Hylemorphic Soul - Immaterial aspect

Hi,

I bought Edward Feser’s Aquinas, and I was confused about his (Aquinas’) arguments for the immateriality of the Intellectual aspect of the soul. I am hoping someone could help me clarify.

What I have absorbed so far is that:

1-The soul is simply the form of a specific human being.
2-That form includes inorganic, vegetative, and animal qualities of souls.
3-It also includes the intellectual aspect.
4-Unlike the animal form, this intellectual aspect operates on universals (not in the platonic sense, but in the Aristotelian sense where the universals are derived from material senses).
5-These universals are forms themselves. So our intellect has within it, the other forms (essenses). It is the only form that can have within itself other forms without actually becoming something else…(I’m obviously confused here - can anyone confirm or clarify).
6-Because universals are immaterial and never appear in the material world, then the intellectual aspect of the soul must also be immaterial.

Am I on track here, and if not, where did I fall off the rails.

God bless,
Ut

That is the attitude to have.
We begin with what the Catechism teaches. So do that and measure what Feser and even Thomas says beyond that.

I’ve read Feser but of course I can’t remember now exactly what he had to say :). As far as Thomas goes, read S. T. Ques 75-83 and Ques 90, 91, and 93 & 94, and Ques 84-89on human intelligence.

As to your questions.

  1. Correct
  2. Don’t remember what Feser says but Thomas would say that the human soul contains what pertains to the inorganic ( Thomas probably says material or inanimate properties ), vegetative, and animal in a " virtural " manner or as " virtual " powers subsumed by the rational power.
  3. Correct
  4. Yes that is difficult because of the way Thomas himself and Thomists generally have treated the topic. What you say is correct up to a point. What is not true is that the intellect contains the actual forms of the reality as they exist outside the mind. The intellect produces or abstracts the data these extra mental forms, which exist in nature, produce. That is, it forms a concept of these forms, but not the actual forms themselves. The actual forms exist only in the individual beings that exist outside the mind.
    6, Correct

You did pretty good in my judgement.

Linus2nd

Hi ut;

To point 3, I would just point out that the intellect is not an “aspect” of the soul, but a principle power of the soul (“aspect” is a mode of consideration in philosophy).

In answer to your point 5: the mind knows through acquiring the form of the thing known; not, however, in the same manner that the form exists in the thing itself. For example, if you consider a chair which has both matter (what it’s made of) and form (how that matter is actualised in the chair itself), knowledge consists in acquiring a likeness of the form. But the form is received not according to the mode of the thing known, but according to the mode of the knower so it is not strictly the same form of the thing itself, but a likeness of the form. That form, according to the mode of the knower, is according to Thomas immaterial, immobile and universal.

Hope this helps.

Thanks hicetnunc and Linusthe2nd. Your comments help a great deal.

Do you find this argument convincing or conclusive? Or do we need revelation (faith) to see that this is so?

According to Feser, mechanistic science can take us close to this, but in a wrong headed way to a Cartesian dualism. These approaches seem to focus on the irreducibility of the qualia.

Can we use both approaches, or are the two mutually exclusive.

God bless,
Ut

Hi ut;

The argument is a philosophical one, namely relying on the operation of natural reason, and so does not require revelation…and yes, I find the doctrine of hylomorphism quite convincing, especially when you consider it within the overall context of St Thomas’ philosophy. Nor do I think it is compatible with Cartesian dualism, which in many respects is antithetical to Thomas’ doctrine. Cartesian dualism leads to all kinds of problems (such as the relationship between body and soul, and form and matter in general…which led Descartes to tend towards a kind of biologism in his philosophy of person) which the Aristotelian-Thomist model avoids.

I don’t see an " argument. " What are you talking about here?

According to Feser, mechanistic science can take us close to this, but in a wrong headed way to a Cartesian dualism. These approaches seem to focus on the irreducibility of the qualia.

Neither mechanistic science nor Cartesian dualism will lead you to the truth about the nature of the human soul and its function as the form of the human being. Feser warns you about that. As I said, if you want to learn about the human soul as the form of the human being, use the resources I gave you. You cannot use " modern " discussion on these topics as your guide.

Can we use both approaches, or are the two mutually exclusive.

Neither one is valid. Use Thomas but, as I said, learn what the Church says first.

