A Scholastic Argument for the Immateriality of Rational Soul

To save for later…

A paraphrase of the argument by Albert Magnus in George Reilly’s The Psychology of Albert the Great: Compared with That of Saint Thomas (1934), 39.

“The act of understanding is abstract and free from the conditions and limitations of matter. Now since the ‘intelligible’ has a twofold relation, one to the intellect, the other to the thing whose image it is, the freedom in the ‘intelligible’ must come from either of these two things to which it is related. But not from the thing, which is often material or at least bound up with matter, therefore it must be from the intellect. Accordingly, since abstraction is simple, immaterial and incorporeal, the intellect is essentially simple and incorporeal and likewise the rational soul.”


An Essay on Man: Epistle II, Alexander Pope

An excerpt from “An Essay on Man: Epistle II” by Alexander Pope (as printed in Comment magazine)

Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Go, wondrous creature! mount where science guides,
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides;
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time, and regulate the sun;
Go, soar with Plato to th’ empyreal sphere,
To the first good, first perfect, and first fair;
Or tread the mazy round his followers trod,
And quitting sense call imitating God;
As Eastern priests in giddy circles run,
And turn their heads to imitate the sun.
Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule—
Then drop into thyself, and be a fool!

Quotable: Walker Percy

“What does a man do when he finds himself living after an age has ended and he can no longer understand himself because the theories of man of the former age no longer work and the theories of the new age are not yet known, for even the name of the new age is not known, and so everything is upside down, people feeling bad when they should feel good, good when they should feel bad?

“What a man does is start afresh as if he were newly come into a new world, which in fact it is; start with what he knows for sure, look at the birds and beasts, and like a visitor from Mars newly landed on earth notice what is different about man.”

Walker Percy, “The Delta Factor”

Boethius on Music as Anesthetic

Boethius’ The Consolations of Philosophy contains a dialogue wherein Philosophy, like a physician, seeks to cure Boethius’ soul from its malady brought on by his decrease in fortune. He is imprisoned, soon to be executed for treason on spurious charges arising from his concern for the dignity of the senate. Philosophy utilizes what she calls “some gentle and pleasant remedy which may prepare you for the stronger medicine”; this remedy is Music with its graces. So she sings, in the voice of Fortune herself:

“If free-handed Plenty should dispense riches from her cornucopia as plentiful as the sands cast up by the storm tossed sea, or as the stars that shine in heaven on clear nights, men still would not stop crying their miserable complaints.

“Even though God were overgenerous with treasures of gold and deigned to satisfy every plea, if He favored the ambitious with the greatest honors, still all this would not satisfy.

“Ravenous greed would devour everything and then discover other wants. No bridle can restrain man’s disordered desires within reasonable bounds. Even when he is filled with great favors, he burns with thirst for more. No man can be rich who cries fearfully and considers himself to be poor.” (Boethius, Consolations, 25.)

To which Boethius replies, “You have made a persuasive argument, and presented it with sweet music and rhetoric. But it satisfies only while it is being spoken. Those in misery have a more profound awareness of their afflictions, and therefore a deep-seated pain continues long after the music stops.”

“You are quite right,” Philosophy answered, “for these words are not supposed to cure your disease but only to kill the pain of obstinate sorrow. At the proper time I shall apply more deeply penetrating medicine. …”

Boethius, The Consolations of Philosophy, translated by Richard Green (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1962), 25.

I’ve been having some very preliminary conversations with a friend about the psychological event of disintegration from trauma. It strikes me that Boethius may be himself dealing with such an event, and trying to reconcile the emotional value of music and philosophy. In the end, he argues that philosophy is the better cure. But this passage is intriguing for its suggestion that music is an emotional anesthetic of sorts, it allows an alternate vision for a time. It is not the cure, but it can be a path toward it.

Dualism and the Human Condition

Nancy Murphy teaches at Fuller. I don’t know much about her, but I wanted to at least bring this issue to light. Perhaps one of you would like to read her and report back to us. A couple of quotes:

we are our bodies — there is no additional metaphysical element such as a mind or soul or spirit.”

complex physical organisms, imbued with the legacy of thousands of years of culture, and, most importantly, blown by the Breath of God’s Spirit; we are Spirited bodies.”

As reported in Nine Marks, this is a quick synopsis to what she’s saying.

She is a proponent of a theory called nonreductive physicalism. She notes what her view denies: “First, physicalism is a denial of dualism. Second, the nonreductive part is the denial of the supposition that physicalism also entails the absence of human meaning, responsibility and freedom.” Then she explains her theory:

What do nonreductive physicalists believe about human nature? For starters, let me put it this way: For dualists, the concept of the soul serves the purpose of explaining what we might call humans’ higher capacities. These include a kind of rationality that goes beyond that of animals, as well as morality and a relationship with God. A reductive view would say that, if there is no soul, then people must not be truly rational, moral or religious; that is, what was taken in the past to be rationality, morality and spirituality is really nothing but brain processes. The nonreductive physicalist says instead that if there is no soul, then these higher capacities must be explained in a different manner. In part they are explainable as brain functions, but their full explanation requires attention to human social relations, to cultural factors and, most importantly, to God’s action in our lives (“Nonreductive Physicalism,” in Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer, eds., In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem, 115-16)

While this may seem to fly in the face of traditional interpretations of the Biblical teaching of multipartite man (with good reason), Murphy explains herself in this way (from Lynne Rudder Baker’s review of Murphy’s book, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?:

In Chapter One, Murphy convincingly shows that there is no such thing as “the” anthropology of the Bible or of the Christian tradition. Murphy argues that the fact that the Bible seems to teach dualism is largely a result of poor translations. Once the translations are repaired, “it is hard to find any clear teaching on the metaphysical make-up of the person” in the Bible at all. (p. 37) The Biblical authors were “interested in the various dimensions of human life, in relationships, not in the philosophical question of how many parts are essential components of a human being.” (p. 39) Thus, the door is open to physicalism.

All this to say, anthropology is important. We need to be aware that even those within Christendom are advocating physicalism. While Murphy denies the reductive view, many within our churches affirm it without even realizing it, thus destroying their capability to change. Victims, not victors… Other doctrines fall as well, sin for instance. The late O.H. Mowrer (a secular psychologist) puts the problem this way:

For several decades, we psychologists have looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and acclaimed our liberation from sin as epoch making. But at length we have discovered that to be free from sin, that is to have the excuse of being sick rather than being sinful is to court the danger of also becoming lost. This danger is, I believe, betokened by the widespread interest in existentialism which we are presently witnessing. In becoming amoral, ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity, and with neurotics themselves, we find ourselves asking, Who am I? What is my deepest destiny? What does living really mean?”

-O. H. Mowrer, former president of the American Psychological Association. (Committed suicide at age 79.)