Chapter 3

Animal life

If we turn our attention now to the next higher stage of being, that of animal life, we find that it is characterized by sense consciousness, which in itself is a spiritual act with no quantity, but which reduplicates itself (while remaining one act) as a form of energy, as we saw in Chapter 4 of Section 2 of the third part 3.2.4.

By consciousness, the living body becomes present to itself, though in sense consciousness, this presence is merely a presence. Animals are aware of themselves, but not aware of what they are; they are simply "with" themselves insofar as the consciousness of the moment contains itself as part of itself. Thus, consciousness allows the body to be for itself in a new way.

I mentioned in Chapter 4 of Section 2 of the third part 3.2.4 that consciousness in animals at least is a complete superfluity, since as subliminal perceptions show, the behavior is the same whether or not there is the spiritual act which makes it self-present. Here again, then, we have an indication of the "giftedness" of God's creation and the prodigal love of the creator.

Animals are also, by their ability to move, freed from the action-reaction prison of the inanimate world and also from the strictures of being fixed to one spot of the plant world. Unlike plants, which are either tossed here and there by the forces of the sea or air or rooted in one place, and must therefore take the nourishment than chance puts in their way (only growing toward the light, for instance, but unable to move into it), and must build shells and thorns against predators, animals can seek out their food and run away from danger.

But the senses that enable them to do this and their greater access to nourishment and ability to escape from danger allow them greater scope for play also; and we find them exercising for no other purpose than exercising, and looking, as Aristotle says in the first book of the Metaphysics, for the sake of looking. The act itself that the animal performs becomes much more an end in itself than what the plant does; and so it is not obvious whether the act is for the sake of survival and self-maintenance, or the self-maintenance is for the sake of performing the acts. In this too, for-itselfness has reached a new level. Not all is for the whole, though all is by the whole; some of the acts simply are.

Further, the consciousness of the animal makes its environment present to it; in consciousness, even at the sense level, what is not the animal is within its consciousness as not within it; and so what is apart from the animal is taken into it, but left apart from it as it is taken in. In nutrition, the world outside is taken into the living body and destroyed and made over into the living body (as Hegel said); but in consciousness, the world outside is taken in and remains still outside, totally unaffected by this assimilation.

Hence, the animal possesses what is not itself with a completely non-destructive possession. In fact, the possession of what is not itself was even called by Aristotle and St. Thomas a "becoming" of the object, insofar as consciousness in effecting the possession actually makes itself over into a form which has no other function than to stand for the object and render it present. It is by transforming itself, then, without actually changing itself as a body, that the animal gains nondestructive possession of what is not itself.

Now this being present to itself and having the world present to it is not really Heidegger's Dasein, which occurs at the human stage and involves recognizing the self and the world and the presence for what it is; but still it is Dasein in potency, so to speak. But the interesting thing about this possession or for-itselfness in the animal is that it has no purpose, as it does in human beings, who can act on this explicit recognition. In the animal, the consciousness is, as I said, superfluous as far as behavior is concerned; if it were a reactive machine like a computer, the animal would function just as well. And so consciousness in the animal is for-itselfness purely for itself; it simply is.

The moment of consciousness is all there is in the animal's presence to itself; its past is present to it in this presence, but only as a presence, not as an explicit recognition of it as past; the world is present to it not as a world but simply as a presence, not as something explicitly distinct from the act of consciousness. It is a pure gift, fraught with implications that the animal cannot develop or make use of; and so for the animal it is simply glorious superfluity.

Thus, the animal is in loving contact with the world in a way that lower forms of life cannot be; its act of consciousness, superfluous to itself, puts it into non-destructive communication with its environment; and so this stage also seems to be an advance in unselfishness.

It would also not be surprising to find that animal reproduction would be a transformation in this direction over the reproductive activity of lower forms of life. In plants, reproduction occurs and the new organism is formed; but the plant does nothing for the offspring. Once it has formed the seed and given it the conditions by which it can separate from the parent plant, it has nothing whatever to do with it.

