Vallicella on hylemorphic dualism, Part II

Bill Vallicella has kindly replied to my response to his recent post on hylemorphic dualism.  The reader will recall that Bill had suggested in his original post that, given the apparent tension between hylemorphism and dualism, Aquinas’s hylemorphic dualism seems ad hoc and motivated by Christian theological concerns rather than by philosophical considerations.  I argued that this charge cannot be sustained.  Whether or not one ultimately accepts hylemorphic dualism, if one agrees that there are serious arguments both for hylemorphism and for dualism, then -- especially when we add independent metaphysical considerations such as the Scholastic principle that the way a thing acts reflects the manner in which it exists -- one should at least acknowledge that hylemorphic dualism has a philosophical rationale independent of any Christian theological concerns.  It seems Bill still disagrees, but I do not see how his latest post gives any support to his original charge.

In his latest post, Bill acknowledges that there are indeed serious arguments both for hylemorphism and (especially, in his view) for dualism, and that someone who finds both sets of arguments persuasive has motivation to try to combine them.  But he insists that the fact that one has good arguments for a position A and good arguments for a position B does not entail that one has good arguments for the combined position A + B, for there may be good reasons why A and B cannot be combined.

Now, that much is perfectly true.  It could turn out that A and B are incompatible, so that someone who has reasons for both A and B will, at the end of the day, simply have to give up one or the other and try to find out what the flaw is in the reasoning that seemed to make them both compelling.  But of course, it is also true that it may turn out that A and B are not incompatible, even if at first sight they seemed to be.  And since two true propositions cannot contradict one another, the fact that there are strong arguments for both is itself a reason to think that they are compatible.  Not an infallible reason, but still a reason, and a serious one if A and B do not manifestly contradict each other.  

Now that, I submit, is the position we are in with respect to both hylemorphism and dualism.  There is no manifest contradiction between them.  In particular there is no manifest contradiction between the claims:

1. The human soul is the substantial form of the human body 

2. The human soul carries out immaterial operations.  

True, Bill appears to think it at least very plausible that one can derive a contradiction from the conjunction of these two claims when further premises are added.  But of course, that will just raise the question of whether all of those further premises are correct, which is a disputed matter.  And as I pointed out in my previous post, there are independent philosophical considerations that make the idea of the soul as a subsistent form at least defensible.  There may be an implicit contradiction in the idea, but then again there may not be.  I don’t think there is, but the point is that whether or not there is, it is not obvious that there is.  

Hence when Bill goes on to say that “a psychological motivation is not the same as a justificatory reason” he does not capture the entirety of the philosophical situation.  Given that there are, by Bill’s own admission, serious philosophical considerations in favor of both hylemorphism and dualism, and given that there is at least no obvious contradiction between them, we do have in these facts alone a “justificatory reason” and not just a mere “psychological motivation.”  That doesn’t mean that it is by itself a decisive reason -- further argumentation would certainly be required to provide a full defense of hylemorphic dualism -- but that is not to the point.  What is to the point is that Bill had suggested that Aquinas’s view is merely an ad hoc position taken for theological rather than philosophical reasons, and I think the points just made (and those made in my previous post) show that that is not the case.  If we have good reasons for both A and B and there is no manifest contradiction between A and B, that is by itself a serious reason (even if not a decisive one) for thinking that A + B is true.  Hence it is unreasonable in that case to claim that someone who accepts A + B must be doing so for ad hoc non-philosophical reasons.

Compare the situation with general relativity and quantum mechanics.  As they stand the theories seem to conflict.  Nevertheless, physicists have for some time been trying to find a way to reconcile them, since there are strong reasons in support of each theory.  It would hardly be plausible to suggest that these physicists have merely a “psychological motivation” rather than a “justificatory reason.”  (Of course, some would respond that relativity and quantum mechanics are supported by stronger arguments than hylemorphism and dualism are.  But whether that is so or not is irrelevant.  For if it is so, that would show only that the attempt to harmonize relativity and quantum mechanics has a stronger justificatory reason than the attempt to harmonize hylemorphism and dualism does, not that the latter has merely a psychological motivation rather than a justificatory reason.)

Bill makes some further points I want to reply to.  In response to my point about the ambiguity of Aristotle’s own views, Bill writes:

[I]f the active intellect (nous poietikos) mentioned in De Anima III, v (430a) is a subsistent element of the human soul, capable of existence independent of matter, then Aquinas' position on the human soul would have been anticipated by Aristotle, and what I said, or rather suspected, about Aquinas implanting Christian notions in the foreign soil of Aristotelianism would be insupportable.  But the interpretation of De Anima III, v is a vexed and vexing matter as the material in the hyperlink Ed provided makes clear.  If, as some commentators maintain, Aristotle is discussing the divine mind and not the human mind, then it cannot be maintained that Aristotle was anticipating Aquinas.

