CT 94: The Rational Soul Not Derived From God’s Substance

July 24th, 2009

A man’s rational soul, Thomas tells us, is created by God. So far, so good. Some people suggested, evidently, that God didn’t create the soul from nothing, but drew it in some way from His own substance. Thomas, of course, says no.

However, we are not to imagine that the rational soul is derived from the substance of God, as some have erroneously thought. We demonstrated above that God is simple and indivisible. Therefore He does not join the rational soul to a body as though He had first severed it from His own substance.

Since God is indivisible, He can’t split bits of Himself to be souls.

Furthermore, we pointed out above that God cannot be the form of any body. But the rational soul is united to the body as the latter’s form. Hence it is not derived from the substance of God.

I don’t recall where Thomas proved this, and I’m too lazy tonight to look. But certainly, if God cannot be the form of any body, then it seems reasonable that a piece of God (if such could exist) can’t either.

Besides, we showed above that God is not moved either in Himself or by reason of some other thing that is moved. But the contrary of this is observed to take place in the rational soul, which is moved from ignorance to knowledge, from vice to virtue. Accordingly the soul is not of the substance of God.

And finally, God is eternal and unchanging, and the human soul is anything but unchanging.

Easy as pie, for a change.

CT 93: Production of the Rational Soul

July 23rd, 2009

Thomas has established that each man has but one soul, the Rational Soul, which includes all of the faculties of the Sensitive and Vegetative souls. So where does this Rational Soul come from?

This ultimate and complete form, the rational soul, is brought into existence, not by the power that is in the semen, but by a higher cause. For the power that is in the semen is a bodily power. But the rational soul exceeds the whole nature and power of the body, since no body can rise to the heights of the soul’s intellectual activity. Nothing can act in a way that surmounts its species, because the agent is nobler than the patient, and the maker excels his product. Hence the power possessed by a body cannot produce the rational soul, nor, consequently, can the energy inherent in the semen do so.

I don’t want to debate (or explore) Thomas’ understanding of human reproduction. The point is that the Rational Soul, have an intellectual, immaterial component, cannot be produced by material and bodily activity.

Thomas says, “…the agent is nobler than the patient, and the maker excels his product.” What does me he mean by this?

First, the agent is the thing acting, and the patient the thing acted upon. If I carve a figure out of wood, I am the agent, and the wood is the patient.

Second, the agent brings about a change in the patient. Every change is a move from some potency to some act through some form. If I carve a piece of wood into the shape of a dog, say, then I have a taken a piece of wood, a thing that has the potential to take on the shape of a dog, and given that shape, that form, to the piece of wood. In other words, the agent gives a new form to the patient.

Now, no agent can give what it does not have. In order to bring about the change, I must be capable of so doing. I must know what a dog looks in order to carve a wooden dog. Thus, with respect to any particular change, the thing changed cannot be greater than the agent which is changing it.

In short, a physical mechanism cannot give a human fetus an immaterial soul; it does not have that form to give.

Moreover, a thing that has new existence must also have a new becoming; for that which is, must first become, since a thing becomes in order that it may be. Thus things which have being in their own right must have becoming in their own right; such are subsistent beings. But things that do not possess being in their own right do not properly have a becoming; such are accidents and material forms.

A person “becomes”, comes to be, when the egg is fertilized. Prior to that moment there was no person; after it there is. For that person to be, it must have come to be.

The rational soul has being in its own right, because it has its own operation, as is clear from our previous discussion.

Therefore, the rational soul is a substance, and must come to be. I’m not sure why having its own operation requires that the rational soul is a being in its own right. (One more connection I’ve not yet made.)

Now here’s the fascinating bit:

Therefore becoming is properly predicated of the rational soul. Since the soul is not composed of matter and form, as was shown above, it cannot be brought into being except by creation. But God alone can create, as we said above. Consequently the rational soul is produced by God alone.

A material being can come to be when a substantial form is given to matter. But an immaterial being cannot come into being in this way. It has to be created ex nihilo, from nothing. Only God can do that.

