Analogical naming and the human soul

A reader of St. Thomas will first encounter analogical naming as a way to account for how some names can be applied to the divine substance. Later on, it becomes apparent that we need to use analogy even to understand ourselves, for insofar as we are spiritual substances, we can only understand ourselves by comparison to sense objects. St. Augustine would remark once that if you can imagine something, it is not God- but for different reasons it is also true to say that if you can imagine someone or something, it is not yourself. Can you imagine what a universal is, or the power and substance that gives rise to it? To say yes only means you have understood neither the universal nor yourself.

The old myths about the gods were in part only attempts to articulate the nature of man. It was idolotry and error to worship the Olympians because we are the Olympians- we are the immortals so beset by folly, vice, infighting, and occasionally greatness.


  1. Paul Boire said,

    August 8, 2008 at 7:03 am

    I’m engaged in a few debates with a few people on the Amazon site of Richard Dawkins. I was fortunate to have been able to enjoy some philosophical education at an undergrad level, and hope you might direct me to some available sites with good explanations of the idea of the human soul.

    Thanks beaucoup. I end up at your site quite often in my cybertravels and always enjoy your efforts.


  2. a thomist said,

    August 8, 2008 at 8:25 am

    Websites on the soul? That’s easy. There are none. Not even ones that mention it much in passing.

    The present science of life, which analyzes living beings into their basic living component parts, and which largely takes living things as given, has no need for the soul. Nothing that Dawkins actually understands (modern zoology) could be assisted much by speaking of the soul. Such realities are superfluous to him. When one divides up the animal by dissection and/or microscopic and chemical analysis, the idea of the soul need never arise. Everything the soul explains is already taken for granted to such a division. As far as Dawkins is concerned- or any modern biologist- the soul need be nothing more than the organization of a living body. “Soul” in this sense is a vague idea that the biologist must replace with distinct ideas.

    One finds soul by a different kind of analysis than the division of the body into parts. One comes to an idea of soul by asking “is the living body living because it is a body?” Does it live merely because it has extension, mass, chemical composition, etc? Not at all, for then anything with these properties would be alive- like a stone. We need something in addition to mere bodily existence to have life- and this “something more” is called the soul.

    For Dawkins and biology, this “something more” need only be a certain organization and composition. This is fine, and no one denies that this is necessary. even though plants and animals have this “something more” it is completely destroyed with the death of the plant or animal- whatever it is. The question that you ask, no doubt, is whether the human soul is “something more” than a body precisely by being a spirit, as opposed to the mere animals or plants, whose soul must pass away.

    Yes, it is. But we need a way of discovering this, and it is a difficult proof. Spirits are by definition not given in experience directly, and so we can only argue to them by something that is directly experienced by us. For Aristotle and St. Thomas, this thing directly experienced is the universal that we know, and the general object of our mind, i.e. the nature of material or bodily things. These arguments require great meditation and contemplation- and they can be easily sniped at by vulgar minds. I don’t say this to dissuade you from learning the arguments, they are beautiful and any amount of understanding we can attain of them is good. I only say this because I want you to know that when you run into objections that shake you, you need to be aware that all these objections have already been refuted before.

    Henri Grenier’s manual “thomistic philosophy, volume II” on natural philosophy might give you a good summary of the arguments, and the common objections, but it would be better to meditate on St. Thomas’s arguments in the Summa Contra Gentiles or the Compendium theology. There are links to both at the “Blogging Aquinas” site. I stress that these arguments require meditation and contemplation.

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