A Look at the nature of the Human Soul


By Fr. Raymond Taouk,


We need not demonstrate that man has a body (obvious), nor that he has a soul (every living being has a soul).  We need to study the nature of the h. soul and its union with the body.


I.  nature of the soul


1.    The human soul is subsistent (I 75, 1 and 2).

·      It is spiritual, and not only immaterial.  Not only is it not a body, but it does not depend on a body in esse.  This negative aspect (no dependence on the body to be) expresses a plenitude and sufficiency, the subsistence: ‘anima humana est aliquid subsistens, quod per se existit’ (wo saying the soul is a a complete substance, which is false).

·      ST has proved it once he proved the spirituality of the faculties of the soul, because the int. acts wo body.  If they are spiritual, then their subject must be spiritual too.  From the proof a posteriori of the spirituality, we can deduce a priori that the soul is simple and immortal.


2.    The soul is physically simple

·      simplicity means indivisibility (no parts).

·      there are various degrees of simplicity.  

·      God is absolutely simple, having not even metaphysical parts. 

·      Every creature, including the h. soul, has metaph. parts (essence/existence; pot/act; subs/accdts), but the h. soul has no physical parts : being spiritual, the soul has no qtty or extention (properties of the bodies) and no juxtaposed parts (partes extra partes).


3.    The h. soul is immortal (I 75,6)

·      The h. soul, to be corrupted, should be so either per se (in itself directly) or per accidens (by dependence on stg else which is corrupted).  But the h. soul is corrupted a) neither per se bec. it is simple, nor per accidens bec. it does not depend on the body to exist.

·      Kant has recourse to the postulate of prac. Reason : man must survive this world since justice does not reign in the world and justice must be done, under pain of destroying all moral life.  Yet, the moral argument is an ‘argument of convenience’, but it has a lesser foundation than that of liberty  since liberty is a condition of any moral life on earth (justice is hoped for in the other world).  This argument has value within a metaphysical mold which admits the spirituality and immortality of the h. soul and existence of God, wise and just.

·      St. Thomas Aquinas, with caution (a sign), uses the argument of the ‘natural desire which cannot be void’, called psychological argument.  “We can take as a sign of this, the fact that everything desires to exist in its own mode.  Among the knowers, the desire follows on knowledge : but the senses know only sub hic et nunc, whereas the int. apprehends the esse absolute et sec. omne tempus.  Hence, every intellectual being desires naturally to be always.  But a nat. desire cannot be vain.  Hence every int. substance is incorruptible” (I 75, 6). 

The difficulty about this argument is to know why it is not valid for the body, or for the entire man, body and soul, bec. man desires naturally to live always as he is.  Revelation teaches us that death entered the world by Adam’s sin, yet death was natural in as much as the h. body is per se corruptible.  So, Adam was made immortal not by nature, but by grace.

Ccls : the desire of immortality must be distinguished :  a) the desire of immortality of man or of the body is only a velleity, like the desire for beatitude; b) the desire of immortality of the soul is an absolute desire.

·      Could not the soul be annihilated? (I 104, 3-4)  To annihilate is to cease the creative act, and both must belong to the same agent, God.  Could not God annihilate a soul?  De potentia absoluta (his might considered apart from other attributes), yes bec. creation is a free act; de pot. ordinata (in relation w. other attributes, esp. jsut. and wisdom), not bec. this would be a sort of contradiction, the withdrawal of a creature after having given it an immortal nature[1].


4.    Every human soul is immediately created by God (I 90, 118)

·      the question of origin depends on the question of nature the rational soul cannot become except by creation.  The reason is that, as the fieri is the via ad esse, stg becomes in the same way as it is’.

·      the soul of a child cannot come from the body of the parents (matter does not produce an immaterial effect 118,2); nor can it come from the soul of the parents which, simple, cannot be divided.

·      Such a creation is not a miracle (derogation to the laws of nature) since it is natural that man engenders man even if this requires the specific and individual intervention of God (every man is the fruit of a particular love of God).

·      At which time is the soul created? 

