Thursday, February 10, 2011

Scholasticism and witchcraft theory 9

I want to conclude this series of posts with one final consideration. In the 15th and especially in the 16th century, mind-body dualism begins to develop, and the interesting thing about that is this: mind-body dualism is defined in pretty much exactly the same way that Scotus defines angel and demon possession.

For instance, if you look at Rene Descartes, our minds are joined to our bodies in the sense that (a) they occupy the same region of space that our bodies occupy (I feel the air condition here, in this spot where I am standing, not over there in that corner where I am not standing), and (b) they make our bodies move as puppeteers. So according to mind-body dualism, our minds ‘possess’ our bodies in much the same way that Scotus thought angels and demons possess our bodies.

Scotus would likely have been appalled if he heard anyone suggest that our minds occupy our bodies in that way. For Scotus, angel and demon possession is a very weak kind of mind-body connection. At best, it can only simulate organic life --- the implication being that our minds must therefore be joined to our bodies in a much tighter, much more organic way.

What does that tell us about the medieval imagination, or at least the scholastic imagination? Well, as a close reader of texts, I’m very cautious about generalizing from particular instances, so I want to be careful here. But it may be that the scholastics, at least in the early 14th century, saw themselves as organic unities, and therefore as much more a part of the organic world of plants and animals than the Modern world of Descartes. According to the Modern mind-body dualism, humans are much more removed from the organic world.

So what happened between the 14th century, the days of Scotus, and the 16th century, the days when mind-body dualism was on the rise?


awatkins69 said...

Interesting set of posts! Do you think that Descartes' radical dualism evolved out of late scholasticism, or was it rather a radical disconnection? Also, do you think that a reason why a scholastic like Scotus would think that a demon cannot cause vital functions is because a demon has a completely different form (in the Aristotelian sense) from the human form, i.e. a non-material form?

JT Paasch said...

Hi A,

Re Cartesian dualism, I don't know enough to have an opinion myself. I wouldn't think it grew out of scholastic theories of angel/demon possession, at least not directly. But you always hear people saying that Descartes owed much to scholasticism, so I wouldn't be surprised if his dualism grew out of scholasticism in some way.

Re Scotus and angel/demon forms, yes, that's exactly his intuition. It's not that human forms are material and angel/demons forms are not (human forms are immaterial too). But Scotus thinks that angel/demon forms belong to a non-living kind, and for that reason they simply cannot be the formal cause of any vital functions.

Scott Williams said...

Descartes is tough. I recall that he denies the analogy of the soul is to the body as a captain is to a ship. Descartes wants a tighter causal-connection between the mind and body such that when there's a pain in a foot, I don't think, 'wow! there's a pain over there!' but instead 'ouch! that hurts!' I think this is Descartes's theory of consciousness at play--that is, he suggests that sensations and thoughts to have what philosophers today call phenomenal consciousness, a subjective point of view (a what-it's-like-raw-feel). So, I'm not sure whether Descartes is as close to the angel/demon possession of a human being case, as one might think. (Cf. Meditation 6)

For my money, Descartes gets to substance dualism, at least in part, because of later medieval philosophy of mind--once he's got the notion of clear and distinct ideas as the basis for reference to a 'thing', he can use that to argue for substance dualism. Since Scotus doesn't have this assumption in his phil. of mind, he may not get to substance dualism.

JT Paasch said...

Hi Scott,

Yeah, Descartes is tough on this issue. I agree with all you're saying here, but I would want to nuance it a bit more. Here are my thoughts.

1. I agree that Descartes wants a tighter causal connection/relationship between mind and body than a captain has to his/her ship, but I'm not talking about the causal connection/relationship. I'm talking about the ontological connection/relationship.

2. I think we need to be careful about pain and other sensations in this particular context. For scholastic Aristotelians, sensations are proper functions of the animal soul, not the rational soul (i.e., the mind?), whereas Descartes (and most contemporary philosophers, no?) think of sensations as part of the rational mind.

But I see what you're saying about how Descartes wants to say that we feel pain ourselves rather than feeling pain over there (that's nice how you put that). And indeed, that's part of my point. On Descartes view, that's part of what it means for our minds to 'occupy' the same region of space as our bodies. We feel pain here, where we are, not in some other place (e.g., six feet down where my foot is).

3. I'm not sure that Scotus thinks the causal connection between angels/demons and physical bodies is as disconnected as you're suggesting. For Scotus, the point isn't that angels/demons have negligible causal influence over physical bodies. The point is that they can only bring about certain kinds of effects in those bodies. More precisely, they can't be the formal cause of biological life, but they can be the efficient cause of biological-like movements of parts.

Edward Ockham said...

This was a really interesting series, JT, and left me wanting more.

JT Paasch said...

Hi Mssr Ockham,

Yeah, I find it interesting too and hope to study it much further. I'm doing a lot with angels and demons in scholastic thought at the moment, but it's all in the early stages. I hope to post more stuff as I get more of it ironed out.