Sunday, January 31, 2021

Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia on soul-body interaction

The letters exchanged between Descartes and Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia – especially their 1643 exchange on the interaction problem – are among the best-known correspondences in the history of philosophy.  And justly so, for they help to elucidate the true nature of that crucial problem and the inadequacy of Descartes’ response to it.  Though I think that in at least one important respect, Elisabeth errs in her characterization of the issue.

You can find the relevant letters in several anthologies, such as Margaret Atherton’s (which is the source from which I’ll be quoting).  You can also find them online.  What follows is a summary of the key points in their back-and-forth, with some comments.

Round one

Elisabeth begins by noting that if we think of efficient causation on the model of one extended object making contact with another and pushing against it (which would have been natural for those working with the then-ascendant Mechanical Philosophy’s conception of matter), then the interaction between soul and body – when conceived of in Cartesian terms – is hard to understand.  For whereas Descartes takes the body to be pure extension, he takes the soul to be pure thought devoid of extension.  Elisabeth suggests that clarification requires an account of the nature of the substance of the soul, apart from its activity of thought.

Descartes responds by saying that our notions of the soul, of the body, and of the union of the two are each primitive, and that we must be careful not to attribute what is true of one of these to the others.  Now, this is what happens when we try to conceive of the manner in which the soul moves the body on the model of the way in which one physical object moves another.  This is, as philosophers would say today, a “category mistake,” and it seems that Descartes is implying that Elisabeth is guilty of such a mistake in formulating her puzzlement over the nature of soul-body interaction.

Descartes also suggests that such a category mistake is committed by the Aristotelians of his day who thought of physical objects as, by virtue of their weight, drawn toward the center of the earth – where it seems that it is the teleology or final causality posited by this account that he has primarily in mind.  He says that this account wrongly attributes to a physical object’s relation to the earth’s center what in fact holds of the body-soul relationship.  His point seems to be that while the notion of teleology has (in his view) no application in physics, it does provide us with a way of understanding how the soul acts on the body.

Descartes’ reply to Elisabeth is not entirely unhelpful.  Certainly he is right to emphasize that he would not say, and is not forced by his commitments to say, that soul-body interaction is correctly modeled on efficient causation between two physical substances.  However, his reply is not entirely helpful either…

Round two

In her response, Elisabeth suggests that it is not clear how the weight analogy provides a better model by which to understand how the soul moves the body.  And Descartes’ explanation is indeed not entirely lucid, though one can imagine ways to develop it that Elisabeth does not consider.  Presumably the analogy goes like this: On Aristotle’s model, the center of the earth is the end toward which a physical object moves by nature; and on Descartes’ model, the soul is the end toward which the body moves by nature.  And though Descartes rejects the teleological account of the movement of physical objects relative to the earth, teleology does provide a way of modeling the movement of the body relative to the soul.

In any case, though Descartes himself doesn’t explicitly say all that, it seems to me to be a way of interpreting him that accounts for why he would think the weight analogy at all helpful.  But immediately, problems arise.  Part of the point of Descartes’ adoption of a mechanistic conception of matter was to get teleology out of it.  But now he seems to be putting teleology back into matter again, at least for the purpose of solving the interaction problem if not for purposes of general physics.  Isn’t this ad hoc?

Elisabeth also still regards the case of soul-to-body causation as so puzzling that she says she finds it “easier… to concede matter and extension to the soul, than the capacity of moving a body… to an immaterial being.”  This is in my view her main mistake, for reasons I will explain presently.  But she immediately makes another point which is correct, extremely important, and widely neglected.  For it is not just the soul’s capacity for moving the body that Descartes has to explain, but also its “capacity… of being moved” by it.  She continues:

It is, however, very difficult to comprehend that a soul, as you have described it, after having had the faculty and habit of reasoning well, can lose all of it on account of some vapors, and that, although it can subsist without the body and has nothing in common with it, is yet so ruled by it.

End quote.  In short, whatever one thinks of soul-to-body causation, causation in the other direction – that is to say, body-to-soul causation – is really mysterious if one accepts a Cartesian account of soul and body.  And the reason why it is so mysterious is, in my view, linked to the reason why soul-to-body causation is not in fact as problematic as Elisabeth thinks it is, or at least not problematic in the specific way she thinks it is. 

But I’ll come back to all that too in a moment.  First let’s consider the rest of the exchange.  Descartes’ response is once again to comment on the differences between our notions of the soul, of the body, and of the union between them.  He appeals to the traditional distinction between the intellect or understanding, the imagination, and the senses.  He says that the soul is properly known by the understanding alone, the body by the understanding together with the imagination, and the union between them by the understanding together with the imagination and the senses.

The idea here seems to be that since the soul is, as Descartes understands it, pure thought devoid of extension, it is the abstractness of purely intellectual apprehension by which we most accurately understand it.  The body qua extension, however, is best understood by the intellect together with the sort of mental imagery we entertain when doing geometry.  And the closeness of the union between soul and body is evident in attributes which, in Descartes’ view, neither soul nor body can have on its own – namely, appetites, emotions, and sensations, which he takes to be hybrid attributes of a kind that exist only insofar as a res cogitans and a res extensa get into a causal relationship.  Hence, Descartes seems to be saying, we need to rely on our experiences of bodily sensations, affective states, and the like – and not just on intellect and imagination – properly to understand the causal relationship between soul and body.

How is this an answer to Elisabeth?  Descartes’ point seems to be that the causal relation between soul and body seems mysterious if we rely on the intellect alone, or on the intellect together with the imagination, in order to understand it – but that it will be less so if we rely on the senses too. 

The suggestion is certainly interesting, but that doesn’t mean that it is, as it stands, compelling.  If Descartes meant only that, as a matter of phenomenology, the close relationship between soul and body seems perfectly obvious and natural to us, then he would certainly be correct.  But of course, that isn’t really what Elisabeth is asking about.  Her question is not about whether soul and body seem to us to interact, but rather about how they could in fact do so given what Descartes claims about the natures of each.

Elisabeth’s last word

Though Elisabeth and Descartes exchanged other letters in later years, in this particular exchange on the interaction problem we only know of one further letter, which is from Elisabeth – to which, as far as we can tell, Descartes did not reply.  She was not convinced by his answer, for exactly the reason I mentioned.  She writes: “I too find that the senses show me that the soul moves the body; but they fail to teach me (any more than the understanding and the imagination) the manner in which she does it” (emphasis added).

Her own proposed solution is to suggest that “although extension is not necessary to thought, yet not being contradictory to it, it will be able to belong to some other function of the soul less essential to her.”  In other words, she proposes that soul and body can interact because the soul has, after all, extension as one of its attributes, and by means of it can cause changes in and be affected by the body in the same way that any two physical objects interact.

This is an interesting proposal that amounts to a version of what is these days called property dualism, but of a very different kind than the sort usually on offer today.  Contemporary property dualists suggest that a material substance, the human body, can have both physical and non-physical attributes.  What Elisabeth is suggesting is that an immaterial substance, the soul, might have both physical and non-physical attributes.

