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Summary Against Modern Thought: Human Souls Begin At Conception Part III

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Review is a must. We are two thirds of the way through a chapter this week, so please read the Previous post first (link above). This week is long, we must finish this Chapter this week.

Chapter 82 That the human soul begins to exist when the body does (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

26 It must be said that the human soul either needs the senses or does not need them. Now, experience seems to show clearly that the former is true. For a person who lacks a certain sense has no knowledge of the sensible objects which are perceived through that sense; a man born blind has neither knowledge nor any understanding of colors.

Furthermore, if the human soul does not require the senses in order to understand, then sensitive and intellective cognition in man would have so ordered relationship to one another. But experience demonstrates the contrary; for our senses give rise to memories, and from these we obtain experiential knowledge of things, which in turn is the means through which we come to an understanding of the universal principles of sciences and arts.

Now, nature is wanting in nothing that is necessary for the fulfillment of its proper operation; thus, to animals whose soul is endowed with powers of sense and movement nature gives the appropriate organs of sense and movement. Hence, if the human soul needs the senses in order to understand, then that soul would never have been made to be in the first place without the indispensable assistants which the senses are. But the senses do not function without corporeal organs, as we have seen. The soul, therefore, was not made without such organs.

27 The argument that the human soul does not need the senses in order to understand, and thus is said to have been created apart from the body, necessarily implies that, before being united to the body, the soul was by itself cognizant of all scientific truths. The Platonists indeed admitted this in saying that Ideas, which according to Plato are the separate intelligible forms of things, are the cause of knowledge; and thus, the separate soul, having no obstacle confronting it, received full knowledge of all sciences.

Therefore, since the soul is found to be ignorant when united to the body, it must be said that it forgets the knowledge which it previously possessed.

The Platonists acknowledge this inference, also, adducing the following observation as indicative of its truth: If a man, however ignorant he may be, is questioned systematically about matters taught in the sciences, he will answer the truth; so, if a man has forgotten some of the things that he knew before, and a person proposes to him one by one the things he has forgotten, he recalls them to his memory. And from this they inferred that learning was nothing else than remembering.

This theory then necessarily led to the conclusion that union with the body places an obstacle in the way of the soul’s understanding. In no case, however, does nature unite a thing to that which impedes its operation; on the contrary, nature unites the thing to that which facilitates its operation. Thus, the union of body and soul will not be natural, so that man will not be a natural thing, nor will his engendering be natural; which, of course, is false.

Notes We linked to Plato’s theory two posts back. Given the way of the world, if Plato were right, there’s a massive effort underway to forget.

28 The ultimate end of every thing, moreover, is that which it strives to attain by its operations. But man, by all his proper operations fittingly ordered and rightly directed, strives to attain the contemplation of truth; for the operations of the active powers are certain preparations and dispositions to the contemplative powers. The end of man, therefore, is to arrive at the contemplation of truth. It is for this purpose, then, that the soul is united to the body, and in this union does man’s being consist. Therefore, it is not union with the body that causes the soul to lose knowledge which it had possessed; on the contrary, the soul is united to the body so that it may acquire knowledge.

29 Then, too, if a person ignorant of the sciences is questioned about matters pertaining to the sciences, his answers will not be true, except with regard to the universal principles of which no one is ignorant, but which are known by all in the same way and naturally. But, if that ignorant person is questioned systematically later on, he will answer truly concerning matters closely related to the principles, by referring them to the latter; and he will go on answering truly as long as he is able to apply the power of first principles to the subjects about which he is questioned. This makes it quite clear, therefore, that through the primary principles new knowledge is caused in the person questioned. This new knowledge, then, is not caused by recalling to memory things previously known.

Notes This phrase strikes as memorable: “…as long as he is able to apply the power of first principles to the subjects about which he is questioned.” This separates memory, a key component of intelligence, to reasoning, which is greater. But tests designed on this principle are harder to grade.

30 Furthermore, if the knowledge of conclusions were as natural to the soul as knowledge of principles, then everyone’s judgment concerning conclusions, as well as principles, would be the same, since things natural are the same for all. But not all persons share the same judgment in respect to conclusions, but only to principles. Clearly, then, the knowledge of principles is natural to us, but not the knowledge of conclusions. The non-natural, however, is acquired by us through the natural; thus it is through our hands that we produce, in the world of things outside us, all our artifacts. Therefore, we have no knowledge of conclusions except that which we acquire from principles.

31 Again, since nature is always directed to one thing, of one power there must naturally be one object, as color of sight, and sound of hearing. Hence, the intellect, being one power, has one natural object, of which it has knowledge essentially and naturally. And this object must be one under which are included all things known by the intellect; just as under color are included all colors essentially visible. Now, this is none other than being [Quod non est aliud quam ens]. Our intellect, therefore, knows being naturally, and whatever essentially belongs to a being as such; and upon this knowledge is founded the knowledge of first principles, such as the impossibility of simultaneously affirming and denying, and the like.

Thus, only these principles are known naturally by our intellect, while conclusions are known through them; just as, through color, sight is cognizant of both common and accidental sensibles.

Notes Think on it. That something exists is real knowledge, and easy for most things. The study of being and its nature is what we’re doing here. You cannot escape metaphysics!

32 And again. That which we acquire through the senses did not exist in the soul before its union with the body. But our knowledge of principles themselves is derived from sensible things; if, for instance, we had not perceived some whole by our senses, we would be unable to understand the principle that the whole is greater than its parts; even as a man born blind is utterly insensible of colors. Therefore, neither did the soul prior to its union with the body have any knowledge of principles; much less, of other things. Hence, Plato’s argument that the soul existed before its union with the body is without solidity.

