Sunday, April 23, 2006

Keith Ward of Oxford University comments on the soul

"The trouble many people have about the soul lies in the particular picture they have of it. They think of God making a complete spiritual thing, with its own personality, and then having to attach it to some physical body. Whereas the biblical account is that man is a truly physical entity, touched with God's spirit. It is this holistic entity that knows and thinks and decides, yet this entity is more than electrons or chemicals or genes or psychological states or social roles. All those elements enter into what it is, but none of them, singly or together, exhaust what it is. That is why it is, after all, misleading to say that it is this body that thinks -- because when we think of a body we think of a corpse, not a living thinking thing. So when we speak of the soul, we speak of this physical entity in its capacity for responsible relation to God, or to those values of truth and beauty through which God is present, often unrecognized" (In Defence of the Soul, pp. 147).

"....It is essential to see that the soul is both a spiritual and an embodied reality. It is not a ghost behind the scenes, and it is not just the physical brain, in its publicly describable properties. It is not an object or event or set of events in the world. It is a point of subjectivity and transcendence, of rational understanding and responsible action, which comes to be at a particular stage of the emergent interactions of spatial, material substances. Once it is generated, it continues to have a place in those physical interactions, to respond to them and realize itself in them, as their 'actualizing principle', as Aquinas put it. It would seem that, though it has a real and distinctive form of existence, it must have something to actuate; the 'form' must be the form of something other than itself" (p. 148).


David+ said...

I will need to pick up Keith Ward's book but from the outset I think that what he is saying is really very congruent with my understanding of Aristotelianism on this subject. For me, this view point, if I am correct in my assumption, is one that actually does the best service to the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. Too often today Christians have unwittingly adopted some sort of 'transmigration of the soul' - due to embued Cartesianism within our current cultural mindset - instead of a doctrine of the resurrection which is about the whole person.
There are a number of reasons why I dislike Rene Decartes but what he left us with in his dualism, his mechanistic reduction of physical reality and his idolatrous view of a God who guarantees his logic in order to play the false little rationalistic mind game - while methodologically disparaging the created physical world God has provided - is trully an unChristian worldview philosophy.
I will need to pick up Ward's book as I hope it gives a good response to this dilemna for our contemporary aporia on this issue.

lexorandi2 said...


Yes, I think you are correct here about Aristotle, who gets good reviews from Ward in his book. Thanks for your comments.


joseph said...

Another interesting read by a Thomist critiqing the emergent view of the soul can be found in "The Sacred Cosmos: Christian Faith and the Challenge of Naturalism" by Terence L. Nichols