But there are two problems with this idea considered as a solution to the interaction problem facing Descartes.  First, it turns out that even body-to-body interaction is not as unproblematic as Elisabeth (and most other people who comment on the interaction problem) assume.  For Descartes’ abstract mathematical conception of matter is so desiccated that it is hard to see how it can have any efficacy at all with respect to anything, whether physical or non-physical.  Occasionalism – attributing all causality to God rather than to anything in the created order – was a natural position for Cartesians like Malebranche to take, and Descartes himself arguably took it with regard to everything except soul-body interaction.

A second problem is that if you are going to attribute physical properties to the soul in order to explain how it interacts with the body, why not go the whole hog and make the whole body itself an attribute of the soul?  That way you don’t have to posit any interaction between soul and body at all, because they will no longer be distinct substances.

Indeed, you’d be very close to returning to precisely the Scholastic conception of soul and body that Descartes was trying to replace.  You’ll be treating a human being as one substance, not two, but a substance with both incorporeal powers (thinking and willing) and corporeal ones (seeing, hearing, digesting, walking, etc.).  And I would say that that is indeed the correct solution to the interaction problem: to dissolve it by giving up the Cartesian thesis that soul and body are distinct substances, so that there aren’t any longer two things that need to “interact.”

Further comments

As I have often suggested, the real problem with Descartes’ position is not that he has trouble explaining how soul and body interact. The problem is that he thinks of them as interacting in the first place.  It is that he posits two substances rather than one.  And the reason this is a problem is that he thereby simply fails to capture the truth about human nature.  For his model makes of the soul something like an angelic intellect, and the body merely one physical object in the world alongside others that an angel might push about, the way that a demon pushes about an object that it possesses (as in the case of the Gadarene swine).  It makes of the body something entirely extrinsic to us (though this was certainly not his intent).

This is the force of Gilbert Ryle’s famous characterization of Descartes’ position as the theory of the “ghost in the machine.”  The problem isn’t: “How does an immaterial substance have any effect on the body?”  That’s no problem at all for something immaterial – after all, God and angels do it, as both Descartes and Elisabeth would have agreed.  The problem is rather: “How, if soul and body are two independent substances, can the soul affect the body in the specific way that it does (rather than in the way a ghost or an angel would)?”  The problem is explaining how the body could be a true part of you rather than a mere extrinsic instrument that is no more part of you than any other physical object.

Elisabeth was mistaken, then, to make a big deal of the question of soul-to-body causation as such.  Of course, it is easy to think such causation mysterious if you model all causation on push-pull causation between physical objects, but as Descartes rightly says, it is a mistake to do that.  (To be sure, it helps if you’re looking at the issue in the light of the complex theory of causation that the Scholastics had developed – and which Descartes himself was familiar with and had not entirely abandoned, as later modern philosophers would.)

Here’s a geometrical analogy that might be helpful.  (It’s only an analogy.  I am not saying that immaterial substances are higher-dimensional objects.)  Consider two-dimensional creatures of the kind described in Edwin Abbott’s Flatland.  They might find talk of three-dimensional entities quite mysterious and not understand how such things could possibly “interact” with their own world.  But in fact, of course, a three-dimensional entity generating effects in a two-dimensional world would be no problem at all.  Similarly, while we lapse into thinking in terms of a crude push-pull model of causation and wonder: “Gee, how could an immaterial substance have any effect on matter? It’s so mysterious!”, the angels and demons look on thinking: “Seriously?  How pathetic.”  As the Scholastics would say, immaterial substances exist and operate at a higher ontological level than we do, not a lower one.  And higher orders have no difficulty affecting lower ones.  We might find it mysterious how they do so, but that is unremarkable considering that our cognitive faculties are primarily geared toward understanding the lower, material order.

What would be truly problematic is a lower order affecting a higher one.  For example, a two-dimensional entity would have great difficulty having any effect on a three-dimensional one, at least if the three-dimensional one doesn’t cooperate.  And in an analogous way, it is mysterious how a purely material substance could have any effect on an immaterial substance. 

This is why Elisabeth’s point about body-to-soul causation is so important.  If soul and body are two distinct substances, then even if the soul could, as a substance of a higher ontological order, produce effects in the body (even if only in the way an angel might), it is nevertheless entirely mysterious how the body could produce effects in the soul (any more than a stone or a tree could have any effect on an angel or demon). 

This problem does not arise for the Scholastic conception of soul and body, because, again, it does not regard them as distinct substances in the first place.  A human being is one thing, not two, albeit a thing with both corporeal and incorporeal activities.  And since it is one thing, the question of interaction does not arise. 

Related posts:

Mind-body interaction: What’s the problem?

Cartesian angelism

The two Cartesian worlds

Was Aquinas a property dualist?

How to animate a corpse

What is a soul?

So, what are you doing after your funeral?

59 comments:

  1. Ed you have been very vocal in arguing that formal and final causation is the key to understand the link between the body and soul.

    Sometimes people like yourself, Oderberg and others can sound (not stating as fact by seem to imply) that efficient causation *should not* be seen as part of the story of how we think and will (at least from immaterial to material).

    I'm sure Aquinas has been on record that the will moves the body with efficient causation? Would you say efficient causation is part of the hylemorphic story with regards to how the will interacts with the body? Sure thomist don't see the person has two substances but they see them as having different types of parts (or powers). The persons immaterial power (will) efficiently interacts when, say, we choose to move our arm. Would you agree with that?

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    1. I think there is a tendency to translate hylemorphism into Cartesianism, which it is not, and some of this may come from how the Church sometimes frames matters differently than the hylemorphist (though there is no contradiction).

      "The link between body and soul" is a phrase that lends itself to a Cartesian mentality (at least, when approaching it in a modern context). But hylemorphism isn't about the union of "body" and soul. It's about the union of prime matter and form. The body is not prime matter, it is itself already constituted by prime matter and form. You cannot have a human body that isn't "informed". There's therefore no reason that a human body needs to be linked to form (the human soul). It's already constituted by it. There is no additional principle (whether vital principle or rational principle) that's needed. The human person, her body and her intellectual faculties, is one substance.

      Thomists also say that the intellect and will are powers that come from the human soul, but again, because of our modern mindset we often mistranslate that into Cartesian terms. So far as I understand it, if we're stating things more plainly, it suffices to simply say that the intellect and will are faculties of the human person -- that is, the substance. It does these things by nature, as a human being by virtue of being a human being. It does not fall to some mechanical process of some material part, but is something the human person does as a whole substance, without needing a mechanical explanation. (And that's really what is meant by immaterial. The second we start speaking of the intellect or will as needing to interact (as some mechanism) with matter, we've implicitly begun treating it as matter (and not as immaterial), just as some exotic kind of matter).

      We're used to saying something like "I think with my mind", but the whole idea of thinking with a mind has been entirely reframed by Cartesians and idealists. It's not the mind (as if separate from the substance) that thinks, it is the human person that thinks, and the human person that wills, the human person that senses.

