Summary Against Modern Thought: The Soul Begins At Conception, Part II

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.

Part II of three parts, showing life begins at conception. Do your homework and review first, or else these arguments seem to come out of the blue.

Chapter 83 That the human soul begins to exist when the body does (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

16 Then, too, whatever is subject to alternate phases of existence according to various periods of time is subject to the movement of the heaven, which the whole course of time follows. But intellectual and incorporeal substances, including separately existing souls, transcend the entire realm of bodily things. Hence, they cannot be subject to the movements of the heavenly bodies. Therefore, it is impossible that they should be naturally united during one period of time and separated during another, or that they should naturally desire this at one time, and that at another.

17 On the other hand, the hypothesis that souls are united to bodies neither by violence nor by nature, but by free choice, is likewise impossible. For no one voluntarily enters into a state worse than the previous one, unless he be deceived.

But the separate soul enjoys a higher state of existence than when united to the body; especially according to the Platonists, who say that through its union with the body, the soul forgets what it knew before, its power to contemplate truth in a pure manner thus being checked. Hence, the soul is not willingly united to the body unless it be the victim of deception. But there can be nothing in the soul that could cause deception, since, for the Platonists, the soul is possessed of all knowledge. Nor can it be said that the soul’s judgment, proceeding from universal scientific knowledge and applied to a particular matter of choice, is overwhelmed by the passions, as in the incontinent; for no passions of this sort occur without bodily change, and, consequently, they cannot exist in the separate soul. We are, then, left with the conclusion that, if the soul had existed before the body, it would not be united to the body of its own will.

Notes Sin is explained in that first bit, too.

18 Moreover, every effect issuing from the concurrent operation of two mutually unrelated wills is fortuitous, as in the case of a person who goes out to shop and meets his creditor in the market place without any prior arrangement between the two. Now, the will of the generative agent, whereon the body’s production depends, is independent of the will of the separate soul which wills to be united. It follows that the union of the soul and body is fortuitous, since it cannot be effected without the concurrence of both wills. Thus, the begetting of a man results not from nature, but from chance, which is patently false, since it occurs in the majority of cases.

Note And this is more proof chance is in your mind, not things.

19 Now, again, the theory may be advanced that the soul is united to the body by divine decree, and not by nature, nor of its own will. But such a supposition also seems inadmissitesble on the hypothesis that souls were created before bodies. For God established each thing in being in a mode congruent with its nature. Hence, in the Book of Genesis (1:10, 31) it is said of each creature: “God saw that it was good,” and of all creatures collectively: “God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good.”

If, then, God created souls separate from bodies, it must be said that this manner of being is more suitable to their nature. But it is not becoming to the ordering of things by the divine goodness to relegate them to a lower state, but, rather, to raise them to a higher. Hence, it could not have been by God’s ordinance that the soul was united to the body.

20 Moreover, it is inconsistent with the order of divine wisdom to raise up lower things to the detriment of higher things. But generable and corruptible bodies have the lowest rank in the order of things. Hence, it would not have been consistent with the order of divine wisdom to ennoble human bodies by uniting pre-existing souls to them, since this would be impossible without detriment to the latter, as we have already seen.

21 Having this point in mind—for he asserted that human souls had been created from the beginning—Origen said that they were united to bodies by divine decree, but as a punishment. For Origen thought that souls had sinned before bodies existed, and that according to the gravity of their sin, souls were shut up in bodies of higher or lower character, as in so many prisons.

Notes A fallacy, but an understandable one!

22 This doctrine, however, is untenable, for, being contrary to a good of nature, punishment is said to be an evil. If, then, the union of soul and body is something penal in character, it is not a good of nature. But this is impossible, for that union is intended by nature, since natural generation terminates in it. And again, on Origen’s theory, it would follow that man’s being would not be a good according to nature, yet it is said, after man’s creation: “God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good.”

