Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Was Aquinas a materialist?


Denys Turner’s recent book Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait is beautifully written and consistently thought-provoking.  It is also a little mischievous, in a good-natured way.  A main theme of the book is what Turner characterizes as Aquinas’s “materialism.”  Turner is aware that Aquinas was not a materialist in the modern sense.  And as I have emphasized many times (such as at the beginning of the chapter on Aquinas’s philosophical psychology in Aquinas), you cannot understand Aquinas’s position unless you understand how badly suited the standard jargon in contemporary philosophy of mind is to describe that position.  Turner’s reference to Aquinas’s “materialism” is intended to emphasize the respects in which Aquinas’s position is deeply at odds with what many think of as essential to a “dualist” conception of human nature.  And he is right to emphasize that.  All the same, as I have argued before, if we are going to use modern terminology to characterize Aquinas’s view -- and in particular, if we want to make it clear where Aquinas stood on the issue that contemporary dualists and materialists themselves think is most crucially at stake in the debate between dualism and materialism -- then “dualist” is a more apt label than “materialist.”

When philosophers and theologians whose formation is in classical and medieval thought and who lack much familiarity with contemporary analytic philosophy hear the word “dualism,” they tend automatically to think of Platonism.  That is to say, they tend to associate “dualism” with the view that a human being is essentially an immaterial soul, that the body is not only extrinsic to human nature but even a kind of prison from which the soul needs to be liberated, and that the natural orientation of the soul’s cognitive powers is toward the realm of Platonic abstract ideas rather than concrete material reality.  Now, Aquinas was definitely not a “dualist” in this sense.  As Turner rightly emphasizes, Aquinas regarded animality and thus corporeality as no less a part of our nature than our intellectual powers are, and he took our cognitive faculties to be naturally oriented toward the material world.  The body is not a prison but essential to us, so that without his body a human being is radically incomplete.

However, when philosophers whose formation was in contemporary analytic philosophy hear the word “dualism,” what they tend automatically to think of is the view that the human mind is at least partially irreducible to or inexplicable in terms of anything corporeal.  And when they hear the word “materialism,” they tend automatically to think of the view that the human mind is entirely reducible to or explicable in terms of the corporeal.  So, the assertion that Aquinas was not a “dualist” but was more like a “materialist” is bound to sound, to the typical contemporary academic philosopher, like the claim that Aquinas thought that there is no incorporeal aspect to human nature -- that human beings are, like other animals, entirely corporeal.  And that is certainly not what Aquinas thought.  He puts forward many arguments purporting to show that the human intellect is incorporeal.  So, given current usage, it is misleading to deny that Aquinas was a “dualist,” and extremely misleading to say that he was a “materialist.”  He clearly was a kind of dualist, in the modern sense of “dualism,” and clearly was not a materialist, given the sense typically attached to “materialism.”

One reason this is not sufficiently clear from Turner’s discussion is that Turner gives the impression that the main difference between Aquinas and contemporary materialism is that Aquinas, unlike materialists, regarded all matter as conjoined with form.  As Turner sums up what he takes to be the key issue, it is because material things have form that they can on Aquinas’s view be “alive with meaning,” whereas matter as the contemporary materialist conceives of it is “meaninglessly dumb” or devoid of any inherent meaning (p. 97).  The impression Turner leaves the reader with is that as long as we beef up our conception of a material thing so that it includes the Aristotelian notion of form, then Aquinas’s position can plausibly be called “materialist.” 

But that is simply not all there is to the difference between Aquinas and modern materialism, even if it is an important part of the story.  To be sure, Aquinas does think that purely corporeal things can possess what Turner calls “meaning” by virtue of having the forms they do.  For example, a bird is purely corporeal, and its bodily organs and activities have the “meanings” they do because the matter that makes up the bird has the substantial form of a bird rather than the form of some other thing.  For example, the bird has visual experiences which represent objects in its environment, and its wings serve the function of allowing it to fly.  Because Aquinas’s notion of matter is Aristotelian (rather than the desiccated notion of matter the modern materialist has inherited from Descartes and Co.) -- in particular, because he affirms immanent formal and final causes -- there is for him nothing mysterious about how a purely material substance could possess features like intentionality and teleology.

But in Aquinas’s view, the “meaning” of which rational animals are capable goes well beyond the “directedness” toward an end of which sub-rational animals, merely vegetative forms of life, and indeed even inorganic processes are capable.  For rational animals possess mental states with conceptual content.  This is what distinguishes intellect from the sensation and imagination of which non-human animals are capable.  And in Aquinas’s view (as Turner himself notes), strictly intellectual activity does not have a bodily organ but is essentially incorporeal.  That the human soul possesses this incorporeal activity alongside its corporeal activities is the reason why Aquinas thinks that the human soul can (unlike the souls of non-human animals) persist beyond the death of the body, and also why he thinks it cannot have been derived from our parents but must be specially created by God.

So, that he affirms that natural objects are composites of form and matter is by no means the only thing that sets Aquinas apart from modern materialists.  That intellectual activity is essentially incorporeal or non-bodily, that the human soul survives the death of the body, and that it must be specially created by God are, needless to say, all theses that the contemporary materialist would also firmly reject.  Meanwhile, contemporary dualists would affirm some or all of these theses.  So, to say: “Aquinas thought the human soul was incorporeal, survives the death of the body, and must be specially created by God -- but he was a materialist, and not a dualist!”… to say that would, really, be beyond misleading.  To most modern readers, it cannot fail to sound utterly bizarre, indeed incoherent. 

