Friday, May 13, 2011

Aquinas on Powers --- One Interpretation (3)

In the last post, I tried to buttress Aquinas's (alleged) argument that the soul and its powers cannot be one and the same because I always have a soul, whereas I do not always exercise my soul's powers (there are times when I sleep, for instance, when I do not think). I further pointed out in the last post that each of the soul's powers require different circumstances for their actualization, and that provides another reason to say that the soul's powers must be distinct from each other (and, consequently, from the soul itself).

Now, suppose that we grant this. Still we might wonder: what sorts of things are the soul’s powers? According to Aquinas, they are qualities of the soul, perhaps similar to the way that a pale skin color is a quality of Socrates.

Of course, to compare the soul’s powers to the color of Socrates’ skin might suggest that the soul’s powers can be gained and lost, just like the color of Socrates’ skin. After all, Socrates’ skin color can change --- as would happen, say, if he went to the beach and got a tan. So surely the soul’s powers can change too.

But Aquinas rejects this, insisting instead that although the soul’s powers are qualities of the soul, they cannot be gained and lost in the way that Socrates’ skin color can. On the contrary, the soul’s powers are not the sorts of features that can ‘come and go’. Rather, they are permanently attached, so to speak, to the soul itself (so long as the soul exists).

I should note that Aquinas does not, so far as I know, ever offer an argument for the claim that the soul’s powers are qualities. But he did make this claim more than once throughout the course of his career, so I think we can safely assume that Aquinas is firmly committed to the idea that every human soul is accompanied by a set of distinct powers (qualities) that are permanently attached to it (so long as that soul exists).

One could easily take these ideas from Aquinas and generalize them. That is, one could easily insist that any power must be distinct from its basis when the thing that has the power in question also has its basis for any period of time when that power is not exercised. So, that is one interpretation of Aquinas's theory of powers.


Andrew Haines said...

Seems like you might have a pretty good idea of what Aquinas means on this topic, after all.

About there being certain "qualities" that don't arise or diminish as with the quality of whiteness in Socrates, it's a little tricky, since the quality of whiteness is a property of Socrates (a substance), whereas a power of the soul, e.g., the will, is -- it seems -- a property merely of the soul (a form) that is exercised/actualized through the complete substance.

I think that's right?

Anyway, it seems that powers of the soul are almost like per se accidents of the soul -- insofar as that phrase could be applied to something that isn't itself a substance (but rather a substantial form).

Maybe that's all unhelpful. Now you've got me thinking...

JT Paasch said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for stopping by.

Regarding your comment about per se accidents: Yes. For Aquinas, the soul's powers are attributed to the soul in the second mode of per se predication (not in the first mode of per se predication).

Regarding your comment that the will (for instance) is a property merely of the soul but which is exercised through the complete substance --- I'm not sure I know what you mean. Perhaps you could say more?

Andrew Haines said...

Your clarity on the mode of per se predication actually clears up what I was alluding to, I think. (At least based on the overview I just read of the difference between first and second modes of predication in Wippel's book.)

I was simply trying to sort out -- without the relevant terminology at hand -- the difference between predicating a power of the form (of a substance), or of an entire substance.

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