Philosophy of mind is a relatively new subject in the world of philosophical disciplines, is also the fastest growing and, some say, the most interesting. It was necessary to explain at some length the modern theories of mind/soul in order to acquire a good grasp of the results of modern philosophy and to appreciate the relevance of Rosmini’s teachings on the subject.
Rosmini’s views can be found in his substantial works on Psychology, on Conscience, and on Anthropology. We shall limit ourselves to few fundamental points of great relevance, in the hope that you may feel encouraged to do your own research, using Rosmini’s extensive examination of every aspect of the subject.
Many people believe in the existence of the soul, but they would have great difficulty in trying to express their views on what the soul actually is. Some may say that the soul is a spiritual “something” present in each person and created directly by God. They would also readily agree that we do not know much else about the soul, which remains in their minds as a mysterious ghostly presence that detaches itself at death flying to God, perhaps through a tunnel at the end of which there is a great light.
Yet, the soul, like the idea of being which we considered in our previous lecture, is the most common reality of our being, is what makes us “alive” from the very first moment of our conception. We affirm our soul every time we say “I”, or talk about ourselves and our perceptions of the world. Far from being a mysterious ghost, the soul is at the very centre of our every day life. Rosmini claims that we have far more evidence for the existence of the soul than we have for the body, and that it is not the case that the soul is in the body but that the body is in the soul. Without the soul the body would be simply dead: where does this leave all modern theories that exorcise the mind/soul?
Ideas are essential for our knowledge of anything. They are of a different nature from things which are real and subjective. All ideas are made up of the idea of being and of the infinite number of determinations provided by the senses: the idea “horse” is the idea of something which is, and of the determinations given by the senses (shape, colour, taste, smell, texture, etc.). The idea of being is present in all ideas, is the mother of all ideas, and cannot be acquired in any way through the senses: we know it from conception, it is “innate” in us, and is the light that “enlightens every man that comes into this world”. It is the idea that gives unity to all knowledge, is the principle of every branch of knowledge, and is the “truth” that shines before our minds.
The idea of being is not the only primordial element “innate” in us. There is another element essential for our knowledge of the world, the “innate” fundamental feeling whereby our soul feels constantly and permanently the body, and through which we can feel all other sensations. We would not be able to feel external bodies that stimulate or press on our body if we did not feel constantly our own body.
Our soul, therefore, from the moment of conception, is united to the body which is the term of its fundamental feeling and through which it feels all other sensations, and is united to the idea of being, the object of pure intuition, and through which it forms all other ideas with the help of the senses.
“Feeling and the idea of being are the two basic elements of all human knowledge, the seminal reasons, to use an expression of St. Augustine, of all natures and of all entities composing the universe” (AMS, 16,20). Both elements are “given”, are “innate”: no one can have any idea without the innate idea of being, and no one can teach another what “feeling” is, either we have it innately or we would never understand what it is.
Human soul is the principle of an active, substantial feeling which, identically the same, has as its terms 1- extension (and in it a body) and 2- being. It is therefore at one and the same time sensitive and intellective (rational).
The human soul is that first principle of feeling and understanding which, without ceasing to be one and to have a single radical activity, is constituted by something felt, extended and corporeal, and by something understood, that is, indeterminate being.
The soul is, therefore, a substantial feeling. Observe carefully, however, this word “feeling”. In the same way that one cannot have a Cheshire cat’s grin without the cat, there cannot be “feeling” without that which feels and that which is felt, without the soul that feels and the body that is felt. The conjunction of the soul to the body is what we call “life”, hence we can see how intimate the connection of soul and body is. Life always refer to sensation, and properly speaking, resides in the soul where alone sensation is present. However, life can be attributed to the body but only in so far as the body is intimately conjoined to the soul. Feeling is the distinguishing mark of a “living” creature, and animals are defined by Rosmini as “subjective beings with feeling”. The feeling principle in animals and in human beings is the soul.
However, soul and body are completely different and even opposed in their natures: the soul “feels”, the body does not feel but is the cause of sensation or feeling, the means whereby the soul feels. The brain, being body, cannot feel anything; it is the soul that is the subject of sensations. Yet, it is the most common mistake today among philosophers of mind to say that it is the brain that feels!
