free web hosting | free website | Business Hosting Services | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting






                                        PHILOSOPHICAL  ANTHROPOLOGY


                                                          An Introduction to the Philosophy of Man



                                               Paul Gerard Horrigan



                                                COPYRIGHT © 2008 By Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D, All Rights Reserved.

                                      This HTML edition is provided free for noncommercial and educational use.












INTRODUCTION: The Nature of Philosophical Anthropology




1. Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy of Man


2. Medieval Philosophy of Man


3. Modern Philosophy of Man: Descartes to Kant


4. Nineteenth Century Philosophy of Man: Fichte to Nietzsche


5. Contemporary Philosophy of Man: Twentieth Century to Present




6. Life


7. The Nature of Knowledge


8. Sense Knowledge     Chapters 8-13, & Biblio:


9. Intellectual Knowledge  


10. Consciousness


11. Sense Appetition and Will (Rational Appetite)


12. The Human Soul  


13. The Human Person












1. Definition of Philosophy of Animate Nature (Philosophical Psychology)


Psychology literally means the science (logos) of the soul (psych­e). It is also called the philosophy of living beings or the philosophy of animate nature. The material object (the subject matter of a specific science) of the philosophy of animate nature is animate (living) corporeal beings. The formal object (that is, the particular point of view in which the subject matter is studied) of the philosophy of animate nature is animate corporeal beings studied from the philosophical point of view (or animate corporeal beings in their ultimate causes and first principles). Philosophy of animate nature is thus defined as the science of animate corporeal beings in their ultimate causes and first principles, studied using the light of natural reason. This philosophical science was called psychology in the past but it is better to call it philosophical psychology in order to distinguish it from scientific or experimental psychology (usually just called psychology these days), which analyzes mental phenomena, classifies them and determines their proximate causes. In contrast to experimental psychology, part of philosophical psychology’s goal is to seek to penetrate beyond the surface of mental phenomena to the ultimate reasons, principles, and causes, so as to uncover the nature which gives rise to such phenomena.


2. Definition of Philosophy of Man (Philosophical Anthropology)


A central part of the philosophy of living beings is the philosophy of man (also called philosophical anthropology and philosophy of the human person). The material object of philosophical anthropology is man. Its formal object is man studied from the philosophical point of view (or man in his ultimate causes and first principles). Philosophical anthropology is therefore defined as the science of man in his ultimate causes and first principles, studied using the light of human reason. 


3. The Difference Between Philosophical Anthropology and Experimental Psychology


Though philosophical anthropology and experimental psychology have the same material object (man), they have differing formal objects. The former is a part of speculative philosophy, while the lattter belongs to the realm of the particular sciences. The parallels and contrasts between the two are presented by George P. Klubertanz as regards their starting points, methods, and type of conclusion: “A. Starting Points. Experimental Psychology: Specific facts[1] that are precise and detailed. They are demonstrated to be universal in fact[2] by techniques that more or less closely involve laboratory testing of many individuals. For example, this science investigates the various conditions that can have an influence on memory; it considers how much different persons forget after a week, a month, a year; it tests the advantages and disadvantages of various techniques of remembering. Or the scientist, studying sensation, tries to find out by careful measurement in many instances the relation between the intensity of a stimulus and the intensity of a resulting sensation.

Philosophical Anthropology: Facts that need not be specific, but must be very accurately determined. They are ideally demonstrated to be universal by a proof that gives the reason for their being universal.[3] For example, the philosopher tries to see as clearly as possible what ‘to remember’ means; he investigates this action to see what he can learn about the nature of man from it; he relates this action to other actions of man in terms of the nature thus revealed. Or the philosopher, studying sensation, investigates its nature, as this is revealed in the fact that it needs a material stimulus, and is measurable.

“B. Methods. Experimental Psychology: The scientist almost always uses elaborate techniques of observation, usually involving instruments and some form of measurement. The scientist tends to base the value of his conclusions on the completeness of his coverage of cases. From these cases, he develops an explanatory hypothesis which must then be checked by further ‘verifying’ experiments. When this second stage is completed, he states his conclusions in terms of laws of behavior.  

Philosophical Anthropology: The philosopher’s techniques are usually not elaborate, though they must by all means be careful and accurate. Measurement in itself is usually irrelevant. When knowledge through instruments is used, the instruments themselves are rather a condition. The technique of the philosopher is usually a rigorous use of reflection, and/ or analysis. From an experience, he passes by means of reflection-analysis to consideration of what it is that he has observed and of its mode of being.

“C. Type of Conclusion. Experimental Psychology: “As far as possible, the scientist states his conclusions quantitatively. In general, what he is looking for are the connections between various facts, the conditions that modify the fact, and the consequences this fact may have in relation to other facts. For example, the scientist concludes that retention is better when learning-practice is spaced than when it is continuous; that for any given individual there is a constant factor in learning efficiency.

Philosophical Anthropology: The philosopher states his conclusions in terms of nature and mode of being. What he is looking for is the answer to these questions: What kind of activities are these? What kind of being is man? For example, the philosopher concludes that memory has a relation to the body, since it is governed at least partly by conditions of matter and motion; that it is a distinct power because it has a distinct formal object.[4][5] 

Klubertanz, in conclusion, writes: “In the light of these considerations we can see that both the experimental psychologist and the philosophical anthropologist have true forms of organized knowledge about man. Both investigators strive to see what man is; both try to find the causes of human activities. But the experimental psychologist wants to know how the various human activities can be classified, measured (if possible), and predicted and seeks to express them as accurately as possible. When the experimental psychologist looks for the causes of human actions, he looks principally[6] for formal conditions and formal relationships (for example, what actions always, or at least ordinarily, precede other actions). Philosophical anthropology also wants to know what man does – and as accurately as possible, though it is not directly interested in measuring these actions; rather its interest lies in them as action and being and as a revelation of man’s nature. When philosophical anthropology asks for the causes of human action, it looks for proximate and remote principles (efficient, formal, material) and for efficient and final causes as well.”[7] 


4. Philosophical Psychology and Metaphyics


Though both philosophical psychology and (general) metaphysics are speculative philosophies (as contrasted with ethics, which belongs to practical philosophy), and their methods are similar, there are differences between them. It is important to know that the former is not a part of the latter as a type of applied metaphysics as seen in rationalist, essentialist manuals of scholastic philosophy influenced by the rationalist Wolff, who profoundly influenced the pre-critical period of Kant. They have different material objects as well as formal objects. Klubertanz observes: “Metaphysics (or the philosophy of being) follows a method of procedure that is very much like the method used by philosophical anthropology. Thus, it proceeds by induction, insight, and analysis (and/or deduction) to arrive at principles that apply analogously[8] to all beings or to all things that have their act of being in a certain way (some principles, for example, apply only to created being). Thus metaphysics is concerned with the structure of being in terms of act and potency, and less directly with matter and form, which metaphysics considers rather as instances of act and potency.

“Since man is a being, the principles and conclusions of metaphysics apply to him and to his nature, his activities, and so forth. In this sense, metaphysics is implicit throughout the philosophy of human nature.

“But man is not just a being (in general); he is a particular kind of being, with his own proper nature and his own significantly unique activities. Therefore, it would be totally incorrect to think of the philosophical anthropology as ‘applied metaphysics,’ and it would be almost as great an error to think of it as a branch of metaphysics.[9] On the other hand, an excessive separation of philosophical anthropology from metaphysics would also have unfortunate consequences.[10]

“Briefly, the task of philosophical anthropology in relation to metaphysics is this: In the course of considering man philosophically, one must make new inductions, which are based on the evidence proper to living things and to man as such. In making these inductions, one rediscovers metaphysical principles in a more particularized field of experience and being. Sometimes, the principle of metaphysics thus discovered will need to be expressed in a new formulation suited to the special nature of the subject, man. Furthermore, whereas metaphysics deals directly with being and only indirectly with essence or nature, philosophical anthropology studies man as a being having a special, proper nature.”[11] 


5. The Method of Philosophical Psychology


The general method of philosophical psychology is both inductive (proceeding from particular cases to the formulation of general laws) and deductive (going from the universal to the particular). The inductive or analytic method is used in philosophical psychology’s empirical and experimental portions, while the deductive method is used in its philosophical portions. Against rationalism (which utilizes an exclusively deductive method) and against the positivists (who use an exclusively inductive method) Mercier accepts the two-fold method of induction and deduction, writing: “The method employed in psychology is the same as that employed in all the other natural sciences, the double method of induction and deduction, which is summed up in the words: observation, hypothesis, verification, followed by deduction or synthesis.

“The physicist observes that warmed bodies expand; he forms the hypothesis that heat causes this expansion, and that therefore bodies have the natural property of expanding under the action of heat; he multiplies his observation and, if possible, makes use of experiments in order to verify his hypotheses; if the results are satisfactory, his hypothesis becomes thereby raised to the rank of a scientifically established theory. In this way physics, and in general the other experimental sciences, make use of inductive methods to discover the immediate causes of observed phenomena and to ascertain what are the properties of corporeal substances and the laws of their action.

“Psychology pursues exactly the same method. First of all the phenomena of mental life are carefully observed, then conjectures are made concerning causes and properties and finally these results are verified. The facts under observation are both external and internal, embracing the various external movements peculiar to living beings, and internal phenomena, such as our sensations, emotions, and other psychical events. Of these facts the mind strives to find a cause or an immediate principle, which in psychology is called a power or faculty. From these faculties the mind, by a further induction, ascends to the very nature of the soul which is their first principle.

“When by means of this final induction we have arrived at the nature of the soul, we are in a better position to understand, i.e. to comprehend or gather together in one grasp, the isolated conclusions reached by our several successive inductions: thus does synthesis ensue upon analysis. At this stage it now becomes legitimate to make use of deduction in order to verify the previous inductions, just as in an arithmetical calculation the result is finally verified by reversing the process. Last of all, for completeness’ sake, we deduce from the nature of man what our reason can tell us about his origin and destiny.

“From this outline we see that observation plays a fundamental part in psychology. At the same time this observation is not only of what is interior, as Descartes teaches, nor only of what is exterior, following the positivists; but it is of both kinds at once.”[12]

Koren likewise makes use of the two-fold inductive and deductive method in his treatment of the philosophy of animate nature and shows how arguments from analogy fit in: “The method to be followed in the philosophy of living bodies is inductive in gathering the necessary data of experience, although usually this inductive process will be very simple. The induction is followed by a careful analysis of, and reflection upon the data, their implications and correlation to general metaphysical principles. Certain conclusions may be reached in this way, and these conclusions may be used as principles in deductive arguments to reach further conclusions. For instance, if experience shows that a quantitative element is always present in sensation, analysis and reflection may establish that this quantitative element belongs to the very nature of sensation, and from this the philosopher may conclude that sensation is of an organic nature, because quantity is a property of matter.

“Moreover, it must be pointed out that very frequently our method will have to consist in first considering life as it is found in man and then in arguing by analogy from man’s life to that of plants and animals. The reason is that man’s life is known to us from immediate internal experience, while with respect to animals we can often proceed only by a kind of ‘dehumanization’ of our own experience. For instance, from our own experience we know that man possesses something which we may call sense life. Although this sense life is profoundly affected by man’s intellect, nevertheless the organic structure of many animals and their behavior unquestionably show striking similarities to man’s sensitive organization and behavior; therefore, we conclude by analogy or a process of ‘dehumanization’ that animals have sense life. Yet this sense life is profoundly altered by the absence of a true intellect.

“Notwithstanding the fact that man is the primary source from which most of the necessary data for the philosophy of animate nature are obtained, it would seem preferable, at least in an introductory course, to proceed step by step, by considering first the life common to all organisms, then that which is found in all sensitive organisms, and finally the life proper to man. By following this procedure, we do not wish to suggest that, while plants only have one life, animals have two lives and man three. Man’s life is one, but it manifests itself on three levels, and the first two of these may exist without the last. By treating these levels successively, we are able to emphasize the fact that man finds himself at the very apex of organic life. Moreover, it seems difficult to explain to those who do not have a clear notion of the lower vital activities, how these activities are affected by man’s intellectual nature.”[13]     

Philosophical psychology also has a special method which is two-fold in character: it is both subjective (it utilizes introspection) and objective (it also makes use of the results of a number of the particular sciences, e.g., linguistics, animal psychology, biology, physiology, abnormal psychology, psychiatry, and psycho-physics). Celestine Bittle explains: “The subjective method is that of introspection. Introspection is the method of studying mental phenomena by means of the internal observation of experience on the part of the individual person. Conscious mental states exist in the mind, and they can be observed and examined only by the mind turning its attention upon its own states. This immediate observation and examination of one’s own internal mental states and activities is what is meant by ‘introspection.’ I alone am capable of knowing what sensations, emotions, ideas, and volitions are present in my mind, so far as actual observation is concerned. Even when the scientific psychologist makes use of instruments and other experimental devices, in the final analysis he must rely on introspection, because he must interpret the facts in the conscious mental acts of his own mind. The objective method is the method employed to gain information about the mental states and processes of man through means other than introspection. More is needed for the building of a science than the information acquired from a single individual’s mental experiences; this personal information must be supplemented by data obtained from outside sources. Among these outside sources, a few are of special value to the psychologist. First of all, he can study the information of other minds, whether communicated to him in spoken or written words, and thereby compare their observations and experiences with those of his own mind obtained through introspection. The study of various languages may contribute appreciable data, because language is the external expression of mental processes and ideas. Animal psychology, too, can be very helpful. Animals, as will be established later, are sensory beings pure and simple, while man is part sensory and part rational. The study of animal behavior should enable us to draw a sharper line of distinction between the sensory and rational activities and powers in man; the knowledge gained should assist us indirectly in acquiring a better knowledge of man himself. There are many things in biology and physiology which are useful in understanding the psychical activities in man, because sensory functions are vital processes depending on specific organs. Man has a body as well as a mind, and the two are closely united in everything man does. An extensive knowledge of the nervous system should be a considerable aid in acquiring a better knowledge of how man’s mind can come into contact with the physical world. Abnormal psychology, since it is based on pathological conditions, shows by contrast what the normal conditions are. Oftentimes, the absence of a particular function, because of disease, enables us to distinguish clearly between one mental power and another. Psychiatry, especially, throws a strong light on many psychical processes. Information of a most valuable kind is obtained from the experimental science of psycho-physics, that branch of psychology which studies the relations between mental and physical processes by investigating the response to stimuli and the perception of physical magnitudes. Such experiments are conducted in various psychological laboratories.”[14]


6. The Presuppositions of Philosophical Anthropology


The presuppositions of a science are certain truths or propositions not proved by the science in question but presupposed by it. They are not unwarranted assumptions but facts derived from another science whose province it is to investigate and establish them. The presuppositions of philosophical anthropology include the real existence of the world, the existence of God (which is demonstrated in philosophy of God, the highest branch of metaphysics) and the first principles of metaphysics, namely, the principles of non-contradiction, sufficient reason, causality, and finality and the ontological principles of act and potency, matter and form, and essence and act of being.   


7. The Importance of Philosophical Anthropology


Concerning the importance of our philosophical science, our subject matter, which is a part of speculative philosophy, goes beyond the experimental sciences (which can answer only in terms of structure, physical and chemical composition, functional reactions, relationship of actions, etc.) to answer the ultimate questions about man, though it is also of practical use too, since knowledge of the immortality of the human soul and free will greatly influence the ethical outlook and orientation of our lives. There will be a big difference in conduct of life in a person who believes that man is just a pack of neurons and death means the end of everything and nothing more (so life usually means getting the most pleasure out of it), and a person who acknowledges that he has an immortal soul, created and judged by God, that lives on forever (and therefore lives his life in an ethical manner with a constant focus on his last end). A denial of free will would also have an enormous impact, for the worse, on law, the penal system, government, social and educational institutions.










The philosophical anthropology of Ancient Greece was dominated by two currents which remained active up until the advent of modern philosophy. One current was spiritualistic and is attached to the name of Plato; the other current is more empirically rooted and has Aristotle (also known as “the Stagirite,” for he came from Stagira) as its founder. Plato taught that man was essentially his soul, the body being a kind of a prison of the soul. The relationship between body and soul is forced and extrinsic, like, for example, a skipper (soul) commanding his boat (body), or a rider (soul) guiding his horse (body). This spiritualist current was adopted by the Neo-Platonists (e.g., Plotinus), and then utilized – with significant modifications – by the great thinker of the Patristic Age, St. Augustine of Hippo.

The other current of Ancient Greek psychology reaching up to the beginning of modern times is the Aristotelian concept of man as an hylemorphic composite of body and soul, the latter being the substantial form of the former. It is true that this current was not as popular as the Platonic one during the patristic period all the way to the low Middle Ages, but its popularity in the High Middle Ages was due to the re-discovery of Aristotle during this period and its propagation (with modifications) by the likes of St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas.




Man as Soul. One of the greatest of the ancient Greek philosophers, the Athenian Plato (427-347 B.C.) derived his conception of man as essentially soul from the ancient Pythagoreans, who in turn derived their theory from Orphism. In his last dialogue, the Laws, Plato teaches that man is soul: “Now we must believe the legislator when he tells us that the soul is in all respects superior to the body, and that even in life what makes each one of us to be what we are is only the soul; and that the body follows us about in the likeness of each of us, and therefore, when we are dead, the bodies of the dead are quite rightly said to be our shades or images; for the true and immortal being of each one of us which is called the soul goes on her way to other Gods, before them to give an account.”[15]

The Body the Tomb of the Soul. For Plato, man is not a substantial unity of two incomplete substances of body and soul; rather, body and soul have a merely accidental unity. Man is a soul that utilizes a body the way a skipper mans his ship. Body and soul are only accidentally joined and this union is an unfortunate one for the body is the tomb or prison of the soul and the soul languishes there hoping and waiting that one day it will be freed from bondage. Man is chained to the body and the latter is the origin of every conceivable evil. Platonic ethics therefore seeks to free the soul from domination of the body by means of the ascetical path, the practice of the virtues and the cultivation of intellectual contemplation in philosophy (which, for him, would be the highest of all the sciences[16]). In a dialogue of his mature years, the Phaedo, written between the years 387-367 B.C., Plato explains that “while we are in body, and while the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our desire will not be satisfied and our desire is of the truth. For the body is the source of endless troubles to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and is liable also to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after true being; it fills us full of loves and lusts, and fears, and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery, and in fact, as men say, takes away from us the power of thinking at all. Whence come wars, and fighting and factions? Whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? Wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and by reason of all these impediments we have no time to give to philosophy; and, last and worst of all, even if we are at leisure and betake ourselves to some speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil and confusion in our enquiries, and so amazing us that we are prevented from seeing the truth. It has been proven to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body – the soul herself must behold things in themselves; and then we shall attain the wisdom we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, not while we live, but after death.”[17] 

The Origin of the Soul. Where does the soul come from for Plato? From the Demiurge who made and formed it.[18] The Demiurge is Plato’s god-maker (yet subordinate to the One), a being with intellect and will who fashions matter using the Ideas in the world of the Forms as his exemplar, thus bringing order and harmony to what was previously chaos and formlessness. Since the Demiurge made the soul, the latter not emanating from the former or being part of the essence of the former, Plato cannot be characterized as an emanationist or a pantheist. Who made the body, as well as the non-immortal “parts” of the soul (the spirited and concupiscible parts)? Plato teaches that the Demiurge made only the immortal part of the soul (the rational part, which is imperishable), while the “mortal parts” of the soul as well as the body were made by the celestial gods.[19]  

The Nature of the Soul. The soul, for Plato, is spiritual, immaterial and immortal. The soul has three parts or faculties, namely, the rational part, the irascible part (also called the courageous or spirited part) and the concupiscible (or appetitive) part. They are three faculties or powers of one soul, says Plato, and of the three, only the first part, the rational part, is immortal.[20] In the Timaeus, his last dialogue, Plato locates the rational part of the soul in the head, the courageous or spirited part in the chest, and the concupiscible part in the belly.[21] The soul is likened to a charioteer guiding two horses; the charioteer is the rational part, and the two horses are the irascible or courageous part (the good horse) and the concupiscible or appetitive part (the bad horse, which must be tamed and guided with a whip; this horse symbolizes the rebellious and unruly sensual passions and appetites).[22] Why did Plato assert the tripartite nature of the soul? Primarily because of the often bitter conflicts between reason and desires in man; but he also formulated the tripartite nature of the soul to provide an adequate scheme for the division of the State into three social classes: 1. the peasants, artisans, and businessmen concerned with the producing, buying and selling of goods (the concupiscible or appetitive part of the soul is dominant) ; 2. the soldier or military class, called the guardians (where the irascible or spirited part of the soul is dominant); and 3. the philosopher kings who administer the State (in whom the rational part of the soul reigns). The dominant virtue to be practiced by the first social class would be temperance, courage for the second social class, and wisdom for the third. The equilibrium between the three classes and the corresponding three virtues to be practiced is realized in justice. 

The Immortality of the Soul. Platonic philosophical anthropology teaches that the soul is accidentally united to the body only for a short time (this present life); after death the soul continues to live on for it is immortal. How does Plato prove the immortality of the soul? In a number of ways. In the Phaedo we have the proofs for the immortality of the soul based on opposites or contraries, the argument from the a priori factor in knowledge, the argument from the uncompounded and deiform nature of the soul (that is, from its spirituality), and the argument against Cebes that the soul does not wear itself out because a spiritual principle cannot wear itself out. In the Republic, Plato gives us his “argument from evil,” and in the Phaedrus, he gives his argument from the soul as self-moving principle. Copleston presents these arguments for us, and gives us his comments on them: 

1. The Argument from Contraries. “(i) In the Phaedo[23] Socrates argues that contraries are produced from contraries, as ‘from stronger, weaker,’ or ‘from sleeping, awaking, and awaking sleeping.’ Now, life and death are contraries, and from life is produced death. We must, therefore, suppose that from death life is produced. This argument rests on the unproved assumption of an eternal cyclic process: it also supposes that a contrary is produced from a contrary, as the matter out of which it proceeds or is made. The argument rests upon the unproved assumption of an eternal cyclic process: it also supposes that a contrary is produced from a contrary, as the matter out of which it proceeds or is made. The argument would hardly satisfy us: besides, it says nothing of the condition of the soul in its state of separation from the body, and would, by itself, lead to the doctrine of the wheel of rebirth. The soul in one ‘period’ on earth might have no conscious remembrance of any former period on earth, so that all that is ‘proved’ is that the soul survives, not that the individual survives qua individual.”[24]

2. The Argument from the A Priori Factor of Knowledge. “(ii) The next argument adduced in the Phaedo[25] is that from the a priori factor in knowledge. Men have a knowledge of standards and absolute norms, as is implied in their comparative judgments of value. But these absolutes do not exist in the sense-world: therefore man must have beheld them in a state of pre-existence. Similarly, sense-perception cannot give us knowledge of the necessary and universal. But a youth, even one who has had no mathematical education, can, by a process of questioning alone, without teaching, be induced to ‘give out’ mathematical truths. As he has not learnt them from anybody and cannot get them from sense-perception, the implication is that he apprehended them in a state of pre-existence, and that the process of ‘learning’ is simply a process of reminiscence.[26]

“As a matter of fact, the process of questioning employed by Socrates in the Meno is really a way of teaching, and in any case a certain amount of mathematical knowledge is tacitly presupposed. However, even if the mathematical science cannot be accounted for by ‘abstraction,’ mathematics could still be an a priori science, without our being compelled to postulate pre-existence. Even supposing that mathematics could, theoretically at least, be worked out entirely a priori by the slave boy of Meno, that would not necessitate his having pre-existed: there is always an alternative on Kantian lines.[27]

“Simmias points out[28] that this argument proves no more than that the soul existed before its union with the body: it does not prove that the soul survives death. Socrates accordingly observes that the argument from reminiscence must be taken in conjuction with the preceding argument.”[29] 

3. The Argument from the Uncompounded and Deiform Nature of the Soul. “(iii) The third argument in the Phaedo (or second, if the two previous arguments are taken together) is from the uncompounded and deiform nature of the soul – from its spirituality, as we would say.[30] Visible things are composite and subject to dissolution and death – and the body is of their number. Now, the soul can survey the invisible and unchanging and imperishable Forms, and by coming thus into contact with the Forms, the soul shows itself to be more like them than it is to visible and corporeal things, which latter are mortal. Moreover, from the fact that the soul is naturally destined to rule the body, it appears to be more like the divine than the mortal. The soul, as we may think, is ‘divine’ – which for the Greeks meant immortal and unchanging. (This argument has developed into the argument from the higher activities of the soul and the spirituality of the concept to the spiritual and uncompounded nature of the soul).”[31]

4. The Argument Contra Cebes. “(iv) Another argument of the Phaedo occurs in Socrates’ answer to the objections of Cebes. Cebes suggests[32] that the expenditure of energy which is undergone by the soul in its successive bodily lives may ‘wear it out,’ so that in the end it will ‘perish altogether in some one of the deaths.’ To this Socrates replies with another proof of immortality.[33] The existence of Forms is admitted. Now, the presence of one Form will not admit of the presence of a contrary Form, nor will a thing that is what it is by virtue of its participation in one Form admit of the simultaneous presence of a contrary Form, e.g. though we cannot say that fire is warmth, it is warm, and will not admit of the opposite predicate ‘cold’ simultaneously. Soul is what it is by virtue of its participation in the Form of Life: therefore it will not admit of the presence of the contrary Form, ‘death.’ When, therefore, death approaches, the soul must either perish or withdraw. That it does not perish is assumed. Strictly speaking, then, this argument should not be termed an argument for the imperishability of the soul, once granted its spirituality. Cebes is understood by Socrates to accept the spirituality of the soul, but to be arguing that it might wear itself out. Socrates’ answer practically comes to this, that a spiritual principle cannot wear itself out.”[34] 

5. The Argument from Evil. “(v) In the Republic[35] Socrates assumes the principle that a thing cannot be destroyed or perish except through some evil that is inherent in it. Now, the evils of the soul are ‘unrighteousness, intemperance, cowardice, ignorance’; but these do not destroy it, for a thoroughly unjust man may live as long or longer than a just man. But if the soul is not destroyed by its own internal corruption, it is unreasonable to suppose that it can be destroyed by any external evil. (The argument evidently supposes dualism).”[36]

6. The Argument from the Soul as Self-Moving Principle. “(vi) In the Phaedrus[37] it is argued that a thing which moves another, and is moved by another, may cease to live as it may cease to be moved. The soul, however, is a self-moving principle,[38] a source and beginning of motion, and that which is a beginning must be uncreated, for if it were not uncreated, it would not be a beginning. But if uncreated, then indestructible, for if soul, the beginning of motion were destroyed, all the universe and creation would ‘collapse and come to a standstill.’ Now, once granted that the soul is the principle of motion, it must always have existed (if motion is from the beginning), but obviously this does little to prove personal immortality. For all this argument shows, the individual soul might be an emanation from the World-Soul, to which it returns at bodily death.”[39]

Plato’s Doctrine of Reincarnation. The soul, says Plato, pre-existed the body. Going back in a numerous series of reincarnations the soul once dwelt in the world of Ideas where it beheld the Ideas and received its knowledge. But by some primal, undetermined fault the soul was cast away from this World of Forms and as a punishment was united to a body (which should be seen as its tomb or prison). Thonnard writes: “The theory of reminiscence, typically Platonic, proves the pre-existence of the soul, and the transcendent nature of the Forms demands it. The Forms are present in us at birth, and since the possibility of a creative agency is not contemplated, the soul must have acquired them in an anterior life. The nature of this former life is explained in mythical terms. Plato describes the multitude of souls, at the heels of the gods, seeking like them to look upon the Ideal world; as a penalty for certain evil deeds, they are hurled down on earth and imprisoned in bodies.”[40]      

After death the soul (which is man for Plato) lives on, and can, because of an evil life lived on earth, be reincarnated into animals. In the Phaedo, Plato writes: “If at its release the soul is pure and carries with it no contamination of the body…in other words, if it has pursued philosophy…it departs to that place which is, like itself, invisible, divine, immortal, and wise…[and] spends the rest of time with God…[The souls] of the wicked are compelled to wander about graveyards as a punishment, wandering until at last through craving for the corporeal which unceasingly pursues them, they are imprisoned once more in a body. And as you might expect, they are attached to the same sort of character or nature which they have developed during life…Those who have cultivated gluttony or selfishness or drunkenness…are likely to assume the form of donkeys and other perverse animals.”[41]

Plato believed in reincarnation not only because of his gnoseological position concerning the origin of ideas but because of his conception of man as a soul using a body as man wears his clothes or as a skipper mans his ship, or as a driver drives his vehicle. Reincarnation would be like a man changing his clothes, or a driver getting out of one vehicle and entering another vehicle, a doctrine quite simple to understand. Many persons are attracted by the view that the body is not the real you, that it is just something that is used, that what is most important is spirit and inner beauty and not physical appearances. Because many believe that spirit is more important than body, they come to the conclusion that the soul is the human person himself and the body is just a sort of garment. St. Thomas, however, objects to this position, writing: “Plato maintained that the human soul not only subsisted of itself, but also had the complete nature of a species. For he held that the complete nature of the [human] species is found in the soul, saying that a man is not a composite of soul and body, but a soul joined to a body in such a way that it is related to the body as a pilot is to a ship, or as one clothed to his clothing. However, this position is untenable, because it is obvious that the soul is the reality which gives life to the body. Moreover, to live is the being of living things. Consequently the soul is that which gives the human body its act of being. Now a form is of this nature. Therefore the human soul is the form of the body. But if the soul were in the body as a pilot is in a ship, it would give neither the body nor its parts their specific nature. The contrary of this is seen to be true, because, when the soul leaves the body, the body’s individual parts retain their original names only in an equivocal sense. For the eye of a dead man, like the eye of a portrait or that of a statue, is called an eye equivocally; and similarly for the other parts of the body. Furthermore, if the soul were in the body as a pilot in a ship, it would follow that the union of soul and body would be an accidental one. Then death, which brings about their separation, would not be a substantial corruption; which is clearly false. So it follows that the soul is a particular thing and that it can subsist of itself, not as a thing having a complete species of its own, but as completing the human species by being the form of the body. Hence it likewise follows that it is both a form and a particular thing.”[42]     

Against the position of Plato, the soul cannot be related to the body simply as its mover, for a thing that moves another does not as such cause the moved thing to exist as a certain kind of being. A truck driver, for instance, does not cause the truck that he drives to be a truck. The soul, however, which is the life principle of the living being, causes the body to be a living body. Therefore, the former cannot be said to be related to the latter merely as its mover. If the soul were merely the mover of the body the body would not itself be alive, but would simply be likened to a garment or a puppet.

Another argument to be made: the problem with maintaining that the soul’s relationship to the body as merely the relationship of a skipper to his ship is that when the skipper disembarks from his ship, the destruction of the ship does not ensue, whereas when the soul leaves the body at death, the corruption of the body ensues (a decomposition into many substances). Therefore, the union between soul and body must be intrinsic and substantial, not merely extrinsic and accidental.   

Other Arguments Against Reincarnation. Marie I. George responds to various commonly held positions that accept reincarnation for supposedly supernatural reasons: “1) Reincarnation as punishment or reward. A common explanation for why beings are reincarnated is that it is in order to punish or reward them for their performance in their previous life. However, it is pointless to punish or reward people if they are unaware of the deeds of their previous lives. People are unaware that they are reincarnated, and this through no fault of their own. To punish them, therefore, would be either stupid or cruel. Certainly, stupidity is not a characteristic usually attributed to the supernatural being; nor is cruelty: the supernatural power is generally held to be incapable of committing any evil. Those who hold these consequences of the doctrine of reincarnation-as-punishment to be false, must hold that the doctrine itself is false if they are to be consistent.

Reincarnation as a form of mercy. A variation of the punishment-reward explanation for reincarnation is that reincarnation takes place in order that people might have a chance to improve upon their performance in their previous life: the Supreme Power out of mercy does not want to condemn us for the wrong-doings of our first life (or lives).

“There are a number of problems in maintaining that this is the motivation behind reincarnation: (1) If we do not remember our previous life, we cannot appreciate our present life as a merciful second chance. (2) If the Supreme Being in his mercy does not want to condemn us for the wrong-doings of our first life, why would he condemn us for them in later lives? Doing so would be arbitrary and would seem to be contrary to mercy. It would be like cosmic musical chairs: just a matter of luck when the music stopped whether you were on one of your good lives or one of your bad ones (except for the rare individual who achieves perfection in every life from the first one to the last one). (3) A second chance is reasonably given in two situations: first, when the original test proves to be poorly formulated.

“However, this possible reason for retesting is readily dismissed, as most will not countenance that the cosmic tester is capable of making mistakes. The second reason for retesting is when some factor outside the test taker’s control (inexperience, illness, etc.) hinders him or her from performing in a manner representative of his or her abilities. While certain individuals are handicapped by ignorance and emotional problems (arising from poor upbringing, among other things), and consequently are destined to live morally diminished lives, they are still capable of making choices according to their lights. By taking into account impediments to responsibility for which people cannot be held culpable, their moral goodness or badness can be reasonably assessed on the basis of the actions performed throughout a single lifetime. Retesting, then, is unnecessary.”[43]  

Marie George also explains the underlying reason why many people accept reincarnation, namely, that their disordered desire makes them want to believe their bad actions in this life ultimately have no serious consequences  (everlasting hell), that if they were bad in this life, then they will have a second chance, or many chances, to do better: “Another reason why many people accept reincarnation is that such a belief is soothing: It allows them to believe that their bad actions ultimately have no serious consequences. They will have another life to do better, and most likely they will not even recognize that life as their own (which averts the fear that it might be a painful one), so why not enjoy this one? They do not want to accept the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. In place of death, which is naturally a one-time occurrence, they put ‘cosmic recycling.’ A single judgment after death (according to which one is allotted an eternal punishment or eternal reward) is substituted by a series of judgments of successive lives (according to which one is promoted or demoted for one’s future life) – a series, however, which either never reaches any definite end, or which terminates in all individuals, both good and bad alike, attaining the same end. Thus, hell simply drops out of the picture, and heaven loses its meaning as a place where the individual person is rewarded for his efforts to do good. Belief in reincarnation is tailor made for the person who does not want to give up his aspirations to immortality, yet who wants to avoid a God who rewards people for doing good works, which are sometimes difficult and painful to perform, and who punishes people for doing evil works, which are often pleasurable.”[44]  

Knowledge as Reminiscence. For Plato knowledge is remembrance or reminiscence (anamnesis) of things that the soul once knew in a previous existence (when it once dwelt in the world of the Ideas it received its knowledge). But because the soul became trapped in a body it forgot its knowledge. However, the things of this world, which impinge on the senses, stimulate the soul to recall what it once knew in a previous life.

Refutation of the Platonic Doctrine on the Origin of Ideas. Celestine Bittle presents the Platonic exaggerated realist origin of man’s ideas and critiques it from a perspective of moderate realism, writing: “Plato was aware that the world of sense and sense objects is in a state of continuous change. From the fact of continuous change he concluded that there is nothing real and stable in the sense world. The universal ideas, however, have a content which is stable, real, unchangeable, eternal; the knowledge acquired through universal ideas is truly ‘science.’ Unless we are willing to admit that the scientific knowledge acquired through universal ideas is an illusion and a fiction, these ideas must be a representation of objective reality; and since the reality of the sense world is always changing and not eternal, it cannot be the reality of the sense world which is represented in the universal ideas. Hence, the existence of universal ideas in the human minds demands the existence of a supra-mundane world of pure essences, which are stable, real, unchangeable, and eternal and of which the universal ideas of man are a true representation. These pure essences Plato called Ideas.

“The Ideas alone have reality in the strict sense; they exist as real entities (noumena) apart from the world of sense (phenomena). The objects of the sense world are but faint, changing replicas or imitations of the eternal, unchanging Ideas; the Ideas are the eternal prototypes or exemplars of the objects of the sense world. The universal ideas of the human mind are true representations of these noumenal Ideas and cannot have their origin in the changeable and changing objects of this visible universe. It follows, according to Plato, that men’s souls must have had a pre-existence in a former life in the noumenal world, where they contemplated the Ideas as these Ideas existed in themselves. On being united to the body in its present earthly existence, the soul forgot the knowledge of the Ideas, but the universal ideas thus acquired slumber in the soul until awakened; they lie innate in the recesses of the mind. For every object existing in the universe (tree, dog, sky, house, rose, etc.) there exists a corresponding Idea in the noumenal world. On seeing such an objects in the present life (some individual tree, dog, etc.), we remember what we have known before and have forgotten: the innate slumbering universal idea is awakened and brought to consciousness. Hence, Plato’s theory of innate ideas is also called the theory of reminiscence.

Criticism. For one thing, Plato supposes that the connection between body and soul in man’s earthly life is forced and unnatural; the relationship between the two is extrinsic, similar to the relationship between a horse (body) and its rider (soul). In this view, death should be a welcome event, a release for the soul from the imprisonment in the body. We know, however, that man dreads death. Man is by nature, as all evidence proves, a psycho-physiological integral organism. The dread of death shows clearly that the union of body and soul is natural. If their union were merely extrinsic, it is inexplicable how the union of the body with the soul could blot out the knowledge of the Ideas formerly contemplated, because the body could not possibly influence the inner activities of the soul.

“Aristotle opposed Plato’s theory on the grounds that it is poetic and fantastic and contrary to the testimony of consciousness. If we actually had a former existence, the awakening of the innate universal ideas should also revive the memory of this previous existence itself. But we have no such memory. The theory is pure assumption on the part of Plato.”[45]      




The greatest of the ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was the first systematizer of the science of philosophical psychology. He wrote much about living beings, in particular, with man, dealing in detail with the constitution of human nature, its dispositions and inclinations, its faculties and operations, the process of both sense knowing (the five external senses and the four internal senses) and intellectual knowing (the process of ideogenesis), sense appetites and the rational appetite (the will), as well as the nature and union of the rational soul with the human body. These problems of psychology are dealt with by the Stagirite in works such as The History of Animals and De Anima (On the Soul). St. Thomas Aquinas would later make a famous commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima and incorporate much of its philosophical psychology in his Treatise on Man in the First Part of the Summa Theologiae.   

Aristotle teaches the hylomorphic (matter and form) constitution of man, that is, the individual human being is a hylomorphic composite of body (matter) and soul (the substantial form of the body), two incomplete substances that, together, form the one complete substance that is the individual man (with this doctrine Aristotle corrects the error of Platonic dualism). The hylomorphic union of body and soul in one complete substance that is the individual man rules out that souls pre-existed the body (Aristotle rejected reincarnation as it goes counter to human reason). The union of body and soul is a substantial union, not merely accidental and extrinsic, as Plato teaches. 

For Aristotle, plants have a vegetative soul, animals a sensitive soul, and man a rational soul (a man does not have three souls but a single soul: the rational soul, which is the substantial form of the body). Living beings (e.g., plants, animals, and humans) are distinguished from non-living beings by their power of self-movement. Living beings have an intrinsic principle of activity, called the soul, which inanimate beings like rocks do not possess (though the rock has its form which is united to matter, making the one complete substance of rock). This intrinsic principle of activity, the soul, is defined as the first act of a natural organic body. The human soul has three functions, namely, the vegetative function (which serves towards the nutrition and conservation of the organism’s body and species), the sensitive function (external and internal sense knowledge as well as irascible and concupiscible appetition), and the rational or intellective function.




Epicurus (c. 341-270 B.C.) taught a hedonism wherein the greatest good of man consisted in pleasure. This is keeping with Epicurean sensism and materialism, which he derived from Democritean atomism. What is man for Epicurus? Epicurus denies that there is a spiritual, immaterial element in man. All reality is material and so man too is wholely material. As the things of the world are constituted by material atoms and an aggregate of atoms, so too man himself is constituted by atoms, that is, the specific nature of man consists in an aggregate of atoms of soul and an aggregate of atoms of body. For Epicurus, even the human soul is but an aggregate of igneous, aeriform and wind atoms (light atoms but nevertheless material) as well as “diverse atoms” that are more subtle than the former (these atoms do not have a specific name). The igneous, aeriform and wind atoms make up the irrational illogical part of the human soul, while the unnamed subtle “diverse atoms” would make up the rational part. The human body, on the other hand, would consist, says Epicurus, in an aggregate of heavy atoms. Epicirus teaches that the human soul performs its typical psychic functions (which are wholely within the realm of sense knowledge) only if it is united with its body. When the body corrupts at death, the light atoms that constitute the soul are dispersed and all sensible knowledge, feelings, thought and awareness disappear. The human soul, Epicurus holds, is not immortal but mortal (a necessary consequence of his atomistic materialism). Epicurus also denied that man possessed free-will as well as the capacity for the mind to form universal ideas by way of abstraction.   