Part of the problem here is that Turner, like many others, treats Aquinas’s claim that the soul is the form of the body as if it were terribly mysterious.  For how can the soul be the form of the body and yet persist beyond the death of the body?  Some deal with this purported mystery by emphasizing the soul’s persistence beyond death, and interpreting Aquinas as if he were, at bottom, “really” a kind of Platonist or Cartesian.  Turner, in effect, deals with it by emphasizing the soul’s status as the form of the body, and interprets Aquinas as if he were “really” a kind of materialist.

The error in both cases, I would suggest, is that when Aquinas says that:

(1) The soul is the form of the body

both sorts of readers at least implicitly interpret him as meaning that:

(2) The soul is the form of a substance which is entirely bodily or corporeal.

As a result they are puzzled when Aquinas goes on to say that the soul persists beyond the death of the body.  For how, on an Aristotelian account, could the form of a corporeal substance persist when that substance is gone?  Hence, they conclude, either Aquinas at bottom really thinks, or if he were consistent ought to think, that the soul is not the form of the body but rather a substance in its own right; or at bottom he really thinks, or if he were consistent ought to think, that the soul is the form of the body and thus that it does not persist beyond the death of the body; or Aquinas really thinks both things and is therefore just not consistent.

But there is no inconsistency, because (1) simply does not entail (2), and Aquinas would reject (2).  For in Aquinas’s view, the human soul is the form of a substance, that substance is a human being, and a human being has both corporeal and incorporeal operations.  Hence the soul is not the form of a substance which is entirely bodily or corporeal.  Rather, it is the form of a substance which is corporeal in some respects and incorporeal in others.  Now, those corporeal respects are the ones summed up in the phrase “the body.”  Hence the soul is, naturally, the form of the body.  But it simply doesn’t follow that the soul is the form of a substance which is exhausted by its body, viz. by its bodily operations.

This is why there is nothing terribly mysterious about why the soul, as Aquinas understands it, can persist beyond the death of the body.  For the substance of which the soul is the form does not go out of existence with the death of the body.  Rather, the corporeal or bodily operations of that substance cease, while the incorporeal operations continue.  To be sure, the substance in question has been severely reduced or damaged; that is why Aquinas thinks of the disembodied soul as an “incomplete substance.”  But an incomplete substance is not a non-substance.  Thus, to say that the soul persists beyond the death of the body is not to say that the form of a substance persists after the substance has gone out of existence (which certainly would be a very mysterious thing for an Aristotelian like Aquinas to say!)

That a human being is this unique, indeed very weird sort of substance -- corporeal in some respects and incorporeal in others -- is what makes us different from, on the one hand, non-human animals (which are entirely corporeal) and on the other hand, angels (which are entirely incorporeal).  Platonists and Cartesians essentially assimilate human beings to angels, whereas materialists essentially assimilate human beings to non-human animals.  Aquinas rejects both views.  All the same, since to be a “dualist,” as that term is typically used today, it suffices to affirm that human beings have both corporeal and incorporeal features, there is obviously a clear sense in which Aquinas is a dualist.  And since affirming that human beings have incorporeal features -- not to mention affirming that there are purely incorporeal substances, viz. angels -- would suffice to keep one from being a “materialist” on pretty much any construal of “materialism,” it seems no less clear that Aquinas was not a materialist.

So, it seems to me that Turner’s use of the term, though understandable in light of those aspects of Aquinas’s position he rightly wants to emphasize, is ill-advised.  All the same, you cannot fail to learn from Turner’s book even when you disagree with him.

(For more on Aquinas’s philosophical psychology, see, among the many posts on the mind-body problem collected here, those devoted to the subject of Thomistic or hylemorphic dualism.)

51 comments:

TD said...

Something I am unclear about on the Thomistic account- how do we understand consciousness? It seems that consciousness, i.e. the first-person subjective experience, is impossible to reduce to the functioning of the material organ, the brain. But animals are conscious, and I have seen it said that imagination/sensation are bodily rather than immaterial.

I don't see how hylomorphism solves the problem. It seems to me that on any conception of matter, first-person subjective experience, whether it be intellectual or imagination, etc. is necessarily incorporeal.

Thoughts?

Daniel said...

Strictly speaking Thomas ontology contains nothing like 'Matter' as understood by the moderns. So commentators can be sensible and acknowledge this OR go down the more fun route and claim with horror that: @OMG Aquinas waz Idealist@!!@!'.

I think there is an element of duplicitous in the way some writers on Thomas emphasis how 'Physicalist' he was as part of a cynical ploy to use the Christian doctrine of a bodily resurrection as an olive branch to modern Physicalism. Ohh the 'ghost in the machine', the 'ghost in the machine' I tell thee!. There’s a deeply unappealing side to Thomism which comes out on such occasions as on others.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we accepted for the sake of the argument that Brentano and Thomas own interpretation of Aristotle was broadly correct. The individual Rational Soul, that which is immortal and godlike in us, which we are encouraged to cultivate and bring as close to the divine as possible, persists after death, however there's no question of a physical resurrection.

@TD,

Out of interest have you read Ed's Intro to Philosophy of Mind? Consciousness itself only becomes such a mystery if one has decided beforehand that the physical world is devoid of all qualities and powers, that the only 'thing there is' to matter is quantity and extension. Ed acknowledges that if a Materialist were to adopt a more Aristotelian understanding of material substances as being possessed of immanent causality, the 'physical intentionality' of Australian metaphysics, then they might be able to account for the lower mental operations in 'material' terms.