Let us imagine a man who shows signs of being in great pain: the face is red, the eyes wide open, the movements are uncontrolled, there are tears and groans. At the sight of the signs we become convinced that the man is in pain. But do we experience his pain? Do we see, hear, smell, taste, touch his pain with our own senses? The answer is clearly negative, our sense organs experience bodies only in so far as bodies are coloured, hard, impenetrable, sonorous, tasteful or possess other qualities which we can feel. The pain of the man we see is not a body, and therefore we cannot experience it. If we still doubt whether the pain is a body, we can go on to ask ourselves what colour, shape, hardness, weight, movement, smell or taste it manifests. The question shows immediately how absurd it is to suppose that the pain is a body, or possesses the qualities proper to bodies.
There is no doubt that the body of the suffering person, which shows signs of pain, and the sensation of his pain are two totally different things. His body falls under my senses, and produces sensations in me; his pain does not fall under my senses, but remains in him alone, it is felt only by his own soul. No matter what G. Ryle and the behaviourists say, the pain is felt by the soul of the man, it is not all the external features that he shows and convince us that he is in pain.
The human soul feels in three ways: there is “intellective” feeling, “volitive” feeling, and “corporeal” feeling. We feel ourselves “thinking”, sometimes we are moved by the feelings aroused by our thoughts. A painter died of joy at the sight of a Raffaello, Newton could not bring himself to work after experiencing great happiness at the discovery of a principle. Our soul feels “our acts of will”, since our volitions are activities whereby our soul is drawn affectively to the object presented by the intellect. And finally our soul feels the “objects of the outside world” and even our own body, and in order to feel external bodies the soul must feel first of all itself with a constant, fundamental feeling.
The soul, therefore, is essentially a principle that feels. All the feeling activities of the soul are expressed by us with the word “I” or “Myself”. The I is not the pure soul, because babies or whoever cannot say “I” have nonetheless their soul: the I is the soul that reflects on itself, is the soul perceiving itself, becoming aware of itself in its various operations. When we say “I read, I see, I wish…” the words express that we are doing the actions, and the soul is aware of itself doing the actions. When I say, “I write” I mean to say that 1- there is someone who is writing, 2- that this someone becomes aware that he is writing, 3- that this someone says that he is writing, and 4- that this someone is aware that he is the same person that is writing and that knows and says that he is writing, and expresses it by saying, “I write”.
“I cannot doubt that I who feel, think, speak, am the soul. The soul, therefore, as I presently conceive it, is that being which I intend to express when I use the word “I”. The person who says “I” performs an interior act by which he enunciates his own soul. “I”, therefore, is the vocal sign enunciated by an intellective soul of his own act when he turns attention internally to himself and perceives himself”. (Psychology, 69)
The way of acquiring knowledge of our soul is to begin from “myself”, from my “I”. It is in consciousness of our own soul that we can discover what the soul is. If we did not feel the soul in ourselves we would not be able to say anything positive about the soul.
The soul manifests the unity of the human subject, since the same soul intuits the idea of being and perceives his body, the “I who feels is the same I who understands”. The primordial intellective perception in a human being is the intellective perception of himself: the feeling soul perceives the body with a fundamental and constant feeling, but this perception remains obscure and not an object of knowledge until it is enlightened by the light of the idea of being which is present in the human soul. The soul applies the idea of being to the felt body and perceives it as its own body intellectually, thus acquiring knowledge of itself.
The soul in animals is a feeling principle, but it has only corporeal sensations. Animals do not intuit being, do not have the idea of being, therefore they can never reach awareness of themselves, they can never say “I”, their feeling of the body remains constant but in total darkness. They react to the stimulations of their body and of bodies by the force of instinct.
Do animals have souls? Yes, indeed; they are animals because they have a feeling soul. Are the souls of animals immortal? Death is the separation of the soul from the body, hence, once the body corrupts and disintegrates, once the body can no longer be “felt” by the soul, then even the “feeling” principle ceases to exist. The soul of the dog or of the cat ceases to exist at the moment of the breaking up of the intimate union of that which feels and that which is felt, the soul and the body. There is no soul of the cat or of the dog that survives death, hence souls of animals do not go to heaven! However, Rosmini says that the soul in animals is a simple, spiritual principle that cannot die: the soul in a dog feels all molecules of the body, and when the body breaks up, by multiplication, the soul uses as that which is felt whatever matter is sufficiently organised to be felt. Hence the soul of the dog is no longer the soul of the dog but becomes by multiplication souls of many aggregates of matter that can be felt, clearly at a stage of organisation which is very basic and primitive. We shall return to this interesting theory when we discuss the possibility that all particles of matter may have some sort of rudimentary souls.