23 Furthermore, good does not issue from evil save by accident. Therefore, if the soul’s union with the body were due to sin on the part of the separate soul, it would follow that this union is accidental, since it is a kind of good. In that case the production of man was a matter of chance. But such a thing is derogatory to God’s wisdom, of which it is written that “It ordered all things in number, weight, and measure” (Wis. 11:21).

24 That notion also clearly clashes with apostolic doctrine. For St. Paul says of Jacob and Esau, that “when they were not yet born, nor had done any good or evil, it was said that the elder shall serve the younger” (Rom. 9:11-17). Hence, before this was said, their souls had not sinned at all, yet the Apostle’s statement postdates the time of their conception, as Genesis (25:23) makes clear.

25 Earlier, in treating of the distinction of things, we leveled against Origen’s position a number of arguments which may also be used here. Omitting them, therefore, we pass on to others.

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 That learning is not recollection is proved in wading through this arguments, especially if it your first time!

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 I’ve heard it said the highest form of reasoning is not forming analogies, but analogies between analogies.

19 Comments

  1. I don’t think Aquinas had any idea of conception knowing that he lived in the Middle Ages – the science just was not that advanced.

  2. @Briggs:

    “I’ve heard it said the highest form of reasoning is not forming analogies, but analogies between analogies.”

    Maybe thinking of this line from the great Polish mathematician S. Banach?

    “A mathematician is a person who can find analogies between theorems; a better mathematician is one who can see analogies between proofs and the best mathematician can notice analogies between theories. One can imagine that the ultimate mathematician is one who can see analogies between analogies.”

  3. Hans I’m glad you point out this obvious repetition, particularly on such an easy topic for any adult.
    zzz
    So many words, so little to say. Some men and presumably anonymous females are simply too fractious and hysteryovnic to cope. Mix with that a criticism of the text itself, the Catholic methodology and tyranny of rule by fear and mind control, which I criticise and you’ve got a recipe for making up lies, apparently, if you so please or your reasoning skills are one sandwich short of a full picnic.

    You can take your outrage anywhere you like, even accusing your interlocutor of killing babies or justifying it!

    It doesn’t matter what the topic is being discussed, apparently, the effect is the same.

    However, as a customer, when a shop or service provider tells you to stop discussing some very real situation, when you ask for answers and which should be very easy and forthcoming to give, you know you’re not dealing with a straight forward entity.

  4. But nonetheless, I guess if Aristotle had all the known science available to him, he would have granted that the soul begins at conception because the “soul” for him was simply a state of being alive. So even bacteria would have a soul for Aristotle because it’s something that takes on a state of being alive. The problem is if the soul is only a state of being alive within an organism or in Aristotle’s language, the “form of the body” then it would seem to follow that the soul would die with the body given Aristotle’s system.

  5. @DG:

    ” The problem is if the soul is only a state of being alive within an organism or in Aristotle’s language, the “form of the body” then it would seem to follow that the soul would die with the body given Aristotle’s system.”

    While the “form of the body” is not the same as “a state of being alive”, neither do forms “die”, your tentative inference is quite correct because death for Aristotle just is the separation of form and matter and forms do not subsist separated from matter. In other words, the subsistence of the human soul needs separate argument, an argument Aquinas gives (it is a past chapter in the series).

  6. The state of being alive practically is the soul for Aristotle. Of course, Aristotle thought that material beings were composed of two principles of matter and form or potentiality and actuality, and his philosophy of change is the basis of his philosophy of the soul. Now maybe I could have been more technical and less simplistic in my descriptions, but his definition of the soul is the form of the living body, that is when a material thing has the characteristic of being alive, then it has a “soul” just like when a material thing has the characteristics of a triangle then it is a triangle.

  7. Briggs can you please explain why you are repeating this post? Followers of the Dalai Lana will disagree with you anyway. The law of conflicting revelations also refutes your claim.

  8. @DG:

    “Now maybe I could have been more technical and less simplistic in my descriptions, but his definition of the soul is the form of the living body, that is when a material thing has the characteristic of being alive, then it has a “soul” just like when a material thing has the characteristics of a triangle then it is a triangle.”

    Correct. And I should have been a little less pedantic as well.

