and “essential” [“wesentlichen”]; those others which depend only on the character of the substance [Natur des Stoffes], I shall call accompanying [begleitenden] properties.

(87 / 107, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§514

[Some implements have more than one function and in themselves are mere objects.]

 

Uexküll notes that in all languages, there are words that have more than one meaning, depending on the context in which they are used. Likewise, certain things have more than one function. Thus, they have no fixed function, and understood simply by themselves, are not implements but mere objects (87 / 108).

 

 

§515

[For example, a concave piece of glass is a mere object. But when placed in a window frame it becomes an implement, namely, a window pane; and when it is placed on a table, it becomes a different implement, a saucer.]

 

Uexküll then gives an example of an implement with two uses, which understood on its own, is simply an object. He has us consider the mere object, which is a “circular, concave piece of glass”. Were he to set it into a window frame, it would become the implement, a window pane. Were he instead to place it on a table and fill it with water, it becomes the implement, a saucer.

So long as I hold in my hand a circular, concave piece of glass, it is merely an object [Objekt]. If I set it in a window-frame, it becomes a window-pane; if I put it on the table, it becomes a saucer, which I can fill with water. In both cases, the object [Objekt] has become an implement [Gegenstand].

(87 / 108, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§516

[When function changes, so too do the leading and accompanying properties change. The transparency and concavity of the glass have inverted statuses for the two uses.]

 

We can see then that with changes of function, there are changes in leading and accompanying properties [as often a different function would call for different properties lending to that function.] So when the concave piece of glass is used as a window-pane, it is its transparency that serves as the leading function, and its concavity is the accompanying property. However, as a saucer, the concavity is the leading property while the transparency is accompanying.

It must be borne in mind that the leading and accompanying properties change with the change of function. In the case of the window-pane, the transparency is the leading property, and the concavity the accompanying. In the case of the saucer, the reverse is true — the concavity is the chief property and transparency is the accompanying. Function acts like a magnet, which attracts towards it now some qualities and now others.

(87 / 108)

 

 

§517

[Accompanying properties can also serve a subsidiary function, like how the transparency of a drinking glass does not serve its main function of holding liquids but rather does serve the subsidiary function of revealing the contents.]

 

[Uexküll then introduces a notion of subsidiary function. The idea seems to be that leading properties always serve the main function of the implement, but accompanying properties may serve other functions related to the main function. In his example, the transparency of a drinking glass does not serve its function of holding the drink inside, but it can serve the function of indicating the contents, which the transparency makes visible.]

Now it appears that the accompanying properties are frequently used by subsidiary functions [Nebenfunktionen], and so enter with them into a framework of the implement [Gefüge des Gegenstandes]. Thus transparency becomes a subsidiary function [Nebenfunktion] of drinking-vessels, the contents of which we wish to test by the eye. In the same way, concavity becomes the subsidiary function [Nebenfunktionen] of certain window-panes, which by reflections on the convex side ward off the gaze of the inquisitive.

(87-88 / 108, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§518

[An implement’s subsidiary functions can easily convert into main functions when it is used in a different way.]

 

[I do not quite grasp the next point so well. He gives us an example of where subsidiary functions transform into main functions. We think of a “portable engine” transforming into a locomotive. I am not sure what the subsidiary function of the portable engine is. I can only think of its main function, to provide mechanical motion, and I would think that remains its main function when operating in a locomotive. Perhaps its portability begins as its main function and its ability to produce motion is subsidiary, but when used in a locomotive, its portability becomes subsidiary and its ability to produce motion becomes its main function. I will quote so you can see for yourself.]

The transformation of such subsidiary functions [Nebenfunktion] into main functions [Hauptfunktion] may easily take place under our very eyes; | as an example, we have only to consider how a portable engine [Lokomobile] becomes transformed into a locomotive [Lokomotive].

(88 / 108-109, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

 

§519

[The properties that do not serve either the main or subsidiary functions can be changed without damaging the implement, and they are often simply properties of the materials making up the implement.]

 

[Uexküll’s next point seems to be the following. An implement has both a main function and subsidiary functions. The properties of the thing can be said to serve either function. But there are still some properties which serve neither function. We can alter them without damaging the implement (because the implement is defined by its function, and switching them will not change its function. We might think for example of the skipping stones. If we changed their taste, it would not make them any less of a skipping stone.) These fully inessential properties belong only to the material making it up. So were we to destroy the implement (such that its constituent material remains but it no longer serves its function), then we will still have these fully inessential properties. (If we break the skipping stone into powder, it is no longer a skipping stone. But it will still have the same odor presumably.)]

