22. And as regards vegetal forms? Are we to imagine beneath the leading principle [the "Nature" phase] some sort of corporeal echo of it, something that would be tendency or desire in us and is growth in them? Or are we to think that, while the earth [which nourishes them] contains the principle of desire by virtue of containing soul, the vegetal realm possesses only this latter reflection of desire?
The first point to be decided is what soul is present in the earth.
Is it one coming from the sphere of the All, a radiation upon earth from that which Plato seems to represent as the only thing possessing soul primarily? Or are we to go by that other passage where he describes earth as the first and oldest of all the gods within the scope of the heavens, and assigns to it, as to the other stars, a soul peculiar to itself?
It is difficult to see how earth could be a god if it did not possess a soul thus distinct: but the whole matter is obscure since Plato's statements increase or at least do not lessen the perplexity. It is best to begin by facing the question as a matter of reasoned investigation.
That earth possesses the vegetal soul may be taken as certain from the vegetation upon it. But we see also that it produces animals; why then should we not argue that it is itself animated? And, animated, no small part of the All, must it not be plausible to assert that it possesses an Intellectual-Principle by which it holds its rank as a god? If this is true of every one of the stars, why should it not be so of the earth, a living part of the living All? We cannot think of it as sustained from without by an alien soul and incapable of containing one appropriate to itself.
Why should those fiery globes be receptive of soul, and the earthly globe not? The stars are equally corporeal, and they lack the flesh, blood, muscle, and pliant material of earth, which, besides, is of more varied content and includes every form of body. If the earth's immobility is urged in objection, the answer is that this refers only to spatial movement.
But how can perception and sensation [implied in ensoulment] be supposed to occur in the earth?
How do they occur in the stars? Feeling does not belong to fleshy matter: soul to have perception does not require body; body, on the contrary, requires soul to maintain its being and its efficiency, judgement [the foundation of perception] belongs to the soul which overlooks the body, and, from what is experienced there, forms its decisions.
But, we will be asked to say what are the experiences, within the earth, upon which the earth-soul is thus to form its decisions: certainly vegetal forms, in so far as they belong to earth have no sensation or perception: in what then, and through what, does such sensation take place, for sensation without organs is too rash a notion. Besides, what would this sense-perception profit the soul? It could not be necessary to knowledge: surely the consciousness of wisdom suffices to beings which have nothing to gain from sensation?
This argument is not to be accepted: it ignores the consideration that, apart from all question of practical utility, objects of sense provide occasion for a knowing which brings pleasure: thus we ourselves take delight in looking upon sun, stars, sky, landscape, for their own sake. But we will deal with this point later: for the present we ask whether the earth has perceptions and sensations, and if so through what vital members these would take place and by what method: this requires us to examine certain difficulties, and above all to decide whether earth could have sensation without organs, and whether this would be directed to some necessary purpose even when incidentally it might bring other results as well.