Soul as substantial form of the body


#1

Hi, everyone. On another thread I posted this in response to Greg27 (hi, Greg27):

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg27
. I think the CC needs to dump scholasticism once and for all; St Thomas was a great philosopher, but notions like the ‘soul being the form of the body’ are very widely rejected by the mainstream of science and philosophy.

[End quote]

I agreed with most of your post; I wanted to respond to this, and yes I realize it is WAY off the thread. Just one quick post and then I’ll be quiet.

There are some current philosophers (I think of Wolfgang Smith in a 1999 issue of The Thomist and Simon Oliver in his recent book Philosophy, God and Motion) who are arguing for a return to “substantial form” language (soul being the form of the body). I think it’s still valid even for biological animation, for a lot of reasons, but these two look at quantum-level behavior of particles. They argue that the idea of a substantial form taking on corporeality out of a non-corporeal physical phenomenon is one way to make sense of why “super-position” and “bi-location” happen at a particle level, but not at a macro-level—the particle level has no substantial form, but has the “potential” for substantial form-ness. When it takes on a form / becomes corporeal, its behavior and motion become stable and it no longer exhibits bi-location when measured. It loses that potential when its “form” becomes the first “act” of its corporeal “body.”

You are right in one sense; neither in quantum theory nor in biology is this the mainstream view. But it does explain some observations of quantum behavior, and I think it is also the only good explanation of how corporeal bodies can come alive and begin to develop. It is also, in my opinion, the best way to argue on social issues (see Robert P. George, for example).

[This post was sort of off topic on the other thread, so I thought I’d start a new thread to see if anyone is interested in talking this over. Best, cpayne]


#2

Okay, maybe that first post was a little narrow in its interest-level (although quantum theory is pretty cool, you have to admit). So how about this: As Greg27 suggested, should scholastic philosophy be unloaded as part of the baggage of the CC? Could the CC have more effect on the world and more relevant interaction with a different system of thinking?

Wow, cpayne, those are interesting questions. Why yes, I’d be delighted to jump in!


#3

I probably went a bit overboard in my earlier condemnation of Scholasticism; I get very frustrated when I see living realities or truths expounded in ways that seem like dry hay.

Scholastic philosophy did have a very positive contribution to the Church, and to Western philosophy as a whole. The return to issues of language and logic has also led to a rediscovery of the riches of scholastics, particularly people like Duns Scotus, Ockham, Aquinas, and others, who did much valuable work on various important philosophical problems. The work of people like Frege, Husserl, Wittgenstein, Russell, and others does in a way mark a return to a ‘scholasticism’ in trying to address philosophical questions with rigorous logic, though unfortunately many analytic philosophers seem to view philosophy merely as a handmaiden for modern science.

However I think the Church made a mistake by over-emphasizing a return to scholastic thinking as the way to make the church able to respond to the intellectual challenges played by modernity. The medieval cosmos has been comprehensively dismantled by modern science and the enlightenment, and there is no going back to pre-modernity or the time of the Fathers. What is needed is a more critical and open philosophical and theological response which makes use of several philosophical methodologies, past Scholasticism and including analytic and continental philosophy, including the important attention to issues of language and logic as well as problems relating to man’s embodiment in the world and his relation to the mystery of Being.

Rather, I think it would be better if problems were formulated more in light of what modern science and new philosophical techniques are showing in relation to human nature, and utilising them to shed light on the problems scholastics considered, but bringing it much more up to date with modern logic and language analysis, rather than simply trying to revert to the scholastic ways of thinking, speaking, and doing philosophy, which make it hard to make a good and relevant apologetic for the Christian faith to non-believers and skeptics.


#4

I actually agree, I think, but I’ve been working so long on degrees involving scholasticism that I dream about Aquinas. My family and friends are really tired of hearing sentences beginning with, “Well, according to Aquinas . . .”

Your position sounds a whole lot like that of John Paul II. Would you agree? Was he an influence?


#5

When did the Church “return” to scholastic thinking? I’ve been waiting forever for this–did I miss it?

The medieval cosmos has been comprehensively dismantled by modern science and the enlightenment

Not sure what you mean by the medieval cosmos, but I disagree that Aristotle has been displaced by anybody as the guy with the truth about nature and the nature of things.

What is needed is …attention to issues of language and logic as well as problems relating to man’s embodiment in the world and his relation to the mystery of Being.

