Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Despair: Is Doggie Heaven a Boondoggle?

So Catholic Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher Ed Feser puts up a post considering Plato's argument in the Phaedo for the immortality of the human soul. I'm always up for reassurance on that score, so I checked it out. Plus, I've actually read the Phaedo. A long time ago. So long ago I can't remember what was in it.

Dr. Feser's purpose was to point out that many modern philosophers don't think much of Plato's case, but ought to. He's probably right.

Once I got there, it turned out that - though I like reassurance - I'm pretty well convinced of the soul's immortality, and instead of examining Plato's soundness (responding, in other words, to the post's actual subject) I got distracted by other thoughts. I think it's called threadjacking. But not before some other guy beat me to it. Said he:

What comes to mind is Francis of Assisi, who no doubt observed the following in nature, as I certainly do in dogs, but not so intensely in people..."Love is patient, love is kind, etc..."

I submit it is just these noble qualities in the essence - the soul – of dogs which has made them man's best friend. I am inclined to think that what Aquinas so scholastically asserts to be the high moral value setting humans apart and superior to the other creatures – knowledge, or intellect – subordinates the sublime to the clever.

To which Dr. Feser responds:

To love someone, in the deepest sense, is to will what is good for him. But will is something only beings with intellects have. Furthermore, the fulfilled intellect is one which is wise, not one which is merely clever. (Lots of intelligent people are clever; very very few are wise.) So, it seems to me you're selling Aquinas short.

To another commenter he points out that Aquinas says

that "the souls of brutes are corrupted." What he means is that though forms per se don't perish, nevertheless the particular instantiation of the form or soul in this particular brute disappears when the animal does (while the human soul, by contrast, does not).

The original doglover responds:

I think, like Hartshorne, the anthropomorphic bias inherent in Aquinas' system as well as that of plain humanism "does not do justice to the creatures."

Could you give a succinct definition of this will and intellect?

That's where I jump in, asking

Is this a necessary conclusion of A-T metaphysics, or might there be some attributes in the sentience of certain creatures that would allow us to entertain at least the possibility of immortality, and which would not be incompatible with that metaphysics if certain knowledge of the attributes were available to the A-T'er.

Says Dr. Feser to the first guy:

Intellect is the power to grasp abstract concepts and reason on the basis of them. Will is appetite moved by intellect, by what the intellect grasps. Non-human animals cannot grasp abstract concepts -- the most they can manage are something like general mental images (but a general image of a man, say, is not the same as the concept "man"). And since they cannot, their appetites are mere appetites, not governed by reason. This is why they cannot love in the strict sense. They can manage affection and the like, but that is not the same thing.

Oh. And then to me:

William, Yes, I'm inclined to say that it is a necessary consequence, at least given that brutes carry out no activities that involve an immaterial power. Unlike intellectual activities, sensation and imagination (which animals do have) are from an A-T point of view entirely dependent on matter. So lower animals have nothing which might carry on beyond the deaths of their bodies.

"Brutes", huh? My feeble response was to note that I didn't know how to break this to my daughter. She has a chihuahua...

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia.

Please find a completely different Understanding of the non-human inhabitants of this mostly non-human world via this reference.

www.fearnomorezoo.org/literature/observe_learn.php

Plus

www.dabase.org/2armP1.htm#ch1b

Lydia McGrew said...

Hey, you did better with a Cartesian (me) than with the Thomist (Ed Feser). This Cartesian thinks there _might_ be animals in heaven; the Thomist thinks it's impossible. :-)

William Luse said...

Did Descartes think that? From what I remember, I don't think so. But it might help if, on this particular score, you could tell me what the essential difference is in yours and Ed's respective approaches, i.e., between the Cartesian and the Thomist.

Funny, though. He admits mutts have imagination, which I've always thought a pretty powerful faculty. In humans, I don't see it as a thing separate from all the other attributes of the soul, which often work together (although imperfectly, and sometimes corruptly, in our fallen state) toward an end. An example might be a work of fiction, a product of the author's intellect, imagination, and will moving in concert.

Lydia McGrew said...

Oh, I've always been told (but never verified) that Descartes himself thought animals were machines. But I'm a Cartesian in the sense of thinking that minds are different substances from bodies. I reserve the right to think what I like about animals without losing my Cartesian Club card.

From what Ed has said elsewhere, I gather he thinks that imagination in the sense that he is using it there is in some fairly literal sense a physical operation. Not just "associated with" a physical operation or event, but really a physical event.

To me this seems necessarily false. Imagination involves thought or, at least, true experiences (not just simulacra of experiences, such as a computer shows), and actual thought and experience are mental events.

William Luse said...

"But I'm a Cartesian in the sense of thinking that minds are different substances from bodies."

Don't Thomists think that too?