  9. Ok good.

    But my point Grodrigues is that if the soul is the form of the body in the sense that Aristotle talks about then there cannot be an immortal soul. So my point is that Aquinas’ project to reconcile hylomorphism with the Christian understanding of the soul’s immortality is incoherent.
    After all, you even admit yourself in commenting on my remarks on the implications of Aristotle, “your tentative inference is quite correct because death for Aristotle just is the separation of form and matter and forms do not subsist separated from matter”.
    If the soul is to be immortal, which it is, then the mind or conscious self has to be a distinct substance or particular that differs from the body. It’s just like if you want to argue that time travel is metaphysically possible then you’re going to have to define the nature of time that makes time travel possible. Time travel on a block universe theory of time would be metaphysically possible or at least possible in principle because both past and future events exist on a block universe model. Time travel, on the other hand, would be metaphysically impossible on a presentist theory of time where only the present moment is real and there’s no existent past or future events to travel to. In a similar manner, if you’re going to argue that personal immortality is possible and actual, then you’re going to have to define the nature of the mind in order to make a plausible case that the mind or conscious self can survive bodily death. Otherwise, if the mind is the brain or the brain is the conscious perceiver and thinker, then if the brain were to die then the mind would die with it. That’s why mind has to be a unique substance or entity distinct from the body and brain in order for the mind to survive bodily death.
    Now I think there is some truth to hylomorphism in both Aquinas and Aristotle in that soul does animate the body or somehow enables the body to live when united to the body. But the soul is primarily a mental substance or immaterial conscious self that is united to the body and interacts with it for a time, then survives bodily death.

  10. @DG:

    “But my point Grodrigues is that if the soul is the form of the body in the sense that Aristotle talks about then there cannot be an immortal soul. So my point is that Aquinas’ project to reconcile hylomorphism with the Christian understanding of the soul’s immortality is incoherent.”

    Death is the separation of form and matter; what Aquinas sets out to do to prove is, not exactly the soul’s immortality, but to be more precise, that the human soul can subsists the separation of the body (after all, God can still annihilate the human soul), or to put the matter in perspective, that contrary to the souls of other living things like plants and animals, the human soul, or the soul of a *rational* animal, is a special case and is indeed subsistent. And the point of departure for Aquinas is a point made out by Aristotle himself, that there is no organ of thought. Nothing in the arguments Aquinas gives necessitates “If the soul is to be immortal, which it is, then the mind or conscious self has to be a distinct substance or particular that differs from the body” — this is precisely the kind of riff on Platonism that Aquinas explicitly rejects.

    I do not think there is any inconsistency with *general* Aristotelean principles (e.g. substances as hylemorphic compounds of form and matter) when Aquinas himself argues on the basis of said principles for the rational soul being a *special case*. And then he goes on to point out that such a state is an unnatural, incomplete state, thus the resurrection of the body, etc. and etc.

    Whether there is an inconsistency with specific Aristotelean positions is a more vexing matter; it is undeniable that at some points, Aristotle seems to argue against the immortality of the soul (e.g. certain passages in the De Anima), but some Aristoteleans have argued that such does not follow and he seems to countenance some sort of (impersonal) immortality of the intellect (do not ask me the exact details, I cannot remember them off the top of my head and would have to search them out).

  11. And yet all the talk and the justification is a phantasm inside the head anyway. Lablelling thoughts as different when they are just different subject areas. Pretending to have constructed the make up of the mind…not even for psychology, but for analysing the immortality of the soul..

    The fixation on labelling thought as if it were possible by type and then needing the demotion of the believed thought of animals in order to shore up the argument. It’s not good.

    Humans are special and yet there is an upside down logic that says because animals are lesser thinkers it says something about human souls!

    It is vague enough and nowadays deliberately abstruse in order to keep it looking good as a justification. When the reality of what occurs is so utterly mysterious and unknowable, to believe that man can work it out in his head, the complexity of the nature of life itself, of being alive and then claiming others are totally wrong with certainty. It is unbecoming and contradictory from a preacher of Uncertainty.

