Monday, November 15, 2010

Bodies, Animals, and Minds 8 --- Aquinas 6

On Aquinas’s view, when I die, I go away, and a new object (a corpse) pops into existence to fill the same region of space. That seems weird. Most people think that our bodies remain after we die, with the difference between my current body and the soon-to-be corpse on the floor being just that the one has life and the other does not. That is another deep-seated intuition many people have; when we die, most people think that what departs is my life, not my body.

Now, if you think that humans are composed of bodies and minds (or souls, as some call them), then you could easily explain this. For you could say that when I die, my soul goes away, but my body remains. And that would very nicely explain how my body continues to exist after I die.

But this is not an option that is open to Aquinas. Again, remember that he thinks there is just one thing occupying this region of space where I am now standing, not two. There are not two distinct things here, a body and a soul, one of which could go away at death and the other of which could remain.

Aquinas thinks there is just one thing here, and so when it goes away, there’s nothing else left to fill this region of space. Consequently, the corpse that we would see here would have to be something new, something that would have to pop into existence at the moment of my death, and which would fill the very same region of space.

Interestingly, Aquinas is aware of this consequence, and he doesn’t mind it. On the contrary, he completely accepts it. ‘Yes’, he would say, ‘when you die, you would cease to exist there (you would get whisked away to heaven), and a new thing --- a corpse --- would come into being’.

So there are some nice things about Aquinas, and some not so nice things. When he says that there is just one thing that fills this region of space where I am now standing, he does seem to do justice to many of our intutions about material objects and living organisms. On the other hand, his view does entail that when I die, a new thing (a corpse) pops into existence, and that seems odd.


Edward Ockham said...

Here is my translation of Aquinas Qoudlibet 11.

I'm not sure whether it conflicts with your interpretation or not.

JT Paasch said...

That's an interesting text. Do you think it conflicts with my interpretation?

I always thought Aquinas believed this: when we receive new bodies in heaven, that body would be the same body we had while alive (although it will somehow be glorified), since it will have the exact same form/soul 'organizing' it, and that seems to be what Aquinas is saying in the text you've mentioned.

But as for our corpses, Aquinas thinks that those are different primary substances altogether (i.e., the same lump of matter with a different substantial form, namely the form of 'corpse').

But I'm no expert on Aquinas. I often have a hard time figuring out exactly what he thought about any given issue. Any thoughts?

PS. I love your translation of 'materia nuda' as 'raw materials'. I often translate in the same way!