Friday, August 12, 2011

On the soul

Continuing my journey through The Last Superstition, an argument was presented concerning the soul. Before I get into that I would like to discuss just my issue with the arguments for God's existence that I brushed off in my prior post.

To get down to the real nitty gritty would require an explanation of Aristotle's notion of the 4 causes. However, my objection to the arguments are not that the conclusion, that there is a primer mover or first cause that is itself uncaused, but that the attempt to determine what this cause is like and even how many there are falls short.

Moving on to the soul, an argument based on forms is presented for the immortality of the soul. The soul itself is defined as the essence of the living being, what gives it life. Because of this meaning, Aristotle and Aquinas as well as the Catholic Church that follows their ideas accepts that plant and animals also have souls but of different types.

Now to show that the human soul, as opposed to the pure animal and plant souls, is immortal, Feser appeals to Aristotle's concept of forms. The claim is made that when we see an object, we have the form of that object in our intellect. No material thing has the perfect form, for example triangularity. No one can draw a perfectly straight triangle no matter how hard they try and even a computer is forced to accept a pixellated triangle. However, it is claimed, we have in our intellect the perfect form or the triangle. Since the perfect form cannot exist in matter, the intellect must be immaterial.

Do we have in our intellect the perfect form of the triangle? Or do we simply recognize the aspects of the imperfect triangle that give it triangularity? We see a shape composed of 3 lines. We do not even think to try to measure the angles since we know if it is a perfect triangle in Euclidean space, the angles will add up to 180 degrees and just accept that from appearance, the triangle is close enough. At no point do we need the form of the triangle to be in our intellect any more then an animal needs to have the form of an object it sees in its mind. Any animal can recognize food when it sees or smells it. Shall we conclude that the animal has the form of that object in its intellect, how ever lacking we may assume that intellect to be, an conclude that the animal has an immortal soul as well?

What about if we programmed a computer to recognize forms? Since we recognize forms only because we learn them not because they are innate in us, teaching a computer to recognize forms would be analogous. If I programmed a computer to recognize the shape of a triangle as an object with 3 reasonably straight lines, would the computer now have a soul?

Aristotelian logic is a rather interesting subject but we should not just accept his conclusions without some scrutiny else we may end up defending something absurd such as a computer with a immortal soul.

2 comments:

Friar Tuck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Friar Tuck said...

Again, I like your thinking and your objections, but allow me to make clear some certain points as I understand them.

“However, my objection to the arguments are not that the conclusion, that there is a primer mover or first cause that is itself uncaused, but that the attempt to determine what this cause is like and even how many there are falls short.”

I hope that you will explain this further at some point. For what we know about the First Unmoved Mover is that it is a First Unmoved Mover. Based on what a First Unmoved Mover is, we can know other things about it, e.g. it is eternal, unique, all powerful, etc.

“However, it is claimed, we have in our intellect the perfect form or the triangle. Since the perfect form cannot exist in matter, the intellect must be immaterial.”

From what I recall of Feser's, he goes a bit farther than that. If our intellect is somehow in our brain, then when we received the form, we would actually have a triangle in our brain, because when matter receives a form, it instantiates as that thing. I think he also mentioned this is relation to a bridge for example.

“the triangle is close enough.”
If the form of triangularity is not in the brain, then what are you comparing the material instantiation of triangularity to say that it is “close enough”? Close enough to what?

“Shall we conclude that the animal has the form of that object in its intellect”
Who claimed that animals have intellect? I think that we need to make some distinction here between perception and appetites, which all animals possess (including humans), and intellect and volition, which only humans possess.

“What about if we programmed a computer to recognize forms? Since we recognize forms only because we learn them not because they are innate in us, teaching a computer to recognize forms would be analogous.”
This is metaphysically impossible. A computer cannot have a soul and only accidentally imitates what humans program it to do. A computer cannot take into its intellect a form anymore than any other inanimate matter can. A computer is not living and cannot live, because it is essentially inanimate, a human artifice. It may imitate living things, but it itself cannot possess a soul, i.e. life.
The difference between a living creature and a machine is that a living creature is an organic whole, essentially working together. A machine is when men take several wholes and place them together to achieve some end, however this is only accidental to its nature. For example, if you were to plant a bed made of wood (assuming the wood was still fresh) in the ground, it would grow into a tree, not a bed.

Finally, I don't see how your arguments for animals and computers having intellects having anything to do with the nature of man's intellect. You begin by arguing that man's intellect is not immaterial, then change topics completely by talking about other animals having immortal souls (and if they did have intellect, then they too would have immortal souls). Then you end with imagining computers having intellect, but to what end or against what argument I'm not sure.