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  2. I think almost all of us would agree that bodily injuries can affect on the immaterial aspects of a human person (eg causing impairment on the intellect and will, or what others may label as soul). But such impairment may only be temporary. In Near Death Experiences discussed in journals, it seems that even bodily injuries can only cause temporary impairment on the immaterial aspects of a person. This may be inferred from cases where blind persons began to have sight when they were existing in a state separated from their physical bodies. They only became blind again after being rejoined to their bodies (eg after doctors managed to resuscitate them back to bodily life).

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  3. The second-last link in the post makes the comparison: "...a disembodied soul relative to a living human being is like a legless, senseless, brain-damaged dog relative to a healthy dog".
    Not sure about this analogy.

    The last of the listed links argues:
    "Hence St. Peter can intelligibly be rewarded and prayed to [as] he exists as a human being... [but he] exists only as a radically incomplete human being.

    Based on these comments, can we assume that St. Peter can hear us? Getting back to Rover, nobody doubts who is is despite his lack of legs and senses, but he won't be expected to fetch any balls?

    It seems like one of those areas where the gaps in our knowledge of human nature need to pointed to, if not filled in, by Revelation.

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    1. St. Peter can hear us because God grants him that grace extrinsically, not due to his own innate power.

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    2. This post and its links don't seem to suggest that.

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    3. This post and its links don't suggest anything related to the question, seeing as the question is not being addressed at all. To say that a person can do something in no way implies that they are able to do something unassisted. Nor does it imply that he can only do that thing if assisted. It doesn't imply either conclusion.

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    4. Miguel. It's a fair question you're asking. These posts are about the state of the human being after death, and the utility of praying to saints was brought up in them. The saints are still people, albeit truncated, but the intimately connected question of whether they can hear us isn't answered. The beliefs of Catholics and non-Catholics alike don't ever seem to have been aligned with the view that the dead are unable to see and hear the living in any form. What does Dr. Feser think?

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    5. I think the "Unknown" person above answers this question. The Grace is provided by God, and not a result of hearing as we do through our bodily senses.

      The fact that this is a completely different experience from our bodily hearing should also be clear from the fact that saints can potentially hear and respond to the prayers of everyone. Neither are they confined geographically, by distance etc. So we are looking at a hearing being supplied by a special Grace rather than by some innate attribute of the human soul.

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    6. We aren't informed about that possibility anywhere here. That was Miguel's point.

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  4. The problem is that God's extrinsic grace is required to resolve the post-mortem issue. In other words, everything points to the lack of division of the human at death, yet we believe it by God's revelation. And how does my soul continue to function as me without my body? Well, the answer is simple: God's grace causes me to subsist until the final Resurrection, when the soul and body will be re-united.

    As I said, I believe it--but I have to admit it does sound a bit like that old Far Side cartoon, where in the middle of a mathematical equation the scientist writes: "Here a miracle happens."

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    1. Craig,
      I agree with your characterizing God's extrinsic grace causing the immaterial soul to function in a way analogous to hearing, seeing etc without eyes or ears, is like "Here a miracle happens"; it is an ad hoc argument. There are philosophical arguments for the mere subsistence of the soul, however. If God did not extrinsically cause the soul to function as if it had eyes etc., a soul sleep understanding of the intermediate state would be true.

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    2. Craig, some people will believe absolutely anything, as you well illustrate.

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    3. Craig, the persistence of the human soul after death and what it is naturally capable of is something that can be reasoned to through philosophy. That's as far as natural philosophy will take us, though. The communion of saints and what they do, the experiences of the punishments of Hell or Purgatory, the Beatific Vision, these are all articles of faith. You write, "Here a miracle happens." You're right. But that makes sense... since it is only an article of faith. That St. Peter or anyone else could intercede for us after death is not anything that could be revealed by natural philosophy. It is simply an article of faith. It's not a gap between philosophy on one side and philosophy on the other side, which is how you kind of framed it (and how I used to think of it). It is revealed theology taking us beyond what natural philosophy can show.

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    4. Unknown has developed a new type of syllogism, modus trollens.

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    5. Dear Fred: Didn't you follow it?

      1) The post-mortem status of the soul can be puzzling.
      2) Christianity makes the logically consistent claim that God's grace supplies the soul with a continued personal existence.
      3) Some people will believe absolutely anything.
      4) Sheesh.

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    6. Craig,
      As Wes pointed out, the persistence of the soul can be established by reason/natural philosophy. There is not much biblical teaching on the intermediate state and some of the biblical teaching indicates soul sleep which does not require a miracle.

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    7. Fred 'Modus trollens' Quite amusing I suppose.

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    8. Dear Tim Finlay: Actually, I was agreeing with you; when I wrote "continued PERSONAL existence," I was not being very precise, but I meant continued existence with perceptions as I have now, even without the sensory apparatus we have now. I do believe in this continued personal existence, but I accept it as God's gracious gift. The subsistence of the soul, IN ITSELF, can be established by reason, as you rightly point out.
      My sarcasm might not have been very evident, but I was responding to the comment of Unknown, above.

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    9. Craig,
      My mistake. I did catch the main point of your comment as a sarcastic response to Fred, but I missed the significance of the word "personal" in your post.

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  5. It seems to me that the confusion around the soul being the form of the body is that for inanimate objects matter is predicated of the form. Where as for soul and body the union is more complex. However most people assume that all formal connections with matter exist on the inanimate plane.

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    1. This is very true. I would love it if someone were to put forth a detailed clarification of the meaning of the term "body" as that pertains to higher beings like a human, as distinct from the term "matter". I begin to count how many cases I have seen in which the two words are used as if they are 100% synonymous, but I don't think they are.

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  6. Question:

    If we presuppose the Aristotelian idea (the soul being the form of the body, or perhaps of the life-principle in the body) to be true, are we expected thereby to understand this idea, and even feel intuitive familiarity with it?

    Or, is this one of those things we cannot really grasp, but can only say the words, not really knowing what we're saying? You know: One of those concepts like the equations which describe quantum physics, wherein they can be used to yield correct answers but don't intuitively seem to mean anything recognizable from one's experience?

    I'm asking because when I think of a pencil-drawn triangle on a piece of paper, I think I pretty easily grasp what's meant by the "form of triangle" and how that's instantiated in the graphite particles, the "matter."

    But when I try to say that, "in an analogous way, the soul is the form of the living body," I draw a blank. I don't see how my ability to think is in any way like the arrangement of graphite into three lines. And I don't see how my thinking is in any way what makes my body alive (as opposed to, say, the fact that by blood is oxygenated and my skin isn't split open).

    The above, I'm sure, isn't correct: It isn't what the Aristotelians and Thomists really mean. But I don't get what they do mean.

    Somebody help a brother out, huh?

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    1. RC, one element of the problem is to generalize / abstract the notion(s) that reside in saying the form "triangle-ness" is the form that "makes" the graphite to BE a triangle instantiated. Triangle-ness informs the graphite so that it bears the nature triangle and thus is a real instance of triangle.

