Physical Anthropology: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part V

Who wants to live forever?

Read Part IV.

Remember, we’re doing summaries of summaries here; only bare sketches are possible. Buy his book for more detail.

Question V is Physical Anthropology. The most contentious question is Article 5. The most fun is 9.

Article 1: Whether all human beings are persons?

Yes, obviously. Even the ones you don’t like, or who are still living inside their mothers, or whom you consider genetically “deficient”, or even those whom you consider evil.

[A]ll human beings by nature are capable of rationality and self-consciousness, even if that capacity is presently undeveloped or blocked, as, for example, in the unborn, the severely retarded, those in deep sleep, and fans of the New York Yankees.

It will be understandable if readers dispute the last example (the Tigers are, as all sane people agree, the team to love).

Kreeft likes the Angels. No, I don’t mean the young men down in LA, but cherubim and seraphim. Angels. Angels are persons too, but not human persons.

The Divine Person or Persons, angels, and possible rational extraterrestrials are examples of other persons besides human persons. “Person” is a broader term than “human” because there are nonhuman persons…

The angels of which Kreeft speaks are not to be found on Hallmark cards or Christmas ornaments, but are instead awesome and frightening: see this video, or (maybe better) this one-minute explanation.

Article 2: Whether all persons are intrinsically valuable?


[Consider] Kant’s “categorical imperative,” one formulation of which is to treat all persons with respect rather than use, i.e. as ends rather than means, and this means they are to be treated as having intrinsic rather than instrumental value.

What about capital punishment? Glad you asked. See “Hanging Concentrates the Mind” by Rev. George W. Rutler.

Article 3: Whether man is essentially distinct from animals?

Yes. A common counter is that “[e]very human attribute and activity can be found to a lesser degree among the animals, so that the difference seems to be one of degree rather than kind.” Kreeft gives ten differences in kind between us and our food supply, some of which are (paraphrased):

Animals have no awareness of God or immortality. They are not conscious of themselves as personal subjects; they have no moral conscience. They are instinctual; their languages do not progress (though they may change via evolution). Their thought is concrete, not abstract. They have precepts not concepts. They have immediate intuition but not demonstrative reasoning. They have no technology nor science. They have no sense of beauty for its own sake.

Article 4: Whether gender is more than something social plus something biological?

Yes. And if you are not an academic you will agree with me in shouting vive la différence! Most academics do agree, but are careful not to say so out loud for fear of hurting their chance of promotion.

Interestingly, in “most languages, the word for ‘soul’ is feminine only.”

The word or “soul” is feminine because it is taken metaphysically, in relation to God. To God all souls are feminine; that is why God has always been spoken of as “he” by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theists.

Article 5: Whether there is free will in man?

Yes. Else I had no choice but to write ‘yes.’ The commonest objection is that there is not, “for nothing can happen without a cause; but a cause determines its effect; therefore all that happens is determined by its cause.” Including thought. Another counter is that if God controls all, He makes us do all that we do.

If free will does not exist, all moral language becomes meaningless. For it is meaningless to praise, blame, reward, punish, counsel, command, forbid, or exhort an unfree agent such as a machine or a “dumb animal.”…

Free choices are not uncaused but self-caused, not undetermined but self-determined. The universal causality and free will are compatible…

The “causes” of free choices that science has discovered are all conditioning causes, not determining causes. Our choices are indeed conditioned by many factors, but not necessitated by them, for we are not merely patients but agents and thus responsible for our actions…

The reason is that the free will can choose to side with the passions and blind the reason, commanding it not to attend to the fact that an act is evil, but only its desirable consequences.

What’s strange is that, here and now in this culture, we have so many seeking to deny what is perhaps the most obvious of all truths. All explanations why happily entertained below.

Article 6: Whether the will is higher than the intellect?

No. The common objection is to say “the act of the will is the cause and the act of the mind is the effect.” Or to suppose that because there is free will, “then the will must be the first cause…else it is not free.”

But neither the will nor the intellect is absolutely higher than the other.

It is true that the will can rule and command the intellect, but it is also true that the intellect rules the will, for the will cannot will anything—an X rather than non-X—until the intellect presents the nature of X and non-X to the will. The will is the efficient cause of the intellect’s act, but the intellect is the formal cause…of the will’s act.

