Written on 07.11.2004,
by Roman Zakharii,
in Leipzig, Germany
But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee;
and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee;
Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee;
and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee;
Who knoweth not among all these,
that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?
In whose hand is the soul of every living thing,
and the breath of all mankind.
The Book of Job 12:7-10
I wrote down these citations while
reading Thomas Aquinas’ volume on the soul
and selected what I found of key importance for understanding of human nature.
For Aristotle understanding is separate, and not the act of any body. Hence it is not united to a body as its form. Aristotle established that understanding, alone among the acts of the soul, took place without a physical organ. Plato however distinguished between intellect and sense, yet attributed each to an incorporeal principle, maintaining that sensation, like understanding, belonged to the soul of itself alone. And from this it followed that souls of brute animals are subsistent.
Sense is related to sense objects as intellect to intelligible objects. But the intellect understands intelligible things without the body. So the senses must grasp sense objects without the body. But the souls of brute animals are sense-souls. So they are subsistent. The argument is the same as it is for the intellectual soul of man.
In the intellect things which are naturally incompatible with each other, can coexist.
Since souls of brute animals have no activity which is intrinsically of soul alone, they do not subsist. Because everything acts as it exists. Now it has been shown above that brute souls are not the per se subsisting things which only human souls are. So brute souls pass away when the body does, while the human soul cannot corrupt unless per se, that is from within itself.
Augustine says that just as the soul sees things in visions in the imagination at a time when the body lies unconscious, not yet quite dead, so it is when the soul is wholly disembodied by death.
The soul at death frees itself from flesh, and bears virtually in itself, both the human and the divine: the other powers, all of them mute; memory, intelligence, and will far keener in action than before.
A disembodied soul does not feel joy and sadness due to bodily desire, but due to intellectual desire, as with angels!
So what is said, that man and the other animals have the same kind of origin, is true of the body; for all animals are of earth. But it is not true of the soul, for the soul of brutes are produced by a certain material force, whereas the human soul is produced by God (the seed of man and woman does not cause the new man to be, but provides only matter for God to act on).
Therefore the soul is the inward man. It is the intellectual part which is called the inward man. The sense soul in the body is described as the outward man.
For the intellect is the subject of the quality we call knowledge and undergoes change from ignorance to knowledge by virtue of its capacity to receive the intelligibility of things into itself.
If then intellect were united to the body as its form it would follow, since every body has a limited nature, that the intellect would have a limited nature! In which case its knowledge would not extend to all things, in the manner explained above. But this is against the very notion of understanding. Therefore the intellect is not united to a body as its form.
Now it is obvious that the soul is the prime endowment by virtue of which a body has life. The soul is the ultimate principle by which we conduct every one of life’s activities; the soul is the ultimate motive factor behind nutrition, sensation, and movement from place to place, and the same holds true of understanding.
It can be said, therefore, that the soul understands just as the eye sees; but it is much better to say that the man understands with his soul. The body is necessary for the activity of the intellect, not as organ through which it acts; but in order to supply it with its object; for images stand in relation to the intellect as colour in relation to sight.
But the proper activity of the soul, which is to understand by means of images, cannot take place without the body. For the soul understands nothing without imagery, and there is no imagery apart from the body, as is said in the De Anima (of Aristotle).
But imagination is a power belonging to the sensitive part of the soul. And so if it is wrong to say as some do that these powers remain in the soul after the dissolution of the body. And it is much more wrong to say that the acts of these powers continue in the disembodied soul, because such powers have no activity except through a bodily organ.
Powers of body-soul compound:
Sensation and nutrition.
When compound corrupts such powers do not remain in existence. They survive in the soul in a virtual state only, as in their source or root.
But the activities of the soul are dissimilar, because man understands and the brutes do not.
For mind, embodiment means immersion in the real, being-in-the-world, as Heidegger says.
It belongs to the very essence of the soul to be united to a body, just as it belongs to a light body to float upwards. And just as a light body remains light when forcibly displaced, and thus retains its aptitude and tendency for the location proper to it, in the same way the human soul, remaining in its own existence after separation from the body, has a natural aptitude and a natural tendency to embodiment.
Yet we should bear in mind that the nobler a form is the more it dominates physical matter and the less is immersed in it, and the more it transcends it in activity and permanent power to act.
The form of something understood is received by the understanding, not materially and individually, but rather immaterially and according to its universality, otherwise the intellect would, like sense, know only singulars, not immaterial and universal forms. Therefore intellect is not united to the body as its form. The intellectual principle is incorruptible, it remains after the body’s corruption, not united to a body.
Man is free to make decisions otherwise counsels, precepts, prohibitions, rewards and punishments would all be pointless. To clarify this, recall how some things act without judgement, so a stone falls to the ground; all things that lack knowledge are like this. Others act from judgement but without freedom; thus the brute animals. For a lamb perceives that a wolf is to be fled from natural judgement which is not free; it does it by natural instinct not by deliberation. But man acts through his ability to know.
Take breathing away and the union of soul and body breaks up, not because breath is an intermediary but because it is a disposition fitting the body for the union. But a kind of spirit, in the sense that breath is, is a means of movement, being the primary means by which it is imparted.
Besides, if the absence of something breaks up a unity it would seem to be a medium between the things united. But when breathing ceases, the soul separates from the body. So breath, a particular kind of subtle body, is a link uniting soul and body.
The soul is united to the body as its form, it cannot be united to it through the medium of another body. Breath is disposition fitting the body for the union. But a kind of spirit, in the sense that breath is, is a means of movement, being the primary means by which it is imparted.
