Eagleton

From Terry Eagleton’s review of Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait by Denys Turner:

Aquinas believed in the soul, as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins do not; but one reason he did so was because he thought it yielded the richest possible understanding of the lump of matter known as the body. As Wittgenstein once remarked: if you want an image of the soul, look at the body. The soul for Thomas is not some ghostly extra, as it was for the Platonising Christians of his time; it is not to be seen as a spiritual kidney or spectral pancreas. The question ‘Whereabouts in the body is the soul?’ would to his mind involve a category mistake, as though one were to ask how close to the left armpit one’s envy was located. For Aquinas, the soul is everywhere in the body precisely because it is what he calls, after Aristotle, the ‘form’ of it, meaning the way in which it is uniquely organised to be expressive of meaning. The soul is not some sort of thing, but the distinctive way in which a particular piece of matter is alive. It is quite as visible as a club foot. To claim that a spider has a different sort of soul from a human being is in Thomas’s view simply to say that it has a different form of life. What distinguishes an animal body from a hat or a hosepipe is the fact that it is signifying, communicative, self-transformative stuff, in contrast to the meaninglessly dumb matter of so much contemporary materialism. It is, in Turner’s phrase, ‘matter articulate’.

Eagleton goes on to highlight that the mind’s natural object for Aquinas was not God, but material objects; especially the material object of Jesus.

Though he is often accused of bloodless scholastic rationalism, he is in some ways closer to the empiricists. The mind’s natural object, he insisted, is not God, the self or ideas but material things. Any knowledge we have of God has to start here, and in particular with that pathetic failure of a material object known as Jesus. (In a splendid flourish, Turner writes of Jesus as ‘extra-judicially executed on the majority recommendation of a corrupt committee of very religious people’.)

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