I agree with this, but it does not conflict with what I said in my previous post.  My point was precisely that the interpretation of Aristotle’s views is a vexed matter -- that is, that it is not at all obvious that his own views on the present issue were incompatible with Aquinas’s, so that it is unreasonable to suggest that Aquinas’s views cannot be read as a natural extension of Aristotle’s.  (And even if Aristotle had clearly taken a position incompatible with Aquinas’s, that would not by itself show that Aquinas’s position could not be reconciled with hylemorphism; as all philosophers know, what a thinker thinks follows from his views and what actually does follow from his views are not always identical.  But the fact that it is not clear what Aristotle himself actually thought on the issue at hand only makes it harder to sustain the view that Aquinas was importing something foreign into Aristotelian soil.)

In response to my point that the difference between the human soul and the souls of non-human animals is, for Aquinas, that the former carry out immaterial operations and the latter do not, Bill writes:

I grant that the human soul, unlike the canine, carries out immaterial operations.  The argument is this:

a.  The human soul engages in immaterial operations
Agere sequitur esse: whatever operates I-ly must be (exist) I-ly.
c.  The human soul, qua executing immaterial operations, exists immaterially.

But how is this relevant to the issue I am raising?  Let's assume that the above argument is sound.  What it shows is that the human soul enjoys an immaterial mode of being.  But it does not show that a form of an animal body enjoys an immaterial mode of being.  It is one thing to establish that the human soul, or an element thereof, exists immaterially; quite another to show that this immaterial element is a form.  I hesitate to say that Ed is conflating these two questions.  What he might be doing is begging the question against me: he may be just assuming what I am questioning, namely, that the human soul is a form, and then taking an argument for the immateriality of the soul to be an argument for the immaterial existence of a form of the human body. 

But I was neither conflating the two questions nor begging the question against Bill.  Keep in mind that neither the passage of mine that Bill is immediately responding to in these lines nor my previous post as a whole was intended as a complete case for hylemorphic dualism.  The point was merely to respond to the specific suggestion Bill had made, viz. that there is no non-theological rationale for hylemorphic dualism.  And what I was saying was that if someone already has, on independent grounds, serious arguments for supposing that hylemorphism is true (as Bill concedes one could have), then, in that case, if one adds to the mix the three-step argument Bill summarizes above, one will also have good grounds for supposing that hylemorphic dualism is true.  So, the argument Bill summarizes is incomplete.  A more complete argument would look something like this:

A. Hylemorphism is true.
B. So the human soul is the form of the body.
C. But the human soul engages in immaterial operations.
D. And agere sequitur esse: whatever operates I-ly must be (exist) I-ly.
E. So the human soul, qua executing immaterial operations, exists immaterially.
F. So the form of the body, qua executing immaterial operations, exists immaterially. 

I say “a more complete argument” rather than “the complete argument” because I am, again, not trying to make the complete case for hylemorphic dualism here but just responding to Bill’s specific objection.  The complete case would have to involve a defense of each of the premises.  But the argument just given suffices to provide an answer Bill’s objection, because Bill concedes the premises at least for the sake of argument.  In particular, Bill concedes for the sake of argument that someone could have serious philosophical reasons for accepting A, C, and D.  But B follows from A, E follows from C and D, and F follows from B and E.  And that shows that someone who has serious philosophical reasons for accepting A, C, and D could have serious philosophical reasons for accepting F.  One can deny this, it seems to me, only if it were plausible to say either that F was manifestly self-contradictory, or that at least one of the inferences involved in this argument was manifestly fallacious.  But I don’t think either suggestion is plausible, and I doubt Bill does either. 

Note that this argument does not conflate the issues -- the case for A and the case for C will have to involve different lines of argument.  Nor does it beg the question against Bill.  The argument only assumes what Bill himself is willing to concede at least for the sake of argument.  And it shows, I think, that Bill should give up the claim that hylemorphic dualism (which is what F amounts to) could have no philosophical rationale, but only a Christian apologetic rationale.  For a philosopher who has no Christian ax to grind (nor for that matter a Jewish, Muslim, or any other purportedly revelation-based ax to grind) could accept A - F.  (Again, whether F is true -- and thus whether all of the premises that lead to it are true -- is, of course, a separate issue, which I am not trying to settle here.)
Bill also comments on my remarks about the Aristotelian conception of essence, in which I noted that the fact that it is of the nature of dogs to have four legs does not, for the Aristotelian, entail that every single dog will in fact have four legs.  Bill grants this but says:

In parallel with this, Ed seems to be suggesting that while it is the nature of a form to be a form of something, it does not follow that every form is a form of something. I deny the parallel.  