      Another element of the puzzle is that as the nature of the thing gets more complex, the the more "involved" must be the form to make it "be" that kind of a thing. water-ness is a VASTLY more involved sort of being than mere "triangle", with many, many outflows from its nature (it's density, it's color, the fact of being liquid at some temperatures, solid at others, the arrangements of the atoms in the molecules being important, etc.) It should not surprise us at all that the "form" that makes water to be water-like is far more ... intense ... a form than mere "triangle-ness", and is, therefore more difficult to comprehend fully.

      In fact, to be perfectly proper, only a substantial being has a "substantial form" that makes it to be a "kind" of thing simply and unqualifiedly, a "kind" full stop, whereas lesser forms are "accidental forms" that are formal in making a certain existing substance to be in a certain way but not "to be" simply, full stop. To clarify by example: the form "whiteness" can not make matter to be "a white" full stop, as if to be "a white" meant a kind of substance; whiteness is a form that inheres in some thing that IS some kind of being, (some kind not captured by saying "a white", such as "bird" or "tree"), which has whiteness as an attribute of it.

      That is, there's a difference between substantial form and accidental form, and you should expect substantial form to be far more intense in what it does to make matter be that certain way of being.

      And as you climb the gradations of higher beings that have higher modes of "to be", their substantial forms have higher aspects to them that are reflected in the resulting "to be" of the thing. A single-cell animal has vastly more whatness making it "to be" animal than a water droplet has, but a dolphin has many more layers of being even than that. The form of dolphin-ness that makes matter to be a dolphin must reflect that greater modality of being.

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    2. I am no philosopher, but my kids stumble over the word form as well. It is so ingrained in us to think of it only in terms of shape. But shape only captures extension in our usage. Form in the Aristotle also capture qualia.it also grounds active and passive powers, I think. This is probably not correct, but I tell them to think of essence when they hear form.

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    3. R.C.,

      First, I would not call the soul the "life principle" of the body. All of your questions deserve a longer answer, but at this time I can only make a brief comment (though please see my reply to Callum above as it may be related).

      As for my brief comment, are we able to understand the idea of the soul being the form of the body? Yes, we are. We can grasp that, understand it, muse on it, and reflect on it. But it's kind of "alien" to the pseudo-Cartesian pop philosophy we grow up with, and requires some study and retraining your mind to grasp it better.

      So yes, you can understand it. However, you're not going to be able to make a mental picture of it. A mental picture is something different altogether.

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    4. Tony, Daniel, Wes: Thanks for the replies.

      Daniel: Glad you mentioned qualia; that probably has some application/implication in the follow-up question I asked Wes, in reply to a separate post he made, below.

      Tony: You just clarified the difference between a substantial form and an accidental form, which I hadn't clearly grasped before. There are other terms (essence and identity) which I still struggle to differentiate from things like form, substantial form, and nature. But that's gotten me part way, so thanks!

      Wes: Thanks very much; please see my reply to your other post.

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  7. R.C.,

    I've time for a little more. You wrote, "I'm asking because when I think of a pencil-drawn triangle on a piece of paper, I think I pretty easily grasp what's meant by the "form of triangle" and how that's instantiated in the graphite particles, the "matter."'

    I am going to take a tangent here to explain the difference between substantial form and accidental form. A common example to illustrate the difference is a block of marble being carved into a statue. Let's say it is being carved into a statue of Socrates.

    The substantial form of the marble is the form of marble. That sounds like a tautology, but it's a statement that needs to be made. The substance is marble, and therefore has the substantial form of marble. Even when it is carved into the image of Socrates, the actual thing is still marble. It isn't substantially changed into Socrates. The change in its shape is accidental to the thing, a mode of shape. It doesn't change the type of thing it actually is. So before carving and after carving, the substance (thing) of marble still has the substantial form of marble. It previously had the accidental form (or mode) of being a block, and it then had the accidental form of Socrates' shape, but there was no substantial change involved, and so there was no change in the thing's substantial form.

    Going back to your graphite example, the substance (the graphite) still has the substantial form of graphite. It was previously in a sharpened rod in a pencil, and then on the piece of paper, but there is no substantial change. But the hand-drawn shape has the accidental form of triangularity.

    A substantial form is the formal cause of a material thing. It is why we call a thing the kind of a thing it is. This here is marble, this here is graphite, this here is a dog, this here is a human being. The form of a human being is just the formal principle of why it is what it is.

    All material things (substances, humans included) are considered to be composites of substantial form and prime matter. When the substance is a living thing we substitute the word "soul" for "substantial form". "Prime matter" doesn't refer to a human body, or to the marble itself. Those things only exist as composites of substantial form and prime matter. Prime matter is not a thing that exists in itself, but is more the principle of the pure receptivity of the matter to becoming actual under some form. There are reasons substantial form and prime matter are posited, it's not just ad hoc, and at least some of it is related to the way things can undergo change, but I won't detail all of that here.

    In my previous post I wrote that "the soul as the form of the body" is not something of which you can have a mental picture. But that goes for any material substance. "The substantial form of graphite is the substantial form of this graphite substance" doesn't lend itself to a mental picture. Accidental form, or some mode of shape? (Triangularity, a likeness of Socrates?) Those are things that do lend themselves to mental pictures.

    As for thinking making you alive? No, that's not what is being said. You are a (living) human person because (as a formal cause) you have the substantial form of a human being. If your "body" ever undergoes a substantial change (the prime matter that makes it up receives a new form(s)), it would no longer have the form of a human being as its formal cause and you'd be dead. Speaking of "cause" in this way may sound odd, but its part of a shift in thinking away from thinking of cause as just efficient causality, and again, there are justifications for why things like substantial form, prime matter, and hylemorphism are posited that this comment is not going into.

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    1. Wes,

      Thanks very much for your reply. I'm going to ponder it for a while to see what I can get out of it.

      But perhaps you can help me with a follow-up question?

      The reason I mentioned thought in my original question is because I'm aware of arguments stating that we can know that some aspect of a human being is immaterial-or-spiritual (rather than merely material) from the fact that humans can do things which no merely-material object can possibly do, even in principle (e.g. have determined meanings; c.f. Kripke, Ross, the plus/quus thing). And of course the further implication of humans having some non-material aspect is this: Whatever that aspect is, it's something non-composed, so it can't de-compose, and naturally survives death.

      I think I get that argument; and I think I buy it.

      BUT, it feels like a leap to say that the aspect of a human that does rational thinking and free decision-making JUST IS the substantial form of that human being. Why should we think that? If we use the term "soul" to refer to the substantial form, perhaps we should use another term to refer to the rational faculty; or conversely, if we call the rational faculty "soul" perhaps we ought to call the other thing "substantial form" without implying that means the same thing as "soul." It's not yet apparent (to me) why the rational faculty couldn't be, say, a particular accidental form of a human, rather than the (sole) substantial form...or for that matter, why we should think it was a form rather than a something-else.

      Put another way: The definition of the word "soul" used in the argument for "immortality of the soul" doesn't fully overlap with "soul" defined as "the substantial form of a living human being" (at least, not if "substantial form" means no more than "whatever makes it to be the kind of thing a living human being is"). What if we're committing an error of equivocation, using the same term for different things?

