The Immaterial Soul and Its Discontents


John O’Callaghan

Summary: 1. Introduction. 2. Haldane’s Thomistic Immaterialism. 3. The Argument of 75.5: A Common Misundertanding.

Abstract: Recent critics of Aquinas' discussion of the soul in question Ia.75 of the Summa Theologiae, Joseph Novak and Robert Pasnau, have charged that he commits a fallacy in a number of places in arguing for the various characteristics of the soul, a fallacy that Pasnau dubs the Content Fallacy. The fallacy consists in attributing to the vehicle or act of cognition the characteristics of the object of cognition. Novak charges that Aquinas does so in arguing for the incorruptibility of the soul from the incorruptible character of the objects of thought. Pasnau attributes it to Aquinas in a number of places, including arguments that the soul is incorruptible and that it is immaterial. John Haldane presupposes the criticism, but attempts to reply to the critics and salvage the argument for immateriality in Ia.75.5 of the Summa Theologiane in order to put it to use in opposing contemporary Physicalism in the Philosophy of Mind. Primarily considering Haldane's efforts to fix the argument, I argue that the critics and Haldane are mistaken in attributing the fallacy to Aquinas and Ia.75.5 in particular. The critics and Haldane identify the object of understanding with an immaterial abstract universal. If Aquinas' arguments commit the fallacy, presumably Aquinas should also have argued that the soul is an abstract object and a universal. But he does not do so. In addition, the fallacy presupposes a theory of representation of intentional objects that Aquinas does not hold. Finally, Ia.75.5 is misread as arguing for immaterial subsistence in the effort to make it address Physicalism, and needs to be placed within the Aristotelian analysis of change from potency to act in cognition in order to properly understand what it is arguing for.

Keywords: Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Haldan, incorruptibility of the soul, Joseph Novak, Robert Pasnau, Physicalism, theory of representation.