Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scotus on the Soul, Immortality, and Resurrection

A segment of the blogosphere has been ablaze of late with discussion of the soul and whether hyle/o-morphic dualism is inconsistent.  See for this Dr. Feser's blog, and his links to the Maverick Philosopher. Scotus holds to hylemorphic dualism like most other scholastics, with the twist that he does not accept the unicity of substantial form thesis (though that does not enter into the discussion quoted below), holding instead that there are two substantial forms in the human composite.  In the following selection, Scotus examines a bad version of the Aristotelian-Thomistic argument for the immateriality of the intellect based on the fact that it is not the act of a bodily organ. He also gives a better version and subjects it to analysis.

Scotus' question is about the general resurrection. Specifically, "Can it be known by natural reason that there will be a general resurrection of mankind?"  His procedure is to evaluate whether three propositions can be proven by means of a priori or a posteriori arguments:

1. The Intellective Soul is the Specific Form of Man 

2. The Intellective Soul is Immortal

3. The Human Soul will not Remain Outside the Body Forever

In the end, Scotus will argue that propositions 2 and 3 cannot be proven demonstratively by natural reason, that instead they admit of only probable arguments.

In what follows, I will be using Wolter's translation as found in Duns Scotus Philosophical Writings, which, in the absence of a critical edition, corrects the Wadding edition against the Assisi 137 manuscript. These will only short selections.

Ordinatio IV d. 43 q. 2 (Wolter, pp. 133-62):

[About prop. 1, after several authorities there is a proof from reason]

As to the second, it is not easy to find either an a priori or an a posteriori argument, unless it be based on a function proper to man, for the form is known from its proper function, even as matter is known from the existence of change.

One argument based on the function of the intellect that is used to establish the proposed conclusion is this. To understand is a function  proper to man. Therefore, it has its source in the form  proper to man. The intellective form then is that proper to man.

This argument, however, is open to criticism inasmuch as those who propound it admit that the intellect has only a passive and not an active relation to intellection. Hence, this proposition 'A function that is proper proceeds from the proper form' really does not prove that the intellective part is the proper form of man, for this operation does not proceed from the form but according to them it is caused by the intelligible object, or according to the view of others it proceeds from the sense image.

I put this argument, then, in another form. Man formally and properly understands; therefore the intellective soul is the proper form of man.


...we should try to prove the antecedent by reason lest some contentious individual deny it. Now in the antecedent, I take 'to know' or 'to understand' in the proper sense of the term as an act of knowledge which transcends every type of sense knowledge.

One way of proving this antecedent, then, is this. Man knows by an act of knowledge which is not organic; hence he knows or understands in the proper sense of the term. The consequence is evident for the reason already given, since intellection  properly speaking is a knowledge which transcends all sense knowledge. All sensation, however, is organic knowledge as Aristotle shows in De anima, Bk. II. There the antecedent of this enthymeme is proved from the fact that every organ is determined to a certain kind of sensible, and this because it consists in a balance between two extremes. But we do experience in ourselves some knowledge which we do not have in virtue of some organ, for if it were organic, this knowledge would be limited precisely to the sensibles of some determined kind, which is the very opposite of what we actually experience. For by such an act we know precisely how one kind of sensible differs from another, and conseqently we know both extremes. This consequence is evident from the Philosopher, who uses this argument in De anima bk. II, in regard to common sense.


[Second proof] Another proof for the principal antecedent is based on the fact that we possess some immaterial knowledge. No sense knowledge, however, can be immaterial; therefore, etc.

This word 'immaterial' is frequently used by the Philosopher in this connection, but it appears to be ambiguous. There are three relevant ways in which it can be understood. (a) Either this knowledge is immaterial because it is incorporeal in the sense that it is not an operation that involves a corporeal part or organ. In this sense, the present proposition is the same as that previously posited with regard to non-organic knowledge. (b) Another way in which this knowledge could be immaterial would be that it is not extended in any way. In this case much more is asserted than the fact that it is not organic. For although everything organic is extended inasmuch as it is received into something extended [viz. the organ], this is not the only reason. It would still be extended if it were received immediately by the composite as a whole,a because the composite itself is extended. (c) Immateriality can be understood in a third sense, namely with reference to the object, inasmuch as this knowledge considers the object under immaterial aspects, as for instance, abstracting from the 'here and now' and such like, which are said to be material conditions. If we would prove this knowledge to be immaterial in the second sense and not merely in the first our proposed conclusion would follow all the more. But it seems that the only way we could do this would be from the conditions which characterise the object of such an act (unless perhaps we could do so on the basis of reflection, since we experience ourselves reflecting on this act of knowledge, for what has quantity is not capable of reflecting upon itself). At an rate the proof of the antecedent ultimately rests upon the object of this act.