This had never occurred to me. It makes all kinds of sense, though. Through God’s providence, the world has a built-in mechanism for all kinds of things to come to be that doesn’t involve God’s active creation from nothing. But the human soul is different. That’s very cool.

We can readily understand why this should be so. In all arts that are hierarchically related to one another, we observe that the highest art induces the ultimate form, whereas the lower arts dispose matter for the reception of the ultimate form. The rational soul, evidently, is the ultimate and most perfect form that the matter of beings subject to generation and corruption can achieve. Therefore natural agents, which operate on lower levels, appropriately cause preliminary dispositions and forms, whereas the supreme agent, God, causes the ultimate form, which is the rational soul.

If the agent must be greater than the patient, then the greater the form to be imparted, the greater the agent must be. For the supreme form in the material world, the human soul, only God’s power will suffice.

Edward Feser

July 23rd, 2009

Found a new blog (new to me, that is) by Thomist philosopher Edward Feser. Turns out he works in the area; I might have to look him up.

CT 92: Refutation of the Preceding Objections

July 20th, 2009

Last time, we got some objections to the “unicity of the soul”; now we get the answers to those objections. Thomas says,

To set aside such quibbles, we should reflect that, in material things, one species surpasses another in perfection, in the way that, in numbers, species are diversified by adding one to another. Whatever perfection is found in lifeless bodies, plants also possess, and more besides. Again, whatever plants have, animals have too, and something else in addition. And thus we proceed until we come to man, the most perfect of bodily creatures. All that is imperfect is related as matter to what is more perfect. This is clear in the various classes of beings.

A plant is body that has life. It’s not like you can divide a plant into two pieces, one that’s the body and one that’s the life, like dividing a car into an engine and everything else. As you move down through the genera, each kind of body gets richer and richer, not composed of more and more parts.

The elements constitute the matter of bodies that are composed of similar parts; and again, bodies having similar parts are matter with respect to animals. And this is likewise to be observed in one and the same being. Among natural things, that which is endowed with a higher degree of perfection has, in virtue of its form, whatever perfection is found in lower nature, and in virtue of the same form has, besides, its own added perfection.

I think this is what I just said, though not so nicely.

Through its soul, the plant is a substance, and is corporeal, and besides is an animated body. Through its soul, an animal has all these perfections, and moreover is sentient. In addition to all this, man is intelligent through his soul. Thus, in any object, if we consider what pertains to the perfection of a lower grade of being, this will be material when compared with what pertains to the perfection of a higher grade. For example, if we observe that an animal has the life of a plant, this life is in some fashion material with respect to what pertains to sensitive life, which is characteristic of an animal.

“Material” and “formal” are two words that I boggle at once in a while. I understand what they mean in certain contexts, and then Thomas goes and uses them in some way that I don’t get. I assume that they have a wider meaning than I really get. Let’s see if I can tease it out.

A species, such as “animal”, is, of course, a form—or, at least, includes one in its definition. And “animal” represents something added to “plant”, as a form is added to matter and makes it something new, or gives it a new quality.

Genus, of course, is not matter, for then it would not be predicated of the whole. But it is something derived from matter; for the designation attaching to a thing in terms of what is material in it, is its genus.

I remember this from De Ente et Essentia (or perhaps it was Porphyry) but it made more sense then.

Specific difference is derived from the form of a thing in the same way. This is the reason why living or animated body is the genus of animal, and sensitive is the specific difference that constitutes it. Similarly, animal is the genus of man, and rational is the difference that constitutes him. Therefore, since the form of a higher grade of being comprises within itself all the perfections of a lower grade, there is not, in reality, one form from which genus is derived, and another from which specific difference is derived. Rather, genus is derived from a form so far as it has a perfection of lower degree, and specific difference is derived from the same form so far as it has a perfection of higher degree.

OK, now, this makes sense. No genus gives a thing form; no specific difference gives a thing form; only a species with actual individuals gives anything form.

Thus, although animal is the genus of man and rational is the specific difference constituting him, there need not be in man a sensitive soul distinct from the intellectual soul, as was urged in the first argument.

