Body and Soul

From Alasdair MacIntyre’s Dependent Rational Animals. Speaking of Aristotle’s many commentators:

“They have underestimated the importance of the fact that our bodies are animal bodies with the identity and continuities of animal bodies. Other commentators have understood this. And it was his reading not only of Aristotle, but also of Ibn Rushd’s commentary that led Aquinas to assert: ‘Since the soul is part of the body of a human being, the soul is not the whole human being and my soul is not I” (Commentary on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians XV, 1, 11; note also that Aquinas, unlike most moderns, often refers to nonhuman animas as ‘other animals’). This is a lesson that those of us who identify ourselves as contemporary Aristotelians may need to relearn, perhaps from those phenomenological investigations that enabled Merleau-Ponty also to conclude that I am my body.”

This passage struck me for two reasons. The first is the host of assumptions that are challenged by that one line from Aquinas. That line alone troubles all sorts of commonly held misconceptions regarding the theological anthropology of the medieval Christian tradition. Misconceptions held both by those inside and outside of the tradition.

The second, of course, is MacIntyre’s recommendation of Merleau-Ponty and his investigations of the body’s role in structuring experience. Seconded.

2 thoughts on “Body and Soul

  1. You write, “That line (‘Since the soul is part of the body of a human being, the soul is not the whole human being and my soul is not I” ), alone troubles all sorts of commonly held misconceptions regarding the theological anthropology of the medieval Christian tradition. Misconceptions held both by those inside and outside of the tradition.” And, I agree, but there are some inside that tradition, who have not misconceived but understood. These would include Ettiene Gilson and Joseph Owens at the very least. Gilson, in one of his very last publications, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again, discussed this in some detail. I will have to read MacIntyre’s book to see if I agree that Merleau-Ponty can correct the others. Thank you for letting me know of its existence.

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