There are reasons for thinking that apart from the intellectual soul there are other souls in man essentially different, namely, the sensitive and nutritive souls. But the intellective soul is incorruptible, whereas the other kinds of soul, the sensitive and nutritive, are corruptible, as was made clear above.
Plato laid it down that there are different souls in one body, even distinct in their organs. He attributed different vital activities to them, saying that nutrition was in the liver, desire in the heart, and knowledge in the brain. Plato’s view would be sustained granted that the soul were united to the body as its motor, as Plato held.
But given that the soul is united to the body, as its form, it seems absolutely impossible for several essentially different souls to inform one body.
First, the animal would not be just one animal if it had several souls. A thing is just one thing only if it has one formative principle giving it existence.
It is the soul that holds the body together, not the other way round.
We must assert, then that the soul in man is one in number, at once sensory, intellectual and nutritive.
The sense-soul does not owe its incorruptibility to itself but to the true fact that it is at the same time an intellective soul. Therefore when a soul is merely a sense-soul it is corruptible; when it has both sensation and intelligence it is incorruptible.
The human soul being so lofty, is not a form immersed in physical matter or wholly swallowed up by it. So nothing prevents it from having some non-bodily activity, even though the soul’s essence is to inform a body.
The angelic minds have simple and blessed understanding not deriving the knowledge of God from the visible world.
But nothing is more important in angel or soul mind than its intellectuality. Soul and angel have the same final perfection, namely eternal bliss. Hence they are beings of the same type.
Dionysius says that by the goodness of God human souls are intellectual, and enjoy a substantial life that cannot decay.
Anger against vice comes from intellectual appetite only, not sense appetite.
The powers of the sense order are not in the soul alone but in the body-soul compound, as stated above. So aggressiveness and desire are in the will, the intellectual appetite (push).
The words love, desire are used in 2 senses:
Sometimes they means passions, with some arousal in the soul. This is what the words are generally taken to mean, and such passions exist solely at the level of sense appetite.
Terms love, desire can be used to denote simple attraction, without passion or perturbation of soul and such acts are acts of will (intellectual appetite).
Each power of the soul is a form with its own nature and its own natural bent, so each by natural appetite reaches for the right object. Above this is the animal desire which follows knowledge not because they are needed for the activity of this or that power, but because the animal simply likes them.
There are reasons for thinking that the soul’s powers should not be classified under five general headings, namely, vegetative, sense, appetitive, movement in place, and intellectual. For the powers are spoken of as parts of the soul. But only three parts are commonly assigned to the soul, namely the vegetative soul, the sense-soul, and the rational.
The soul has five kinds of powers as enumerated, but there are three kinds of souls and four modes of living. Plants are purely vegetative. But there are some with sensation as well but without movement in place, motionless animals such as shellfish. Some again have the power of movement from place to place, the higher animals namely, which need to move if they are to obtain distant things which their life requires. And some living things have intellect along with these powers, namely men.
It is already established that all the soul’s powers go back only to the soul as their source. But certain powers, namely understanding and will are related to the soul taken on its own.
Infinity of God’s and finiteness of human intellects:
For to God it belongs to understand all things without any process of inquiry. Thus in the same context Boethius says that reason is peculiar to human kind, intelligence to God. All the acts Damascene lists belong to one power, the intellect. First it simply knows something, and this we call intelligence. Eternity is to time as the motionless to the movable. And that was why Boethius compared understanding to eternity and reasoning to time.
Other animals are so far below man that they cannot come to know the truth which reason is seeking. Man, on the other hand does come to know the intelligible reality the angels know, but in a less perfect manner. And os the angelic power of knowledge is not in a different general category from the rational power of knowledge, but compares with it as the finished to the unfinished.
Mind is the essence of the soul.
All the powers are said to belong to the soul, not as their subject but as their source, because it is due to the soul that the body-soul unity can conduct such activities.
The intellectual soul comes closer to God’s likeness than lower creatures precisely in being able to attain to the fullness of goodness, even though by many and diverse ways – and in this it fails short of higher beings.
Some of the soul’s powers, namely intellect and the will, are in it by virtue of its surpassing the entire scope of the body, and so powers of this kind are not said to be in any part of the body. Other powers, however, are common to soul and body together…in those parts of the bodies where they are fitted for the activity of the particular power.
It is essential to memory to be a treasure-store or place of conservation for thoughts. Yet this Aristotle assigns to understanding. So in the intellectual part memory is not a power distinct from understanding. Understanding originates from memory in the way that an act proceeds from a habit. In this sense, then, they are equal, but not in the way that one power is equal to another.
Separate soul is far removed from materiality, which exists potentially only.
Aristotle. De Anima (On the Soul). Ed. O.U.P., 1961
Tresmonter C. Christian metaphysics. N.Y. 1965.
Rahner K.S.J. Spirit in the World. Tr. W. Dych- N.Y. 1968.
Bonaventure. The mind’s Road to God. Tr. G. Boas. Indianapolis, 1953.
Opera Omnia (10 volumes). Quaracchi, 1882 – 1902.
Albert the Great. Opera Omnia. 38 Volumes. Ed. A. Borgnet. Paris, 1890 – 1899.
Anselm. St, Anselm, Basic writings- Tr. S. Deane. 2nd ed. La Salle (Illinois), 1962.
Ryle, G. The Concept of mind. N.Y. 1966.
Avicenna. De Anima (On the Soul). Ed. F. rahmer. London, 1959.
Averroes. Commentarium magnum in Aristotelis De Anima libris. Ed. F. Crawford. Cambridge (Mass.), 1953.