Article 7: Whether the soul and body are distinct substances?

No. Hence it is silly to weigh the body just before and just after death (as has been done) hoping to weigh the soul. But it might occur that since the soul is immortal and the body not, that they are distinct.

[I]f the soul and body were two substances…then the experienced causal interaction between them could not be explained. For a ghost cannot manipulate the levers of a machine, having no fingers; and the atoms of a machine or any other physical thing cannot cause pain in a ghost, who has no pain nerves. The only hypothesis that explains all the experienced data is some kind of hylomorphism. The body is the material (hylè) and the soul is the form (morphè) of the one substance, the person.

Now the soul is the form of the living body:

It is the same single form (soul) in us that (a) gives biological life to the mortal body, (b) performs the actions of sensation and animal appetites and instincts in the mortal body-soul compound, and (c) is capable of reason and free will through its immaterial, spiritual nature.

Article 8: Whether the soul is immortal?

Yes. But didn’t we just say the soul was the form of the living body, and the body eventually (to use a pleasant euphemism) retires? But there are many arguments for the immortality of the soul. Here are only two.

Plato says “that souls give life to bodies, and what gives a power by nature has that power by nature. But what has that power by nature…cannot lose it. Therefore souls cannot lost life.”

(3) (a) The only two ways in which a thing can die are decomposition into parts or annihilation. (b) But souls cannot be decomposed because they were not composed. Souls, unlike bodies, are simple, not compound…(c) And nothing is simply annihilated as a whole. (d) Therefore souls cannot die…

What of the brain? “It is true that while united to the body the soul’s activity is dependent on the brain, but this fact does not necessarily entail the conclusion that the soul cannot also act on its own, even as a man whom we see being carried by a horse may also be capable to walking by himself.”

At this point, and not for the first time, Kreeft uses out-of-body and near-death experiences as examples of the soul’s (let us call it) detachability. Now speaking as a guy who has written a book on the subject of extraordinary phenomena, we are right to be skeptical of these claims. Many are obviously false. But this is not proof that all are.

Descriptions of near-death experiences are often confused. I’m thinking of the neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who recently had one, and wrote in several places how his brain had “completely” shut down, which is what allowed him to see angels spinning about in the clouds. He above all should know that nobody can say with complete confidence that his brain “completely” shut down. Electron microscopes were not inserted to show utter lack of synaptic activity.

But if there were small activity, or even a lot of it, this does not preclude the genuineness of his reports. There are also suggestions (by Susan Blackmore, among others) that near-death experiences are what are to be expected as brains “shut down”, i.e. crap out.

Gist is that there is no, and likely can be no, definitive observational evidence either way. We are left, as always, with faith.

Article 9: Whether artificial immortality is desirable?


[M]any wise old myths like “Tithonius the Greek,” “the Wandering Jew,” and “the Flying Dutchman,” as well as wise modern science fiction stories like Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, and Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love, all teach the need for death, and the curse that deathlessness in this world would be.

And don’t let’s forget that the gift the Highlander received was mortality (and the power of being a super cool diplomat?). “There can be only one!” One what we don’t know.

It is not true that the “conquest of death would be consummation of the conquest of nature…[because] Man’s task is not to conquer nature, as if she were an enemy, but to care for it and perfect it. Man’s nature is to die; so bypassing death would not be caring for or perfecting human nature.”

Article 10: Whether there is reincarnation?

No. Even though Shirley MaClaine, in one of her many past-life regressions, assured us she was a fat tax collector’s assistant in Byzantium (or whatever), no.

Since the soul is the form of the body, and that the combo is what makes us us (see Article 7 above), we can’t get new biological digs without becoming new people. And then there’s the problem of where new souls come from since some eventually reach Enlightenment. Given enough time, we’ll run out of souls to put into new people.

Kreeft gives more serious arguments, but I have run out of space and your patience.

Read Part VI.


Physical Anthropology: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part V — 14 Comments

  1. Pingback: Everything There Is To Know In Eleven Lessons: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica—Part IV | William M. Briggs

  2. RE: “What of the brain? “It is true that while united to the body the soul’s activity is dependent on the brain, but this fact does not necessarily entail the conclusion that the soul cannot also act on its own, even as a man whom we see being carried by a horse may also be capable to walking by himself.””

