Summary Against Modern Thought: The Human Soul Is Not Transmitted Via Sex, Part I

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.

A chapter in which our good saint becomes most medical. This is the start of several chapters proving the origin of our intellective soul must be God and cannot be physical.

Chapter 86 That the human soul is not transmitted with the semen (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

1 From points previously established it can be shown that the human soul is not transmitted with the semen, as though it were begotten by coition.

2 For any principles whatever whose operations cannot be without the body cannot without the body begin to be at all; a thing’s way of being and its way of operating are in mutual accord, since everything operates inasmuch as it is a being.

Contrariwise, those principles whose operations are performed without the body are not generated through the generation of the body. Now, the nutritive and sensitive soul cannot operate independently of the body, as we have seen before.

On the other hand, as we have likewise pointed out, the intellective soul does not operate through any bodily organ. Therefore, the nutritive and sensitive souls are brought into being through the body’s engendering; but not the intellective soul. The transmission of the semen, however, has as its aim the generation of the body. It is, therefore, through the transmission of the semen that the nutritive and sensitive souls begin to be; but this is not true of the intellective soul.

Notes The profound consequences that flow from the proof that our intellects do not operate through an bodily organ (such as the brain) cannot be underestimated.

3 Moreover, there are but two ways in which the human soul could conceivably originate through the transmission of the semen. First, it might be thought to exist in the semen actually, as though it were parted by accident from the soul of the generative agent, in the manner in which the semen is separated from the body. A case in point are annulose animals which live after being cut in two and which contain one soul actually and several potentially, since, when the body of such an animal is divided, the soul begins to exist actually in each living part. Second, the semen might be thought to possess a power productive of the intellective soul, and thus the latter would be held to exist virtually in the semen, but not actually.

Notes annulose animals, i.e. worms etc. Some flatworms can generate new bodies from a fraction of their old. A better example might be cuttings from plants, which can go on to be plants in their own right.

4 Now, the first of these is impossible for two reasons. One: since the intellective soul is the most perfect of souls and its power the highest, its proper perfectible subject is a body having many different organs through which its multifarious operations can be carried out; and that is why the soul cannot possibly be actually present in the semen separated from the body; for, indeed, not even the souls of perfect brute animals are multiplied by division, as with annulose animals.

And the second reason is this. The intellect, which is the proper and principal power of the intellective soul, is not the act of any part of the body, and therefore it cannot be divided accidentally as a result of the body’s being divided. Nor, then, can the intellective soul be so divided.

Notes Did you skip lightly by this? “[T]he intellective soul is the most perfect of souls and its power the highest, its proper perfectible subject is a body having many different organs through which its multifarious operations can be carried out”. This is not just the brain. This is the whole package.

5 The second is also impossible. For it is by transmuting the body that the active power in the semen contributes to the generation of the animal; indeed, a power present in matter cannot act otherwise. But every form that is initiated through the transmutation of matter is dependent upon matter for its being, since by this means the form is made actual from being potential, and thus the material transmutation issues in the actual being of the matter through its union with the form. Hence, if in this way the form also begins to be simply, then the form will have no being at all except that which accrues to it through being united to a matter; that is to say, the form will be dependent on matter for its being.

Hence, from the hypothesis that the human soul is brought into being through the active power in the semen it follows that its being depends upon matter, as with other material forms. But the contrary of this has already been proved. The intellective soul, therefore, is in no way produced through the transmission of the semen.

6 Moreover, every form brought into being through the transmutation of matter is educed from the potentiality of matter, for the transmutation of matter is its reduction from potentiality to act. Now, the intellective soul cannot be educed from the potentiality of matter, since it has already been shown that the intellective soul altogether exceeds the power of matter, through having a materially independent operation, as was likewise proved above. The intellective soul, therefore, is not brought into being through the transmutation of matter; nor, then, is it produced by the action of a power in the semen.

7 Then, too, the operation of no active power exceeds the genus to which that power belongs. But the intellective soul transcends the whole genus of bodies, since it enjoys an operation completely surpassing the range of bodily things, namely, the operation of understanding. Therefore, no corporeal power can produce the intellective soul. But every action of a power present in the semen is exercised through some bodily potency, since the formative power acts by means of a threefold heat—the heat of fire, of the heaven, and of the soul. Therefore, the intellective soul cannot be produced by a power in the semen.

