Descartes taught that the mind and body were separate entities–the body is material the mind spirit. Did he also hold that the soul was essentially the same as the mind? And what is the traditional Catholic repsonse in separating, or distinguishing, mind, body, and soul? Thanks!
This question can be answered in such great depth.
I’ll pick one aspect that was dear to John Paul the Great:
Descartes’ reversion to dualism gave philosophical support to views of man that denigrate the body; in its secular form, it gave impetus to radical material views of man as nothing but a commodity, a “worker” in the Marxist view.
Modern Catholicism tends to favor the Thomistic view, that the soul is the form of the body; they are joined essentially. This attitude resonates with John Paul’s emphasis on the dignity of the human body - a dignity which is punctuated by the Word of God taking the form of our body and sanctifying it.
Descarte’s thought propagated the idea that the body is a “soul cage.” But the opposite is true: the soul is liberated by the body. Just watch the athletes, musicians, artists. The physical reality of their body express the interior soul. The body is the means of the soul to express itself. The idea that we are corporeal spirits; we are not just soul or not just body. This is the original uniqueness in the being called man. We are both.
The popular quote I think therefore I am atttempts to separate what is organically united. Thought is part of our being. Thought doesn’t create us or exclusively validate reality. This goes completely against the grain of objective truth. It says that if I think about it, then it is, and if I don’t then it isn’t. Of course this is nonsense.
I second adnauseum. John Paul the Great had much to say about this in the Theology of the Body.
I think I’m beginning to see where Catholic thought differs from the Cartesian view. One point that I’m not particularly clear about, however, is the Aristotelian distinction between form and matter. What does it mean to say that something is the form of something else?
I’m asking in reference to this quote:
Modern Catholicism tends to favor the Thomistic view, that the soul is the form of the body; they are joined essentially
I’m Catholic, but rather late to the table, so I’m very poorly grounded in some of these basic distinctions. Thanks
First of all, Descartes was a faithful Catholic. I do think that some of Descrates’ philosophical views are problemmatic, but that doesn’t make him the father of secular materialism and denigration of the body and so forth. Poor old Descartes, getting the blame for the evils of modernity as if he was modernity’s founding father. If you wanted to look for a cause of secular materialism and determinism, it would be better to look to Thomas Hobbes. Even so, I am skeptical of arguments that try to trace the evils of modern thought back to one thinker. I’ve even read works suggesting that Aquinas is the root cause of modern atheism and existentialism (I’m not joking).
But, I would say that Descartes view, while technically not heretical, does tend to reduce the body to being the status of a machine. As far as the body liberating the soul? Perhaps our pre-fallen body liberated the soul, but not the post-fall body. The post-fall body is racked with concupiscience. Its no accident that athletes have to work so hard to get their body in good shape. The flesh is the source of temptation and sin in this life.
[quote=edmondhall]Descartes taught that the mind and body were separate entities–the body is material the mind spirit. Did he also hold that the soul was essentially the same as the mind? And what is the traditional Catholic repsonse in separating, or distinguishing, mind, body, and soul? Thanks!
Edmond, an excellent critique of Descartes can be read (if you can find it) in Jacques Maritain’s Three Reformers: Luther-Descartes-Rousseau.
DreadVandal - no doubt Descartes was a good Catholic. He really wanted the Scholastics to appreciate what he had done; I have his Meditations in the original Latin and it’s wonderful.
Sadly, to this day many troubling philosophies pay homage to Descartes’ method as a radically new way to ground a world view without admitting a single reality in the universe except oneself. This radical proposal of self-determination is at the root of much twisted thinking today.
edmondhall - the distinction between form and matter is most crudely put by pointing to an artificial thing like a coin, where the matter is copper and the form is its shape and the imprint on it.
In nature, matter is far more fundamental than stuff like copper; matter is the ultimate stuff of the universe - whatever that stuff is.
The matter of the human being is whatever constitutes the composite of 100 or so organic chemicals that make him up; the form of the human being is the principle that (1) makes him the species that he is (human = rational animal) (2) organizes matter to give him his particular look and feel in the image and likeness of God.
Pure matter is potentially something, but it needs a form in order to be actualized. When God created the heavens and the earth, he created primal matter, and then brought things into Being by giving it form.
Maybe a more advanced Thomist will correct me if I am off the mark.