    SINCE you’re on this recurring philosophical kick to prove a deity–why not assess the history of how that particular deity’s properties evolved — by a process, taking decades/centuries of philosophical debate & revisions, into the story we know so well:

    THE above quote is very analogous to Jesus on the cross–per one of the Gospels asking why is Father has forsaken Him (moments before He died)….thing is, if Jesus was God–part of a mysterious Trinity, independent and unique–who was Jesus talking to…must have been Himself…

    Unless one considers the Adaptionists & their version of the faith prior to the compiling of the official creed a couple of generations after Jesus death (and after the Roman Church gained institutional staying power): They believed He was just a guy imbued with God’s spirit, such imbuing occurring at his baptism & lost on the cross. From that historical perspective–those words in that gospel make perfect sense as an editorial relic that didn’t get edited into the final philosophy.

    The idea, by the way, that Jesus was/is a subordinate deity in the Trinity was deemed heretical (1st council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.), then not (1st Synod of Tyre), then heretical again (381 A.D.). Such was the philosophical assessment of one Arius…and it took the R. Cath. Church some 56 years to sort that out.

    As for the concept of the Trinity — consider just how closely THAT arrangement mirrors the Archaic Triad & Capitoline Triad. My what a coincidence….

    So, anyway Briggs, why not apply the tool of philosophy to the actual history of what you’re trying to prove for yourself? Quit beating around the bush an confront the obvious.

  3. Ken,

    Dude. Like many moderns, you appear to believe that the arguments you present are new and devastating. I haven’t the time now, but…

    “history of how that particular deity’s properties evolved” God is “simple”, i.e. unchanging, the uncaused cause. The history is man’s perception of God, not how He evolved, because perfection can’t evolve.

    “asking why is Father has forsaken Him (moments before He died)” It’s a quote from the Old Testament, which Jesus (unlike some others) read. Look it up. Actually has a significant meaning.

    “Jesus was/is a subordinate deity in the Trinity was deemed heretical” As to that, there are an infinity number of ways to get things wrong, but only one truth. Shall we also list the various models of the atom that were proposed and rejected, and then use these changes as evidence that the whole subatomic thing is silly?

    Your reading of the history appears to have been light, and only one-sided. Not the best way to learn a subject. Your comments—and I say this in a friendly way; you know I love you—sound like one of those Kennedy conspiracy guys, who are ever-equipped with talk of bullet angles, exact minutes it takes a guy to fire shots, and so on forever.

    Just off the top of my head—and here readers can help me with better books—there’s The Case for the Real Jesus, A History of Christian Theology.

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  5. Childhood’s End, really? I would have thought Against the Fall of Night / The City and the Stars a better match.

  6. If humans are persons, and some fictional nonhumans are persons, which a priori reason would there be for other animals than humans not to become persons at some point in time? Humans were the same as other animals a long time ago, so it is reasonable to assume they were not persons at that time. Because if these animals were persons at that time, being the ancestors to modern, person-humans, then all descendants of these animals would be persons right now.

    Humans have been persons for quite some time too. At least since the Bronze Age, probably much longer.

    Now, given that some animals became persons, why would it be that a newborn human is a person as soon as an egg is fertilized? Which mechanism makes a human animal a person, and which mechanism makes a fertilized human egg a person at the time of fertilization?

    Regarding immortality, there is no difference being in some kind of afterlife, or being in the flesh if the person stays the same. Boredom is boredom. Achievements stay achievements.

  7. There is no reincarnation?!!! Hmmm… it’s Buddha’s word against Kreeft’s (who probably has never spoken to his God yet seems to know everything about his God). People may choose whom to believe or not to believe both in this case. Such is the consequence of free will, I imagine.

  8. JH,

    “People may choose whom to believe or not to believe both in this case. Such is the consequence of free will, I imagine.”

    Never have you said a truer thing.

  9. JH, … Never have you said a truer thing.


    Never have I ever said a truer thing! I understand this is just your opinion, and I can safely reply that the above quote is not the only wrong thing that you’ve ever said. I am now impressed by my imagination though.

  10. Pingback: Everything There Is To Know In Eleven Lessons: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica—Part VI | William M. Briggs