God bless,

Linus2nd

I’ve been rereading the chapter on " psychology " in " Aquinas. " It is quite good actually but it needs to be read more than once and pondered over very carefully. Might even be good to draw some diagrams, underline, and take notes. The central thing is that we know reality, exactly how we know it is not all that important. But both Aquinas and Feser agree that the " form " that exists in the intellect is an " idea " or concept of the " form " that exists in a particular being, which we perceive via the senses.

The one trickey part is that we now know that what we actually perceive, at least through the senses of sight and hearing ( and perhaps taste ), are physical emanations of some sort, waves of photons and sound. Well, perhaps that is just the same as " putting your finger on the apple, " so to speak. But they all add up to a " form, " known by the intellect and which exists in reality.

Linus2nd

Agreed. I read the entire book in less than three days. I intend to go over it again soon and take a good long look at his arguments for the five ways and the chapter on psychology. The chapter on ethics is clear to me I think, and the chapters building up the the ones on the five ways are fairly clear.

I was so interested in his chapter on psychology that I got his book “The Philosophy of Mind”. It is less applicable to the faith since it starts out with Cartesian dualism, but it is already opening up Rene Descarte’s metaphysical can of worms. My hope is that it will go into hylemorphic dualism.

The central thing is that we know reality, exactly how we know it is not all that important. But both Aquinas and Feser agree that the " form " that exists in the intellect is an " idea " or concept of the " form " that exists in a particular being, which we perceive via the senses.

It makes sense. I wonder if this is what Feser called indirect realism? What we really perceive in the world is through the medium of our minds (the forms). Not a direct access to the things themselves, unmediated by anything.

The one trickey part is that we now know that what we actually perceive, at least through the senses of sight and hearing ( and perhaps taste ), are physical emanations of some sort, waves of photons and sound. Well, perhaps that is just the same as " putting your finger on the apple, " so to speak. But they all add up to a " form, " known by the intellect and which exists in reality.

Linus2nd

Right. I think he made a distinction between what we actually see (that pertains to the senses), what we can imagine (that still pertains to the senses), and what we can conceptualize about what we see and imagine (pertaining to the form itself - for example the universalization of all known cats into catness, or all known dogs into dogness).

This is great stuff. I appreciate your feedback Linus2nd. I have five kids and I have started out on the Catechism with the oldest (7 years old) he often asks some difficult questions about things like the nature of the soul, the existence of God, the ten commandments, etc… I feel much better equipped to deal with such questions after reading Aquinas and discussing things here.

God bless,
Ut

I am starting to see more of that in Feser’s “Philosophy of Mind” book - the philosophical problems created by Descartes’ move to split out the soul and body into separate substances. It is a wonder that no one in his day noticed or objected or moved to defend the Aristotelian-Thomist heritage (or at least no one successfully did so). There must be historical/political reasons behind this failure. It would be interesting to find out why.

Another question that comes to mind, if we accept that science needs to discard their Carterain metaphysical baggage, is how would science change as a result? Would their be any impact at all to the scientific method? Has anyone worked out the implications?

God bless,
Ut

Hey Pop, congrats on the family!! The one point I would question is when you said that Feser thought we didn’t have " direct access " to things outside the mind. What he says on pg 148 should clarify that. We do have direct access to reality through the senses ( with perhaps the slight adjustment I suggested). Certainly there can be no doubt about the tactile senses at least. And the process the intellect goes through after the sense perception reveales the " form " as it exists in the extramental " thing. "

Linus2nd

Right. Good point.

Now that I think about it, I remember him saying something about using the forms to get direct access to the physical world like one would use glasses to see things better. Because we perceive things at the level of the intellect, using the forms does not mean we don’t have direct access to things themselves.

God bless,
Ut

A great question ut…and yes, the implications for science of the Cartesian “inward turn” are seen in both Descartes and Francis Bacon who both reject the place of final cause in the scientific method, and this continues to be the trend today. Bacon was perhaps the first to reject the idea of final cause…not that he denied it existed, but that he saw no place for it in science. Descartes was more sceptical of the final cause in general in reference to knowledge. Both saw science as being interested primarily in material and instrumental efficient causes. Because of the general attitude towards metaphysics in the Enlightenment, there is a move away from any meaningful role for the final cause since this cannot be tested by any method of the physical sciences. Consequently, things started being viewed in a mechanistic way, and history tells the rest of the story: idealism, scepticism and ultimately nihilism all followed suit. That’s a potted version of the history of it all, but the nuts and bolts are there. So overcoming Cartesian doubt is, in large part, an effort to recover the rightful place of metaphysics in philosophy and appreciation for the finality of things.