The proof is as follows. We possess some knowledge of an object under an aspect it could not have as an object of sense knowledge; therefore etc. [various proofs of the antecedent and consequent follow]

[one proof of the principal consequent is as follows] We can prove the same from the second operation characteristic of man, namely volition, for man is master of his acts to such an extent that it is within his power to determine himself at will to this or to its opposite ... And this is something known by natural reason and not merely by faith. Such a lack of determination, however, cannot exist in any organic or extended appetite, because every organic or material appetite is determined to a certain class of suitable objects so that what is apprehended cannot be unsuitable nor can the appetite fail to seek it. The will, therefore, by which we can will in such an indeterminate way, is not the appetite of a material form, and in consequence it belongs to something which excels every such form. But this is just what we assume the intellective form to be. And therefore, if this appetite is formally in us inasmuch as its act is in us, it follows that this form is our form.

[Concerning prop. 2. Various arguments and authorities for and against immortality follow]

[arg. 5] Also, some arguments can be constructed from the dicta of the Philosopher. One of his principles is that a natural desire is not in vain. Now the soul has a natural desire to exist forever.


It can be stated that although there are probable reasons for this second proposition, these are not demonstrative, nor for that matter are they even necessary reasons.


Another answer, and one more in accord with facts, is that not all the statements by the philosophers were established by proofs both necessary and evident to natural reason. Frequently, what they gave was nothing more than rather persuasive probable arguments or what was commonly held by earlier philosophers... Hence, in those matters where they could find nothing better without contradicting the principles of philosophy, 'slight indications' frequently had to suffice for the philosophers. ... Therefore the philosophers agreed to things sometimes because of probable persuasive reasons, at other times because they had asserted as principles, propositions which were not necessary truths. And this reply would suffice for all the testimonies cited above; even if they clearly asserted the proposed conclusion, they still do not establish it. nevertheless, these arguments can be answered in order as follows.

[To 1] To the first: Aristotle understands this separation to mean nothing more than that the intellect does not use the body in performing its operation, and for this reason it is incorruptible as to function. This is not to be understood in the sense that it is unlike an organic power which perishes precisely because the organ decays. this type of decay pertains exclusively to an organic faculty... Hence, the faculty of vision grows weak or decays only from the standpoint of its organ and not in so far as its  operation directly is concerned. From the fact that the intellect, however, is incapable of decay in the sense that it has no organ by which it could perish, it does not follow that the intellect is imperishable as to function in an unqualified sense, for then it would indeed follow that tis also imperishable in being as the argument maintains. What does follow is this. So far as its ability to operate alone is concerned, the intellect is incapable of dissolution in the same sense that an organic power is corruptible. Absolutely speaking, however, the intellect is assumed to be perishable according to the Philosopher's statement in De anima bk. III, that the intellect perishes in us once the interior sense perishes. And this is just what one would have to maintain if he assumed the soul to be a principle which ash an operation proper to the composite as a whole. The composite, however, is perishable. Consequently, its operative principle is also perishable. That the soul is the operative principle of thew hole composite and that its operation is also that of the while is just what Aristotle seems to say in De anima, bk. I

[to 5] The other argument about the natural desire will be answered in the reply to the initial arguments, for the first three proceed from this notion.

[Concerning prop. 3] So far as this proposition is concerned, it seems that if the Philosopher had assumed the soul to be immortal, he would have held that it continued to exist outside the body rather than in the body, for everything composed can be destroyed by its contraries.