Rosmini claims that we have a “fundamental feeling” of ourselves since conception. “Life”, for Rosmini, is the intimate conjunction of spirit and matter, of soul and body, which produces a fundamental feeling that remains constant and permanent until there is life. This fundamental feeling is at the basis of all other particular feelings which are felt in a part of the body simply because the whole body is constantly felt by the fundamental feeling. The fundamental feeling is the feeling of our body reached by the nervous system, through which we feel our own life. It is through this feeling that we have a most intimate and unique perception of our own body which we feel as one entity with us.
If we did not feel our body in a constant and permanent way we would have great difficulty in explaining how we become aware of particular sensations in parts of our body; if we admit to its existence then it becomes clear that since we feel our body in a constant way we immediately become aware and feel the particular sensation that alters the status of the fundamental feeling in that part of the body.
It is true that it is very difficult to become aware of the fundamental feeling which is innate and constant. But having a feeling and being aware of it are two different things.
Rosmini suggests an exercise to try to catch this feeling: put yourself in a dark, peaceful place and keep still for a long time, trying to rid your mind of images and ideas of things; you will notice then that you can no longer perceive the boundaries of your body, the location of your hands, feet, and of all other parts. At that stage you should begin to perceive this fundamental feeling of the life of your body.
Rosmini uses four examples to help us understand the presence of the fundamental feeling.
In the first volume of Psychology Rosmini adds new proofs for the existence of the fundamental feeling. I will mention just a few (but please see Psychology 96-103).
It is the fundamental feeling which constitutes the pure substance of the soul. The soul therefore is known to us, and as a simple feeling principle which is present in all parts of our body is a spiritual subject which excludes all possibilities of being made up of matter which is instead essentially “extended”, and therefore separate in all points.
Every “body” can be divided ad infinitum, and each part of it will always be a separate unit, no matter how small. Even atoms are one outside the other. And if atoms are bodies, then they are extended and can be divided even further, in parts which will again be one outside the other. Extension is what makes a body a body. This divisibility of extended matter into an infinite number of parts each separate from the other, forced ancient philosophers to admit to the existence of the soul, or of a principle which being un-extended and spiritual could give unity to the multiplicity of material points.
The soul can feel every part of an extended body, the soul can smell a rose while at the same time looking at its beauty and feeling the texture of the petals. This simple unity of feeling could not be possible if the soul were to be an extended body. If the soul should be said to reside in each part of the body, being part of the body itself, again it would be impossible for the soul in the toe to be aware at the same time of the soul in the shoulder, or of the soul in the brain. There would have to be as many souls as there are parts in the body, each separate from the others.
This is not our experience. Our feeling principle is one and through the fundamental feeling of itself reaches out to all other secondary feelings in any part of our body. It is the same I that smells the rose, admires its beauty, and feels the smoothness of its petals. It is the same I that feels every single part of the body. Only a spiritual, un-extended principle can join together so many different sensations and be the subject of all of them.
St. Augustine wrote, “Sentire non est corporis, sed animae per corpus”, that is, “The body cannot feel, but it is the soul that feels through the body”. It is not right to say, “It is the eye that sees, the ear that hears, the brain that thinks”, we should with more accuracy say, “It is the soul that sees through the eye, that hears through the ears, that thinks through the brain”, etc.
It is a most common mistake among modern philosophers of the mind to attribute to the senses all sensations, and to the brain all perceptions and thoughts. But the senses and the brain are simply parts of the body, that is, parts of an extended body which can be divided ad infinitum. It is true that the senses carry the impressions that will generate sensations. It is true that millions of neurons are on the move whenever we perceive anything or we think anything. But the “feeling” does not belong to the senses, nor the “understanding” – itself a spiritual feeling – to the brain: it is the soul, a simple, spiritual substance that feels and that understands. It cannot be otherwise.