      I was hoping that either...
      (a.) if I grasped in what sense the substantial form of a living human was informing the matter of the human body, I would be able see why the substantial form of "living human being" just had to be the kind of thing which thinks rationally and survives death;
      or else, coming from the other direction,
      (b.) if I grasped in what sense the kind of thing that thinks rationally was non-material or rational, I would be able to see why it just has to be a substantial form (in the sense of making a thing be the kind of thing it is).

      If you can help with that, that'd be awesome.

      (But if not, still, thanks for your earlier, quite-helpful, response!)

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    2. Hi, R.C.,

      In hylemorphic dualism, the substantial form is the cause for a substance to have the essential operations it does, whether material or immaterial. There is not a need to posit something additional as an explanatory factor.

      I had made a reply to Callum much further above which I think is relevant, my post is the second comment from the top. Recapitulating and expanding on that, I think there is a tendency to want to "mechanize" Aristotlean philosophy of nature, and this ultimately leads to thinking of the immaterial faculties as if (as the Aristotlean sees it) they were matter (or at least some type of pseudo-matter), lacking extension but still as some type of mechanical part. But to treat them as mechanical in this way is just what it is to stop treating them as immaterial and to treat them as material instead.

      One of Ed's blog posts that I found really helpful here, and this may seem odd, is his post "Causality and radioactive decay". The link is here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/12/causality-and-radioactive-decay.html.

      Why am I relating the radioactive decay of Pb210 to human intellection and the will? It's not absolutely the same and I do not think the radioactive decay is an immaterial operation, of course, but what I took away from this blog post (and what helped me better understand hylemorphism) is it provides sufficient explanation for the radioactive decay without needing to identify some mechanical process that triggers it. Pb210 by viture of just being Pb210 (that is, due to what it is) may just by nature have a chance of decaying. Human intellection and will are also just something a human being does by nature, without needing to identify some mechanical part. Thinking is not what a mind (as if something different than the person) does. It is the human being that knows, the human being that wills, the human being that senses.

      We say that intellection is a power of the soul. But that is easily misinterpreted in a Cartesian way. For an Aristotlean to say that it is a power of the soul is to just say (1) it is not reducible to material operation or mechanism and (2) it just is what a human being does qua human being. It's not identifying some "soul part" separate from the rest of the substance which does it (which would be to treat it as matter). A human being just does it, because that is his nature. Intellection is immaterial and what the substance does as a whole substance, and if we're looking for some mechanical part or additional principle that does it beyond the substance just being what it is, I think we've missed the point of what is meant by immaterial. I'm hesitant to compare it to an "emergent property" as that has some non-Aristotlean connotations (and "emergent" isn't the way to think of it), but it's something attributable to the whole (the substance) which the whole does in virtue of being the kind of thing it is.

      I'm going to take a moment to apologize, because I do not think this post is as focused as my previous contributions. And if a better Thomist than me can step in and correct me or clarify, I'd be flattered. But that is my understanding after five years of personal reading. I've gone back and reread everything, for fear I maybe didn't answer a single question of your post, but I think I did at least touch on your concerns, though I don't know if I've fully addressed them. You had written, "BUT, it feels like a leap to say that the aspect of a human that does rational thinking and free decision-making JUST IS the substantial form of that human being." And in my reply above I clarified that I don't think that way of putting it is correct. It's not just the soul/substantial form that does it, but the human being that does it, and he does it in virtue of being a human being (the formal cause of which is having the substantial form of a human being, which just is what it is to say it is a power of the soul).

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    3. I can be wrong, but i think that on thomism "soul" and "living thing substancial form" are the same thing really. The thinking, willing, feeling etc are just powers of the soul.

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    4. I was hoping that either...
      (a.) if I grasped in what sense the substantial form of a living human was informing the matter of the human body, I would be able see why the substantial form of "living human being" just had to be the kind of thing which thinks rationally and survives death;


      ** Caveat - Arm chair musings here from the non expert. **

      To start with, you should think broadly in terms of act and potency. This is fundamental to A/T metaphysics. Broadly speaking, Act equates to form and potency equates to matter. Form is also what makes a thing inteligible. Potency is its limiting factor.

      So, in this context, form is the general idea, and there can be two subsets of the notion of form -substantial form, or accidental form, which only occurs in things which have a substantial form. All animals (including humans), are composits of substantial forms with prime matter.

      Whe typically identify the powers associated with a substantial form by using the tools of common sense, science (physics, biology, mathematics, etc...), natural philosophy, and metaphysics. This is the study of how a thing is in its actuality. Knowledge is derived from abstracting away the particulares on a specific instance of a thing to delve out what is universaly true of any such thing. When we come to a knowledge of anything, we come to a knowledge of its form.

      This process of universalising and abstracting away from paticulars is the key indicator that what is transpiring when we think and know things involves processesses that cannot in principle be material, in the sense of involving operations involving composites of form and matter. Because the very essense of what is happening when we know is the abstracting away from any particular matter to focus purely on the universalized form.

      From all this, we can know for sure that with human beings, we have in the active power of intellect something that cannot in principle be reduced to a material composite of matter and form, but must be immaterial.

      We ascribe this power to the substantial form of human being. We don't come to the knowledge of this power through a direct knowledge of the substantial form.

      or else, coming from the other direction,
      (b.) if I grasped in what sense the kind of thing that thinks rationally was non-material or rational, I would be able to see why it just has to be a substantial form (in the sense of making a thing be the kind of thing it is).


      Just remember that being is divided entirely into act and potency. This is the most fundamental and general way of describing things. There is nothing else more fundamental. A subset of this is substantial form and acidental form. This are ways of being actual (being informed). There is no third category of being. So even if a substantial form does have an immaterial power, that does not make it not be part of its substance. Its just an active power.

      Cheers,
      Daniel

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    5. As Ed points out in this post, contra Descartes, the intellectual powers of the soul (e.g. willing and knowing) are not separate substances from the body, but part of one substancial form which includes the body, so there is no interaction problem to solve. Both body and mind are attributes of on substantial form (aka, soul).

      Also, contra Descartes, teleology is part and parcel of the material world, and the immaterial powers of the soul operate primarily on dematerializing and abstracting away from matter to apprehend, not just the form, but to know all four causes, including teleology.

      Ed suggests that Descartes tried to smuggle in teleology to solve the mind body interaction problem and rightly points out the inconsistency of doing so.

      Elizabeth pushed Descartes further on this question where she posits a sort of property dualism where the mind also had some property of extension, of some sort.

      Ed says:

      A second problem is that if you are going to attribute physical properties to the soul in order to explain how it interacts with the body, why not go the whole hog and make the whole body itself an attribute of the soul? That way you don’t have to posit any interaction between soul and body at all, because they will no longer be distinct substances.

      Indeed, you’d be very close to returning to precisely the Scholastic conception of soul and body that Descartes was trying to replace. You’ll be treating a human being as one substance, not two, but a substance with both incorporeal powers (thinking and willing) and corporeal ones (seeing, hearing, digesting, walking, etc.). And I would say that that is indeed the correct solution to the interaction problem: to dissolve it by giving up the Cartesian thesis that soul and body are distinct substances, so that there aren’t any longer two things that need to “interact.”

