Thursday, June 16, 2016

Questions Regarding Hylomorphic/Thomist Souls

Does the hylomorphic soul (as conceived by Aquinas and the Church) contemplate God while subsisting in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection? Would not the activity of contemplation also raise some questions about the post-mortem soul's condition? Finally, I would question whether the soul alone would be enough to preserve a person's numerical identity since the body and soul are believed to be separated at death. Moreover, it still remains a mystery how the body that's reunited with the soul in the resurrection turns out to be numerically identical with the body that existed prior to death. I am aware of Aquinas' explanation for the preservation of numerical identity despite the body's decay (its return to the dust), but his account has been criticized by Kevin Corcoran and other philosophers who interpret gaps in existence as possible grounds for the recreation or reconstitution of something new.

Let's imagine S accidentally makes a whole burnt-offering of his prestigious 2nd-century papyrus fragment from ancient Egypt. Assuming that the fragment is utterly consumed, would we still identify a reconstituted fragment (the same atom for atom) as the numerically identical object which underwent an accidental burning? My point is that dualists and physicalists must take pains to supply a coherent narrative about the resurrected body, whether it's spirit or flesh. Dualists cannot rightly assert that Christian physicalists lack the adequate resources for explaining a bodily resurrection: the former have not supplied a thorough and satisfactory account of the resurrection either.


Sean Killackey said...

Part One
Here are some quasi-speculations:
I think that Alexander Pruss wrote an essay arguing that the brain is the only neccsary organ for us to presently exist (I take it to mean that he as a Catholic would mean something like our body be alive). This makes sense, though I don't know if it is true all things considered, or if it is possible to know by reason alone given what we know.

Regardless, I take it that people who view the soul as being essential for preservation of our identity view the sould as the absolute essential part of us. As long as it persists, it maintains our nature, and thus our capacities for rational thought, movement, etc. are merely blocked, much like a man's active or inherient capacity for seing might be blocked by cataracts. This could make sense, I suppose.

But, then why would Aquinas say that unless his body would be resurrected, that HE would not be. If it, like the brain in Pruss' essay, is all that is needed for identity, then we would endure, and we would not need a body to BE. The view of Catholics, at least Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, is that we are ensouled bodies, or bodied souls, we are not only our soul, but are both. They denied any form of dualism (mind-body or brain-body); in each case, both were us. This outwardly seems to go against the soul is all that is needed view, but I guess that they could say, 'We are such and such, be we only need to be this and this.' Having a body is accidental to us, but being a soul is essential to us.

I'm inclined to reject the existence of the soul, and view the spirit as a non mental substance. I stil have very little grasp at what "life force" means. I do know that however it is done, the ressurected us will be the same us that exist presently - God is not ignorant of this problem and promises us that WE will be raised up.

Sean Killackey said...

Now he says a substance maintains its identity despite change and is ontologically prior to its parts. So far this sounds right (and it doesn't neccessiate the existence of a soul). It develops itself to actualize inherient or active capacites - sounds good.

But then I wonder, how can we all be the same in abiliies, if some have genetic defects where is the source of their equal inheret right. How can we guarentee the fundemental equality of every huaman person? Neither Beckwith, Kaczor, or Patrick Lee in their books on abortion really address that. Some would posit that the soul undergirds that. However, I don't think that is neccesary. What if we look at Ecclesiastes 11:5.

(Ecclesiastes 11:5)
“the spirit operates in the bones of the child inside a pregnant woman."

What if the spirit, while not existing after the death of the body, is crucial in how we develop, just as it is in our continuing living. It is not personal, it is not the mind, but it could be, at least in part, an informing principle of our developing, and thus a ground of our inherent capacities? Just as the physical functions of the body help it continue alive, so too the spirit could inform the growth of the body (something with its nature, and active or inherent capacity) as does the physical DNA. At best it could help the mind operate, but it is not the mind, though I don't see this as neccesary to assume.

Now some far out speculation. It is often claimed that turning into spirits would destroy us, since our nature would be so altered. Well maybe, I don't think we know enough. And the problem would seem to face the suppsed glorious exalted body protestants claim we will have. Sure beign immortal or being restored to perfection are not a change to our nature, somethings do seem to be outside of inherent human capacities - WLC in his book The Son Rises claims that the reason that Jesus was able to appear in a room all of a suden was his glorified body. Well that doesn't seem like an active capacity, it seems like a change in our nature, something that it is said destroys a substances identity. But could the spirit we have now, guarentee a tranfer fom human physical life to non-phsycial life for the anointed per the conditions that protestants argue on.

Sean Killackey said...

(Though there is that one scripture: 'man and beast have one spirit.' Does this mean that the spirit is the exact same in every way for me and a cat? We'll given that the spirit acts on humans differently than on cats, I'd think no. But it does come from the same source, God, and he could withdrawl it and end all life; it would seem to be the same kind of thing, even if it differ ins some specific way.)

I don't know, this is just some speculation. I is important to keep in mind the whole of Ecc 11:5 : "Just as you DO NOT KNOW how the spirit operates in the bones of the child inside a pregnant woman, so YOU DO NOT KNOW the work of the true God, who does all things."

I don't see the soul as containing the mind, or neccesarily exiting after death or being anything more than the whole of us as a living being, body and spirit. If it doesexist after death, it is not our existence in any relevant way: It would lack a mind, we would continue to exist, but not be able to be tortured, and not be conscious. I don't think souls can be tormented, unless we have minds.

P.S. What about those who assume a trichotomy between soul, spirit and body? What would they say about this? What is the spirit in their view?

Also what exactly is a natural kind, such as a human kind?

And what about the Hypostatic union?

Edgar Foster said...


The official Catholic doctrine is that it takes body and soul to make a complete person (hylomorphism), and I believe that Pruss accepts this idea as well. I don't think Pruss or other Catholics would normally say that the brain or just a body is enough to preserve one's numerical identity. As you note, the Catholic view is that it takes body and soul (matter and form) to make a whole person. The Catholic Encyclopedia and other church documents explicitly make this statement. I'll comment more on this issue and the spirit question later.

Edgar Foster said...

For a clear articulation of the Thomist soul theory, see

Edgar Foster said...


the word "spirit" is highly ambiguous in Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek. Have you read the Insight book on "spirit"? It's worth consulting because "spirit" has different shades of meaning as in "life force," "dominant mental attitude" or "self-consciousness," "wind," etc.

While it may be old, you might benefit from also reading

Check out what I've written about ruach there.

Edgar Foster said...


On Eccl. 11:5, you might see


On the subject of natural kinds and the hypostatic union, see