Not Properly a Person: The Rational Soul and ‘Thomistic Substance Dualism’

Faith and Philosophy 26 (2):186-204 (2009)
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Like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas holds that the rational soul is the substantial form of the human body. In so doing, he takes himself to be rejecting a Platonic version of substance dualism; his criticisms, however, apply equally to a traditional understanding of Cartesian dualism. Aquinas’s own peculiar brand of dualism is receiving increased attention from contemporary philosophers—especially those attracted to positions that fall between Cartesian substance dualism and reductive materialism. What Aquinas’s own view amounts to, however, is subject to debate. Philosophers have claimed that ‘Thomistic substance dualism’ centers around two beliefs: the rational soul is an immaterial substance, and this immaterial substance is the human person. In this paper, I argue that labeling such an account ‘Thomistic’ proves dangerously misleading—not only does Aquinas himself explicitly deny both of these claims, but he denies them for philosophically significant reasons. Furthermore, I argue that Aquinas’s own position provides an account of human nature both more coherent and philosophically attractive.
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