The great majority of our tools [Gebrauchsgegenstände], machines [Maschinen] and apparatus [Apparate], show the following structure:— there is a “main function” [“Hauptfunktion”], to which a greater or less number of “subsidiary functions” [“Nebenfunktionen”] are attached. However fully the framework [Gefüges] be analysed, there is always some residue of accompanying properties [begleitende Eigenschaften] that do not enter into it [Gefüge], but can be interchanged without damage to the implement [Gegenstand]. For the most part, they belong to an implement [Gegenstand] that has been destroyed in order to form a new one, or to the substance [Stoff] from which the implement [Gegenstand] was made.

(88 / 109, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§520

[Inessential properties belong to the implement’s constituent material but not to the defining structural elements of the implement itself. For example, boats made of wood exhibit properties of the trees they are made from, but some of these tree properties are not essential to the boat (as defined by its function), like the trees’ color and smell.]

 

For example, boats made of wood exhibit properties of the trees from which the boards were derived, but these tree properties are inessential to the boat. [I am not sure which properties of the tree these could be, other than for example the smell and color of the wood perhaps. I am also not sure what he means by “do not belong unconditionally to the framework” in the passages: “all those of our implements [Gegenstände] which are prepared from metals or other substances [Stoffen] are laden with properties which do not belong unconditionally to the framework of the implement [Gefüge des Gegenstandes], but are conditioned by the structure of the substance [Struktur des Stoffes] alone.” Maybe the idea is simply that such properties are to be explained on the basis of the structure of their constituent matter but not additionally as being part of the functional composition of the implement itself. That is a guess, so please consult the quotation:]

A boat, for instance, always shows certain properties of the tree from which the boards were procured, properties which are inessential [unwesentlich] to the boat as such. In like manner, all those of our implements [Gegenstände] which are prepared from metals or other substances [Stoffen] are laden with properties which do not belong unconditionally to the framework of the implement [Gefüge des Gegenstandes], but are conditioned by the structure of the substance [Struktur des Stoffes] alone.

(88 / 109, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§521

[Thus all implements posses properties that are extraneous to its functionality.]

 

Thus “To all our implements [Gegenständen] something extraneous is attached, pertaining to the material [Material] only, and not entering into the framework [Gefüge] of the functions [Funktionen] and subsidiary functions [Nebenfunktionen]” (88 / 109, bracketed insertions mine).

 

 

§522

[An implement has both a main function, often produced through many smaller component mechanisms, and subsidiary functions.]

 

[Uexküll then describes the way functionality is expressed in the implement’s framework. An implement has a main function, which is often derived through the participation of many component functions, like in complex machines, and it also has subsidiary functions. He uses the example of an automobile to illustrate. The main function is constituted by all the internal mechanisms that give the car its primary functionality. It also has subsidiary functions which are expressed in the “body” of the car. But I am not sure what is meant by that. Is he referring to extra things like the comfort from the upholstery, or does he mean other mechanisms like windshield wipers which actually aid the main function of driving? Or does he mean something like the car could operate without the outer body, but it is included to improve the overall functioning and usefulness of the car? Let me quote so you can see:]

The framework [Gefüge] itself displays everywhere the same principle, i.e. a main function [Hauptfunktion], achieved often through the agency of a multitude of part-functions [Teilfunktionen] (one has only to think of how many functions [Funktionen] must be exercised before an automobile gets going), and a large number of subsidiary functions [Nebenfunktionen] (which are expressed in the “body” of the car).

(88 / 109, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

§523

[Implements only have these two sorts of properties (material and functional), but living creatures have properties that cannot be explained in these terms.]

 

Uexküll’s final point is that there two sorts of properties, those of the material and those serving the functionality, are the only two sorts of properties an implement has. [He then seems to suggest that living creatures, however, do have properties that cannot be explained either as belonging to their material or to their functionality. (This is something he will discuss more in the next section).]

In all cases, the properties of an implement [Gegenstandes] can be analysed into the properties of the material [Materials] and those of the functional framework [funktionellen Gefüges], without anything being left over. There is never anything unexplainable attaching to our implements [Gegenständen], such as makes the study of the living organism at once so difficult and so fascinating.

(88 / 109, bracketed insertions mine)

 

 

 

 

 

Works cited (in this order):

 

Uexküll, Jakob von. 1928. Theoretische Biologie, 2. gänzlich neu bearbeitete Auflage. Berlin: Springer.

 

Uexküll, Jakob von. 1926. Theoretical Biology. Translated by Doris Livingston MacKinnon. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. / New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company. PDF available at:

http://www.archive.org/details/theoreticalbiolo00uexk

 

 

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