"To me this seems necessarily false. Imagination involves thought or, at least, true experiences (not just simulacra of experiences, such as a computer shows), and actual thought and experience are mental events."

Now, see, I'm sympathetic to this, because what you're describing seems a lot like what I said about imagination in my first comment. Your emphasis on mental events puts the focus on the difficulty of defining subjective experience. Some subjective experience is physical, e.g., a hallucination, or spots before your eyes, maybe even dreaming. But imagination, memory, and thought put into action by force of will all seem bound up as parts of a single entity. A dog's capacity to exercise these faculties is primitive compared to ours, and yet still quite dumbfounding. Even the capacity for a not completely self-serving affection (which Ed admits to in some animals) is impossible to fathom. Surely there ought to be room in Thomism for a less than dogmatic certainty in light of our inability to know very much about the phenomenon at all, which knowledge if we possessed it might prove compatible with the philosophy after all (and which was my original question to Ed). It also seems that there ought to be some meeting ground here for Cartesians and Thomists, the distinction between which two I'm still not clear on.

Lydia McGrew said...

"Some subjective experience is physical, e.g., a hallucination, or spots before your eyes, maybe even dreaming."

Actually, I'm inclined even to deny that. Those experiences are _physically caused_, but insofar as it they are _experiences_, they are not essentially physical. It is possible that you should have those same experiences even if you were a disembodied soul. Unlikely, sure, but possible.

I don't think spiders have experiences. But I could be wrong.

William Luse said...

"Actually, I'm inclined even to deny that."

Well, yeah, in that your perception of the spots is a mental event. Your experience of it, that is. But I still wish you'd help me with the difference between a Cartesian and a Thomist re "minds are different substances from bodies." I need some guidelines. If spiders don't have experiences, but mice do, where is that leading us? Are mouse souls specially created like human souls?

Marie said...

I think Chesterton says cave paintings are the best evidence that there's a qualitative difference between men and animals.

And I recently read a very convincing article that wondered if dogs might not be the most successful parasite on the planet. ...

William Luse said...

"a very convincing article that wondered if dogs might not be the most successful parasite on the planet..."

Written, no doubt, by a dog hater, and a biologically ignorant one at that. Now, if you're interested in real parasites...

Lydia McGrew said...

I'd have to comb through and re-read what Ed has said about minds elsewhere, but substance dualism is a position that I know he rejects and considers incompatible with hylomorphism. And substance dualism just is the position that minds and bodies are essentially different kinds o' stuff.

I've never claimed to understand hylomorphism. I still don't. Ed takes this, understandably enough, to mean that I'm not qualified to criticize it. Perhaps that's true, but he's the one saying we disagree. :-)

I have no idea where mouse minds or even dog minds came from, if either dogs or mice have minds. Well, okay, I have an idea--either God created each one, or God created the first one, and then somehow set it up so the mind can be passed down along with the body--spookily, as it were--by the act of generation.

C.S. Lewis once suggested that animals might not have individual consciousness but only a sort of consciousness-belonging-to-the-race--The lion existing qua member of the lion group, not qua individual lion. I've never been quite sure what this meant. I mean, obviously, the individual lion has things happen to him that don't happen to other lions and presumably has experiences associated with those unique events.

I know someone who seems inclined to think that all minds are immortal, including mouse minds, if mice have experiences at all. He doesn't think bugs have experiences though. I'm not prepared to go that far. And where would God _put_ them all? And would they get new bodies? And would they have babies through all eternity?

William Luse said...

"And substance dualism just is the position that minds and bodies are essentially different kinds o' stuff."

It's hard to believe that Feser would say they're the same kind of stuff.

"C.S. Lewis once suggested that animals might not have individual consciousness but only a sort of consciousness-belonging-to-the-race"

I don't think I like this. It subordinates the individual to the aggregate, the concrete to the abstract. The race is nothing without the individuals that comprise it.

We need a working definition of mind here (or better yet, of 'soul'). We need a cutoff point. And whatever one is (a mind), bugs don't have 'em.

Excuse me while I go look up hylomorphism.

MamaT said...

This makes my head hurt.

And it makes me feel stupid.

So, I'm going to go drink a cup of hot tea and contemplate the redemption of ALL of creation. And what that might mean.

And pet my dog.

William Luse said...

Makes mine hurt too. Notice how Lydia abandoned me. Gave me a headache and then thought, "Let him suffer."

alaiyo said...

I'm with Mama T. And I'm simple enough to say I don't much care about the metaphysics of it, but I'm pretty sure that Princess and Frisky and Pete and Sophie and Sadie and Maggie are going to greet me when I arrive wherever it is we arrive for eternity . . . just 'cause they've given (or are giving right now) so much love and affection to so many of us . . . So take that, philosophers and theologians! :)

Beth