(C.B. Martin and John Heil are materialists who have arguably gone down this route)

Anonymous said...

@Thomists,

Is a caterpillar essentially a caterpillar?

Jakub Moravčík said...

The body is not a prison but essential to us, so that without his body a human being is radically incomplete.

What is the meaning of the term "essential" here? As far as I am used to its meaning, the quoted sentence does not make sense. Because for me to be "essential" means "to persist all the time", something, that makes the being what it is in its deepest identity. But then we have here no "radical incompleteness" of substance, but no substance at all. And in this meaning of "essential" human body (as far as it necesarilly means matter quantified by quantity) really isn´t essential for human being.

So if there is something really mysterious, then this weird term "incomplete substance". I do not think anything such exists and I even think it is something similar to "rounded square". Second thing that puzzles me is dr. Feser´s interpretation of relation of body and soul concerning the soul as the form of a body. If the soul is not form of the body but of the substance with corporeal and incorpreal aspects, then I am really inclined to agree (and it seems it would solve theological problem of whether we can call Christ´s body a "body" during the time it was lying in the grave), but as far as I know thomism, it is really not thomistic thought. It goes beyond.

Daniel said...

@Jakob,

Given the way Thomists and Aristotelian generally uphold a difference between a being's essence and the powers (Real properties or 'proper accidents') which flow from said essence I don't think that usage of the phrase 'essential' is problematic. A human suffering from serve brain injury stills counts as essentially Rational even though they are incapable of manifesting the subsequent powers; the same would hold for having a body.

Anonymous said...

What seems to differentiate is the term substance. I'm not sure if I'm using the terms correctly, but for substance dualists the human person is a composite of two substances: one material and the other immaterial. Materialists hack off the immaterial part while idealists hack off the material part. Aquinas and Aristotle, however, insist that there is only one substance that has aspects that are immaterial and material. And when he says that the soul is the form of the body, he includes those immaterial aspects of the human substance as well.

But isn't this unclear? Couldn't he have just said, the soul is the form of the human substance, which includes incorporeal and corporal aspects? Or perhaps one could say what had been clear to Aquinas' immediate audience is no longer clear to us today, so we ought to abandone this terminology?

Cheers,
Daniel

Jakub Moravčík said...

Daniel

I really do not think that the analogy essence - powers (flowing from essence) : substance - material body is appropriate. Having a body is not analogical to having a power. The analogy in my opinion fails also in that aspect that while we (people) have often seen human with working and human with non-working brain - both had body - we have never seen (and principially cannot see) human without having a body. From this point of view, positing the disembodied human existence is purely speculative and for experimentally tuned philosophers plausibly not much persuasive.

So I would back using the term essential more clearly and distinctively.

Jakub Moravčík said...

Anon:

Couldn't he have just said, the soul is the form of the human substance, which includes incorporeal and corporal aspects?

At first sight - agree (I´ll see how about the second :-) )

Daniel said...

@Jakob,

Okay, the first point seems the important one.

Having a body is not analogical to having a power.

How so? I would thinking organising a disparate bundle of elements into part of a substantial whole (you might say in using the term part I've conceded Anon's point which I'd agree on anyway) and acting as its principle of development and functions isn't an implausible analogy.

The analogy in my opinion fails also in that aspect that while we (people) have often seen human with working and human with non-working brain - both had body - we have never seen (and principally cannot see) human without having a body. From this point of view, positing the disembodied human existence is purely speculative and for experimentally tuned philosophers plausibly not much persuasive.

Technically speaking we never directly perceive anyone with a mind at any rate (the brain doesn't matter). As for 'experimentally tuned philosophers' that's just a statement of sub-positivist preference for 'verification'

Jakub Moravčík said...

Daniel

You could have a power which is disfunctioned (without an ability to manifest itself) because of some corporeal damage. But you cannot be an in-this-world-living-human who do not have a body. While the power can be unable to manifest itself, the body always manifests itself by its sole being (although, for example, totally imobile).

Anonymous said...

i am a total newbie to all this but i love it; i am reading all your posts one by one from newest to oldest!

Timocrates said...

Great post Professor Feser. Thank you for sharing it!

I have some questions in this regard that I think might help Aristotelians and Scholastics engage with the thinking of modern man.

We understand that all corporeal or material substances are hylemorphic. But we argue that this does not mean that when such a substance ceases, the formal or immaterial principle persists or continues to exist.

Let us take the example of a wooden box. Aristotelians would say that the box has acquired the accidental form of a box – accidental, that is, with reference to the wood. When the wood, owing to entropy say, becomes unshaped, then the form of the box is lost and ceases to exist. So far, I think, all is good.

But what about the form in the unshaped wood? For we said that all material or corporeal substances are hylemorphic. Thus, even unshaped wood has a form. Now, it was perhaps easiest in the example of a wooden box for the modern to see a formal principle (albeit an accidental one) in the wood. He may therefore be tempted to think of the formal principle in the wood after losing its box form to now be the unshaped or its being unshaped. But unless I am terrible mistaken, the unshaped doesn’t designate a form but rather the lack thereof; that is, a privation of form.

What seems to remain, therefore, for the formal principle of unshaped wood would just be something like woodneness (so to speak) itself. And the only way to really make this plain would be to point out that matter is not necessarily found or bound to be in the form of wood. It could, alternatively, be any number of other material substances.