Notes And “no corporeal power” includes computers. We may be able to simulate a brain inside a computer, though we’re miles away from that, but we will not be able to do the same for an intellect. Strong AI, as such, is an impossibility.

8 Furthermore, it is ridiculous to say that an intellective substance is either divided in consequence of the division of a body or produced by a power corporeal in nature. But, as was previously shown, the human soul is an intellectual substance. Therefore, it cannot be said that the soul is divided as the result of the semen’s being divided, or that it is brought into being by an active power in the semen. In no way, then, does the human soul begin to exist through the transmission of the semen.

9 Again, if the generation of a thing is the cause of a thing’s being, then its corruption will be the cause of its ceasing to be. The corruption of the body, however, does not cause the soul to cease to be, since the soul is immortal, as was proved above. Consequently, neither is the production of the body the cause of the soul’s entry into existence. But the transmission of the semen is the proper cause of the engendering of the body. Hence, the transmission of the semen is not the generating cause that brings the soul into being.

10 [10] Thus is excluded the error of Apollinaris and his followers, who said that “souls are generated by souls, just as bodies are generated by bodies.”

22 Comments

  1. Did you skip lightly by this? “[T]he intellective soul is the most perfect of souls and its power the highest, its proper perfectible subject is a body having many different organs through which its multifarious operations can be carried out”. This is not just the brain. This is the whole package.

    But that’s what I’ve been arguing all along!

    See? Thomas Aquinas, never doubted him!

  2. “the proof that our intellects do not operate through an bodily organ”
    I must have missed the proof, I did only read conjecture, and a lot of straightforward corrolaries that could be skipped. Aquinas is clearly outdated.

  3. This is not just the brain. This is the whole package.

    There is distributed processing but it is the nervous system which amounts to extensions of the brain. It’s the functionality that matters. It could all be located in the brain (or it’s periphery) so “brain” is just shorthand.


    The profound consequences that flow from the proof that our intellects do not operate through an bodily organ

    And what proof might that be? Has an intellect operating without a body been discovered?

  4. “the proof that our intellects do not operate through an bodily organ”
    I must have missed the proof, I did only read conjecture, and a lot of straightforward corrolaries that could be skipped. Aquinas is clearly outdated.

    You skipped maybe five centuries ahead. I would really love for some modern Thomist to try to defend this nonsense. Oh, I’ve got a good one. “through an bodily organ” The brain is located in the head, so not a bodily organ.

    Furthermore, it is ridiculous to say that an intellective substance is either divided in consequence of the division of a body or produced by a power corporeal in nature. But, as was previously shown, the human soul is an intellectual substance. Therefore, it cannot be said that the soul is divided as the result of the semen’s being divided, or that it is brought into being by an active power in the semen. In no way, then, does the human soul begin to exist through the transmission of the semen.

    Please tell me Briggs or anybody else doesn’t believe this nonsense. It’s like reading any nut on the internet.

  5. @bizbab:

    “The brain is located in the head, so not a bodily organ.”

    Here is a tip for you: “bodily organ” is a technical term of art introduced by Aristotle. The typical example of a bodily organ is that of the eyes. I do not know about you, but I have eyes and they are located in the head. In other words, your comment shows complete ignorance.

    Here is a second tip for you: nowhere in the OP does it say that the brain is or is not a bodily organ. What it says is a different thing, that thought (unlike vision, audition, etc.) has no bodily organ. Now you probably disagree and believe that the brain is the organ of thought, but to try to derive nonsense by tacking extra hypothesis not countenanced by your interlocutor is the typical mark of the sloppy thinker.

    Here is a third tip for you (and in this case, for other commenters): the proof that the intellect does not operate through a bodily organ was given several chapters ago. It is a genuine attempt at a proof, not a “conjecture”. If the naysayers missed the proof, they missed it because they were not paying attention, or because they cannot read, or because they are too stupid to follow a chain of reasoning, or some other reason or combination of reasons. To pretend that no arguments have been given is the mark of intellectual dishonesty. For a serious refutation here is what is required: (1) explain the intended argument and (2) explain exactly where it goes wrong. 9 times out of 10, we will not even get past (1).