After the grand systems of Plato and Aristotle, philosophy goes into marked decline; though skepticism and stoicism elucidate an epistemology, speculative philosophy loses its pride of place in favor of ethics or moral philosophy. There is an observable shift from the knowledge of what is to the knowledge of how should one live in order to be happy. The main systems of the Hellenistic age are stoicism, epicureanism, and skepticism, with the later development of eclecticism. Stoicism’s main exponents include Zeno (336–274 B.C.), Crisippus (281–208 B.C.), Epictetus (50-138 A.D.), Seneca (4 B.C.?–65 A.D.), and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180 A.D.).

Stoic Gnoseology. In the field of logic the Stoics made contributions towards the development of the hypothetical syllogism. As regards gnoseology, they did not hold the Platonic and Aristotelian doctrine on truth. While Plato and Aristotle hold that truth essentially consists in the perfect correspondence of the mind with the real extra-mental thing that really exists, for Zeno and his disciples, truth would consist in the total comprehension of the object by which the mind is obliged to assent.

Stoic Cosmology. As for Stoic cosmology or philosophy of nature, the world is believed to be essentially constituted by two primordial elements, namely, matter and the Logos (or Reason). The former, being indefinite and inert, represents the passive principle, while the latter, being animate and full of energy, represents the active principle. Why Logos as the primordial element of the cosmos? Because of the fact that man is endowed with reason, and since he is but a manifestation of the cosmos and given that the whole cannot be less perfect than any of its parts, the Stoics retain that one simply cannot conceive of the cosmos as deprived of reason. But different from the Aristotelian conception of reason, the Stoics believed that the Logos was not by nature spiritual but rather material for they retained that a thing without a body simply cannot act; but the Logos is the very fount of action, of activity; therefore, Logos must be corporeal. What type of matter is the Logos constituted of? A special type of matter, they say, endowed with the properties of subtility and agility, being able to penetrate all things. A number of Stoics identified this special material with fire, others with ether. The Logos radiates its power over matter as seed; as these seeds develop they give rise to the individual beings that we see in the cosmos. The seeds in matter, radiated by the Logos, are none other than fragments of Logos itself, and by this reason come to be called the seminal reasons (lógoi spermatikói or rationes seminales), a concept which the giant of Patristic thought St. Augustine was to take and develop in his cosmology and exegesis. In a individual thing, the seminal reason would act as form actualizing matter in the Aristotelian sense.              

In the action that it exercises over matter the Logos has as its end the perfection of the universe, a perfection obtained slowly through a process of evolution. Following well established laws of nature the Logos leads the world towards an always greater perfection. Having reached the maximum grade of perfection the Logos will envelop all things in fire and, having annihilated everything begins again to remake the perfections of the cosmos. In the reconstruction of the world the Logos always follows the same order and pattern: events will happen again as they did before and there will be new Homers, Platos and Aristotles doing the same things over again. This cycle of events will, according to the Stoics, repeat itself eternally. The concept of the eternal return was something that the nineteenth century German philosopher of the Will to Power Nietzsche (1844-1900) would take up thousands of years later.

Stoic Anthropology. For the Stoics, man, and all things for that matter, are constituted of two principles: matter and a fragment of Logos. When the fragment of Logos separates from the human body, man dies. Though the matter that is the human body perishes, the fragment of Logos, the Stoics say, will never be destroyed. Man earns his immortality when he identifies himself with the Logos, seeking to relinquish his proper individuality by distancing himself from all that is matter. Though the Stoics retain that man has no personal immortality, he nevertheless can enjoy a species of eternity inasmuch as the fragment of Logos that is his soul will never be destroyed. The Stoics were fatalists and determinists: man achieves his freedom only in the admission that all in the end is necessary (something like the position of the monist Spinoza thousands of years later). Because of their determinism the Stoics explained away evil as being only apparent, relative, essentially non-existent.    

Stoic Ethics. Though it includes developed gnoseological and cosmological doctrines functioning in support of its ethical system, Stoicism is essentially an intellectualist moral doctrine. Its moral doctrine consists in the acquisition of happiness through the life of reason and the practice of the virtues, refusing any concession whatsoever to the senses and passions. Emotions and passions are considered to be unworthy of the wiseman, transgressions of right order, fundamentally irrational, and even diseases of the soul. The Stoic ideal of the virtuous wise man, though not insensitive to others, is the emotionless and passionless detachment in all the trying situations of life in accordance with the life of reason. For the Stoics, the practice of virtue consists in apathy, that is, in the annulment of the passions and the negation of one’s own personality. By losing one’s own personality it becomes possible for one to unite himself to the Logos. For this reason, it is essential that one be liberated from the passions which act as chains that bind one to the body and impede union with the Logos. In order to attain this blessed state one must cultivate indifference regarding all the various contingencies of daily life and all that lies beyond our power.     

The Stoics also taught that, in certain situations, suicide was not only acceptable but laudable. For example, if a man was weighed down by some unbearable loss or sickness that would render impossible the effective control of one’s passions and a life in accordance with reason, suicide, the Stoics maintained, would be a legitimate final exit. Such a renunciation of one’s own life, they believed, was laudable for it was done not out of hedonistic and egoistic motives, but in order for one to unite oneself with the Logos.   

Critique of Stoicism. The Stoic system is arbitrary, basing its norm on reason alone to the exclusion of every other part of man’s composite nature. Consequently, the Stoics condemned all emotions and passions as irrational and evil. But this is erroneous since passions and emotions are not evil in themselves but are just a part of human nature as reason is. They should indeed be governed by reason according to the hierarchy of man’s being but should not be excluded from this hierarchical order as such.

Against the teaching of Stoicism, suicide, the direct, intentional taking of one’s own life or the direct killing of oneself on one’s own authority,  is not a moral or laudable act in certain circumstances; rather, it is morally evil, being contrary to the just love of self, offending also love of neighbor, and is also contrary to the love of God: “Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

“Suicide contradicts the natural inclinations of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

“If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary cooperation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.

“Grave psychological disturbances, anguish or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”[46]    




The One. The Neoplatonist Plotinus (205-270) managed to develop a more profound concept of the Absolute than Plato had done. This Absolute or One is an absolute principle and the foundation of all being. It is over and above all being, above all determination or form. At the origin of everything, lying beyond being itself as the foundation of being, is the One. This One is absolutely simple and is a principle without principle. It is also infinite, having the fullness of perfection and an absolute power or energy. It is wholely immaterial and is the fullness of actuality without any limitation whatsoever. “Yet its Being is not limited; what is there to set bounds to it? Nor, on the other hand, is it infinite in the sense of magnitude; what place can there be to which it must extend, or why should there be movement where there is no lacking? All its infinitude resides in its power: it does not change and will not fail; and in it all that is unfailing finds duration.”[47] The One does not have any determination and cannot be expressed by any words whatsoever. Plotinus believed that we have an immediate knowledge of this Absolute or One which is simple and transcendent and therefore ineffable (negative theology). He sometimes uses the term Good to designate the One. They are identical. The One is the “Good above all that is good.”[48]

The Emanation of All Things From the One. Plotinus teaches that all things have their origin from the One by emanation and not by creation. Emanation follows a certain order: from more perfect to the less perfect. From the One comes first of all the Nous or Intelligence, which is the sole reality to have an immediate origin from the One. From Nous proceeds Life, and from Life proceeds the World Soul, and from the World Soul proceeds all the souls of all individual men. The final emanation from the One is Matter, which is an emanation that is the least perfect and most impoverished. Matter is good inasmuch as it is an emanation from the One, but inasmuch as it is the lowest perfection and the furthest removed from the One, it is evil. In contrast to the Manicheans, who believed that evil was an independent and autonomous principle, Plotinus held that matter was evil because it was the most removed from the source of all perfection, namely the One, it being highly imperfect. Matter, as the last emanation, is almost non-being, nothing, and therefore is the fount of evil actions, falls from the virtuous life, of ignorance and of death. However, Plotinus does not teach that matter is an absolute evil; it is rather the negation of the good, as darkness is the negation of light.

The Plotinian Man. Man, for Plotinus, is composed of body and soul. The soul is distinct from the body and preexists it for it is a superior emanation from the One. The union of the soul with the body is not explained in a Platonic way (as a punishment for some crime commited in a past existence) but as the result of that necessity which governs the emanation from the One. The heterogenous constitution of man – his being composed of body and soul – necessitates a conflict of tendencies in him, namely, one of conversion (which is the tendency of the soul for the things of the spirit and for union with the One) and dissipation (or the tendency of the body to seek the lower pleasures). The goal of the soul is to return to the One through a free operation that does not contradict metaphysical necessity.

Critique of Plotinian Emanationist Pantheism. A serious error of Plotinus is his emanationism, a type of transient realistic pantheism where there is an evolution of the Deity into the world. Against Plotinus, we affirm that God is the Infinite Being while creatures are finite beings essentially distinct from God (they do not form part of God and God does not evolve towards creatural beings). Bittle explains: “Transient realistic pantheism is also called emanationism. Its general doctrine consists in the tenet thaty all being in the world ‘emanate’ or flow from the divine substance, so that they originate, not by means of God’s causal action, but through a transformation of God’s substance. The gnostics of the second century A.D., particularly Valentinus, taught the origin of numberless ‘aeons’ through emanation from God. Plotinus defended a system of emanations. According to Plotinus, God is the One, the Good, the primal reality which is undifferentiated. Goodness gives rise to emanation; and emanation gives rise to the multiplicity of things, as a kind of overflow of the One. Mind is the first reality to emanate from God; then comes the world-soul; then plastic forces (forms, individual souls); and finally matter. Matter is the ultimate degredation of the One, because it is the source of multiplicity and evil. In medieval times John Scotus Eriugena (c. 810-877) defended a transient, emanationistic pantheism.”[49]       








St. Augustine


St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) holds that man is neither soul alone or body alone but that he is body and soul, a whole resulting from their union. He writes that “a soul in possession of a body does not constitute two persons but one man.”[50] In The Soul and Its Origin, he states that “anyone who wishes to separate the body from human nature is foolish.”[51]

The human soul, for Augustine, is incorporeal, having neither spatial extension nor dimensions. The human soul is spiritual. How does he prove the soul’s spirituality? He says that either the soul is able to perform activities like willing, thinking, etc., without the body, and thus it is spiritual, or that the human soul is incapable of performing its activity without the body, and hence it is material. Now, there is at least one case wherein the soul is not dependent on the body for its operation, namely, in the case of self-reflection. Therefore, argues Augustine, the soul is spiritual.    

Augustine teaches in passages like On the Immortality of the Soul that the human soul is immortal. One argument that he gives for proving the soul’s immortality is based the soul’s union with immutable truth: “The soul, St. Augustine states, finds itself in a continuous relation with truth. There is no doubt that truth is present in the soul and that this presence determines union between the mind which contemplates and the truth that is contemplated. This union can never be lacking because nothing can separate the soul from truth: not the body, which can do nothing against the spirit, not the soul, whose natural desire is to always be and to know all, nor God, who gave the soul its nature and wishes to preserve what He has done. Therefore, truth and the soul is a unity, immutable and eternal, and hence the soul is also eternal.”[52] Copleston writes that “Plato had argued that the human soul, as capable of apprehending the Ideas, which are eternal and indestructible, shows itself to be akin to them, to be ‘divine,’ that is to say, indestructible and eternal, and Augustine, without affirming pre-existence, proves the immortality of the soul in an analogous manner.”[53]    

Though Augustine maintains that man is body and soul, in certain passages of his voluminous writings he defines man, like Plato and the Neoplatonists, as “a rational soul using a body.”[54] Literally taken this would mean that man would essentially be his soul. But Augustine did not take this definition literally but as a highlighting of the transcendent superiority of the rational soul over the human body.

Augustine’s writings seem to suggest that man is only the soul. We often find expressions in his writings like “I, that is, my soul.” In his On the Greatness of the Soul, he calls the human soul “a certain substance, sharing in reason and suited to the task of ruling the body.”[55] Augustine is undoubtedly using Platonic and Neoplatonic spiritualistic language and psychology of animate nature. How can we reconcile this seeming contradiction (that on the one hand he affirms that man is body and soul and on the other he says that man is “a rational soul using a mortal earthly body”[56])? Though Augustine indeed believes that man is composed of body and soul, he stresses constantly – undoubtedly for pastoral reasons –  the most important part of man, which is his soul (it is the soul that must be saved), to the point that the reader may think that man, for him, is essentially just a soul that makes use of a body (in the Platonic sense), something which Augustine does not in fact intend. Maurer explains that “to understand his [Augustine’s] identification of man with his soul, we must realize that his approach to man is chiefly that of a moralist and religious thinker, concerned above all with man’s happiness and the means to achieve it. We do him an injustice if we judge his doctrine in terms of the scholastic metaphysics of man of the thirteenth century. The problem of man’s unity in being will then be a burning issue; it is not so for St. Augustine. His problem is rather to know how man should be ordered and governed in order to reach his final end. What is the highest and most perfect part of man from this point of view? Obviously his soul, for it is through his soul that he arrives at truth and the enjoyment of truth, which is his happiness. In this sense man truly is his soul.”[57]

Gilson observes that the Augustinian definition of man as a rational soul using a body, “in which the emphasis is definitely placed on the soul’s hierarchic transcendence over the body, is in keeping with Augustinism’s deepest tendencies. We are sometimes surprised that he did not discuss or even notice, the metaphysical difficulties implied in such a definition. The reason is simply that the abstract problem of man’s metaphysical structure seemed to him an idle one. It is the moral problem of the sovereign good that interests him. Now, that good is of an essentially spiritual nature; it has to be sought beyond the soul but in the same intelligible world. That is why the soul’s superiority over the body has to be emphasized in his definition of man. Deny this superiority, and it is no longer clear that man should seek his good beyond the sphere of the body. Grant this superiority, and along with the proper ordering of ends, the whole problem of morality is solved.”[58] 

How is the body-soul relationship explained in Augustine? By means of what he calls a “vital attention” where the soul acts a guardian over the body, watching over it, being present in all of its parts. This is shown in the fact that the whole soul knows what is going on in any part of the human body. As it perceives as a whole in each part of the body, it subsequently must be present as a whole in each and every part. In his work, On the Immortality of the Soul, Augustine writes: “When there is a pain in the foot, the eye sees it, the tongue reports it, the hand reaches toward it. This would not be unless the soul were present in these parts…The soul is, therefore, at one and the same time as a whole in each part of the body, just as it senses as a whole in each part.”[59] “In this view,” observes Maurer, “the soul’s presence in the body is for the sake of the body. The soul has a natural desire to watch over the body, to vivify it, and to bring to it the beauty, harmony, and order it itself has received from God. But the body tends to be a weight upon the soul, and it longs to be rid of it. In his early works St. Augustine, like Plotinus, describes the body as the prison of the soul. He does not mean, however, that the body is intrinsically evil or that the soul’s union with it is evil in itself. As a Christian he knows that matter is good, because it has been created by God. So even the body is good, although the soul can become evil by giving the body too much care, to forgetfulness of itself and God.”[60]


St. Thomas Aquinas


Like Aristotle, the great Dominican philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/5-1274) taught the doctrine of the hylemorphic composition of man (a composite substance of body and soul) and the rational soul as the substantial form which animates the human body, but he also stressed the immortality of the human soul, an issue that was not clarified by the Stagirite. Like Aristotle, Aquinas insists on there being but one substantial form in a thing (if there were more than one substantial form in a thing it would be of two or more different species, which is impossible).

For Aquinas, the soul is the life principle of a living body, actualizing the body as living. It is also the substantial form which makes the body the specific kind living body it is (the human soul makes the body to be human). The rational soul is a non-corporeal incomplete substance with the powers or faculties of intellect and will (the rational appetite).

Though the human soul is a complete soul, it is not the complete human person. Man, the Angelic Doctor teaches, is not soul (as Plato maintains) but a hylemorphic composite of body and soul, a single compound substance of human body and rational soul. The rational soul is spiritual, not material; it is an element of the human hylemorphic composite, but in itself it is not compounded or composed of material parts, since there is no matter in it. It is a substantial spiritual form. The substantial and spiritual subsistent form that is the rational soul cannot decay or break up, since it has no material parts or elements to be corrupted or fall away. The rational soul has no intrinsic dependence on the human body for its existence and operations. It is incorruptible.

Though the human soul is a spiritual substance (in this it is similar to an angel), nevertheless, it is not of the same species as an angel (the separate substance). Each angel is a species of its own and angels only have generic sameness. The human or rational soul is unlike the angel in that it is a spiritual substance made to be united with a body. All human souls, says Aquinas, are of the same species, whereas each angel is itself the sole member of its species.       

While in this life the rational soul has an extrinsic, and not an intrinsic, dependence upon the body. Since it has the act of being (esse) of its own, the human soul is capable of living on and operating per se even when separated from the human body at death (it is a subsistent substance). That the human or rational soul has the act of being (esse) of its own, and is thus capable of subsistence after the dissolution of the body, is one of Aquinas’ major contributions to the history of philosophical anthropology.


St. Bonaventure


St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)[61] was profoundly influenced by the Neoplatonic philosophical tradition in his writings on the human person. He teaches that man is composed of body and soul (he is a composite substance), but unlike Aristotle and St. Thomas (and even St. Augustine),[62] he maintains that the human soul is composed of (spiritual) matter and form. Bonaventure advocates a “universal hylomorphism,” a doctrine that maintains that even spiritual beings, created out of nothing (ex nihilo), have what is called “spiritual matter” and that the only being without matter is God. Thomas teaches, on the other hand, that spiritual beings do not have a composition of matter and form (angels, for example, are subsistent forms devoid of matter but nevertheless having a real distinction of act and potency, essence and act of being, and substance and accidents in them.

Why did Bonaventure hold to the doctrine of “universal hylomorphism?” Maurer explains the Seraphic Doctor’s reason for doing so: “The soul must not be confused with God or with the body to which it is joined. It is created out of nothing as a composite of matter and form. This composition is a necessary result of the fact that it is created and given life by God. Its life is a participation in the life of God. So there must be something in the soul that gives life to it (namely, form), and something that receives life (namely, matter). Furthermore, the soul changes and in so doing receives new qualities. So it must be partly passive and receptive; it is not wholly active. In short, it has matter in its make-up. This matter, however, is not like what we see around us; it is spiritual matter similar to that of the angels.”[63] 

St. Thomas’ Critique of the Matter-Form Composition in Souls. Contrary to the position of Bonaventure, Aquinas insists that the soul is not composed of matter and form: “The soul has no matter. We may consider this question in two ways. First, from the notion of a soul in general; for it belongs to the notion of a soul to be the form of a body. Now, either it is a form by virtue of itself, in its entirety, or by virtue of some part of itself. If by virtue of itself in its entirety, then it is impossible that any part of it should be matter, if by matter we understand something purely potential: for a form, as such, is an act; and that which is purely potential cannot be part of an act, since potentiality is repugnant to actuality as being opposite thereto. If, however, it be a form by virtue of a part of itself, then we call that part the soul: and that matter, which it actualizes first, we call the primary animate.

“Secondly, we may proceed from the specific notion of the human soul, inasmuch as it is intellectual. For it is clear that whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the recipient. Now a thing is known in as far as its form is in the knower. But the intellectual soul knows a thing in its nature absolutely: for instance, it knows a stone absolutely as a stone; and therefore the form of a stone absolutely, as to its proper formal idea, is in the intellectual soul. Therefore the intellectual soul itself is an absolute form, and not something composed of matter and form. For if the intellectual soul were composed of matter and form, the forms of things would be received into it as individuals, and so it would only know the individual: just as it happens with the sensitive powers which receive forms in a corporeal organ; since matter is the principle by which forms are individualized. It follows, therefore, that the intellectual soul, and every intellectual substance which has its knowledge of forms absolutely, is exempt from composition of matter and form.”[64]   

Against Aquinas on the oneness of the substantial form in man, Bonaventure holds that man has a number of substantial forms: “Although the soul is superior to and independent of the body, it nevertheless has a natural desire to be united to it. As God by his grace gives life to the soul, so the soul in its turn reaches below itself to vivify and perfect the body. The union of soul and body is thus no accidental one. They are united substantially to form the composite substance, man. The human soul is thus the substantial form of the body, but it is not its only substantial form. The body must be disposed to receive the soul by prior substantial forms (for instance, the form of light and the forms of the elements). The human soul adds a further substantial perfection, forming the complete and perfect man. Unlike St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure can maintain a plurality of substantial forms in man because in his view no one substantial form by itself gives man his total substantial being. Each gives him but a part of his substantial perfection.”[65]

Aquinas, instead, defends the doctrine that man has but one substantial form, which is his rational soul (if man had more than one substantial form he would be of two or more different species, which is impossible). In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas explains his reasons for holding but one substantial form in man: “Of one thing there is but one substantial being. But the substantial form gives substantial being. Therefore of one thing there is but one substantial form. But the soul is the substantial form of man. Therefore it is impossible for there to be in man another substantial form besides the intellectual soul.

“If we suppose that the intellectual soul is not united to the body as its form, but only as its motor, as the Platonists maintain, it would necessarily follow that in man there is another substantial form, by which the body is established in its being as movable by the soul. If, however, the intellectual soul be united to the body as its substantial form, as we have said above (a. 1), it is impossible for another substantial form besides the intellectual soul to be found in man.

“In order to make this evident, we must consider that the substantial form differs from the accidental form in this, that the accidental form does not make a thing to be simply, but to be such, as heat does not make a thing to be simply, but only to be hot. Therefore by the coming of the accidental form a thing is not said to be made or generated simply, but to be made such, or to be in some particular condition; and in like manner, when an accidental form is removed, a thing is said to be corrupted, not simply, but relatively. Now the substantial form gives being simply; therefore by its coming a thing is said to be generated simply; and by its removal to be corrupted simply. For this reason, the old natural philosophers, who held that primary matter was some actual being – for instance, fire or air, or something of that sort – maintained that nothing is generated simply, or corrupted simply; and stated that every becoming is nothing but an alteration, as we read Phys. i, 4. Therefore, if besides the intellectual soul there pre-existed in matter another substantial form by which the subject of the soul were made an actual being, it would follow that the soul does not give being simply; and consequently that it is not the substantial form: and so at the advent of the soul there would not be simple generation; nor at its removal simple corruption, all of which is clearly false.

“Whence we must conclude, that there is no other substantial form in man besides the intellectual soul; and that the soul, as it virtually contains the sensitive and nutritive souls, so does it virtually contain all inferior forms, and itself alone does whatever the imperfect forms do in other things. The same is to be said of the sensitive soul in brute animals, and of the nutritive soul in plants, and universally of all more perfect forms with regard to the imperfect.”[66]


Duns Scotus


Against the positions of the Dominican St. Thomas, the Scottish Franciscan Duns Scotus (1265-1308) not only subscribed to the hylomorphic composition of (spiritual) matter and form in the rational soul (the acceptance of universal hylomorphism), as well as advocating the plurality of substantial forms in the human person, but he also held that the immortality of the soul could not be strictly demonstrated by reason alone, and that certitude regarding its immortality is arrived by faith alone. Although Scotus did not hold that the arguments proposed by Aquinas were worthless or not persuasive, nevertheless, he considered them to be instances of petitio principii (begging the question). Why did Scotus hold this position against Aquinas? In his Elements of Christian Philosophy, Gilson explains that its roots lie in Scotist essentialism. “Duns Scotus,” Gilson writes, “never wasted any time refuting the Thomistc notion of esse. Scotus simply had no use for it. In fact, he could not find in it any meaning. To him, entity (essentia) was reality itself. If no cause has made it actually to exist, then it was only a possible; but after it had been made to exist by some efficient cause, no act of being could add anything more to it. In Scotus’ own words: ‘That an entity could be posited outside its cause without, by the same token, having the being whereby it is an entity: this, to me, is a contradiction.’[67] In short, a thing cannot be made to be twice, even by adding to it a so-called act of being.

“There would be no point in arguing the case. This is a problem in the interpretation of the first principle. A Thomist feels inclined to think that Scotus is blind, but a Scotist wonders if Thomas is not seeing double. Many differences between the two theologians follow from this first one, but the only one we are now concerned with is its impact on the problem of the immortality of the human soul.      

“Since there is no act of being in the doctrine of Duns Scotus, what is going to happen to the immortality of the soul? Simply this: it will cease to be demonstrable and will become a matter of faith. As Christians, Scotus says, we believe that there will be a future life; we therefore implicitly believe that the soul is immortal; we believe it, but we cannot prove it. And, indeed, we say that the human soul is the form of its body, so that the substance ‘man’ is the unity of matter and form. When this unity disintegrates on the death of the body, its elements also disintegrate. This is visible in the case of the body. Before death, it was the body of a man; after death, there is no man left of whom this piece of matter can be said to be the body. On the other hand, if the nature of the soul is to be the form of a body, it cannot continue to be after it has no body to inform. Hence, if the form of the body survives its body, the fact is hardly less miraculous than the subsistence of the eucharistic accidents after bread and wine have ceased to exist.

“Duns Scotus himself does not go that far. He does not consider the survival of the soul as a natural impossibility. On the contrary, he thinks there are probable arguments in its favor, which are even more probable than those in favor of the contrary conclusion; let us say that the immortality of the soul is a high probability, but it is not a certitude. In the last analysis, the immortality of the human soul is absolutely certain on the strength of religious faith alone. In the doctrine of Duns Scotus, this first conclusion entails a second one: we cannot know that the human soul is a substance in its own right, directly created in itself and for itself by God. And, indeed, since the soul is not a complete substance endowed with an act of being of its own and able to subsist apart from the complete substance, ‘man,’ it does not require to be created in itself. Man, not the human soul, is the substance; man, not the soul, provides a distinct object for the creative power of God.

“The decisive part played in this problem by the notion of esse, or act of being, is not a historical construction; it is a fact. In the Summa Theologiae, I, q. 75, a. 6, Thomas proves that, since the soul has an act of being of its own, it cannot be corrupted in consequence of the corruption of another substance, be it even man. ‘That which has esse through itself cannot be either generated or corrupted except through itself. For the same reason, such a soul cannot come to be by way of generation (because no creature can cause actual existence), it can only be created by God. Conversely, such a soul cannot cease to be by way of natural corruption. In order to lose its act of being, it must be annihilated by God, for only He Who gave the soul existence can take existence away from it. Naturally, as a Christian theologian, Duns Scotus subscribed to all these conclusions no less firmly than Thomas. According to him, too, the soul was a distinct substance, immediately created by God and able to subsist apart from its body. Only, since he could not admit that the soul had an act of being of its own, the immortality of the soul remained for him an object, not of knowledge, but of faith: sed haec propositio credita est et non per rationem naturalem nota.”[68]










The French rationalist René Descartes (1596-1650) teaches that the human person, the “I” is essentially the soul, which is reduced to mind, and which is ultimately identified with thinking (res cogitans, a complete substance for Descartes). Against the Aristotelian-Thomistic definition of man as a hylomorphic composite complete substance of human body and rational soul, he gives us an essentially psychological definition of the human person: the “I” would essentially consist in thinking (res cogitans). The Cartesian description of the nature of man is found in the fourth part of the Discourse on Method: “I am a substance, whose nature or essence is none other than thinking.”[69] This res cogitans makes use of another complete substance, namely the body, which is res extensa (extension) and is conceived of as a complex machine. In the Second Meditation, Descartes writes: “By the body I understand all that which can be defined by a certain figure: something which can be confined in a certain place, and which can fill a given space in such a way that every other body will be excluded from it; which can be perceived either by touch, or by sight, or by hearing, or by taste, or by smell: which can be moved in many ways not, in truth, in itself, but by something which is foreign to it, by which it is touched.”[70] Descartes speaks of the relation of soul (res cogitans) to body (res extensa) in a manner strikingly reminiscent of the old Platonic dualism.

For Descartes, the “I” is the complete substance res cogitans and is completely distinct from the body. Thus, the “I” is essentially thinking which utilizes a body, which is looked upon as a kind of machine (Cartesian mechanism). Though Descartes attempts to deny this,[71] his doctrine on man is like Plato’s (man is essentially a soul that uses a body as a skipper in relation to his ship; the union is merely extrinsic and accidental), which is the antithesis of the Aristotelian-Thomistic doctrine of man as an hylemorphic composite of body and soul (the latter being the substantial form of the former). Copleston writes: “In Scholastic Aristotelianism the human being was depicted as a unity, soul standing to body as form to matter. The soul, moreover, was not reduced to mind: it was regarded as the principle of biological, sensitive and intellectual life. And in Thomism at least it was depicted as giving existence to the body, in the sense of making the body what it is, a human body. Clearly, this view of the soul facilitated insistence on the unity of the human being. Soul and body together form one complete substance. But on Descartes’ principles it would appear to be very difficult to maintain that there is any intrinsic relationship between the two factors. For if Descartes begins by saying that I am a substance the whole nature of which is to think, and if the body does not think and is not included in my clear and distinct idea of myself as a thinking thing, it would seem to follow that the body does not belong to my essence or nature. And in this case I am a soul lodged in a body. True, if I can move my body and direct some of its activities, there is at least this relationship between the two that the soul stands to the body as mover to moved and the body to the soul as instrument to agent. And if this is so, the analogy of the relationship between a captain or a pilot and his ship is not inapt. It is, therefore, easy to understand Arnauld’s remark in the fourth set of Objections that the theory of my clearly and distinctly perceiving myself to be merely a thinking being leads to the conclusion that ‘nothing corporeal belongs to the essence of man, who is hence entirely spirit, while his body is merely the vehicle of spirit; whence follows the definition of man as a spirit which makes use of a body.’[72][73]  

If, according to Descartes, soul (res cogitans) is a complete substance, and the body (res extensa) that it uses is also a complete substance, how does he solve the problem of their interaction? How does the soul influence the body and body the soul in Cartesian philosophical anthropology? Descartes’ solution (which has been unanimously criticized) is that there is a contact between soul and body by means of animal spirits (spiritus animales) or vapors (which are neither res cogitans nor res extensa) in the pineal gland located in the center of the cranial box.

In his Passions of the Soul, Descartes writes that “the soul is really joined to the whole body, and that we cannot, properly speaking, say that it exists in any one of its parts to the exclusion of the others, because it is one and in some manner indivisible…(But) it is likewise necessary to know that although the soul is joined to the whole body, there is yet a certain part in which it exercises its functions more particularly than in all the others; and it is usually believed that this part is the brain, or possibly the heart…But, in examining the matter with care, it seems as though I have clearly ascertained that the part of the body in which the soul exercises its functions immediately is in no way the heart, nor the whole of the brain, but merely the most inward of all its parts, to wit, a certain very small gland which is situated in the middle of its substance and which is so suspended above the duct whereby the animal spirits[74] in its anterior cavities have communication with those in the posterior that the slightest movements which take place in it alter very greatly the course of these spirits; and reciprocally that the smallest changes which occur in the course of the spirits may do much to change the movement of this gland.”[75]     

In an earlier letter to Mersenne, Descartes writes: “It is certain that the soul must be joined to some part of the body, and there is no other part which is not at least as subject to alteration as this gland. Although it is very small and very soft, it is situated in such a well protected place that it is almost immune from illness, like the vitreous or crystalline humour of the eye. I do not think that the soul is so imprisoned in the gland that it cannot act elsewhere. But utilizing a thing is not the same as being immediately joined or united to it; and since our soul is not double but single and indivisible, it seems to me that the part of the body to which it is almost immediately joined should also be single and not divided into a part of similar parts. I cannot find such a part in the whole brain except this gland.”[76]

In the Passions of the Soul, Descartes explains that the soul (res cogitans) is united to the body (res extensa) principally in the pineal gland, lying at the center of the brain, which he thought was the focal point of all the various nerves which are connected to the various external sense organs of the body: “Let us then conceive here that the soul has its principal seat in the little gland which exists in the middle of the brain, from whence it radiates forth through all the remainder of the body by means of the animal spirits, nerves and even the blood, which, participating in the impressions of the spirits, can carry them by the arteries into all the members. And recollecting what has been said above about the machine of our body, i.e., that the little filaments of our nerves are so distributed in all its parts, that on the occasions of the diverse movements which are there excited by sensible objects, they open in diverse ways the pores of the brain, which causes the animal spirits contained in these cavities to enter in diverse ways into the muscles by which means they can move the members in all the different ways in which they are capable of being moved; and also that all the other causes which are capable of moving the spirits in diverse ways suffice to conduct them into diverse muscles; let us here add that the small gland which is the main seat of the soul is so suspended between the cavities which contain the spirits that it can be moved by them in as many different ways as there are sensible diversities in the object but that it may also be moved in diverse ways by the soul, whose nature is such that it receives in itself diverse impressions, that is to say, that it possesses as many diverse perceptions as there are diverse movements in this gland. Reciprocally, likewise, the machine of the body is so formed that from the simple fact that this gland is diversely moved by the soul, or by such other cause, whatever it is, it thrusts the spirits which surround it towards the pores of the brain, which conduct them by the nerves into the muscles, by which means it causes them to move the limbs.”[77]

Why does Descartes select the pineal gland as the seat of the soul? Because all other parts of the brain, he says, are found in pairs except the pineal gland, which is single. A single organ would be necessary, he maintains, to convert the double impressions of the eyes into a single image, so that the soul (res cogitans) can have a single thought about the perceived object. He writes: “The reason which persuades me that the soul cannot have any other seat in all the body than this gland wherein to exercise its functions immediately, is that I reflect that the other parts of our brain are all of them double, just as we have two eyes, two hands, two ears, and finally all the organs of our outside senses are double; and inasmuch as we have but one solitary and simple thought of one particular thing at one and the same moment, it must necessarily be the case that there must somewhere be a place where the two images which come to us by the two eyes, where the two other impressions which proceed from a single object by means of the double organs of the other senses, can unite before arriving at the soul, in order that they may not represent to it two objects instead of one. And it is easy to apprehend how these images or other impressions might unite in this gland by the intermission of the spirits which fill the cavities of the brain, but there is no other place in the body where they can be thus united unless they are so in this gland.”[78]

Critique of Descartes. Descartes erroneously defined substance as “a thing which exists in such a way that it does not need any other thing to exist.”[79] But this can apply only to God since it deals with an absolutely independent substance. He does say that this applies to God only, but then contradicts himself by maintaining that there are finite substances which require God’s power to exist. He reduced corporeal substances into res extensa (extension), thus reducing a substance into an accident. Regarding man, Descartes believed that the human composite entity was of two substances, namely res extensa (extension) for the human body, and res cogitans (thought) for man’s soul.[80] Again, these two “substances” that he is talking about are really two accidents. Though he speaks of “man” as consisting in two substances, res cogitans and res extensa, the “human person” or the “I,” for Descartes, consists in soul, but this soul, in turn, is identified with res cogitans or thought. This “I” he claims is always thinking, which runs counter to common sense. One is not thinking when sleeping or in an unconscious state. The dangerous conclusion of Descartes’ philosophy of man is that, in effect, one would not be a human person when sleeping or unconscious or when unable to utilize the power of thinking and willing due to severe brain damage. This conclusion was also adopted by Locke, even though he did not accept the rationalist angelism of the Frenchman.

Realistic philosophical anthropology, instead, maintains a strict difference between the soul (a substance, albeit incomplete, but having its own act of being), and thought (which is an accident, the product of our operative power of intellect, another accident, which is an immaterial faculty of the rational soul, substantial form of the body). The Cartesian human person is thus reduced from being initially two accidents to one accident (self-consciousness). Gone is the realistic view of man as an hylomorphic composite of body and soul, two incomplete substances, but together forming the one complete composite substance of man, the indvidual substance of a rational nature. 




Occasionalism. The “occasionalism” of the French rationalist Nicholas Malebranche (1638-1715) rejects the proper role of secondary causality in creatures; it denies finite, creatural causality and ascribes all real causality to God alone within a framework of finite, creatural ‘occasions.’ All causal power would belong to God alone. The scholastic doctrine of the secondary efficient causality of creatures and their various active powers, he thought, was a carry over from paganism and he believed that it was his mission to purge the Greek paganizing influence from the Christian religion, so that all religious devotion would be directed to God alone. Eliminating the role of secondary causality in creatures he maintained that “all the forces of nature are nothing but the will of the solely efficacious God.”[81] Does Malebranche deny any type of agency whatsoever to creatural beings? No, since the Supreme Being’s laws of motion are ineffective until determined by particular circumstances or finite modes of mind and body. These creatural entities provide the indispensable occasions, or ‘natural causality,’ for enabling God’s power to operate in the actual world along definite lines.         

Malebranche makes use of his occasionalism in order to resolve the philosophical problem of the soul-body relationship. Being two completely diverse realities, he says that the soul and the body cannot enter into direct communication nor exercise an influence upon each other. The dispositions of the body and the soul serve only as an occasion for the intervention of God, who manages to directly and exclusively develop all the actions of both body and soul. All operative activity comes solely from the Divinity. The human soul, for example, only seems to move the body; in reality, it is God Himself who contributes the actual movement. Corporeal beings often seem to communicate movement to other things; but this can only be an appearance since God produces the movement. Bodily and spiritual creatures are thus devoid of their own proper causal activity, being merely occasions suitable for the communication of activity by the Deity.[82]

Critique of Occasionalism. Occasionalism leads to the errors of both pantheism and determinism (Descartes = Malebranche = Spinoza). It gravitates towards pantheism in that it tends to identify the Creator with the creature. Spinozian monism declares that there is only one Substance, God; occasionalism, instead, says that there are many substances but only one agent, God. Now, if the Divine Substance alone is the source of the activity of things, it alone being active, it can easily be concluded that individual entities are merely appearances and manifestations of the One Substance, which is God or Nature (Deus sive natura). Human beings would merely be modes or modifications of God, identified with Nature (Spinoza). Thus, Turner writes that “although Malebranche protested against the pantheism of ‘le misérable Spinoza,’ posterity has rightly pronounced his occasionalism to be Spinozism in the stage of arrested development – pantheism held in check by faith in Christian revelation.’[83] Occasionalism, likewise, leads to the denial of free will in man (determinism), for if the human person is not the efficient cause of his actions, then he really is not free and also not responsible for his actions. 