The first argument argued that an animal, having a sensitive soul, was in potency with respect to a rational soul, that is, that a rational soul is something that could be added. But “rational” is a specific difference, not a form; it can’t be added like that.

This indicates the solution of the second difficulty.

Which was that the intellect has no bodily organ whereas the sense does; thus, the intellect is separated from the body and the sense is not, and one thing can’t be both separated and unseparated.

As we have pointed out, the form of a higher species comprises within itself all the perfections of lower classes of being. We must note, however, that the species of a material being is higher in proportion as it is less subject to matter. And so the nobler a form is, the more it must be elevated above matter.

Hence the human soul, which is the noblest of all forms of matter, attains to the highest level of elevation, where it enjoys an activity that is independent of the concurrence of corporeal matter. Yet, since the same soul includes the perfection of lower levels, it also has activities in which corporeal matter shares. However, an activity is exercised by a thing in accordance with the thing’s power. Therefore the human soul must have some powers or potentialities that are principles of activities exercised through the body, and these must be actions of certain parts of the body. Such are the powers of the vegetative and sensitive parts. The soul has also certain powers that are the principles of activities exercised without the body. Such are the powers of the intellectual part, whose actions are not performed by any organs. For this reason both the possible intellect and the agent intellect are said to be separate; they have no organs as principles of their actions, such as sight and hearing have, but inhere in the soul alone, which is the form of the body. Hence we need not conclude, from the fact that the intellect is said to be separate and lacks a bodily organ, whereas neither of these is true of the senses, that the intellectual soul is distinct from the sensitive soul in man.

The intellect is separate from the body, but the soul as a whole is not. In animals, you might say that the soul is coextensive with the body, and contains in; in humans, it’s as though the soul extends a little bit beyond the body.

This also makes it clear that we are not forced to admit an intellectual soul distinct from the sensitive soul in man on the ground that the sensitive soul is corruptible whereas the intellectual soul is incorruptible, as the third objection set out to prove. Incorruptibility pertains to the intellectual part so far as it is separate. Therefore, as powers that are separate, in the sense mentioned above, and powers that are not separate, are all rooted in the same essence of the soul, there is nothing to prevent some of the powers of the soul from lapsing when the body perishes, while others remain incorruptible.

You can’t sense without senses…but it isn’t that the soul of a dead person lacks the power of sense, it just lacks the ability to make use of it. This is what makes the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body so exciting; we’ll have new bodies, better than before, and all of our faculties will work better than ever.

The points already made lead to a solution of the fourth objection.

Which was that a human fetus is first a living body but not sentient, and then sentient but not rational, and then rational, and so these faculties are added as accidents to a base substance.

All natural movement gradually advances from imperfect to perfect. The same quality is receptive of greater and less; hence alteration, which is movement in quality, being unified and continuous in its progress from potency to act, advances from imperfect to perfect. But substantial form is not receptive of greater and less, for the substantial nature of each being exists indivisibly. Therefore natural generation does not proceed continuously through many intermediate stages from imperfect to perfect, but at each level of perfection a new generation and corruption must take place. Thus in the generation of a man the fetus first lives the life of a plant through the vecetative soul; next, when this form is removed by corruption it acquires, by a sort of new generation, a sensitive soul and lives the life of an animal; finally, when this soul is in turn removed by corruption, the ultimate and complete form is introduced. This is the rational soul, which comprises within itself whatever perfection was found in the previous forms.

With all due respect, I think Thomas must be wrong, here. He would have a human develop in stages, losing one soul then gaining another twice in the womb. It seems to me more likely that a human embryo gains a rational soul immediately, and then grows into it. The intellect requires sense phantasms to work upon, and it can’t get them until the body’s senses develop; but just as the soul of a dead man cannot exercise its sense, so the soul of an embryo cannot.