    If you are asking yourself how can there be people believing this “nonsense”, I am asking myself how can there be trolls unencumbered by understanding or learning, lacking the most elementary reading or reasoning skills, cluttering the combox with their inane drivel.

  6. Grodrigues, the very complicating issue when reading “proofs” by Aquinas is that the terminology completely differs from present day definitions, be it “intellect” “body”, “organ” or even “operate”.

    So yes, he may have proven that ‘our “intellects” do not “operate” through an “bodily” “organ” ‘, however, this does not imply that he has proven that ‘our intellects do not operate through an bodily organ’.

  7. @Hans Erren:

    “Grodrigues, the very complicating issue when reading “proofs” by Aquinas is that the terminology completely differs from present day definitions, be it “intellect” “body”, “organ” or even “operate”.”

    First, not everyone is limited like you as for example I, not exactly a genius or an expert scholar on Aquinas, can understand his argument perfectly fine (which in many respects is not even his, but Aristotle’s). Second, while one does need to learn some technical vocabulary, mostly to understand the underlying metaphysical framework that Aquinas adopts, the idea that he is using some wholly alien language where even terms like “intellect”, “body”, etc. have completely different meanings than the ones they have today is complete rubbish. It is not a coincidence that among the Scholastics, St. Thomas, for whatever other faults he may have, is commonly held as a model of clarity.

    “however, this does not imply that he has proven that ‘our intellects do not operate through an bodily organ’.”

    By your own admission, you understand nothing, not even Aquinas use of such basic terms as “intellect”, “body”, “organ” or even “operate”. Therefore you cannot properly understand what Aquinas purported to prove, much less evaluate if his purported proof is successful or not. But if this is the case, silence is the best, nay the only, honest course of action, *not* to say that you only read “conjecture” or that Aquinas is “clearly outdated”, which imply a clear evaluative judgment that St. Thomas argument fails.

  8. Question: What observation would disprove the claim that intelligence isn’t physical?

  9. “What observation would disprove the claim that intelligence isn’t physical?”

    Since Aquinas purports to be giving a rigorous metaphysical demonstration, the question simply reveals the confusion of the questioner.

    On the other hand if the questioner does think that the claim that “Intelligence is purely physical” is a strict scientific claim amenable to be handled by the modern empirical sciences, then it is baffling why he does not provide the answer himself, do the experiment, write the paper, settle the issue once and for all and receive the nobel prize.

  10. It all come down to the belief that is possible to think without having a brain, that’s the essense of believing in god and an afterlife. What non-believers consider physical intelligence is that you need a brain to think.

  11. “It all come down to the belief that is possible to think without having a brain, that’s the essense of believing in god and an afterlife.”

    No it doesn’t, no it isn’t.

    But at this point, it is quite obvious that what the actual truth is matters nothing, in which case there is really nothing to say in response.

  12. @ grodrigues:

    “Since Aquinas purports to be giving a rigorous metaphysical demonstration, the question simply reveals the confusion of the questioner.”

    So is this claim supposed to be about reality, or not? If it isn’t, it’s irrelevant and can be ignored. If it is, it can be tested.

    Let’s have a go:

    The claim “intelligence isn’t physical” can be disproved by any observation which demonstrates a physical effect on intelligence. Such observations include: the effect of sleep and dreaming, brain injuries, drugs, alcohol, hormones, growth and learning, dementia and other disease processes, MRI scans, evolution, perception and optical illusions. There are probably many more. I forgot death!

    Therefore the claim is disproved and intelligence cannot be non-physical.

  13. @swordfishtrombone:

    “The claim “intelligence isn’t physical” can be disproved by any observation which demonstrates a physical effect on intelligence. Such observations include: the effect of sleep and dreaming, brain injuries, drugs, alcohol, hormones, growth and learning, dementia and other disease processes, MRI scans, evolution, perception and optical illusions. There are probably many more. I forgot death!”

    If you are trying to disprove a claim advanced by someone else, in this case, “intelligence isn’t purely physical”, you have to look at the logical entailments of their own position not what you imagine follows from it. Not a single observation you name is inconsistent with what *any* philosopher holds about the intellect, whether it is Plato, Descartes, Aquinas, Berkeley, John Foster or whomever.

