Man on His Nature


Man on His Nature



Sherrington, C. Man on his Nature. New York: The Macmillan Company; Cambridge, Eng.: The University Press,1941

Sir Charles Sherrington in his Gifford Lectures takes the task of natural theology to be a survey of the nature of man and his place in the universe from the point of view of the natural sciences, but with the addition of an evaluation of the conclusions in terms of man's moral intuitions: intuitions that lie outside the scope of natural science. The interest in the survey is greatly increased by his comparing his own with one made in the sixteenth century by Jean Pernel, the greatest physician of his day, and mathematician and philosopher besides. Medical science for Fernel was still about where Galen had left it, though Fernel himself was a man of independent judgment and a good observer not prepared to follow blindly after Galen or any other authority. But of course, he was still confined to what he could see with the naked eye. Since physics and chemistry were as yet non-existent, not only was there no basis for physiology but the concept of matter was vague. The principle of life, that which distinguishes the living from the lifeless, was conceived as a kind of fire and might be corporeal or incorporeal or something intermediate. Today it is possible to speak more definitely. The most fundamental category of the physical world seems to be energy, and the structure of things to be ‘granular’, as though made up of separate but similar packets; the quantum of action, the electron, the atom, the molecule. At the level of living organisms, there is a similar ‘granularity’ in cell structure and the nervous impulse. There does not appear to be anything incorporeal about living organisms as such. The kind of physical and chemical process they exhibit is complex and peculiar, but still physical and chemical. There is no basic difference in the stuff they are made of, only in certain special arrangements of that stuff (Ritchie, A. Man on his Nature. Nature 147, 127–129 (1941))

Publication Date



The Macmillan Company


New York


philosophy, biological evolution, human beings

Man on His Nature