Baruch Spinoza’s (1632-1677) point of departure for his pantheist monism is the clear idea of substance. He accepts as a given the Cartesian concept of substance as “a thing which exists in such a way that it does not need any other thing to exist.”[84] As this definition can apply only to God, Spinoza forthwith states that there is only one Substance, which is God or Nature. Spinoza’s own definition of substance is clearly inspired by Descartes and is thoroughly immanentistic: “By substance I understand that which is in itself and is conceived through itself; in other words, that, the conception of which does not need the conception of another thing from which it must be formed.”[85] Thus, there can only be one Substance, which is necessarily infinite: God identified with Nature (Deus sive Natura). Spinoza deduces three propositions from the clear idea of substance, namely, 1. that substance exists necessarily; 2. that substance is infinite; and 3. that this substance is unique.[86]    

This “God” would be constituted of an infinity of attributes, of which only two are known to man: thought and extension. For Spinoza, the world is not separate from God; rather, the world (Nature) is identified with God: Deus sive Natura (God or Nature). They are one and the same thing. Men and things are but modes (accidental modifications) of the one Divine Substance.[87] God would be natura naturans, that is, infinite productive activity that produces the world, while the world, instead, would be natura naturata, that is, the infinite product. “Spinoza, using the traditional word ‘substance’ with a new meaning, forthwith identifies this one infinite divine Substance with Nature, that is, with this visible cosmos. Hence the famous phrase Deus sive Natura, which recurs unforgettably in his writings in his careful and precise Latin. The Latin language has two words for ‘or’: vel, to state that the two terms are distinct; and sive, to state that they are identical. When Spinoza says ‘God or Nature,’ therefore, he means that they are one and the same. When he uses the word ‘God,’ as he does constantly, he does so deceptively, for he means ‘Nature.’ And when he uses the word ‘Nature’ he means what pantheism calls ‘the Divine.’ This confusion between existing in itself and existing of itself erases the distinction between the Creator and His creatures, who are indeed independently existing substantial realities because they have received from Him a participated form of existence. They exist in themselves as distinct substantial realities. But in Spinoza the doctrine of creation disappears…The doctrine of the eternity of matter follows as a quick and necessary corollary. And matter is introduced as an element of God: thus the very concept of God suffers a reduction to nothingness. For ‘God’ has become only a word. Pantheism is a disguise for atheism…”[88]  

Spinoza’s Denial of Free-Will. A predictable consequence of his pantheism of the sole Divine Substance with innumerable modes (individual men and the things of the world) is his negation free will in men and the elimination of the problem of evil. “Since pantheism denies liberty, Spinoza’s morality merely states the facts which occur, denying the idea of evil, and replacing it by that of a man being of little repute.”[89] As regards his political thought, Spinoza was one of the first architects of the contractual theory of the State. “In his political philosophy, Spinoza uncovers the ultimate consequences of his system. His Tractatus politicus, written after his Ethics and unfinished, is decidedly Machiavellian and inspired by Hobbes. In it he shows the most profound contempt for the people, the rabble, the masses, the populace: they are despicable, they do not count, since they live by the imagination, and so fall easily into superstitious beliefs. For Spinoza, the ruler must be an ‘enlightened despot,’ a philosopher-ruler who, enlightened by reason, will impose it on the people dominated by ignorance. The enlightened despot must rule with an iron-fist, since he has the privilege of the intellectual vision of things. He must treat the people like dangerous and ignorant animals who submit to fear and not to love. This philosopher thus justifies all political tyrannies in a more radical manner than Machiavelli.”[90]       

For Spinoza, people are but modes, emanations of the One Substance which is God identical with Nature (Deus sive Natura). Free-will, for him, is illusory; men live and breathe in a world of strict determinism. Men are insignificant parts of a larger whole, which is Nature. He says that men think that they are free because they are ignorant of the causes that determine their actions. The feeling that we are the causes of our free acts is only an illusion. He gives the example that if a stone were thrown up in the air and while falling were to become conscious it would imagine that it was flying of its own free will, but this would all be an illusion for other causes that determine the stone’s descent are at work. Though free will is an illusion, one can be “free,” he says, in the detached acknowledgement that everything in the end is determined or necessary: “Spinoza’s answer is that we shall be free by understanding and acceptance – understanding that we are part of a bigger whole and seeing that, as such, nothing that happens to any one of us could have fallen otherwise, given the state of the whole from which it arises. Once we see this clearly we shall stop fretting and we shall come free from the cycle of ego-centric, reactive transactions in which we are puppets on a string.”[91] “Spinoza holds that it is not by fighting what constitutes such determinism that human beings can find freedom, move from a state of bondage to one of freedom, but, paradoxical as it may sound, by accepting it. Such acceptance is achieved through detachment and self-knowledge…Given that the situation that faces him cannot be changed, how can he come out of such a state of bondage, emerge into a state of freedom? Spinoza’s answer is: by accepting his situation, by stopping to fight it. This involves detachment, which is not the same as indifference. The detachment in question is from the ego…if in my feelings I am at one with Nature then everything that happens will be what I am in agreement with, not because of what it is, but regardless of what it is. Paradoxically in yielding myself, in the sense of giving up my ego and becoming part of nature, I stop yielding to something external to myself…the will of Nature, as it were, is imposed on one because one separates oneself from it by rooting oneself in one’s ego. If one embraces it, makes the will of Nature one’s command, one will be set free.”[92]   

The object of Spinozian ethics is the intellectual love of “God” (or Nature). In elevating oneself from one’s passions through the life of reason and in the intellectual contemplation of the One Substance (God or Nature) in its most profound aspect one obtains supreme happiness. It is a salvation by means of philosophical reasoning alone. “Taken together, the divine substance and its infinite number of attributes constitute natura naturans, or nature in its dynamic, productive aspect; the totality of modes constitutes natura naturata, or nature in its explicated and produced aspect. When Spinoza sets the goal of philosophy to be the discovery of the union of the mind with the whole of nature, he means the knowledge of the totality of nature as both naturans and naturata, for this constitutes the full reality of God. The mind which fails to see God or nature in this integral way is taking an imaginative and erroneous view of things. It thinks that individual things are contingent, temporal substances, that man is a free agent, and that he is subject to external forces and chance events. To take this imaginative view of nature is to be subject to the passions, to be the hapless victim of all the miseries of life. Liberation from the passions comes when we abandon this false outlook and embrace the true doctrine on substance-attributes-modes. The modal world is then seen in proper, eternal perspective, and a change takes place in the individual’s moral condition. He is no longer at the mercy of every external circumstance, for he has learned to regard natura naturata precisely as it stems from natura naturans and hence to see it in the true light of eternity. The total determination of the modal world and everything in it springs from its very definition as a reality caused by another. Far from leading to a depressing fatalism, however, this conception is the basis for whatever hope and enthusiasm may enliven the human breast. For this ‘other,’ this causal principle of the world of modes, is none other than the omnipotent and wholly immanent God. Hence the causal determination of things is really from within and is an expression of the divine rationality and power themselves. To pass from an imaginative to a true or eternal view of the universe is nothing more than to share in Spinoza’s own vision of God’s identity with the necessary unfolding of nature.”[93]

Refutation of Spinoza’s Pantheism. Contrary to Spinozian monism, God is not identified with Nature; He is infinitely distinct from the world, whose finite and imperfect beings merely participate in the act of being given to them by the Infinite Being (in whom act of being and essence are identified). To say, as Spinoza does, that there is only one Substance (Deus sive Natura), does violence to the testimony of common sense. Everyday experience shows that there are many things in the world, distinct from one another because of their specific essences, and those of the same form (apple, horse, cat, etc.) are many because their form is received in different parcels of matter (matter is the principle of individuation[94]). If the world were identical with God, the world would necessarily be a single being, for God is Himself supremely one, undivided and indivisible.[95] But such a position blatantly contradicts both the testimony of the senses and of reason. At the foundations of Spinoza’s substantialistic pantheism lie the erroneous notions of substance and subsistence (which he inherited from Descartes), and his failure to understand the real distinction of essentia and esse in creatures[96] (finite beings, diverse in essence, only participate[97] in esse; they merely have esse by participation) and identification of essence and act of being in God (God doesn’t have being; He is Being, His Essence is To Be). Charles Hart explains: “But whether a substance (an ens per se) is also an Ens a Se, that is, a being in whom existence is intrinsic and proper to its nature or essence, will be quite a distinct problem from that of the constitution or nature of substance as such. It will involve the question as to whether the substance or essence is in potency to an act of to be received into this substance (and thus at the same time a principle of limitation and therefore multiplication), or whether it is a substance or essence identical with its act of to be (and therefore not a principle of limitation and multiplication). The substances of our immediate experience are all of the former character, namely, principles of limitation. This accounts for their multitude. They are therefore finite predicamental substances. They also point to the necessity of inferring the existence of a substance which is not a principle of limitation but is identical with its act of to be and without which the limited substances could not exist, since they must receive their respective acts of to be which are not intrinsic to their substances, if they are to exist at all. This substance which does not limit its act of to be and whose existence must be inferred is therefore not only a being existing in itself (ens per se), but it is also a Being that exists of itself (Ens a Se). This however is not necessarily a note of substance as such.  Its demand for existence in itself may be met either by caused or uncaused being. Its substantiality as such does not include the question of the source of existence in itself. Every substance requires that it exist in itself. Only Infinite Substance also exists of itself; that is, only the Infinite Substance is necessarily Self-Existing. What makes all this clear and permits a sound doctrine of substance which involves no such error as the pantheism of Spinoza is the understanding of the real distinction of essence and act of being in all beings of our experience, that is, their participated character. It is this principle which permits Thomism to anticipate and refute the error of the substantialistic pantheism of Spinoza, in whose philosophy no such insight into the true nature of being is possible.”[98] 

Proofs of the Existence of Free-Will in Man. Against the determinism of thinkers like Spinoza, Glenn gives us a number of proofs for the existence of free-will in man, namely, the self-evident proof from consciousness, and the proof from the absurdities which follow from its denial. “Our will has freedom of choice. The first, the direct, and the most evident proof of this fact is found in consciousness. Man is aware that he is not the victim of a nature that forces his actions in all things; he is aware that he is not the helpless prey of circumstances; he is aware that he is not compelled to yield to the attractions of any object, however powerful these may be. In a word, man is aware that he is master of his human conduct. Let us make no mistake; we do not assert that man has control over every activity, even every conscious activity, or that he exercises what control he has by continuous volitions or will acts. What we do assert is that man is master of his human acts, that is, of such acts as deliberately and advertently performs, and which he knows as the fruit of his own decisions. A good deal of man’s ordinary daily life runs along on the wheels of habit and takes a course determined by the man’s character and the attractions of the various objects and situations that he encounters. But the even current of man’s life (colored by his character and by the motives found in the attractiveness or repulsiveness of particular objects and situations) is willed in its cause, for the man is its cause; and now and again, during a day or week or month, the man must avert more or less directly to the sort of life he regularly leads, and, so adverting, must give practical approval to it, must will it in short. Only occasionally, perhaps, in a person’s ordinary day, is there demand for a special, clearly realized, and deliberate choice or volition. Such clearly realized will acts are most evident in the judgments of conscience on the moral qualities of a situation to be faced and decided. It is particularly in conscience-judgments that a man is reflectively aware that his decision, his volition, his will-act, is the essential factor which makes his ‘doing’ or ‘avoiding’ his own activity, of which he is cause, author, and responsible determinant. – Man is conscious of the control he wields over his own acts. And he experiences this consciousness before, during, and after his deliberate volitions. Before he acts, he may, and frequently does, take counsel with himself or seek advice of others. He weighs reasons pro and con; he considers advantages or disadvantages to follow. During the action, he is aware that he is doing what he might have left undone, doing one thing while he might have chosen to omit it or to have done something else, even something opposite. After acting, man is conscious of self-approval or remorse; he is glad or sorry that he has acted as he did. Consciousness, is therefore, an evident proof of the existence of free-will…

“A proof of the freedom of the will is found in the absurdities which follow upon its denial…this denial is entirely destructive of morality. For it takes away responsibility. And if a man has no free-will, and no choice in his conduct, no control of his acts, it follows that there is no such thing as right and wrong, no such thing as merit and demerit. Saint and sinner, the good man and rogue, the solid citizen and the gangster, are equally blameless in the face of fated necessity. Prisons then are torture chambers, but, of course, men are fated to build prisons and confine prisoners. Good conduct and evil conduct are equally valueless, but men are forced by blind necessity to praise the one and condemn the other. No sense or reason is to be found, therefore, in the common conduct of mankind; we are all blind fools together. Morality comes to naught, and with morality all social sense and social security perish. Here is the fruit of the denial of human free-will. But we cannot, without denying all value to human knowledge, accept this fruit as true food of minds. We find it absurd; we find it impossible to accept. Therefore, we find the denial of free-will impossible. We are driven to conclude that human free-will is a fact.”[99]  

Royce observes that “those who admit moral obligation or legal responsibility must logically admit that man is not completely a victim of determining forces. If a person cannot do otherwise, it is absurd to hold him responsible for what happens. Obligation involves both the possibility of my doing something and the fact that I am not forced to do it. Our entire legal system and administration of justice rests on this foundation. There would be no point in an elaborate trial to ascertain whether or not the alleged murderer were sane unless there was a difference between the normal man who can exercise free choice and the person in whom some abnormality prevents this. The same argument holds for the notion of merit and reward. Why praise a man for doing something unless he could have done otherwise?”[100]




Monadology. The German rationalist Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) is famous for his “monadology.” Against the mechanism of Descartes, he holds that the primordial element of the natural world is not extension (he rejects the Cartesian tenet that the essence of material bodies consists in extension) but force (dynamism). The metaphysical principle is the monad (from the Greek monás = “unity,” “that which is one”). He writes in his Monadology: “The monad of which we shall speak is merely a simple substance, which enters into composites; simple, that is to say, without parts. And there must be simple substances, since there are composites; for the composite is only a collection or aggregatum of simple substances.”[101] The monad is a simple substance, endowed with activity, and the principles of its action are perception and appetition. Reality is composed of an infinity of monads, which are points deprived of extension but are endowed with activity. The monads are unextended centers of force. There are, however, no two monads alike, since the life of the monad consists in representation and each monadic representation is different from other monadic representations. All monads are endowed with appetition and perception. The monad is a “mirror of the universe” and has, with the other monads, a relation of representation. Each monad, from its own point of view, represents the cosmos, partially understood, in minature. Things are constituted by an entelecheia (active principle) and by prime matter (passive principle). God is the supreme monad, and the principle of pre-established harmony among created monads, while all things other than God are finite, created monads. By virtue of the Supreme Monad’s pre-established harmony, the monads are arranged in groups or colonies, the imperfect with the more perfect, and these, in turn, with a superior, dominant monad.

Man an Aggregate of Monads. Each individual human being, for Leibniz, is an aggregate of monads: he has a soul (which is the central or dominant monad) and a human body (which is an aggregate of monads). Between body and soul there is an effective rapport that is derived from a pre-established harmony produced by God.

Critique of Leibnizian Dynamism. Leibniz upholds the doctrine of dynamism against the mechanism of Descartes. If the latter believed that extension was the essence of corporeal bodies, the former held that it was active force, thus “spiritualizing” matter (sensible reality was, for Leibniz, reduced to appearance, yet another consequence of immanentism). But Cartesian mechanism and Leibnizian dynamism are contrary to the certainties of common sense and the testimony of reason. Criticizing the dynamist theory, R. P. Phillips writes: “There can be no doubt that bodies appear to us to be extended, and any theory which is to claim to be satisfactory, must take into account this fact, and offer some explanation of it, either by allowing that they really are so, or if it denies this, by advancing some feasible reason to account for their appearing to be so. The first course is not open to the dynamists, and they cannot offer a satisfactory explanation of the appearance, which will be in accord with their notions as to the nature of bodies; for their appearance of extension must have some cause. Now this cause cannot be the senses themselves, since, on the dynamist hypothesis, these are also unextended, and so contain nothing which would cause their objects to appear as extended. Nor can the cause of this appearance be external agents, since these also labour under the same disadvantage: in a word, since, according to the dynamists, there is nothing in the universe which is extended, there is equally nothing in the universe which could be the cause of an extended appearance. Leibniz’ suggestion that we produce it in order to represent a number of distinct things together is clearly untrue, since the notion of distinction and external position are quite different, that of distinction being wider; and, moreover, we do not always represent distinct things as outside one another in space as, for example, a series of numbers, or our various thoughts and desires, or immaterial beings, such as angels, or even God and the material world. According to dynamism, matter is composed of simple forces. Now these forces must be either in contact or not in contact. If they are not in contact they will coalesce, forming one force at a geometrical point, as Boscovich rightly observed. For it is clear that a certain extension is required for contact: if a tangent of a circle touched it at one point only, it would not touch it at all. In this case the plurality of bodies would disappear. If, on the other hand, they are not in contact; in any one body, the many monads or forces which compose it will be entirely distinct one from another, as regards their entity, even though they be supposed to act on one another across a vacuum. Hence the unity of such a body will be wholly destroyed. This is also true if they are supposed to coalesce in a point, since this point, which will be the only body, and therefore the only unified body, will be composed of a multitude of forces which will preserve their own entity in it. In either case, therefore, it is impossible to maintain the unity of bodies, on the dynamist hypothesis. Now, not only is this result in direct contradiction with experience but, if no body is a unity, we can gain no motion of the nature of any body, since it will not have one; and a fortiori shall be unable to determine the nature of body in general, but shall say it is force, which will be a term without any one meaning, and so a mere word to cover our ignorance.”[102]    

Leibniz held that bodies were made up of unextended, non-quantifiable elements, and that such elements were points of force or power, attracting one another up to a certain point, then holding one another apart, thus acting upon one another in across a void or vacuum. Such points of power would be immutable, not undergoing a transformation of nature when combined to form bodies. Glenn, however, sharply criticizes this theory, pointing out its conflict with the certainties of common sense and human reason in its unabashed denial of the substantial character of bodies (even though Leibniz affirms the existence of substance in his monadology – which is but a form of dynamism – he ends up “accidentalizing” it), its manifest self-contradictions of “extension born of inextension” and “phenomena without any stage on which to appear,” its impossible teaching of “action at a distance” (“distance” here meaning an absolute vacuum),[103] and the theory’s failure to explain unity or continuity in bodily being and function.

Criticizing the “de-substantialization” of substance by dynamism and its “extension born of inextension” and “phenomena without any stage on which to appear” self-contradictions, Glenn states: “Dynamism contradicts the definition of substance and turns the world into a non-substantial reality. For it defines bodies in terms of their accidents, and thus makes the universe a great mass of accidents without anything substantial in which to inhere. A power or force is in itself a quality, and leads on to function or action; and philosophy lists both qualities and actions as accidents, that is, as realities which are not regularly suited for existence themselves (that is, alone), but for existence as the marks, limitations, characterizations, or modifications of something else. Again, dynamists either admit the real extension of the universe, and of bodies in the world, or they call the extension merely apparent. (a) If they admit real extension, they are wholly illogical, for extension cannot be the product of inextended elements: zero added to zero will still be zero. Nor can they affirm that the inextended points of power (which are the constituents of all bodies) are actually held at a distance from one another and thus effect a truly extended body; for inextended points with nothing whatever between and among them still results in an inextended totality (b) If the dynamists call the world a mere apparent world, they have still to explain the apparition, and this they cannot do in terms of their own philosophy. They say – some of them – that we get the impression of continuity in bodies from the fact that the point-forces are in perpetual motion, just as we get the impression of a continuous ring of fire from a torch that is whirled rapidly in a circle. The illustration is objectionable on two counts: First, the flame of the torch is actually extended; there is no illusion about that to start with; whereas, according to dynamism, the whirling point-forces are inextended and thus invisible in themselves, and they are certainly not rendered visible by being moved rapidly about. Secondly, an illusion is due to a misapplication of actual experience; before we can have an illusion of continuity or solidity, we must have had some experience of what actual continuity or solidity is; but dynamism renders this prerequisite experience impossible, and hence destroys the possibility of illusion.”[104]           

Bittle’s appraisal of Leibniz’s monadology is this: it is “a fanciful theory, based completely on gratuitous assumptions which are contrary to experience. All monads are supposed to be endowed with life and knowledge – an assumption based on no evidence. This theory contradicts one of the most patent facts of nature, namely, the distinction between living and nonliving bodies. Whatever may be said about atoms and compounds, living bodies are certainly ‘natural bodies’ with a unity of structure and operation. But monads are the only units recognized by Leibniz; hence, the unity of the organism remains unexplained, because there is no principle in monadism to unite the single monads into an organism. As for the knowledge of monads, in virtue of which each monad mirrors all that happens to other monads throughout the universe, this is fantastic and obviously false. Man’s mind, for Leibniz, is a monad. Consciousness, however, testifies only too clearly, that we do not know everything that happens to other monads; we are even ignorant of much that takes place in the vital functions of our own body. Since the monads are unextended, simple substances, the fact of extension in bodies becomes inexplicable. No sum of unextended substances (no matter how great), can ever produce extension, because, what none of them have, their totality cannot have. Extension, however, is one of the most important facts about bodies. Hence, monadism is inadequate.”[105]    

In his critique of dynamism proper, Bittle explains that “all dynamistic theories assume that bodies consist either of pure forces or of unextended active substances. Neither view is adequate as an explanation of the nature of bodies. Neither view can explain the extension of bodies. Dynamists find a contradiction in the very concept of continuous extension. But extension is a fact of physical nature; even dynamists admit that we have the ‘experience’ of extension. But how is it possible to have an experience of something which does not exist? And if it exists, how can it exist, when the ultimate components of bodies are all unextended? That our own bodies at least are truly extended, is witnessed by the incontrovertible testimony of our consciousness. Consequently, the ultimate constituents of our bodies are extended, not unextended. Then dynamism must be wrong. It is also a contention of dynamism that these unextended force-points or substances are not in contact, but are separated by space intervals; they are situated at some distance from one another. That implies ‘action at a distance.’ That, however, as was pointed out before, involves a contradiction in terms.

“Dynamism destroys the unity of organisms. Since these force-points or simple substances are at a distance from one another, they cannot be in contact; and if they came into contact, they would coalesce into a mathematical point, because they have no extension and must coalesce with their whole being at the same point. In that case, however, how can there be anything like the body of a plant, animal, or man, with a differentiated structure of cells, organs, and tissues? After all, organisms are not mathematical points, but spatially extended structural units. This organic unity amid structural diversity is one of the characteristic features of every organism, and dynamism leaves this an unexplained dogma. Hence dynamism must be rejected.”[106]




The author of Leviathan, the English empiricist Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) maintained a materialistic view of man. The ultimate principles of all things can be explained by means of extension and motion. Man is wholely corporeal. With death man’s existence ends (he has no immaterial immortal soul). Man, like all the other corporeal beings in the cosmos, can be wholely explained by the mechanical laws of nature. Hobbes’ gnoseology was thoroughly sensist and nominalist: there exists no knowledge above sense knowledge and universal ideas are only names.   

Hobbes subscribed to a pessimistic view of man: he considered man to be a wolf to man: homo homini lupus. In order for a society to be able to work, the corrupt and vicious man of the state of nature must vest all his rights to the Sovereign by means of the social contract. Ultimately, it is the Head of the State (the Sovereign) who establishes what is good and bad, right and wrong for the citizens. The Sovereign is accountable to no one and establishes the law of the land at will (Hobbes was one of the fathers of modern totalitarianism). In ethics, Hobbes was a egoistic hedonist; good and bad are relative to the individual and man’s highest happiness consists in pleasure.




The English empiricist John Locke (1632-1704) rejected the Cartesian res cogitans (or thinking) as constituting the essence of the “I” and inclined towards describing the human person as “thinking matter” (a unified, single material complexus endowed with the attribute of thinking), a view which can be interpreted in a materialist sense. That the mind is immaterial is, according to him, merely a probable view, certainly not demonstrable.    




In keeping with his immanentist and sensist phenomenalism which negates substance, the Scottish empiricist, skeptic and agnostic philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) holds that the person is nothing but a “bundle of perceptions” put together by the memory and associative force of the imagination in order to form a stable whole. That the person seems to look like a stable and concrete subject, whose actions and activities belong to this subject, is a concoction due solely to the grouping of perceptions together by the imagination. What is the person, the I, for Hume? Mind reduced to its contents (the flowing phenomenal perceptions that is experienced). There is no Ego distinct from these perceptions. Hume “granted validity to phenomena alone, which he gathered together into collections or ‘bundles.’ For him, as a consequence, the soul is only a ‘bundle of perceptions,’ in constant flux and movement – it is from Hume consequently, that we trace the origin for all ‘psychologies without a soul.’ In addition, Hume regarded the causal bond uniting these ‘bundles of perceptions as nothing more than a subjective, psychological law required to make experience possible. In fact, it is this law which constitutes experience.”[107]     

Collins describes and critiques Hume’s conception of the personal self founded upon his sensist and phenomenalist gnoseology, writing: “Hume agrees with his British predecessors that a theory of self must be constructed in conformity with one’s theory of mind, but he takes a more radically phenomenalistic view of mind than they do. Mind may be defined as ‘nothing but a heap or collection of different perceptions, united together by certain relations, and supposed, though falsely, to be endowed with a perfect simplicity and identity…[It is] that connected mass of perceptions, which constitute a thinking being.’[108] The substantiality of the mind is conspicuous by its absence from this definition. If by substance is meant something which may exist by itself, then (at least, as far as the free play of imagination is concerned) every distinct perception, being capable of separation and separate existence, is a genuine substance. But if substance is said to be entirely different from a perception, then we can have no idea of its nature and cannot raise questions about the immateriality and substantiality of the soul. Contrary to Locke’s and Berkeley’s contention, Hume states that perceptions are grasped as distinct objects, and hence never convey to the mind any evidence about their need for such inherence. Hence causal inference is not justified in arguing from a requirement that is lacking in empirical meaning. In this clash of opinion among the empiricists, Hume is relying once more upon a strictly phenomenalistic approach to perceptions and upon his logical doctrine about distinct perceptions. Perceptions are distinct not only from each other but also from any subject and, indeed, from any reference to a subject of inherence. This reification of perceptions is the extreme consequence of the analytic method and the notion of a percept-object.

“From the same standpoint, we are barred from attributing simplicity and identity to the mind. The idea of identity would have to rest upon some impression that remains invariant throughout a lifetime; the idea of simplicity would suppose that some impression reveals an indivisible center of union for the moments of experience. Neither of these conditions can be satisfied in terms of the Humean theory of knowledge. When I enter intimately into what I call myself, Hume says, I always stumble upon some particular perception. I never catch myself without some perception, and neither do I come upon myself as anything but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, each succeeding the other with inconceivable rapidity. In face of this situation, only one set of conclusions is possible for the Humean logic, based on the loosening of ideas. Since each perception is a distinct existent, no substance is needed; since the perceptions are all different and successive, there is no identity or invariant sameness of being; since the perceptions comprising the self are many, the self is not a simple thing.

“As usual, Hume employs this failure on the part of abstract reason as a recommendation that we seek a binding principle on the side of the ‘natural’ forces, operating through imagination. Thought is under some kind of constraint to pass from one given perception to the next, and thus to generate the self through this continuous transition. The personal self arises when, in reflecting upon a past series of perceptions, we feel that one perception naturally introduces the next. Personal identity is a powerful fiction, aroused by the circumstance that imagination is able to pass smoothly from one perceptual object to the next, and hence comes to regard the series as invariable and uninterrupted. The similarity in the mind’s act of apprehending the different perceptions instigates imagination to affirm a continuous identity of the self, on the side of the objects perceived. The easy transition is made under the associative force of resemblance and the natural relation of cause-and-effect. Thus the self is ‘a system of different perceptions or different existences, which are linked together by the relation of cause and effect, and mutually produce, destroy, influence, and modify each other.’[109] Memory is the source of personal identity, insofar as it summons up images resembling past perceptions and grasps the causal succession of our perceptions, in the direction of the past. Passion and concern extend the same frame of causal reference forward as well as backward, strengthening the easy passage of thought and the reflective feeling that the perceptions belong to an identical, personal self.

“For once, however, this counterprocess of binding together what empirical analysis has loosened, fails to achieve the kind of unity to which our experience bears testimony. Hume observes that he cannot find a satisfactory explanation of the feeling of belongingness, on the basis of which imagination declares that all our perceptions belong to the same personal self: ‘In short there are two principles, which I cannot render consistent; nor is it in my power to renounce either of them, viz., that all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences, and that the mind never perceives any real connection among distinct existences. Did our perceptions either inhere in something simple and individual, or did the mind perceive some real connection among them, there would be no difficulty in the case. For my part, I must plead the privilege of a skeptic, and confess, that this difficulty is too hard for my understanding.’[110] This is a disarmingly frank passage. Hume concedes that an adequate synthesis of empirical findings about the personal self requires a knowledge of substance and objective causal connections, in respect to man. But his own first principle about distinct perceptions, leading as it does to a divorce of abstract reason from experience, prevents him from admitting the reality of substance in man. His second principle about real connections leads to his skeptical theory of relations and rules out any objectively given causal principle, operative in mental life. Nevertheless, he cannot avoid using substantial and causal terms, when he describes the self as a bundle and as a self-perpetuating series of perceptions. Although he warns against the imagery, he finds it convenient to compare the mind both to a theater, upon whose (substantial) stage various appearances are presented, and to a republic that perpetuates itself (causally) through the successive generations of its members.

“The perceptions belonging to ‘our’ mind are not an indiscriminate heap but constitute an ordered system. On the side of the cognitive acts themselves, these perceptions are already ordered by reference to ‘ourselves’ and ‘our’ imagination, even before Hume can apply his theory of how imagination produces the personal unity of the self. In order to give a plausible account of the association of perceptual objects, he covertly presupposes some personal center of reference or intimate belongingness for the perceiving operations. His empirical explanation of the self implies the effective presence of certain substantial and causal factors, but his theory of knowledge prevents him from ever reconciling their reality with his own first principles.

“Hume’s passing remarks on immortality and freedom are consistent with his general view of knowledge and causality. No demonstration of immortality is possible, both because there is no clear idea of an immaterial, simple substance and because such demonstration would suppose that the causal principle can extend to a state that is, by definition, beyond present human experience. Hume admits that reason places man above the brutes but not that it guarantees his survival beyond this life. It is likely that man, like other animals, will lose consciousness and succumb to the universal frailty and dissolution of things. Neither immortality nor freedom has a bearing upon moral conduct, even if they could be established.”[111]




George Berkeley (1685-1753) maintained that only immaterial spirits (fine and infinite) and ideas exist. He denied the existence of matter. Being consists in its being perceived (esse est percipi). Man, for Berkeley, would be finite immaterial spirit. Berkeley believed his mission to be the vigorous defense of theism and the affirmation of the primacy of the spirit over matter against the growing materialist trend among British intellectuals. He calls his system immaterialism since it is aimed at responding to the errors of materialism. He retains that matter does not exist in itself; when we say that something exists we mean that such a thing is perceived by us, that is, its entire being consists in its being perceived (esse est percipi). The being of things is resolved into thought-of-being. Primary sensible qualities are judged to be merely subjective as they are known through secondary sensible qualities. Thus, bodies are, for Berkeley, nothing but sensible qualities and so one should not suppose that there be some sort of ‘substance’ holding up these qualities. “Their esse consists in their percipi (to be perceived), and it is not possible for them to have any existence outside the minds which perceives them.”[112] We should not suppose a ‘substance’ underlying our ideas of the accidents of bodies since the true support of these ideas is, namely, our very own mind. For Berkeley, “things exist therefore only as objects of our senses, as phenomena (from the Greek, ‘what appears before me’). It may be that Berkeley did not want to deny the existence of the world of bodies but just to combat materialism by means of the immateriality of knowledge. Nevertheless, by virtue of the principle of immanence, which he follows, he turns the in-itself into a for-myself. There is no matter in itself: it exists only in my consciousness. And my consciousness consists in perceiving ideas (in the Lockean sense) and in perceiving itself intuitively. (…) Kant would dismiss Berkeley’s philosophy as dogmatic idealism.”[113]

Berkeleyan gnoseology dictates that the material world exists only as a cognitive act, produced and existing in a mental act; consequently this world is merely subjective, not objective. For Berkeley, there is no extra-mental world of matter, only spirits (finite spirits and the Infinite Spirit). The passivity of our finite spirit is a proof of the existence of the Infinite Spirit who causes the ideas imposed on one’s finite spirit of which one is not the origin (i.e., the various objects that we see when we look outside our window). “While denying the existence of a material world and reducing it to a phenomenon of knowledge” explains Carmin Mascia, Berkeley “believed that he had proved the existence of the subjective spirit from the very presence of ideas, for ideas can be produced only by a spirit. Having thus assured himself of the existence of his own spirit, Berkeley devoted himself to determining its nature: the spirit is both active, a producer of ideas, and passive, a receptacle for ideas. Its activity is revealed in the imagination and in the memory, with which we produce or recall ideas, but more still in the coordination of ideas. Passivity, as we have said, is revealed in the fact that the spirit receives ideas that it has not produced. For example, it is not within my power to see or not to see the objects that are in my room. The passivity of the spirit gave Berkeley the means of proving the existence of other finite spirits, independent of his own, and the existence of God. In fact, he asked, what is the origin of these ideas that are imposed on my spirit and of which I am not the origin – for instance, the objects I mentioned before as being present in my room? They are produced by the will of other spirits, since I perceive, besides my own spirit, other particular agents like myself, who participate with me in the production of many ideas. Besides, there are ideas that I perceive which are not only not produced by my spirit, but are not produced by any finite spirit – for instance, the regularity of natural phenomena. Fire always burns, independently of any will. Such ideas presuppose a cause superior to all finite spirits – God, who exists, whose infinite will produces the order and harmony and constancy of natural phenomena.

“Having thus demonstrated the existence of God, Berkeley believed that he had solved all the difficulties that could be raised against his idealistic phenomenalism. If, for example, one asks whether the objects in my room exist when I am outside and there is no one in my house, Berkeley answers in the affirmative; because if the objects are not perceived by a finite spirit they are perceived by God. If one should inquire about the difference between real fire and painted fire, why one burns and the other does not, Berkeley would have answered that God, the producer and supreme ruler of all ideas, unites to the first (real fire) the idea of burning, and denies it to the second (fire depicted in a painting). In a word, the phenomenal world of Berkeley is not unlike the phenomenal world that everyone knows, with this difference: While commonly it is believed that natural phenomena are the product of a physical, material world, for Berkeley this material world does not exist. That which we attribute to matter, he says, must be referred to God, the exciter and revealer of ideas corresponding to material things. We are on the ground of the occasionalism of Malebranche: God presents to our souls – produces in them – the ideas that impress us. The constant relationship with which God determines the ideas of our spirits are the so-called laws of nature. They are the language with which God reveals Himself and speaks to us. Thus Berkeley believed that he had carried out the work he had set for himself: to justify theism against the attacks of incredulity; and to point out the emptiness of materialism by proving that the world as conceived by the materialist does not exist.”[114]  




The German transcendental idealist Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), one of the most influential proponents of agnosticism (the noumenon or extramental reality is, for him, unknowable, and thus the soul, the world, and God are, for him, noumenical unknowables), struck a blow at the rationalist psychology of his time which affirmed the substantiality of the soul, a conclusion departing from the cogito. Kant maintained that the soul was one of the three ideas of pure reason (soul, world, God) whose corresponding noumenical realities could not be established, since the mind, striving for a higher synthesis than the categorical one arrived at in the transcendental analytic, nevertheless, is working without content, and all attempts at affirming the real existence of soul, world and God, are but erroneous paralogisms, antinomies, and contradictory reasonings. It is the task of the transcendental dialectic, the third part of the Critique of Pure Reason, to show this. The goal of the transcendental dialectic would be to expose the transcendental illusion that counterparts of the ideas of pure reason necessarily exist, as traditional rationalist psychology would maintain.

For Kant, reason seeks a further unification of the categories of the understanding into a supreme synthesis, which are, for him, the three ideas (soul, world, and God) of pure reason: “(a) The totality of our internal experience is unified into the idea of soul or permanent substantial subject, which is the object of psychology; (b) The totality of our external experience is unified into the idea of world or totality of causally linked phenomena, which is the object of cosmology; (c) The totality of all objects of thought, unifying both internal and external experience, is unified into the idea of God, a unification of all that is thinkable, which is the object of rational theology. This is how Kant transforms the Cartesian innate ideas into pure forms – empty moulds, without content – of pure reason.”[115]                 

Gilson and Langan write: “The rational psychology Kant has in mind is one that would deduce conclusions a priori from the cogito. The psychology that attempts to draw knowledge out of the thinking subject runs into a series of ‘paralogisms.’[116] One of these, to take but a single example from the four Kant discusses, the ‘paralogism of substantiality,’ consists in positing the soul as a simple substance, which is, of course, what Descartes did in substantializing the cogito. What is wrong with this is simply that the notion of substance is not supposed to be itself the subject of an intuition, but only to serve as a unifying function. The cogito, declares Kant, cannot be for itself the subject of an intuition, whatever Descartes may have thought. We know only an empirical consciousness, entirely dominated by the form of time, attaining only to the knowledge of successive phenomena, and a pure consciousness, which is only a logical subject, the pure function of transcendental unification, not a thing, therefore not the object of an intuition of a thing-in-itself. Thus neither the materialist nor the spiritualist philosophies are right in asserting, respectively, that there is no soul or that there is a substantial soul, for neither has a legitimate basis for making such assertions. The soul remains an idea, of which it is impossible to know whether it exists or not; in any event, the reason is led to it necessarily, and there is nothing about it that suggests that it is impossible for it to exist.[117] As Hume reduces man, identified with the soul, identified with mind, to “a bundle of perceptions,” so too, Kant reduces man, to soul, to nothing but a pure idea of reason that has the regulative function of unifying all one’s internal experience.

Hirschberger explains the Kantian position on the soul, writing that “philosophical psychology before the time of Kant was not a mere description of the acts of consciousness. This psychology also offered a metaphysics of the soul and recognized in the soul a true substance. Descartes spoke of a res; Leibniz, of an active monad. In like manner Wolff and his school accepted the substantiality of the soul and demonstrated it by a series of regressive conclusions, starting with the accidents and progressing to a real being in which they inhere. Besides the substantiality of the soul, others attempted to prove its incorruptibility, its immateriality, and its immortality. In all these attributes we can discover the true core of the human person. And this person, at least so they thought, constitutes properly speaking the ego, the subject of human activities.

“Only the English empiricists had called these doctrines into question. To Locke, substance is an ‘I-do-not-know-what’; and to Hume the soul is only ‘a bundle of perceptions.’ To Kant the soul is no longer a substance. He considered the demonstration of its substantiality as a paralogism or false conclusion. This paralogism is based on a use of four terms within a syllogism, because the ‘ego’ in the argument had two meanings. The proof that was customarily employed for the substantiality of the soul ran as follows: Whatever is an absolute subject and cannot be used as the predicate of judgments is a substance. The absolute subject of all our judgments is the ego. The ego is therefore a substance. The ego, that is, the subject of all our judgments is, however, according to Kant, the transcendental ego of our transcendental apperception. As a result, it merely signifies a purely logical quantity. The conclusion, however, conceives this logical quantity directly as an ontological, as a metaphysical reality. Herein lies the fallacy of the argument (B 348 ff).”[118]    

Describing Kant’s demolision of rationalist psychology by means of the transcendental dialectic, Collins writes that “rational psychology tries to infer from the given fact of the thinking ‘I,’ something about the soul’s nature. It affirms that the soul is: a substance, simple, self-identical in a personal way, and related to a world that may be inferred to exist outside us, in space. From these four major traits of the soul are derived the remaining psychological theses about the soul’s immateriality, spirituality, incorruptibility, immortality, personality, and animation of a body. But none of these consequences can be any more firmly established than the four main pillars upon which they rest. Kant claims that the four basic principles are themselves vitiated by paralogisms or formal errors in reasoning, and that consequently the entire structure of rational psychology is built upon a crumbling foundation.

“The typical case is the argument used to prove the substantiality of the soul. Kant throws it into the following syllogistic form, in order to reveal the fundamental fallacy of the ambiguous middle that underlies all psychological proofs: ‘That which cannot be thought otherwise than as subject does not exist otherwise than as subject, and is therefore substance ; A thinking being, considered merely as such, cannot be thought otherwise than as subject ; Therefore it exists also only as subject, that is, as substance.’[119] The logical defect in the syllogism is that it contains four terms. In the major, ‘subject-that-is-thought’ is an objective designation for an intuitively given, permanent substratum, to which the category of substance applies. In the minor, however, ‘subject-that-is-thought’ means only the consciousness of the ‘I’ that thinks. This is a non-intuitive awareness and, taken by itself, has only subjective weight. Even if it were capable of an objective meaning, there would be no reason for applying to the thinking subject the category of substance, since there is no observable element of permanence in mere consciousness of my thinking process. To this extent, Kant accepts Hume’s account of the self. The other arguments in rational psychology make a similar shift from objective categories to merely formal, subjective notes.”[120] 










The Primarily Ethical and Practical Character of Fichtean Absolute Idealism. Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s (1762-1814) philosophy is primarily ethical and practical rather than speculative: the question that he asks at the outset is not “What can we know?” but rather “What is the mission of man?” It is only after this that a second question is asked: “What are the essential conditions that make man exist?” Thus, ontology and theory are subordinated to ethics and praxis, which is the opposite of the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical hierarchy wherein moral philosophy is subordinated to and founded upon metaphysical principles. The primacy of the ethical and practical in Fichte is also seen in the fact that, for him, the essence of the ego consists in the will (so much so that the practical reason is the root of all other reasons) and that the world (what he calls the non-ego) is not conceived of as an object of contemplation, an object of knowledge, but rather as an obstacle to be surpassed. Man must not contemplate the world; rather, the world is the world of man’s duties, duties above all to one’s Nation.    

