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Man’s Soul—Jonathan Dolhenty

The Philosophy of Man
A brief introduction to rational psychology
Adapted from various sources and edited
by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.

Part Six: Man’s Soul

The substantial form of the human living body is called the human soul. As the substantial form of man, it is that substantial principle which makes a man an existing being of the human species, and it is the root-source in man of all his vital activities.

Now, man has the highest grade of life in living bodies. He has all the perfections and operations of plants and of non-human animals; he has the operations of nutrition, growth, vital generation, sensation, appetition, locomotion, and, in addition, he has his own proper or specific operations called understanding and willing. The activities or operations of understanding and willing are called the operations of rational life. And since animal means all that plant means plus the sentient powers and operations, so man means all that animal means plus the rational powers and operations. Man is therefore defined as a rational animal. As each of the three grades of life in living bodies is essentially different from, and essentially superior to the lower grade or grades, it is manifest that man, while possessing all the perfections and operations of plant and animal, is essentially different from these living bodies and essentially superior to them. He is an essentially different kind of living body.

While man has the perfections, powers, and operations of all three grades of life in living bodies, he is none the less a single bodily being. Each human being is one substance, not three. He has one substantial form, not three substantial forms. It is the one individual man who comes into existence by generation, who takes nourishment and grows, who feels and walks about, who thinks and makes free decisions. The human substance is a compound substance, as every bodily substance is, but it is a single substance, not a triple one. Man’s one substantial form is his one life-principle or soul. This one soul is the root-source or principle in man of the material life of plant and animal which he possesses, and of the nonmaterial or spiritual life which he manifests in his rational powers and operations. Since that which is superior can account for what is inferior, but not the other way about, we say that man’s spiritual soul can account for even the material operations of man’s life, but that a non-spiritual soul could not account for the spiritual operations of man. Hence we conclude that man’s one soul is a nonmaterial or spiritual soul. Of this we shall speak again in a moment.

The human soul is a substance; it is a simple or uncompounded substance; it is a spiritual substance; it is an immortal or deathless substance. We pause briefly upon each of these truths.

The human soul is the substantial form of the human body. It is therefore a substantial thing, a substance. We shall presently see that it is a spiritual substance, and by that fact it is different from the other types of substantial form which actuate bodies whether living or lifeless; it is in itself a complete substance. It is not a complete man, that is, not a complete human being; it is only part of a human being. But it is a complete soul, capable of existence by itself without the body. For a complete substance is one that can exist and exercise its proper operations alone; an incomplete substance is one that requires another substance to be fused with it substantially so that it may exist and operate. That the human life-principle or soul is a substance, and not merely an accidental, is manifest, as we have said, from the fact it is the substantial formal constituent of substantial man. Further, man’s soul is the principle of man’s vital powers, and these, in themselves, are accidentals, and must have — as all accidentals in the order of nature must have — a substantial actuality in which to inhere; man’s vital powers are rooted in a substantial principle, that is, in a substance, which we call man’s substantial form or soul.

The human soul is a simple or uncomposed substance. It is not made of parts. Every substantial form is simple. For a body which exists as a definite kind of body by reason of its substantial form is one body. Even if the form be potentially multiple, it is never actually multiple. The life-principle of a plant, for example, is the substantial form of the plant; and each plant is a unified thing; it is one substance; it has one life. This life is manifested in root and stem and leaf and flower. But it is one life. You do not cut off part of the life when you pluck a flower or trim away a branch, though it may be that you produce, by partition, a completely new plant with its own one life. Thus every body that is truly one body, has truly one substantial form, and the substantial form is itself without component parts, even though the body has component parts. This fact is most obvious in living bodies. But what is true of the lower living bodies is a fortiori true of man who has all the perfections of all types of living bodies. For the rest, as we have seen, it is the one man who grows, who feels, who is moved by sentient appetite, who thinks, who wills. Man, who is a bodily being composed of bodily parts, is nevertheless one and his life is one and indivisible. In all his bodily parts man lives a human life, although he does not exercise all his human activities in each part. We declare, therefore, that the principle of man’s life, his soul, is one and indivisible; that it has no parts of its own; that it is simple.

