Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quaeritur: How Do We Know that Brute Animals Have Souls?


Quaeritur: It seems that there is considerable unanimity among ancient and medieval ecclesiastical writers (the Fathers of the Church, the scholastics, etc.) up until at least Descartes on the view that animals have souls.  Why did they all think this way?  Is there biblical evidence that this is the case?  Or is there some other reasoning that led them to this conclusion?

Respondeo: The view that animals have souls can be defended both through a positive argument (from Scripture) and through a scholastic argument (from reason). 

Scholastic Proof  

Major premise: Whatever has life has a formal cause of life.
Minor premise: Brute animals have life.
Conclusion: Therefore, brute animals have a formal cause of life, and this we call their 'soul'.

Proof of the major premise: A formal cause, or form, is that which makes a thing be what it is.  Its complementary 'opposite' (for lack of a better word), is matter.  The matter is the principle of individuation: it particularizes or individualizes the form to be this individual.  The form of a horse, by itself, would not be a horse, but only "horseness"; whereas the matter of a horse, without form, would not be a horse, but absolutely shapless or formless stuff.  Together, they form the individual horse.  Hence, everything has a formal cause that makes it be what it is.  This is especially clear in the case of living things: a cow has a formal cause that makes its otherwise formless matter be formed into a cow rather than into a horse, or a hippo, or a rhinoceros.

The minor premise needs no proof.

Explanation of the conclusion: The forms of living things are called 'souls', regardless of whether they are rational or not.  Accordingly, Aristotle, Plato, and all the medieval Christian, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers reasoned that animals must have souls, albeit very different souls from those of humans.  The reasoning is this: matter alone is insufficient for there to be life, otherwise all material things, such as chairs and walls, would be alive. (In fact, matter is insufficient for there to be a particular material thing at all.)  Therefore, for there to be life something else is necessary, a form that makes matter be an actual living, material thing.  This form of living things is called, in Greek, psyche (meaning vital breath, that which causes thesoma, or body, to be alife) and in latin anima (which is what 'animates' something), in English 'soul' (from Old English, sáwol).  In all languages, it essentially means some kind of principle that makes something be alive.  Therefore, all living things have it, humans, animals, and plants.  

But the human principle of life must be quite different, because human beings are rational, whereas (brute) animals and plants are not.  So the human soul has attributes, such as rationality, free will, moral responsibility, spirituality, immortality, religiosity, and the image and likeness of God, which are not present in the souls of brutes.

The scholastics explicitly reasoned this way, and the Fathers implicitly so (though they did not formulate an explicit formal argument, since the scholastic method had not yet been developed). 

Positive Proof (from Scripture)

The Bible clearly confirms this doctrine of the souls of brute animals in the following passages of the book of Genesis.

1. Genesis 1:20, where God says: "Let the waters bring forth the creeping creature having a soul" (in the Hebrew text, nephesh; in the Greek Septuagint, which was the Greek version of the Old Testament that is quoted by the Apostles and Evangelists in the New Testament, psychon zoson; and in the Latin Vulgate, the official version of the Church, animae viventis).

2. The same language is used again in Gen. 1:24: "And God said: let the earth bring forth the living soul in its kind, cattle, and creeping things, creeping things, and beasts of the earth, according to their kinds. And it was so done."  

3. The same term is used again in Gen. 2:7 with respect to man: "And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a soul." 

Conclusion, in these passages, the word nephesh (psyche zosaanima vivens) means "soul", which makes it clear that animals have soul.  This is true despite the fact that some English translations render the term differently: some as "living thing," some as "living creature," some as "moving creature," some as "living being", and some as "living soul" (and many of them are not consistent in that they render the same term differently in different passages).  In any case, the Church Fathers and the Scholastics doctors read the Greek and Latin texts (which clearly said "living soul" in those languages) so they could not but accept what they read in the Bible.

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