But on this account, the explanation of wood seems impoverished in some way: for the material principle necessary for wood just seems to be “matter” on this account. It would also seem mistaken to name the virtual properties of this matter to be the material principle: that, I think, is a serious error and not one Aristotle would have liked. The material principle of things for Aristotle was just what was to some extent actually there. For example, in the statue, it was the bronze that it was made of though, of course, bronze itself is made *from* two other, different metals. The material principle for Aristotle is what the thing is actually made *of* - not what that, in turn, was made *from*. Thus bricks, woods, stone or whatever are the material of this or that house; flesh and bones the material of this or that large animal, and so forth. Hence the material principle of wood should not be confused with what wood is made from, which things are only virtually present in the matter.

What, then, should be designated as the material principle of wood? A body?

Thanks to anyone for any feedback or input!

Scott said...

@Timocrates:

"The material principle for Aristotle is what the thing is actually made *of* - not what that, in turn, was made *from*. Thus bricks, woods, stone or whatever are the material of this or that house; flesh and bones the material of this or that large animal, and so forth. Hence the material principle of wood should not be confused with what wood is made from, which things are only virtually present in the matter."

At first look it seems to me that the answer depends on whether or not wood is a substance. If it is, then there's no reason its material principle can't be things that are only virtually present in it, any more than there's a problem that a certain combination of hydrogen and oxygen constitutes the material principle of water. If it isn't and wood is a mere aggregate, then it's composed of certain parts just as a sedimentary rock is made of smaller bits of various other types of rock.

(And I do mean wood here, not, say, lumber. A wooden board is an artifact, and it doesn't seem to pose a problem either: its material principle is just the wood of and from which it's made, just as a brick house is made of bricks.)

Scott said...

(Sorry, my quotation from Timocrates was meant to include the actual question: "What, then, should be designated as the material principle of wood?")

Timocrates said...

@ Scott,

Thank you for indulging me.

I think I still see problems with an emphasis on virtual properties. We certainly don’t make bronze or steel because of their virtual properties: to the extent that they are virtual, they are not even active but only potential. Rather we make things like bronze, steel and bricks because of the actual properties they have when realized.

Nor do I think wood is an aggregate. A pile of something is certainly an aggregate, but wood (while definitely divisible) is a whole in its own nature (not a pile of something). To be sure, while a pile of something, say rocks, can be reduced to a single rock, and perhaps that remaining rock, in turn, can be broken into its component substances, what you will have at some point is a certain something that is just divisible, even if it is definitely potentially something else (say through subjection to some chemical process). And it was also always actually there in the pile, in virtue of being in a member of that pile, the final rock. But such a thing would ultimately have to be a substance.

Wood, however, does not seem to be that kind of material (an aggregate composition of substances), certainly not when it is the matter of a tree (for then the tree too would be an aggregate composition of substances), anymore than bone is in man. For there would seem to be two possibilities here: the form is accidental because it is in fact two or more different substances, one; or two, the form is accidental (as in the case of a pile or stack) because there are many instances of a single substance. “Aggregates” in the sense you use it seem to designate “one”. But what are the present, different substances in this piece of wood (or lumber)? We can eliminate “two,” as this would require us to designate the number of wood/lumber in a piece of wood/lumber. I look at a brick wall, and I find brick, mortar (“one” – but even here they are still the material principle of the wall); but I look at that piece of lumber, and what are the substances there, if strictly “one”? To be sure, there are no shortage of potentially other substances in wood, charcoal say. But that is only potential.

… I think here we need to discuss what does and does not count as a substance. A wooden box, for instance, while possessing an accidental form, is for all that still a substance or, at the very least, something substantial (indeed, everything would ultimately have to be substantial to be real at some point). It at the very least would seem to have an independent being in its own right. In this regard, let us grant that wood (or lumber) is substance to avoid unnecessary confusion or digression. Do we say, then, that the wooden box is an artificial substance, or a natural substance considered as having an accidental, artificial form? It would seem strange, on consideration, to say that being in the shape of a box is in any way accidental to being a wooden box; rather, that would seem necessary by definition: a wooden box is just a box made of wood. Is the wooden box, then (and remembering we have granted that wood/lumber is substance) substance (albeit artificial)? I would also stress that the box isn’t made from wood, for this manner of speaking seems to imply the production of something new and different. For me, to say a box comes from wood sounds like saying charcoal comes from wood; but surely boxes as such are unlike charcoal; and indeed, on Aristotle’s account it seems, if the box comes “from” anything as such, it is rather from the box-maker (the efficient cause). The wood, that is, definitely does not produce the box: that would seem to imply an intrinsic, active orientation to becoming a box in the wood.

Kiel said...

Thanks Ed, a helpful post. A question for all: would an instance of a human substance lacking corporiality still be a composite of act and potency? Matter is the principle accounting for instantiation, so I believe my answer is in the affirmative.

If this true, I think I can finally get off the ground and start make sense of purgatory and how an immaterial thing can wait for some amount of time (time, perhaps controversially, understood as progressing through a sequence of changes).

John West said...

Kiel,

Thanks Ed, a helpful post. A question for all: would an instance of a human substance lacking corporiality still be a composite of act and potency?

Affirmative. The corporality just wouldn't be in act.

Mr. Green said...

Timocrates: I have some questions [that] might help Aristotelians and Scholastics engage with the thinking of modern man

…but who wants to be engaged to a modern man?!


What, then, should be designated as the material principle of wood?

Prime matter, of course!

We don’t make bronze or steel because of their virtual properties: to the extent that they are virtual, they are not even active but only potential.

