Moral dilemna


I need advice about what to do about a particular situation because of a double intention. I was in philosophy class, when my professor said that St. Thomas does not teach that the soul is a substance. I immediately raised my hand and said, “yes he does.” The professor said, “no he doesn’t.” I said, “yes, he does, I have it right in front of me on my laptop.” So he asked me to read. I read, and the pertinent information was that Thomas defined substance as ‘a particular thing’ and said that the soul was a particular thing. The professor had me keep reading indefinitely in an attempt to embarrass me, and still did not agree on Thomas’ teaching. He then said to email him if I found different. So I found three different places where St. Thomas explicitly says that the soul is a substance and sent it to the teacher. His response was “read more carefully” and his general attitude was dismissive as if my view was nonsense. So I emailed a multitude of professors with the same question. They responded by saying that I was right and he was wrong. Now, do I email this original professor back with what the other professors told me in order to vindicate what I said, or do I just leave it alone and consider him a person not worth the effort since correcting him will be in private and won’t benefit the class which was subject to hearing his false opinion overcome mine?


You proved him wrong and he was not able to admit it in front of his class. Let it go. He has too much influence on your future for you to make an issue of this.


Do you care enough about him to correct him in private so he may learn? Or does his power over your eventual marks make his intellectual education of lesser value in the prosaics of your difference in power? Always judge a man by the power they have over you.


If you want to correct him, at least wait until after he posts your grade. He may not take kindly to your questioning other professors about his opinion, especially if he was identifiable to them.

Note that this is not a moral dilemma, it is a matter of prudential judgment.


this is a general lesson about life. Not everyone appreciates the correct answer.

Now, that’s not to say that I even understand the question. The point of your instructor’s remark may have been simply to make you all “think.” You have shown evidence of having done some of that.

Perhaps you should follow his advice and “read more.”

In Catholic circles, Aquinas practically walks on water. We’re proud of him. But, elsewhere, he has been criticized. I browsed through Yaroslav Pelikan’s History of Christian Doctrine, five volumes. I can’t tell you exactly where, but I think there’s criticism of Aquinas in there, although it may not involve this exact point.


Would there be anyway you could continue to discuss it with your professor? Maybe you could ask him to ‘help you understand his position’ when he says read more carefully what does he mean? etc. Is it possible he is reading Thomas in terms of the substantial unity of the body and soul together as forming one substance? not recognising that the soul can exist as a separated substance(albeit imperfectly)? In that way you might be able to bring him to see more clearly what St Thomas was saying. I think that simply showing him other prof’s agree with you won’t help very much .

By the way, if you don’t mind me asking, what did you quote to him?


Is it not possible that your teacher sees something that you do not?

Your teacher deserves more respect than having one of his students saying “no, he doesn’t” to his statements during in class.


In a debate, the person making a claim has the responsibility to support it, but it is not his debate partner’s responsibility to prove that the claim is wrong. You are having an unproductive discourse because the focus is on you proving him wrong instead of him providing evidence for why he is right. Next time, just point out that there is a contradiction between what he says and the source material and ask him to back up his assertions. If he can’t do that, then debating with him is not worth your time.


Inquire from your teacher. Tell him this:

“I have read and read, but I do not understand how Aquinas is saying that the soul is not a substance, as you have said. Will you please explain to me what I am missing?”

Wouldn’t you feel like a buffoon if he was right, after you told him you went and asked a bunch of his colleagues to back you up?

I get that your teacher seems like kind of a jerk, and it’s really likely that he’s plain wrong and being stubborn about it. Don’t deal with him in public about the issue. Just ask him how he justifies that Aquinas is saying what he says he is… tell him “I did read more, I don’t understand it; teach me.” He will succeed or fail.


Leave it alone. You are there to get a passing grade in the class and your instructor has shown no interest in listening to you or considering your view points. You will get no where trying to convince him that you are right and he is wrong, and possibly will get a grade lower than you deserve for the class. You know the truth; that is enough.


For all who are wondering here is the exchange:

  1. I simply emailed him the source material that supported my position which was:

summa first part question 75

article 4

Objection 2. Further, the human soul is a substance. But it is not a universal substance. Therefore it is a particular substance. Therefore it is a “hypostasis” or a person; and it can only be a human person. Therefore the soul is man; for a human person is a man.

Reply to Objection 2. Not every particular substance is a hypostasis or a person, but that which has the complete nature of its species. Hence a hand, or a foot, is not called a hypostasis, or a person; nor, likewise, is the soul alone so called, since it is a part of the human species.

Article 2

Augustine says (De Trin. x, 7): “Who understands that the nature of the soul is that of a substance and not that of a body, will see that those who maintain the corporeal nature of the soul, are led astray through associating with the soul those things without which they are unable to think of any nature–i.e. imaginary pictures of corporeal things.” Therefore the nature of the human intellect is not only incorporeal, but it is also a substance, that is, something subsistent.

