Wednesday, November 02, 2016


I usually agree with Paul Helm. Here's a rare exception:

I agree with Helm on the importance of the body in Christian anthropology. But we don't need Thomistic hylomorphism to value the body. Indeed, a dreaded Cartesian dualist can value the body, without the obscurities of hylomorphism. It's a philosophically and theologically problematic position. Consider the view of analytical Thomist, Elizabeth Anscombe:

This is why I call "immaterial substance" a delusive conception…There is no reason whatever for believing in a temporal immortality of the soul apart from the resurrection…I take the Christian doctrine of immortality to be the doctrine of an unending human life, happy or unhappy, after the resurrection, and not the doctrine of an immortal sort of substance, the soul., to which is appended the doctrine of the resurrection because a disembodied soul is not a complete man, "The Immortality of the Soul," Faith in a Hard Ground, 72,77.

Now, it's possible, I suppose, that her position was partially influenced by Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein once made a skeptical comment about dreams, which his student, Norman Malcolm developed. If we conceive the intermediate state as analogous to dreaming, and if, following Wittgenstein, we're dubious about the "folk psychology" of dreaming, then perhaps that has something to due with her skepticism. But I have no actual evidence that was a factor in her thinking. 

It is, of course, possible, that her skepticism isn't specifically Thomistic, although she devotes time to analyzing the Thomistic category of substance. And I'm not suggesting that Helm ought to be persuaded by her arguments. 

But it's no mystery that hylomorphism, even of the Thomistic variety, is hard to square with the intermediate state. As I recall, Peter Geach, another analytical Thomist (and Anscombe's husband) raises similar difficulties in God and the Soul. From what I've read, Thomists must make ad hoc qualifications to adapt hylomorphism to the intermediate state.  And that's from astute Catholic philosophers who are highly sympathetic to Thomism. 

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