[Evaluation of the a priori proof] Of the three propositions used to construct a kind of a priori argument in the sense that the proof is based on the nature of the form of man that is to be restored, I say that the first is known by natural reason and that the contrary error, which is proper to Averroes only, is of the very worst kind. Not only is it opposed to theological truth but to philosophical truth as well. For it destroys knowledge itself inasmuch as it denies any act of knowledge distinct from sensation or any act of choice distinct from sense appetite and hence does away with all those virtues which require an act of choice in accord with right reason. One who errs in this way, consequently, should be banished from the company of men who use natural reason.

The other two propositions, however, are not known adequately from natural reason even though there are a number of probable persuasive arguments in their favour. The reasons for the second, indeed, are more numerous as well as more highly probable. For this reason, the Philosopher appears to have held this doctrine more expressly. For the third, however, the reasons are fewer. The conclusion, then, which follows from these three propositions is not sufficiently known a priori by natural reason.

[The a posteriori proofs]

The second way to prove the resurrection is by a posteriori arguments. Some probable arguments of this kind were mentioned in the initial arguments, for instance, those concerning the happiness of man. To the latter this argument based on the justice of a rewarding God is added. In the present life the virtuous suffer more punishments than those who are wicked. It is this line of argument that the Apostle seems to have in mind in the first letter to the Corinthians: "If with this life only in view we have had hope in Christ, we are of all men the most to be pitied," etc.

[Evaluation of the a postiori arguments] These a posteriori arguments, however, are even less conclusive than the a priori proof based on the proper form of man, since it is not clear from natural reason that there is one ruler who governs all men according to the laws of retributive and punitive justice. It could also be said that the good act is itself sufficient reward for anyone... Such arguments are nothing else than probable persuasive proofs, or they are reasons derived from premises that are matters of belief, as is evident if we examine them individually.

[Solution to the Question] to put it briefly, then, we can maintain that natural reason cannot prove that the resurrection is necessary, neither by way of a priori reasons such as those based on the notion of an intrinsic principle in man, nor by a posteriori arguments, for instance, by reason of some operation or perfection fitting to man. Hence we hold the resurrection to be certain on the basis of faith alone.

[Reply to the Initial Arguments. arg. 1] to the first argument: If the argument is based on the notion of natural desire taken in an exact and proper sense, and a natural desire in this sense is not an elicited act but merely an inclination of nature towards something, then it is clear that the existence of such a natural desire for anything can be proved only if we prove first that the nature in question is able to have such a thing. To argue the other way round, therefore, is begging the question. Or if natural desire is taken in a less proper sense, viz. as an act elicited in conformity with the natural inclination, we are still unable to prove that any elicited desire is natural in this sense without first proving the existence of a natural desire in the proper sense of the term.

But suppose that someone were to argue that whatever is immediately desired, once it is known, is something that is desired naturally, since such proneness seems to arise only from some natural inclination. One answer to this objection would be to deny the first statement, since a person with bad habits is inclined to desire immediately whatever is in accord with these habits just as soon as such a thing presents itself. However, if nothing else intervenes, nature of itself is not vicious; neither is it vicious in everyone. Consequently, if everyone immediately desires such a thing as soon as he knows of it, it would follow that the desire in this case is not vicious. The first answer to this objection, then, is not adequate. Therefore it could be answered like this. We must show that such knowledge is not erroneous but is in accord with right reason. Otherwise, it does not follow that just because everyone, on the basis of an erroneous conception, were immediately to elicit an act of desire, this desire is in accord with an inclination of nature. Indeed, it is rather the opposite that follows. Now it is not clear by natural reason that the argument establishing eternal existence as something desirable is not erroneous, since man must first be shown to be capable of such a thing.

To put it briefly, then, every argument based on natural desire seems to be inconclusive, for to construct an efficacious argument, it would be necessary to show either that nature possesses a natural potency for eternal life, or that the knowledge which immediately gives rise to this desire, where the latter is an elicited act, is not erroneous but in accord with right reason. Now the first of these alternatives is the same as the conclusion to be established. The second is more difficult to prove and is even less evident than the conclusion.

As for the proof that man has a natural desire for immortality because he naturally shuns death, it can be said that this proof applies to the brute animal as well as to man.

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