De Anima

  1. Since, then, there are three sorts of substance: the compound; matter; and form; and since the soul is neither the compound-the living body itself; nor its matter—the body as the subject that receives life; we have no choice but to say that the soul is a substance in the manner of a form that determines or characterises a particular sort of body, i.e. a physical body potentially alive.

book II chapter I lecture 1 section 221

2. His response: In all these texts he says only that in some qualified sense the human soul is a substance. You must read them carefully. **

  1. I emailed other professors. I got 2 responses so far**
  1. The separated human soul is a substance, but is incomplete in its species: it is not a “complete substance” because it is by nature ordered to communicate its esse to the matter, and to inform an organic body. A substance is that which exists through itself rather than simply through another. In the case of the human soul, Thomas teaches that it communicates the esse by which it subsists to the matter, so that the esse of the soul is the esse of the whole entity. Of course, this is because the evidence forces him beyond the ordinary conclusions that are true of other living substances. In the ordinary case there is no agency that does not depend on matter and so there is not any reason to judge a being that does not depend on matter. In the human case, intellectual activity does extrinsically depend on matter in order to obtain its objects (from the phantasm); but knowledge intrinsically is independent of matter, being universal both in its conceptual mode and in its extension, and open to the whole universe of being (as a function of its objectivity). I’d be happy to converse with you about all this. In short, it is true that in an acceptable sense of the term the soul is a substance, but that it is in Thomas’s analysis not complete in its species as a substance because by its very nature it is ordered to inform matter to be an organic body and to communicate its esse to the composite. Let’s converse about this further sometime!

  2. I do not know who taught you that St. Thomas held that the separated soul is not a substance, but that is, as you see from the texts of Aquinas that is wrong. The rational soul is the form of the one substance that is an individual human being. When one dies the soul is separated from the body, but it remains the form of that body. It does not merge into some sort of cosmic or universal soul. Perhaps the teacher was trying to convey what Aquinas states about the resurrection of the body as fitting since without the unity-identity-whole of the human being, our graced and supernatural immortality would not be of us as persons. The separated rational soul is substantial as the form of a particular human being, but is not the full or perfect substance it will be, thanks to the Triune God’s grace, when there is the resurrection of the body.


Now my moral dilemna, which I agree is a prudential judgement is not difficult because I’m worried about correcting a professor. I am known to do that. I am an older student, I have a 4.0, and if my grade would have suffered for “getting into it” with professors, I would have suffered the consequences a long time ago. The problem is with my intention. Half of my intention is saying, “You really need to show your professor this, and the only way he will believe you is if you show him the opinion of other professors, that way he does not go on believing his error” The second half of my intention is saying, “This professor always evades questions and mistreats students, it’d feel good to prove him wrong because he always thinks he’s right.”

But perhaps the reason he evades questions is because he doesn’t always think that? So I don’t know?


So you could be ‘right’ and likely fail the class having humiliated the teacher.

Or you can just go on your way knowing he will not listen. Get your passing grade and move on to people that will listen to you.

Seems a no-brainer to me.


As the Apostle Paul says, make your point a couple of times, then let it go.
You don’t have to change your point of view, though, and, if asked again, go ahead
and state it again, but don’t originate the point more than a couple of times, as that
is kind of harassing and kind of trying to force your point upon someone, who is
free to believe or not.


You obviously gave your professor enough to discern. If he wishes to remain closed on the issue then so be it. You have what you need and I think that you need to “submarine” on this one and carry on. If it has no bearing on your grade then give him what he wants and move on. We have to pick and choose our battles in life and I think that this one will just result in frustration at best and resentment at worst. I do not have a college degree but I have enough life experience to know when you are bouncing your head against a wall. God bless you… teachccd


A teacher cannot fail you because you prove him wrong. Pulling something like that, he’d be in huge trouble with the Dean. The question isn’t a matter of opinion. Either he’s right or wrong. He teaches at a Catholic University and has signed a contract agreeing to not teach anything contradictory to the Church’s teaching. Therefore, he’s in no position to fail someone for speaking the truth. A student is graded on their class participation and their test scores, not based on how much they like the student. Basically, anyone who says that I should take the consideration of what the professor may do is a suck-up. I do not consider the teacher more powerful than I am especially if the truth is on my side.


Basing your philosophy on what the consequences will be is known as utilitarianism. It’s like saying, if someone with a gun comes into a group of people and orders you to kill one person or he will kill all of the rest, that you should kill that one person in order to save everyone else. No, according to St. Thomas, you’d still be guilty of murder. So far, from what I have read, it’d be better for me to confront this professor with his error.


Having been there myself, I understand what it is like to be confronted by a college professor that is just plain wrong.
At the time I felt there was nothing more important. That I would be compromising my principles to back down from a point in which I knew I was right.

Hind-sight is 20-20. Once, perhaps twice and you have made the point.
Further pursuit will simply gain you more trouble.

Those that are wrong and are publicly shown such often find a way to get even.
The future problems that are created are not worth winning the argument.


I agree…


I’ve been there before myself as well, but I’ve always stood up to the professor. Anyway, I emailed the professor and confronted him with the arguments of the other professors. I did so because the only arguments anyone made was that I should withhold the truth from this person simply because he is a professor, which is absurd. When I originally posted this dilemna, it had to do with my intention, the fact of whether the person happened to be my professor or not was completely irrelevant to my decision, but was instead imposed by others. Anyway, I’ve already emailed him. It’s up to him on whether to accept the truth or not at this point.

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