The Vanquishing of the Noumenon. As was mentioned, Kantian transcendental idealism presupposed the thing-in-itself (the noumenon), that extra-mental, extra-subjective unknowable that would be the cause of the raw sense data of the senses that would go to be formed by the two a priori forms of sensibility, namely, space and time (which are wholly subjective). Fichte, however, believed that the Kantian noumenal reality limited and conditioned the activity of the transcendental ego and proposed that in order for the ego to be truly free one must eliminate that “useless appendix,” namely, the noumenon. For Fichte, the ego is everything, so where does this extra-subjective noumenal unknowable fit in? It doesn’t fit in anywhere since idealism dictates that that which cannot be known doesn’t exist. Therefore, the noumenon does not exist. This is the verdict of Fichtean absolute idealism. For Fichte the ego is the all, it being the infinite and the finite at the same time. The ego is infinite because it is ‘thinking reality,’ for in its inexhaustible activity it can think all things. The ego is also finite as ‘thought reality,’ because each of its thought acts is limited to a determinate reality. For Fichte, therefore, the ego is conceived as free and absolute activity, wherein life articulates itself by means of an infinity of finite acts. The ego is at the same time ‘thinking reality’ and ‘thought reality.’ The ego is called the pure ego (‘ego’ because it is subject, and ‘pure’ because it draws out everything from itself and thus a priori).     

The Fichtean Dialectic. The activity of the pure ego develops itself in three moments: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. First (thesis), the pure ego posits (creates) itself. This is the primal act in which the ego, thinking itself, creates itself. The pure ego cannot posit or create something if it first didn’t create itself; neither can the pure ego know something without first knowing itself. Therefore, self-consciousness is necessarily the original principle of any ulterior knowledge. Second (antithesis), the pure ego posits (creates) the non-ego, which consists in the world of reality thought of by the pure ego, and consists in nature and man. The pure ego, creating itself, develops itself in thinking the world of finite realities. If these finite realities are deprived of reason, such as minerals, plants, and animals, the pure ego thinks itself in them in an unconscious manner. If the finite realities are endowed with reason (humans) then the pure ego thinks itself in them in a conscious manner. All these single finite realities thought of by the pure ego are called either ‘non-ego’ or ‘empirical ego’ because the pure ego is infinite ‘thinking reality’ while the world consists in finite ‘thought reality,’ and being finite, not infinite, they are non-infinite, that is, non-ego. The non-ego, therefore, is opposed to the pure ego as finite is opposed to infinite. Thus, the pure ego is one as ego (thinking reality) and is multiple as non-ego (thought reality).[121] Lastly (synthesis), the pure ego performs the synthesis of the pure ego and the non-ego. The one and the multiple, unconscious activity and conscious activity, the pure ego and the non-ego, the Spirit has need of recomposing its original unity. It does this in the moment in which it thinks of itself as man. In this moment Spirit becomes conscious. It understands that the non-ego is its own creation.     

As was said, Fichte’s absolute idealism has a strong ethical character: the essence of the ego consists in will; the world (non-ego) is romantically conceived as an obstacle that must be surpassed. “Why the opposition of the non-ego? Fichte replies that here we can see the creativity of the absolute spirit. It is a creativity by opposition: the ego creates the non-ego as in opposition precisely in order to conquer it and master it, as a self-imposed challenge. And this is the struggle whereby by means of science and of action the ego gradually conquers the non-ego or the world. It is the struggle of the subject to master the object created by it. The real manifestation of the Ego is therefore the will to conquer. The will is the real manifestation of the Ego, and so the moral life (the life of the will) is superior to the intellectual life and to the animal life. Fichte grounds theoretical reason on practical reason more radically than Kant…This is how the Ego fulfils Himself: by mastering the non-ego, and realizing in the end that everything is Ego.”[122]




Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling (1775-1854) differed from Fichte in that, though both are idealists, the latter’s philosophy reveals a passion for the struggle to overcome and conquer obstacles, to master the non-ego, while the former sought harmony, love and unity. Fichte was fascinated by dualism and opposition while Schelling was captiviated by monism and union. Fichte had been influenced to some extent by Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason while Schelling was much influenced by the Critique of Judgment. Schelling had a conception of the absolute as a synthesis of opposites: of the I and nature, of subject and object, of the spirit and the world. The absolute is the origin of nature, the objective form to acquire a greater consciousness of one’s proper subjectivity by means of it. Therefore, nature is the pre-history of consciousness, petrified thought. Man is the being in which the absolute acquires consciousness of itself becoming spirit. The comprehension of the universe, wherein nature and spirit are not anymore opposed against each other, is actuated in aesthetic activity. Works of art are the manifestation of the infinite under finite form. 

In place of the Fichtean pure ego Schelling has his Absolute, conceived as an undifferentiated unity of nature and spirit. Like Fichte, nature is, for Schelling, an unconscious creation of the ego, but while in the former the ego realizes itself first in nature and then in spirit, for the latter nature and spirit proceed in a parallel manner in the sense that the moments of the ego repeat themselves in two parallel series: in the first (nature) in an unconscious manner and in the second (spirit) in a conscious way. The foundation of the two parallel series is the ego, which is undifferentiated original unity. The ego in its origins, is absolute indifference to become nature and spirit.

Nature, for Schelling, is not inert matter but rather a massive living organism that evolves by means of a series of gradations that ascend from matter to life up until self-conscious man. Spirit lives in nature as in a petrified state. Spirit searches laboriously to escape from the unconscious to make itself self-conscious. In such manner, nature is the prehistory of the Spirit. The end of philosophy is the conscious reliving of the various phases of the life of the Spirit that is immersed in nature in a sort of deep slumber. However, the identity of nature and spirit cannot be comprehended either by the theoretical ego (knowing) or by the practical ego (action) but only by art (feeling, sentiment) in as much as art creates as nature does. Only the inspired artist can comprehend the profound mystery of the universe. Only the poet feels, intimates, the absolute in things. For him the world is not that which appears to the common man in the street; rather, it is, for him, almost a symbol, a sign of the Absolute. For these reasons, Schelling’s philosophy has been described as an aesthetic absolute idealism.




For the most famous of the absolute idealists, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), all is Idea in a dialectical process of becoming (thesis, antithesis and synthesis). This absolute idealism identifies metaphysics with logic (hence the characterization of Hegelianism as a panlogicism). Man would be nothing but a mode of this dialetical becoming. Fagothey explains the Hegelian idealist dialectic for us: “The Hegelian dialectic, to give but the barest outline of it, is the process of development that pervades everything. For Hegel there is only one reality, which he calls the Idea. In a sense it is God because there is nothing else, but in another sense it is not God because it has not yet thought itself out and arrived at self-consciousness. The process of thinking itself out is the dialectic. Thinking consists in contrasting each thought with its opposite, whereupon there arises a higher thought which is the union of the two. Thus the thought of being leads to its opposite nothing, and the union is becoming or the passage from nothing to being. In every case the first stage which is simply given or posited is called the thesis, the negation of the thesis is the antithesis, and the union of the thesis and antithesis or the negation of the negation is the synthesis. What underlies this process is that reality itself is basically contradictory; thought first takes up one side of the contradiction (thesis), and then the other (antithesis) and finally succeeds in fusing the two (synthesis). Any thought contains only part of the truth; there is some truth also in the opposite, and only when both are reconciled in a higher union does the whole truth appear. The process continues because each synthesis now becomes a thesis for further development.

“In thinking itself out, thought arrives at the main antithesis to itself, which is inert matter. At this point the Idea objectifies itself in matter, turns into its opposite, contradicts its unity and totality, fractions itself into this manifold world of experience, spreads itself out to become Nature. This, for Hegel, is the creation of the world. World evolution continues along dialectical lines. The first inkling of synthesis is life, in which thought reappears in matter, organizing plants purposively, manifesting conscious instinct in animals, and arrriving at self-consciousness in man, the spearhead of the process. In man the dialectic continues through human history, in which man has passed to higher and higher forms of social organization, culminating at present in the political state. Thus thought and matter, spirit and nature, are united in man. The final synthesis will be a combination of the thesis (the Idea thinking itself out) with the antithesis (the Idea spread out into Nature) into the synthesis (Nature gathered back into the Idea in full self-consciousness as Absolute Spirit). The whole process is the life of God, whose process of evolution is the universe, of which human history forms a leading part.”[123] 

Critique of the Hegelian Conception of Man. Hegel’s claim is that the beings that we find in the world, including man, are nothing but thought modes or thought modifications of the divine being (Absolute Spirit) undergoing a necessary process of historical becoming. But this is a manifest error for creatural beings (substances in their own right) are not modes or modifications (accidents) of any substantial being. The things that we observe in the world around us “are complete substances in themselves, really distinct from God numerically and essentially, and really distinct from one another numerically and, in numberless cases, specifically and also generically. What is more, unless we wish to admit that our cognitive faculties are utterly and absolutely untrustworthy, we must admit that we ourselves and the rest of the creatures in the world are not mere thought-modifications of any being, but have an existence in the physical world, an existence, namely, really distinct from, and outside of, the intellect or thought of any being, even God. To insist that the world is a mere illusion of God’s intellect or of our intellects is intellectual suicide. To attempt to live practically in accord with such a theory is impossible. Even the idealists themselves admit this.”[124]




The Critique of Hegelian Panlogicism. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a severe critic of the Hegelian system. The objective of his existentialism was to revive the concepts of existence and interiority, making them gravitate around the fundamental category of the singular person, that is, man in the concreteness of his specificity. Human existence could not be a part of the Hegelian system, not being reducible to logic: “The thinker who can forget in all his thinking also to think that he is an existing individual, will never explain life. He merely makes an attempt to cease to be a human being in order to become a book or an objective something.”[125] Kierkegaard considered Hegelian absolute idealism (where all is reduced to idea, and where the individual is absorbed into the totality of the State, and ultimately in a pantheistic monism) to be the greatest enemy of the Christian faith, as it gnostically attempted to reduce the great mysteries of Christianity (i.e., the Incarnation, the Holy Trinity) into rational categories fully understandable by human reason. He believed that Hegel’s panlogicism intrinsically ignored the fundamental worth and dignity of the individual human person. In his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard writes: “The more the collective idea comes to dominate even ordinary consciousness, the more forbidding seems the transition to becoming a particular existing human being instead of losing oneself in the race, and saying ‘we,’ ‘our age,’ ‘the nineteenth century.’…For what does a mere individual count for?…Each age has its own characteristic depravity. Ours is perhaps not pleasure or indulgence of sensuality, but rather a dissolute pantheistic contempt for the individual man. In the midst of all our exultation over the achievements of the age and the nineteenth century, there sounds a note of poorly conceived contempt for the individual man: in the midst of the self-importance of the contemporary generation there is revealed a sense of despair over being human. Everything must attach itself so as to be part of some movement; men are determined to lose themselves in the totality of things, in world-history…no one wants to be an individual human being.”[126] “How often have I shown that fundamentally Hegel makes men into heathens, into a race of animals gifted with reason. For in the animal world, ‘the individual’ is always less important than the race. But it is the peculiarity of the human race that just because the individual is created in the image of God, ‘the individual’ is above the race. This can be wrongly understood and terribly misused: concedo. But that is Christianity. And that is where the battle must be fought.”[127] “I have endeavored to express the thought that to employ the category ‘race’ to indicate what it is to be a man, and especially as an indication of the highest attainment, is a misunderstanding and mere paganism, because the race, mankind, differs from an animal race not merely by its general superiority as a race, but by the human characteristic that every single individual within the race (not merely distinguished individuals but every individual) is more than the race. For to relate oneself to God is a far higher thing than to be related to the race and through the race to God.”[128] Thus, Kierkegaard sought to reclaim authentic existence and individuality for the human person from a world seduced by Hegel’s reduction of the human being to a mere moment in the dialectical process.   

The Aesthetic Stage. Man, for Kierkegaard, is in a continuous becoming. There are three stages in this becoming, which is a journey towards authentic existence (accomplished, not by thinking, but by choices): aesthetic (enjoyment), ethical (struggle and duty), and religious (suffering). In the aesthetic stage, man lives for his senses; he lives a hedonistic and selfish lifestyle. The aesthete is governed by his senses, impulses and emotions. The fundamental truths and requirements of the Christian faith do not affect man in this stage in the least. The aesthete lives for the pleasures of the present moment, is not committed and responsible, and considers morality to be relative to one’s fancies. He is not so much a gross immoralist as he is a refined hedonist and a cynical “non-participant” or “spectator” who refuses to commit himself to anything that would entail self-denial and responsibility for others. Samuel Stumpf explains that the “aesthetic person knows nothing of any universal moral standards. He has no specific religious belief. His chief motivation is a desire to enjoy the widest variety of pleasures of the senses. His life has no principle of limitation except his own taste; he resents anything that would limit his vast freedom of choice.”[129] Kierkegaard observes that: “the aesthetic individual has no fixed principle except that he means not to be bound to anything or anybody. He has but one desire which is to enjoy the sweets of life – whether its purely sensual pleasures or the more refined Epicureanism of the finer things in life and art, and the ironic enjoyment of one’s own superiority over the rest of humanity; and he has no fear except that he may succumb to boredom.”[130]

Outwardly, the aesthete appears happy and carefree, but inside he is miserable, frustrated, lonely and prone to despair. The man in the aesthetic stage is exemplified by Don Juan. Don Juan is the personification of the aesthetic stage, a life devoted to the pleasures of the present moment. George Price describes this earth-bound sensualist: “He is an idea, force, an energy, the very potentiation of the sensuous. He never gains form or substance. He is being constantly formed but never finished…By reason of his nature, it is impossible for him ever to be compacted and finished permanently as an Individual, for he exists in the moment, even as his existence is only the sum of the moments…Within his own concept of himself he is never sinful. Sinfulness is the product of no small degree of reflection which, of course, Don Juan does not possess, for he is innocent of any critical attitude toward himself or toward his pleasures. He only knows that he enjoys them, and that he must consequently have them.”[131]

But the pleasures of the moment do not produce lasting happiness; they can only lead to an agonizing boredom and despair. “The end of the aesthetic man is despair…Despair over himself, because he no longer believes in himself…Despair over his human nature, because he no longer believes that any sort of self is possible for him…Despair over life, because all his tomorrows will be the same as today.”[132] In Either/Or, Kierkegaard observes that “so it appears that every aesthetic view of life is despair and that everyone who lives aesthetically is in despair, whether he knows it or not. But when he knows it…a higher form of existence is an imperative requirement.”[133] The hedonist, tired of his pleasures and cast into boredom, now finds himself in despair; he is faced with two alternatives: either to remain in despair on the aesthetic level and face the possibility of suicide, or to make a conscious choice (either/or) to ascend to a higher level of existence, namely, the ethical stage.             

The Ethical Stage. Kierkegaard describes this second stage in the second part of his Either/Or.[134] In this ethical stage, involving “more existence,” “more individuality,” the person chooses to accept determinate moral standards of right and wrong and permanent values. He accepts obligations and responsibilities and begins to care for others. He begins to be aware of the rational and social order of things, conceives of himself as a human person in relation with others, and hence begins to be himself. Kierkegaard writes: “He who chooses himself ethically chooses himself concretely as this definite individual and he attains this concretion by the fact that this act of choice is identical with this act of repentance which sanctions the choice. The individual thus becomes conscious of himself as this definite individual, with these talents, these dispositions, these instincts, these passions, influenced by these definite surroundings, as this definite product of a definite environment. He has his place in the world, with freedom he chooses his place, that is, he chooses this very place. He is a definite individual in the choice; he makes himself a definite individual, for he chooses himself.”[135]  

Instead of sensual dispersal the ethical man decides to renounce his casual sexual attachments and embarks upon the state of marriage, accepting all its obligations and difficulties. The ethical stage is exemplified in Socrates and has its own heroism; it is able to produce what Kierkegaard calls “the tragic hero” who renounces himself so as to express the universal order of reason. But noble as this stage may be, it is still not sufficient; the ethical man endeavors to overcome his weaknessness and deficiencies by cold reason and the sheer power of his will, but he does not understand the concept of sin. He is faced with yet another choice (either/or): to remain in the ethical stage or, conscious of his sin, chooses himself as guilty and, desiring divine forgiveness, decides to make to leap of faith and relate himself to God.  

The Religious Stage. For Kierkegaard, man in this religious stage is an individual in the highest degree, who exists in the highest degree. The man of faith is in direct relation to God. He has made a personal commitment, involving a non-rational “leap of faith.” The individual of the religious stage is exemplified in Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac at the command of the Almighty. Though Socrates, the “tragic hero” sacrifices himself in order to express to universal order of reason, to uphold the universal moral law, Kierkegaard points out that Abraham does nothing for the universal. In his book, Fear and Trembling, he writes: “By his act, he (Abraham) overstepped the ethical entirely and possessed a higher telos outside of it, in relation to which he suspended the former…why then did Abraham do it? For God’s sake and (in complete identity with this) for his own sake. He did it for God’s sake because God required this proof of his faith; for his own sake he did it in order that he might furnish the proof…But now when the ethical is thus teleologically suspended, how does the individual exist in whom it is suspended?…How then did Abraham exist? He believed. This is the paradox which keeps him upon the sheer edge and which cannot make clear to any other man, for the paradox is that he as the individual puts himself in an absolute relation to the absolute.”[136]  Abraham was what Kierkegaard called “a knight of faith” who obeyed God, even in fear and trembling, giving up the ethical for the religious, the finite for the infinite. Having made the choice to live by faith man gains selfhood and begins to exist authentically.

Kierkegaard’s Concept of Existence. For Kierkegaard, existence is a specifically human category that cannot be applied to say, for example, trees, flowers and rocks. Ultimately, authentic or true existence, is, for him, the man who chooses the religious stage and takes the leap of faith; he the religious man in front of, in relation to, God. Copleston explains Kierkegaard’s existentialist conception of authentic existence for us: “To illustrate his use of the concept of existence Kierkegaard employs the following analogy. A man sits in a car and holds the reins, but the horse goes along its accustomed path without any active control by the driver, who may be asleep. Another man actively guides and directs his horse. In one sense both men can be said to be drivers. But in another sense it is only the second man who can be said to be driving. In an analogous manner the man who drifts with the crowd, who merges himself in the anonymous ‘One,’ can be said to exist in one sense of the term, though in another sense he cannot be said to exist. For he is not the ‘existing individual’ who strives resolutely towards an end which cannot be realized once and for all at a given moment and is thus in a constant state of becoming, making himself, as it were, by his repeated acts of choice. Again, the man who contents himself with the role of spectator of the world and of life and transmutes everything into a dialectic of abstract concepts exists indeed in one sense but not in another. For he wishes to understand everything and commits himself to nothing. The ‘existing individual,’ however, is the actor rather than the spectator. He commits himself and so gives form and direction to his life. He ex-ists towards an end for which he actively strives by choosing this and rejecting that. In other words, the term ‘existence’ has with Kierkegaard more or less the same sense as the term ‘authentic existence’ as used by some modern existentialist philosophers. 

“If understood simply in this way, the term ‘existence’ is neutral, in the sense that it can be applied within any of the three stages of the dialectic. Indeed, Kierkegaard says explicitly that ‘there are three spheres of existence: the aesthetic, the ethical, the religious.’[137] A man can ‘exist’ within the aesthetic sphere if he deliberately, resolutely and consistently acts as the aesthetic man, excluding alternatives. In this sense Don Juan typifies the existing individual within the aesthetic sphere. Similarly, the man who sacrifices his own inclinations to the universal moral law and constantly strives after the fulfilment of a moral ideal which beckons him ever forward is an existing individual within the ethical sphere. ‘An existing individual is himself in process of becoming…In existence the watchword is always forward.’[138]

“But though the term ‘existence’ has indeed this wide field of application, it tends to take on a specifically religious connotation. Nor is this in any way surprising. For man’s highest form of self-realization as spirit is for Kierkegaard his self-relating to the personal Absolute. ‘Existence is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, and the existing individual is both infinite and finite.’[139] But to say that the existing individual is infinite is not to identify him with God. It is to say that his becoming is a constant striving towards God. ‘Existence itself, the act of existing, is a striving…(and) the striving is infinite.’[140] ‘Existence is the child that is born of the infinite and the finite, the eternal and the temporal, and is therefore a constant striving.’[141] One can say, therefore, that existence comprises two moments: separation or finiteness and a constant striving, in this context towards God. The striving must be constant, a constant becoming, because the self-relating to God in faith cannot be accomplished once and for all: it has to take the form of a constantly repeated self-commitment.

“It can hardly be claimed that Kierkegaard’s definition or descriptions of existence are always crystal clear. At the same time the general notion is intelligible enough. And it is clear that for him the existing individual par excellence is the individual before God, the man who sustains the standpoint of faith.”[142]




The French positivist philosopher Auguste Comte’s (1798-1857) principal intention was to construct a philosophy of history based upon the principles of evolution. For this founder of sociology, there are three principal phases or stages of history, namely, theological, metaphysical, and scientific. These phases are said to constitute the three fundamental epochs of the history of humanity.

1. The Theological Stage. In the theological stage man gives an explanation of natural phenomena by having recourse to supernatural causes fantastically conceived under anthropomorphic forms. “The theological stage is the first condition of the human spirit. Faced with the phenomena of nature, man at first aimed to know them in themselves, or in their nature and causes (absolute object). But the fact remained mysterious in this early stage, and man sought for a transcendental explanation in supernatural beings, as the gods. In so doing, man did not use reason as much as imagination. Three traits qualify this stage of experience: an absolute object, a transcendental explanation, and the predominance of imagination over reason. This stage reached its peak in Catholicism, which admirably synthesized all its supernatural explanations by the concept of a unique God, directing all things by his decrees.”[143]  

2. The Metaphysical Stage. In the philosophical or metaphysical stage the same phenomena are explained by having recourse to abstract rational principles using concepts such as substance, cause, essence, etc. “The metaphysical stage adds only an accidental perfection to the preceding. It replaces the mythological divinities and the divine decrees by metaphysical entities, as causes, substances, faculties, and so on. Here again one finds an absolute object as the point of study, and the predominance of imagination over reason; the explanation, however, is no longer transcendent, but immanent. The apogee of metaphysical reasoning lies in pantheism, in which nature uniquely synthesizes all metaphysical entities.”[144]

3. The Positive or Scientific Stage. In the last stage, the positive phase, man has come of age and searches for scientific explanations by means of natural laws which are sufficient to explain all phenomena that appear to us. “The positive stage is opposed to the two preceding in three ways. It abandons any absolute in order to be content with the relative, or an object proportioned to reason: the facts of experience and their relations or laws. Moreover, there is no longer an immanent, nor a transcendent explanation, for reason, achieving its majority, knows now to consider, positively, in a nature, that which is attainable. This explains the increasing predominance of observation over imagination. Now, these stages are incompatible and tend to supplant each other. This incompatibility, for that matter, does not exclude their coexistence in time; the same man, can, for some objects, accept theological as well as metaphysical explanations and attend to positive science in others. Men living in the same epoch may remain in the backwardness of the theological and metaphysical explanations, while the more advanced peoples will be in the stage of positive explanations. However, the general law cited above remains true if one takes the predominant stage of a people in a given age: theology is first-born, it is opposed by metaphysics, and followed by positive science. The latter is the only stage capable of definitive existence, since the preceding stages, based on imagination, always lead to new conjectures and discussions. The positive spirit, appealing to facts, gathers all men to itself and forms a unified doctrine. The positive stage does not replace the others by combatting them, but by letting them corrupt of themselves as old hypotheses which one abandons because they have fallen into desuetude, and the best explanations have been found.”[145]

Comte’s Proofs for the Three Stages. Comte presents a number of proofs for his theory of the three stages, among them being the so-called proof by analogy with an individual person’s life, and also the so-called proof by reason. For Comte, what happens in the history of humanity also happens in the phases of a person’s life: the theological stage is one of infancy (a child rests content with transcendental explanations for things), the metaphysical one of youth (the adolescent searches for the ‘why’ of things; he looks for the ‘immanent causes’ of phenomena), and the positive one of manhood (the person who has reached the age of maturity rests content and prudently sticks to the scientific observation of phenomena and their laws for the expanation of reality). We likewise observe the laws of the three stages in the reasoning process itself: “Starting from the fact that the positive stage, as inaugurated, is the definitive and most perfect development, one can demonstrate that it necessarily had to be preceded by the other two. Primitive man, pushed by his natural desire to think, wished to observe nature, but was deceived by the various hypotheses furnished by scientific observation, the first vicious circle. Besides, because of their natural instinct to live in society, men felt the need of a common doctrine which would unify their wills. This doctrine would normally be the fruit of social civilization: a second vicious circle. There was but one means of escaping these vicious modes of reasoning; that was an appeal to a supernatural being. This appeal brought in extraneous hypotheses for the mind, and imposed an authoritative unity of faith and of thought. This solution was almost irresistible under the influence of the spontaneous tendency which leads us to explain the intimate nature of phenomena by making them similar to acts produced by our will. This constructive solution is but provisory, and the distance separating it from the positive solution is quite considerable. Accordingly, there is required a stage of transition of a purely negative nature whose role would be to destroy the theological absolute, by opposing its own, metaphysical absolute, leaving the field clear for positive construction which remains totally within the relative. The science of the relative, in fact, can replace the theological absolute but it cannot destroy it, for the two are so estranged that there is nothing common between them. In this way one can also explain the coexistence in time of the three stages; it is not only possible, but also required by their mutual relations from the moment that the definitive and exclusive reign of positivism begins.”[146] 

Comte desired to elevate all the sciences to the positivist state and above all to construct a social physics. There are three fundamental sciences: physics, biology, and sociology, the last being the most important. The role of philosophy is to classify the sciences. A severe critic of Christianity and all forms of dogmatic religions, he proposed in its place the positivistic cult of humanity. 

Critique of Comte’s Three Stages. Comte’s law of the three stages contradicts experience and common sense. The religion of primitive man was indeed encumbered with manifold superstitions, but, as man developed his intelligence we observe that he purified his religion from superstition; the two – religion and superstition –  are not the same. Also, we find througout history great thinkers who were great metaphysicians but at the same time were also much devoted to scientific investigation (thinkers like Aristotle and Albert the Great). Another criticism: the normal development of the human person is not the way Comte describes it. Children delight in observable phenomena but need to be taught supernatural truths by their parents and religious who are much smarter than them. Adolescents, who are moved by their passions, are unsuited for the study of metaphysics (which operates at the third degree of abstraction and requires much previous knowledge and a good degree of control over one’s passions). They are more easily given to scientific observation (which operates only at the first degree of abstraction, and is thus easier to grasp) than to the discovery of the ultimate causes and first principles of all reality – the mark of the wise man – which is usually discovered at the end of one’s life. Also, it is to be observed that many excellent scientists have become more devout and and interested in religion and theology in old age, not to mention those scientists who have become more interested in metaphysical questions in the twilight of their lives.




Karl Marx’s (1818-1883) inspiration came from Hegel, the Hegelian Left, and the materialist and evolutionist scientists and writers of his time, including Darwin and Ricardo. The founder of communism transported the Hegelian dialectic of the spirit into the material world and history. The material conditions of existence condition our perception of the world. The fundamental structure of all ideology is economic. It is the social being of men that determines their consciousness. Theory is subordinated to action (praxis): what matters is not the interpretation of the world but rather the changing of it. Economic evolution determines social evolution (that of the classes) and through it, that of politics. The historical epochs of the world according to the various types of economic structures are the following: primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and future communism. For Marx, capitalism implies the defrauding of the worker (surplus-value theory). It, however, infallibly provokes an economic crisis and, in the end, provokes a proletarian revolution and the rise of the communist society. For him, “religion is the opium of the people,” a contingent superstructure that diverts man from his true end (which is wholely earthly and material). Atheism is founded upon three postulates, namely: 1. a metaphysical and dialectical materialism ; 2. a historical materialism ; and 3. an absolute or promethean humanism, which deifies man, making him the absolute master of the universe.          

The Alienations. Man, Marx taught, suffers from alienation (or estrangement) in that he fails to form his authentic essence by succumbing to an activity contrary to his dignity. The alienations are five in number: 1. Religious alienation (where man forgets that he is the only supreme Being and sheepishly allows himself to he exploited by the capitalist, all the while hoping that he will be rewarded in the next life – which, needless to say, does not exist for the Marxist) ; 2. Philosophical alienation (where man is deceived by the various bourgeois speculative philosophies which merely seek to contemplate the world and, in the process, fail to transform it through revolution; what Marx advocates is the subordination of theory to praxis) ; 3. Political alienation (man is alienated by the State, laws, institutions, and vehicles of power created by the capitalists with the view of subjugating the defrauded masses; the Marxist must not just criticize all existing bourgeois power structures but also endeavor to undermine them by any means) ; 4. Social alienation (men, says Marx, are divided into two classes: the oppressed and the oppressors or the exploited and the exploiters; what must happen, he says, is the destruction of the exploiting or oppressor class and the establishment of the classless society by means of violent revolution) ; and 5. Economic alienation (man, he says, loses his essence by his possession of private property as he takes for himself what but belongs to Collective Humanity; therefore, only by the denial of private property and Collective humanity’s possessing the world collectively will man be reunited to himself and “create his essence” in the activity of work). The five alienations operate in an inverse manner: commencing with economic alienation, where the beginning of man’s estrangement lies in his possession of private property, and passing through the other four (which are nothing but instruments of oppression, convenient superstructures built upon the most fundamental of all alienations, which is economic in nature).      

Man for Marx. Unlike the homo sapiens (thinking man) of Aristotle and St. Thomas, and the homo volens (willing man) of Scotus, Ockham and Descartes, man for Marx is essentially homo faber (working and producing man). There is nothing immaterial and spiritual in the human being. For Marx, man is wholely material, nothing but matter in the process of historical becoming (or matter in motion). And man, in the Marxist vision, is wholely determined by the factors of economics and, hence, in the deepest sense he is deprived of free-will, as other causes (the laws of economic production) determine his actions. Marx “thinks that the main motive explaining the whole of human behavior and therefore of history is economic. The way we produce goods and exchange products determines our life. Society gradually evolved from primitive collectivism, through savagery and barbarism, to civilization. At first men lived by hunting and fishing, then by domestication and a nomad life, then by agriculture on settled farms, then by handicraft industry in the towns, finally by power machinery and the factory system in huge industrial centers. The degree of civilization depends on the economic system. Religious, ethical, philosophical, artistic, social, and political ideas have their value in shaping history, but they are ultimately conditioned by economic motives. Any society will develop that type of religious belief, moral customs, philosophical outlook, artistic expression, social strata, and form of government which corresponds with the prevailing economy in that society’s particular degree of cultural development.[147][148]

Bittle explains that “freedom of the will, as freedom of choice, is denied by Marx; this denial is in keeping with his general doctrine of materialistic determinism. The only sense in which he admits ‘free will’ is in the sense that man can know the natural necessity which determines his actions. While, therefore, there exists a diversified interaction of human wills seeking definite and different ends, and while many individual historical events happen through the activity of such wills, history manifests such a constant orderly sequence of development that this progress must be ascribed to some unified basic factor.

“Marxism does not deny that certain ‘ideological’ factors, such as religion, patriotism, morality, and social conventions, move people to action and influence history. Such ideal forces, however, are only superficial and secondary in their influence on social phenomena. There must be a more fundamental motive which is the driving force underlying all such secondary motives. It is a dogma of Marx, that the consciousness of men does not determine their existence; their social existence determines their consciousness. According to his view, consciousness is social before it is individual; and man himself is primarily a social being, determined by the society in which he is born and lives, rather than an individual. Hence, Marx set out to discover the great fundamental and dynamic motive responsible for the social structure of mankind. He is convinced that man became differentiated from the animal as soon as he began to produce his own means of livelihood. Hence, the fundamental, ultimate shaping force of history is the production of life’s necessities and the exchange of products. When Marx speaks of ‘mode of production’ or ‘productive forces,’ he always means the productive activity of man, the material to which man’s labor is applied, and also the tools and techniques of production. Religion, morality, philosophy, law, governments, politics, art, and similar ideological factors exist, of course; but they represent the ‘superstructure’ built upon the foundation or ‘basic structure’ of economic production. So long as the economic factor remains unchanged, they remain unchanged; but when the economic factor changes, they change accordingly. Hence, history is determined by the productive forces.”[149]

Critique of Marxist Economic Determinism. Bittle criticizes Marx’s doctrine of economic determinism as being against the verdict of common sense and of history and therefore palpably false: it is a certainty of common sense that man is the master of his human acts (he is endowed with free-will), and also, history reveals that it was man’s ingenuity, the result of the creative use of his reason and will, that shaped, and continues to shape, the methods of production: “Marx denies the freedom of choice in man, but his entire treatment of the class struggle is a surreptitious admission that man possesses such a freedom. ‘Motives,’ whether ideological or economic, have no meaning except in the supposition that man has freedom of choice in his actions. To identify, as Marx and Engels do, ‘freedom of will’ with ‘knowledge of natural necessity’ means that man is free to know that he is determined (not free) in his actions, so that he must act according to inexorable laws over which he has no control. These are weasel words which deceive no one. If man’s actions are determined in all matters by economic factors, what sense is there in the endeavor of Marx and the communists to arouse the workers of the world to change the social system? Why divide humanity into the two classes of the ‘exploiters’ and the ‘exploited’ and why rant and rave against ‘capitalist oppression,’ if both classes are merely the result of the deterministic laws governing the entire social system? No one would dream of appealing to a stone to throw off the fetters of ‘economic servitude,’ if they have no more freedom of choice than a stone? Appeals, exhortations, admonitions, and threats of punishment have no meaning, if man is devoid of freedom of action and responsibility. Soviet Russia’s infamous trials and propaganda methods are in direct contradiction to the materialistic doctrine of the denial of the freedom of choice in human actions.   

“According to Marx, religion, morality, government, law, and similar ideological elements are the result of the economic condition of the age; they are the superstructure erected upon the foundation of the productive forces. As the foundation, so the superstructure. If the foundation remains unchanged, the superstructure remains unchanged; if the foundation changes, the superstructure necessarily changes with it.

“This is an interesting theory, but it is contradicted by the facts of history. Government is such an ideological element of society. Hence, if the state were essentially dependent upon economic production as its necessary cause, different modes of production should produce, by their very nature, different forms of government; and the same modes of production should produce, by their very nature, the same forms of government. However, we find the same form of government under entirely different systems of production. In the United States, for example, we find at first an agricultural type of production, which gradually turned into a highly industrialized type of production, and we also find a type of production based on slavery develop into production based on capitalism and free labor; yet these radical changes in the mode of production caused no appreciable alteration in government. The reverse is also true. History reveals various forms of government arising in a nation without any change in the mode of production. This happened to the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, and many other nations. The Magna Charta of England produced a radical change in the form of government, but it was neither the effect nor the cause of any radical change in the forces of production. The same argument applies to religion which, according to Marx, is also nothing more than a direct resultant of the economic forces of a particular era, so that the mode of production determines the character of religion. History refutes this theory. The mode of production was the same for the Jewish people and the pagan nations surrounding Palestine, but their religions were altogether different. Christianity has its origin in the Jewish nation, but no economic upheaval preceded the advent of Christianity. Nor did the acceptance of Christianity by the pagan civilized world follow from any kind of radical change in the mode of production. Furthermore, the Catholic religion remained the same, notwithstanding the enormous economic changes from slavery to capitalism which have occurred in the two thousand years of its existence. The spread of Islamism and of the hundreds of divergent Protestant denominations do not coincide with anything like a corresponding fundamental change in economic production. Nor does Marx’s principle account for the rise and fall of the many types of philosophic systems. These systems range all the way from skepticism and materialism to realism, idealism, and pantheism; they were present among the ancients as well as the moderns, no matter what the economic conditions of the times happened to be. Marx’s theory does not fit the facts; instead, he made the facts fit his theory.

“…Perhaps the most serious defect in Marx’s interpretation of history lies in his contention that all radical changes in the social system are the result of changes in the mode of economic production and his failure to give an adequate explanation of the causes which produce these changes in the mode of production on the basis of economic determinism. Marx maintained that intellectual achievements follow economic achievement. He overlooked the undeniable fact that all changes in the methods of production are the result of the invention of new tools and machinery. Invention, however, is an intellectual achievement, conceived and executed by the mind of man in his mastery over the material conditions of nature. Far from matter and material conditions being responsible for economic trends, and through these economic trends over the ‘ideology’ of man’s mind, man’s mind with its ‘ideology’ is responsible for all changes in economic trends and in the mode of production. But if inventions determine methods of production, the intellect and will of man, not economic determinism, are the causes of all basic changes in the social system. Even Marx’s philosophy of history and communism itself are ‘ideological,’ not material forces. The very theory of ‘economic determinism’ is an ideological product, not a material fact.”[150]




The German pessimist and voluntarist atheist Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) went against the Hegelian idealist thesis of the rationality of history and endeavored to show the negative elements of nature and of history. His philosophical voluntarism presents a pessimistic view of man and the world (following the Eastern philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism). In his 1851 collection of essays and aphorisms, Parega and Paralipomena, Schopenhauer writes: “Kant speaks much of the dignity of man. I have never seen it. It seems to me that the notion of dignity can be applied to man only in an ironical sense. His will is sinful. His intellect is limited. His body is weak and perishable. How shall a man have dignity whose conception is a crime, whose birth is a penalty, whose life is toil, whose death is a necessity? Human life must be some kind of mistake. Else why is man a compound of needs and necessities so hard to satisfy? And why, if perchance they should be satisfied, is he thereby abandoned to boredom? This is the direct proof that existence has no real value. For what is boredom but the feeling of the emptiness of life? The fact that this most perfect manifestation of life, the human organism, with the infinite cunning and complex working of its machinery, must oscillate between need and boredom and finally fall to dust and extinction, this fact, I say, is eloquent to him who has the mind to understand it.”[151]   

Schopenhauer identified the world of phenomena (of representation) with the world of thinking and perception. Following the immanentism of Kant, Schopenhauer holds that phenomena that one sees before him are the active construction of the mind. Space, time and causality would be nothing but subjective categories of the understanding. Like Kant, Schopenhauer maintains that time and space are a priori forms of sensibility and all our perceptions of objects are conditioned by these two a priori forms; but unlike Kant (who maintained that the objects initially molded by space and time are further molded by the twelve categories of the understanding) Schopenhauer teaches that there is only one category that finalizes the molding of the objects of our perception: causality. Therefore, the world that I see before me is my representation ordered by the subjective categories of space, time, and causality. In his On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Schopenhauer explains that causality functions as: 1. physical necessity (causality between material objects); 2. logical necessity (the truth of premises, the antecendent, determine the truths of the conclusion or the consequent); 3. mathematical necessity (determining the bonds between arithmetical and geometrical entities); and 4. moral necessity (causality that regulates the relationship between action and their motives).

However, Schopenhauer then explains that this representational world is but an illusion or an appearance (not true reality), and it is the task of the philosopher to get to the bottom, the foundations of the truly real, which would be the noumenical world, or the thing-as-such. While for Kant, the phenomenon is the sole knowable reality, for Schopenhauer the phenomenon is but an illusion that veils the reality of things. It is the “Veil of Maya” that hides the face of reality. Kant maintained that the noumenon is unknowable; Schopenhauer, on the other hand, maintains that we know the noumenon or thing-in-itself is. The noumenical world, he says is identified with the universal will (a blind and irrational will, from which everything is derived). All individual wills are but a part of this universal will. Individuals are nothing other than the objectivation of will. Individuality is pure illusion.

How do we reach the thing-in-itself, the noumenon? By means of one’s body. In fact, each real act of one’s will is also a movement of one’s body. Our human bodies are therefore will made visible. It is through our bodies, Schopenhauer says, that man feels alive, is aware that he suffers, etc. Man intuitively feels that his essence is nothing other than will.

Everything in the world is will, desire of what one does not possess, and therefore humanity is in the throes of a continuous suffering born from the non-satisfaction of its desires. Schopenhauer believes that the essence of the will is evil, and since, according to him, the sole reality is will, it being pain and deficiency, thus, evil is the only reality.