The soul is a substantial feeling. The feeling of the animal soul is purely corporeal. The feeling of the human soul is not only corporeal, but also intellective and volitive. We have seen how intimate and essential is the connection of the soul to the body. Feeling requires that which feels and that which is felt, the soul and the body: the felt body cannot exist without the feeling soul and the feeling soul cannot exist without the felt body. We have also seen what happens to the soul of the animal when its body dies. But what happens to the soul of the human being?
The soul is life, and therefore when at death there is a separation of the body from the soul, the soul, essentially life, cannot die. We have seen that in this sense even the souls of animals will not die but will become feeling principles of other organised matter, more basic and primitive. But will the human soul survive as a human soul?
We have seen that the human soul is the principle of all sensitive, intellective, and volitive acts, hence we have three proofs of immortality, the first from the fact that the soul is the principle of life, the second from the fact that the soul enjoys the intuition of being, and the third from the fact that the soul has a will.
Death is the separation of the soul from the body: it is the body that fails in its organisation, that undergoes corruption and disintegration thus becoming incapable of being felt by the soul as its individual body. The soul, being a feeling principle that constitutes life, cannot die. The soul is simple, un-extended, immaterial: it is not subject to corruption and death, that is, disintegration of parts. The human soul, therefore, considered under the aspect of its union with a body, survives the death of the body: but does it preserve its substantive and subjective individuality? We have seen that in animals the soul is preserved but it loses its individuality, its identity; and it becomes many feeling principles of other organised forms of matter, more primitive. The soul of the human being preserves its individuality and identity simply because it is not only an animal soul but also an intellective and volitive soul.
The human soul is intelligent because it has the faculty of intuiting the idea of being from conception. The soul is made intelligent by the intuition of the idea of being, which comes from God. The soul is joined, therefore, to the body but, more importantly, is joined to the idea of being in a permanent way. The idea of being is eternal, immutable, necessary, hence the intellective soul is for ever conjoined to its eternal and immutable object.
When the body dies, the human soul retains its identity by the continuous presence to itself of the idea of being, and in the idea of being it sees all its cognitions, perceptions, idea of space, and memories. The immortality of the human soul is real and is depending on the fact that our soul has been made intelligent and has ideal being as the constant object of its vision, an object which is infinite, universal, divine. Through the vision of this object, the soul can also see all other personal characteristics, ideas, and affections that contribute to its own unique identity and individuality.
“I have demonstrated the immortality of the human soul by starting from the principle, “The nature of every subject is determined by its term”. The human soul, by having as its term being in general which of its nature is eternal and impassible, must itself be eternal”.
Another proof for the immortality of the human soul is drawn from the moral quality of human persons. This argument is common to ancient and more modern philosophers. Here is what Rosmini says:
“Seeing that rights were not always safeguarded in this life, they realised that another life must exist in which equality will be re-established between the over-abundance enjoyed by the wicked here below, and the undue suffering of the good. But how are we to explain why justice must be triumphant? Because, I say, justice is of its nature immutable and eternal. But this eternity proper to justice is based solely on the eternity and immutability of being which shines in the human mind”.
Is our soul created directly by God? Do our parents pass on to us the soul in the same way as they pass on to us our body? The majority of people think that the soul comes from God, at the moment of conception. Rosmini has an interesting view on this issue, a view which Scholastics readily reject because not in conformity with St. Thomas’ own view that the soul is immediately created by God.
Rosmini agrees fully with St. Thomas that the human soul cannot possibly be generated from the body. But can souls be generated from one another? He mentions the opinion of St. Augustine who did not feel sure about the answer to this question: “With regard to this matter – says Augustine – I have not ventured in my writings to express a definite opinion, nor imprudently to commit to writing for the instructions of others that which I cannot explain for myself. It would take me too long to explain the motives which move me not to incline to one opinion rather than to the other, but to keep myself undecided between the two”.
Thus, St. Augustine did not reject the explanation of those who maintained that all human souls are derived originally from the soul of Adam, and that this only was immediately created by God. According to Rosmini, the human soul is a principle of substantial active feeling, which, while remaining identical, has for its terms a “body” in extension, and the “idea of being” or existence, on which account it belongs to its nature to be essentially sensitive and intellective.