Au contraire; the properties are quite active, and actual. To say that water is virtual oxygen+hydrogen is not to say it has some potential to be like O or H; it actually is that way, it has certain active powers (virtues)—powers that happen to be like the powers of oxygen and hydrogen. It also so happens that water contains potential oxygen and hydrogen insofar as it is possible for it to undergo a process in which O and H are produced (and the molecule of water annihilated), but that's something else. It's possible for an X to have the powers of Y without having any potential to "become" (or be substantially replaced by) a Y, and it's possible for an X to produce a Y without having Y-like powers itself. Consider "virtual reality": a computer-generated virtual world has the powers of a real world (at least the same sensory powers—it looks, sounds, etc. like a real world), but it doesn't have any power to become or give way to such a world becoming actual.

the form is accidental because it is in fact two or more different substances [or] because there are many instances of a single substance.

There isn't "the" form of anything, because everything has multiple forms: one substantial, and a bunch of accidental forms on top of that. (At least, any physical substance has accidents… at a minimum the accident of being in this location rather than that.) It is the accidental forms that distinguish different instances of the same substantial form.

everything would ultimately have to be substantial to be real at some point

Yes, everything is composed of substance(s)—a box could be carved out of a single block of wood, and in that sense might be a single substance (though qua box it's still an artifact, because it's boxiness is an accident). Most wooden boxes are probably made out of multiple pieces of wood, and so composed of multiple substances (albeit substances that are multiple instances of one and the same substantial form).

a wooden box is just a box made of wood.

Indeed, being box-shaped is essential to being a (wooden) box, but not to being a (wooden) substance. The shape is accidental to the substance [the piece of wood qua wood], but not to the artifact [the box qua box]. The box is truly artificial, and it is correct to say it's made from wood, even if you didn't do anything to the wood other than use it as a box (or even intend to use it as a box). Perhaps a better example is a rock: you don't need to do anything to a rock to make it into a paperweight; but qua paperweight, it is still an artifact: the form, or final cause, of weighing down your papers is something you imposed on it externally. A rock in the middle of nowhere, untouched by human hands, does not possess the form of paperweightiness of its own nature.

to say a box comes from wood sounds like saying charcoal comes from wood [it] does not produce the box: that would seem to imply an intrinsic, active orientation to becoming a box in the wood.

We could say the box is made out of wood. "Comes from" can mean "consists of" or "was changed into". All the four causes of a thing are rightly called causes. The wood does have a passive intrinsic orientation to becoming boxy, after all—that's what makes it possible to makes boxes out of wood. Or, stones are intrinsically weighty, which is what makes it so easy to turn one into a paperweight without doing anything to the stone.

John said...

I'm just a Thomistic beginner, but I've got a few questions related to this topic:
1. Aquinas thought that the human intellectual activity was incorporeal and indestructible. If I understand correctly from Feser's Philosophy of Mind and his posts here, Aquinas thought the mind was indestructible *because* it is incorporeal. Does this necessarily follow? Sure we don't know how something incorporeal would be destroyed, but that doesn't mean it can't be.
2. I can sort of see saying how the soul as the essence of a human being could persist beyond the death of the body naturally. I have a harder time seeing how it could be said that the intellect and the consciousness persist beyond the death of the body naturally. When the brain is placed under anesthesia, the intellect ceases to function and we are not conscious of time passing. As far as we know, there was a time jump from, say, 1:00 (when they put the needle in our arm) to 5:00, when we came out of surgery. The same is also true of the normal deep sleep we go through every day (although that's surrounded by sleep where you are to some extent aware of time passing).

Now when you undergo anesthesia, your essence does persist (you're not a different person when you wake up). But your consciousness does seem to be fully dependent on the brain.

Therefore, I would think that the only reasonable conclusion is that naturally, perhaps we can argue that some essence of you would persist after bodily death, but I don't think we can say that consciousness would persist. And if consciousness doesn't persist, then from your subjective perspective, it's the same as if you ceased to exist, up until you "come out of anesthesia".

This of course, wouldn't be fatal for Christianity- you could still believe in a SUPERnatural resurrection. This would entail your essence persisting after the death of your body and then your consciousness being recovered once your body was re-created.

Is there something I'm missing? Why should we believe that consciousness continues to exist without the body? Or did Aquinas et al. think that the soul naturally would continue to exist after death but wouldn't be conscious of its own existence, like a patient under anesthesia?

TD said...

@Daniel

Yes I have read Philosophy of Mind. I think it is an excellent book, and I agree with most of what it says. But it doesn't seem to clear things up in this regard: I see consciousness just as much of a problem for Aristotle as it is for anyone else.

The issue isn't the objectivity of "redness" in the external world. The problem is that subjective consciousness seems irreducibly first-person no matter what metaphysics we bring into the discussion.

DJ Jazzy Cornelius said...

TD's criticism is something that has been bothering me for some time. This seems to be a point on which A-T is, if not wrong, incomplete. But JP Moreland offers a sort of synthesis of the (roughly speaking) Thomist and Cartesian positions, which I find compelling.

Scott said...

@TD:

"It seems that consciousness, i.e. the first-person subjective experience, is impossible to reduce to the functioning of the material organ, the brain."

Sure. Subjective experience is part of the functioning of a substance (the animal itself), not just of one or another of its physical organs.

"But animals are conscious, and I have seen it said that imagination/sensation are bodily rather than immaterial."

Sure, but why the "but"? Imagination and sensation require bodily organs; that doesn't mean they're reducible to the operation of those organs.

"The problem is that subjective consciousness seems irreducibly first-person no matter what metaphysics we bring into the discussion."

