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What is a Soul?

Audio only:

In the first of two conversations with Karlo about the soul, Cy asks Karlo to explain what a Christian means by “soul.” Where is the soul? Does everything have a soul? What is the point of having a soul? Using the tools of philosophy, Karlo gets us some answers.


Cy Kellett:

What is a soul anyway? Karlo Broussard, next. Hello and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I have to admit this one comes from me. I wanted to have this conversation with Karlo, because I struggle with the idea of the soul because I think this is the way my brain works, it works in images. I got to have an image for the thing. I got to have an analogy and the soul is immaterial and it’s very hard to come up with any image that works, and doesn’t just break down and give you the wrong idea about what a soul is. So I thought, “Karlo knows these things, let’s invite him in and ask him, what is a soul?” And here’s what Karlo had to say. Karlo Broussard, apologist here at Catholic Answers. Thank you for being with us.

Karlo Broussard:

Hey, Cy.

Cy Kellett:

I have to say, I think this is a tough one. I think we’ve given you a tough one and I-

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, thanks a lot, bud.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, and I anticipate struggling a little bit with this because the soul is … it’s just a very difficult topic, but you’re … The proper person to study the soul would be, what? The philosopher or the theologian?

Karlo Broussard:

The philosopher.

Cy Kellett:

The philosopher, okay. So, that’s you.

Karlo Broussard:

Of course the theologian can study it as well, as informed by philosophy, but further informed by divine revelation.

Cy Kellett:

But it’s pretty high level philosophy.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah it is, because you’re automatically going outside the boundaries of empirical observation and modern science, the methods of modern science.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, so here’s my first difficulty with the soul, is that when you speak to someone about the soul, either you get incomprehension, I don’t really-

Karlo Broussard:

Like a blank stare.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, or the, “What?” Or you get a kind of image or a way of speaking about the soul that can’t actually be the soul, for example, the ghost in the machine, the poltergeist-

Karlo Broussard:

That’s maneuvering the body or something, yeah.

Cy Kellett:

… that’s maneuvering the body,

Karlo Broussard:

Or the little man in the machine, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, right.

Karlo Broussard:

I often think of Avatar, remember the movie Avatar?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, right.

Karlo Broussard:

When they get in the big machine, and the guys in the machine, it’s like walking around, shooting the gun.

Cy Kellett:

But that’s not what a soul is. A soul is not an external reality or-

Karlo Broussard:

Individual substance, in and of itself distinct from the body, like these are two … It’s not that it is some individual substance in and of itself that’s distinct from the body, so that you have two things there that happened to be accidentally joined in the person. But rather it’s a principle, as we’re going to see in our conversation here, it’s a principle of the human being that with the body makes one individual substance, one individual thing.

Cy Kellett:

Right, right, okay. And that’s hard work to get there because it’s … Go ahead.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, in order to understand the human soul, we have to first take a step back and just understand soul in general and what is a soul.

Cy Kellett:

So, you’re saying then, there are non-human souls?

Karlo Broussard:

Yes, I am.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, all right.

Karlo Broussard:

But just wait a minute because I don’t want anybody listening or watching to begin going into making false conclusions here, but it is true. Yeah, there are distinct kinds of souls as we’re going to come to see in our conversation here, but we have to unpack this stuff.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So, the soul, however you use the word principle, and we’re going to get to that, is the principle of thing. So, if there are non-human souls, who’s got a soul, who doesn’t got a soul? What’s got a soul, what doesn’t got a soul?

Karlo Broussard:

There you go, great question. So we could start with just some something as mundane as a rock and a plant. Is there a difference between the two?

Cy Kellett:

Yes.

Karlo Broussard:

And if I ask a seven-year-old kid and I’ll ask you Cy.

Cy Kellett:

And I can answer a seven-year-old question, most of them.

Karlo Broussard:

What would you say is the essential difference between a rock and a plant?

Cy Kellett:

The plant is alive.