      So for Ed, property dualism just tends to colapse into hylomorphic dualism as the better way to explain what is going on with the mind/body interaction problem.

      He says:

      (To be sure, it helps if you’re looking at the issue in the light of the complex theory of causation that the Scholastics had developed – and which Descartes himself was familiar with and had not entirely abandoned, as later modern philosophers would.)

      continued.

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    6. Having said that, I think its important to point out that, as per church teaching and as Aquinas thought, the genesis of the human soul and its immaterial powers cannot be explained via the standard materialist account of evolution, but each human soul requires special creation.

      Elsewhere, Ed writes,

      On the subject of human origins, both the Magisterium and Thomist philosophers have acknowledged that an evolutionary explanation of the origin of the human body is consistent with non-negotiable theological and philosophical principles. However, since the intellect can be shown on purely philosophical grounds to be immaterial, it is impossible in principle for the intellect to have arisen through evolution. And since the intellect is the chief power of the human soul, it is therefore impossible in principle for the human soul to have arisen through evolution. Indeed, given its nature the human soul has to be specially created and infused into the body by God -- not only in the case of the first human being but with every human being. Hence the Magisterium and Thomist philosophers have held that special divine action was necessary at the beginning of the human race in order for the human soul, and thus a true human being, to have come into existence even given the supposition that the matter into which the soul was infused had arisen via evolutionary processes from non-human ancestors.

      But this is besides the point, with regard to the topic of this thread, which is about the interaction problem. However, it does imply a certain futility in trying to discover a scientific account that fully explains the genesis of the human intellect. At best, science will tell us with greater and greater precision, the correlations between physical and mental events and processess, but that is all. True AI will always be beyond our capabilities. At best, we will have clever programing that mimics true human intellectual powers. However, A/T conceptions of the four causes will be the best way to describe how mind and body relate.

      Cheers,
      Daniel

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    7. Daniel

      What makes you so certain that God will not infuse souls into AI entities ( and so allow them to possess true intellectual powers ) ,even if they are structured in a manner that appropriately reproduces the operation of the human brain? How do you know that there are not psycho-physical laws to be discovered, which God will ensure operate in appropriately designed AI systems, much as he ensures the operation of physical ones?

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  8. Hi Ed,

    You wrote:

    "The problem isn’t: 'How does an immaterial substance have any effect on the body?' That’s no problem at all for something immaterial – after all, God and angels do it, as both Descartes and Elisabeth would have agreed." (Bolding mine - VJT.)

    On the contrary, I think it's a huge problem - for angels, but not for God. You cannot believe in angels without imputing occult properties to matter: specifically, the power of being moved by agents’ wishes alone, without the need for any physical mechanism. Additionally, because bodies as such have no semantic properties, it makes no sense to say that they are capable of moving in response to the meaning of a disembodied agent’s wishes. Finally, wishing for something doesn’t make it happen. And it doesn't matter if the "wisher" is a human or an angel.

    The foregoing objections do not apply to God, because He is the Author of creation, and angels are not.

    You also wrote:

    "A human being is one thing, not two, albeit a thing with both corporeal and incorporeal activities. And since it is one thing, the question of interaction does not arise."

    If I told you that my act of imagining the color red caused me to turn red in the face, you would naturally express some puzzlement, even though both acts are corporeal, as there's no apparent connection between the two. How much more puzzling it is, then, that an incorporeal act such as willing my arm to go up should result in my arm's going up: here we have to explain how an incorporeal act of mine causes an apparently unrelated corporeal act. After all, why should my arm move as I wish it to? And if it does, then why should the act of sleeping with my head on my arm interfere with my ability to move my arm at will - as occurs when I wake up and find that my arm has gone numb?

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    1. "The power of being moved"

      That is a passive potency and to me it is not any more mysterious or even different than the "power" to be moved by something physical.

      Everything is just a series of changes, the difference is the immaterial is not necessarily constrained to spatiotemporal limits. An angel can affect a material thing in the same way a higher being can affect a lower one.

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    2. Hi Atno,

      Re the power of being moved: since this is a passive potency, you would presumably find nothing mysterious in telekinesis, supposing the phenomenon to be real?

      It isn't necessarily the case that a higher being can affect a lower one: if it were, then we would not need weapons to kill animals. The higher can move the lower only if it contains the lower. God contains all things as their Creator; angels, on the other hand, don't stand in this relation to things. I can only conclude that if angels can move things, they must be in some way corporeal; but if they are incorporeal, then God must move things on their behalf, which means that they are powerless to affect events in our cosmos, except by their prayers.

      I've written a long online article on angels here. You might find section 4 especially interesting:

      http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/an-a-z-of-unanswered-objections-to-christianity-f-superhuman-intelligences-angels-demons-and-aliens/

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    3. I feel that it is neither "no problem" nor "imputing occult properties to matter: specifically, the power of being moved by agents’ wishes alone, without the need for any physical mechanism."

      That is, Ed's assertion that it is "no problem" is false if taken in the sense that "there doesn't need to be any account" for how an angel moves material being, but valid in the sense that there is in principle no problem in there being an account: it violates no principles or commitments needed for Aristotelianism, Thomism, Christianity, or belief in angels.

      The notion that there must be something "occult" in material being to allow it to be moved by angels" because angels move matter merely "by wishes alone" is unnecessary. Nothing about angel theory requires that their action occurs merely "by wishes alone" any more than a man moves matter by wishes alone. Admittedly, an angel is not "connected to" matter the way a man's will is connected to his arm, but he does not move his arm merely by wish alone. (For instance, if he is tied up, wishes will accomplish nothing for moving the arm. And if he is paralyzed,...) There is clearly a large and so-far unsuccessfully explored science for understanding how a man's executory commands of the will (which is distinct from "wishes") result in external actions of the bodily organs, but we don't have reason to doubt that THERE IS some account of it. No more should we doubt that there is some account for angels moving matter, even if it is not THE SAME account. Arguably, since the angelic nature is above ours, we might not be ABLE to understand it other than through revelation. (Except by negation, such as the entirely valid proposition: that angels are intellectual beings is not a per se obstacle to their causing motion of material being.

      It might be worthwhile to recall that the Newtonian account for efficient causes - body striking body - is importantly incomplete as an account of motion, in that it still needs a reason why body A contacting body B imparts some motive action. Saying THAT it does is the observation of experience; saying WHY it does had no real account under Newtonian physics. Modern physics attempts to take it a step or two further, but hardly any modern person who asks "but HOW does an angel move a body" is thinking in terms of quantum theory when they sit puzzled by it.

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    4. Vincent,

      Right, I don't think I would find anything metaphysically weird about telekinesis.

      I think the issue is that you are treating matter as if it were some kind of perfection - which it isn't, or, if it were, God would have matter as well. What is it that material things have that angels would lack? I can think of nothing. My own view, again, is that material things really are nothing but very limited acts of existence - substances that have inherent spatiotemporal limitations. Angels are substances that don't have these inherent limitations. Material things don't have anything which angels lack. They just have more limited power - power which is inherently limited spatially and temporally.