The sole way to liberate oneself from the evil of suffering, says Schopenhauer, consists in the renunciation of one’s own individuality through three phases, namely, art (or aesthetics), an ethics of sympathy (or compassion), and the renunciation of all desires through asceticism which will lead to the complete cessation of willing: voluntas becomes noluntas (nothingness or nirvana as Buddhism would say) where there is the complete cessation of willing, complete indifference to the world. Salvation is attained, according to him, by means of this path.[152] Describing the Schopenhauerian threefold path of salvation, Mascia writes: “(1) Aesthetics is the activity of man, absorbed in contemplation of the idea of beauty, untroubled by any desire and, consequently, by any evil. Wrapped up in aesthetic contemplation, he is no longer a slave of the will. But aesthetics is not sufficient, for the joy which it gives is possible only for intellectuals, and even in such persons it is of short duration. Hence it is necessary to ascend to the second grade, ethics; (2) Ethics makes man able to acknowledge that in addition to himself there are other men endowed with an essence like his own. Hence he is forced by ethics to suppress his egoism which, because of the desire for life, is the root of every evil. The fundamental characteristic of ethics is compassion. Man is immoral when he increases the misery of another or when he remains indifferent to another’s suffering. On the contrary, he is moral when he feels the distress of those who are his fellow men, and tries to mitigate their pain. Thus he feels that he is one with all men, as in truth he is, by reason of the unity of the universal will from which everyone proceeds. But even ethics does not succeed in completely eradicating the insidious source of all evils, and hence it is necessary to ascend still further, to the third grade, ascetics; (3) Asceticism consists in the constant action of nullifying the will itself. Art suspends will; ethics mortifies it; ascetics nullifies it.”[153]

Describing the nature of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, Copleston observes that “in spite of Schopenhauer’s constant abuse of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel his system undoubtedly belongs in some important respects to the movement of German speculative idealism. Will is indeed substituted for Fichte’s Ego and Hegel’s Logos or Idea, but the distinction between phenomenon and noumenon and the theory of the subjective and phenomenal character of space, time and causality are based on Kant. And it is not unreasonable to describe Schopenhauer’s system as transcendental voluntaristic idealism. It is idealism in the sense that the world is said to be our idea or presentation. It is voluntaristic in the sense that the concept of Will rather than that of Reason or Thought is made the key to reality. And it is transcendental in the sense that the one individual Will is an absolute Will which manifests itself in the multiple phenomena of experience.”[154]




For the German atheist philosopher of the Superman and the Will to Power, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), reality is an explosion of disordered force. In light of such a wondrous spectacle three attitudes are possible: of weakness (symbolized by the camel), of force (the freedom of the lion), and of innocence (the freedom of the child). The conduct of the mediocre man, the herd animal, is determined by fear. His crutches used to prop up his weak and sickly character are religion and morals. Man, says Nietzsche, must refuse to live like sheep and transform himself into a strong, autonomous man, master of his own actions. The strong man must be a “superman,” audacious and insensible to the miseries and cries of others, beyond good and evil, creating his own values. Like a child, the innocent man must say yes to life in all its forms and create new ideals of existence, new sacred symbols (Dionysius, the god of wine and bacchanalia, in place of God).

The Slavery of the Camel. In the camel, says Nietzsche, we see the actual pitiful condition to which humanity has fallen. The camel is the herd animal, patient, submissive, disposed to accept any genre of weight to carry around. The camel is the mediocre man, the herd animal, the Christian, and his conduct is determined by fear. His defensive arms are religion and morals.

The Freedom of the Lion. Man must refuse to be part of the herd and transform himself into a strong, autonomous man, master of his own actions (metamorphosis from the camel to the lion). The “lion” is a “superman,” audacious and insensible to the miseries and cries of others, beyond good and evil, author of his own values. He must be able to feel that he can infringe upon any ethical law or social convention. To recognize a limit, to follow a norm, would mean for the lion a suffocation of one’s own ego, a mortification of one’s own autonomy. The lion must instead exert his will to power without any scruple whatsoever. The freedom that the superman exercises in the figure of the lion is an aggressive, beligerent one, a violent freedom, a freedom that exerts all its force, its will to power, in order to be able to escape from the iron cage in which he has been kept in by those who tamed him, namely the Christian philosophers, the Christian moralists, and the Christian priests who have invented values that don’t exist, virtues that don’t exist, and beings (God, angels, immortal souls) that don’t exist.      

The Freedom of the Child. Having accomplished the task of dismantling and destroying the chains and cage that had kept him imprisoned and tamed, the lion is now able to be transformed into the figure of the child (the third metamorphosis). Like a child, man must say yes to life in all its forms and must create new ideals of existence, new sacred symbols (Dionysius in place of God), and new values (beyond good and evil) that are earthbound and sensual (faithful to the earth).  

Master Morality, Herd Morality and Resentment Giving Birth to Countervalues. Nietzsche teaches that there are two main types of morality, namely, the master morality of the aristocratic supermen, and the herd morality of the weak masses. Originally, the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ he says, were equivalent to noble and base (or despicable). The ‘good’ person was the aristocratic overlord, who knew how to accumulate temporal riches, distinguished himself in battle, was proud of himself, who could rule over the herd with an iron fist, and was not afraid of indulging his sensuality. The ‘bad’ person, instead, was the meek and sheepish herd animal, the slave, weak and sickly. But how did the modern conception of good and evil prevalent in the Christian world come about? Nietzsche says that the resentment of the herd animals against their aristocratic masters gave birth to countervalues so that what was good for the master (e.g., pride, accumulation of riches, sensuality) was ‘bad’ for the herd animals, and the latter, in turn, would teach that good consisted in the practice of humility, the spirit of poverty, chastity, etc. Copleston explains this conception of ressentiment, writing: “The higher type of man creates his own values out of the abundance of his life and strength. The meek and powerless, however, fear the strong and powerful, and they attempt to curb and tame them by asserting as absolute the values of the herd. The revolt of the slaves in morals begins with resentment becoming creative and giving birth to values. This resentment is not, of course, openly acknowledged by the herd, and it can work by devious and indirect paths. But the psychologist of the moral life can detect and bring to light its presence and complex modes of operation.

“What we see, therefore, in the history of morals is the conflict of two moral attitudes or outlooks. From the point of view of the higher man there can in a sense be coexistence. That is to say, there could be coexistence if the herd, incapable of anything higher, was content to keep its values to itself. But, of course, it is not content to do this. It endeavors to impose its own values universally. And according to Nietzsche it suceeded in doing this, at least in the West, in Christianity…He sees in it (Christian morality) an expression of the resentment which is characteristic of the herd-instinct or slave-morality. And the same resentment is attributed to the democratic and socialist movements which Nietzsche interprets as derivatives of Christianity.”[155]  

Nietzsche the Father of Post-Modernity. Post-modernity has its father in Nietzsche, for he was not only the severest critic of modernity and its synthesis between Christian values and technical-instrumental knowledge, fighting modernity with all his might to see it dead, buried, and forgotten, but it was also he who was the architect and the layer of the foundations of the post-modern nihilistic culture, a cultural design that, after the effective demise of the modern epoch, is now zealously being followed by vast sectors of society, especially in the ideologically exhausted countries of Europe. Nietzsche had an acute sense for delineating the symptoms of the crisis that in the end buried modernity, and his passionate and polemical works attacking rational scientific modernity and Christianity would contribute towards the ending of the modern epoch, and to the substantial reduction of Christianity’s influence, especially in Europe.

Nietzsche had strongly denounced the state of decadence, resignation, the lack of vitality, creativity, and ardor which permeated the society of his time, which was the Europe of the second half of the nineteenth century. The reason for such decadence and mediocrity was, for him, due to the slave morality of Christianity with its Christian God, who had preached the love for mortification and the need for humility. This was, for him, anathema to the formation of the new man, the superman.

The first and greatest obstacle towards the creation of a new and more dynamic culture and higher type of mankind was the crucified Christian God and the Christian religion, and therefore, Nietzsche made it his mission to preach the “death of God.” The second obstacle to the higher humanity was, for him, Christian morality which he had judged to be a degrading, inhuman, and despicable slave morality. The slave morality which the Christians sheepishly adhered to taught men to despise the most elemental and vital instincts of life, so preoccupied were they with the controlling of their passions and instincts with a complex variety of asceticisms and mortifications. He had identified, for example, the Christian virtue of humility with plain cowardice and weakness, which was the shameful opposite of the fearless lover of the sensual life and worldly glory. Nietzsche’s third obstacle to the higher type of humanity was traditional philosophy and its formulations regarding God, man, soul, and cosmos. All such metaphysical formulations were, for him, useless abstractions of a demented reasoning and plain falsifications of reality. Nietzsche’s man has no ontological or metaphysical foundation. His superman is pure will to power, Wille zur Macht, and nothing else. The fourth obstacle towards the new humanity of the superman would be the Christian interpretation of history as a sequence of events designed by God and willed by man. The nihilist interpretation of history, instead, can be none other than a simple game of the so-called eternal return, a game willed by the force of life in which man cannot be an essential actor but is simply an unmoved spectator.

Thus, all the great pillars on which modernity rested upon had been systematically demolished: the subject as a rational suppositum and his historicity, the value of the human person made in the image and likeness of God, his inalienable rights, his solidarity with others, brotherly love and justice, humility, objective moral absolutes, the need for the spirit to dominate over the flesh – all had been attacked by Nietzsche as being inimical towards the formation of the new man. They were to be despised as illusory products of a sick and decadent world that had lost its zest for life, which for him coincided with the Christian world of herd morality. All these sick and decadent forms of inhumanity would have to be abandoned for the higher type of man, the superior man, the superman who is Wille zur Macht existentialized. The superman is the formula of supreme affirmation, born from the fullness of overabundance, an unreserved affirmation of life and instinct in the midst of the suffering and fear that he sees around him. “Behold, I teach you the Superman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the Superman: a laughing stock or a painful embarassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now too, man is more ape than any ape. Whoever is wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants? Behold, I teach you the Superman. The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the Superman shall be the meaning of the earth.”[156] 

The superman is the esthetic man and has as his model, not the wiseman Socrates seeking truth, but Dionysius, the Greek god of wine and sensual life. The fundamental values pursued by Dionysius and by the Nietzschean superman are eminently vitalist and bodily values, such as the values of pleasure, the exaltation of the ego, the preservation of health and bodily being, the use of force to dominate and subjugate the weak, the triumph of heroism and glory, and the accumulation of temporal riches. The unreserved affirmation of life is the sole commandment that the superman must obey, for he is none other than will to power and cannot be distracted by a measely slave morality that distinguishes between true and false, good and evil, honest and dishonest, and sacred and profane. The superman and the higher humanity must be set apart from the common herd. Does this type of philosophy sound familiar? For those scholars who categorically deny any connection whatsoever between the Nazis and Nietzsche, let me contradict this naïve view by reading one passage, out of so many, of Nietzsche’s biological racist supremacism which inspired the ideology of the Aryan Master Race, even if the Nazis did not take everything from this aristocratic neo-pagan: “What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome. Not contentedness but more power; not peace but war; not virtue but fitness. The weak and the failures shall perish: first principle of our love of man. And they shall even be given every possible assistance to perish. What is more harmful than any vice? Active pity for all the failures and all the weak.”[157] “The human being who has become free, and all the more the spirit who has become free, tramples on the despicable type of well-being dreamed of by shop-keepers, Christians, cows, females, Englishmen, and other democrats. The free man is a warrior.”[158]  Vincent Miceli writes that “Nietzsche’s arbitrary doctrines of Will to Power, Superman, Blond Beast, racial purity, anti-theistic atheism, inflamed and fed to militant madness such ugly, egotistic monsters as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini who, with their millions hypnotized by these extremisms, strove to devour each other in an orgy of cannibalistic fury. Nietzsche, the immoralist, gave such tyrants the moral code they needed to justify their pogroms – the secular religion of Superman and the dominating morality of the masters.”[159] 

Though we do find Nietzsche vehemently attacking Germany and Germans in such works as The Genealogy of Morals, Beyond Good and Evil, and Ecce Homo, it was specifically aimed at bourgeoisie Christian Germany and Germans (who had no appreciation for his aristocratic neo-pagan philosophy), for which he had an utter contempt for. The famed historian of philosophy Johannes Hirschberger writes that “behind his ridicule lies a secret love for the ‘German of the hardy race,’ of ‘the Germans who have died out,’ of the Norseman and Aryan. One of his most vehement attacks against Christianity was based on the fact that Nietzsche regarded it as an anti-Aryan religion, the anti-Aryan religion par excellence. It was Christianity which had thrown the aristocratic Germans into monasteries, making ‘sinners’ of them, spoiling the ‘blond beast’ beyond repair. His ideal was the same as that of Hölderlin. The spirit of pre-Christian Germany should be wed to the spirit of pre-Socratic Greece. From this union would come the noblemen of the future. Nietzsche had pinned his hopes on Wagner, and was thus immensely disappointed when Wagner became a Christian.”[160]      

Did Nietzsche just hate the Christians? No, he included the Jews and all that he thought of as being mediocre herd animals influenced by belief in an Almighty God. In fact, a main reason why he hated Christianity was because of its Jewish roots, the Jews being for him a perpetually enslaved and mediocre race. In the Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche writes: “Christianity, with its roots in Judaism and comprehensible only as a growth from this soil, represents the countermovement to any morality of breeding, of race, of privilege: it is the anti-Aryan religion par excellence.”[161] Gilson states that Nietzschean vitalism can be characterized as an “antichristianism (including an anti-semitism)…a violent denunciation of the Jew Christ, the man of sorrows, and the preacher of an ideal based on the refusal to serve this world, the only world there is. The non serviam of Nietzsche is a revindication, to the benefit of man, of the privileges usurped by the God of the Jews and of the Christians. His Superman is man such as he is about to become after having liberated himself from the fetters of conventional religion and morality.”[162] 

Nietzsche’s pathological hatred for Christianity is well-known. Here are two passages, from many, of his bigoted invectives against the Christians and their God: “The Christian conception of God – God as god of the sick, God as spider, God as a spirit – is one of the most corrupt conceptions of the divine ever attained on earth. It may even represent the low-water mark in the descending development of divine types. God degenerated into the contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes! God as the declaration of war against life, against nature, against the will to live! God – the formula for every slander against ‘this world,’ for every lie about the ‘beyond.’ God – the deification of nothingness, the will to nothingness pronounced holy!”[163] “…the domestic animal, the herd animal, the sick animal – the Christian.”[164]  

Is Christianity to blame for the destruction of life, as Nietzsche claims? A resounding no! Only an ignoramus would fail to acknowledge that Christian civilization produced the overwhelming majority of the greatest works of art, music, and literature known to man. Beethoven, Haydn, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Bernini, Mozart, Bach, all came from Christian European societies where the Faith influenced almost every aspect of society and culture. The works by these Christian artists are timeless works of genius, judged from human standards of counterpoint, perspective, harmony, form, etc. These Christian geniuses stand out. What is Nietzsche talking about? It is easy to tear down like he does, but it is hard to build up, like what these Christian marvels managed to accomplish as instruments of God. I say instruments for an artist’s absolute mastery of his medium, combined with consecration to God, making him a participant in the Divine power and beauty, is the spark that produces classic works that never die (e.g., The Last Judgment of Michelangelo, the Transfiguration of Raphael, the Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci, the Requiem of Mozart, the Messiah of Handel, the Creation of Haydn and the Missa Solemnis of Beethoven). Compared to these master works of Christian civilization Nietzsche’s productions are utter rubbish.      

Nietzsche’s Immoralism. Nietzsche’s denial of moral absolutes and Christian morality is already seen in his earlier works, such as the Birth of Tragedy (Die Geburt der Tragödie) of 1872, where he acknowledges only aesthetic values and in his essay on David Strauss (the first essay of his book Untimely Meditations), where he writes that there are no absolute values applicable to all persons; what counts is that one be an outstanding individual, a “masterman” (e.g., an Alexander the Great, a Julius Caesar, a Napoleon) able to lord it over the lower types, who are incapable of exerting their respective wills to power. In his work Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche expounds upon his master-morality versus slave (or herd) morality in much more detail. He teaches that there are basically two main types of morality, namely master-morality and herd morality. The former type of morality, practiced by the aristocratic, outstanding individual, equates ‘good’ and ‘evil’ with ‘noble’ and ‘despicable,’ and such descriptions refer above all to men rather than human actions. For the practitioner of herd-morality, on the other hand, what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ refers to what is beneficial for the preservation and promotion of the collective herd, the society of the defenseless, weak and powerless. Thus, actions that promote generosity, charity, meekness, humility, love of neighbor, sympathy, and kindness are viewed by the herd animal to be ‘virtuous’ and those actions which promote egoism, pride, sensuality, love of honors, selfishness, standing out, are viewed instead as ‘evil’ or ‘bad.’ Thus, slave morality is collective herd morality and its ethical norms are but expressions of the utilitarian needs of the herd frightened by the lions majestically roaming about them in the distance.

Thus, Irving Zeitlin explains that, for Nietzsche, “the judgment ‘good’ did not originate with those to whom actions were done, but, on the contrary, with the good themselves, that is to say with the noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded who looked upon themselves and their actions as good in contradistinction to the low, common and plebian. It was the experience and feeling of the nobility, as the dominant and higher ruling order in relation to a lower order, that first gave rise to the antithesis ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ In the history of Greece, for example, the gradual breakdown of the primitive monarchies turned to the advantage of the powerful noble-warrior chiefs, who became the masters of the city-states and remained so for centuries. Tracing their origin to some deity and taking immense pride in their noble blood, they fastidiously preserved their genealogical tree and the traditional history of their house (patria). As the leaders of powerful clans they controlled land and revenues of sizeable domains and enjoyed the riches won at the point of the sword over many generations. Throughout Greece a class of noblemen emerged, designated by such terms as ‘the good’ (agathoi), ‘the best men’ (aristoi, beltistoi), ‘the great and good’ (kaloi kagathoi), ‘men of blood’ (eugeneis, gennaioi), ‘men of quality or truth’ (esthloi, chrestoi), ‘men of honor’ (gnorimoi, epiekeis). They were also called ‘well-born men,’ ‘lords of the earth,’ and ‘knights.’ It follows from the noble origin of the word ‘good’ that originally it had nothing to do with ‘unegoistic’ actions. When, then, did ‘good’ and ‘unegoistic’ become linked? Only with the decline of the nobility. For Nietzsche, a historical approach therefore makes it plain that originally ‘noble’ or ‘aristocratic,’ in the social sense, was the basic source from which ‘good,’ in the sense of possessing a soul of a higher order, had developed. And this process ran parallel to another in which ‘common,’ ‘plebian,’ and ‘low’ were transformed into the concept ‘bad.’”[165]

But how did we get the modern Judeo-Christian concepts of good and evil? Nietzsche explains that it evolved out of the resentment (ressentiment) of slaves and other mediocrities and weaklings (beginning with the Jews and continuing with the Christians) against their strong and powerful aristocratic masters (the Egyptians and Romans): “All that has been done on earth against ‘the noble,’ the ‘powerful,’ ‘the masters,’ ‘the rulers,’ is not even worth talking about when compared with what the Jews have done against them. The Jews, that priestly people, who in opposing their enemies and conquerors gained satisfaction only through a radical revaluation of their enemies’ values, that is to say, through an act of the most spiritual revenge…It was the Jews who, with awe-inspiring consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = beloved of God) and to cling to this inversion with their teeth, the teeth of the most abysmal hatred (the hatred due to impotence), establishing the principle that ‘the wretched alone are the good; the poor, powerless, lowly alone are the good; the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly, alone are pious, alone are blessed by God – blessedness is for them alone; and you, the powerful and noble, are, on the contrary, the evil, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless to all eternity; and you shall be for all eternity the unblessed, accursed, and damned!’…With regard to the tremendous and immeasurably fateful initiative which the Jews have taken, through this most far-reaching of all declarations of war, I recall the proposition I arrived at on an earlier occasion (Beyond Good and Evil, 195) – that the slave revolt in morality begins with the Jews, a revolt which has a two-thousand-year history behind it and which is no longer so obvious because it has been victorious.”[166]

Ressentiment. Employing philosophical, psychological and philological analyses, it is in his 1887 book On the Genealogy of Morals (Zur Geneologie der Moral) where we find the most detailed exposition of Nietzsche’s moral philosophy. We also find his doctrine of ressentiment (resentment) developed to the full.

Nietzsche asks himself: what is the origin and development of Western values? How did the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ originate? His analysis is basically pagan and very hostile to the Judeo-Christian ethic, which he claims is born out of resentment by the herd animals (the Jews and Christians) over their pagan, aristocratic overlords (the Pre-Socratic warrior aristocracy, the Egyptians, and the aristocratic classes of the Roman Empire) and is responsible for the current malaise of mediocrity and lack of vitality that the Europe of his time finds itself in. 

The aristocratic superman, that ‘good’ man for Nietzsche, is creator of his own values, he is beyond good and evil; the slaves, that is, the herd animals, on the other hand, fear their dominating lords, their masters, will naturally attempt to tame these lions by the assertion of moral absolutes, God and the afterlife, all this done out of resentment (ressentiment) over their aristocratic masters whom they secretly resent. For Nietzsche, “the revolt of the slaves in morals begins with resentment becoming creative and giving birth to values.” These ‘values’ of the revolt of the slaves against their overlords, are really countervalues born out of resentment, which is “a psychological process by which the weak, denied the possibility of a reaction against the strong in the form of deeds, compensate themselves with an imaginary or spiritual revenge. Ressentiment entails a negation and repudiation of the master’s values, a saying of No!, which eventually becomes the creative act of inverting those values and substituting new ones for them. The new values arise out of opposition to a hostile, oppressive, external world. The psychological experience of ressentiment, if it appears at all in the noble individual, soon consumes itself in an overt reaction against the adversary and therefore does not poison; in the weak and impotent, in contrast, ressentiment converts the enemy or oppressor into the ‘evil one.’ In the morality of ressentiment the ‘good man’ of the other morality, that is, the noble, powerful man or ruler, is transformed into the source of evil.”[167]

Collins explains Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment born out of the secret, nursed hatred of the oppressed herd animals for their aristocratic overlords, writing: “The vulgar are essentially reactive, in contrast with the spontaneous activity of the noble-minded. Hence the slave mind needs the presence of aristocrats and their norms, in order to have an object for their envy and counterprinciples. Slave morality is the creation of the base passion of resentment (ressentiment). Since the masses are not in the seat of power, they can express their aggressive instincts and desire for revenge only in a suppressed way, as resentment. Hence the accusation of evil (böse) is primary with them, whereas the affirmation of the good was primary with the aristocrats. What the masters regarded as good is now branded as evil, from the perspective of resentful underlings. Aristocratic power and the splendors of this world are morally condemned: the paradox of the beatitudes is affirmed in their stead. The truly good and blessed of God are the weak, the hungry, the poor in spirit, the outcasts of this life. Slave morality finds its perfect expression in the counsels and precepts of the Christian life.”[168]       

Nietzsche believed that for thousands of years humanity was locked in a titanic struggle between two opposing value systems, namely, the struggle between master morality (with its ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ i.e., noble and mediocre) and slave or herd morality (with its good and evil, i.e., humility, meekness, etc. and the proud, sensual, power hungry, etc.). The Roman Empire viewed Jews and Christians as dangerous, subversive parasites, observes Nietzsche, and when the Empire finally collapsed there appeared the triumph of the slaves and their herd animal moral value system that plunged Europe into darkness, suppressing Dionysian life and vitality, making ‘sinners’ out of the “blond beast Aryan,’ vanquishing them into convents and monasteries where they suppressed vitalism and voluntarism by their various asceticisms and mortifications. For Nietzsche, “Jesus’ teachings may be viewed as a continuation and accentuation of the inversion process, in his case, a rejection of Roman (i.e. pagan) ideals of war, power and might. Thus three Jews, says Nietzsche, Jesus, Peter, and Paul proclaimed the countervalues that led to the victory of Judea over Rome.”[169] But Christianity and its belief system was now dead by Nietzsche’s time, which was the second half of the nineteenth century and Nietzsche proclaimed the need to go “beyond good and evil” and proclaim the advent of the superman with his “good and bad,” which is nothing but a rallying cry to return to the pagan ideals of aristocratic Rome, with its glorification of pride, war, love of riches, glory, and Empire. And Nietzsche was indeed a prophet: Europe did return to paganism, to the master morality of ‘good and bad’, going beyond ‘good and evil,’ plunging itself into two insane world wars, which spilled rivers of blood, killing millions and millions. Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler – what where they but horrible incarnations of the Nietzschean superman, the man ‘beyond good and evil.’ 

Nietzsche’s Envy of Christ. What was the root cause of Nietzsche’s revolt against God? A devilish pride and a black envy of Christ. Siegmund notes that “as Nietzsche’s life unwinds it becomes more and more evident that the ultimate reason for his rejection of faith lies in his attitude of inordinate pride, the hybris of Greek tragedy. The attitude proper to human reason is that of humble receptivity to truth, which must be pursued long and ardently before it reveals itself. The subject in search of truth must subordinate himself to the data of truth. This basic and normal order of procedure is reversed and destroyed when the subject attempts to subordinate truth to his human ego, which claims for itself the right to posit truths. By so doing the arrogant ego becomes the source of all being and value. It does not pride itself on its achievements and values as compared with those of others for it no longer seriously compares itself with others; it considers itself on an entirely different plane. Everything connected with such an ego is held to be superior to everything that has no part in it. Stepping out of the actual order of the world, the arrogant ego exalts itself, investing itself with the radiance of the absolute. Everything that does not belong to it must be kept at an absolute distance, even God. Inevitably, true arrogance refuses to recognize the supremacy of God.”[170] Ida Overbeck, an intimate of Nietzsche’s, reveals in her memoirs that “the normal person, no matter how gifted, is inclined to seek the company of others. Nietzsche hated normal people because his inability to be normal himself condemned him to a uniqueness that was absolute. Conscious of the terrible strain this cost him, he exalted himself above everyone normal…What would Nietzsche have done had he ever met his equal? Probably killed him or himself, he could not have borne it!”[171] Miceli believes that Nietzsche suffered from a God-complex, from an obsession to be humanity’s Saviour, and burned with envy at Jesus’ having pre-empted him two thousand years back.[172] He quotes with approval André Gide’s thesis that Nietzsche fumed with jealously against Christ: “In the presence of the Gospel, Nietzsche’s immediate and profound reaction was – it must be admitted – jealously. It does not seem to me that Nietzsche’s work can be really understood without allowing for that feeling. Nietzsche was jealous of Christ, jealous to the point of madness. In writing his Zarathustra, Nietzsche was continually tormented with the desire to contradict the Gospel. Often he adopted the actual form of the Beatitudes in order to reverse them. He wrote Antichrist and in his last work, Ecce Homo, set himself up as the victorious rival of Him whose teaching he proposed to supplant.”[173] Miceli goes on to point out that “when he finally went mad, Nietzsche’s facination with Jesus attained the illusion of identity. He signed his last letters to Gast and Brandes, ‘The Crucified One.’”[174]       

Nietzscheanism a Strong Philosophical Current Today. Nietzsche’s atheistic philosophy of the will to power and the superman has drawn wide sectors of society into the fold of self-worship. An overwhelming majority of the messages received by today’s betrayed generation through the powerful and influential means of social communication – the television, the movies, the glossy magazines – are nihilistic cultural lures that glorify the right to annihilate the most defenseless (the unborn in abortion and the elderly in euthanasia), the sensual life (pornography, prostitution), and the exaltation of the ego, messages that glorify materialism, selfishness, hedonism, and sheer paganism. A great part of the world today, above all in the developed countries of the West, is steeped in a post-Christian, hi-tech neo-paganism that would have made Nietzsche smile (and pagan Rome blush).










The Words. The French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) lost all belief in God at the early age of eleven; the religiously indifferent household in which he was brought up in had much to do with this loss. His father had died when he was only a year old. Sartre recounts in his biography of his early childhood, The Words, that “until the age of ten, I was alone between one old man and two women…I was an impostor…I could feel my actions changing into gestures…I had been convinced that we were born to playact to each other…Lacking more precise information, no one, beginning with myself, knew what…I had come on earth to do…I remained an abstraction…I was not stable or permanent; I was not the perpetuator-to-be of my father’s work; I was not necessary to the production of steel. In short, I had no soul…I felt superfluous so I had to disappear. In other words, I was condemned, and the sentence could be carried out at any time.”[175] “Charles Schweitzer (my grandfather)…never missed an opportunity of poking fun at Catholicism…I was in danger of being a victim of saintliness. My grandfather disgusted me with it for good: I saw it through his eyes, and this cruel folly sickened me with its mawkish ecstasies and terrified me with its sadistic contempt for the body…I was both Catholic and Protestant and I united the spirit of criticism with that of submission…I was led to unbelief not through conflicting dogma but through my grandparents’ indifference.”[176] “For several years longer, I kept up public relations with the Almighty; in private, I stopped associating with Him. Once only I had the feeling that He existed. I had been playing with matches and had burnt a mat; I was busy covering up my crime when suddenly God saw me. I felt His gaze inside my head and on my hands; I turned round and round in the bathroom, horribly visible, a living target. I was saved by indignation: I grew angry at such a crude lack of tact, and blasphemed…He never looked at me again.”[177] “I have just told the story of a missed vocation; I needed God; He was given to me, and I received him without understanding what I was looking for. Unable to take root in my heart, he vegetated in me for a while and then died. Today, when he is mentioned, I say with the amusement and lack of regret of some ageing beau who meets an old flame: ‘Fifty years ago, without that misunderstanding, without that mistake, without the accident which separated us, there might have been something between us.”[178]

Sartre’s Atheism. God does not exist for Sartre.[179] His atheism is postulatory. It is foundational to his existentialist philosophy. Though he admits that there are thinkers who claim to espouse an existentialist vision of the world, Sartre nevertheless believes that atheistic existentialism is the only valid type of existentialism.[180] This assertion, however, goes against the facts of the history of philosophy, as existentialism’s founder was a Christian: the nineteenth century Danish  philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).       

Sartre has been described as an anthropological atheist: God must be eliminated because He is a hindrance to man’s full realization. He must be put aside so that man can regain his freedom. But Sartre cannot really be classified as a typical humanist atheist because of his ultra-pessimistic and annihilistic view of man, which debases him as a radical nothingness, a “useless passion,” a pour-soi condemned to be free, which is certainly not the language of the exaltation and glorification of man that we find in Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche.    

Existence Preceding Essence. Since there is no God who created man, Sartre proclaims that existence necessarily precedes essence. As there is no human nature or essence because there is no God to have a conception of it, it is man himself who springs up from nowhere and is a radical nothingness, who creates his own essence, who defines what he is to be. He writes, in Existentialism is a Humanism, that “atheistic existentialism of which I am a representative, declares with greater consistency that if God does not exist, there is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it. That being is man or as Heidegger has it, the human reality.”[181] So, according to Sartre, man is an existence preceding an essence, a nothingness seeking an essence, who creates his essence by the choices he makes. “Man is an existence seeking his essence, what he is to become through the exercise of his freedom. The true me is presently unknown, in as much as I am free to continue constituting myself through the exercise of my liberty, until death supervenes and extinguishes all my possibilities…Man’s essence is what he freely makes or made of himself up to the moment of death.”[182]

Against this position, one can say that being which exists is necessarily something, that is, it has a definite and stable essence which specifies and distinguishes it from the other beings of this world. Albert Stern writes: “It seems to me that Sartre’s basic existentialist thesis implies a logical difficulty, for it is impossible to be without being something…Sartre had been warned by Professor Laporte against the kind of abstraction by which we think of certain things as isolated which are not made to exist isolatedly. Existence and essence seem to be such things.”[183]

Sartre also confuses metaphysical essence (which is stable) with moral character (which can change) which we fashion by means of the various choices we make in this life. Against Sartre, it must be said that man has a metaphysical essence that is stable and definite: he is a rational animal. His physical essence is likewise stable and definite: he is a hylemorphic composite of body and soul; he is not an embodied spirit (for he does not belong to the order of spirits), nor is he a purely material being (as dialectical materialism, for example, would have us believe).

In his book Existentialism For and Against, Paul Roubiczek roundly criticizes Sartre’s view that man creates his metaphysical essence, writing: “Sartre is claiming, in short, that we are not merely developing our personalities by a growing understanding of the different aspects of our human nature, but are creating ourselves, entirely and arbitrarily. But it is evident that our power of choice with regard to our essence is little greater than that with regard to our existence; we act as human beings, whatever we do. We can develop, strengthen and purify the humanity within us, or degrade and almost destroy it, but by no effort can we become, as French critics often say, strawberries or peas or cats…It is true that concentration on essence alone leads to abstraction and thus estranges philosophy from life. This kind of philosophy is rightly attacked; essence has to be combined with existence if it is to come to life. Nevertheless, essence cannot be omitted, for, if it is, existence is left void of any content. It is, after all, plainly wrong to consider man as a completely undefined being, as material which can be transformed into anything; there are reasons why he is called a human being, and his humanness can – and must – be made the basis of his endeavors. If essence disappears, everything concrete which could guide our understanding of existence disappears with it – the characteristics of man, of freedom, of the transcendental, of external reality and even of his historical situation.”[184]                

The Dualism of the Being-For-Itself and the Being-In-Itself. Sartrean existentialism posits an intrinsically unbridgeable dualism, namely, between the l’être pour-soi (being-for-itself) which is man, and that of the l’être en-soi (being-in-itself), which is anything lacking consciousness (e.g., the rock, the plant). Though he is like Hegel in that the en-soi is identified with being (thesis) and the pour-soi with non-being or nothing (antithesis), Sartre, nevertheless, differs from the German absolute idealist in that he refuses the union of thesis and antithesis in synthesis; in the Sartrean cosmos there is no synthesis of contradictories. The opposition between being for-itself and being in-itself is fundamental and inexorable.       

Being-In-Itself. Being in-itself (l’être en-soi) is conceived by Sartre as an absurd, contingent, inert mass, consisting of the world of objects lacking self-consciousness. He describes this l’être en-soi in Being and Nothingness: “The in-itself is expressed by the simple formula: being is what it is. In the in-itself there is not a particle of being which is not wholly within itself without distance. When being is thus conceived, there is not the slightest suspicion of duality in it; this is what we mean when we say that the density of being of the in-itself is infinite. It is a fulness. The principle of identity can be said to be synthetic not only because it limits its scope to a region of definite being, but in particular, because it masses within it the infinity of density. ‘A is’ means that A exists in infinite compression with an infinite density…The in-itself is full of itself, and no more total plenitude can be imagined, no more perfect equivalence of content to container. There is not the slightest emptiness in being, not the tiniest crack through which nothingness might slip in.”[185] Painting the Sartrean universe of the l’être en-soi, Regis Jolivet writes: “The in-itself, the specific revelation of nausea, is being itself: massive, opaque, gloomy and glutinous. We can say nothing about it, except that it is, for it is devoid of any relationships, either interior or exterior. It is so listless that it cannot stop itself from being. Where does the in-itself or being, come from? From no place, from nothing. It is, without reason, unjustifiable, absurd, ‘too much for all eternity.’ It is and it proliferates itself horribly, obscenely. Any attempt to explain it is fruitless. First of all, God does not exist, being self-contradictory. Moreover the very idea of creation is meaningless.”[186]

Being-For-Itself. Man, in contrast, is being for-itself (l’être pour-soi). He is distinguished from other beings because he is consciousness. He is consciousness of an object (which is the being-in-itself). Writing about this fundamental relation between between consciousness (being-for-itself) and its object (being-in-itself) in Being and Nothingness, Sartre says: “All consciousness, as Husserl has shown, is consciousness of something. This means that there is no consciousness which is not a positing of a transcendent object, or if you prefer, that consciousness has ‘no content’…All consciousness in its innermost nature is a relation to a transcendent being…it means that transcendence is the constitutive structure of consciousness, that is, that consciousness is born, supported by a being which is not itself…To say that consciousness is consciousness of something is to say that it must produce itself as a revealed-revelation of a being which is not it and which gives itself as already existing when consciousness reveals it.”[187] Sartre teaches that there is no consciousness without an object, and the former can be compared to a mirror in that a mirror has content only when object reflected in it. The mirror alone is empty. And so, consciousness (man) has no content except the objects (beings-in-themselves, always other than consciousness or the being-for-itself) which it reflects. 

Man, the pour-soi, is also nothingness for consciousness cannot have any essence or content of its own. Consciousness is the negation of its object, and thus is nothing. Norman Greene writes that “Sartre attempts to demonstrate…that consciousness is non-substantial, or nothingness…As nothingness, it is separated from the object by not being the object and preserves a distance from it.”[188] Philip Thody explains that “for Sartre, the pour-soi, or human mind, contains nothing. Indeed, in a way, it is nothing but a force immediately conscious of itself and of the world, a force which knows its capacity for change and self-denial and wishes to escape from it. But it does not wish, in escaping, to lose its self-awareness, and longs rather for that moment when it will coincide as absolutely with itself as the en-soi does, while still retaining that self-awareness which the en-soi lacks. This is, Sartre repeats throughout L’Etre et le Néant, a self-defeating and self-contradictory ambition.”[189]

Why cannot the being-for-itself (consciousness, negation, nothing, non-being, antithesis) be identified with the being-in-itself (being, thesis) for Sartre? It is beause ‘if consciousness were a given being, it would be dense and full and could not beceome that other being which it becomes in being known, and this fundamentally is what knowing is. Consciousness is, therefore, a release of a being, a kind of fission of being. Negating is evident in self-consciousness also, for between that of which we are conscious and consciousness itself, there is only a segment of the nothing.”[190] 

Man as Absolute Freedom. Because the pour-soi is lack of being and a seeking after being he is total freedom which has no limits or bounds. Man is only what, in pure freedom, he makes himself to be. He is absolute freedom, not bound by any law whatsoever. He is the pure capacity to choose (anthropological freedom). He is making. He is the sum total of all his actions. Sartre argues the case that man is freedom in the following manner: “I am indeed an existent who learns his freedom through his acts, but I am also an existent whose individual and unique existence temporalizes itself as freedom. As such I am necessarily consciousness (of) freedom since nothing exists in consciousness except as the non-thetic consciousness of existing. Thus my freedom is perpetually in question in my being; it is not a quality added on or a property of my nature. It is very exactly the stuff of my being; and, as in my being, my being is in question, I must necessarily possess a certain comprehension of freedom.”[191]

Critique of the Sartrean Concept of Man as Absolute Freedom. Against Sartre’s identification of human action with substantial being, of accident with substance, one must say, instead, that human actions are accidents that belong to the human subject (the rational suppositum), who is the agent of his free acts. I am certainly not willing or thinking. Neither am I the operative power will or the operative faculty intellect nor the sum total of those two powers. Rather, the activities of willing and thinking, and the operative powers or faculties of will and intellect belong to me, the individual substance of a rational nature. “Since the active powers are not identical with the substance, they are obviously accidents, and the same thing is true of all activity. This is a characteristic of beings with a participated esse: no creature is its own activity. Only God’s operation is identical with his divine act of being. The composition of esse and essence, which is characteristic of every creature, entails a composition (and necessary distinction) of being and acting in the dynamic order. ‘There is no identity between esse and operation in any created substance, since that is a property exclusive of God.’[192] Only the Pure Act is not potential with respect to its acts; it has them as totally and fully identical with its very substance. Creatures, in contrast, have to be perfected through their activity, in a way analogous to that by which a container receives something different from itself, or as a potency receives its act. Ordinary experience reveals the distinction between being and acting: a) Each thing’s being is one, whereas its operations are manifold; b) action is never continuous in time, but rather passing; in contrast, the act of being and its subject are permanent and stable; c) if being were the same as acting, a man would not be a man when he is sleeping or when he is still a child.”[193]

Against Sartre, common sense reveals that man’s freedom is not limitless, absolute. Man, for example, is not free as regards the tendency towards the good as such (or happiness). He necessarily wills happiness, though he is free with respect to the choice of particular goods. Also, experience shows us that the human person is not free to choose his not being corporeal (i.e., he can’t choose to be an angel). He is not free to disregard the law of gravitation nor is he free to hear with his eyes, and smell with his ears, so so forth. Likewise, man is not free to violate the principle of non-contradiction in his speech for fear of rendering communication impossible. All these examples, which can multiplied many times over, show, against the mistaken position of Sartre, that man’s freedom is not limitless or absolute.

