Ficino, Marsilio – Selected Letters - From a letter to Giovanni Cavalcanti
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Ficino, Marsilio – Selected Letters
From a letter from Marsilio Ficino to Giovanni Cavalcanti, his unique friend - greetings.
I have written to you several letters, my dearest friend, in which I have attempted the style of love; which indeed is fitting for our friendship and which in its freedom and purity is no different from that of Socrates and Plato. But now after loving jests in the Platonic style we must come to serious matters.
There are two main questions that people have about the mind. The first is whether the intellect can be separated from the body, and whether it can live and operate once the body has been laid aside. The second is, if it does then understand anything, whether it understands clearly or not.
We shall now reply to these questions as briefly as possible, for they and similar ones are discussed at great length in our Theology on the Immortality of Souls. We admit that the intellect can apprehend many incorporeal things, such as God, angels, souls, virtues, numerical proportions, ideas, and universal principles. But just as we cannot distinguish the invisible through sight, so neither can we reflect on things incorporeal through any bodily means. Nor can we through a nature confined to body, space, and time, enquire into, seek, discover, or retain those things that are not bound by matter, space, and time.
But if the mind, while still in control of the body, becomes collected in itself, so that it may observe some things through itself alone, it follows that when it is separated from the body it is able to observe much more , and much more easily through its own self. If it can function by itself, then it must also be able to exist and to live by itself.
And to take the second question: the mind without the body will observe more clearly what is presented to it for its understanding from within, than the senses now observe what is presented to them from outside to be sensed. And it will do so at least as much more clearly as sight is more acute and faster than hearing and the other senses, and as mind is superior to sense, and the objects of mind to the objects of sense.
No one who uses the powers of the mind doubts that mind is superior to sense, for he sees that mind is the judge of the senses, and that being more precious it is granted to fewer beings, takes longer to train and is used less frequently. This shows that the objects of mind also are more sublime than the objects of sense, because they are universal, vast, and eternal, whereas those of sense are particular, limited, and mortal.
It may be added that the more we concentrate on external sense, the more is the internal sense withdrawn, and vice versa. For he who looks and listens attentively can scarcely imagine at the same time, and he who imagines a great deal scarcely sees or hears what is happening around him. The same relation exists between the imagination and the intellect.