Karlo Broussard:

There you go, right? And I think any seven, eight-year-old kid can get that. The plant’s alive, the rock is not. So if we think about that, there’s something to the plant that makes it a living being rather than a non-living being. Some principle, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yes.

Karlo Broussard:

A principle is simply that in virtue of which the plant is living rather than non-living. So that principle is a life principle. It’s a first principle of life as St. Thomas Aquinas identifies it as. That principle of life, that animating principle, that in virtue of which the plant is living, rather than non-living, that’s simply what St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, calls a soul. So it’s as simple as that. Soul is basically the word we use to describe that life principle in living things.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So, is the life principle of the plant then, part of the physical universe, or is it not part of physical universe?

Karlo Broussard:

Well, that’s a very interesting question. St. Thomas Aquinas actually addresses this because St. Thomas asks in the Summa Theologiae, when he’s talking about the soul, he asks whether it’s a body. Is it a corporeal thing? And St. Thomas answers in the negative, he says, no, it can’t be a corporeal physical thing in the physical universe, because … and here’s his reasoning. If the soul, which remember is the life principle of a living thing, it’s that in virtue of which something is alive, if the soul were a body or a corporeal thing, if the soul were a physical thing, then every body, every physical thing, the rock, say, would be a living thing.

Karlo Broussard:

If the soul were a body and the soul is the life principle, it’s that in virtue of which something is alive, then every body would be alive. Every body, like every physical thing, would be a living thing. But surely not every physical thing is a living thing, the rock’s not alive. We already said the seven year old can discern that. Therefore, St. Thomas Aquinas concludes the soul, whether we’re talking about the soul of a plant, and animal, or human, that life principle of a living thing is not a body, Aquinas concludes. That’s not a physical thing.

Karlo Broussard:

So, in other words, it’s non-corporeal. It’s not something you’re going to be able to identify, empirically observe, within the physical universe. So now, as I said, at the outset of our conversation, we’re beyond using the methods of modern science to try and discern or detect this life principle, what we call the soul, whether we’re talking about plants, animals, or human beings. And so it’s incorporeal, it’s immaterial.

Karlo Broussard:

Now, that does not mean that the soul of the plant’s going to be able to exist once the plant dies, or the soul of the non-rational animal is going to be able to continue to exist once the animal dies. That’s another question that we would have to investigate and I think we’re going to try to do that in another episode.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

But when we’re talking about the nature of the soul itself, like is it physical, is it non-physical? We’re able to philosophically answer that question and say it’s non-physical, and a simple reasoning, as Aquinas lays out.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So but all this is derived from philosophy, but does the church speak on this? Have anything to say about this?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, well it’s interesting you ask that because the church has adopted, has taught by way of her Ordinary Magisterium, this idea that plants and non-rational animals also have souls in both 1914 and in 1916. So, in the early 20th century group of theologians and philosophers presented 24 theses to the Holy See, to the church for approval. These were 24 principles derived from the theological and philosophical tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Thomistic Theses, and the church approved them, not in a definitive or infallible way, but the church actually published them in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official journal of the Holy See, both in 1914 and 1916, saying that no Catholic can safely contradict the essence of the theses, although they may be expressed in different ways, but as far as what they’re getting at, no Catholic can safely contradict them, and also that they were safe and directive norms for theology and philosophy.

Karlo Broussard:

So, the idea that a plant has this life principle, what we call a soul, or that the non-rational animal, Fido, has a soul, what we mean, a life principle, this is something that the church has taught at least on the ordinary level. So, we can say that not only can we know this by way of philosophy, but this is something the church has put her official approval on, not in an infallible way, but official nonetheless.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So, what if I were to ask you then, so the rock doesn’t have a soul, the plant has a soul, what is the soul actually doing for the plant? Is that the right way to ask it?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, you could ask it in that way.

Cy Kellett:

What does the soul do? What does it provide to the plant?