Sartre’s Denial of Moral Absolutes. In his 1945 work Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre explains why he believes that man is “condemned to freedom”: “Man is condemned to be free. Condemned because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless in liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world, he is responsible for everything he does…Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. His discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse. For if indeed existence precedes essence, one will never be able to explain one’s action by reference to a given and specific human nature; in other words, there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom. Nor, on the other hand, if God does not exist, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimize our behavior. Thus we have neither behind us, nor before us in a luminous realm of values, any means of justification or excuse. We are left alone, without excuse.”[194]

There are no moral absolutes for Sartre. There is no such thing for him as an objective morality or objective truth as there is no God to ground and found any prior good to the choice which the being-pour-soi makes. Man is abandoned and condemned to freedom: “The most important conclusion which Sartre drew from his atheism was this: Since there cannot be any God, there cannot be logically any universally mandatory moral law; there cannot be any absolute fixed values. Dostoevsky was right when he wrote: ‘If God did not exist everything would be permitted.’ And that is existentialism’s starting position. Man alone creates his own values; he is incurably free. Man is freedom. There are no values nor commands from above, nor from within himself – as from a permanent nature – that can legitimize his conduct. Man is alone, with the full responsibility to create himself through the exercise of his freedom. Thrown into an absurd world, he must choose his own values for he cannot help acting in this world…The choice of motives and values depends on the project to which man chooses to commit himself. Thus, as a free, self-transcending subject, man inevitably projects an initial, freely chosen ideal in the light of which he constitutes his values. Man is the sole source of values, his freedom being their foundation…Man’s liberty is…unlimited; it is absolute…the freedom which is my liberty remains total and infinite…in choosing he is creating his essence.”[195] “Ultimately therefore, each individual creates his own being, values, history, world-meaning and moral law.”[196]

Man, says Sartre, should exercise his absurd and anarchic freedom for its own sake in any way whatever, free from the shackles of objective morality, objective truth, and God. Fleeing from the exercise of anarchic and absurd freedom by the acceptance of and submission to objective morality, objective truth, and God – this flight – is being in bad faith. One who believes in such things, in such flights of fancy, is an immoral person. “Man,” writes Sartre, “should exercise his freedom for its own sake, curse though it is, and in any way whatsoever…each man should go on living vigorously, with defiant exercise of liberty…this is man’s meaning and glory, the exercise of his liberty for its own sake. And it makes no difference how he is exercising it so long as he is consciously exercising it. For all human activities are equivalent, all in principle, doomed to failure. ‘And this amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations.’[197][198]

The Impossibility of Love in Sartre’s World. Though Sartre says that man is condemned to freedom (which is anarchic, absurd, a hell), hell is also other people. Sartrean existentialism proclaims the social impossibility of interpersonal love. The existence of another consciousness (pour-soi) is primary given in “the look.” This “Other,” with his “look,” threatens my existence and security by trying to convert me into yet another object (en-soi) in his world of consciousness. The “Other” has invaded my world and now attempts to regroup the objects in his consciousness, objects which previously belonged exclusively to myself. For example, the green grass (object) of the park in my consciousness is now qualified as this given green grass which exists for the “Other” in that park who is now threatening me with his gaze, his “look.” Simply speaking, the Other is trying to steal my world from me and seeks to turn me into an object. Naturally, he should be considered as a dangerous enemy. I, a pour-soi, seek to make the Other into an object, while the Other is seeking to make me into an object. The outcome of this endless struggle, says Sartre, is one of frustration and despair. All human relations, he says, are characterized by this perpetual struggle by being-for-themselves to turn the Other into an object, thus destroying the Other’s freedom as a pour-soi.   

Sartre’s egoistic atomism dictates that the presence of anyone else is an intolerable situation. Vincent Miceli explains “There was not much he could do about the indignity of being surrounded by a world of other free individuals. He could not free himself from their circumscribing looks and intrusions into his life…According to Sartre, the interpersonal relation is one of isolation; its social atmosphere is one of conflict. ‘While I attempt to free myself from the hold of the other, the other is trying to free himself from mine; while I seek to enslave the other, the other seeks to enslave me…Conflict is the original meaning of being-for-others.’[199] And the first hostile act in the conflict is inflicted by the ‘look,’ The other as look dispossesses me, steals my freedom, reduces me to an object to be used for his interests. The other breaks into my egocentric consciousness, reveals to me my nakedness, limitations, contingency. Indeed, the other regarding me as I cannot regard myself, holds a secret against me. The other haunts me continually with the suspicion of the existence of the Absolute Other. Why? Because the essential interpersonal conflict over unification in love is the same sort of illusion as the conflict of contradictory beings—en-soi-pour-soi—in God. It follows that love is as impossible as God. There can be no love, therefore there is no love between human beings. How does Sartre explain this impossibility?

“I can never ‘get inside’ the other’s subjectivity. We are intrusions into each other’s lives, without ever being able to control each other’s freedom or subjecthood. And love is the project seeking this control. Thus, the interpersonal relationship remains essentially one of isolation while paradoxically functioning as attack and counterattack to reduce each other into objects through the complete domination of the other’s liberty. Unity with the other is, therefore, unrealizable both in theory and fact. Its realization would necessarily entail, as in Hegel’s dialectically evolving Spirit, the annihilation through absorption of the other.

“Now love is the primitive relation to the other. It is man’s project for possessing not merely the body, but the liberty, the whole person of the other. Love wants to reduce the other ‘to being a freedom subject to my freedom.’[200] Love, as a unification or fusion of two freedoms, is destined to eternal frustration. In all his novels and plays, Sartre’s characters try to engulf the freedom of the other. But though separation is surpassed, isolation is never surmounted even in the most intimate of relations. Lovers strive to become absolutes, the ultimate meaning of life to each other. Instead they remain outsiders, strangers to each other. ‘My original fall is the existence of the other,’ Sartre writes.[201] For, in terrible reality, to love is to choose to be either dominant or dominated, or each in turn. At its maddest extremes, love may drive one to transform himself for the pleasure of the other into a thing; love then becomes masochism. Or at the opposite extreme of madness, love may attempt to pulverize the other for its own pleasure and power; love then becomes sadism. But these perversions are merely the bipolar sexual extremes of the love-project which is inherently contradictory. Love is the futile, endless attempt to merge two bodies, two liberties, two selves. This sado-masochistic love-project pervades the whole work of Sartre as an ineradicable stain. Every other subject for him is a ‘drain’ through which my universe leaks away. Others steal my world, my person, my liberty. And the persons in his drama Huis Clos (No Exit) discover to their despairing frustration that "L'enfer, c'est les Autres; ‘Hell is other people.’ Adam’s original sin or fall was not the eating of the apple; it was the arrival of Eve. For sin, as the failure and fall of man’s being, is the presence of others. Now far from reconciling me to myself, the intrusion of others shocks me into a realization of the cleavage within my own conscience. In Sartre we are back again to Hegel’s and Nietzsche’s Master and Slave relationship and morality. The lover seeks the mastery of his beloved whom he must enslave; he demands ‘the beloved’s freedom first and foremost.’[202] From the enterprise of seduction, which begins with the look, through language, indifference, desire, to the perversions of hate, masochism and sadism, Sartre has few peers as an analyst of the techniques used by man to dehumanize his fellow man. Thus love in Sartre displays a triple power of destructibility. First, it deceives man into striving to become the Absolute Other, to attain a unification hopelessly out of reach. Thus it begets in man perpetual dissatisfaction. Second, through love the other reduces me to an object, thereby afflicting me with perpetual insecurity. Third, the presence of many others besides my beloved threatens our mutual, absolute relationship thereby arousing in us perpetual shame.”[203]

The Absurdity of Existence. In the final analysis, life for Sartre is absurd and he accuses people of being cowards for believing that life has some kind of meaning and goal to which our efforts should be directed to. One man strives to become a great author, another hopes to be a great leader of his country, another dreams of being a successful businessman, and yet another strives to help others with the wealth he has acquired, believing that in doing so he will be happy. But Sartre objects that all these are merely absurd projections of the for-itself trying vainly to become an in-itself. As it will be impossible for man to become a god, so too will it be impossible for him to become a happy man, or a successful man, or a great man. All of his projections are inevitably doomed to failure. Man, he says, must honestly and courageously admit that life is absurd, that there is an insurmountable divide between the pour-soi and the en-soi, between what we expect from life and what life can actually offer us. We can only renounce all eternal ambition.    

Sartre blames Christianity for the deadly esprit de sérieux, the spirit of seriousness. Christianity, he maintains, should be condemned for giving life a meaning when there is no such meaning. Life, he says, is simply absurd. Since man is by nature nothingness, all he can in the end do is nothingness. He believes that it is the task of existentialism to abolish this false spirit of seriousness. To attack and mock all values, to scoff at religion, to despise country, creed and even revolution, is the ultimate task of the existentialist, says Sartre. The drunkard who drinks himself senseless, he believes, is in fact more existentially authentic than the president of a country who deludes himself with the esprit de serieux, in the solemn belief that he is accomplishing great things and bettering the world. For Sartre, it is the former, the drunk, who authentically exists, while the latter, the president, is in bad faith, an immoral person.  

Though Sartre’s influence among the youth has been immense (he has destroyed, and is still destroying, the lives of countless people), I believe that his brazen, scandalous sophistry has driven many fence-sitting, lukewarm Christians to a new resolve to come to the defense of God and absolute values, for the disastrous consequences of his nihilistic atheism on the human person and on society are soberingly clear. Sartre’s philosophy is a doctrine of frustration, despair, suicide, isolation, hate, and absurdity…the philosophy of hell.




Psychological definitions of the human person which reduce him to self-consciousness-thinking (Descartes[204]) or will to power (Nietzsche) or to making-freedom (Sartre), for example, are totally inadequate since self-consciousness, thought and free-will are merely accidents that belong to the human suppositum, both accidents and subject being actualized by the act of being, the act of acts and perfection of perfections. The ultimate metaphysical foundation of understanding, willing, and personhood itself is the participated act of being given man by the Divine Act of Being.   

The Cartesian immanentist path could only lead logically to atheism. Once we are unable to recuperate reality itself, then we are not able to demonstrate the existence of God commencing with real beings in the extra-mental world and going up, through the principle of causality, to God. One becomes either an agnostic or, one step further, an atheist. If we are unable to know reality then there is no objective truth, for truth follows being, logical truth being defined as the conformity or adequation of our judgments with reality. And if we are unable to know reality, as Hume and Kant maintain, then we are unable to know stable human nature as it is in reality, leading to the denial of objective morality. So, no God, no objective truth, no objective morality, as preached by the likes of Marx, Nietzsche, Feuerbach, and Comte, and what do we have? The mass murders of the twentieth century with the likes of such “supermen” as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. Is there a direct link between immanentism, the dissolution of the ontological concept of the human person for a merely psychological one (a consequence of immanentist gnoseology), and the horrors against the human person during the last century, undeniably the bloodiest of centuries? Yes, a direct link, leading all the way up to the Cartesian Cogito.         

All the horrors of the last century on such a vast scale led a number of thinkers to exchange the corrupt psychological definition of the person for a personalistic, dialogical (intersubjective), one. The founder of the personalist school was a Frenchman by the name of Charles Renouvier (1815-1903), who came out with his most famous work entitled Personalism, at the end of his life (1903). Personalism had as its epicenter the France of the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century. Another famous French personalist is Emmanuel Mounier (1905-1950), whose most famous work goes by the same name as Renouvier’s –  Personalisme – which was first published in 1949. Others who have used the dialogical (intersubjective) perspective include the Frenchmen Maurice Nedoncelle and Paul Ricoeur (born in 1913), the Germans Max Scheler (1874-1928) and Romano Guardini (1885-1968, a German of Italian origins), the Jewish philosophers Martin Buber (1878-1965) and Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), the Russian Nikolai Berdjaiev (1874-1948), and the Italian Luigi Stefanini (1891-1956).    

Against all forms of totalitarianism and other systems that degrade man (such as absolute idealism, nazism, marxism and other forms of materialism), personalism has, as the center of its philosophy, the human person, unrepeatable, of absolute value, worthy of the highest esteem and respect, and in continual dialogue with others. For Renouvier, the foundation of all philosophical inquiry must be man in his concreteness and individuality. Personalism highlights that which is unique in the human person, such as his freedom, his individuality, his unrepeatableness, his capacity for culture, language and communication, his human rights, his responsibilities, his capacity for vocation and love. Personalists stress being instead of having; man should be respected for what he is, rather than for what he has. They also stress human freedom instead of determination, openness to dialogue instead of egoism, and altruism instead of greed. Man is not a closed being, but open to others, a communicator who lives with and encounters others. He is an interpersonal reality, a being in dialogue. For the most part, personalists have been theists, either Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish, open to transcendence and to the transcendent One (who is the Supreme Thou).

For Mounier, the psychological definition of the person (which reduces man to thought,  will etc.) is inadmissible, for “I cannot think without my being and be without my body: by means of my body I am exposed to myself, the world, and others; by means of my body I escape from the solitude of a thought which would only be the thought of my thought. Refusing to concede a complete transcendence to myself, the body continually projects me outside of myself, into the problematics of the world and the struggle of man.”[205] Instead of thought or self-consciousness, man is rather an “incarnate existence,” an “incorporated existence.” The primary properties of the human person brought out by Mounier and many of the personalists, who consider man from the dialogical perspective, are vocation (“every person has such a meaning that he cannot be substituted for in the place he occupies in the universe of persons”[206]), action (“the incessant activity of the person  is a search until death for an anticipated, longed-for unity that is never realized”[207]), and communication or encounter with others: “the first movement revealing a human being in the prime of infancy is a movement towards others: the baby of six to twelve months of age, leaving vegetative life, discovers himself in others, recognizes himself in some attitudes regulated by his gaze at others. It is only later, at about three years of age, that he will have his first wave of conscious egocentrism…The first experience of the person is the experience of the second person: the you, and therefore the we, comes before the I, or at least accompanies it. It is in material nature (which we are partially subjected to) that exclusion reigns, in that one space cannot be occupied twice; the person, instead, through the movement that makes him exist, expresses himself, he is by nature communicable, and is even the only one who can be himself.”[208]

In Personalism, Mounier develops his following theses: 1. The human person is psycho-physical. He is, as was mentioned, an “incarnate existence,” an “incorporated existence,” not just thought, will, etc.; 2. The human person is transcendent with respect to things in the world. He is able to free himself from the rest of nature; only man knows the profundities of the universe, only he can transform it, shape it in conformity to his designs; 3. The human person is open towards others through communication; 4. The human person is active or dynamic; he is in an incessant quest or search for a never to be realized unity; 5. Man has a vocation, someone in the universe that can never be substituted for someone or anything else; and 6. Man has freedom, not as a condemnation in the Sartrean sense (“man is condemned to be free”), but rather as a gift that he can accept or refuse.              

For Gabriel Marcel the human person cannot be studied by means of the instruments of the empirical sciences, in a totally objective air, for the person is not a problem but a mystery who is revealed by means of a metaphysical inquiry. Like Mounier, he defines man as an incarnate being. But he intends this to mean something dynamic; he does not mean incarnate being in the Platonic sense of soul, of spirit being incarnated in a body but rather, the human person is incarnated in action. For him, the I becomes a person only in the measure that he commits himself to action and assumes responsibility for his own acts.

Though personalists deserve praise for their defense of the human person against all forms of totalitarianisms and abstractionisms that degrade man, personalists are often lacking in an adequate metaphysical grounding of the person (i.e., Max Scheler’s denial of the substantiality of the human person), which can only be provided by a realist Aristotelian-Thomistic ontology which centers on being (ens) and on esse as act of acts and perfection of perfections. Only the ontological or metaphysical definition of man is truly adequate. Man is the rational suppositum, the rational subsistent, his very dignity derived from the particularly intense possession of the act of being that he participates in. For Battista Mondin, “the one (definition of the person) that best expresses what is indispensable to the concept of person is the ontological definition of Boethius and Thomas. In fact, without the autonomy of being, without subsistence, all the rest (self-consciousness, freedom, communication) can be shipwrecked in the ocean of the impersonal. For an essential definition, what is expressed in the ontological concept is sufficient, because it includes both the generic element (subsistence) and the specific element (rationality).”[209] Instead of the definition of the person as a rational subsistent, Mondin substitutes the term rationality for the following three qualities: self-consciousness, communication, and self-transcendence. “The person can be defined as a subsistent gifted with self-consciousness, communication, and self-transcendence…by virtue of subsistence he is distinct from all others; through self-consciousness he recognizes himself as unique and unrepeatable but at the same time free, social, and perfectible; through communication he enters into rapport with others – in a rapport of love, friendship, and sympathy, but also in a rapport of aversion, hate and hostility; through self-transcendence he is called to surpass all the confines with which space and time seek to block his ascension, as he attempts to penetrate the realm of the absolute and eternal.”[210] With this definition of the person (which he calls “global”), he incorporates and roots the properties described in the psychological and dialogical concepts of the person in the metaphysics of being.




The German existentialist Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) has, as his point of departure for the study of the Being as beings (das Sein des Siendes), Dasein, which is his word to designate man. In his most famous work, Being and Time, he describes his choice of starting point: “Insofar as Being constitutes what is asked about, and Being means the Being of entities (i.e., Being of beings), then entities themselves turn out to be what is interrogated…Thus to work out the question of Being adequately, we must make an entity – the inquirer – transparent in his own being…This entity which each one of us is himself and which includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its Being, we shall denote by the term DaseinDasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather, it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it…It is peculiar to this entity that with and through its Being, this Being is disclosed to it. Understanding of Being is itself a definite characteristic of Dasein’s Being.”[211]

Instead of man, Heidegger uses the term Dasein, in order to stress, like Sartre, that man has no fixed nature, that he is an existence preceding an essence. William Barrett writes: “One of the most remarkable things about Heidegger’s description of human existence is that it is made without his using the term ‘man’ at all. He thereby avoids the assumption that we are dealing with a definite object with a fixed nature – that we already know, in short, what man is. His analysis of existence also takes place with the use of the word ‘consciousness,’ for this word threatens to bring us back into the Cartesian dualism. That Heidegger can say everything he wants to say about human existence without using either ‘man’ or ‘consciousness’ means that the gulf between subject and object, or between mind and body, that has been dug by modern philosophy need not exist if we do not make it.”[212]

Heidegger rejects the notion that man has a permanent essence or nature, so thus the critiques against this rejection in our treatment of Sartre mentioned earlier would also apply to him. For Heidegger, man is Dasein: he owns his own being, has a responsibility towards his own being, without responsibility for being there. While rocks, plants, and tables merely are, man, on the other hand, exists. Dasein is synonymous with Existenz. Existenz is not a fixed quality but a constant possibility. Heidegger states: “The essence of Dasein lies in its existence. Accordingly, those characteristics which can be exhibited in this entity are not ‘properties’ present-at-hand of some entity which ‘looks’ so and so and is itself present-at-hand; they are in each case possible ways for it to be; and no more than that. All the Being-as-it-is (So-Sein) which this entity possesses is primarily Being. So when we designate this entity with the term ‘Dasein,’ we are expressing not its ‘what’ (as if it were a table, house or tree) but its Being…Thus Dasein is never to be taken ontologically as an instance or special case of some genus of entities as things that are present-at-hand…In each case, Dasein is its possibility, but not just a property (eigenschaftlich) as something present-at-hand would. And because Dasein is in each case essentially its own possibility, it can in its very Being, ‘choose’ itself and win itself; or only ‘seem’ to do so…In determining itself as an entity, Dasein always does so in the light of a possibility which it is itself and which, in its very Being, it somehow understands. This is the formal meaning of Dasein’s existential constitution.”[213]

Dasein, therefore, for Heidegger, is his own possibility. He, Dasein, is not a fixed or stable essence. He is constantly realizing his possibilities, determining by his existential choices, who he is to be, his ‘essence.’ It is Dasein who detemines his essence. As was said, this is also the position of fellow existentialist Sartre. Macquarrie explains that “Dasein stands out (ex-sists) in the sense that he is not just another item in the world but a being open to himself and to this world so that, within limits, he has responsibility for both of these and can shape them to some extent…Dasein never is complete in his Being. To exist is always to be on the way, so that one can never, as it were, pin down the existent at any precise moment and given an exhaustive description. He is constituted by possibilities rather than properties…Dasein has no fixed essence…So far as we can talk about his ‘essence’ at all, we would have to say that he makes it as he goes along, fulfilling his possibilities or letting them slip, but always on the move from one situation to the next. This is what is meant by saying ‘The essence of Dasein lies in its existence.”[214]










The Nature of Life


What is life? What essentially differentiates living beings from non-living beings? Experience reveals that living beings are endowed with a certain interiority that, by their own initiative or power, are able to move themselves, something which a non-living being, say a rock, is unable to accomplish. Such an observation leads us to affirm that what is distinctive of the living being is the power to move itself by itself; a non-living being moves only if it is moved by another. When we speak of “movement” or “being moved” here, we refer to movement in the general or wide sense which includes every kind of change and local movement. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that “life is essentially that by which a thing is able to move itself, taking the word ‘movement’ in a wide sense, so that even the operation of the intellect can be called ‘movement.’ For, those things that can be moved only by an exterior principle are said to be without life.”[215] A living being is one that can move itself, that is, one that has within itself the efficient principle of its activity, responding in an original and assimilative manner to its environment and extra-subjective objects on which it depends.  

Living beings have the power of self-perfecting movement. When we say that a living being moves itself we mean that it is of itself equipped to do something by way of connatural operation or function. Such a power of self-movement is not extrinsic but innate in the living being; it is an intrinsic force or power. When we say “self-perfecting movement” we mean that a living being’s powers are exercised by the living being, in the living being, and for the living being, and so are said to perfect the living being. 

When we say that a living being is capable of self-movement we mean that it is naturally equipped with a power, which intimately resides within itself and to be exercised through itself, whereby it does something for itself. To say that a living being “moves” is a general term for the exercise of such a power. The living being’s activities are its own, exercised by means of powers with which it is natively equipped, and which function in it, and by it, and for it, and are thus called, in their functioning, self-movements.   

Living beings are the objects and terms of their own activity. Non-living corporeal bodies in contrast only act upon and transform things exterior to themselves. A living being, in contrast, acts for its own advantage, seeking both to sustain its own being and to acquire full development. The activity of living beings, in some manner and measure, remains within themselves, so that we can designate them as having a certain degree of immanence or interiority, which admits of varying degrees, from the low level of immanence found in plant life, to the absolutely perfect possession of self, found in the Divine Being.     

Immanent action or activity, characteristic of living beings, remains within the living being (the agent), for it originates in the agent, and is finished in the agent, and produces its main activity in the agent. Plants, animals, and human beings, for example, grow and that activity of growth is immanent in them; the main effect is in and on themselves. Growth as such begins in them, and affects them, and as a function ends in them. The growth of living beings is an immanent action. All life actions (vital actions) are immanent actions.

Life, therefore, is defined as the natural capacity of an agent for self-perfective immanent activity or movement.

There is a fundamental difference in structure between living corporeal beings and non-living corporeal beings. Living corporeal beings are physically heterogeneous, that is, living bodies have different parts adapted to different functions; non-living corporeal bodies, on the other hand, may be entirely homogeneous in their physical structure.

There are also differences of activity between living corporeal beings and non-living corporeal beings, namely, that the former are capable of nutrition, immanent growth, reproduction, and irritability, while the latter are not capable of these activities.

1. Nutrition. Living corporeal beings (e.g., plants, cats, dogs, horses, humans) are capable of taking extraneous matter and integrating it into their very substances by a process of assimilation. This assimilative process is necessary in living bodies because they are continually losing energy and matter (by catabolic process) and need to replace them (by an anabolic process) if they are to continue living. The entire process of catabolic and anabolic changes involved in nutrition is called metabolism, and its function is to make possible the continuation of life in living corporeal beings. Such a process does not occur in inanimate corporeal beings.      

2. Growth. Non-living corporeal beings merely increase in size through juxtaposition (like when new layers of extraneous matter are added to the being), whereas living corporeal bodies increase in size by immanent growth, that is, by a growth that comes from within the being. Glenn explains growth in relation to nutrition, writing: “The direct effect of nutrition is the preservation and development of the organism. As the living body develops, it increases in size; it grows. Growth continues, in normal circumstances, until the organism has attained a state of maturity or complete development. Thereafter, the effect of nutrition is to maintain the mature body in a properly functioning condition until its term of operation is finished. It is by means of nutrition, and as a result of nutrition, that the body grows. Yet growth is a vital operation really distinct from nutrition. Growth may be defined as ‘a vital operation whereby a living body, by taking nourishment, increases in quantity and tends to attain its proper size.’”[216]  

3. Reproduction. Living bodily beings are capable of reproduction, that is, capable of a process by which the living beings prepare, as a part of their own substance, living matter which is capable of being separated and developing into a new, distinct individual being. Non-living beings, in contrast, don’t reproduce. A stone, for example, doesn’t give birth to a baby stone. “Living bodies reproduce living bodies of the same species. No non-living body does this…In the material process of reproduction there are vast differences in the various types of organisms: v.g., in multicellular organisms, generally the union of the specialized male and female elements results in the ‘conception’ and eventually in the ‘birth’ of a new living being; while in unicellular organisms, the process is commonly that of ‘binary fission,’ or the production of two of the species by division of the original cell and subsequent separation.

“But the characteristic of reproduction, common exclusively to all living beings, is this: the living body prepares in itself of its living substance specialized material which is apt for, or has the capacity to produce under proper conditions a new living being of the parent species. So, v.g., the male body prepares in itself of its own living substance as part of its own body the ‘spermatazoa’; similarly, the female, prepares the ‘ovum.’ The union of these two elements, under proper conditions, results in a new living being of the parent species.”[217]   

4. Irritability. Living bodily beings are irritable. Irritability is that particular way living bodies react to stimulation arising from changes in their surroundings. The stimulation of the living body will give rise to a complex process of activity which has as its goal the preservation and perfection of the living corporeal being itself. If someone, for example, punctures a man’s arm with a ballpen in a fight, damage is indeeed inflicted on the arm, but the living organism (in this case our man) does not receive this injury passively; instead, the body immediately sets about repairing the damage as far as possible (i.e., the irreducibly complex system of blood-clotting sets in) so as to insure the survival or well-being of the whole body. Non-living bodies do not have this capacity for irritability. 

When we say that living corporeal beings ‘move’ themselves we refer basically to their movements of nutrition (involving the catabolic and anabolic processes of metabolism), growth, reproduction and irritability. These four movements are found in every living corporeal being. Other movements of living beings, like intellection and volition, are indeed immanent vital actions, but they are not to be found in all living corporeal bodies.


Vegetative Life, Sensitive Life, and Rational Life


The three levels of life in the corporeal universe, based on both the degree of immateriality in relation to the substantial form of a living being, and on the degree of immanence found in the different operations of life, are the following: vegetative life (plants), sensitive life (animals), and intellectual or rational life (human beings).[218] In this hierarchy, the lower degrees are contained in the higher.    

The more a living being is capable of acting by itself, the higher it is in the hierarchy of life. With such a principle one can establish a classification according to the lesser or greater degrees of interiority evidenced by the several factors underlying the activities of living beings. The factors involved are either a principal or instrumental form, and the end or term. With this in mind, we are able to distinguish three general kinds of living beings found in nature: plants, animals, and humans.  

In plants nature implants both their form and the end of their movement, so that they act as mere instruments of execution in regard to the movement. In animals, while not determining their own end as nature implants this in them, they nevertheless acquire through themselves the forms governing their activities, these forms being the sensible images that cause them to move themselves. Finally, in humans beings, who are endowed with rationality, they themselves are capable of determining their end and acquiring the form that is the principle of their operations.[219]


Life Predicated of God and Living Creatures is Analogical


As regards a cat and dog, for example, life is predicated of them in an univocal way. Thus, if I say cat has life and a dog has life, the predicate life, in both instances, is understood univocally, that is, with exactly the same meaning. However, life is predicated analogously of creatures and God.

Life, inasmuch as it is a perfecting, is predicable of creatures only and not of the Supreme Being who is All Perfect, not undergoing any perfecting whatsoever. Life therefore, is predicable of creatures and God only in a manner that is partly the same and partly different.  

Life, defined as the natural capacity of an agent for self-perfective immanent activity or movement, refers to the life of creatures, which are limited beings, beings only having the act of being, possessing being in limited ways. God is Life, but His life is not self-perfective, since He is the All-Perfect Being, without any potentiality whatsoever; what is All Perfect cannot be perfected. Another difference between God and creatures is that in creatures life-activity is distinct from life-principle (which is the soul). Living creatures are not identical with their vital activities, nor are their souls the same with their operative powers or faculties. In God, however, vital activity is one with the divine essence and substance. Another difference: in creatures, life-activity is caused by the life-principle, which is the soul; in God, however, nothing is caused; the Divine Essence is the reason for the infinite life-activity of the Divine Being’s understanding and will, but does not cause this activity. Lastly, self-movement involves a change in the living creature which exercises it, but in God there is no change whatsoever. He is the Absolutely Immutable Being.    


The Soul


Living corporeal beings have within themselves a principle which makes vital actions possible. This principle is the soul, the intrinsic principle which makes a body a living body, essentially distinct from non-living ones. The soul, not the body, is the first principle of life, the interior, ultimate principle of vital manifestations of a living being.[220] 

The soul is the formal cause of the hylemorphic composite of body and soul, and this composite is the source of the physical energy of the living body. A formal cause is defined as an intrinsic act of perfection by which a thing is whatever it is, either in the realm of substance or of accidents. 

The soul is not an accident, but a substance, though an incomplete substance that, together with the body, form the complete substance, a hylemorphic composite of body and soul. If the soul were a complete substance its union with the body could not result in an individual substance, but would merely be an accidental unit or aggregate. This is so for a complete substance cannot be at the same time a mere principle of substance; therefore it cannot be united with another substantial principle to constitute together an individual substance, but only with another complete substance. But a complete substance has its own act of being (esse). Therefore, the composite of two individual complete substances consists of components having their own acts of being, so that it could be none other than a mere aggregate. But the living being is one substance. We find that this is so since the component parts of a living being act primarily for the good of the whole being of a living thing. Therefore, the soul cannot be a complete substance, but is rather a substantial principle of the body, which is likewise an incomplete substance. Together body and soul form the one complete substance, the hylemorphic composite.

The soul is the substantial form of the living body. It is not the material principle in a living being, for matter is in potency and is therefore a principle of limitation which does not confer perfection ; it is rather the act of the body, the formal principle or substantial form, giving the composite the perfection of life. The soul, because it is a substantial form of a body, is essentially simple, that is, it is without composition of essential parts. The soul, the substantial form of the body, is one of the ultimate component parts of a living composite, complete substance and is therefore itself simple.

As there are very different vital movements in plants, animals, and men, one can distinguish three different types of souls: the vegetative soul (the form of plants), the sensitive soul (the form of animals), and the intellective or rational soul (the form of human beings). The reason for the division into three different souls, says the Angelic Doctor, “lies in the fact that the souls are distinguished according to the different ways in which the vital operations surpass the operations of corporeal things: the bodies, in fact, are inferior to the soul and serve it as matter or as an instrument. There is, therefore, an operation of the soul which so transcends corporeal reality that it does not have the least need of a material organ to express it. And, this is the operation of the rational soul. There is another operation of the soul, inferior to the preceding one, which expresses itself through a material organ, although not through a corporeal reality. This is the operation of the sensitive soul…The lowest, then, among the operations of the soul is the one which takes place through a corporeal organ and in virtue of certain physical qualities. Still, even it can surpass the operation of material reality, because the movements of the bodies are originated by an extrinsic movement: this is an aspect common to all operations of the soul; because every animated being moves itself in some way. Thus the operation of the vegetative soul presents itself.”[221]   

Can we formulate a definition of the soul that can be applicable to all types of souls? Yes. The soul is defined as the first act of a natural organic body. Let us explain the parts of this definition first given by the Stagirite.[222] The soul is an act, that is a perfection of a subject. It is a first act (also called an entitative act), the same as the substantial form, which is different from acts like operations, which are called second acts (which are accidents, and need to inhere in a substance; thus, activities like walking, talking, thinking and willing, presuppose a subject substance, a suppositum in which they inhere in). The soul is designated as first act “because it is through the soul that matter first exists as part of a living composite. The soul, like any substantial form, gives existence as well as essence to the matter which it informs. This does not mean that the matter which is now part of a living substance did not previously have existence under some other form; but it means that the matter as living achieves that state of existence because of the soul…Because it is first act, it follows that the soul is in the category of substance…The soul is in the order of substance and not in the order of accident. However, neither the soul nor the body taken separately are complete substances, but together they constitute one substance.”[223]

The soul is the first act of a body, for it is through the former that the latter is alive. “Body” in our definition is qualified as natural, in order to contrast it to a machine or mechanical body. A machine, which is an artificial construction made by the ingenuity of man, does not have a soul. A robot does not have a soul. A computer does not have a soul. “The soul is called the act or form of a natural or physical body. The word physical derives from physis, which in Greek means nature. A typewriter, for instance, is not a natural but an artificial body. It has no inner principle of unity through which it comes into existence and by means of which it operates. Its principle of becoming and operation is an extrinsic agent. In addition to natural and artificial bodies there are accidental bodies which are in sense natural but lack an inner principle of unity. A vegetable garden, for example, is natural but not a natural body; it is an aggregate made up of many natural bodies. Finally, there are mathematical bodies, such as spheres, cubes and so on. Evidently they are not natural bodies. Therefore, when we say the soul is the form of a natural or physical body, we mean that it is the substantial form of the kind of a body that is the product of nature and is part of the substantial composite.”[224]

Lastly, the term organic in our definition is added to indicate that the soul as the principle of life requires a variety of organs so as to make self-movement possible. “The body which the soul informs is called an organic body. The bodies of plants, animals, and men are constituted of heterogeneous materials and of a variety of parts which are called organs. Organ means instrument. These physical parts are instruments for the various operations of the soul. A diversity of organs is demanded by the diversity of activities proper to each kind of soul. Thus, the more perfect soul will demand greater variety and complexity in the organs with which it operates. In emphasizing the diversity of the organs we should keep in mind that it is the soul that makes them parts of an organism by being the principle of their operation. It is a paradox that greater substantial unity will be found among living things in something that has greater diversity of materials and organs than in what is more homogeneous. Thus, man has greater organic unity than a worm. The explanation of this is that man has a more perfect principle of substantial unity than a worm.”[225] 

This organic body, taken as distinct from its co-principle the soul, is the same as a body which is in immediate potency to life, for the body, organically constituted by the presence of the soul, is in potency with respect to the vital operations of the composite.       


The Powers of the Soul (Operative Potencies)


A faculty is the power of the living being to exercise a specific life-operation. Now, the powers (or faculties) of the soul are different from the soul itself, for the latter belongs to the category of substance (albeit an incomplete one), whereas the former belong to the category of accident. The powers of the soul are accidents that belong to, that inhere in, the substance. Therefore, the creatures’ powers of the soul cannot be one with the soul itself; rather, these faculties are powers that the soul has, not being what the soul is. It is only in God, the Subsistent Being Himself, that power is identified with substance.     

The soul cannot be its own action for actions come and go while the soul remains, it being the substantial form of the body. Also, to be its own action the soul would have to be its own act of being (esse) since action is an ultimate act, not ordained to any further act. Only God is His To Be; His Essence is To Be. Therefore, the soul, which is finite and limited, must be in potency with respect to action.

The soul cannot be its own operative faculty (potency or power); there is a real distinction between the soul and its power (potency) to act: “That which is not its own action cannot be its own operative potency, for a potency and its act must be in the same genus because they must be proportionate to each other. But the soul is a substantial form and therefore belongs to the genus of substance, whereas its action is not a substance but an accident. Therefore the soul’s potency to act must also be an accident and, as such, really distinct from the soul, which is in the genus of substance.[226]

“Moreover, by its very essence the soul is a substantial form and therefore in act as long as it exists. But if the operative potency of the soul were really the same as the soul, it too, would always have to be in act. But experience shows that vital actions may be interrupted. Therefore, the soul is really distinct from its operative potency.[227]

“In calling the operative potencies accidents, we do not mean that they do not flow from the essence of the soul, but only that they exist in the soul as in a subject which they perfect. In other words, they are so-called predicamental accidents, but predicable properties.

“It should be noted that in asserting a real distinction between the soul and its operative potency we do not claim that the potency can exist separately. Real distinction does not mean the same as separability. A separable potency would not be an accident but a substance, because it would be capable of existing in itself. The operative potency should not be conceived as a being in its own right, but merely as a principle of activity in a substance.”[228]   

The various faculties are distinguished from one another by their respective operations and by the objects which these operations work on or seek to achieve. For example, the external senses of sight and smell are not one faculty but two distinct faculties since they operate differently and because sight is for perceiving colour while smelling is for sensing odours. But accidental differences of operations do not require distinct faculties to explain them. So, the power to walk, run, to dance about and to kick are not distinct faculties but are rather accidental variations of the one power of locomotion, which is the faculty or power of moving from place to place.   

In the vegetative soul of plants we have the vegetative powers of reproduction, growth and nutrition. In the sensitive soul of animals, we not only have the vegetative powers of nutrition, growth, and reproduction (which serve the sentient operations), but also the animal powers of locomotion, appetition (which are divided into the concupiscible and irascible appetites) and knowing (both the internal and external senses). In the rational or intellective soul of man, we not only find the vegetative powers (which serve the sensitive operations) and the sensitive powers (these, along with the vegetative powers, serve the rational powers), but also the rational powers of intellect and will. 

It should be understood that it is not the sense of sight that sees, or the sense of hearing that hears; rather, it is the living suppositum (being in the full sense, with all of its perfections) that acts (that sees and hears, for example). Man is the agent of all his faculties, but his human nature is not the immediate subject of them all. The powers and operations of man are attributed to the soul as their principle, and either to the human soul or to the human composite of body and soul as their subject depending on what kind of power is in question. When we speak of a subject of an operation or a power we refer to that being or part of a being which is able to perform the operation and does perform it. Man’s soul is the subject of the rational faculties of understanding and willing (for thinking and willing are performed without the use of any corporeal organ, and therefore, the powers of these operations are in the soul, as in their subject), and the soul-body composite of man is the subject of all other human faculties and operations, yet even these faculties and operations are attributed to the soul as their principle since it is by the soul that the composite has the power to perform such operations.[229] Man’s body alone cannot be the subject of any human faculty, for the body alone lacks life and all vital operations.

The immediate principles by means of which the suppositum acts are its operative powers or faculties, since no finite being is immediately operative, its nature being unable to be the direct principle of action but is merely the remote principle by which the suppositum acts. Therefore, strictly speaking, it is not the intellect that understands or the will that wills; rather, it is the human person that understands and wills by means of his operative powers of intellect and will. There is an utter dependence of all operative powers upon the suppositum, which is the sole independently existing and operating subject.








Knowing always involves a knower knowing something. It involves a relationship between a knower and the thing known. It is an act which joins a mind with an object in a relationship which is unique and incomparable with any other. There is no such thing as knowledge without something known and a knowing subject knowing it. Each and every act of knowing is a synthesis of object and subject. Because of the relation between two beings (entia), the knower and the known, the knowing subject does not remain a closed being, like a block of granite or a piece of red brick. Rather, he is able to “open himself up” so to say to the world around him; he is able to transcend himself, to go “out of himself” and enter into communication with other beings. However, the act of knowing is something inverse; it is the extra-mental thing that, in a certain manner which we shall explain, is received into the subject, as knowledge is a preeminently immanent action, taking place, not outside but within the knowing subject.   

There are three basic elements of knowledge, namely: 1. the subject or the knowing being; 2. the object or that something known (before it is known it is called the knowable object, and during or after the act by which it is known it is called the object known); and 3. the act of knowing called cognition. When all these elements join together the resultant product is an act of knowledge or cognition.   

Purely physical beings don’t know. A rock doesn’t know. A glass doesn’t know. A glass receives another being, water for example, in the most superficial manner. Any more intimate communication would mean a loss of identity, becoming something else. Fire united with wood produces something new: ashes. A substantial change has occured. The union of hydrogen and oxygen results in a third thing: water.

Why does a man know while a rock does not know? It is because a rock has only its own form while a man is capable of receiving the form of the rock and countless other beings in the universe in an immaterial way. When a man receives the form of the rock in the knowing process the change involved in this knowing is immaterial, not substantial-material (as when an apple is changed into my flesh when I eat it or when fire reduces a piece of wood into ashes). The rock that I know does not change its being and my flesh does not turn into stone when I think of it for the stone is not transferred into my mind in a material way. The rock exists in me in an immaterial way. The rock that I know is one whole thing that really exists in the world whether I think of it or not. The real object - which here is the rock - is one, while its intentional presence is multiplied according to the number of knowers. If five hundred persons know a single rock, its intentional presence in the minds of these five hundred persons is five hundred.