But animal reproduction is different from the beginning. First of all, the animal is driven by its sexual instinct to seek another of the opposite sex; and to seek the other when the other is receptive, otherwise to leave it alone. The roles of the sexes are very instructive here too. The male is generally the aggressive party, actively going after the female, which waits for it or even flees. But the female is the one which keeps the control over the act, warding off the male until she is ready, and accepting him only on her own terms--and this sometimes means the death of the male, as in bees and certain other insects. So the aggressive one, in good dialectical fashion, is the one which is controlled, and the passive one is the one which controls. (This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why I think feminism is a perversion; it has taken the superficial view and given up its control in the name of imitating the aggressiveness; but in so doing it has, as I said, freed the men from female control.)

And it is the female, the ostensibly weak and submissive partner, which receives the sperm and fertilizes the ovum within itself. As soon as the young can survive outside the mother, they are then expelled, and either fend for themselves against now predatory parents, or are nurtured until they can survive on their own.

The ambiguity in what is for itself performing an act that benefits the offspring and not itself is shown in this predation upon one's own offspring. It reveals the fallacy in Hegel's "cunning of the concept" by which the form of life escapes from the doomed body and preserves itself. This does occur; but if that were the logical purpose of reproduction, then the animal would never have an instinct that made it feed on its own offspring.

An interesting new aspect of sexual behavior is that sex involves the submission of the animal to the partner. This occurs on both sides; the male submits first to having the female dally with it; and then the female submits to the male; and then both, very often, submit to the offspring until they are able to live on their own. This submission to the young is very instructive, especially given the attitude of the parents to their adult offspring (which at the least they then generally regard as rivals), because it is an activity which is clearly not to the parents' advantage, and benefits something other than themselves.

There are two senses, however, in which this nurturing of the young is for itself: First, in the sense that it is for that abstraction, the form of life, so that it maintains itself in spite of the demise of its concretion in this generation. But, as I said, this form of life is not a reality, even though as embodied it controls the living body; so there is no "it" to continue existing "in" different bodies. Still, that element is there in sexuality.

The other sense in which nurturing is for itself is that in each of the animals, the conscious aspect of the sex drive (the emotion) is gratified. Again, if we take things too superficially, or in this case too anthropomorphically, we would be inclined to think that the sex act is for the emotion, which is for itself. But that, as I said in discussing instinct in Chapter 5 of Section 2 of the third part 3.2.5, is not really the case; the emotion is simply a gratuitous epiphenomenon of the drive itself, not a motivating force behind it. It is the drive which drives, not its conscious aspect. Hence, sexual gratification in the animal is simply the presence of the operation of the sex drive; and in that sense it is for itself just as any sensitive consciousness is; the animal has sex and feels pleasure, it does not have sex because of the pleasure.

So the sex act, and even its pleasure, is a superfluity for the animal, involving an act which is not really for itself (because it is "for" the offspring), but which in a kind of sense is also for itself (because in fact it gratifies the emotion). It is exactly the kind of thing you would expect if the meaning of things is love, and this particular stage of development is necessarily for itself against others. It is fitting for God to cheat it into being for others, but in such a way that while it is acting for others, this also has a for-itselfness about it. The hypothesis seems to be more strongly verified the farther we go in evolution.

As far as the adaptation of the animal to its environment is concerned, the genetic adaptation continues just as it does with lower forms of life. This is, as I said, due to destructive interference with the genes, leading to monster births. Some of these better adapted offspring lead to new species; but it should be pointed out that many of these new species survive only a limited number of generations, and then become extinct, as conditions change again. Hence, there is evidence that God, who seems to be directing this aspect of evolution, is working hand in glove with the laws of the environment and not simply putting the "best" organisms on the earth. The advance to higher levels of being occurs, but not in any kind of regular or logical progression; evolution is full of blind alleys and false pathways. Hence, once again we find the respect that God has for his creation increasing as the creatures themselves advance and gain more control over themselves.

But of course the individual animal is much more capable of adapting itself to its environment than the plant, because if the environment is hostile, it can move to a different place. And this greater control by the animal also leaves its actions freer from genetic necessities than the plant; it is much more obvious that animals play than that plants do. Much of animal behavior is not really purposive at all.

But things become really complex when we move on to the next stage of evolution: the human stage, which is both in itself and for itself, because humans explicitly understand and choose their own destiny.