Notes (Another straight line finishes this paragraph…) Contra reincarnation next.

33 There is also the argument that if all souls existed before the bodies to which they are united, it would then seemingly follow that the same soul is united to different bodies according to the vicissitudes of time—an obvious consequence of the doctrine of the eternity of the world. For from the hypothesis of the engendering of human beings from eternity it follows that an infinite number of human bodies have come into being and passed away throughout the whole course of time. Hence, two possibilities: either an actually infinite number of souls pre-existed, if each soul is united to a single body, or, if the number of souls is finite, then the same souls are united at one time to these particular bodies and at another time to those.

And seemingly we would be faced with the same consequence if we held that souls existed before bodies but that they were not produced from eternity. For, even if it be supposed that the engendering of men has not always been in progress, nevertheless, in the very nature of the case, it indubitably can be of infinite duration; because every man is so constituted by nature that, unless he be impeded accidentally, he is able to beget another man, even as he himself was begotten of another. But this would be impossible if, given the existence of a finite number of souls, one soul cannot be united to several bodies. That is why a number of proponents of the doctrine that souls exist before bodies espoused the theory of transmigration; which cannot possibly be true. Therefore, souls did not exist before bodies.

34 Now, the impossibility of one soul’s being united to diverse bodies is clearly seen in the light of the following considerations. Human souls do not differ specifically from one another, but only numerically; otherwise, men also would differ specifically, one from the other. Material principles, however, are the source of numerical distinction. It follows that the distinction among human souls must be attributed to something material in character—but not so as to imply that matter is a part of the soul, because the soul is an intellectual substance, and no such substance has matter, as we have proved above.

It therefore remains that in the manner explained above the diversity and plurality of souls result from their relationship to the diverse matters to which they are united; so that, if there are different bodies, they must have different souls united to them. One soul, then, is not united to several bodies.

35 Moreover, it was shown above that the soul is united to the body as its form. But forms must be proportionate to their proper matters, since they are related to one another as act to potentiality, the proper act corresponding to the proper potentiality. Therefore, one soul is not united to a number of bodies.

36 We argue further from the fact that the power of the mover must be proportionate to the thing movable by it, for not every power moves every movable. But, even if the soul were not the form of the body, it could not be said that the soul is not the body’s mover, for we distinguish the animate from the inanimate by sense and movement. It therefore follows that the distinction among souls must correspond to the distinction among bodies.

37 Likewise, in the realm of things subject to generation and corruption it is impossible for one and the same thing to be reproduced by generation; for generation and corruption are movements in respect of substance, so that in things generated and corrupted the substance does not remain the same, as it does in things moved locally. But, if one soul is united successively to different generated bodies, the self-same man will come into being again through generation. This follows necessarily for Plato, who said that man is a “soul clothed with a body.” This consequence also holds for any others. For a thing/s unity follows upon its form, even as its being does, so that those things are one in number whose form is one in number. It is, therefore, impossible for one soul to be united to different bodies. From this it follows, too, that souls were not in existence before bodies.

38 With this truth the Catholic faith expressly agrees. For it is said in a Psalm (32:15): “He who made the hearts of every one of them”; namely, because God created a soul specially for each one, and neither created them all together, nor united one to different bodies. In this connection also we read in the work On the Teachings of the Church: “We declare that human souls were not created from the beginning together with other intellectual natures, nor all at the same time, as Origen imagines.”

8 thoughts on “Summary Against Modern Thought: Human Souls Begin At Conception Part III Leave a comment

  1. “The study of being and its nature is what we’re doing here. ..” Really? I thought we were learning things by wrote.

    “You cannot escape metaphysics!” It depends upon your world view, evidently. Materialists don’t believe it exists Since this is a perfectly reasonable position to take given that nobody knows, to say that nobody can escape seems to presuppose the person believes in it to start with.

    As to the thoughts and study of being and existence, given that there is a metaphysical dimension, every human being that is conscious is rich enough in material and experience which only grows with maturity. They are all fully entitled to and capable of their own contemplation and conclusion. Questions of a child which everybody asks can never be truly and adequately answered categorically. When certain beings claims their version of metaphysics is superior when there is no way to measure, something has gone very wrong in the critical thinking of the claimant.
    It is to crush a spirit. It is very wrong. Misery loves company though, I suppose.

  2. Materialists don’t believe it exists

    It is their metaphysical position that metaphysics doesn’t exist? Or that the immaterial does not exist? Either way, they are talking metaphsysics. Or, in the first case, meta-metaphysics. I’m not sure that’s a thing, though : )

  3. “You cannot escape metaphysics!” It depends upon your world view, evidently. Materialists don’t believe it exists…

    It’s pretty straihtforward to demonstrate the naturalists or materialist have a metaphysic. That some of them may deny this is neither here nor there. It reminds me of people who stridently argue A and B but then get indignant when you say that A and B implies C; saying that they do not support C. Well, they may not ‘support’ C, but A and B certainly imply it.

  4. “It’s pretty straight forward to demonstrate the naturalists or materialist have a metaphysic.”
    Go on then, let’s see it.

    I mean remember you’re talking to someone who believes in it. For me, thoughts (and feelings, experience) are enough or the existence of the mind which we all have and know it but can’t prove it to others. We take it on faith that we’re similar inside. Apparently Aquinas disagrees, something to do with ashtrays, as I recall.

    This has failed to convince the materialists amongst us and when I asked my favourite atheist he was also unimpressed. I don’t know why. I find it amazing.

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