Immateriality,[230] therefore, is at the basis of knowledge. Nothing can be known unless it has in itself something not matter which it can give to the knower (in the case of our rock it is its form or rather forms – substantial and accidental). And nothing is capable of knowing unless it has within itself something not matter which can receive the nature of another thing without losing its own. Therefore, the condition both of knowledge and of knowability is a certain degree of immateriality. My knowledge of rocks is something I can communicate to a classroom full of students. But I do not lose this knowledge by communicating it to, say, a hundred students.

In knowledge the object gives its forms to the subject without losing these forms. Form is communicable; matter is not. In knowledge I receive the form of things in an immaterial way. Now, what exactly is this form we are referring to? There is something immaterial in every actual being, even in every material being such as our rock. This something is the form, or rather, the forms - substantial and accidental. Every corporeal substance is a hylemorphic composite, that is, an essential composite of primary matter and a substantial form and is determined in many ways by accidental forms.

Hylemorphism is the theory of matter (hyle) and form (morphe). It states that every natural substance, that is, every complete material substance, is a composite of two essential intrinsic principles, one a principle of potentiality, viz., primary matter, and the other a principle of actuality, viz., substantial form. “Prime matter, which is the common substrate of all bodies,” says Glenn, “has itself no determinateness, nothing to make it actual, nothing to make it this or that kind of body, but waits, so to speak, for the coming of the substantial determinant which will give it actuality as materia secunda (secondary matter), a finished body of definite type actually existing. Prime matter is thus the subject of the determining element which gives it existence as a substance. Thus we may define prime matter as follows: ‘A passive and indeterminate substantial principle which is the subject of all substantial determinations and substantial changes, and which remains changeless in itself under such changes.’”[231] Form on the other hand, the most important of the two, is determining and definitive, determining prime matter to substantial being, to a definite species of being, giving it a definite nature. Form, which is the determination of the essence, is what makes the essence to be what it is. It is the act of the essence, the essential act determining the essence to be what it is. The substantial form of our hylemorphic composite, Glenn states, is defined as “an active and determining substantial principle which is the term (that is the goal, the end, the completed being) of all substantial changes in bodies, and which constitutes each individual continuum in its essential actuality.”[232] There is not just the substantial form of a thing but also the various accidental forms (e.g., quality, quantity) which pertain to that existing being (ens). “Any form is a cause in relation to the matter it ‘in-forms,’ since it gives that matter the actuality of a determinate manner of being. The form without which a being would be nothing at all is called substantial form. Those forms which affect an already actual being by conferring on it further modifications are called accidental forms. The substantial form gives a thing its basic manner of being, making it a substance: a man is a man and therefore he is, because of his soul. The accidental forms, in contrast, only give a substance certain secondary configurations, which obviously can only affect something which is already a substance. The substantial form is the act of prime matter, which is the subject which receives it. Accidental forms modify the substance (the secondary matter) which supports them.”[233]

All the corporeal things around us are composites of matter and form. Form is that which makes a thing what it is, giving them their basic way of being: manness, catness, whaleness, and so on. But manness does not exist by itself. Individual men exist: Paul, Billy, Edward, Bobby exist. Likewise catness does not exist by itself but only individual cats – that cat down the street, that brown cat on the top of the roof, that black cat crossing the highway, etc. Form alone, then, is not enough to explain the actually existing men, cats, and whales in our world. There must be something else in things, something which limits them, which ties them down to this particular way of being and not any other, to this particular time and place, to this quantity. There must, in short be another principle in things, a principle of limitation, a principle which limits form, restricts it in a way, making it individual, quantified, existing in a definite time and place. This principle is matter.


Overcoming of Contrareity and the Principle of Assimilation


Now in the act of knowing, which is a psychic act, we do not get the matter of things into our mind but instead receive their forms (accidental and substantial). And it is by means of the forms of things in us that we get to know these extra-mental things. The knowing subject receives the forms of various things in an immaterial way through a psychic act. “The insertion of the formality into the cognitive potency,” writes Sanguineti, “allows knowledge in act, according to two Aristotelian principles: 1) Overcoming of contrariety: material objects are receptive of sensible qualities, but the natural presence of a concrete quality impedes that of another: that is, the sensible qualities are contrary elements, which exclude one another reciprocally. Instead, knowledge surpasses contrareity. For example, the faculty capable of receiving colours immaterially must not only be uncoloured, but rather incapable of undergoing the determination of a natural colour; having in itself the ‘receptive potency’ when confronted by every colour, it rests above the concrete colours – that is, it is in a certain sense situated in the appropriate ‘genus’ in order to be able to objectivize any colour, distinguishing one from the other.        

“2) Principle of assimilation: the cognitive potency initially finds itself in an ‘objective vacuum,’ while it does not know anything in act (even if it can know everything that enters into the scheme of its formal object). Knowledge consists not only in the grasping of a form, but in the identification of the faculties with the known form. The cognitive potency passes into act when, being able to receive the form of the thing, it appropriates this latter to the point of making it its own. Since being is specified according to the form, when the cognitive potency is ‘informed’ by an object, it can be said that it acquires a being according to such an object: the sight that sees a colour makes itself that colour, in terms of an intentional identification with its object. In the act of knowing, the knower is the known, precisely because the former has assimilated the latter – made similar to the same – and appropriated it.”[234]


The Intentional Species


The form in the cognitive power of the knowing subject is called the intentional species. This species is an actuation of the cognitive power of the knowing subject. The species is not that which we know but rather is that by which we know the thing that really exists. Knowledge is produced thanks to the actuation of the intentional species in the cognitive power of the knower. Species here does not signify a logical principle which determines predicational existence, nor does it signify an ontological principle which determines natural existence; rather, it is a gnoseological principle which determines intentional existence. So, in its cognitive meaning, a species is an intentional form. As an intentional form it is an instrument of knowledge. Renard explains the nature and role of the intentional species in cognition, writing: “The faculty of knowledge in man, whether intellect or sense, is primarily a passive and indeterminate potency. It must somehow be actuated, moved from potency to act, by the object, since the object is a real cause of knowledge. This actuation implies the reception in the faculty of an immaterial form which renders the object present. We call this form the ‘re-presentative’ species or image. We should note, however, that the being of the object ‘received’ in the knower is not the physical object which exists distinct from the knower, but a form or species[235] – a more or less perfect likeness – which presents not merely the form of the object, but the whole object, the composite of matter and form. This likeness, this species, is called the object in the intentional order. This same species, when viewed not as a ‘re-presentation’ but according to its own reality in the order of nature, is an accidental form, and as such it is united physically with the operative potency, the cognoscitive faculty of which it is the actuation.

“Now, if we consider the union which takes place in the order of nature between the species (as an accidental form) and the operative potency (which is an accidental form of the knowing subject), we must say that this union is a physical union of act and potency This is so because the species is the actuation of the operative potency, and the resulting composite is neither of its parts; it is something else, a third ‘something,’ namely, the actuated faculty. If, however, we consider that the form received is the likeness of the object, and that by means of this likeness the subject knows the object; and if, moreover, we consider that both forms – the operative potency and the species – are acts (perfections) and are immaterial,[236] we must infer that this union is a peculiar union of act (perfection) with act, through which the subject becomes the object in the operation we call knowledge.

“That the species must be immaterial is easily shown. The reason is that the subject must somehow be immaterial in order to know. The object, being received in the knower, must also be free from matter according to the degree of immateriality of the subject, since whatever is received must be received according to the nature of the receiver. It follows, then, that a corporeal object will have to be received in the knower as a ‘representative,’ immaterial form, a species, by means of which the operative potency will unite itself to the object.[237] It is unthinkable that a corporeal, individual substance, existing by its natural ‘to be,’ could be received in an immaterial subject, and be united to the knower in an intentional union. We conclude: the species, which is the actuation of the cognoscitive faculty, is an immaterial form.”[238]    


Being (Ens) is That Which is First Grasped by the Intellect


Now, if knowledge is a relationship between the knower and the thing known, and that one knows by an impression of the form of the thing in the cognitive power of the knower, which is called the impressed species, what is the formal object of one’s intelligence? It is being (ens). The first thing that falls under the grasp of the intelligence is being (ens) because the comprehension of any type of thing involves a preceding comprehension of its character as being (ens). The complex concept of being (ens) is the first idea formed by the human mind, which is not innate but proceeding from experience, in which man notices being as soon as he intellectually knows. One does not therefore treat of an explicitly abstract idea which emerges later as the result of a greater elaboration, but rather of the fact that anything that is the object of some comprehension is first grasped under the character of being (ens). “The apprehension of the real,” writes Llano against critical realism, “is immediately resolved into that of being. It is not possible to found the apprehending of reality on a previous grasping of causality, as critical realism would have it, because the notion of cause depends on that of being, and not vice versa. ‘To begin with an awareness of internal experience in order subsequently to demonstrate the external reality of its object with the help of the principle of causality is, evidently, to introduce the very demonstration as an intermediary between psychological experience and its object.’[239] The approach of critical realism attempts to go from what is apprehended to the real. Metaphysical realism, in contrast, starts out with real being. ‘Because, no matter what object I apprehend, the first thing I grasp about it is its being: ens est quod primum cadit in intellectu. Now this being, which is the first object of the intellect…is very far from being something apprehended without the real; it is, in fact, the real itself, given, doubtless, in an apprehension, but not inasmuch as apprehended. If the thing which experience offers for our analysis ought to be decomposed according to its natural components, it is still undoubtedly ‘an apprehended real thing’ which is being presented to us by our experience, and no method authorizes us to present it as ‘a real apprehension’ unless we change its structure.’[240]

“Starting with the first intellectual illumination of experience, we progress in our knowledge of being. The real panorama which our senses and our intellect offer us is not static, but made up of changeable realities. The movements of things, their activity, their mutual influences, reveal a real capacity on the part of beings for receiving and communicating perfections. The consideration of this natural dynamism leads us to the knowledge of passive potency – the capacity to be determined – and active potency – the capacity to determine – in things.”[241]


Definition of Human Knowledge


After all that has been presented in this chapter, can we give a definition of man’s knowledge? Yes. Renard gives us a descriptive ‘definition’ of human knowledge, stating: “Human knowledge is an immanent operation enacted through the operative potency which has been actuated by a representative species of the object, thus enabling the knowing subject by its operation to become intentionally united with the object.”[242]






[1] By ‘specific facts’ are meant the very specialized results characteristic of the sciences. For example, it is found that the speed of a nerve impulse is so many centimeters per second at a given temperature.

[2] The demonstration of fact (quia est: that something is so) needs complicated procedures of choices of cases, elimination of disturbing causes, and so forth, when the scientist intends to find out whether something always occurs.

[3] Called the propter quid demonstration. By discovering the cause of an effect, it can show the universality of an effect without the roundabout process of studying many individual cases.

[4] It is only to be expected that a person who has not studied these subjects will have only a vague notion of what the conclusions thus expressed mean, and that he will not as yet know why they are asserted.

[5] G. P. KLUBERTANZ, The Philosophy of Human Nature, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1953, pp. 4-5.

[6] Principally, though not exclusively. To some extent, he looks for material causes and efficient causes of motion or change. On the other hand, final causes and the efficient causes of being are usually not dealt with by any science – though there is no reason why any scientist should deny what he himself does not use.

[7] G. P. KLUBERTANZ, op. cit., pp. 5-6. 

[8] Analogy is midway between univocation (application or use in identically the same way) and equivocation (application or use in two or more completely different ways). It is in a way a relational predication, either through causality or through a similitude of proportions.

[9] By ‘applied metaphysics’ is meant the univocal use of metaphysical principles in the explanation of a particular being. Such a procedure would result in overlooking all that is special to man. Almost the same consequences would result from considering philosophical anthropology as a branch of metaphysics.

[10] To cut off philosophical anthropology from metaphysics (as if it were simply a diverse kind of knowledge) would be to prevent the student from understanding man as a being.

[11] G. P. KLUBERTANZ, op. cit., pp. 6-7.

[12] D. MERCIER, Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy, vol. 1, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., London, 1938, pp. 162-163.

[13] H. J. KOREN, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Animate Nature, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1957, pp. 6-8.

[14] C. BITTLE, The Whole Man, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1956, pp. 7-9. 

[15] PLATO, Laws, 959.

[16] Christianity would later teach that, though philosophy is the highest of all the merely human sciences, there is a higher science: supernatural theology, the highest and most exalted of the theoretical sciences.

[17] PLATO, Phaedo, 66 b.

[18] Cf. PLATO, Timaeus, 41 ff. In contrast to Plato, Christianity teaches that the Infinite God, Pure Act of Being, is the uncreated creator of finite human souls, and also the creator of matter.  

[19] Cf. PLATO, Timaeus, 41 c 6-42 e 4 ; 69 b 8-c 8.

[20] Cf. PLATO, Timaeus, 69 c 2-e 4.

[21] Cf. PLATO, Timaeus, 69 d 6-70 a 7.

[22] Cf. PLATO, Timaeus, 246 a 6 ff.

[23] Cf. PLATO, Phaedo, 70 d 7-72 e 2.

[24] F. COPLESTON, A History of Philosophy, vol. 1, book 1, Image Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1985, p. 212.

[25] Cf. PLATO, Phaedo, 72 e 3-77 d 5. 

[26] Cf. PLATO, Meno, 84 ff.

[27] I do not mean to imply an acceptance of the Kantian Critique, but simply to point out that, even on Plato’s assumption, his conclusion is not the only one possible.

[28] Cf. PLATO, Phaedo, 77.

[29] F. COPLESTON, op. cit., pp. 212-213.

[30] Cf. PLATO, Phaedo, 78 b 4-80 e 1.

[31] F. COPLESTON, op. cit., p. 213. 

[32] Cf. PLATO, Phaedo, 86 e 6-88 b 8.

[33] Cf. PLATO, Phaedo, 103 c 10-107 a 1.

[34] F. COPLESTON, op. cit., pp. 213-214.

[35] Cf. PLATO, Republic, 608 d 3-611 a. 2.

[36] F. COPLESTON, op. cit., p. 214.

[37] Cf. PLATO, Phaedrus, 245 c 5 ff.

[38] Cf. PLATO, Laws, 896 a 1-b 3.

[39] F. COPLESTON, op. cit., p. 214. 

[40] F. J. THONNARD, A Short History of Philosophy, Desclée, Tournai, 1956, p. 76.

[41] PLATO, Phaedo, 81a, d, e. Cf. Phaedrus, 495ff.

[42] Disputed Questions “De Anima, article 1.

[43] M. I. GEORGE, Reincarnation Western-Style: the Resurgence of Age-old Superstition in a Scientific Era, “Faith and Reason,” 1996, (Part I, Section B: Arguments vs. Reincarnation Based Upon an Examination of Possible Supernatural Motives Behind It). 

[44] M. I. GEORGE, op. cit., (Part II, Section B: Belief in Reincarnation Due to Disordered Desire).

[45] C. BITTLE, op. cit., pp. 303-304.

[46] CCC, 2280-2282. Bittle explains that suicide is self-murder, an unnatural act: “A person has no more right to murder himself than he has to murder someone else. That person alone has the right to destroy a thing who has dominion over it. In order that an individual be permitted to destroy his own life, he must have dominion over it. But how can an individual have dominion over his life? He did not create it; he did not acquire it through his own effort and industry; he did not purchase it. Life is a gift. The soul is created by God, and the soul is the life principle of the person. God alone, therefore, has dominion over the life of the person. Since the life of an individual is an unearned gift, man is only the steward over his life, and he has the duty to manage and administer his life in the service of his Master. God alone has the right to take man’s life. Consequently, if a person commits suicide he is guilty of invading the rights of God.

     “That suicide is an unnatural act is clear from the fact that the most fundamental and peremptory of all instincts in human nature is self-preservation. This instinct is a manifestation of the will of man’s Creator that he preserve his life against all influences which threaten to destroy it. The preservation of one’s life, therefore, is a demand of the natural law. Consequently, man has no right to take his own life intentionally and arbitrarily”(C. BITTLE, Man and Morals: Ethics, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1953, pp. 341-342). 

[47] PLOTINUS, Enneads, V, 5, 10.

[48] PLOTINUS, Enneads, VI, 9, 6.

[49] C. BITTLE, God and His Creatures, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1953, p. 257.

[50] In Joann. Evang., 19, 5, 15.

[51] De Anima et Ejus Origine, IV, 2, 3 (PL 44, 525).

[52] De Immortalitate Animae, 4-5.

[53] F. COPLESTON, A History of Philosophy, book 1, vol. 2, Image Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1985, p. 79.

[54] De Moribus Ecclesiae, I, 4, 6 (PL 32, 1313) ; De Civitate Dei, 19, 3 (PL 41, 625-626).

[55] De Quantitate Animae, XIII, 22 (PL 32, 1048).

[56] De Moribus Ecclesiae, I 27, 52 (PL 32, 1332).

[57] A. MAURER, Medieval Philosophy, Random House, New York, 1965, p. 9.

[58] E. GILSON, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine, Random House, New York, 1960, p. 45.

[59] De Immortalitate Animae, XVI, 25 (PL 32, 1034).

[60] A. MAURER, op. cit., pp. 9-10.

[61] C. J. O’LEARY, The Substantial Composition of Man According to St. Bonaventure, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1931 ; A. C. PEGIS, St. Thomas and the Problem of the Soul in the Thirteenth Century, St. Michael’s College, Toronto, 1934 (see chapter 2: St. Bonaventure and the Problem of the Soul as Substance) ; E. GILSON, The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure, Sheed and Ward, London, 1938. 

[62] In his work On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis (vii, 7, 8, 9), Saint Augustine proves that the human soul is not made of corporeal matter or spiritual matter.  

[63] A. MAURER, op. cit., pp. 143-144.

[64] Summa Theologiae, I, q. 75, a. 5, c.

[65] A. MAURER, op. cit., pp. 144-145.

[66] Summa Theologiae, I, q. 76, a. 4, c.

[67] Cited in E. GILSON, Jean Duns Scot. Introduction à ses positions fondamentales, p. 468.

[68] E. GILSON, Elements of Christian Philosophy, Mentor-Omega, New York, 1960, pp. 232-234.

[69] R. DESCARTES, Discourse on Method, IV.

[70] R. DESCARTES, Meditations, II, 6.

[71] Cf. R. DESCARTES, Meditations on First Philosophy, 6.

[72] C. ADAM, P. TANNERY (eds.), Complete Works of Descartes, Paris, 1897-1913, vol. 7, p. 203, cf. vol. 9, p. 158.

[73] F. COPLESTON, A History of Philosophy, vol. 4 (Descartes to Leibniz), Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1958, pp. 120-121.

[74] The ‘animal spirits’ here referred to are ‘the most animated and subtle portions of the blood’ which enter into the cavities of the brain. They are material bodies ‘of extreme minuteness,’ which ‘move very quickly like the particles of the flame which issues from a torch’; and they are conducted into the nerves and muscles ‘by means of which they move the body in all the different ways in which it can be moved’(R. DESCARTES, Passions of the Soul, I, 10). 

[75] R. DESCARTES, Passions of the Soul, I, 30-31.      

[76] R. DESCARTES, Letter to Mersenne, 30 July, 1640.

[77] R. DESCARTES, Passions of the Soul, I, 34.

[78] R. DESCARTES, op. cit., I, 32.

[79] R. DESCARTES, Principia philosophica, I, no. 51.

[80] Descartes claimed, against his critics, to have defended the substantial per se unity of man, but his novel argumentation would place in jeopardy the composite nature of man, the substantial union of body and soul to form the one complete human person. Descartes’ “problem was to explain how two complete, substantial things, each essentially unordained to the other, could nevertheless form a composite whole of a substantial sort. When his onetime disciple Regius declared that the doctrine of two complete substances leads merely to a per accidens unity in man, Descartes replied with acerbity that, according to his intention, the unity is a per se one, a true substantial union or ‘commingling’ of mind and body. From the standpoint of an act-potency theory of the nature of a per se, substantial union, Regius was right in drawing such an inference”(J. COLLINS, A History of Modern European Philosophy, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1954, p. 184).   

     What Descartes did was to redefine the meaning of ‘per se unity’ in line with his dualism, on the basis of an explanation of a composite entity in terms of his theory of distinctions, and by an explanation of a substantial union in terms of his doctrine on nature. Collins explains that, for Descartes, “1. A composite entity is a subject in which are found two or more special attributes, each of which can be understood distinctly without reference to the rest. If two special attributes are present in the same subject, and yet each can be understood distinctly without reference to the other, in that subject there are two really distinct substances, which are not united together by any necessary bond. The only kind of union possible between these two substances is a contingent one, that is, one which is not required essentially by the natures in question and hence not capable of an a priori, scientific deduction. Only a sheer fact of experience can assure us of the actual presence of a composite entity. Now this is precisely the case with man. He is subject to such states of confused awareness as sensations and feelings of pain and hunger, which seem to invade the thinking thing from without and yet which belong intimately to it. We could describe the pure thinking thing, apart from such disturbing states, but we could never describe the actual man of our experience, without pointing out that these confused states – where thinking and being extended are intermingled – belong to his make-up. The actual fact of the union of thought and extension in a common subject cannot be deduced from the essence of either a thinking thing or an extended thing: it can be grasped only in an empirical way. The composite nature of man is an unexpected melange, a disconcerting datum that remains irremediably obscure and confused within the Cartesian perspective of mental and bodily substances.

     “2. Given the undeniable fact of the human composite entity, however, can it at least be explained in such a way that the union of the two substances is more than an accidental one and yet not modeled after the Thomistic account of a matter-form union? Descartes attempts to satisfy these conditions with the aid of his doctrine on nature. The term ‘nature,’ for him, has four distinct, real meanings. Writing in his Meditations Concerning First Philosophy, he states that it signifies: (a) God Himself, insofar as He is the author of the system of the world and its all-powerful conserver (Author’s note: Descartes’ calling God “Nature” are the modern terminological roots where the rationalist Spinoza would later get and utilize for his pantheistic monism); (b) the total order and system of finite things themselves, as dependent upon God; (c) the arrangement or assemblage of all that God has disposed for the thinking self alone or for the bodily world alone; (d) the arrangement of things bearing reference to the human composite entity, taken precisely as a union of mind and body.

     “The significance of the third and fourth senses of ‘nature’ is that there is a difference in nature between the self and the man. The self is the mind alone, the thinking substance, completely independent from, and unreferred to, matter. The man, however, is the human composite entity, a contingent whole, made up of the two substances: thinking thing and extended thing. The self and the man agree, insofar as each is a substantial unity in itself. But they are different kinds of substantial unity, since they are different kinds of natures. Descartes usually reserves the term substantial unity of essence or nature to characterize the essential undividedness of the self, with its single, special attribute of thought. He calls the human composite entity or the man a substantial unity of composition, i.e., of nature in the fourth sense. The man does not enjoy a strict unity of essence, since there is no essential and necessary ordination of the thinking thing and the extended thing to each other, or of their respective attributes to each other. They are present together in the same human subject or unity of composition but they do not constitute a unity of essence or of nature in the third and stricter sense. The unity of composition between two complete things or substances is a fact, manifested to us by our own experience of sensations and feelings, but its nature remains incomprehensible to us. All that we can say is that God produces such composite things for the sake of securing the order and unity of nature as a whole (in the second sense of ‘nature’). But since this involves God’s final purpose for the universe, Descartes restrains philosophical inquiry at this point and rests content with the given but confused fact of the composite human entity, the man.

     “In working out this theory, Descartes accomplished a philosophical revolution. With respect to previous philosophy, he changed the meaning of the very problem of a substantial union. For the medievals, this problem was primarily one of how substantial principles could be joined in a composite whole. Descartes relegated this question entirely to the realm of the incomporehensible, since the previous solutions depended upon the theory of actual and potential coprinciples, which he had rejected. Instead, he restricted the problem of a substantial union to a description of the fact or outcome of the composition of two complete substances. The fact is known, since the special attributes of thought and extension indicate that the constituents in the composition are not merely logically distinct or related in a modal way: they are complete, substantial things. How the union can occur and what its structure is, are questions deliberately placed beyond human explanation and left for the infinite power and purpose of God. To say that mind and body are joined in a per se unity, then, does not specify anything positive about the manner of their union but only adverts to a given fact. The real distinction and independence of each constituent substance remain uncompromised by the union of composition, since the mind is still conceived as being an unextended and thinking thing.

     “For Descartes, the self remains intrinsically and essentially unaffected by its incorporation into the man. This is the conclusion he wishes to draw from his doctrine on the unity of the human composite, since it seems to provide an incontrovertible answer to the skeptical arguments against the immateriality and immortality of the soul. There is no intrinsic difficulty against the survival of the self, since its contingent union with the body leaves its independence intact.

     “The ‘I’ or the self is connected and ‘blended’ with the body, but also retains its sovereign independence and essential lack of reference to the body and to the composite whole, which the soul and body together constitute. The union is a substantial one, only in the sense that the composite as such can exist, but this specifies nothing about the way in which the components are united. In the final analysis, Descartes admits that the union of mind and body can be looked at in two ways: from the standpoint of the self and from the standpoint of the man. In reference to the man, the union constitutes an ens per se, insofar as the human composite would not be an actual fact of unity of composition, unless the two substances were somehow joined together. But from the standpoint of the parts, especially the self, the union is somehow accidental, since it disturbs in no way the essential independence and self-subsistence of the substances involved. To counteract the freethinkers, Descartes is ready to sacrifice the substantial unity of the human composite to the immateriality of the thinking self.

     “This sinuous argument proved unsatisfactory for his Thomist opponents since they regarded it as an ignoring of the main issue, which concerns the unity of the essence. Descartes did not establish the unity of a composite, substantial essence, actuated by a single act of being, but rather a composition among substances, each of which retains its own act of being. In the Thomistic meaning of the term, then, he did not secure the per se unity in the human essence”(J. COLLINS, op. cit., pp. 184-188).              

[81] N. MALEBRANCHE, Search of Truth, 7, 2, 3.

[82] “Malebranche accepted the Cartesian dichotomy between spirit and matter, thought and extension; and he drew the conclusion that neither can act directly on the other. He speaks, indeed, of ‘the soul’ (l’âme), but this term does not mean soul in the Aristotelian sense; it means the mind (l’esprit). And although he speaks of the soul’s dependence on the body and of the close union between them, his theory is that mind and body are two things between which there is correspondence but not interaction. The mind thinks, but it does not, properly speaking, move the body. And the body is a machine adapted indeed by God to the soul, but not ‘informed’ by it according to the Aristotelian sense of the term. True, he traces at length the correspondence between physical and psychic events, between, for example, modfications in the brain and modifications in the soul. But what he has in mind is psycho-physical parallelism rather than interaction. ‘It seems to me quite certain that the will of spiritual beings is incapable of moving the smallest body which there is in the world. For it is evident that there is no necessary connection between our will, for example, to move our arm and the arm’s movement. It is true that it moves when we will, and that we are thus the natural cause of the movement of our arm. But natural causes are not at all true causes, they are only occasional causes, which act only by the power and efficacy of God’s will, as I have just explained.’(N. MALEBRANCHE, op. cit., 6, 2, 3).

     “Malebranche does not deny, therefore, that I am in some sense the natural cause of the movement of my arm. But the term ‘natural cause’ means here ‘occasional cause.’ How could my volition be anything else than an occasional cause? I certainly do not know how I move my arm, if I move it. ‘There is no man who knows what he must do to move one of his fingers by means of the animal spirits. How then could men move their arms? These things appear to me to be evident and also, it seems to me, to all those who are willing to think, though they may be perhaps incomprehensible to all those who are only willing to sense’(Ibid.). Here Malebranche assumes the very questionable assumtion of Geulincx, that a true causal agent knows that he acts and how he acts. Moreover, that I should be the true cause of my arm’s movement is a contradictory notion. ‘A true cause is a cause between which and its effect the mind perceives a necessary connection. It is thus that I understand the term’(Ibid.). To be a true cause is to be a creative agent, and no human agent can create. Nor can God communicate this power to a human being. Hence we must conclude that God moves my arm on the occasion of my willing that the arm should be moved’(Ibid.). God, therefore, is the one and only true cause…natural causes are not true causes…the only true cause is a supernatural agent, God. And this general principle must obviously hold good with regard to the relation between soul and body in man. There is parallelism but not interaction. And from this Malebranche draws the conclusion that ‘our soul is not at all united to our body in the way that common opinion supposes that it is. The soul is united immediately and directly to God alone’(N. MALEBRANCHE, Conversations on Metaphysics and Religion, 7, 15).”(F. COPLESTON, op. cit., pp. 188-190).       

[83] W. TURNER, op. cit., p. 465.

[84] R. DESCARTES, Principia philosophica, I, no. 51.

[85] B. SPINOZA, Ethics Demonstrated According to the Geometrical Order, I, definition 3.

[86] Cf. F. J. THONNARD, op. cit., p. 540.

[87] Man, for Spinoza, would not be “a composition of two finite substances but only of two corresponding modes of the one divine substance. Spinoza’s answer to the Cartesian dualism of mind-substance and body-substance is to deny the substantial character of the two terms and to achieve the harmony of mind and body through their mutual expression of the same substance, even though they do so under different attributes”(J. COLLINS, op. cit., p. 75).

[88] R. CHERVIN, E. KEVANE, Love of Wisdom, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1988, pp. 222-223.

[89] F. J. THONNARD, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 549.

[90] J. DE TORRE, The Humanism of Modern Philosophy, Southeast Asian Science Foundation, Manila, 1989, p. 63.

[91] I. DILMAN, Free Will, Routledge, London, 1999, p. 129.

[92] I. DILMAN, op. cit., pp. 134, 138.

[93] J. COLLINS, op. cit., pp. 77-78.

[94] Studies on individuation: G. M. MANSER, Das thomistische Individuationsprinzip, “Divus Thomas,” 12 (1934), pp. 221-27, 279-300 ; E. HUGUENY, Résurrection et indentité corporelle selon les philosophies de l’individuation, “Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Theologiques,” 23 (1934), pp. 94-106 ; J. B. WALL, The Mind of St. Thomas on the Principle of Individuation, “Modern Schoolman,” 1940-1941, pp. 41ff. ; U. DEGL’INNOCENTI, Il pensiero di San Tommaso sul principio di individuazione, “Divus Thomas,” 45 (1942), pp. 35-81 ; U. DEGL’INNOCENTI, De Gaetano e il principio d’individuazione, “Divus Thomas,” 26 (1949), pp. 202-208 ; J. BOBIK, La doctrine de Saint Thomas sur l’individuation des substances corporelles, “Revue Philosophique de Louvain,” 51 (1953), pp. 5-41 ; J. BOBIK, Dimensions in the Individuation of Bodily Substances, “Philosophical Studies,” 4 (1954), pp. 60-79 ; J. KLINGER, Das Prinzip der Individuation bei Thomas von Aquin, “Münsterschwarzacher Studien (II),” Vier Turme Verlag, Münsterschwarzacher, 1964 ; U. DEGL’INNOCENTI, Il principio d’individuazione dei corpi e Giovanni di S. Tommaso, “Aquinas,” 12 (1969), pp. 59-99 ; U. DEGL’INNOCENTI, Il principio d’individuazione nella scuola tomistica, Pontificia Università Lateranense, Rome, 1971 ; S. P. SFEKAS, The Problem of Individuation in Aristotelian Metaphysics, New York, 1979 ; J. OWENS, Thomas Aquinas: Dimensive Quantity as Individuating Principle, “Medieval Studies,” 50 (1988), pp. 279-310. 

[95] See the third and eleventh questions of the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae.

[96] Studies on the real distinction between essence and act of being: H. RENARD, Essence and Existence, “Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association”, 21 (1946), pp. 53-65; H. RENARD, Being and Essence, “The New Scholasticism”, 23 (1949), pp. 62-70; C. FABRO, La nozione metafisica di partecipazione, 2nd ed., S.E.I., Turin, 1950, pp. 218-219; U. DEGL’INNOCENTI, La distinzione reale nel ‘De ente et essentia’ di S. Tommaso, “Doctor Communis”, 10 (1957), pp. 165-173; W. L. REESE,  Concerning the “Real Distinction” of Essence and Existence, “The Modern Schoolman” 38 (1961), pp. 142-148; M. W. KEATING, The Relation Between the Proofs for the Existence of God and the Real Distinction of Essence and Existence in St. Thomas Aquinas, Fordham University, New York, 1962; L. SWEENEY, Existence/Essence in Thomas Aquinas’s Early Writings, “Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association”, 37 (1963), pp. 105-109; J. BOBIK, Aquinas on Being and Essence, Notre Dame, IN, 1965, pp. 162-170; J. OWENS, Quiddity and Real Distinction in St. Thomas Aquinas, “Mediaeval Studies”, 27 (1965), pp. 1-22; B. NEGRONI, Essenza ed esistenza nell’omonimo opuscolo di S.Tommaso d’Aquino, in Atti del Congresso Internazionale Tommaso d’Aquino nel suo VII Centenario (6), Rome-Naples, 1974, pp. 238-289; A. MAURER, St. Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, Toronto, 1968, pp. 21 ff; T. E. Dillon, The Real Distinction Between Essence and Existence in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, 1977; M. KOSUGI, Esse and Essentia in St. Thomas Aquinas, “Studies in Medieval Thought”, 21 (1979), pp. 155-163; J. WIPPEL, Aquinas’s Route to the Real Distinction. A Note on the “De ente et essentia”, c. 4, “The Thomist”, 43 (1979), pp. 279-295; J. OWENS, Stages and Distinction in “De ente”: A Rejoinder, “The Thomist”, 45 (1981), pp. 99-123; J. WIPPEL, Essence and Existence in the “De ente”, ch. 4, and Essence and Existence in Other Writings, in  Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1984, pp. 107-161; S. MacDONALD, The Esse/Essentia Argument in Aquinas’s “De ente et essentia”, “Journal of the History of Philosophy”, 22 (1984), p. 158 ff ; L. DEWAN, Saint Thomas, Joseph Owens, and the Real Distinction Between Being and Essence, “The Modern Schoolman”, 61 (1984), pp. 145-156; W. PATT, Aquinas’s Real Distinction and Some Interpretations,  “The New Scholasticism”, 62 (1988), pp. 1-29; M. BROWN, Aquinas and the Real Distinction: A Re-evaluation, “New Blackfriars”, 67 (1988), pp. 170-177; F. A. CUNNINGHAM, Essence and Existence in Thomism: A Mental vs. the “Real Distinction?”, University Press of America, Lanham, MD, 1988; M. BEUCHOT, La esencia y la existencia en Tomás de Aquino, “Revista de Filosofia” (Mexico), 22 (1989), pp. 149-165; L. DEWAN, St. Thomas and the Distinction between Form and Esse in Caused Things, “Gregorianum”, 80 (1999), pp. 353-369.

[97] Studies on Thomistic participation metaphysics: C. A. HART, Participation and the Thomistic Five Ways, “The New Scholasticism”, 26 (1952), pp. 267-282; W. NORRIS CLARKE, The Meaning of Participation in St. Thomas Aquinas, “Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association”, 26 (1952), pp. 147-157 ; L. B. GEIGER, La participation dans la philosophie de St. Thomas d’Aquin, Paris, 1953; G. LINDBECK, Participation and Existence in the Interpretation of  St. Thomas Aquinas, “Franciscan Studies”, 17 (1957), pp. 1-22, 107-125; C. FABRO, Partecipazione e causalità, S.E.I., Turin, 1961 ; La nozione metafisica di partecipazione, 3rd ed., S.E.I. Turin, 1963; Elementi per una dottrina tomistica della partecipazione, “Divinitas”, 2 (1967), pp. 559-586 ; The Intensive Hermeneutics of Thomistic Philosophy: The Notion of Participation, “The Review of Metaphysics”, 27 (1974), pp. 449-491; Partecipazione agostiniana e partecipazione tomistica, “Doctor Communis”, 39 (1986), pp. 282-291 ; H. J. JOHN, Participation Revisited, “The Modern Schoolman”, 39 (1962), pp. 154-165 ; J. ARTOLA, Creación y participación, Publicaciones de la Institución Aquinas, Madrid, 1963; P. C. COURTÈS, Participation et contingence selon Saint Thomas d’ Aquin, “Revue Thomiste”, 77 (1969), pp. 201-235; J. CHIU YUEN HO, La doctrine de la participatión dans le Commentaire de Saint Thomas sur le “Liber de Causis”, “Revue philosophique de Louvain”, 27 (1972), pp. 360-383; T. FAY, Participation: The Transformation of Platonic and Neoplatonic Thought in the Metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas, “Divus Thomas”, 76 (1973), pp. 50-64; O. N. DERISI, Participación, acto y potencia y analogia en Santo Tomás, “Rivista di filosofia neoscolastica”, 65 (1974), pp. 415-435; La existencia o esse imparticipado divino, causa de todo ser participado, “Sapientia”, 31 (1976), pp. 109-120; El fundamento de la metafisica tomista: El Esse e Intelligere Divino, fundamento y causa de todo ser y entender participados, “Sapientia” 35 (1980), pp. 9-26; Del ente participado al Ser imparticipado, “Doctor Communis”, 35 (1982), pp. 26-38; La participación del ser, “Sapientia”, 37 (1982), pp. 5-10, 83-86, 243-248; La participación de la esencia, in Cinquant’anni di Magistero Teologico. Scritti in onore di Mons. Antonio Piolanti, “Studi tomistici” (26), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1985, pp. 173-184; P. LAZZARO, La dialettica della partecipazione nella Summa contra Gentiles di S. Tommaso d’Aquino, Parallelo, Regio Calabria, 1976 ; K. REISENHUBER, Participation as a Structuring Principle in Thomas Aquinas’ Teaching on Divine Names, “Studies in Medieval Thought”, 20 (1978), pp. 240-242; A. BASAVE, La doctrina metafisica de la participación en santo Tomás de Aquino, “Giornale di Metafisica”, 30 (1979), pp. 257-266; A. L. GONZÁLEZ, Ser y participación, EUNSA, Pamplona, 1979; P. MAZZARELLA, Creazione, partecipazione, e tempo secondo san Tommaso d’Aquino, “Studia Patavina”, (1982), pp. 308-335; J. F. WIPPEL, Thomas Aquinas and Participation, in Studies in Medieval Philosophy, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1987, pp. 117-158 ; C. P. BIGGER, St. Thomas on Essence and Participation, “The New Scholasticism”, 62 (1988), pp. 319-348; T. TYN, Metafisica della sostanza. Partecipazione e analogia entis, Edizioni Studio Domenicano, Bologna, 1991, pp. 18-20, 523-583, 813-933 ; R. A. TE VELDE, Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas, Brill, Leiden, 1995.

[98] C. HART, op. cit., p. 194.

[99] P. GLENN, op. cit., pp. 367-369, 372-373. Against psychological determinism, James Royce gives us a proof of freedom under freedom from internal necessity (from indifferent judgments): ‘Will is determined only to the extent that intellect determines it. But intellect does not determine will with regard to finite goods seen as finite. Therefore, will is not determined with regard to finite goods seen as such.’ The major premise of this proof flows from the fact that will follows intellect: appetition follows cognition, and the inclination of the will must correspond to the intellectual judgments which elicit it.

     “The minor premise simply examines the nature of the intellectual judgments which the will follows. Finite goods are seen as not good in every respect, and therefore rejectable. Since the intellect is capable of knowing the universal good, it recognizes any particular good as contingent or non-necessitating. I can have adequate reason (even God himself as now known) for doing something, but the reason does not tell me that I cannot do otherwise. Therefore I am free to determine whether or not I shall act because of this motive.

     “This indifferent or undetermined judgment regarding eligible goods is sometimes called changeable, but this is misleading. It suggests that the judgment is a determining motive right now, but that upon further information the judgment might change. This theory does not escape psychological determinism, for it could be argued that the further information then determines. Rather, right here and now with the information available I know that this good is nonnecessary, and that another alternative is possible. Again, the judgment is not free (active), since the intellect cannot help but know what it knows. But what it knows in this instance is that this act is choosable but rejectable; therefore the ultimate practical judgment is to choose or reject it is determinable (passive) by the will”(J. ROYCE, op. cit., pp. 204-205).     

[100] J. ROYCE, op. cit., pp. 206-207.

[101] G. W. LEIBNIZ, Monadology, 1-2, Weiner, 533.