Now, as a purely sensitive and immaterial principle of animal life, the soul, as in the case of animals, is transmitted by generation together with the body, to which it gives unity by feeling it as a whole. The body which parents pass on is not a dead body but a living one, like the bodies of the parents from which it is generated. The new organised body is immediately felt by its own immaterial feeling principle, whose nature it is to be inseparably united to the body. This soul is not human soul yet, because the human soul is not only sensitive but also essentially intellective. In order for this sensitive soul to become a fully human soul it must be created into another substance, different from a purely sensitive principle.
This is precisely what is effected by the creative act of God, which, according to a fixed law of Creation, provides that “in the very act” whereby the sensitive animal principle becomes by generation the centre of a new development as the supreme principle of the organisation and life of the body, it shall be “illumined” also by the “intellectual light” which comes direct from God Himself. This illumination raises up in the substance of the soul a corresponding activity to receive that light by an act of intuition which makes the soul substantially different from what it would have been had the soul only been a purely sensitive principle.
Thus, we may distinguish two causes co-operating to originate the human soul, although that which gives it identity as a human soul is the creative act of God. The first cause operates according to the Law of Generation, according to God’s words to Adam, “Increase and multiply”; the second cause is to be attributed to God’s Law of Illumination, to which St. John refers when he says, “The Word was the true light which enlightens every man that comes into this world”.
Both laws, according to Rosmini, operate simultaneously at the moment of conception of a new human being.
Rosmini believed that his teaching is of great help in understanding the passing on of the original sin from generation to generation. If the human soul is immediately and directly created by God on each occasion, then we must believe that God creates something which suffers from the awful effects of the original sin, hence God creates something which is “imperfect”. Rosmini’s view, instead, explains how the sin of Adam, who contained in himself the whole human race, is passed on from parents to children through the Law of Generation and the Law of Illumination fixed by God at the very moment of creation of the first man.
Modern philosophers of mind often produce as a criticism against a spiritual mind or soul the fact that it seems impossible to establish any time or manner for the emergence of a spiritual substance completely different from matter. The Big Bang, they say, originated with the explosion of a ball of gas, that is, with matter. The whole universe evolved from that, therefore everything in the universe, including human beings, are entirely “material”: there is simply no place for a spiritual substance.
Moreover, science has not discovered yet firm evidence that life evolved from inorganic matter, but there is a certainty among scientists that life did evolve from inorganic matter, possibly from a kind of “primordial soup” that favoured the evolution of matter into amoebas, or single cell organisms, and from them into all forms of life in the animal kingdom.
For Rosmini, souls cannot evolve from matter. It is simply impossible, because a soul is a simple, un-extended principle that feels and matter is an extended body that cannot feel.
There are two possibilities for the existence of souls, either direct creation by God at some stage of the long history of the universe, or the possibility that matter is never alone, that all matter has a soul. On this second view, the original ball of gas contained not simply matter but also very basic spiritual souls that were the feeling principles of an infinite number of rudimentary organised, extended bodies.
Rosmini claims that there is no contradiction or absurdity in the idea that all particles of matter have an elementary soul; his own view, which he defines a probable hypothesis, is that the animation of the universe makes philosophical sense. His definition of “body” or “matter” as that which is the “term” of a feeling principle requires the presence of a feeling principle in all particles of matter.
This theory is against materialism and pantheism. For materialists, the soul is created by matter, it germinates from matter: for Rosmini, the soul cannot be produced in any way by matter, the feeling principle is the opposite of matter, and can only be accounted for by the original creation by God. God created souls and bodies, feeling principles and matter. Rosmini, commenting on Genesis’s words about the “spirit of God fertilising the waters”, quotes a passage from St. Theophilous, bishop of Antioch in 168:
“Moses understands the spirit passing over the waters as the spirit which God gave creatures for generating living things, like the soul given to a human being. God united a tenuous thing with a tenuous thing (both spirit and water are tenuous) so that the spirit could fertilise the water, and then the water with the spirit could pervade everything and fertilise the creature”.
The theory does not favour pantheism, which claims that the soul of the universe is God and that all particles are God or direct emanations from Him. Rosmini mentions Indian and some Greek philosophers as falling into this error: they all maintained the view of one “universal soul” present in all matter, and they failed to distinguish the sensitive soul from the intellective soul.