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    5. Hi Tony and Atno,

      The point of my example of humans needing weapons to kill animals (and your own example of the paralyzed man being unable to move his arm) is that "A is metaphysically higher than B in the scala naturae" is not a sufficient condition for the truth of "A is able to move B." Consequently, the assertion that "an angel can affect a material thing in the same way a higher being can affect a lower one" doesn't really explain an angel's ability to move objects.

      The other point I think you both miss is that on the Thomistic model, an angel is literally nothing but intellect and will. There are no extra powers that an angel has. Hence in Thomism, the only possible answers to the question of how angels move objects are (a) "By thinking of them" or (b) "By willing them to move." Neither possibility makes sense, as neither thinking of X nor willing X, in and of itself, is sufficient to make X occur. And it doesn't matter if the agent is a mixed agent like ourselves or a purely spiritual agent like an angel: the principle is the same.

      Tony, you mention that willing is different from wishing. How, exactly? Cheers.

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    6. Tony, you mention that willing is different from wishing. How, exactly?

      I wish I could fly. I don't will it, because I am unable to.

      I wish I could have some wine right now. And while I can (have the power) to do so if I am willing to put up with some bad consequences, in fact I am not willing to put up with them and so I don't ACT ON my wish to actually will it by choosing to have some wine.

      "an angel can affect a material thing in the same way a higher being can affect a lower one" doesn't really explain an angel's ability to move objects.

      I agree. All this does is claim a possibility of an account, it doesn't actually give an account.

      The other point I think you both miss is that on the Thomistic model, an angel is literally nothing but intellect and will. There are no extra powers that an angel has.

      I think that part of Atno's point is what powers are available to an intellect NOT burdened by matter are not intuitively obvious. For example, we apprehend sense objects (and individual substances) through sense powers. You would claim that angels cannot apprehend sense objects and therefore cannot know individual sensible things. I suspect that the evidence of the Bible does not support this.

      Similarly, if to be angel is to be nothing other than "created intellect with reason and will", then what DISTINGUISHES the angels from each other. Thomas argues that they are all diverse in kind, different species. But this implies that they have different natures that make them different in kind. What differences? Well, presumably, differences in intellects - not differences as to individuals but as to natures. Which implies differences in powers, too. The fact that WE don't know what those differences are means that, more likely than not, angels have powers that we don't know about or understand.

      Neither possibility makes sense, as neither thinking of X nor willing X, in and of itself, is sufficient to make X occur.

      Because we don't know what an angelic intellect is like (other than "above ours"), we don't really understand how it operates and what limits its operation. Presumably, some have lower limits and some have higher limits. Perhaps with human intellects, willing X to move is insufficient to make X move, but with certain higher intellects that may not be true.

      It is traditionally supposed that angels (both good and bad) can affect humans by suggesting / urging them to do something good or bad. This suggesting / urging must take place in some specific way, i.e. with specific activity that RESULTS in a man feeling or thinking something he would not have felt or thought on his own. It is rather an open question as to just how angels accomplish this, but arguably they cause these affects through manipulating physical aspects of our being - senses, imagination, memory, etc. But not necessarily through grabbing hold of electrons and pushing them through nerves, for example.

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    7. Hi Tony,

      Thanks for your reply.

      Re wishing vs. willing: I'm not sure there's a clear-cut intentional difference between the two acts. It seems to me that willing X is basically the same as wishing for X, except that in the former case, there is an expectation of success, but in the latter case there is not. However, the distinction is not a hard-and-fast one: we can certainly imagine finding ourselves in an environment in which much to our surprise, things change in response to our mere wishes - for example, where my act of thinking "It's hot" would be sufficient to reset the thermostat in the room, because a super-duper brain scanner designed by a prize-winning inventor has learned to read my brainwaves, without my knowing it. Of course, this kind of scenario might work for humans because we're embodied beings; angels, on the other hand, are wholly immaterial, on the Thomistic account.

      There are of course hypothetical, counterfactual situations that one might wish for, but that, by itself, doesn't prove that I'm doing something different (mentally) when I wish, as opposed to when I will.

      Re how angels move things: in the end, your answer comes down to the suggestion that while human willing is insufficient to make an object move, higher-level angelic willing might be able to do the job. But I submit that the problem here is not the strength of the "willing" as such. Here's why.

      First, if a body can be moved by an angel's mere act of will, that would mean that in addition to all of the physical properties it has, it also happens to possess the spiritual property of being responsive to angel X's volitions. Second, as bodies don't possess semantic properties, there's no way for a body to “know” which way an angel wills it to move. Third, if we were to suppose that a body (say, a piece of gold) had the additional property of moving in response to the angel X’s wishes, that would mean that there was no longer any “common thread” tying all of the properties of gold together, as there is with the physical properties of gold (atomic number 79). It would destroy the metaphysical unity of a substance's properties.

      Finally, if belief in Thomistic angels is rational, there's nothing inherently unreasonable about belief in magic wands, as I argued in my Skeptical Zone article linked to above. Cheers.

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    8. First, if a body can be moved by an angel's mere act of will, that would mean that in addition to all of the physical properties it has, it also happens to possess the spiritual property of being responsive to angel X's volitions.

      I am afraid this appears to be nothing more than a bare assertion. Why must the angelic act be NOTHING more than mere will? How can you be certain that there are no angelic powers than those of reason and will, given that there are (as Thomas argues) a great many angels all distinct in species? Why must this responsiveness be anything more than "being material"? How can you be positive that there is no possibility of an angelic power (distinct from mere will) whose capacity extends to moving ordinary matter? You seem to be far too certain of things whose nature is by definition above our own and therefore beyond our capacity to comprehend fully.

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    9. Hi Tony,

      You ask: "How can you be certain that there are no angelic powers than those of reason and will, given that there are (as Thomas argues) a great many angels all distinct in species?"

      Fair question. In S.T. I, q. 59 art. 1, Aquinas writes that "in the angels, who are purely intellectual, there is no appetite higher than the will." Later, in art. 2, he explains that will and intellect are distinct in angels, as "the will in the angels regards good things only, while their intellect regards both good and bad things." Finally, in art. 4, he declares that "there exists in the angels only an intellective appetite, ... and it is called the will." There are no sensory appetites. In S.T. I, q. 50, art. 1, Aquinas argues that since "God produces the creature by His intellect and will, ... the perfection of the universe requires that there should be intellectual creatures" - in other words, creatures that are intellect and will and nothing else. And in S.T. I, q. 54, art. 5, Aquinas writes: "of the soul's powers only intellect and will can belong to them [angels]."

      As for the distinction in angelic species, Aquinas explains in S.T. I, q. 50, art. 4 that "the angels differ in species according to the diverse degrees of intellectual nature." In other words, Aquinas teaches that angels all understand things, but on different levels of abstraction.

      You also ask: "How can you be positive that there is no possibility of an angelic power (distinct from mere will) whose capacity extends to moving ordinary matter?"

      I don't claim to be positive about any such thing. I'm entirely open to the possibility that angels contain some sort of matter in their make-up. which would explain how they move things. This, however, was not Aquinas' opinion, and Ed is a devout Thomist. Hence my original question. Cheers, Tony, and I'll let you have the last word.