[102] R. P. PHILLIPS, Modern Thomistic Philosophy, vol. 1, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London,  1935, pp. 34-35.

[103] Kenneth Dougherty explains that “the dynamist admits ‘action at a distance,’ that is action without any medium through which the action passes to the patient. Hence, they posit only empty space between their unextended entities. But experimental science rejects as physically impossible the action of a physical force through a total vacuum. If there were ‘action at a distance’ the effect at a distance would be instantaneous. Time, however, is required for sound, light, or other phenomena to travel. If the phenomenon is a wave, it must have a medium. A particle also takes time to move across the gap, and so it is not ‘action at a distance.’ Dynamists cannot explain why gravitation diminishes as the distance increases and vice versa. This should not be if ‘action at a distance,’ which would be instantaneous, took place. Furthermore, empty spaces or vacua, which the dynamist posits, are contradictory to motion. Once an initial mover has ceased moving a mobile being, the medium does not rest. It facilitates motion. But a vacuous medium has nothing to facilitate motion. Motion could not be in a vacuum. It violates the principle that whatever is moved is moved by another. We are speaking here about a perfect vacuum and not the so-called ‘vacuum’ spoken of by the physicist as in the experiment of pumping the air out of the bell jar. This latter is not really a case of a vacuum”(K. F. DOUGHERTY, Cosmology, Graymoor Press, Peekskill, New York, 1953, p. 100). 

[104] P. J. GLENN, Cosmology, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1941, pp. 142-143.

[105] C. BITTLE, From Aether to Cosmos, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1941, pp. 244-245.

[106] C. BITTLE, op. cit., pp. 245-246.

[107] J. HIRSCHBERGER, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 235.

[108] D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, I, 4, 1.

[109] D. HUME, op. cit., I, 4, 6.

[110] D. HUME, op. cit., Appendix.

[111] J. COLLINS, op. cit., pp. 436-439.

[112] G. BERKELEY, Principles of Human Knowledge, I, 3.

[113] J. DE TORRE, op. cit., p. 90.

[114] C. MASCIA, A History of Philosophy, St. Anthony Guild Press, Paterson, NJ, 1957, pp. 343-344. 

[115] J. DE TORRE, The Humanism of Modern Philosophy, Southeast Asian Science Foundation, Manila, 1989, p. 119. 

[116] Kant uses this term to describe the effort to draw a conclusion from a principle like the soul, world, or God which is in fact devoid of content, representing as they do only formal functions.

[117] Cf. I. KANT, Critique of Pure Reason, “Transcendental Dialectic,” Book II, Part 1, A 342, B 400ff.

[118] J. HIRSCHBERGER, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 299-300.

[119] I. KANT, Critique of Pure Reason, B 410-411.

[120] J. COLLINS, op. cit., pp. 494-495.

[121] De Torre writes that “according to Fichte, the human spirit creates everything…. Nevertheless, as Kant noted, it is not up to me to change my observation: what is given to me in my consciousness appears to be distinct from me. But why is there a distinction between the ego and the non-ego? Why does the non-ego (external world) appear to the ego as opposed, if the ego creates the non-ego, i.e. if the principle of the non-ego is the ego? Fichte replies that if we scrutinize the human mind we will find that its most simple statement is the principle of identity: A is A. This principle is purely formal: it does not imply the existence of anything (‘A is A’ does not imply that A exists); it expresses a purely formal identity, without content. But how does the mind pass from this formal identity to an identity with existential content (in which A is a really existent A)? Here Fichte turns to Descartes: ‘I am myself’ is the most basic judgment where we find formal identity and material content together. Thus, it is by way of my own existence (I am) that I pass from purely formal identity to a formal identity with content. But I say that ‘I am myself’ when I am conscious of myself as thinking: this is the first affirmation of my existence with content. Therefore, every other affirmation of existence with real content is real to the extent that it is related to my consciousness. Fichte then declares that the ‘I’ in the ‘I am’, i.e. the transcendental Ego (not the individual and finite ego) is thus the origin of all existence. For example, when I affirm that this table is round, what I do is to affirm the existence of a round table by relating it to my consciousness of it. The empirical fact that the existence of a thing is related to my consciousness confirms that the reality of the existence of the non-ego is grounded on the reality of the existence of the ego”(J. DE TORRE, The Humanism of Modern Philosophy, Southeast Asian Science Foundation, Manila, 1989, p. 132). The primordial reality is thought: the spiritual principle of man, the pure ego, also constitutes the foundation of the non-ego. In fact, in thought functions, there is a distinction between the thinking subject and the object thought of. Therefore, to the pure ego there is added the empirical ego and the non-ego: the first is indivisible; the other two are divisible. The ultimate end of the empirical ego lies in the attainment of the pure-ego.  

[122] J. DE TORRE, op. cit., pp. 132-133.

[123] A. FAGOTHEY, op. cit., pp. 501-502.

[124] W. J. BROSNAN, God Infinite and Reason, America Press, New York, 1928, p. 220.

[125] S. KIERKEGAARD, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1960, p. 85.

[126] S. KIERKEGAARD, op. cit., p. 317 (Italics added).

[127] S. KIERKEGAARD, Journals, Torchbook, Harper and Row, New York, 1959, #1050.

[128] S. KIERKEGAARD, Point of View, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1939, pp. 88-89.

[129] S. STUMPF, Philosophy, History and Problems, McGraw Hill, New York and Toronto, 1971, p. 458.

[130] S. KIERKEGAARD, Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard, (ed. L. Hollander), Doubleday, New York, 1960, pp. 12-13.   

[131] G. PRICE, The Narrow Pass, McGraw Hill, New York and Toronto, 1963, p. 162.

[132] S. KIERKEGAARD, op.cit., p. 169.

[133] S. KIERKEGAARD, Either/Or, II, 197.

[134] S. KIERKEGAARD, op. cit., II, 161ff.

[135] S. KIERKEGAARD, op. cit., II, 255-256.

[136] S. KIERKEGAARD, Fear and Trembling, Anchor Book, Doubleday, Garden City, 1954, pp. 69-70, 72.

[137] S. KIERKEGAARD, Concluding Scientific Postscript, London, 1941, p. 448.

[138] S. KIERKEGAARD, op. cit., p. 368.

[139] S. KIERKEGAARD, op. cit., p. 350.

[140] S. KIERKEGAARD, op. cit., p. 84.

[141] S. KIERKEGAARD, op. cit., p. 85.

[142] F. COPLESTON, A History of Philosophy, book 3, vol. 7, Image Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1985, pp. 347-348.

[143] F. J. THONNARD, A Short History of Philosophy, Desclée, Tournai, 1956, p. 755.

[144] Ibid.

[145] F. J. THONNARD, op. cit., pp. 755-756.

[146] F. J. THONNARD, op. cit., pp. 756-757.

[147] Cf. K. MARX, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, preface, 1859.

[148] A. FAGOTHEY, op. cit., pp. 502-503.

[149] C. BITTLE, op. cit., pp. 635-636.

[150] C. BITTLE, op. cit., pp. 637-640.

[151] A. SCHOPENHAUER, Parega and Paralipomena, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1974.

[152] It is clear that Schopenhauer’s voluntaristic idealism is similar in many respects to Buddhism: the conviction that the world is evil, that one achieves ‘salvation’ in nothingness (noluntas, nirvana, the total extinction of desire, which is the culmination of the ascetical path), and the absence of any personal transcendent God. Therefore, Pope John Paul II’s observations on Buddhism and its essential difference with Christianity are relevant here: “Both the Buddhist tradition and the methods deriving from it have an almost exclusively negative soteriology. The ‘enlightenment’ experienced by Buddha comes down to the conviction that the world is bad, that it is the source of evil and suffering for man. To liberate oneself from this evil, one must free oneself from this world, necessitating a break with the ties that join us to external reality – ties existing in our human nature, in our psyche, in our bodies. The more we are liberated from these ties, the more we become indifferent to what is in the world, and the more we are freed from suffering, from the evil  that has its source in the world.

    “Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the ‘enlightenment’ conveyed by Buddha. Buddhism is in large measure an ‘atheistic’ system. We do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad. The fullness of such a detachment is not union with God, but what is called nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world. To save oneself means, above all, to free onself from evil by becoming indifferent to the world, which is the source of evil. This is the culmination of the spiritual process.

     “At various times, attempts to link this method with the Christian mystics have been made – whether it is with those from northern Europe (Eckhart, Tauler, Suso, Ruysbroeck) or the later Spanish mystics (Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross). But when Saint John of the Cross, in the Ascent of Mount Carmel and in the Dark Night of the Soul, speaks of the need for purification, for detachment from the world of the senses, he does not conceive of that detachment as an end in itself. ‘To arrive at what now you do not enjoy, you must go where you do not enjoy. To reach what you do not know, you must go where you do not know. To come into possession of what you do not have, you must go where now you have nothing’(Ascent of Mount Carmel, I, 13, 11). In Eastern Asia these classic texts of Saint John of the Cross have been, at times, interpreted as a confirmation of Eastern ascetic methods. But this Doctor of the Church does not merely propose detachment from the world. He proposes detachment from the world in order to unite oneself to that which is outside of the world – by this I do not mean nirvana, but a personal God. Union with Him comes about not only through purification, but through love.

     Carmelite mysticism begins at the point where the reflections of Buddha end, together with his instructions for the spiritual life. In the active and passive purification of the human soul, in those specific nights of the senses and the spirit, Saint John of the Cross sees, above all, the preparation necessary for the human soul to be permeated with the living flame of love. And this is also the title of his major work – The Living Flame of Love. 

     “Therefore, despite similar aspects, there is a fundamental difference. Christian mysticism from every period – beginning with the era of the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church, to the great theologians of Scholasticism (such as Saint Thomas Aquinas), to the northern European mystics, to the Carmelite mystics – is not born of a purely negative ‘enlightenment.’ It is not born of an awareness of the evil which exists in man’s attachment to the world through the senses, the intellect, and the spirit. Instead, Christian mysticism is born of the Revelation of the living God. This God opens Himself to union with man, arousing in him the capacity to be united with Him, especially by means of the theological virtues – faith, hope, and, above all, love.

     “Christian mysticism in every age up to our own – including the mysticism of marvelous men of action like Vincent de Paul, John Bosco, Maximilian Kolbe – has built up and continues to build up Christianity in its most essential element. It also builds up the Church as a community of faith, hope and charity. It builds up civilization, particularly ‘Western civilization,’ which is marked by a positive approach to the world, and which developed thanks to the achievements of science and technology, two branches of knowledge rooted both in the ancient Greek philosophical tradition and in Judeo-Christian Revelation. The truth about God the Creator of the world and about Christ the Redeemer is a powerful force which inspires a positive attitude toward creation and provides a constant impetus to strive for its transformation and perfection.

     “The Second Vatican Council has amply confirmed this truth. To indulge in a negative attitude toward the world, in the conviction that it is only a source of suffering for man and that he therefore must break away from it, is negative not only because it is unilateral but also because it is fundamentally contrary to the development of both man himself and the world, which the Creator has given and entrusted to man as his task.

     “We read in Gaudium et Spes: ‘Therefore, the world which [the Council] has in mind is the world of men, of the entire human family considered in the context of all realities; the world which is the theatre of human history and which bears the marks of humanity’s struggles, its defeats, and its victories; the world which the Christians believe has been created and is sustained by the Creator’s love, a world enslaved by sin but liberated by the crucified and resurrected Christ in order to defeat evil, and destined, according to the divine plan, to be transformed and to reach its fulfillment”(Gaudium et Spes, 2).

     “These words indicate how between Christianity and the religions of the Far East, in particular Buddhism, there is an essentially different way of perceiving the world. For Christians, the world is God’s creation, redeemed by Christ. It is in the world that man meets God. Therefore he does not need to attain such an absolute detachment in order to find himself in the mystery of his deepest self. For Christianity, it does not make sense to speak of the world as a ‘radical’ evil, since at the beginning of the world we find God the Creator who loves His creation, a God who ‘gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life’(Jn 3:16)”(JOHN PAUL II, Crossing the Treshold of Hope, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1994, pp. 85-89).      

[153] C. MASCIA, op. cit., pp. 419-420.

[154] F. COPLESTON, op. cit., book 3, vol. 7, pp. 286-287.

[155] F. COPLESTON, op. cit., pp. 401-402.

[156] F. NIETZSCHE, Thus Spake Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann, Viking Press, New York, 1967, p. 188. 

[157] F. NIETZSCHE, The Antichrist, translated by Walter Kaufmann in The Portable Nietzsche, Viking Press, New York, 1967, p. 57. 

[158] F. NIETZSHE, Sämliche Werke: Kritishe Studienausgabe, ed. by G. Colli and M. Montinari, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich, 1986, 6,139f. (Twilight of the Idols, “Skirmishes of an Untimely Man,” par. 38).   

[159] V. MICELI, The Gods of Atheism, Arlington House, New Rochelle, New York, 1971, p. 83. In an influential work on Nietzsche published by Harvard University Press during the Second World War (1941), Crane Brinton has convincingly shown the connection between Nietzsche’s Will to Power and Superman philosophy and that of Hitler and Nazi ideology: “The Fueher himself has publicly gone on record as having learned from Nietzsche…Since the revolution of 1933, Hitler has made several public visits to the Nietzsche-Archiv in Weimer and has had himself photographed there…The Nietzsche-Archiv itself, as custodian of the Master’s tradition, has not hesitated to identify itself with the ‘world revolution’ of the Fascists and the Nazis. Elizabeth, then a very old lady, actually had the Archiv send Mussolini on his fiftieth birthday the following telegram: ‘To the noblest disciple of Zarathustra, whom Nietzsche had dreamed of, the inspired re-awakener of aristocratic values in Nietzsche’s sense, the Nietzsche-Archiv sends in deepest respect and admiration the warmest good wishes’(in G. SCHEUFFLER, Friedrich Nietzsche im Dritten Reich, 1933, p. 7). The professional Nietzscheans can hardly contain themselves. Their hero has now come into his own. Even the academic Nietzscheans – the academic ones who are good Nazis – burst into ecstasy. ‘And when we call out to this youth, marching under the swastika: Heil Hitler! – at the same time we greet with this call Friedrich Nietzsche!’(A. BAEUMLER, Nietzsche und der Nazionalsozialismus, in his Studien zur deutsche Geistesgeschichte, 1937, p. 294)…

     “The makers of public opinion in Nazi Germany have called Nietzsche to their aid. Of that there can be no doubt…He has been admitted into the Nazi pantheon, and his works have become part of Nazi education…it is clear that Nietzsche brings to the miscellaneous and unimpressive collection of works which make up the Nazi holy writings an element otherwise almost lacking in them. For Nietzsche, hated though he may be, is yet commonly accepted in the Western world as a person who counts, as a sensitive artist, a master of German prose, a philosopher, a Great Mind. No such distinction has yet been conferred by the outside world upon the race-theorists, the anti-Semites, the crank sociologists and philosophers of history of the Hitlerite movement. Rosenberg, the most favored intellectual of the movement, seems hardly more respectable, more sérieux in comparison with the long tradition of Western thought, than Hitler himself. As for Mein Kampf, however holy it might seem to the faithful, to outsiders it is at the very mildest a book lacking in the final distinctions of literary form and philosophical penetration. It too is the book of a crank, a man outside the pale. With Nietzsche, however, the Nazis have been able to acquire, if not respectability, at least distinction…

     “Nietzsche’s contempt for the nineteenth century and all its works, his attacks on Christianity, on humanitarian movements, on parliamentary government, that ‘destructive’ part of his writings which in verve and clarity is the best of his work – all this is just what the convinced Nazi wants to hear…Nietzsche writes: ‘Democracy has in all ages been the form under which organizing strength has perished…Liberalism, or the transformation of mankind into cattle…Modern democracy is the historic form of the decay of the state…The equality of souls before God, this lie, this screen for the rancunes of all the baseminded, this anarchist bomb of a concept, which has become the last revolution, the modern idea and principle of the destruction of the whole social order – this is Christian dynamite’(F. NIETZSCHE, Twilight of the Idols, “Skirmishes in a War with the Age,” 39, 38; Human All Too Human, Part I, 472, 480; Antichrist, 62).

     “There is also much in Nietzsche that helps to picture, with proper vagueness, the new society which, like all revolutionaries, the National Socialists are sure they are building. If the old society was parliamentarian, pacific, at least in hope, tolerant of individual freedoms, devoted – at least in principle – to free speech and other civil rights, and contented with an unheroic and comfortable present, the new society will be authoritarian, militant, contemptuous of such outmoded eighteenth-century notions as those of natural rights and individual happiness, a society harsh and heroic, a new Sparta of Supermen. Nietzsche’s praise of war and the soldier is already a commonplace: ‘The future of German culture rests with the sons of Prussian officers…Peace and letting other people alone – this is not a policy for which I have any respect whatever. To dominate (herrschen) and to help the highest thought to victory – that would be the only thing that could interest me in Germany…The same discipline makes the soldier and the scholar efficient; and, looked at more closely, there is no true scholar who has not the instincts of the true soldier in his veins…Ye shall love peace as a means to new wars – and the short peace more than the long…War and courage have done more things than charity. Not your sympathy but your bravery hath hitherto saved the victims…’(F. NIETZSCHE, Genealogy of Morals, “Peoples and Countries,” 14, 17; Will to Power, 912; Zarathustra, Part I, chapter 10).

     “Now and then in the midst of Nietzsche’s aphorisms there stands out a passage that might have been written today – has, indeed, been written a hundred times today: ‘Is it not high time, now that the type gregarious animal is developing ever more and more in Europe, to set about rearing, thoroughly artificially, and consciously, an opposite type, and to attempt to establish the latter’s virtues? And would not the democratic movement itself find for the first time a sort of goal, salvation, and justification, if someone appeared who availed himself of it – so that at last, beside its new and sublime product, slavery (for this must be the end of European democracy) that higher species of ruling and Caesarian spirits might also be produced, a kind of men who would stand upon it, hold to it, and would elevate themselves through it? This new race would climb aloft to new and hitherto impossible things, to a broader vision, and to its task on earth’(F. NIETZSCHE, The Will to Power, 954). The Fueherprinzip has nowhere been better stated…

     “The Nazis can also find support for their current racial doctrines in the work of Nietzsche: ‘It is impossible not to recognize at the core of all these aristocratic races the beast of prey; the magnificent blonde brute, avidly rampant for spoil and victory; this hidden core needed an outlet from time to time – the Roman, Arabic, German, and Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, the Scandinavian Vikings, are all alike in this need. It is the aristocratic races who have left the idea Barbarian on all the tracks in which they have marched…The profound, icy mistrust which the German provokes as soon as he arrives at power, even at the present time, is always still an aftermath of that inextinguishable horror with which for the whole centuries Europe has regarded the wrath of the blonde Teuton beast’(F. NIETZSCHE, Genealogy of Morals, Part I, 11).     

     “Scattered through Nietzsche’s work is a good deal of material suitable for anti-semitic use…most of the stock of professional anti-semitism is represented in Nietzsche: the Jews are intellectuals with a grievance, hence destroyers of what makes for stability in society; they run the press and the stock-exchange, to the disadvantage of the slower-witted but more honest and healthy Gentiles; they are parasites, decadents; they are responsible for the three great evils of modern civilization – Christianity, Democracy, Marxism (For examples, see The Joyful Wisdom, 301; Twilight of the Idols, Part IV, 26; Will to Power, 184, 864; Beyond Good and Evil, 251; and especially Antichrist, 24-27).

     “Even when Nietzsche is trying his best, according to his own standards, to be fair to the Jews, to be moderate and even tempered, he provides good ammunition for Nazi leaders, who have only to excise a few of his qualifying phrases. Take for instance one of his most famous and often-quoted passages on the Jewish question: ‘I have never yet met a German who was favorably inclined to the Jews: and however decided the repudiation of actual anti-semitism may be on the part of all prudent and political men, this prudence and policy is not perhaps directed against the nature of sentiment itself, but only against its dangerous excess, and especially against the distasteful and infamous expression of this excess of sentiment: – on this point we must not deceive ourselves. That Germany has amply sufficient Jews, that the German stomach, the German blood, has difficulty (and will long have difficulty) in disposing of this quantity of Jew – as the Italian, the Frenchman, and the Englishman have done by means of a stronger digestion: – that is the unmistakable declaration and language of a general instinct, to which one must listen and according to which one must act. Let no more Jews come in! And shut the doors, especially towards the East (also towards Austria)!’(F. NIETZSCHE, Beyond Good and Evil, 251. Clearly a discerning Nazi would need to make supressions here, but the substance is good Nazi doctrine).

     “Nietzsche, then, fits into National Socialist needs both in what he damned and in what he praised. He damned democracy, pacifism, individualism, Christianity, humanitarianism, both as abstract ideals and as, in some vague way, actual descriptions of modern European society. He praised authority, racial purity, the warrior spirit and practice, the stern life and the great health, and urged upon his fellow-citizens a complete break with their bad old habits and ideas…both Nietzsche’s metaphysics and his prophetic writings are popular in contemporary Germany, and throw additional light on the nature of National Socialist plans for the Good Society. In fact, most of Nietzsche’s grand abstract terms, though they can be given a variety of interpretations, contain overtones, implications, admirably suited to Nazi uses. The famous phrase Will to Power suggests ruthlessness, aggression, a policy of expansion perfectly illustrated since Hitler’s accession to power. The concept of a new race of Supermen, though Nietzsche himself left it as obscure in form and in detail as are most such eschatological concepts of recent invention, has proved very flattering to an aspiring Nazi elite, who have considered that they were at least making possible the development of a new race of men (This notion is strong in Oehler, Nietzsche und die Deutsche Zukunft, and is discernible even in so restrained a book as Haertle’s Nietzsche und der Nationalsozialismus)...

     “The Nazis then, and their fascist followers are tough Nietzscheans in a more than literary and aesthetic sense. Nietzsche is held in high honor today in his native land. He has become one of the Early Fathers of the revolutionary Nazi faith. Point for point he preached, along with a good deal else which the Nazis choose to disremember, most of the cardinal articles of the professed Nazi creed – a transvaluation of all values, the sanctity of the will to power, the right and duty of the strong to dominate, the sole right of great states to exist, a renewing, a rebirth, of German and hence European society. More vaguely, Nietzsche preached the coming of the Superman; and though many different ethical values can be, and have been, attached to this concept of the Superman, both the Nazi idea of the Master-race and the Nazi appeal to the principle of leadership (Fuehrerprinzip) are among the most obvious and congruous derivatives of that concept. Finally, the emotional tone of Nietzsche’s life and writings, as distinguished from his ideas, is much like what we hear of the emotional tone of inner Nazi circles. The unrelieved tension, the feverish aspiration, the driving madness, the great noise Nietzsche made for himself, the Nazi elite is making for an uncomfortably large part of the world”(C. BRINTON, Nietzsche, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1941, pp. 208-217, 231).     

[160] J. HIRSCHBERGER, The History of Philosophy, vol. 2, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1959, p. 507.

[161] F. NIETZSHE, Sämliche Werke: Kritishe Studienausgabe, ed. by G. Colli and M. Montinari, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich, 1986, 6,101. (Twilight of the Idols, “Improvers of Mankind,” par. 4).   

[162] E. GILSON, The Idea of God and the Difficulties of Atheism, “Philosophy Today,” 13 (1969), p. 178.

[163] F. NIETZSCHE, op. cit., pp. 585-586. 

[164] F. NIETZSCHE, op. cit., p. 571.

[165] I. ZEITLIN, Nietzsche. A Re-Examination, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1994, pp. 56-57.

[166] F. NIETZSCHE, On the Genealogy of Morals, I, 7.

[167] I. ZEITLIN, op. cit., p. 59.

[168] J. COLLINS, A History of Modern European Philosophy, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1959, p. 794. 

[169] I. ZEITLIN, op. cit., pp. 60-61.

[170] G. SIEGMUND, op. cit., pp. 296-297.

[171] C. A. BERNOULLI, Franz Overbeck and Friedrich Nietzsche, Eine Freundschaft, vol. 1, 1908, p. 250.

[172] Cf. V. MICELI, op. cit., p. 84.

[173] A. GIDE, Oeuvres Completes, as quoted in V. MICELI, op. cit., p. 84.

[174] V. MICELI, op. cit., p. 84.

[175] J. P. SARTRE, The Words, Penguin, London, 1967, pp. 54-61.

[176] J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., pp. 63-64.

[177] J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., p. 65.

[178] Ibid.

[179] Regarding his professed atheism, Sartre writes that “atheism is a cruel, long-term business. I believe I have gone through it to the end. I see clearly; I am free from illusions; I know my real tasks and I must surely deserve a civic prize”(J. P. SARTRE, op cit., p. 157). “Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position”(J. P. SARTRE, Existentialism and Humanism, Methuen and Co., London, 1966, p. 56).

[180] Cf. J. P. SARTRE, Existentialism is a Humanism, Methuen and Company, London, 1960, p. 56.

[181] J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., pp. 27-28.

[182] V. MICELI, op. cit., p. 222.

[183] A. STERN, Sartre: His Philosophy and Existential Psychoanalysis, Dell, New York, 1967, p. 51.  

[184] P. ROUBICZEK, Existentialism For and Against, University Press, Cambridge, 1964, pp. 124-125. 

[185] J. P. SARTRE, Being and Nothingness, Philosophical Library, New York, 1956, p. 74.

[186] R. JOLIVET, Sartre: The Theology of the Absurd, Newman Press, Westminster, MD, 1967, p. 24.

[187] J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., pp. lx-lxii.

[188] N. GREENE, Jean Paul Sartre: The Existentialist Ethic, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1963, p. 17.

[189] P. THODY, Sartre: A Biographical Introduction, Scribner’s, New York, 1971, p. 71.

[190] I. M. BOCHENSKI, Contemporary European Philosophy, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1966, p. 177.

[191] J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., p. 349.

[192] ST. T. AQUINAS, Quodlibetum, X, q. 3, a. 5.

[193] T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., p. 217.

[194] J. P. SARTRE, Existentialism is a Humanism, Methuen and Company, London, 1960, p. 34. “Sartre regards man as condemned to freedom. In contrast to the animal man has no ‘nature.’ The animal lives out its existence according to laws it is simply born with; it does not need to deliberate what to do with its life. But man’s essence is undetermined. It is an open question. I must decide myself what I understand by ‘humanity,’ what I want to do with it, and how I want to fashion it. Man has no nature but is sheer freedom. His life must take some direction or other, but in the end it comes to nothing. This absurd freedom is man’s hell. What is unsettling about this approach is that it is a way through the separation of freedom from truth to its most radical conclusion: there is no truth at all. Freedom has no direction and no measure (Cf. J. PIEPER, Kreaturlichkeit und menschliche Natur. Anmerkungen zum philosophischen Ansatz von J. P. Sartre, in Uber die Schwierigkeit, heute zu glauben, Munich, 1974, pp. 304-21). But this complete absence of truth, this complete absence of any moral and metaphysical bond, this absolutely anarchic freedom – which is understood as an essential quality of man – reveals itself to one who tries to live it not as the supreme enhancement of existence, but as the frustration of life, the absolute void, the definition of damnation. The isolation of a radical concept of freedom, which for Sartre was a lived experience, shows with all desirable clarity that liberation from the truth does not produce pure freedom, but abolishes it. Anarchic freedom, taken radically, does not redeem, but makes man a miscarried creature, a pointless being”(J. RATZINGER, Freedom and Truth, 1996 “Communio,” paragraph 17).

[195] V. MICELI, op. cit., pp. 224-225.

[196] V. MICELI, op. cit., pp. 227-228.

[197] J. P. SARTRE, Being and Nothingness, Methuen and Co., London, 1966, p. 627.

[198] V. MICELI, op. cit., pp. 226-227.

[199] J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., p. 364.

[200] J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., p. 366.

[201] J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., p. 263.

[202] J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., p. 370.

[203] V. MICELI, op. cit., pp. 228-230. Cf. J. P. SARTRE, op. cit., p. 377.

[204] Cf. DESCARTES, Les Principes de la philosophie, I, 8.

[205] E. MOUNIER, Personalismo, AVE, Rome, 1964, p. 39.

[206] E. MOUNIER, op. cit., p. 73.

[207] E. MOUNIER, op. cit., p. 72.

[208] E. MOUNIER, op. cit., pp. 48-49.

[209] B. MONDIN, op. cit., p. 256.

[210] B. MONDIN, op. cit., pp. 256-257.

[211] M. HEIDEGGER, Being and Time, Harper and Row, New York, 1962, pp. 26, 27, 32.

[212] W. BARRETT, Irrational Man, Doubleday Anchor, New York, 1962, p. 218.

[213] M. HEIDEGGER, op. cit., pp. 67-69.  

[214] J. MACQUARRIE, Martin Heidegger, Lutterworth Press, London, 1968, pp. 12-13.

[215] Summa Theologiae, I, q. 18, a. 1.

[216] P. GLENN, op. cit., p. 70.

[217] R. J. ANABLE, Philosophical Psychology, Declan McMullen, New York, 1952, pp. 6-7.

[218] Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 11 ; Summa Theologiae, I, q. 18, a. 3 ; Summa Theologiae, I, q. 78, a. 1 ; Quaestiones Disputatae De Anima, a. 13 ; De Potentia Dei, q. 3, a. 11 ; De Veritate, q. 22, a. 1 ; De Spiritualibus Creaturis, a. 2.

[219] St. Thomas gives us an excellent description from the Summa Theologiae: “Since a thing is said to live in so far as it operates of itself and not as moved by another, the more perfectly this power is found in anything, the more perfect is the life of that thing. In things that move and are moved, a threefold order is found. In the first place, the end moves the agent: and the principal agent is that which acts through its form, and sometimes it does so through some instrument that acts by virtue not of its own form, but of the principal agent, and does no more than execute the action. Accordingly there are things that move themselves, not in respect of any form or end naturally inherent in them, but only in respect of the executing of the movement; the form by which they act, and the end of the action being alike determined for them by their nature. Of this kind are plants, which move themselves according to their inherent nature, with regard only to executing the movements of growth and decay. Other things have self-movement in a higher degree, that is, not only with regard to executing the movement, but even as regards to the form, the principle of movement, which form they acquire of themselves. Of this kind are animals, in which the principle of movement is not a naturally implanted form; but one received through sense. Hence the more perfect is their sense, the more perfect is their power of self-movement…Yet although animals of the latter kind receive through sense the form that is the principle of their movement, nevertheless they cannot of themselves propose to themselves the end of their operation, or movement; for this has been implanted in them by nature; and by natural instinct they are moved to any action through the form apprehended by sense. Hence such animals as move themselves in respect to an end they themselves propose are superior to these. This can only be done by reason and intellect; whose province it is to know the proportion between the end and the means to that end, and duly coordinate them. Hence a more perfect degree of life is that of intelligible beings; for their power of self-movement is more perfect. This is shown by the fact that in one and the same man the intellectual faculty moves the sensitive powers; and these by their command move the organs of movement. Thus in the arts we see that the art of using a ship, i.e. the art of navigation, rules the art of ship-designing; and this in its turn rules the art that is only concerned with preparing the material for the ship. But although our intellect moves itself to some things, yet others are supplied by nature, as are first principles, which it cannot doubt; and the last end, which it cannot but will. Hence, although with respect to some things it moves itself, yet with regard to other things it must be moved by another. Wherefore that being whose act of understanding is its very nature, and which, in what it naturally possesses, is not determined by another, must have life in the most perfect degree. Such is God; and hence in Him principally is life. From this the Philosopher concludes (Metaph. xii, 51), after showing God to be intelligent, that God has life most perfect and eternal, since His intellect is most perfect and always in act” For Thomas, rational beings have the highest level of life, but even here we have a distinction of degrees of perfection of rational life ; this will go from the lowest level of rational life – humans – on to a higher level – the angels – until we reach the highest level of rational life, which is God. The Divine Intellect is always in act, is perfectly autonomous (unlike human intellects which are not completely self-determining, as in the case of determination at least by the first principles of the mind), and is therefore at the highest level of rational life. St. Thomas, in the Summa Contra Gentiles, gives us the three levels of rational life: human, angelic, and Divine: “The highest degree of life is that which is accorded to the intellect; for the intellect reflects on itself, and can understand itself. There are, however, various degrees in the intellectual life: because the human mind, though able to know itself, takes its first steps to knowledge from without;  for it cannot understand apart from phantasms, as we have already made clear (II, 50). Accordingly, intellectual life is more perfect in the angels whose intellect does not proceed from something extrinsic to acquire self-knowledge, but knows itself by itself. Yet their life does not reach the highest degree of perfection because, though the intelligible species is altogether within them, it is not their very substance, because in them to understand and to be are not the same thing, as we have already shown (II, 52). Therefore, the highest perfection of life belongs to God, whose understanding is not distinct from His being, as we have proved (I, 45). Wherefore the intelligible species in God must be the divine essence itself.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 11).      

[220] St. Thomas writes: “It is manifest that not every principle of vital action is a soul, for then the eye would be a soul, as it is a principle of vision; and the same might be applied to the other instruments of the soul: but it is the ‘first’ principle of life, which we call the soul. Now, though a body may be a principle of life, or to be a living thing, as the heart is a principle of life in an animal, yet nothing corporeal can be the first principle of life. For it is clear that to be a principle of life, or to be a living thing, does not belong to a body as such; since, if that were the case, every body would be a living thing, or a principle of life. Therefore a body is competent to be a living thing or even a principle of life, as ‘such’ a body. Now that it is actually such a body, it owes to some principle which is called its act. Therefore the soul, which is the first principle of life, is not a body, but the act of a body” (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 75, a. 1).

[221] In De Anima, II, 4.

[222] Cf. ARISTOTLE, De Anima, book II, chapter 1 (412b 5). 

[223] H. REITH, An Introduction to Philosophical Psychology, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1956, pp. 15-16.

[224] H. REITH, op. cit., p. 16.

[225] H. REITH, op.cit., p. 17.

[226] Cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 77, a. 1.

[227] Ibid.

[228] H. J. KOREN, op. cit., p. 57-58.

[229] Cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 77, a. 5, ad 1.

[230] Owens gives us a scholastic epistemological explanation of the immaterial reception of the intentional species or form into the knowing subject: “Although both in perception and in material production a form is received through the activity of an efficient cause, the manner of its reception is quite different in the two cases. From what has just been seen, reception of form as studied in the philosophy of nature meant the changing of some matter from one form to another. The result was the production of a third thing. In contrast, Aristotle had described perception as meaning the reception of form ‘without the matter.’(Cf. ARISTOTLE, De Anima, 2. 12. 424a 17-b16). This did not imply that either the matter of the percipient or the matter of the thing perceived was somehow eliminated. Both percipient and thing remained corporeal beings. The Greek commentators on Aristotle gradually came to explain the phrase as referring to the manner of reception (Cf. ALEXANDER OF APHRODISIAS, De Anima, 60.3-62.4 ; THEMISTIUS, De Anima, 77.34-78.10 ; PHILOPONUS, De Anima, 437.30-438.13 ; SIMPLICIUS, De Anima, 166.3-34 ; SOPHONIAS, De Anima, 102.20-104.13). It meant that in perception the form of the thing is received ‘immaterially,’ in the sense of a reception different in kind from that which modifies or changes matter. Here the form is received in a manner that avoids alteration of anything in the natures of either the recipient or the thing perceived. It brings each into a new cognitional existence in which they are one and the same, but without change in the natures of either. It makes them exist not only together, but as one. It makes the one be the other cognitionally, with the percipient performing the act of cognition and alone have the awareness.

     “From this viewpoint, then, the reception of the form in cognition is not a material reception. Rather than being received qua cognitional into any matter, it is united with the form of the recipient in giving the one and the same cognitional existence to both percipient and thing in the actuality of the cognition. That is the way it may be regarded as a reception of form into form, in contrast to the reception of form into matter as known in the philosophy of nature. There is of course a concomitant  material reception of the modifications taking place in sense organs, nerves and brain. There is also the production of images and concepts, which are accidental entities in the category of quality (In late Scholasticism the images and concepts were known as species expressae. See John of St. Thomas, Ars Logica, 2.22.2; ed. B. Reiser, Turin, 1930, I, 702a 44-b 18. In contrast, the term species impressa was used for the form received through the action of the sensible thing or of the agent intellect). These all are means by which or in which the cognition takes place. They are produced through an internal activity with its form given by the distant cause that is acting efficiently upon the percipient... the percipient, besides having the physical potentiality to receive the images in material fashion on the retina of his eyes, has also the cognitional potentiality to receive their forms immaterially and thereby to become what the retinal images represent.

     “…the notion of immateriality in cognition arises from the way the form of a thing is received in perception. No change or alteration is caused in the thing by the cognitional reception. Both percipient and thing perceived remain material beings. They do not become immaterial themselves through the act of perceiving. The cow you see in the field remains a material object when it comes to exist immaterially in your cognition. There is no such thing as an immaterial cow, either outside or inside the mind. Its nature requires it to be material, and the perception of it does not change its nature. Nor do you yourself become an immaterial agent when you are reflexively aware of your own self in the act of perceiving the cow. The designation ‘immaterial’ in regard to cognition arises from the way the form is received in perception. It does not require that either agent or object be without matter.

     “Nevertheless it is correct to say in Scholastic terminology that immateriality is the root of cognition, that the grades of cognition vary according to the degrees of immateriality, and that in this way the nature of cognition lies in immateriality (See AQUINAS, De Veritate, q. 2, a. 2, c. ‘Immateriality,’ in this meaning, is not restricted to purely spiritual things, since it applies to the cognition of the senses. The application of it to cognition is based upon the way form is received in cognition, a way different from the physical modification of matter, and meaning reception of form into form.)”(J. OWENS, Cognition: An Epistemological Inquiry, Center for Thomistic Studies, Houston, 1992, pp. 43-45).    

[231] P. GLENN, Cosmology, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1941, p. 148.

[232] P. GLENN, op. cit., p. 152.

[233] T. ALVIRA, T. MELENDO, L. CLAVELL, op. cit., p. 196.

[234] J. J. SANGUINETI, op. cit., p. 203.

[235] “Exceptions to this distinction are noted in the case of pure spirits (angels) and more so in the case of God, regarding the knowledge of their own essence. The object here is intelligible in itself, immediately present to the subject, and proportioned to its mode of knowledge. At this peak of reality, the order of nature is identical with the order of intention, and, therefore, no representative species is required. If, however, it were objected that the soul of man, which is an immaterial form and therefore intelligible in itself and immediately present to the knower, is not known except by means of a very imperfect representative species, the answer, as we shall explain later, is that this object is not proportioned to the human intellect, which has for its proper object material essences.”

[236] “The subject must somehow be immaterial in order to know. The species, being received in the knower, must also be free from matter according to the degree of immateriality of the subject, since whatever is received must be received according to the nature of the receiver: ‘…the sensible form is in one way in the thing which is external to the soul, and in another way in the senses, which receive the forms of sensible things without receiving matter, such as the color of gold without receiving gold. So, too, the intellect, according to its own mode, receives under conditions of immateriality and immobility the species of material and movable bodies; for the received is in the receiver according to the mode of the receiver’(Summa Theologiae, I, q. 84, a. 1, c.)”

[237] “‘…the known material things must exist in the knower not materially, but rather immaterially. The reason for this is that the act of knowledge extends to things outside the knower’(Summa Theologiae, I, q. 84, a. 2, c.). When a material object is known, it is ‘received’ in the knower. This reception is not a material reception. Rather, this ‘reception’ of the object means that a representative species is educed from the operative potency (in the case of human knowledge) by the action of the object. Now, to exercise this action, the object must somehow be in act. This, however, would not be possible if the corporeal object did not possess a faint vestige of the immaterial, of actuality.

     “All limited beings, even those that are lowermost in the scale of reality, participate in immateriality. The reason is that all limited beings, precisely because they are beings, must participate in the Being that is the pure act of being and which therefore is pure Immateriality. Consequently, no matter how weak this participation is, no matter how deeply immersed in matter the form may be, there remains a trace of that which it shares, of that which makes it real, which makes it be. It is by reason of this actual element that a material object is able to actuate, to move the human cognitive potency.”  

[238] H. RENARD, op. cit., pp. 99-102.

[239] E. GILSON, El realismo metódico, Rialp, Madrid, 1952, p. 78.

[240] E. GILSON, op. cit., p. 104.

[241] A. LLANO, op. cit., pp. 117-118.

[242] H. RENARD, op. cit., p. 108.