All the best.

I just needed to give an update on my progress in reading Philosophy of Mind. I’m at the chapter that describes the materialist explanations, from philosophical behaviourism, to monism, then to functionalism, and I had to laugh. Functionalism is basically using formal causes to explain the mind (or at least it seems that way - I still need to finish the chapter). :slight_smile: It made me laugh that they should come to such a conclusion and not realize the link with Aristotle and Aquinas. Like having a Eureka moment, then realizing you just invented something that had been around for more than 2000 years. :smiley:

What fun!

God bless,
Ut

A more thorough demonstration on hylomophism can also be found in the SCG, Book II chapters 46-90.

The part about the immateriality of the intellect can be especially found (checks notes) in chapter 50 (although you might need to start at chapter 46 for it to make more sense).

Aquinas makes at least two arguments for the immateriality of the soul. In relation to 4-6 above he reasons this way.

Matter is the principle of division of individuals of the same species. All individual wolves, which are material things, share a common lupine nature, which the human intellect can grasp in a universal concept. Now, physical objects can only receive (say, the imprint of) individual things. A given area of snow, for example, can only receive the paw print of a particular, individual wolf; a camera, the image of a particular scene.
Thomas then concludes: “Therefore, it is only as individuated that a form is received into a body [physical thing]. If, then, the intellect were a body, the intelligible forms of things would not be received into it except as individuated. But the intellect understands things by those forms of theirs which it has in its possession. So, if it were a body, it would not be cognizant of universals but only of particulars. But this is patently false. Therefore, no intellect is a body.”
Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 49, 4]

No physical body can be self-conscious (as in self-aware), or as he puts it, “self-reflexive.” A stone would have to be able to explicitly think about itself and its own personal, inner, mental acts. This is clearly not the case. The human intellect, however, can do these things. In Aquinas’ words: “the action of no body is self-reflexive. For it is proved in the Physics [Aristotle’s work] that no body is moved by itself except with respect to a part, so that one part of it is the mover and the other the moved. But in acting the intellect reflects on itself, not only as to a part, but as to the whole of itself. Therefore, it is not a body.”
Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 49, 8]

Excellent! Keep up the good work.

Linus2nd

Thank you for this further explanation. A big problem I have with understanding Aquinas is getting a hold of his basic terminology. Finding specific words he uses and mapping them to modern day concepts can be a daunting task.

I read SCG as a teenager, but I should take a look at it again, I think.

These explanations also appear much more credible to me after reading Feser’s Philosophy of mind. Having read this book, I have come to understand that Aquinas is raising an issue that materialist philosophers of mind are still struggling with today and failing to provide un-problematic materialist explanations for, or at the very least, failing to answer dualist objections.

God bless,
Ut

But we must interject a proviso.

The human form is not the person. The human form is the same in all human beings. But each person is a unique singularity that is ontologically more basic than a form. (footnote: the “individuality” of the person is ontologically different from the type of individuality we associate with a particular stone or even Fido the dog).

I have a problem with the argument for the “natural” immortality of the "intellectual part " of the human form. I don’t think it applies to the person. Ontologically, the person is the living human body. So the person would naturally disappear when the human body dies.

But God supernaturally maintains the person until the resurrection of the body at the end of time. What this means is that, when we die, we retain our personal consciousness with all of our memories - and we remain able to perceive (in a special way) other human beings (both living and dead), angels and, of course, God Himself (at Mass, we pray that those who have died will see the “light” of God’s Face).

Such “perception” has to be supernaturally maintained because it will not involve phantasms and sense organs.

I know the thread is addressing “immateriality” not “immortality”.

But “immateriality” is the basis for an argument regarding “immortality”.

Something “immaterial” cannot disintegrate - because it has no material parts that could “wear out”.

Thanks for the clarification.

Perhaps you would prefer naturally immateriality part of the soul is supernaturally maintained after the death of the body? Then again, isn’t the definition of immateriality, to be above nature, or super natural?

Unfortunately, due to pressures at work and home, my brain is no longer up to the task to give your post the time it deserves.

God bless,
Ut

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