I can only say that in classic style I studied undergrad the disciplines of the Trivium and Quadrivium, which includes the arts you want studied–language (“grammar”), logic, rhetoric; it includes philosophy, which begins with the consideration of Being and Becoming. To study the nature of Nature itself, and then the nature of everything from justice or virtue to the nature of man to the nature of happiness–to study these things under the geniuses Socrates, Aristotle & St. Thomas–this is to have the beginnings of wisdom. There is, I believe, no better way to understand ourselves and the world around us, modern or otherwise; no better way to prepare to meet technical, “scientific”, social, ethical, political difficulties as modern as you like.

Edith Stein was a devoted student of the Husserl you admire; when I read her autobiography, I watched her master him and then seek to reconcile him to St. Thomas as she grew into Catholicism. She ended up a Thomist, I believe, a journey which reassured me as to her own brilliance.

Rather, I think it would be better if problems were formulated more in light of what modern science and new philosophical techniques are showing in relation to human nature, and utilising them to shed light on the problems scholastics considered, but bringing it much more up to date with modern logic and language analysis, rather than simply trying to revert to the scholastic ways of thinking, speaking, and doing philosophy, which make it hard to make a good and relevant apologetic for the Christian faith to non-believers and skeptics.

Again, I don’t know who is reverting to scholastic ways of thinking. The more definitions, the better; and dialogue without definitions produces obscurity: Aristotle and Thomas are huge on definition. I, too, want to get better at explaining/defending the faith to others–Aristotle and Thomas help me to do so.

Maybe you would be willing to give a specific example of a current problem which you think Thomas Aquinas does not meet in principle.

cpayne, your post was awesome:

…some current philosophers… are arguing for a return to “substantial form” language (soul being the form of the body). I think it’s still valid even for biological animation, for a lot of reasons, but these two look at quantum-level behavior of particles. They argue that the idea of a substantial form taking on corporeality out of a non-corporeal physical phenomenon is one way to make sense of why “super-position” and “bi-location” happen at a particle level, but not at a macro-level—the particle level has no substantial form, but has the “potential” for substantial form-ness. When it takes on a form / becomes corporeal, its behavior and motion become stable and it no longer exhibits bi-location when measured. It loses that potential when its “form” becomes the first “act” of its corporeal “body.”

IMO, this is the language which allows for wisdom about how soul and body relate.


#6

I definitely agree with Greg27 that the Church needs to emphasize a “meeting of the minds” with modern philosophies, but I think it’s largely been doing that (perhaps even to a fault). The only dedicated students of Aquinas that I’m familiar with are the Dominicans, and they still incorporate more modern philosophies into their studies.

My main interest in this thread, though, is that I want to defend the Scholastic, or more especially the Thomistic, approach to the world. I think that the greatest strength of the system is that it deals with the world in a manner that’s directly compatible with how we perceive it. In a sense I think it’s the “philosophy of common human perception”, or as Chesterton calls it “the philosophy of common sense”.

I’m not overly familiar with quantum physics, but I tend to think that trying to squeeze Thomism into science is always a little cock-eyed; it is precisely in the cases where Thomas did this that he makes erroneous statements, and there is no reason to believe that our science of today is really any more “certain” than his day’s science of bodily humours and such.

The real benefit of ideas like “substantial form” is that they precisely match the human experience of reality, even when we’re not thinking about it intensely. Anyone who’s worked with the dying will tell you that there is a very clear distinction between seeing a person in a coma, and seeing a corpse. We can’t put our fingers on exactly what it is, but there’s an almost tangible difference. No science of particles can address it, but the language and approach of Thomism can; we say that the substantial form of the body has changed/left. No matter what language you want to use, the fact is that what we’re seeing is no longer human, and it’s obvious. Moving away from humans and souls the perception fits even more with Scholastic terminology, such as when we see a plastic circle lose its form by being bent or broken, and we can recognize that “circle” is now gone, but the matter remains. Our entire perception and language is built upon these principles, and they can’t be easily discarded without breaking with the actual human experience of reality (as many philosophers of the 18th and 19th centuries ended up doing).

I think it’s fitting to say that everyone is a Thomist in how they perceive and approach the world, it’s just that not everyone is a Thomist in how they approach their approach to the world. This is precisely where Thomism keeps its head on straight, and approaches things consistantly.

Now, for a treatment of Thomism confronting modern philosophy (specifically analytic) on the question of the nature of the human mind, I recommend checking out Br. Christopher Fadok’s thesis:

opwest.org/Archive/2006/FadokThesis.doc

He’s an analytically trained Dominican, and I know him personally. His thoughts have progressed since he wrote the thesis, but at the very least it’s an interesting “confrontation” between Thomism and analytic philosophy, and it points a bit to what I was talking about above.