    It becomes clear why it is so necessary to try and show that medieval thinkers were right all along…Whatever you do, you can’t have the time back again.
    They had a different mindset, a different, narrow set of facts at their disposal, a different audience, a different language, a different world.

    The best defence so far has been slippery word play, insult and insinuation on motive.

    This text is unchristian in the way it is being handled and in one, at least of it’s claims on ‘preparing’ of the soul. That is completely against what Christ taught and is one of the main differences in Christianity to the other two main monotheist faiths.
    Approval dos not have to be earned. Salvation and forgiveness of sin is paramount.
    There are many other simple references back to this text in use of words by the more sadistic preachers who use the believed authority of the txt as a weapon. The whole thing is a castle built on sand. It’s goodness and potential is being utterly wasted and wrongly used.

    If anyone here present thinks this is about them that’s not my problem. It is not what I intend.

  12. Ok Grodrigues, nice commentary on Aquinas.

    But then you’ve said

    “Nothing in the arguments Aquinas gives necessitates… (that) ‘the mind or conscious self is a distinct substance or particular that differs from the body’ – this is the kind of riff on Platonism that Aquinas explicitly rejects.”

    Uh no. If the mind survives bodily death then the mind is a substance in its own right. A substance is an entity that bears properties, and in this case, it would the soul that would be bearing mental properties or specifically conscious states in the afterlife. We see this when we look at near death experience accounts where people are clinically dead and are yet able to clearly see the hospital room they are in or even outside of it at times and recall past events accurately. And the mind doesn’t survive either as mere “bundle of conscious states” with no conscious perceiver/thinker behind them. Maybe someone like Hume might argue that the mind is only a bundle of conscious states but that’s a very problematic position altogether whether one grants an afterlife or not.

  13. @DG:

    “Uh no. If the mind survives bodily death then the mind is a substance in its own right. A substance is an entity that bears properties, and in this case, it would the soul that would be bearing mental properties or specifically conscious states in the afterlife.”

    That is not what Aquinas, after Aristotle, understands by substance (e.g. a bearer of properties).

    At any rate, the point to keep in mind is that it does not follow from the subsistence of the soul of rational animals that the soul of rational animals is a per se substance — Aquinas explicitly deals with this objection, or I should say, with questions in its neighborhood, e.g. in ST, I, Q75, Article 1, objection 1.

  14. @DG:

    Ok, let me quote E. Feser from What is a Soul?:

    “Some might insist that if the intellectual and volitional powers of a human being persist in even an impaired form after the animal powers have been destroyed, this must be because the former inhere in a substance distinct from that in which the latter inhere, as Descartes held. But this is like saying that since the stub of a dog would continue to exist in the absence of its legs, eyes, ears, etc., it follows that the stub in question (an eyeless, earless, brain-damaged torso) and the legs, eyes, ears, etc. are all distinct substances. And they are not; rather, they are all aspects of one substance — the dog itself — and can be made sense of only by reference to that one substance. Similarly, that the impaired intellectual-cum-volitional stub of a human being would continue to exist in the absence of its animal powers does not entail that the stub in question and the animal powers must be grounded in distinct substances. They are not; rather, they too are aspects of the one substance — the human being himself — and can be made sense of only by reference to that one substance.”

  15. Ok Grodrigues, I appreciate the response and the good conversion!

    Alright, here’s my answer to all this:

    I disagree with E. Feser’s description of the human being as a unity of “one substance”. For one, he’s adopting that description from Aristotle’s hylomorphism. Now there’s a reason that Aristotle describes the unity of body and soul as a unity of one substance unlike Plato: it’s because he doesn’t believe in an afterlife – or at the very least that seems likely to be the case given his philosophy of the soul.