Sure, it's irreducibly first-person. But why is that a "problem"?

Mr. Green said...

John: Aquinas thought the mind was indestructible *because* it is incorporeal. Does this necessarily follow? Sure we don't know how something incorporeal would be destroyed, but that doesn't mean it can't be.

The mind, or intellect, can be annihilated — God made it come into existence, He can make it go out again — but it cannot be destroyed, that is, litterally, un-built (de- + struere, to build). The intellect is not material, so it is not built out of a collection of parts, so there are no parts to be separated. (I don't recall if Aquinas uses "destruere" in Latin, but he does say "corrupt", to break apart, which is the same idea. Physical things can dis⎯integrate into their component pieces, but an immaterial thing can only exist or not.)

When the brain is placed under anesthesia, the intellect ceases to function

Ceasing to function and ceasing to exist are two different things, so there's no problem there.

Now when you undergo anesthesia, your essence does persist (you're not a different person when you wake up). But your consciousness does seem to be fully dependent on the brain.

Well, it certainly is dependent on phantasms, which normally come through our brain (or body/senses). So it follows that our intellectual and conscious activity cannot continue on in the same way after death and loss of the body, and this is just what Aquinas claims. Of course, it may be replaced with a different sort of activity, which is what Thomas also claims. The disembodied soul doesn't know particulars, because that requires the senses, but it knows universals — and itself, since the soul is immediately present to itself, and in fact it knows itself better in death than when embodied because it no longer has bodily "distractions". It's also possible for the soul to have infused knowledge imparted directly by God. At any rate, Aquinas is clear that whatever it is like to be disembodied, it is an unnatural state for a human to be in.

Scott said...

@Timocrates:

Mr. Green has given a pretty thorough reply, so for now I'll just emphasize one point (in common with him) and add another.

"I think I still see problems with an emphasis on virtual properties."

I didn't mention "virtual properties" and I'm not sure what they're supposed to be. As Mr. Green says, there's no real question about whether properties are active and actual.

"Wood, however, does not seem to be that kind of material (an aggregate composition of substances), certainly not when it is the matter of a tree[.]"

We're surely not talking about wood when it's the matter of a tree. A tree is a substance; to whatever extent wood (regarded as a separate sort of stuff) is part of its "material," the wood exists virtually in the tree. If we're concerned about the material cause of wood itself, we must be considering wood as something in its own right, whether it's a substance or an aggregate of substances.

John said...

Mr. Green,
Perhaps I was unclear. When you go under anesthesia, you have no phantasms, no dreams, no sense of self. You have an immediate shift from time A to time B. If that went on infinitely, your subjective experience would cease to exist. There are many other things that can go wrong with your brain that can cause unconsciousness will also make you unaware of the passing of time and unaware of your own existence. As I said, deep sleep also does this.
If things like general anesthesia and deep sleep (i.e. partial suspension of brain function) mean a loss of sense of self, consciousness, and intellectual function in life, why would we think that a complete cessation of brain function would allow for a sense of self, consciousness, and intellectual functions to continue?
Again, maybe there is some essence that would continue naturally without the body, but I don't see why Aquinas or anyone else would think of that essence as being conscious without the brain given that during life consciousness seems to be brain dependent.
Was his thinking something along the lines of "a damaged body can prevent clear thinking by the mind, but a dead body can't"?

TD said...

@Scott:
"Sure, but why the "but"? Imagination and sensation require bodily organs; that doesn't mean they're reducible to the operation of those organs."

That seems to go against the A-T theory. Because if consciousness is not reducible to brain activity, then it seems as though it is not material at all. Which then it would be immaterial.

I agree consciousness requires operation of a body. I even think intellectual activity ordinarily does. But that is because the way humans are wired, it still makes sense to say intellectual activity transcends the physical, and so does subjective experience more broadly.

I think it makes sense to say consciousness is immaterial, because of the very fact that it is irreducibly first-person and it doesn't make sense to me to say that matter (even on an A-T conception) gives rise to, produces, accounts for, or explains this phenomenon.

That is the problem as I see it.

Anonymous said...

"...it doesn't make sense to me to say that matter (even on an A-T conception) gives rise to, produces, accounts for, or explains this phenomenon."

I am pretty sure that A-T does not make this claim. It posits an abstracting function that somehow universalizes (dematerializes or departicularizes???) the concrete sense images and impressions. That abstracting functionality is not a material process.

I am pretty sure the Aquinas believes this ability requires special creation from God.

Hopefully the folks much more knowledgeable than I am will confirm/elaborate.

Cheers,
Daniel

Anonymous said...

"...I see consciousness just as much of a problem for Aristotle as it is for anyone else."

I see what you are saying. The Aristotelian scheme, however, may be more accurate in describing the interplay between the material and immaterial aspects of the human substance though.

Cheers,
Daniel

Scott said...

@TD:

"[I]t doesn't make sense to me to say that matter (even on an A-T conception) gives rise to, produces, accounts for, or explains this phenomenon."

Nor does A-T say otherwise; quite the contrary, in fact.

A-T is top-down about this stuff, whereas you're still implicitly taking a bottom-up approach even as you acknowledge the A-T conception of matter. The "sensitive soul" (substantial form of a conscious substance) doesn't come from its matter.

Glenn said...

John West,

Was his thinking something along the lines of "a damaged body can prevent clear thinking by the mind, but a dead body can't"?

