The Immaterial Soul and Its Discontents


  • John O’Callaghan Department of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame


Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Haldane, Incorruptibility of the soul, Joseph Novak, Robert Pasnau, Physicalism, Theory of representation


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. 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 Theologiae 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.




How to Cite

O’Callaghan, John. “The Immaterial Soul and Its Discontents”. Acta Philosophica 24, no. 1 (March 1, 2015): 43–66. Accessed July 14, 2024.



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