“One of the errors which did harm to the opinion of a world soul was its constantly maintained unity. Another was the inability to draw a line between sense and intellect”.
For Rosmini, there is no one world soul but many that multiply as new feeling principles of matter: the soul of a dog, at the death of the body, multiplies into many sensitive principles as the previous organisation of the animal disintegrates into many more basic and rudimentary groups of matter. Each of the new feeling principles are no longer the feeling principle of the dog, but the feeling principles of the new extended matter over which they preside.
The other fundamental point which must be kept firmly in mind is that, for Rosmini, the souls he wishes to attribute to all particles of matter are merely “sensitive” souls, not intellective souls which are proper to human beings only.
Do stones, therefore, have souls? Yes, since stones are “matter” which is “something extended felt” by a “feeling principle”. We can say that there is “latent life” which produces no stimulated, external phenomena if the conditions necessary for their production are lacking. Rosmini says that we must not assume that signs of life are only what we experience ourselves. Our own experience of life “is not certain proof that life cannot exist under other forms, life which, although certainly different from our own, is nevertheless life and feeling”.
Rosmini calls the hypothesis of the universal animation of matter “a near certainty”. It is clear that this view contributes to the solution of intriguing problems bound up with the emergence and evolution of animals and of human beings, safeguarding the existence of a spiritual soul and of all other spiritual faculties that have proven a most formidable obstacle to any modern theory of mind. The hypothesis has also a beauty about it which people that feel a closeness to any object of the universe – animals, plants, seas, stars, etc – can readily catch and appreciate. It fits in very well with all modern ecological and aesthetic concerns about the universe.
It is J. Searle’s opinion that the philosophy of mind has gone seriously wrong. Common sense sides with him in his condemnation of theories that deny the existence of truly spiritual experiences like consciousness, intentionality, subjectivity, and mental causation. He defines all crudely materialistic theories of mind as nonsense. His own theory, however, does not live up to expectations. He makes the spiritual mind “emerge” from matter, and as it emerges, it takes on completely different characteristics, spiritual ones. He does not explain how this “spiritual” is generated by the material, except to say that a great number of things in the universe present similar irreducible features when looked at the micro and the macro level of their organisation: the transparency of glass, the liquidity of water, the solidity of the table are all irreducible features at the macro level of matter. At the micro level, the atoms of glass, water, table, cannot be transparent, liquid, solid.
Can we apply this theory to the mind? According to Searle, the neurons in the brain are not our thoughts, perceptions, etc. The electrical, chemical features of the brain at the micro level have nothing remotely similar to the features of the brain at the macro level, that is, consciousness, intentionality, etc. There is, therefore, a clear distinction to be made: although thoughts are caused by neurons and chemicals, they are of a completely irreducible nature. But, how is one to justify the emergence of spiritual features from material ones? Transparency, liquidity, solidity are not “spiritual” features, are simply abstract terms for a physical condition. In the case of the brain, thoughts are not physical, they are spiritual, hence the question: “Where do these spiritual entities come from?”
Searle’s mistake is to assume that mental phenomena like feeling, perceptions, thoughts, consciousness of “myself” are like transparency, fluidity, hardness, etc. which are clearly still physical features. He should have known the ontological principle that “every cause must produce an effect similar to itself”. Thoughts cannot be caused by the way neurons and chemicals in the brain operate.
Searle acknowledges the existence and irreducibility of the spiritual, but he fails to produce a satisfactory explanation for the emergence of the spiritual from the material. His theory of mind, therefore, cannot explain what he agrees is definitely there. Yet, he is one of the most moderate and thoughtful modern philosophers of mind. What about the others?
Behaviourists deny the existence of something which everyone else can testify is there, the “I”, “Myself”, the substantive self who is experiencing all that stimuli produce in us. It is obvious to anyone else that it is I that feel and that my feeling is absolutely private and incommunicable. It is obvious to anyone else that “myself” is the centre of an infinite number of sensations, thoughts, affections, memories: without such centre, the soul, all our sensations and thoughts would remain distinct, separate, hanging in the air. To deny that there is more to sensations, consciousness, thoughts than simply patterns of behaviour or dispositions to behave is to stretch human credibility extremely far! Clever philosophers can achieve even the impossible by dressing up their theories in complicated language! I can imagine G. Ryle saying to himself with a smile, “How can anyone believe my theory that the mind is simply patterns of behaviour with no I?”
