I See Dead People: Disembodied Souls and Aquinas’s ‘Two-Person’ Problem

In Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy. pp. 25-45 (2014)
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Aquinas’s account of the human soul is the key to his theory of human nature. The soul’s nature as the substantial form of the human body appears at times to be in tension with its nature as immaterial intellect, however, and nowhere is this tension more evident than in Aquinas’s discussion of the ‘separated’ soul. In this paper I use the Biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus (which Aquinas took to involve actual separated souls) to highlight what I will call the Two-Person Problem facing his account of human identity through death and the bodily resurrection. Aquinas claims that the rational soul is neither the human being nor the human person. When the rich man’s soul says “I am in agony,” then, what is the referent of “I?” It appears that there is a human person, ‘Dives,’ who is replaced at Dives’s death by the person ‘Dives’s soul,’ who is in turn replaced at the bodily resurrection by ‘Dives,’ whom Aquinas claims is numerically identical to the original person. But this seems hopeless as an identity-preserving account of human nature. I believe that Aquinas’s account of human nature does not, as it stands, possess the resources with which to overcome this difficulty; I conclude that reconstructing a(n otherwise) Thomistic account that involves immediate bodily resurrection, although a radical approach, is the one best suited to preserving the most essential features of Aquinas’s theory.

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Christina VanDyke
Barnard College


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