Karlo Broussard:

Well, to answer that question, we have to sort of get back to this understanding, the next step in understanding the nature of the soul as the form of the body, of a body, whether we’re talking about the plant, the animal, or a human being. So St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this following Aristotle, in the first part of his Summa Theologica, or Theologiae, question 76, article one, and even the catechism of the Catholic church adopts this philosophical framework, conceptual framework, to try and describe the soul as the form of the body.

Karlo Broussard:

So, the catechism states, for example, in paragraph 365, the unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the form of the body, i.e. it’s because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living human body. So, it’s talking there about the human body and the soul being the form of the human body, but we can also apply that principle to plants and non-rational animals as well. So, a soul is the form of a body. Now, form is just a word that we use to signify that which makes a thing to be the kind of thing it is, the plant, an animal, or a human being, right?

Cy Kellett:

Okay.

Karlo Broussard:

So for example, let’s look at the table here, all right? I guess this is wood or whatever material.

Cy Kellett:

Wood, or some kind of petroleum product, I don’t know.

Karlo Broussard:

Let’s just say it’s wood, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

So, we notice that there’s matter there, it’s made out of something, but the matter is put together in such a way that it’s a particular kind of thing. So we say the matter has the form of a table, it’s not a plate, it’s not a fork, it’s not a spoon, it’s not a cup. So, form simply signifies, or is that organizational pattern in virtue of which the matter is-

Cy Kellett:

Is what it is.

Karlo Broussard:

… the kind of thing that it has constituted.

Cy Kellett:

The kind of thing that it is.

Karlo Broussard:

And that makes it to be the kind of thing that it is. So, that’s form in general. So, you’ve got the matter, the stuff, and the form, which makes the stuff to be the kind of thing it is, in this case, the table. Now, a soul is a form, but of a living thing, making it to be the kind of living thing that it is. So, the soul of a plant makes it to be a plant, not a horse, not Cy Kellett, not a rational human, okay.

Cy Kellett:

Right, right.

Karlo Broussard:

And yes, you are rational.

Cy Kellett:

Sometimes.

Karlo Broussard:

The soul of Mr. Ed on the old TV show series, the talking horse, the soul of Mr. Ed makes it to be a horse, not a plant, not a human being. The soul of Karlo Broussard makes me to be a human being, not a plant, not a non-rational animal. So notice how a soul is a form, thinking of the form of the table here, making it to be the kind of thing that it is, but it’s particularly a form of a living thing, making that living thing to be the kind of living thing that it is, a plant, an animal, or a human being.

Karlo Broussard:

So, once again, the soul of a plant informs the matter to be the matter of a plant. The soul of the lion informs that matter to be the matter of a lion, to be matter that of a lion. The soul of a human being makes the body the matter to be that of the human being. You see?

Cy Kellett:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karlo Broussard:

So notice how the soul is not only the life principle, that in virtue of which this material stuff is organized in a way to be a living organism, but the soul also is the form of the matter, making it to be the kind of living thing that it is to be, that it is, whether a plant, an animal, or a human being. By contrast, when a plant dies, that matter no longer has the soul of a plant and so is no longer that matter of a plant. When a lion dies, the matter no longer has that life-animating principle to unify the matter to be a lion, and so the matter is no longer that of a lion, it’s taken on some new form, whatever that form may be. We may call it a dead lion, right?

Cy Kellett:

Sure, sure, a corpse.

Karlo Broussard:

Oh we may call it a dead plant, or for a human being a corpse, but that stuff, that matter-

Cy Kellett:

It isn’t the lion anymore, it isn’t the plant-

Karlo Broussard:

It isn’t the lion anymore. It’s not grandma anymore, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, right.

Karlo Broussard:

If we’re at a funeral home, we say it’s grandma, but that’s just a way of speaking about it, but that stuff is no longer grandma because the life-animating principle that unifies the matter to make it be a human being is no longer present. So, the matter is no longer that of a human being.