Cartesian dualism failed to see that the soul is not only a “thinking thing”, it is instead and essentially a “feeling thing”. Descartes was unable to explain what the soul of animals is, and what our own sensitive soul is. He thought of the living body and of animals as robots, machines moved by their own mechanical laws. The same confusion about the soul – which he preferred to call mind – brought him huge problems when he was forced to admit that the body and the soul interact in the most intimate way: how can a machine and the spiritual mind interact intimately?
Rosmini argues persuasively about the soul. The soul, for him, is essentially a “feeling” principle that refers to a substance or subject. Animals have a “sensitive” soul, that is, each animal feels its own body constantly, even though it cannot be “aware”, that is, know, that it has a body. Human beings have a soul that is at the same time both sensitive and intellective: the human subject that feels his body is the same human subject that intuits ideal being. The one human soul is sensitive and intellective, it experiences both the ideal, eternal, infinite world of being, and the real, particular being of bodies. Ideal being and real being are both modes of being, hence the human soul that perceives the ideal and the real at the same time can link the two together through intellective perception or reason. Thus the soul feels its body and through the body it feels all other objects of the universe that modify its fundamental feeling.
The human soul, sensitive and intellective at the same time, has the faculty of the “Will” which inclines the soul towards a known object. The act of the will is called volition. Whereas the intellect is a passive faculty that consists in the intuition of being, the will is the active faculty that moves the soul towards the good that it acknowledges in the object.
Freedom is another faculty of the soul that determines the will to a volition or to its contrary.
The acceptance of the existence of the human soul and of its faculties provides a clear and firm explanation of human freedom and of morality. No materialistic theory of the mind can explain satisfactorily what an intelligent, free, moral person actually is. How can neurons have moral freedom? In what sense are patterns of behaviour caused immediately as reactions to stimuli – with no mind to think over – free and moral? Can computers be free, moral, responsible? Moreover, no materialistic theory can provide satisfactory reasons why human beings should be considered intrinsically valuable, endowed with an infinite dignity, the subjects of inalienable human rights. Matter is matter, why should a human being have more dignity than a dog, or a chair?
The philosopher P. Singer claims that only “persons” are endowed with special dignity, on account of their being “feeling” subjects. He claims that there should be no distinction between animals that are persons and human beings that are persons: they should be respected in the same way, and above all other things. For Singer, a “person” is a feeling subject that is aware of himself, has memories, has expectations, is able to experience pleasures and pains. Higher animals, he claims, are persons; foetuses, very small babies, people in a coma, etc. are not persons. Therefore, we ought to treat higher animals like persons; the same respect, however, is not to be accorded to non persons like foetuses, small babies, demented elderly people, and people in a permanent coma.
For Rosmini, a person is “a substantial, intelligent individual in so far as the individual contains a supreme, active and incommunicable principle”. Intelligence, will, and freedom are what make a soul a person. Animals have a sensitive soul, but not an intellective and volitive soul, so they cannot be persons. It is the person by intuiting ideal being from conception that has infinite dignity bestowed on him by the infinite, eternal, immutable object of his mind.
More will be said in the course of our next lecture on morality. We need now to draw to a conclusion our present lecture, but not before mentioning the creation of a new faculty in the human soul operated by the blessed Trinity as it communicates itself to the soul through grace. Here are the words used by Denis Cleary to explain it:
“Grace is a real, efficacious action, a force, “an interior, powerful aid”. It operates in the intellective essence of the human soul because “the Supreme Being can communicate only with what is most noble in the human being”. In the essence of the human soul the real, immanent action of God produces a supernatural feeling, which although passively received, as every feeling is, produces in human beings an action corresponding to the nature itself of the feeling. In other words, “a truly new principle of action”, called by Rosmini an “instinct of the Holy Spirit”, arises in the essence of the soul and allow us to speak of “a new creature”, who as “reborn” is capable of entering the kingdom of heaven” (see Supernatural Anthropology).