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  9. In regard to the intellect and will, doesn't Agere sequitur esse destroy human moral responsibility? I just thought of this the other day:

    P1: Agere sequitur esse (action follows being)
    P2: We are not responsible for our being.
    C: Therefore, we are not responsible for our actions.

    It seems pretty devastating to Thomism if this argument is sound, because infernalism would have to go, and universalism would have to follow.

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    1. The argument is not even valid as it trades on equivocations in the meanings of "follow" and "responsible".

      And even if it were, Universalism would still not follow. If it does, it is only because we would not be responsible for our actions, a pill I do not think Universalists would want to swallow.

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    2. grodrigues,

      Ok, maybe that right, but you can see what I was getting at. Maybe this will express the idea better.

      P1: Our actions necessarily follow from our mode of existence. (agere sequitur esse)
      P2: We are not in control of our mode of existence.
      C1: Therefore, we are not in control of our actions. (since they just follow from esse)
      P3: If we are not in control of our action, then we cannot be responsible for our action.
      C2: Therefore, we cannot be held responsible for our action. (P3 + C2).

      Basically, I was saying that since our actions are determined by our mode of existence, and we are not in control of our mode of existence, then we are not in control of our actions. Which destroys culpability.

      Unless you believe that God would would put people in eternal torment for eternity for acting out of their control, I think universalism has to follow. But maybe I'm missing something in my argument.

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    3. BenG, as I understand it, agere sequitur esse in this context means that a thing operates according to its nature. You don't grow fifty feet tall with large leafy leaves and plunge roots deep into the ground, you instead exercise agency and grow hair on your head. And this is because you're a human being and not an oak tree. Precisely because our nature (mode of being) is to be human and not to be an oak tree or a water molecule, our proper operations (should we be a healthy individual) include voluntary choice/agency, which is why we're culpable. We don't decide to exist with our nature, but we do exist with our nature, and that includes agency (among other operations) and not other things, which follows from that mode we have. And with that agency, we have culpability.

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    4. Good post Wes.

      So with regard to this from Beng:

      P1: Our actions necessarily follow from our mode of existence. (agere sequitur esse)

      Our mode of existence includes agency and the ability to act freely. Our mode of existence includes active and passive powers. The active power to choose freely comes from our mode of existence.

      Our ability to act freely is not unlimited though. It is bound by what free acts are possible to our nature. We don't, for example, have the power to fly like superman, or shoot lazer beams out of our eyes, because we are humans and not from planet Krypton. But we do have a range of choises that do fall within our active powers.

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    5. @BenG:

      "Basically, I was saying that since our actions are determined by our mode of existence, and we are not in control of our mode of existence, then we are not in control of our actions. Which destroys culpability."

      I understand that is what you are trying to say, but the conclusion simply does not follow. To see that, just note that both premises, if correctly formulated, could perfectly be granted by a Universalist (the first says that the possible range of actions is constrained by our essence and the second is just saying that we do not have existence in and of ourselves but derivatively) and presumably he would resist the conclusion.

      "Unless you believe that God would would put people in eternal torment for eternity for acting out of their control, I think universalism has to follow."

      I am not sure I am prepared to grant even this; it would hinge on what you mean by "out of their control" and of a scrupulosity to tell God what He would do or not do on imaginary scenarios.

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    6. Hi BenG,

      Your premises are true but your conclusion is not sound. Your premises are equivalent to these:

      P1: Agere sequitur esse (action follows being and our being is such that we have freewill)
      P2: We are not responsible for our being and hence we are not responsible for having freewill

      Given your premises are equivalent to the above, your conclusion “C: Therefore, we are not responsible for our actions.” does not follow from those premises. In fact, your conclusion would contradict what is implicit in your first premise. A being that has freewill would be responsible for his choices made via his freewill.

      :)

      Cheers!

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    7. P2 is obviosly false in my opinion. God gave us free will as a part of our participation in the spiritual universal intelligence as a power of the soul we were created with. This is a major reason for man's higher dignity as this brings us to a higher analogical correspondence to God's universal intellect. God has free will and is responsibe to act according to his gooddness.
      We are given free will to participate in love of God at a higher level than other animals. We are persons who freely choose moral or immoral actions. So we are responsible for our choices and actions, which brings us into a higher dignity and potential as beings that are comosite: both bodily and spiritual.

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    8. Am I missing something? No offense but this is one of the worst arguments I've ever seen.

      "P1: Agere sequitur esse (action follows being)
      P2: We are not responsible for our being.
      C: Therefore, we are not responsible for our actions."

      Agere sequitur esse is just a principle to the effect that action follows being; what a thing can do is limited by the nature of that thing. A rock cannot think or feel anything because it is not a mind and doesn't have any related first-person properties. A plant cannot tell a joke because it's not an intelligence. A human being cannot produce fire from the tip of his fingers because his fingers are not fire or any other properties which fire functionally reduces to.

      The scope of effects that a thing can produce is limited by the kind of thing that it is, by what it has, what it is. This is just a formulation of the principle of proportionate causality.

      It has nothing to do with determining an action as in precluding indeterministic effects. If a being is libertarian-free, then it can produce libertarian-free acts. If a being is NOT libertarian-free, then it cannot produce libertarian-free acts. That's what the principle would say.

      We are not responsible for our being in the sense that we didn't make ourselves exist, and we didn't make ourselves have consciousness, personhood, intelligence, and free will. If we do have free will however, then we can act in free ways at least sometimes - indeterministic acts motivated by reasons-explanations.

      The principle does not settle the question of whether we have free will or not. It is just meant as an observation that how a thing acts reflects its nature. In this case, free acts follows a free being. Intellectual acts follows a mind. And so on.

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  10. Off topic warning: Ed, if you read this ... ( I know you don't need more e-mails) ... and I'll be doing some searches too, but ...

    Have you any material on-line dedicated to, or which specifically addresses, the implications for medical ethics in an intellectual environment wherein teleology of any kind is completely ruled out of court?

    Yeah, I know: How can one even talk seriously about medicine or law without acknowledging purposes as being more than a projection or illusion?

    Anyway, asking for a young friend who is beginning his specialty studies soon, but presently dealing with what sounds like a moral nihilist professor at the moment. Right ... medical ethics classes run by moral nihilists, or the next thing to them. I guess you're supposed to just go Rorty, and stop thinking there ... or something.

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  11. I frequently use operation sequitor esse which is operations follows upon being. This idea has been significant inspiration for my participation in grace and all the ways God makes himself present to us: prayer, sacraments, opportunities for faithm hope and charity. Especially the eucharist is an increase in our being and a transformation of ourselves the more we are freely participating in recieving Christ and resoving ourselves to responding to his presence and graces. We a metaphyically aided to actualiize our being to the true happiness we are destined for through this true principle and free choice. We as creatures who are persons are on a journey of spiritual growth in time in this world. It's all about our choice of participation with Truth, Love and Goodness in this world as revealed in Christ, through the authentic Church he founded and continues to act for our salvation through.

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