Man’s soul is a spiritual substance. Substances are of two possible kinds, material and nonmaterial or spiritual. A material substance is either a substance composed of bodily matter, and hence made up of parts, or it is a substance which is itself simple but which depends for existence and activity upon what is bodily. We have seen that the soul of a plant and the soul of an animal are material. These souls are not made up of bodily matter; they are substantial forms, and hence simple; but they are dependent for their existence and their operations upon the organisms or living bodies which they actuate. Now, man’s soul is neither made up of bodily matter or parts (as we have seen, since it is a substantial form), nor is it dependent upon the body for its own specific operations; hence, since it can operate without the organism, it can exist without the organism.

How do we know that the soul of man can operate without the organism? Because it has operations, even while joined with the organism, which are essentially superior to any organic function and which are in themselves independent of bodily operation. Now, if the soul has operations which are essentially superior to, and independent of, bodily structure and function, then the soul itself is superior to and independent of bodily structure and function; it is then not dependent on matter; it is spiritual. For operation follows on essence; as a thing is, it acts; and if the soul is supra-organic in activity, it is supra-organic in essence; it is itself above the character of the body and is essentially independent of the body. Now, the soul has activities which are supra-organic. For the soul can (or, more properly, man, by reason of his soul, can) think, and reflect, and decide.

The operations of understanding and of free will are in no wise explicable in terms of the body, of the organism, or of the bodily powers of knowing and appetizing. There is an old and a true saying that “the senses are for individual perceptions, but the intellect is for universal grasps of reality.” The eyes can take in an individual scene, or a series of such scenes; man, for instance, can see a tree, or a multitude of trees, or a succession of trees or of forests. But each visual perception is an individual thing. No number of such experiences amounts to the understanding of what tree means. Yet man has an understanding of what tree means; he can define tree, and the definition fits any and every tree that ever was, or is, or will be, or can be.

No bodily knowing power (that is, no sentient faculty) can even begin to lay hold of an essence as the mind or intellect does. Even a little child of four or five knows what “a doll” or “a sled” means; the knowledge is not of this or these individual toys; it is knowledge of any and every possible doll, of any and every possible sled. In its own childish way, the infant has a grasp of an essence, of what would be expressed by a definition of doll or sled. Now, such a grasp of an essence is only possible to a supra-sensible power. For it is of the very nature of sense-knowledge that it lays hold of the knowable things according to their individual marks, limits, determinants. But the intellect pays no attention to such limiting things; it prescinds from them; it abstracts from them; it lays hold of an essence in universal. Thus in knowing what a doll is, a child does not need to know the size of some particular doll, or the color of its hair, or the material of which it is made, or any of the other individuating marks which make a doll this doll or that doll; the child knows what doll-as-such means, regardless of all individuating marks.

It is manifest, we repeat, that no sentient power can thus grasp things in essence, in universal, by abstraction from individuating marks; on the contrary, it is by the individuating marks that a sentient power lays hold of any reality. Man has, therefore, a knowing-power which is superior to the bodily knowing-power called sentiency. In itself, the intellect is a power superior to and independent of sentiency, even though in this life the intellect has an extrinsic and accidental dependency on the senses. But if the intellect, which is the soul’s knowing-power, is superior to and essentially independent of the bodily organs, the soul itself is superior to and independent of bodily limitations; for the function of the soul shows the essence of the soul; as a thing acts it is; what is superior to bodiliness in operation is superior to bodiliness in essence. The soul of man is, therefore, nonmaterial; it is spiritual.

Again, the soul can reflect, can turn the attention of the mind upon the mind; can think of itself thinking. No bodily power is capable of such an activity. The soul is, in consequence, superior to the body in its powers and operations; hence it is superior in its essence; it is not dependent in essence and operation on the body; it is not material; it is spiritual. Once again, man, by reason of the soul, can choose and decide, can exercise free will. He can be swayed in his choice by the consideration of things beyond the reach of any bodily power, by thoughts of loyalty, of devotion, of friendship, of love; no sentient power has any means of grasping these or of appetizing them. Therefore man has operations which are quite above the reach and character of bodiliness and sentiency. It follows that he has a principle of such operations which is itself beyond the character of the body, and is thus essentially independent of the body. In a word, it follows that man has a soul which independent of matter, and is therefore spiritual. The soul of man is a spiritual substance.