Karlo Broussard:

So we can get a further grasp on the soul, understanding it as a life principle when we contrast matter without the soul, whenever the soul is no longer present, whenever you have death of a living organism, whether it’s a plant, an animal, or a human being. So this is what we mean when St. Thomas Aquinas, and Aristotle, and the catechism even, paragraph 365, talks about the soul as the form of the body and also a life principle. The soul is basically, in summary here, Cy, that life principle in virtue of which a living thing is the kind of living thing it is. without that soul, without that principle, you don’t have a living thing and you don’t have a kind of a living thing. You have something else, you have a different kind of thing that’s going to be no longer alive.

Cy Kellett:

But it’s not a mark against me as a thinker, that this is very difficult? I suppose my difficulty is that I can never generate a mental image of the soul, but that’s because the mental image is always a mental image of a physical thing, it’s always-

Karlo Broussard:

The imagination, from which the mental image would come, is bounded, restricted, limited within the boundaries of physical reality, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

So therefore, something that goes beyond physical reality, guess what? You ain’t going to imagine it, brother. You can’t. It’s kind of like trying to, trying to think of a mental image of God, the Father, God the son, God, the holy spirit, guess what? You ain’t going to get there.

Cy Kellett:

So this is something I can reason about without being able to imagine, which is very uncomfortable-

Karlo Broussard:

And you can come to know it without imagining.

Cy Kellett:

… but many people will say, “Look, because I can’t imagine it. It’s not real.” I mean, I think that we easily make that jump. Like, “Well, you’re talking about nothing because I have no image for it, therefore you’re talking-”

Karlo Broussard:

Well, to say that, “Because I can’t imagine it, therefore it’s not real.” You’re assuming that only physical reality exists and that would be a form of reductionism, physical reductionism. So, that would be a philosophical assumption that we would challenge and say, “Well, no, we can show that non-physical things exist. So therefore, just because you can’t imagine it, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So, I know in a later episode, we’re going to talk about … you talked about grandma in the funeral home and there’s a certain way in which she’s there, but she’s not there.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, that’s correct. But notice, I didn’t say she, I said that stuff in the … what we call the body. It’s no longer a human body because it’s not matter, it doesn’t have the soul anymore, but we might say grandma’s laying there, but that’s just our way of speaking about it.

Cy Kellett:

But what we’ll get to in a later episode is where is grandma then?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah. Is Grandma’s soul continuing to exist? What about Fido’s soul?

Cy Kellett:

That’s what I want to … is that in this episode, or next episode?

Karlo Broussard:

Next episode, yeah.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, okay. So, which is dependent on which though? Is the body dependent on the soul, or the soul dependent on the body?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, that’s actually a good question and this leads us to our next point that we can talk about if we have some time here in our conversation.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, I think we do.

Karlo Broussard:

And that is, what are some important implications of understanding the soul as the form of the body. That, in virtue of which, a thing is the kind of thing it is. So what are the implications? One of the implications Cy, is what you just brought up, namely that the soul in the body, whether we’re talking about the plant, the animal, or the human being, is not on equal footing, because it is the body that is dependent on the soul, in as much as for that matter to be the kind of thing that it is, it’s the soul that’s making it to be so. So it’s the matter that’s dependent upon the principle of the soul for it to be the kind of thing it is.

Karlo Broussard:

So, the soul is primary in corporeal … Well, in living beings. The soul automatically entails bodily beings because … This actually brings up an interesting point. Although we talk about the soul being immaterial, a soul by nature is order to animate, to form a body. So, if we compare a human soul to an angel, well, we don’t say angels are souls, because even though they’re pure spirit and they’re immaterial, they’re not by nature order to animate material stuff, right?

