Ivan’s thesis (2)

We also see the connection between immortality and morality though Blondel’s analysis of human action. On the one hand, there is an absolute egoism to human action since any good we seek, whether peculiar or common, is always self referential.* Reference to will defines goodness. On the other hand, the self cannot be an absolute center since there are circumstances in which death is preferable to life.

The reality of soul and the eschatological arc of human life that comes with it are therefore attempts to come to terms with an element that shows itself as integral to human action and so to any possible morality. There is no morality where human life makes no sense, and human life makes no sense except where good is both absolutely self-referential and something conditioning the value of the self. It’s hard to see how anything other than soul can explain how one of the goods of life is the conscious renunciation of life.

Seen from an ontology of action, soul is an attempt to explain how the person both really dies and this death can be a good for him. While St. Thomas is often seen as stressing the element in this idea of soul (i.e. the soul is not I, the separated soul is not a person, etc.) it would be better as seeing him trying to keep Aristotelian categories open to the eschatological and moral imperatives of a broader vision that has to preserve both the terror and true annihilation of death and the fact that this death is either an exaltation and degradation of the person who suffers it.  The abstract and overly narrow attempts to force us to choose between a Substance Dualism in which the self is the soul in opposition to some corruptible non-self and a Naturalism in which the self is utterly corruptible overlook what is involved in making the action of this self possible in the lived world.

*I trust that everyone is mature enough to know the difference between being self-referential and being selfish, proud, or narcissistic, or even being “self-interested” in a way that is opposed to being “public minded”.



  1. January 12, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    In response to your “Reference to will defines goodness,” are things good because they are willed or are they willed because they are good?

    • David said,

      January 12, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      I think you’re missing the sense of that statement. For a human, goodness is a question of “what is good for me to will?” In the subject at hand, moral goodness for human creatures, your question doesn’t make sense. Things are willed because they are good. The standard of goodness is clearly outside of myself.

      • David said,

        January 12, 2017 at 4:44 pm

        The standard is outside of myself, yet it’s self-referential because it is a question of how *I* -my will- lines up with that standard.

      • January 12, 2017 at 5:28 pm

        But you found my question (analogous to that of Plato’s Euthyphro) to make enough sense for you to give it a straightforward answer, the second of the alternatives offered: things are willed because they are good. On that you and I are agreed.

    • January 12, 2017 at 5:55 pm

      Both are the case. Whatever you want is good and the good is whatever you want. If you want to insist on the word “because” in an actualizing sense, then your question is like asking whether you punched George Bush because you punched the 43rd President or whether you punched the 43rd president because you punched George Bush. Good just is will-relative being.

      • January 13, 2017 at 7:26 am

        I doubt that, say, Thomas or Aristotle would accept both the thesis that whatever you want is good and the thesis that the good is whatever you want, as at least as thus simply stated.

  2. January 13, 2017 at 1:45 am

    The saints are not ‘I’, they are not persons, they are not selves?
    ‘Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thy impersonal soul be with me in paradise’?

  3. January 13, 2017 at 2:48 am

    I think that St Thomas didn’t venerate the impersonal soul of St Agnes, and didn’t believe that any ‘true annihilation’ happened to her as she was known and loved.

  4. January 13, 2017 at 2:52 am

    My understanding is that Christianity claims the person ‘doesn’t really die’. ‘Ivan’s thesis’ refers to the immortality of the person, of the self, not of any … impersonal soul, which is a creepy delusion.

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