CT 91: Arguments Advanced to Show A Multiplicity of Souls in Man

July 17th, 2009

Thomas once again departs from the script with this chapter; having asserted that each man has a single soul, he’s giving the objections in this chapter and the answers to the objections in the next.  If there’s no feeling of closure in this post, blame Thomas, not your humble scribe.

Thomas begins,

Certain considerations seem opposed to our doctrine. In the first place, specific difference is to genus what form is to matter. Animal is the genus of man, and rational is the difference that makes man what he is. Accordingly, since animal is a body animated by a sensitive soul, it seems that a body animated by a sensitive soul is still in potency with respect to the rational soul. Thus the rational soul would be distinct from the sensitive soul.

Hmmm.  Form makes matter what it is; matter that does not possess a particular form (but can) is in potency with respect to that form. My son can dye his hair blue, but he has not yet done this; his hair is blue in potency.  Just as blueness can be added to my son’s hair to make it blue in act, the specific difference “rational” can be added to the genus “animal” to make it “man” in act.  Thus, “animal” is in potency with respect to “rational”…and rationality is an accident added to an animal substance.  Hence, the rational soul must be distinct.  The error, I think, is that the objector is using an invalid analogy.  We’ll see.

Moreover, the intellect does not possess a bodily organ. But the sensitive and nutritive powers do possess bodily organs. Hence it seems impossible for the same soul to be both intellectual and sensitive, because the same thing cannot both be separated and not separated from another thing.

That’s clear enough.  But must two things which are “not separated” be coextensive?  I don’t see why they should be.

Furthermore, the rational soul is incorruptible, as was shown above. On the other hand, the vegetative and the sensitive souls are corruptible, as they are acts of corruptible organs. Therefore the rational soul is not the same as the vegetative and the sensitive souls, for the same thing cannot be both corruptible and incorruptible.

The problem here, I think, is the lack of a distinction between souls on the one hand and faculties on the other.  The vegetative soul has the vegetative faculty: plants can take in nutrition and grow.  The sensitive soul has the vegetative faculty and the sensitive faculty.  The rational soul has the vegetative, sensitive, and rational faculties.

Thus, it’s not that man has a vegetative soul, a sensitive soul, and a rational soul; rather, he possesses all three faculties in one rational soul.  The first two faculties require corruptible organs, that is, material organs that can die; the last does not.

Besides, in the generation of man the life conferred by the vegetative soul appears before the fetus is observed to be an animal from its sense activity and motion; and this same being is discerned to be an animal through its sense activity and movement before it has an intellect. Therefore, if the soul by which the fetus first lives the life of a plant, then the life of an animal, and thirdly the life of a man, is the same, it would follow that the vegetative, sensitive, and rational principles come from an outside source, or else that the intellectual soul arises from the energy in the semen. Both of these alternatives are inadmissible. On the one hand, since the operations of the vegetative and sensitive soul are not exercised apart from the body, their principles cannot be without a body. On the other hand, the operation of the intellectual soul is exercised without a body; and so, apparently, no bodily energy can be its cause. Therefore the same soul cannot be vegetative, sensitive, and rational.

One can argue with St. Thomas’ notion of fetal development, but I’ll slide past that.  The argument here appears to be that since the vegetative and sensitive souls require bodily organs, they are caused by the body; and yet, being immaterial, the rational soul, or intellect, cannot be caused by the body; and since they have two distinct causes, they must be two distinct things.  But the body is not the principle of the soul; the soul is the principle—the form—of the body. 

I suppose you could think of this chapter as a sort of quiz, with essay questions.  We’ll see how I did when I blog the next chapter.

CT 90: Unicity of the Soul

July 15th, 2009

All of a man’s faculties that are rooted in the soul are rooted in the man’s one and single and only soul, because a man can have no more than one soul. So quoth St. Thomas. But why? Now Thomas explains.