Cy Kellett:

Oh yeah, right, right. An angel’s not missing its body.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. A soul only applies to corporeal, living beings. So, that was a little side note there, but the soul is primary, and the body, whether a plant, animal, or human being, is secondary, but that’s one implication, but there’s even a more important implication and that is the understanding, getting back to our initial … when we start our conversation with, that is the soul is not some separate substance from the body as if they were two distinct things that are accidentally joined.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, this is the part I have to keep reminding myself of, yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, but rather that the soul and the body together, make up one single thing. So the question becomes, well, how do we know that? How can we think about this? Well, if we follow the lead of St. Thomas Aquinas and understanding the soul as the form of the body, remember the soul as the form of the body makes that body to be the kind of thing it is, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yes.

Karlo Broussard:

Okay, we establish that. Now, here’s the next step. Being the kind of thing it is, something being what it is, also entails having certain powers, certain functions, certain activities that go with-

Cy Kellett:

Being that sort of thing.

Karlo Broussard:

Being that sort of thing, right. So, if the soul is the … So, let’s just think of like a plant, what does a plant do? A plant takes in nutrients and grows. What does a animal do? I’m talking about a non-rational animal here, it’s going to do what a plant does, take in nutrients and grow, but it’s going to also have sensory activities, sensory powers, self-locomotion, be able to move itself. A human being is going to be able to do all the stuff that plants do and animals do as far as taking in nutrients, growing, sensation, self-locomotion, but also rational knowledge and love, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yes.

Karlo Broussard:

So, if the soul is that, which makes the thing what it is, and since being a particular kind of thing involves having certain powers and activities, well then it follows that the soul is the seat of all the activities of a living thing. You following me so far?

Cy Kellett:

Yes, okay, right.

Karlo Broussard:

So, soul, principle that makes the thing to be what it is, being what it is entails certain functions. Therefore, the soul is the seat, sort of the ground, the principle of all of the activities that the thing is doing. The plant is taking in nutrients, so the plant is growing. The lion is seeing, the human being is knowing. The soul is the seat, the principle of all of those activities of the thing. You following me so far?

Cy Kellett:

Got it.

Karlo Broussard:

Now, here’s what St. Thomas Aquinas does. He zeroes in and focuses on the vegetative and sensory powers and activities that plants, animals and humans all have, because we’re corporeal beings. So we have vegetative part, like we take a nutrients and we grow.

Cy Kellett:

You got it, yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

We have sensory powers and activities. We’re seeing, we’re hearing.

Cy Kellett:

But the plant doesn’t.

Karlo Broussard:

But the plant doesn’t, that’s right.

Cy Kellett:

Okay, that’s what I was confused about, yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, I misspoke there. So, we’re going up the ladder here, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

Hit the microphone there. And then of course, so human beings have sensory activity as well. But what I should have said it like this. Vegetative and sensory powers belong to bodies, respectively of the kind of thing it is. So human beings, animals and plants all have vegetative powers. Only animals and human beings have sensory powers. The bottom line is that those powers and activities are rooted in the body. They belong to the body. These are bodily functions, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yep.

Karlo Broussard:

Okay. Well, if these powers and activities are bodily functions, and we already saw how the soul is the seat of all activities, which would include the bodily activities, then the soul is the seat of those bodily activities, all the activities of a thing. Think about this, the activities are coming from one thing, right?

Cy Kellett:

Oh, yes. There’s a principle, right, that’s-

Karlo Broussard:

There’s one thing that’s acting. The plant is growing, the lion is seeing, the human being is knowing. So if the soul is the seat of all the activities of that one thing, and some of those activities that are coming from the body, then these bodily activities are flowing also from the soul. The point being is that these activities of plants, animals and humans, whether it be vegetative or sensory, are coming from both body and soul, that’s the link I was looking for there.

Cy Kellett:

I see.

