Aristotle – on whether the soul can survive death

Although Aristotle seems to end his investigation of the soul with the conclusion that men do not have individual souls in the same way as they have individual bodies (each individual man being an individuated substance by reason of being a composite of both matter and form, the form being the rational soul), still, Aristotle begins his preliminary remarks in De Anima with the following observation:

A further problem presented by the affections of soul is this: are they all affections of the complex of body and soul, or is there any one among them peculiar to the soul by itself? To determine this is indispensable but difficult. If we consider the majority of them, there seems to be no case in which the soul can act or be acted upon without involving the body; e.g. anger, courage, appetite, and sensation generally. Thinking seems the most probable exception; but if this too proves to be a form of imagination or to be impossible without imagination, it too requires a body as a condition of its existence. If there is any way of acting or being acted upon proper to soul, soul will be capable of separate existence; if there is none, its separate existence is impossible.
~Aristotle, De Anima, Book 1 Part 1

What, then, can the Theologian offer in response to this argument? I think we can say, in response, that ‘rational intuition’ is a movement or action of the soul which is proper to it, and which does not depend on the body. Further, it can be acted upon in this way by ideas which it is presented-to. Therefore, the soul can survive death (i.e., it is logically possible for the soul to exist without the body, given that it is not the case that a conceptual analysis of what the soul is yields the conclusion that none of its affections are independent of a body).

Notice too that rational intuition is a good candidate for a number of reasons. For instance, Gödel’s incompleteness theorum, or the suppositions of rationalism, or the existence of universals – all these may count in favor of recognizing that this function of rational intuition is in no way dependent upon the empirical sense-data.

Can this function alone make sense, though, of the doctrine of the communion of the saints (which stipulates that the souls of those who exist now in the blissful fellowship of God and thus are proper parts of the Church, and whose prayers continue to animate the Church militant)? Perhaps it can make sense of how Saints who do not have bodies (in the absence of the resurrection) can both 1) know that S subject is imploring the saint for intercessory prayer, and 2) actually pray in response to that knowledge. They can know 1) by its being rationally intuited (where God himself, let’s say, provides the information to the soul), and they can do 2) insofar as they can play an active role of communicating with God. Perhaps this second is trickier because it seems to us as though ‘rational intuition’ is passive, but I’m not sure I see good reason to think it is always passive. Perhaps it is active.

Of course, one might have to say that the soul retains the capacity to exercise categorical free will, and that that best explains 2), so perhaps the Theologian can point to a number of different affections and/or actions of the soul which are not dependent upon a body, but my argument thus far has been to identify just one, and hopefully it is the one which analytic philosophers will recognize to be the one the rejection of which entails the highest (and therefore most undesireable) price.


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Free Will, Metaphysics, Philosophical Theology, Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Religion, Rationalism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Aristotle – on whether the soul can survive death

  1. Debilis says:

    Indeed, the idea of determinism (lacking a free will) cannot be rationally held, as it would entail that one believes in determinism for reasons other than its truth.
    I’d say that this is a clear reason to reject a purely materialistic view of the human.

    • Right, so what you’re saying is, if I’m reading you right, that perhaps the denial of free will incurs a greater cost than does the denial of rational intuition in the ‘rationalist’ sense. Even if you were right, though, it seems to me that so many people reject Free Will that one might have a dialectical advantage if they shift the debate towards rationalism instead.

      • Debilis says:

        I suppose you’re right. I’ve always felt that it is so much easier to criticize than to establish truth that whichever idea being debated is bound to appear weaker.

        This is, I’d assume, why formal debates require that both participants take a stance on the issue.

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