    Since you are a moron, a first-rate ignoramus that fails to understand these perfectly elementary points, I will leave you to talk to yourself in your own little padded cell.

  14. @ grodrigues:

    Do you ever look back over your comments and feel embarrased that you resorted to childish namecalling yet again? Ever thought of providing some evidence instead? It would be better than just saying:

    1) You don’t understand what you’re talking about.

    2) You’re ignorant / a moron / an imbecile / etc.

    Incidentally, if Aquinas’s position isn’t that the intellect is non-physical, then what is it? But if you don’t want to talk to me, that’s fine.

  15. @swordfishtromnbone:

    “Do you ever look back over your comments and feel embarrased that you resorted to childish namecalling yet again?”

    You are mistaken, there was no “childish namecalling” anywhere. You are indeed an ignoramus and a moron. And your faux outrage at “childish namecalling”, coming as it does from someone constantly sneering and snarking at things he demonstrably knows nothing about, speaks volumes about your intellectual backbone.

    “Ever thought of providing some evidence instead?”

    This one is truly hilarious.

    “Incidentally, if Aquinas’s position isn’t that the intellect is non-physical, then what is it?”

    For heaven’s sake, you cannot even accomplish the trivial task of reading elementary English. Where did I said that “Aquinas’s position isn’t that the intellect is non-physical”? Where? Here is what I said to bizbab in my first comment in this thread: “Here is a third tip for you (and in this case, for other commenters): the proof that the intellect does not operate through a bodily organ was given several chapters ago.” So now, quote me where did I say that “Aquinas’s position isn’t that the intellect is non-physical”.

  16. Grodigues, there is a difference between imagining something and proving something: there dies not exist a largest integer, yet it is claimed that intellect does have a maximum i.e. God’s intellect. One can imagine spawning of intellect from a larger intellect, like the spawning of amoebae. And that these intellects could exist before becoming ’embodied’. Logic does not refy reincarnation or pre-existence. Angels are spawned Godly intellects. In the film “Himmel über Berlin” an angel becomes mortal. Completely imaginable. Of course this does not fit in the Roman Catholic dogma, but hey, faith defies logic.

  17. @Hans Erren:

    “Of course this does not fit in the Roman Catholic dogma, but hey, faith defies logic.”

    More of the usual inane drivel, having no relevance to what St. Thomas actually defends.

  18. Grodigues, indeed that is the main problem of Aquinas, he was limited to the judean-christian mythology, and was not familiar with the buddhist mindset. If I would believe in an afterlife (which I don’t), I would prefer the buddhist “retry until you succeed” option, instead of the christian “one failed try – eternal misery” option. Lets face it: the christian heaven must be very empty. And we all know that logical proofs for the existence of God or an afterlife are considered circular reasoning by later philosophers. You cannot prove God, which takes the foudation away from Aquinas, and hence all the logic that is derived from it.

  19. “And we all know that logical proofs for the existence of God or an afterlife are considered circular reasoning by later philosophers.”

    First, You do not speak for anyone other than yourself, neither are you so important that the royal “we” is applicable. Second, what “later philosophers” have accomplished or not you have absolutely no way to know, because you are completely ignorant of what St. Thomas holds.

    It is well known that many philosophers tried to debunk St. Thomas reasoning, but these exercises of debunking themselves have been debunked by subsequent Thomist commentators. This idea that Hume or Kant or whom have you, have the final word on what St. Thomas accomplished or not is nothing more than vacuous intellectual chicanery — which is all you know, so I get it that that is all you can bring to the table.

    “You cannot prove God, which takes the foundation away from Aquinas, and hence all the logic that is derived from it.”

    If St. Thomas proofs fail you indeed would have a point, but since you are completely ignorant of them, your opinion on whether they fail or not has the same value as the muu a cow makes.

  20. @ grodrigues

    “It is well known that many philosophers tried to debunk St. Thomas reasoning, but these exercises of debunking themselves have been debunked by subsequent Thomist commentators.”

    But those debunkings by subsequent Thomist commentators have themselves been debunked by even more recent commentators.

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