Man’s soul is an immortal or deathless substance. Death is the separation of the substantial form of a living body and the material of which the body is made. It is a tearing apart of the life-principle (a substantial form) and the material substance which that life-principle informed and made a living body. In plants and animals death means the cessation from being of both organism and life-principle, for both are material, and they are mutually dependent for the constituting of the living body which now dies; and they are mutually dependent for their own existence on their union which is now dissolved. Thus plants and animals are mortal, or destructible by death, in their bodies and in their respective life-principles or souls. The soul of plant or animal has no activity independent of the body; hence it has no existence independent of the body; when the body-structure is no longer capable of supporting or subserving the functions of the life-principle in plant or animal, both the body and the life-principle cease to be the substantial things they were.

With man the case is different. Man is mortal; man dies; man suffers the dissolution of his substantial constituting elements; but man’s soul does not die. When a man dies, his soul endures in being. For his soul is a spirit, not a material thing; his soul is a complete substance as a soul, although it is not a complete human being. The human soul cannot conceivably cease to be except by annihilation. For the soul exists, it is independent of the body for its own existence and its proper functions of understanding and willing. And the soul is spiritual; it has no parts that can be thought of as severed or shattered so as to destroy it. The human soul, being spiritual, is naturally immortal. It is a deathless substance.

The human soul is spiritual, and therefore its only possible origin is in an absolute and entire production, that is, in creation by a Creator. The human soul cannot be generated from the souls of parents, for the souls of parents are spiritual and have no parts to give off as seeds or germs of the soul of offspring. The result of the union of soul and body is a human being, a human substance, a human person. For a person is a complete individual substance, constituted in its own specific nature, and belonging to the rational order. In other words, a person is a complete, individual, autonomous substance, endowed basically with understanding and free will. Man is a complete individual substance; he is not a “soul in a body”; he is a single composed substance of body-and-soul-substantially-united.

While the soul, once separated from the body by death, can and must continue to exist and to exercise its proper operations of understanding and willing; and while, even during bodily life, the soul is the root-principle of activities which are beyond the reach of bodily powers, it is none the less accurate to say that it is the man, the compound of body-and-soul, that is the author of all the operations called human. It is the man that understands and wills, just as it is the man that grows, senses, moves. A person rightly says, “I see, I feel, I walk, I thirst, I think, I choose”; he does not say that his body sees or that his eyes see, that his mind thinks, that his will chooses. For, activities are to be ascribed to the active substance as such, not to its parts or powers.

The substantial union of soul and body may be shown by a simple instance of their interaction. Suppose that a person of hearty appetite is about to begin upon a splendid dinner. A telegram is handed to him; he reads of the death of a near and dear relative. Immediately his appetite is gone. Now the appetite for food is manifestly of the body; it belongs, strictly speaking, to the vegetal order. But the understanding of marks on paper, that is, of the telegram, is an activity of the intellect, a soul faculty. Yet the knowledge taken in by the intellect has an instant effect upon the appetizing activity of the body. Here the close interaction of body and soul indicates their substantial union; it is the man who has appetite; it the man who reads and understands the calamitous news.

The spiritual soul is the one and only soul or life-principle in a man. It is formally spiritual and rational. But it is virtually vegetal and sentient. Just as a five-dollar gold piece is formally gold, but it is virtually copper or nickel or silver (because it has the virtue or power or force or meaning of many coins of the inferior metals), so the human soul is virtually (or in effect or effectiveness) a vegetal soul and an animal or sentient soul, although in itself, as such, formally, it is a spiritual and rational soul.

Each human being has his own soul. It is the soul which specifies man, that is, makes him a being of this complete essence or species which we call the human species. But it is the material, the bodiliness which the soul informs and makes an existing human person, that is the principle of individuation in man. The soul makes a person an existing human being; but it is not determinant of the figure, the sex, the nationality, and so on that mark the individual human being. The principle of specification is the substantial form, and the principle of individuation is matter as marked by quantity.

The spiritual soul in a living man is in the entire body and in each part of the body. For the soul has no parts, it is not part here and part there; wherever it is it exists in its entirety. The soul does not exercise all the operations of which it is the principle in each part of the living body or organism. But it exists, and in entirety, in each living part. If a part of the living body is severed, the soul, the life-principle, is no longer in such a part. The soul cannot be mutilated as the body is mutilated; it cannot be cut down in size, for it has no size. Even a material soul or life-principle (like every substantial form) manifests this complete presence in the whole body which it informs. You may trim down a rose bush to half its size, but the rose bush is the same living substance after the trimming; its life is the same life; its life-principle has not been cut down.

The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.

Copyright ©1992 -2011 The Radical Academy. Copyright renewed in 2011 -2013 © The Radical Academy (a project of The Moral Liberal).

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