If one hits a stone with a hammer it might split, or move a little, or just make a noise but either way it would be reacting to its environment on the basis of what it was. I guess we do not tend to call this behaviour. But when an animate being says that they feel hungry, they are also reacting to their environment on the basis of what they are [hungry and believing that it it worth while expressing that hunger]. And we do call this behaviour. So; reacting to ones environment on the basis of what one is, is it behaviour or not? We, created things, are free to be ourselves, but not free to be anything else. We did not make ourselves. Inanimate and animate things only "behave" according to how they were made.

  • Regarding internal development: We can think only of our genes and internal development through the lifespan. But I believe that even doctors/scientists would see this as too much of a reduction. So you may also want to explore: Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Hegel. A.Ferrarin archive.org/details/HegelAndAristotle, Aquinas Online: aquinasonline.com I am sure there are other approaches as well.
    – Gordon
    Dec 15, 2018 at 20:26
  • "Change within unity". May be a topic of the above. ||| Externally, our form could be altered considerably today, external interventions into ourselves (genetic modification and so on, various surgeries and drugs) and this applies to interventions into all kinds of objects that we do (and maybe shouldn't do).
    – Gordon
    Dec 15, 2018 at 20:32
  • Aristotle: mc.maricopa.edu/~davpy35701/text/aris-meta-notes.pdf ; Dr. Yount has some other PDF s floating around on Aristotle.
    – Gordon
    Dec 15, 2018 at 21:01
  • Behavior "is the range of actions and mannerisms made by individuals, organisms, systems, or artificial entities in conjunction with themselves or their environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around as well as the (inanimate) physical environment. It is the response of the system or organism to various stimuli or inputs, whether internal or external, conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary." Dec 16, 2018 at 14:26
  • How we can say that an inanimate (i.e. not living) thing can act ? Dec 16, 2018 at 14:29

1 Answer 1


I find it effective to first look at subjective cases, and look at how they approach the objective. This is useful because it sidesteps questions of whether any given entity is truly animate or not. Is a named sword in Chinese culture animate? The literature certainly talks that way. In fact, many combat based prose have phrases like "the sword leapt into his hand." On the other hand, is an individual who is in a coma animate? That question is of tremendous importance in the modern legal and ethical world, where one may have to contemplate puling life support. If there is an objective definition of "animate" in these cases, there is certainly a great deal of uncertainty about it.

When I look at how people choose to use this concept of animation, it is almost always with respect not to whether the object interacts with the environment, but whether they interact unpredictably. Does the world excluding the entity itself have enough information to predict how the entity will interact.

A hammer with some metalurgical flaws may "have a mind of its own," refusing to yield the secret of how to nail a nail in straight. A scientist may be able to bring to bear complex equipment to analyze the flaws, so that they are predictable. The scientist may even be able to devise a solution, such as a small piece of metal glued on to counteract the harmonics caused by this flaw, and cause the hammer to strike true. But without such scientific information, we fall back on using animate terminology. (Or we throw the hammer out)

So what happens when all of our tools for teasing predictions out of an object fail? I mention science because it's the current most popular tool for teasing predictions out of objects. What happens when it fails? What happens when we can't tell what a person is going to do merely by scanning them? If all of our tools fail at this, we must consider this to be as objective as a definition of "animate" as is practical for humans.

  • My comment is off topic, does that profile picture mean that the Dao changes with time? Because I know that the Dao is unchangeable, that that cannot be named, the ultimate reality. If the Dao does not change, then that would evaluate to 0.
    – SmootQ
    Jan 6, 2019 at 21:14
  • 1
    @smootq it is indeed the rate of change in the Dao over time. It is, of course, not evaluated to a specific number. It might evaluate to zero as you suggest. Or it might be that our concept of time is not quite right for capturing the unchanging aspect of the Dao, like how a sword can be thick near the hilt and change to narrow near the tip without once being anything other than an unchanging piece of unyielding steel.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 7, 2019 at 5:28

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