This just over the transom from Will Duquette:
A fool rushes in...
In your comment on Peter Lupu's guest post, you say
> Man was not created in God's material image, since he has none; he
> was created in God's spiritual image. But this implies that what is
> essential to man is not his animal body which presumably can be
> accounted for in the naturalistic terms of evolutionary biology, but
> his spirit or consciousness.
However, St. Thomas would say that it is man's nature to be a
rational animal, and hence man's animal body most certainly is
essential. I appreciate that you might be working in a broader
theistic context rather than an explicitly Christian context; but
given that Christ is God Incarnate, and now dwells in eternity,
it seems to me that man now just is created in God's image, body
and soul both. From the standpoint of eternity God created the
universe, man in it, and become incarnate as a man as one single
I enjoy your blog; it's part of my continuing education. Thanks
for providing it.
You're welcome, Mr. Duquette. Your comment is pertinent and raises a number of difficult and important questions.
1. You are basically right about Aquinas. He is Aristotelian rather than Platonist when it comes to the soul-body relation. For Plato we are souls whose embodiment is accidental. Birth is a fall into time and flux, into a realm of being which, though not illusory, is not quite real either. Embodiment, if not an outright calamity, is of negative value. Thus Socrates in one place speaks of the soul imprisoned in the body like an oyster in its shell. Aquinas, however, following Aristotle, takes the line that we are not souls, but soul-body composites whose embodiment in one way or another is essential to us. Soul and body are related as (substantial) form and matter. (Anima forma corporis.) Thus the soul is not a substance in its own right, an entity capable of independent existence, as a Platonist would maintain, but a 'principle' incapable of independent existence which is uncovered in a hylomorphic ontological analysis of the unitary substance which is the individual human being as rational animal. So you are basically right about Aquinas, though, as I will suggest in #3 below, you may not appreciate some of the difficulties of the Aristotlean-Thomistic (A-T) view. But first a note on Christology.
2. You make an excellent point, which gives me pause, when you situate imago Dei in the context of the doctrine that Christ is God incarnate. I said that man is created in God's spiritual, not material, image. You counter by saying that, within a specifically Christian framework, man is created in God's spiritual and material image. This raises vexing Christological questions that ought to be discussed separately. As you perceive, there is nothing specifically Christian about imago Dei: the idea, though not the Latin phrase, can be found in Genesis. But let me now just raise two questions which we may perhaps discuss later. Q1. How is it logically possible that there be a being who is both "fully human" and "fully divine" as Chalcedonian othodoxy maintains, when the attributes constitutive of each seem logically incompatible? For example, how can one and the same individual being be both passible and impassible? Q2. Assuming that there is a good answer to (Q1), what sense is to be made of the notion that Jesus Christ, after his death and resurrection, continues to exist in bodily form? He is said to have 'ascended into heaven.' But that exactly does that mean? Heaven is certainly not a region of space-time, so ascent cannot be translation though space. Are we to think that after the Resurrection, God has a body, or that from all eternity God has had a body as the last sentence of your comment suggests? But let's leave these intricacies for later. Orthodox Christology faces numerous logical threats; but as we both appreciate, imago Dei is independent of Christology.
3. There are problems with the A-T philosophy of mind that must be briefly mentioned. You say that for Aquinas "man's animal body most certainly is essential." Although you are on the right track, this is not quite right as it stands. If my animal body were essential to me, then when said body dies as it certainly will, I will cease to exist. By definition, if x is essential to y, then y cannot exist without x. But Aquinas does not conclude that bodily death is the utter end of a person, nor can he given his Christian commitment. He maintains that the souls of human beings, unlike the souls of every other type of animal, are subsistent forms capable of existence apart from the body. I have serious doubts about the coherence of a doctrine which starts with the notion that souls are mere non-independent 'principles' of living individual substances, not substances in their own right, and then makes an exception for the souls of human beings. To put it cavalierly, this 'pasting' of Christianity into Aristotlean naturalism raises difficulties. I either have explained or will explain this in detail in a separate post. It is also not clear to me how the form of a human individual substance can be that in us which thinks, how a form can be the subject of experience. But to explain this requires a separate post or ten. Meanwhile, you can take a look at A Hylomorphic Solution to the Interaction Problem?
4. Your comment highlights the tension within Christianity between Platonism (Plato, Plotinus, Augustine . . . Descartes, Pascal, Malebranche . . . Kierkegaard . . .) and Aristotelianism (Aquinas & Co., though of course the Thomistic synthesis features a sizeable admixture of Platonism). I don't see that this tension has ever been satisfactorily resolved. It is a huge topic with many facets. Nietzsche famously remarked that Christianity is Platonism for the people. But that is not quite right since Christinaity in its central and defining doctrine, the Incarnation, implies a revalorization of this changeful world, not an escape from it as from a cave as on the Platonic conception.
5. As Peter Lupu appreciates, the question of the meaning of human life is not a question about the purpose of a particular animal species (either the species itself or any or all of its specimens). It is about the meaning of the subjectivity whhch we experience in ourselves. In Heideggerian jargon, it is about the meaning of human Dasein, Da-Sein im Menschen, Being-there, whose site is us, something that cannot be accounted for naturalistically, and, given that Aristotle is a sort of naturalist, not Aristotleanly either. This is the wider context of my remark above which you quote.
As you can see, I found your comment quite stimulating. The ComBox stands open to allow you a response if you care to make one.