It’s been quite a while since I did my last post of a read along for Feser’s book. As promised, here is the next post on his next chapter “Scholastic Aptitude.” In this chapter, Feser introduces the scholastic views of the soul and natural, and he uses these concepts to talk about the fetus, same-sex marriage, and the purpose of sex. Lastly, he briefly discusses faith, reason, and evil.
When it comes to the soul, Aquinas took Aristotle’s view that everything in our experience is made up of form and matter. The soul just so happens to be the form of “or essence of a living thing” (121). But from that it follows that every living thing has a type of soul. Moreover, there is a type of hierarchy with these souls. At the bottom of that list is the vegetative soul or “nutritive soul” that has the powers of “taking in nutrients, growing, and reproducing itself” (121). Next, the animal soul has the powers of sense experience and locomotion (movement). Lastly, there’s the rational soul, which has the powers to “grasp abstract concepts [...] and to reason on the basis of them” and the ability to have free will. Now, the hierarchy works in the following way: the highest type of soul is the rational soul and it contains its own powers in addition to the powers of the animal and vegetative soul. So, for example, when we look at humans who have the rational soul, we see that humans can reason (rational soul), can move around and interact with other objects via the senses (animal soul), and humans can take in nutrients by eating food and it can reproduce through *gasp* sex.
Feser reminds readers not to forget how final and efficient causality works. Feser writes,
As we have seen, a thing’s having a certain form goes hand in hand with its having a certain final cause or natural end, or a hierarchically ordered set of final causes or natural ends. A plant is ordered toward taking in nutrients, growing, and reproducing itself; those are the ends nature has given it. An animal has these ends too, along with the ends entailed by its distinctive powers of sensation and locomotion. (122)
Feser goes into much more detail about the soul and responds to some of the ridiculous objections brought by Dennett and Dawkins about how neuroscience is making free-will and the soul a thing of the past. Essentially, Feser briefly demonstrates that neuroscience doesn’t harm Aquinas and Aristotle’s view of the soul at all. Rather, neuroscience is going to be consistent with it! Eventually a discussion on the soul will lead us to ask when a human being gets his rational soul. So, when does he or she get one?!
At conception. For a soul just is the form–the essence, nature, structure, organizational pattern–of a living thing, an organism. And the human organism, as we know form modern biology, begins at conception. [...] Once you add Aquinas’s metaphysics to modern biology, there can be no doubt that the soul is present from conception, and thus that a human being exists from conception. (128)
On the section of natural law, Feser does a wonderful job of breaking down the view of final causality and essence, while applying it to same-sex marriage and sexual ethics. I’m going to forgo discussing this section simply because I’m planning a future post on sexual ethics and contraception from a natural law perspective that will use a lot of material from this section of Feser’s book. So, I’d rather not have to repeat myself again. So, if you’re just itching to read this chapter, sorry! Either buy the book, or wait for my future post
Now, about faith, Feser describes it as this:
faith is from the point of view of traditional Christian theology: belief in what God has revealed because if God has revealed it it cannot be in error; but where the claim where He had revealed it is itself something that is known on the basis of reason. Faith doesn’t conflict with reason, then; it is founded on reason and completes reason.” (157)
Another interesting point that Feser brings up is how not every Christian is going to sit and study all the arguments for God’s existence and the Bible’s reliability. Not every Christian is going to have their beliefs “intellectually” grounded, so to speak. Unless you’re an academic or intellectual, you aren’t going to plow through a metaphysics textbook and try to understand the nature of reality. So, are people’s reasons for believing in faith entirely blind? Not necessarily. Feser asks readers to think about Einstein’s E=MC^2 equation. The lay person on the street probably has no clue how this equation works, what it stands for, and all the calculations involved at reaching it. Yet, we hold that they’re justified in believing in its truth because the believe it “on the authority of those from whom they’ve learned it” (158). So, why, then, can’t this work for religion? In other words, “if this is legitimate in other aspects of life, there is nothing per se wrong with it in religion” (158).
After slapping the new atheists a bit, Feser talks just briefly on the problem of evil. If you thought the chapter “Getting Medieval” was good, wait until you read through this chapter. It’s rare that I find books that are real page turners and are funny and intellectually rigorous. Good thing Feser has a knack for being both.