Peace and God bless!


#7

Incidentally, can someone explain to me or link me to a better explanation of the soul being “the substantial form of the body”?


#8

I don’t have it in front of me, but I believe you want Aristotle’s De Anima (Of the Soul). (And yes, one can read it directly oneself in the English.)

I can make a first attempt at the concept. Aristotle works out that the soul is the act of the body. Matter is pure potency–my matter, the matter which one thinks of as my body, is brought from pure potency into actuality by my soul. So the soul is the act or FORM of my body (one’s soul is actual, the matter it forms is potential to being formed by it).

G.K. Chesterton could do something with this–you know, how the enchanting, magical, enticing words MOOREEFFOC on a street window, seeming to promise almost anything–are actually coffeeroom seen from the other side of the glass.

We think of the body as concrete, what is. What IS more, is the soul–IT actualizes the matter, resulting in the animated body. In death, with the separation of the matter from its form, from that which “forms”, actualizes, it–what remains bears but an accidental, quickly fading, resemblance to the body we once knew and loved. What is lying there are the elements which, in the absence of the principle according to which they were all organized and associated together, are already dissociating from each other and returning to “dust”.

Love this stuff!


#9

Thanks for the kind words; I just wanted to answer this. I think Greg27 is referring to the 1879 encyclical by Leo XIII on returning to the teaching of Thomism. Even today, although all kinds of other philosophical influences are circulating in the Church (some of them very good influences, some not so good), I think the Catholic “default position” is Thomism.


#10

Another attempt (although the previous one by toaslan was fine): The soul is the animating principle of the body’s matter. (The Gk. psuche / psyche is the Latin “anima.”) Matter develops into a “substance” by means of the animating form within it. I’m not a dog because I don’t have a dog’s substantial form, even though the matter of which the dog is composed is pretty much the same as mine. Even human DNA, the “blueprint” of our organized development, doesn’t do anything until it’s “switched on” by the soul. So Catholics believe two things: When our human lives begin, God infuses our human soul into our corporeal matter. Also, humans are one substance, made up of both spiritual and physical elements, but only one substance. This is also why humans in heaven still require the resurrection from the dead—human souls are supposed to be with human bodies.

I think of Peter Kreeft’s “dead cow” argument: What’s the difference between a living cow and a cow that’s been dead for one minute, since they both have the same bodily matter? Answer: One has a substantial form and one doesn’t. “The body without the spirit is dead.”


#11

Thanks both for the replies. I’m going to pick up the books recommended in this thread (modern thomism seems downright interesting too).


#12

Depending on how technical you want to get, here are some recommendations:

My favorite Thomist on ethics: J. Budziszewski.

Favorite on social issues: Robert P. George.

Favorite on metaphysics: Ralph McInerny, Norman Kretzmann, Eleonore Stump, especially “The Metaphysics of Theism” and “The Metaphysics of Creation.” A great two-book series, but caution: WAY technical.

Overall Thomist: Peter Kreeft.

Best introduction: G.K. Chesterton on “Thomas Aquinas, the Dumb Ox.” (which I think is available online for free?)

This doesn’t even mention all the French, Italian, German, and U.K. writers—Jacques Maritain, Anton Pegis, Josef Pieper, and Etienne Gilson immediately leap to mind. Too many books to read!!!


#13

[quote="cpayne] I think Greg27 is referring to the 1879 encyclical by Leo XIII on returning to the teaching of Thomism. Even today…I think the Catholic “default position” is Thomism.
[/quote]

1879 is a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. However far from Thomism we were when Leo XIII wrote this, we are light years farther now, I think. When I read the documents of Vatican II, I find them unsatisfying to my Thomistic palate–the lack of definition not only creating vagueness but vulnerable to misunderstanding and abuse. With our beloved JPII we got personalism, well outside the Thomistic river. I’m not saying what JPII said cannot be understood Thomistically, I think it can (and in my view it must, in order to have organic connection to the genuine development of doctrine).

I agree with all this except I want to tweak the last sentence, in order to avoid possibly communicating that there is some body into which God infuses our human soul, so: When our human lives begin, God infuses our human soul into our matter–and a body is the result. This body is human. OK?

Also, humans are one substance, made up of both spiritual and physical elements, but only one substance. This is also why humans in heaven still require the resurrection from the dead—human souls are supposed to be with human bodies.