Karlo Broussard:

So they’re coming from both body and soul, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

And here’s the next step. These activities are flowing from one thing. So, one thing is performing the single action, plant growing, and of course we can look at all the other actions, lion seeing, human being, knowing, or a human being sensing as well, because I said knowing a while ago, but that’s an intellectual activity, so the human being seeing as well. Well, if these activities are flowing from both body and soul, but it’s activities of one thing, well, then guess what? Body and soul together-

Cy Kellett:

Are one thing.

Karlo Broussard:

… make up one thing. The soul is not some distinct, separate thing, and the body, some distinct, separate thing that happened to be joined together. Rather, these are two principles. These are two aspects of one subsistent reality, one substantial being, what does that mean? One thing, to put it frankly. And all of these activities, in this case, the bodily activities, vegetative, sensory, flowing from that one thing that has both body and soul. So the soul as the form of the body is making that matter to be-

Cy Kellett:

What it is.

Karlo Broussard:

… what it is, and the matter and the form together, the body and the soul together, constitute one thing. So this refutes the idea of the soul being this distinct, separate substance, like the little man in the machine, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right, it’s not.

Karlo Broussard:

Or the poltergeist maneuvering the body. No, there’s one thing that’s acting, whether it be the plant, the lion, or the human being, but it’s the soul and the body together that makes up that one thing, that’s the source and the seat of all of those activities.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So that being the case, when the plant dies, let’s just keep it at the level of the plant for a moment. When the plant dies, the soul is not part of that one thing anymore?

Karlo Broussard:

Right.

Cy Kellett:

Where does the soul of the plant go?

Karlo Broussard:

Well, the soul of the plant remains with the plant. Oh wait, you said the plant dies?

Cy Kellett:

The plant dies.

Karlo Broussard:

Okay, I was thinking a part of the plant being cut off. Well, the answer to that question will be determined by whether or not the soul of a plant can continue to exist. If it could continue to exist, and this is going to be something we’re going to have to look at in another episode, if it continues to exist then it would be continuing to exist, it would be a part of reality, just not physical reality. But if it doesn’t survive the death of its body, when a plant dies, then it would go out of existence, it would no longer be a part of the community of real beings. It would no longer be a part of reality, it would cease to exist. It would be annihilation.

Karlo Broussard:

And the same line of reasoning would apply to animals, non-rational animals, and rational animals like us, human beings. And that’s something we’re going to have to look at in another episode but that gets to the question of whether a soul continues to exist once it’s no longer united to the matter, animating the matter, making it to be the kind of thing that it is.

Karlo Broussard:

I’ll just give you a little sneak peek. The conclusion we’re going to make when we talk about this next time is that only the soul of a human being continues to exist when it’s separated from the body. The soul of a non-rational animal, Fido say, the soul of Betsy, the plant here-

Cy Kellett:

Okay, that’s the name now, forever. Okay.

Karlo Broussard:

… will no longer exist whenever these living organisms die. Now, that’s just an assertion, of course we have to defend that claim.

Cy Kellett:

But we’ll do that next.

Karlo Broussard:

But we’ll do that next time, yeah.

Cy Kellett:

This intimacy of soul and body as one thing, bad things can happen to the body, like it can lose parts, it can lose capacity. When that happens, does the soul lose something as well? Say I lose my hand. So, part of the capacity of the soul is to make it possible for me to grasp things. Now it can’t do that, at least on one side, if I lose one hand. What’s the effect of those kind of losses to the body of the soul. I think this would have particular implication for people who have organ transplants. I have somebody else’s heart, do I have part of their soul?

Karlo Broussard:

The answer would be no, because there are certain ways in which parts of the material body can be subsumed into the life-vivifying power of the soul of the living organism, right?

Cy Kellett:

Oh, I see, yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

So, some things are going to be able to fall under that category, some things won’t. So, you might have some part of the body that might be able to be subsumed into the life-animating principle of the soul, other parts not, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

If you lose your head, that ain’t going to work if you try to put it back on, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

But maybe another part could. So that’s a little bit more complicated in philosophically trying to analyze that. We can know that it is the case because we can empirically observe the fact that some parts are subsumed into the life-animating power of the soul. Some are not. How that works, we might be looking into the darkness of mystery there, but that goes a little bit far beyond what we can talk about here, but that it is so, we do see it to be the case.