    Now from my understanding of Aristotle’s metaphysics, there’s two types of beings – substance and properties (or accidents). Now if Aristotle were to describe a soul experiencing an afterlife then he would have to identify the soul or mind as a distinct substance within his metaphysics. Because the disembodied soul cannot be a property or accident like the shape of a tree. Accidents or properties as you know don’t exist separately from something that bears them. And there’s no such thing as a “partial substance” either in Aristotle’s metaphysics. The soul can’t be a partial substance – whatever that could mean – for Aristotle. So the fact that Aristotle, unlike Plato, describes the unity of body and soul as a unity of one substance is a good reason to believe that Aristotle rejected personal immortality. That’s one reason why I also don’t use that kind of language in describing the unity of body and soul.

    And besides all this, it sounds rather monistic and blurring the distinction between body and soul when the human being is being described as “one substance.”

    The reason for calling the human being a unity of two substances of body and soul or body and mind is because the soul is of a distinct type of being that differs from the body. For instance, the body is composed of matter and energy, the soul is not. The body is divisible and can be broken down into parts, the soul is not. The mind or soul is conscious and she perceives color, sound, thoughts within herself (with the aid of the body of course); the body however isn’t conscious but only enables the soul to think and perceive. Of course, Feser is correct in saying that both body and soul are the two essential components of a full human being and that both components make a single human being. But none of this entails that that body and soul are “one substance” as if the distinction between the two doesn’t exist.

    If I were you Grodrigues, I would look into substance dualism and think about it. I would advocate a substance dualist theory of body and mind. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you have to accept everything that Descartes ever said about the human soul – I certainly don’t agree with everything from Descartes. Nonetheless a substance dualist theory would give adequate support for the fact of personal immortality and an afterlife. I don’t think Aquinas properly understood Aristotle which why he made the mistake trying to combine hylomorphism with the Christian view of immortality, which can’t be done.

    There are other reasons why I reject hylomorphism besides the problem that an disembodied soul has on that theory, and I could go on more, but I’ll end my comments here since I’ve written enough for now. Feel free to respond more if you like.

  16. @DG:

    “I disagree with E. Feser’s description of the human being as a unity of “one substance”.”

    Ok, but then your argument is not about any alleged inconsistency in St. Thomas with Aristotelean principles but about the metaphysical bases that St. Thomas rests on.

    “Now there’s a reason that Aristotle describes the unity of body and soul as a unity of one substance unlike Plato: it’s because he doesn’t believe in an afterlife – or at the very least that seems likely to be the case given his philosophy of the soul.”

    This, qua description of Aristotelean metaphysics, is sheer nonsense.

    “That’s one reason why I also don’t use that kind of language in describing the unity of body and soul.”

    This is the last sentence of your second paragraph, and the reason why I am quoting it here is simply to say: St. Thomas has made arguments for his position and responded to objections. There is little point in responding divorced from the arguments he *actually* put forward.

    “The reason for calling the human being a unity of two substances of body and soul or body and mind is because the soul is of a distinct type of being that differs from the body.”

    If you want to make your case for substance dualism, in whatever exact variant, be my guest. It has had many able defenders down to this day (e.g. John Forster’s “The Immaterial Self”, while not for the faint of heart, is pretty good); but one should not paper over the ginormous difficulties, and I would argue insurmountable, on all levels, from general metaphysics to theology.

    “I don’t think Aquinas properly understood Aristotle which why he made the mistake trying to combine hylomorphism with the Christian view of immortality, which can’t be done.”

    You do know that condescension invites a little condescension of my own, right? So as payment in kind, I would say that I don’t think you really understand St. Thomas, or Aristotle for that matter, to be able to evaluate if St. Thomas understood Aristotle properly or not, or whether his views can be properly combined with the Christian view of personal immortality (of course they can, infinitely better than in substance dualism — grin).

  17. No, I’m not being condescending and I’m sorry if it came off that way.

    The question whether hylomorphism is logically consistent with the immortality of the soul is a real question debated in philosophy and it’s debatable whether Aquinas’ use of Aristotle is coherent or not. I’m not the only one that has that objection to Aquinas and hylomorphism. I just think substance dualism is better, more intelligible theory than that of Aquinas and it’s clearly consistent with an afterlife.

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