Yes! What is the relevant classic definition of man–I want to say, “An Individuated Substance of a Rational Nature,” but aren’t angels rational individual substances too…


#14

May I encourage you to read St. Thomas himself? He is the Angelic Doctor, and his writings are seminal. He is difficult because, for one thing, he is using terms the way Aristotle used them–form, matter, substance, soul, etc. For another thing, he is all business. But I think people would be surprised by how accessible Thomas himself is, and it is always best, if possible, to read the original rather than some second person’s opinion, formed by intervening professors and textbooks, of what the original guy said. Thomas ought to be our primary source for Thomism; all others have value as secondary sources… I think McInerny is good. I agree that *The Dumb Ox *is great–by a great author about a great Doctor of the Church!

We don’t need “modern” Thomism, we need Thomism, IMO. Further, the big gun on Ethics and natural philosophy–and on logic, rhetoric, etc.–is Aristotle himself. Aristotle can also be read directly (well, in English translation). People are surprised that they can understand him, but this is the language and the philosophy which Thomas lives in.


#15

First paragraph: :slight_smile:

Second paragraph: Yes; this is the definition for ALL rational substances (angels, God, humans, etc.). The difference with humans is that somewhere in there is the word “embodied.”


#16

Thomas is very accessible. He may be a bit difficult and dry as bones at first, but once you slog through a little bit, it suddenly becomes easily. He also approaches things taking into account as much possible conflicting data and interpretations-- he really is an ideal model of how philosophy should be conducted (in that regard). I’ve read bunches of selections from the Summa, and a little bit from On Being and Essence. The Summa is surely a great read. As for On Being and Essence, that is primarily philosophical.

As for Aristotle-- I agree as well. I recently began to read his Physics, which after a bit of a tough start is becoming a good read as well. Although I’d say to start with Ethics, which I also found a bit slow at first. However, once one gets a grasp of the material it becomes fun and entertaining to read. I still love book three on voluntary actions and choice. :slight_smile:

-Rob

P.S. Although I’m not sure I’ve read any secondary source on Thomas-- except Chesterton-- I’ve heard that much of the reason Thomism became stale at some points was because of, “Thomists” who had become so buried in the arguments of their school. There is a huge difference, it must be said, between Thomas and Thomists, at points. :slight_smile:

P.P.S. As regards man’s form, it is his soul, but more properly, can’t one say it is his intellect, which for Thomas is what makes man what man is?


#17

I am invoking the philosopher’s code: I know nothing about which I was about to speak but thought better of it. Hiya! Howrya? :wave:


#18

Oh, I plan on reading Saint Thomas’ works too. Mostly I wanted to see the modern development of his philosophy. I’m finding this talk of the soul interesting, mostly because it sounds different from the “normal” conception of the soul. You know, a kind of ghost that floats around/possesses the body.


#19

I just want to second a couple recommendations:

First, read “St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dumb Ox” by G. K. Chesterton, available online for free here:

cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/aquinas.html

Then get ahold of St. Thomas Aquinas’ works themselves, especially the Summa. “The Dumb Ox” gives a brilliant introduction to the style and thinking of St. Thomas, and after reading it I found that the Summa came MUCH more easily to me. One of the most important things to remember is that St. Thomas is speaking in the most basic way possible, and he intends his terms to be taken in an almost simplistic way. Once you have that understanding you can follow him as he builds up his arguments; trying to assume too much nuance in the words can actually make the matters unintelligible.

Good luck and have fun!

Peace and God bless!


#20

Nullasalus, having read some of your other posts I am left with the impression that you have a keen interest in quantum mechanics and theoretical physics. I would suggest then that you pick up Anthony Rizzi’s The Science Before Science. It not only gives a course in basic Thomistic philosophy, but then it applies those concepts to paradoxes that arise from various theories in physics and the other specialized sciences. I’m looking at some of the chapter subtitles right now:

Time Travel (General Relativity), Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Bell’s Theorem and the EPR Paradox, Quantum Mechanics, etc.

Here are Rizzi’s credentials:

Since Einstein first conceived general relativity, over 80 years ago, physicists have sought a definition for angular momentum in general relativity. No satisfactory definition of angular momentum had been given. In 1997, Dr. Rizzi gave the first such definition thereby gaining worldwide recognition for his work in theoretical physics.
. . .

In 1982, Dr. Rizzi received a BS in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); later he received his MS from University of Colorado and a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University.

Even though it does discuss issues found in theoretical physics, it is primarily a course in Neo-Scholasticism. It also sets the stage for the proper place of science and the proper place of philosophy and how the two have infringed on one another historically.


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