Until such time as the original recipient of the question (Mr. Green) has time to answer:

1. The answer seems to be, "Yes."

2. Well, if the answer is, "Yes," doesn't the question then become, "How can it be that a damaged body -- i.e., a partially functioning body -- can interfere with 'clear thinking', while a dead body -- i.e., a wholly non-function body -- either cannot or does not?"

3. Yes, that then becomes the question.

4. As I thought. So, what is the answer to that question?

5. Think of it this way. The take off and departure phases of a plane's flight are handled by a TRACON ATC (TRACON: Terminal Radar Approach Control; ATC: air traffic controller).

During these two phases, the pilot is reliant upon input from the TRACON ATC.

But at some point after departure (or to mark the end of the departure phase), the TRACON ATC transfers control to an ATC of the ARTCC (ARTCC: Air Route Traffic Control Center).

6. Hm. Interesting. I think. But I also think it is a non-sequitur. What's more, I think it is an unhelpful non-sequitur. Maybe I'm talking to the wrong person.

7. Well, the transfer of control is known as a 'hand off'. And after the 'hand off', the pilot no longer is reliant upon input from the TRACON ATC; he is, rather, then reliant upon input from the ARTCC ATC (which has replaced the TRACON ATC).

Now, it is unlikely that Aquinas knew much about planes -- at least not much about the non-Euclidean type of plane involved in the apparent non-sequitur. But he did seem to fathom the concept of a 'hand off':

"The human soul has two modes of intellective understanding. When united with the body, the first mode of intellection occurs through the abstraction of forms from the phantasms provided by the senses. When separated from the body, the second mode of intellective understanding occurs in which divine illumination replaces the absent senses." -- Reading the Summa: Question 89 – A Separated Soul's Cognition.

John West said...

Glenn,

You quoted me: Was his thinking something along the lines of "a damaged body can prevent clear thinking by the mind, but a dead body can't"?

Where did I write that?

John West said...

Oh, I see what happened. Okay, just to clarify guys: I'm not John. I'm John West (I always include the last name to avoid confusion caused by such a common first name).

John West said...

... Thanks for the reply though, actually. It inadvertently cleared up another question I'd been pondering.

Glenn said...

John West,

Where did I write that?

Oh, I see what happened. Okay, just to clarify guys: I'm not John.

Ah. Sorry about that. I had -- wrongly -- assumed the surname just wan't included. My apologies.

Anonymous said...

Hi Glenn,

Given what Aquinas says in your quote:

"The human soul has two modes of intellective understanding. When united with the body, the first mode of intellection occurs through the abstraction of forms from the phantasms provided by the senses. When separated from the body, the second mode of intellective understanding occurs in which divine illumination replaces the absent senses." -- Reading the Summa: Question 89 – A Separated Soul's Cognition."

Would it be fair to say that the soul's continued operation after death is an article of faith? I mean, there is nothing inherent in Aritotle's philosophy that mentions the fact the divine illumination replaces the absent senses.

Cheers,
Daniel (as opposed to the much more knowledgeable Daniel said...)

John West said...

Glenn,

No worries. It happens all the time. We have, what, like four Daniels now? If they ever change how they sign their posts, I don't know what I'll do.

Glenn said...

Anonymous (Daniel),

Would it be fair to say that the soul's continued operation after death is an article of faith? I mean, there is nothing inherent in Aritotle's philosophy that mentions the fact the divine illumination replaces the absent senses.

An article of faith is a firmly held belief. But a firmly held belief may or may not be grounded in Aristotle's philosophy. And a firmly held belief is not excluded from being an article of faith simply because it is grounded in said philosophy. Yet the wording of your question seems to imply that only that which isn't grounded in Aristotle's philosophy can be an article of faith. So, I'm not clear on what your getting at with the question.

DJ Jazzy Cornelius said...

Scott,

A-T is top-down about this stuff, whereas you're still implicitly taking a bottom-up approach even as you acknowledge the A-T conception of matter. The "sensitive soul" (substantial form of a conscious substance) doesn't come from its matter.

In this case, how is panpsychism ruled out?

Anonymous said...

"An article of faith is a firmly held belief. But a firmly held belief may or may not be grounded in Aristotle's philosophy. And a firmly held belief is not excluded from being an article of faith simply because it is grounded in said philosophy. Yet the wording of your question seems to imply that only that which isn't grounded in Aristotle's philosophy can be an article of faith. So, I'm not clear on what your getting at with the question."

Hi Glenn,

Thanks for responding.

I certainly agree that articles of faith can have various motivating factors or preambles in support of them, including scientific evidence, the authority of God as revealed in sacred scripture, Aristotle's philosophy, or even personal mystical experiences.

I suppose my question is about Aquinas' position. He sometimes, but not always, distinguishes between what can be proven by philosophy and what is only accessible through revelation. In this case, it seems the divine illumination is something he believes in through revelation.

Cheers,
Daniel

Anonymous said...

Clarification ....the divine illumination replaces the absent senses that is.

Glenn said...

Anonymous (Daniel),

Okay, I see what you're saying.

However much divine revelation may be involved in the stance taken by St. Thomas on the matter, he does, in fact, start with an appeal to Aristotle in his enunciation of that stance.

(See "On the contrary..." -- and follow his navigations through some difficulties in "I answer that..." -- here.)

Anonymous said...

What Ed said in this regard is interesting:

"That the human soul possesses this incorporeal activity alongside its corporeal activities is the reason why Aquinas thinks that the human soul can (unlike the souls of non-human animals) persist beyond the death of the body, and also why he thinks it cannot have been derived from our parents but must be specially created by God."