That there cannot be several souls in one body is proved as follows. The soul is evidently the substantial form of any being possessing a soul, because a living being is constituted in genus and species by its soul. But the same thing cannot have several substantial forms. A substantial form differs from an accidental form in this, that a substantial form causes a particular thing simply to be, whereas an accidental form is added to a particular being already constituted as such, and determines its quality or quantity or its mode of being. Hence, if several substantial forms belong to one and the same thing, either the first of them causes it to be this particular thing or it does not. If it does not, the form is not substantial; if it does, then all the subsequent forms accrue to what is already this particular thing. Therefore none of the subsequent forms will be the substantial form, but only some accidental form.

Clearly, therefore, one and the same thing cannot have several substantial forms; and so one and the same person cannot have several souls.

I am a human being, a rational animal, because I have a human soul. If I didn’t have a human soul, I’d be something else. My soul is my substantial form, that which makes me a substance; and I can have only one of those, so I can have only one soul.

However, there’s clearly more going on in the sentence I bolded than meets the eye.

Furthermore, it is evident that a man is said to be living because he bas a vegetative soul, that he is called an animal because he has a sensitive soul, and that he is a man because he has an intellectual soul. Consequently, if there were three souls in man, namely, vegetative, sensitive, and rational, man would be placed in a genus because of one of his souls, and in a species because of another. But this is impossible. For thus genus and specific difference would constitute, not what is simply one, but what is one per accidens, or a sort of conglomeration, such as musical and white; but such is not a being that is simply one. Accordingly a man can have only one soul.

A species defines one kind of thing; it is the essence of the things that it is the species of. It is, in fact, the form the individual members of the species. As such, it needs to be one, not three.

Someday maybe I’ll have a deep understanding of genus, species, and so forth. I know enough to understand what Thomas is saying, but not enough to see all of the implications.

No Infinite Regress

July 14th, 2009

Aristotle and St. Thomas both tell us that there must be First Cause; otherwise there would be an infinite regress.  By why is an infinite regress a problem?  I’ve been wondering about this for some time; I know that the integral and differential calculus were controversial at one time precisely because of their reliance on limits as x goes to infinity, but this is now a commonplace.  Is an infinite regress of causes a similar case?

Aristotle and Thomas would doubtless say not; and John C. Wright explains why.

CT 89: Radication of All Faculties in the Essence of the Soul

July 13th, 2009

At last, we have a blessedly short chapter, though that’s an interesting word at the head: “radication”. I think it means “the rooting”. Anyway, Thomas says,

Not only the agent intellect and the possible intellect, but also all the other powers that are principles of the soul’s operations, are united in the essence of the soul. All such powers are somehow rooted in the soul. Some of them, indeed, such as the powers of the vegetative and sensitive parts, are in the soul as in their principle, but in the composite as in their subject, because their activities pertain to the composite, not to the soul alone; for power and action belong to the same subject. Some of them, on the other hand, are in the soul both as principle and as subject, for their operations pertain to the soul apart from any bodily organ. These are the powers of the intellectual part. But a man cannot have several souls. Accordingly all the powers must pertain to the same soul.

Remember that plants and animals have souls as well, that is, they are alive, they have “breath”, which is what the Greek word for “soul” means. A plant’s faculties of growth and ingestion are rooted in the plant’s life, in its soul. An animal adds the faculties of movement and sense. But these faculties, though rooted in the plant’s or animal’s soul, involve the body as well. It is the body that grows, and the body that senses. Man has a rational soul: he has the faculties of the plants and animals, but adds intellect, which is not only rooted in the soul but is wholly contained with it.

But a man cannot have several souls, so all of these powers must be rooted in one and the same soul, the only one he’s got. Why? That’s the next chapter.

Infinity vs. Infinity

July 13th, 2009

In Chapter 2 of Book I of the Physics, Aristotle says that if being is One in the sense of being only substance, then it can’t be infinite, for to be infinite is in the category of quantity, and quantity is an accident that subsists in a substance.

This leads me to a couple of questions.

First, I understand that accidents subsist in a substance.  Now, suppose you’ve got a thing whose nature it is to be infinite.  It’s part of the thing’s essence, its species.  Is this infinity still an accident?

Second, God is One, and perfectly simple; if I understand it correctly, God has no accidents.  Yet God is said to be infinite.  I would gather, then, that this is an analogical use of the word "infinite".  The infinite of quantity and the infinite of God are distinct, but related analogically.  Not so?