But that is not what I was saying.  Yes, every form is the form of something.  And the human soul, which is (for the Aristotelian) a kind of form, is the form of the human body.  But it does not follow that it must at every moment be conjoined to the human body, any more than the fact that it is in a dog’s nature to have four legs entails that it will in fact have four legs.  That is the point I was making.  A full-grown dog in its normal state will always have four legs, but there are some dogs which due to abnormal conditions (injury, genetic defect, etc.) do not have four legs.  Similarly, the human soul in its normal state will be conjoined to the body it is the form of, but there are human souls which due to abnormal conditions (death) are not conjoined to their bodies.  

Hence when Bill goes on to object that “a form is a 'principle' not capable of independent existence in the manner of a primary substance,” the trouble is that this statement is ambiguous.  It could mean that the normal, paradigmatic way in which a form exists is only as part of a primary substance, and never as a primary substance itself.  If so, the hylemorphic dualist agrees.  But it could also mean -- or at least, Bill might think it entails -- that no form of any sort can ever exist even for an instant, even in an abnormal, non-paradigmatic way, apart from the primary substance of which it is a part.  And with this the hylemorphic dualist would not agree.  Indeed, this claim simply begs the question against the hylemorphic dualist.  

For this reason the discussion of Veatch and Bergmann that follows this remark of Bill’s is not to the point.  Indeed, if anything it helps my case.  For Bergmann had no Christian theological ax to grind, and yet he took a position that Bill regards as relevantly analogous to the Thomistic view of the soul we have been discussing.  And that is just further evidence that someone could have purely philosophical reasons for taking that sort of view, and not a mere Christian apologetic motivation for taking it.   

Remember, that is the issue that I have been addressing.  It seems to me that Bill keeps shifting the focus of his arguments between two claims -- the claim that hylemorphic dualism is true, and the claim that hylemorphic dualism can have a purely philosophical, non-apologetic rationale -- and writes as if his objections to the first claim somehow establish the falsity of the second.  But they don’t.  Thus, even if Bill has presented powerful objections to the first claim (though I don’t think he has) that would be irrelevant to the second claim, which is the one at issue.

Hence when Bill concludes his post by saying: 

[Ed] has not given me a reason why I should accept argument A below over argument B: 

Argument A:  The human soul can exist apart from its body; the human soul is the form of the human body; therefore, there are forms that can exist apart from the matter they inform. 

Argument B:  The human soul can exist apart from its body; no form can exist apart from the matter it informs; therefore, the human soul is not the form of the human body. 

the trouble is that I have not been trying to convince Bill to accept argument A over argument B.  Rather, I have been trying to convince him that argument A, no less than argument B, is an argument someone could adopt on purely philosophical grounds, and not merely on Christian apologetic grounds.  And I think I have shown that that much is true.  (For those who are interested, you can find my most detailed discussion and defense of hylemorphic dualism in chapter 4 of Aquinas.)

I want to end this post by emphasizing how much I value Bill’s criticisms.  I think that the most formidable general metaphysical systems fall into three categories: the broadly Aristotelian approach, especially as developed by Scholastics like Thomists, Scotists, and Suarezians; the broadly Platonic approach, especially as developed within the Neo-Platonic tradition; and the broad rationalist-idealist approach represented by moderns like Leibniz, Bradley, Whitehead, and many others.  Needless to say, my sympathies are with the first camp.  Bill, at least as I read him, tends to sympathize more with lines of argument representative of the latter two camps (which is not to say that he is “a Platonist” or “a rationalist” or “an idealist,” full stop).  The three traditions are united in their opposition to the naturalism that dominates contemporary philosophy, which dominance is (as I see it) historically aberrant and temporary, since naturalism is the least plausible of the alternatives.  (Most naturalists think otherwise, of course.  But as it happens, most naturalists also seem to know little of the other three traditions in question except the crudest caricatures, as is obvious to any Aristotelian, Platonist, rationalist, or idealist who reads what naturalists have to say about these systems.)

Given the shallow and historically ill-informed character of so much (not all, but much) contemporary naturalist argument, each of these three anti-naturalist systems has to look mainly to the other two rival systems for serious objections.  It is in that spirit -- and because of his erudition and philosophical acumen -- that I always value Bill’s criticisms.  (Incidentally, Bill’s very helpful remarks on my ACPQ paper “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways” saved me from a foolish mistake that I had made in the original draft.) 
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