Section 4

The Human Soul and Person

Chapter 1

A spirit organizing a body?

Just as we argued to the immateriality of the animal's soul from the immateriality of its property of consciousness, we will have to see what the spirituality of understanding and choosing imply with respect to the human body's organization. On the face of it, it sounds a little odd to talk about a body's being organized by a spirit, but that's what it looks like. Perhaps Plato was right; perhaps the human soul is something that "gets trapped into" a body. Aristotle, after all, only saved the unity of the human being by making the "mind" his "positive state like light," and by implication, at least, keeping it outside the human being who got "illuminated" by it (Averroes thinks that this mind is the "first mover" of the lowest sphere--that of the moon).

I don't think either Aristotle's or Plato's view stands up to the test of the immediate evidence of consciousness itself. The "active mind," as conscious, would have to know what it is doing as it "illuminated" our minds, in which case it would recognize itself as distinct. But the experience of puzzlement is precisely the consciousness of only the "active mind" at work (since there's no concept to understand yet); and yet each of us clearly recognizes that it is this individual (myself) that is "looking at" the evidence and trying to understand. That is, we recognize that it is the same individual who is examining and later understanding what he has examined.

As to Plato's notion that the spirit is a distinct something "trapped" in a body, our experience of ourselves in our consciousness is an experience that includes the body within the "self." Plato (and Descartes too, following him) would have to say that the "I" is the spirit, and the body is something the spirit is in and directs. But when you get hit by someone, you think, "He hurt me," you don't think, "He hurt my body," whereas if you were in your car and it got damaged, you'd think, "He damaged my car," not "He damaged me." Any damage to yourself is by way of implication when your car is damaged; but damage to yourself when someone beats up your body is regarded as direct damage to the self itself. So we at least think our body is not distinct from our self.

Further, a spirit cannot change or stop acting, and clearly our understanding and choices change (at least by addition, since we recognize past concepts as "already known" if not explicitly conscious), and if you say we are actively understanding or choosing during sleep, then you have a case of unconscious consciousness which is even more difficult to make sense of than the conundrum of how a spirit can have materiality.