CT 88: The Way These Two Faculties Are United In The Same Essence Of Soul

July 12th, 2009

So, the possible intellect and the agent intellect are united in one soul. But wait! There’s another problem:

We have still to consider how this union is possible. Some difficulty may seem to arise in this matter. The possible intellect is in potency with respect to all that is intelligible, whereas the agent intellect causes what is intelligible in potency to be intelligible in act, and so must be related to what is intelligible as act to potency. But the same thing, seemingly, cannot be both in potency and in act with respect to the same object. Thus it would appear that the possible intellect and the agent intellect cannot be united in the same substance of the soul.

How can one thing, one human soul, be both in potency and act with respect to a single object?

I confess, this is not a matter of great concern to me, but I resolved when I began to work all of the way through the Compendium Theologiae, without skipping anything, so I’ve got to go through it. That’s no reason that you have to. In this particular case, I’m just going to let Thomas speak for himself, and highlight a couple of interesting points in the discussion.

This doubt is easily resolved if we examine how the possible intellect is in potency with respect to intelligible objects, and how the agent intellect renders them actually intelligible. The possible intellect is in potency with regard to intelligible objects in the sense that it does not contain within its nature any determinate form of sensible things. In the same way the pupil of the eye is in potency with regard to all colors. To the extent, then, that phantasms abstracted from sensible things are likenesses of definite sensible things, they are related to the possible intellect as act to potency. Nevertheless the phantasms are in potency with regard to something that the intellectual soul possesses in act, namely, being as abstracted from material conditions. And in this respect the intellectual soul is related to the phantasms as act to potency. No contradiction is involved if a thing is in act and potency with regard to the same object according to different points of view. Thus natural bodies act upon each other and are acted upon by each other, for each is in potency with respect to the other. The same intellectual soul, therefore, can be in potency with regard to all intelligible objects and nevertheless, without any contradiction, can be related to them as act, if both a possible intellect and an agent intellect are acknowledged in the soul.

There’s more than one way to look at most things, and intelligible objects are surely one of them. You can be in potency with respect to it in one way, and in act with respect to it in another. How can I have my cake in potency and act at the same time? I can have it before me in act, and have it in my stomach in potency. Once I have eaten it, I have in my stomach in act, and (if it was a large cake, and I ate it all) I can have it before me in potency.

This will be seen more clearly from the way the intellect renders objects actually intelligible. The agent intellect does not render objects actually intelligible in the sense that the latter flow from it into the possible intellect. If this were the case, we would have no need of phantasms and sense in order to understand. No, the agent intellect renders things actually intelligible by abstracting them from phantasms; just as light, in a certain sense, renders colors actual, not as though it contained the colors within itself, but so far as it confers visibility on them. In the same way we are to judge that there is a single intellectual soul that lacks the natures of sensible things but can receive them in an intelligible manner, and that renders phantasms actually intelligible by abstracting intelligible species from them. The power whereby the soul is able to receive intelligible species is called the possible intellect, and the power whereby it abstracts intelligible species from phantasms is called the agent intellect. The latter is a sort of intelligible light communicated to the intellectual soul, in imitation of what takes place among the higher intellectual substances.

As usual, Thomas puts things better than I do. I like this description of the possible and agent intellect, and I especially like the description of the agent intellect as a “sort of intelligible light communicated to the intellectual soul…” We often say that a clear explanation casts light on a dim subject. The divine light of reason shines upon us and casts light on the objects we sense, allowing us to abstract universal concepts from them. It is by the divine light of reason that I can see that animal, and know that it is an animal, and not just any animal, but a dog.

Why is this in imitation of the angels, the “higher intellectual substances”? Because, according to Thomas, God in a sense pre-equips them with the intelligible species that they need. They have no senses; they do not perceive. Rather, their intellects apprehend directly. They do not abstract universals from sensible objects, but just know them.

What a peculiar creature Man is, to be sure.