So what Aristotle brings to the table, for Aquinas, is proofs that the soul must have an immaterial aspect due to its immaterial activities. This is the foundation for his other ideas on the immortality of the soul, the soul requiring special creation, and the soul's activity being enabled by divine illumination after death.

Cheers,
Daniel

Timocrates said...

@ Mr. Green,

Thank you for your reply.

"It's possible for an X to have the powers of Y without having any potential to "become" (or be substantially replaced by) a Y, and it's possible for an X to produce a Y without having Y-like powers itself"

Agreed, and those Y-like powers would be virtual properties in my mind; as a tree could be understood, because of the wood in it, to virtually contain some of the properties of a wooden house. This seems to ride closely with the Scholastic maxim that a thing cannot give what it does not have to give and also the principles of causation and sufficient reason. Of course, the unique properties or virtues of lumber don't exist until the tree is processed into actual lumber. I also agree that things can share properties or powers without being necessarily convertible, except taking the concept of prime matter for all material things to its extreme logical conclusion (i.e. matter can become any material thing or substance); and especially to "become" that thing, which in its strongest sense implies an intrinsic orientation to it. For example, there is something musical about some birds and whales; but this by no means implies that they will become human or vice-versa, just because humans can sometimes also become musical.

I would also like to stress though that even if we grant that certain things are really an aggregate of substances that they notwithstanding still must participate in a common form. A wooden box or a house still possesses a single form that makes it what it is, albeit accidental and extrinsically imposed.

Indeed, even atoms could be reduced to aggregate substances (say electrons, quarks (protons) and neutrons), with the necessary gravitational forces being a consequence or effect of the mass of the substances and not existing in its own right. Indeed, that example might help modern materialists to appreciate the concept of substance (and it may be why some materialists are inclined to rather reify gravity into something corporeal such as gravitons). We might say, then, that these things are substantial in virtue of the underlying substances sharing a common form, albeit accidental. But of course on such an account everything in ordinary experience is not substance, for even the elements of the period table are accidental beings of yet further underlying substances.

Scott said...

@DJ Jazzy Cornelius:

"In this case, how is panpsychism ruled out?"

I'm puzzled by this question, as I wasn't trying to rule out panpsychism and I don't see why A-T has to rule it out generally.

DJ Jazzy Cornelius said...

Oh. Well, carry on then.

Seriously though, thanks. I was being terse, but your comments on the other thread (and the link to Vallicella) address a lot of the questions I was working toward.

There's nothing like the moment one begins to grasp a big idea. Much appreciated.

Peter Hunter said...

There seems to me to be another part of the modern dualist position, which is there in property dualism as much as Cartesian dualism, and which is specifically denied by Aquinas, and that is that the right way to analyse people is in terms of (to speak crudely) an inside (mind) and an outside (body).

So he rejects Augustine's view of mind, which is exactly a concept of this kind, in favour of senses and passiones animae, which are bodily and an intellect and will which are not.

I've always thought it was a sign of how bad Kenny's book was that it's title was "Aquinas on Mind" - Aquinas avoids 'mens' except when quoting Augustine in favour of 'intellectus' which is something narrower.

Daniel said...

I know it might have hardline Thomists reaching for their smelling salts but I would be tempted to appeal to Descartes/Kripke's conceivability argument as a way of establishing the disembodied soul's cognition. We have proved beforehand that the soul is of necessity immaterial so the Functionalist Multiple Realisability objection to said argument has already been undercut.

Of Topic but I don't suppose anyone would have a PDf text of Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol II to hand would they? Specifically I need to get hold of the Leftow and Brower articles

John West said...

Daniel,

Check the "Web of Intrigue" comments.

jps said...

Isn't the meaning of 'substance' something of an issue here? I thought that the term was used in a very different sense in medieval times than what it is now - has a connotation much more like 'being' than 'stuff'; therefore a kind of first-person connotation rather than something simply or only objective.

Anonymous said...

I assume Thomism would deny the data on near death experience a priori? It seems the evidence for it though is rather good, albeit it suppressed due to a prevailing 'fundamaterialsm' around science.

Timocrates said...

@ Anonymous (April 4, 2015 at 6:03 AM),

The nature of such experiences can definitely help prove something of our spiritual nature, sure. Especially in the case of so-called brain death, the human mind shouldn't in principle be capable of even dreaming or hallucinating, as the necessary corporeal organs required for phantasms or imagination is no longer working. That points rather to something else providing the mind with what it needs to imagine or produce mental pictures, such as seeing "the light". Indeed, even in extreme cases of demonic attack human mental powers can be deeply obstructed, in the sense that our powers of memory and imagination begin to almost evaporate and we are reduced to barely being able to will something generic - say God or goodness. Even praying in these cases are difficult as adding or combining even syllables becomes difficult as sounds and memory are still dependent to some extent on the brain, but in spiritual attacks our corporeal nature is to some extent being overshadowed. That, or almost the opposite occurs as the presence of a purely spiritual being actually has the effect of powerfully heightening the realism of our imagination: hence dreams influenced by demons are terrifyingly and almost unnaturally real, which in its own right can be scary, let alone the fact that the demon(s) are terrorizing the poor soul. I sometimes wonder if movies such as the horror films with Freddy Kruger are based on experiences of demonic attack. One of the features of it is not only the profound realism of the dreams experienced but the fact of a powerful sense that waking up does not end the nightmare, but the presence is keenly felt to have followed you, so to speak, from the realm of dreams into the physical, natural world.