·      it does not preexist the body agst Plato, Origen. a) there is no argument in favor of the hypothesis; b) there are motives of denying the preexistence : 1- theological (condd Dz 203); 2- phil. since the soul is by nature the form of a body (see below), it would be wo raison d’être if it existed before giving life to a body, bec. it is not a complete substance.

·      When is the soul created as infused in a body? 

·      at the moment of conception : the more simple hypothesis. The h. obyd is progressively organised by its own soul present from the bgg.  Abortion is a homicide. 

·      at the moment when the child is apt to live, more conform w. the def. of soul ‘first act of a body organised having life in potency’.  The soul supposes a cert. organisation of the body, and cannot have been infused before the body was sufficiently organised.  Then, abortion is not always a homicide, but close enough since it prevents the natural dvlpt of h. life. 

·      ST, who follows the 2d hypoth. admits a succession of souls in the embryon I 118,2.   The CC has not taken dogmatic position on this question, but she gave practical directives which seem to imply a theoretical position : CIC 747 the foetus, whichever his age is to be baptised absolute, not even conditionaliter.  It is the more probable opinion.



ii. the union of soul and body.


            What is man?  we said that he is a living being, and like all others, he is composed of a soul and body, and the soul is the form of the body.  Yet, since his soul is subsistent and spiritual, we need to proved that it is the form of the body despite the fact of its spiritual nature, far superior to the animal and vegetal soul.


1.    the union of soul and body is substantial

·      Errors.  The union is accidental.

·      Plato who, following Pythagoras, considered that the soul is a pure spirit fallen into a body like in jail as the consequence of a fault. 

·      Descartes who defines body and soul as 2 heterogenous substances

·      Spinoza says that the body and soul are 2 modes of the same substance, the infinite divine Subst.

·      Malebranche and Leibniz say the they remain 2 distinct substances and wo communication at all

·      Man is one : this is a fact beyond discussion.  What needs to be proved esp. is that man is not soul.

·      “The same man perceives that he senses and he thinks”, acts totally different, yet which belong to the same subject ‘I’. But it is impossible that the same sbjct perceive as his other’s acts (76,1)

·      the diverse activities oppose and prevent each other (suffering diminishes y. int. power) : such opposition can exist only bec. they derive from the same pple (C.G. II 58).

·      different agts can produce the same effect, but not one activity by one agent.  Some h. acts involve both body and soul, like to sense, to fear, to be angry changes the body (C.G. II 57).


2.    The soul is the form of the body (because. it is the principle of being and of activity of the body)

·      re. the esse.  2 elements are in the relation of form/matter if : a) one of them is pple of the substantial existence of the other; b) the 2 elements have the same act of existence (Vs. 2 beings).  Precisely, the human soul makes the body exist as a living and unified substance, it is united to it so as to produce one same substance ‘conveniunt in uno esse’ (C.G. II 68).

·      re. the agere.  The form is the first intrinsic principle of activity of a being   But such is the human soul which is case of all the vital acts, to feed self, to move, to sense and to think (76,1).

·      the subsistence of the soul is no difficulty.  Re. the esse, nothing prevents the soul, as such of a superior existence, from communicating existence to the body.  Re. the agere, nothing prevents a form to be only partially absorded in informing and animating the body, and retaining some proper activity[2]

·      this doctrine was ‘canonised’ by Ccle of Vienne 1312 and V Lat. (Dz 481, 738) : ‘if anyone affirms or sustains or defends that the rational or intellective soul is not per se et essentlter the form of the h. body, let him be held as heretic’.  Wo adopting the philos. system of Aristotle, the CC expresses that the truth expressed by the arist. formula belongs to the deposit of the faith.


·      Consequences of the soul form of the body.

·      the human soul, though self subsistent, is not a complete substance, since it is made to inform a body.  It is not a ‘hoc aliquid’ i.e. a being, complete and individual.  It is only a part of man, not a person as such (75,4 ad 2).

·      the soul is found at the limits of 2 ontological regions : the region of bodies and that of spirits.