Cy Kellett:

But is that when the body is diminished, is this soul diminished, in other words?

Karlo Broussard:

In some ways, so this gets back to analyzing the various powers that are rooted in the soul. So, if certain powers are exercised, utilized and actualized in and through bodily organs, if they’re absolutely dependent upon the bodily organ, then if the bodily organ is defective or destroyed, then the power will no longer be able to be exercised. So the power of sight, you ain’t going to be to see if your eye gets damaged, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

And if you lose an eye. So this gets back to how the powers of the soul relate to the various functions, the bodily functions of the living organism, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

But whenever we get to human beings, it’s unique because, and this is something we’ll talk about next time, there are certain powers of the human soul that, although in some ways are dependent upon bodily organs, they also have other ways in which it is not-

Cy Kellett:

Dependent.

Karlo Broussard:

… such as intellectual knowledge, whenever we’re using the intellect, whenever we’re knowing things, there are some ways in which the intellect is dependent upon the brain and upon proper bodily functioning, because we’re using images. You were talking about images, imagine something. Well, that’s according to St. Thomas Aquinas following Aristotle, they’re called phantasms, we’re going to conjure up images. But then the intellect begins to act on those images, that’s the stuff, and then the intellect begins to act on those images in a way that goes beyond the boundaries of matter. And so, because we’re dependent in some way as rational animals and our intellectual knowledge and power, whenever the brain’s malfunctioning, our intellectual capacity is going to be limited, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

But we can know philosophically that we can do some things that aren’t entirely dependent upon matter. So therefore, we’re able to conclude, now these are just assertions not proof, we’re able to conclude that the rational soul and the intellectual life of the soul has a life independent of matter. If that’s the case, well then, when the matter goes-

Cy Kellett:

That life doesn’t.

Karlo Broussard:

… that life will be able to continue to exist. And then you get into the questions, well could it even function, even though it might have the powers, could those powers function independent of the body? And then the answer would be yes, from our perspective, but then the question becomes would it function naturally, or would it have to function supernaturally? And those are some complicated questions when we’re getting into the weeds here, but it’s really good questions and fun to try and answer.

Cy Kellett:

Yes, it’s fun to talk about the soul. It’s so helpful. It requires a certain commitment not to rely too much on images, but to have to reason it separate from those images.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah, so it can get cerebral, right?

Cy Kellett:

Right, very much so. Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

And it can be a little heady in trying to think about this stuff, but just always remember the starting point, rock and plant. One’s living, the other’s not. What makes the difference? The soul.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, and that was my contribution, the seven-year-old contribution. Thanks for trusting me with that, by the way.

Karlo Broussard:

You’re welcome, Cy.

Cy Kellett:

Good job, Karlo, thanks.

Karlo Broussard:

Thank you, brother.

Cy Kellett:

Personally, I find it a little bit comforting that Karlo says it’s not an intellectual deficit on my part that I can’t conjure up an image of the soul that is satisfying because there is no image of the soul, an immaterial reality, that will get to it and not lead us at least somewhere into an error about the soul. So, we have to think philosophically about the soul. Fewer and fewer people seem interested in doing that, but it is important work. Our world becomes increasingly soulless as it becomes less interested in souls, as it becomes less interested in spiritual realities and more and more convinced that it’s just the material world that is real, all the rest of that is fantasy, or conjecture, or that kind of thing.

Cy Kellett:

If we know about our souls, we know something very, very important about ourselves and about the rest of reality. So, I’m looking forward to the next conversation with Karlo when he explains why human souls are immortal. I am all in favor of that. I’m really looking forward to that conversation. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. We’ll see you next time, right here, God willing on Catholic Answers Focus.

 

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