·      the union of soul and body is natural (Vs. Plato) : the h. soul is made ad hoc, to perfect, vivify and use to body for its proper functioning.  Plato, logically professes an ascetic moral life (the soul must recover its former purity, and learn to die, cf. Areopagus in the time of St. Paul). Aristotle’s moral life is humanist : if the passions need refraining to be under the power of reason, the body however is part of h. nature and serves the intellect.  Death places the separate soul is an unnatural state and preserves a desire of the resurrection of its body. 

·      the state of the soul after death is delicate in arist. philo. : it is not either contra naturam nor secundum naturam (else, the resurrection of the body would be a metaphysical ncssty).

·      the soul informs the body and receives from it its individuality.  The 2 elements are ncssly complementary : the form specifies and actuates the matter, and quantified matter individualises the form.  Man’s soul make  him be man, his body makes him be this man a ‘I’ distinct from others.

·      There is no purely ‘mental sickness’.  A ‘mental sickness’ means a sickness of the functioning of faculties, but the int. faculties are affected indirectly by the sensation.  More deeply, the h. faculties are subjected in the soul which is individualted and affected by the body[3].

·      Does the soul lose its individuality together w. its body at death?  No, it retains its ordination to a determinate body, it is forever the form of this body, the soul of this man.


3.    In each man, there is one soul and only one soul

·      Vs. Averroes who sustained that there was only one intellect and thus one soul for all men.  This is taken again in Fichte, Lachelier and Brunschvicg, tied to their pantheist view the Spirit is God.

·      Vs. Platonists, who believed that there was a plurality of substantial forms in each being.  If there can be many accdtl forms in the same being, there can be however only one subst. form.

·      there are as many souls as men (76,2) since each man is a substance, and  is distinguished from others more than only accidentally (as wearing a tunic or a cope) : ‘I’ would be wo reality.

·      there is only one soul in each man (76,3) bec. again each man is one substance.  If there were 3 souls, one vegetative, one sensitive and one inte. they would make 3 different substances and their union could only be accidental.


4.    The soul is present whole and entire in the whole body and in each part of the body.

·      the soul is not circumscribed by the body bec. it is not extended.  There is no point asking ‘where is the soul’?  It is present to the body rather than in the body.

·      it is present entirely in every part of the body bec. it has not part.

·      but it is not in each part of the body accdg to the totality of its energy ‘sec totalitatem virtutis’ but in each of them accdg what fits it, proportionately and accordg to its proper manner.


iii.  the human person


1.    to define person by autonomy, is the Kantian acception, according to whom speculative reason cannot be metaphysical, and the practical reason sets its own laws.  Duty emanates a priori from reason, and man obeys in fact only his own laws.  To this we object, that man cannot be the last fdt of moral obligat.

2.    We can define the person by liberty, since it is a ‘property’ of any person.  But this def. leaves aside the essential aspects.

3.    Persona est rationalis naturae individua substantia (Boetius) : it limits the notion of person by 3 concentric circles : substance (something existing per se Vs. accident); complete (first susbstance. or individual, Vs. parts); of rational nature (I 29,1).

4.    Is there a distinction between individual and person? 

·      the personalist philosophy (Mounier, Maritain, Marcel) opposes them, and says that the individual is the physical man, part of the universe and opposed to other individuals.  Person is the spiritual man, transcendent to the universe by his liberty, open and in communion with other persons.

·      Ans./ there is a dist. of notion or of aspects (individual = genus of person), but there is no opposition, much less between body and spirit (cartesian opposition).  In fact, we must reject such opposition and affirm that the h. person includes body and soul, that personality increases individuality, and is subject of duties and rights, based on the last end to which the person (not only indvdl) is ordained.


[1]‘Deus, qui est institutor naturae, non subtrahit rebus id quod est proprium naturis earum’ C.G. II 55.

[2] “quanto forma est nobilior, tanto magis dominatur materiae corporali, et minus ei immergitur, et magis sua operatione vel virtute excedit eam.. et qto magis proceditur in nobilitate formarum, tanto magis invenitur virtus formae materiam elementarem excedere.” I 76,1.

[3]This does not infer that psychiatry is useless as opposed to medicine.  Stmes, the origin of evil may be in the mind, like an idea, ignorance, worry.  Jung says “most of psychoses come from the incapacity to see life fr. the metph angle”.