Summary Against Modern Thought: Animal Souls Are Mortal

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Do not quail. I am sure in the new heavens and earth, God will allow new quail, as well as new cats and dogs.

Chapter 82 That the brute souls of animals are not immortal (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation.

1 This truth [the title] can be clearly inferred from what has been already said.

2 For we demonstrated above that no operation of the sensitive part of the soul can be performed without the body. In the souls of brute animals, however, there is no operation superior to those of the sensitive part, since they neither understand nor reason. This is evident from the fact that all animals of the same species operate in the same way, as though moved by nature and not as operating by art; every swallow builds its nest and every spider spins its web, in the same manner. The souls of brutes, then, are incapable of any operation that does not involve the body. Now, since every substance is possessed of some operation, the soul of a brute animal will be unable to exist apart from its body; so that it perishes along with the body.

Notes And this includes “talking” monkeys and “counting” horses, animals which excel at mimicry but who cannot apprehend universals.

3 Likewise, every form separate from matter is understood in act, for the agent intellect renders species intelligible in act by way of abstraction, as we see from what was said above. But if the soul of the brute animal continues to exist after its body has passed away, then that soul will be a form separate from matter, and therefore a form understood in act. And yet, as Aristotle says in De anima III [4], with things separate from matter, that which understands is identical with that which is understood. It follows that the soul of a brute animal, if it survives the body, will be intellectual; and this is impossible.

4 Then, too, in every thing capable of attaining a certain perfection, we find a natural desire for that perfection, since good is what all things desire, yet in such fashion that each thing desires the good proper to itself. In brutes, however, we find no desire for perpetual existence, but only a desire for the perpetuation of their several species, since we do observe in them the desire to reproduce and thereby perpetuate the species—a desire common also to plants and to inanimate things, though not as regards desire proper to an animal as such, because animal appetite is consequent upon apprehension. For, since the apprehending power of the sensitive soul is limited to the here and now, that soul cannot possibly be cognizant of perpetual existence. Nor, then, does it desire such existence with animal appetite. Therefore, the soul of a brute animal is incapable of perpetual existence…

Notes We skip some simple arguments to bring the best counterargument in the next three paragraphs, and its solution in the fourth.

9 Nevertheless, it would seem possible to show that the souls of such animals are immortal. For, if a thing possesses an operation through itself, distinctly its own, then it is subsisting through itself. But the sensitive soul in brutes enjoys an operation through itself, wherein the body has no part, namely, motion; for a mover is compounded of two parts, the one being mover and the other moved. Since the body is a thing moved, it remains that the soul is exclusively a mover, and, consequently, is subsisting through itself. Hence, the soul cannot be corrupted by accident, when the body is corrupted, for only those things are corrupted by accident which do not have being through themselves. Nor can the soul be corrupted through itself, since it neither has a contrary nor is composed of contraries. The result of the argument, therefore, is that the soul is altogether incorruptible.

10 And, seemingly, Plato’s argument that every soul is immortal comes to the same thing, namely, that the soul is a self-mover; and everything of this sort must be immortal. For the body dies only when its mover departs from it, and a thing cannot abandon itself. That is why Plato inferred that a thing which moves itself cannot die. And thus he came to the conclusion that every soul possessed of the power of motion, even that of brute animals, is immortal. Now, we have remarked that this argument is reductively the same as the preceding one, since, given Plato’s position that nothing moves without being moved, a thing that moves itself is a mover through itself and therefore has an operation through itself.

11 Now, Plato also maintained that the sensitive soul enjoys an operation of its own, not only in respect to movement, but also as regards sensation. For he said that sensation is a movement of the sensing soul itself, and that the soul, thus moved, moved the body to sensation; wherefore Plato said, in defining sense, that it is the motion of the soul through the body.

12 Now, these Platonic dicta are patently false. For the act of sensation is not an act of movement; rather, to sense is to be moved; since, through the sensible objects altering the condition of the senses in acting upon them, the animal is made actually sentient from being only potentially so. However, it cannot be maintained that the passivity of the sense in respect of the sensible is the same as that of the intellect in relation to the intelligible, so that sensation could then be an operation of the soul without a bodily instrument, just as understanding is. This is impossible, because the intellect grasps things in abstraction from matter and material conditions, which are individuating principles, whereas the sense does not, being manifestly limited to the perception of particulars, while the intellect attains to universals. Clearly, then, the senses are passive to things as existing in matter, but not the intellect, which is passive to things according as they are abstracted. Thus, in the intellect there is passivity in utter independence of corporeal matter, but not in the senses…

Notes Aha! Animals are sentient, our good saint says; the opposite thinking is a modern confusion. Senses are not intellection, a phrase so important you ought to repeat it to yourself.

14 There is also the fact that sense is overwhelmed by an exceedingly high degree of intensity on the part of its objects; but the intellect is not, because he who understands the higher intelligibles is more and not less able to understand other things. Hence, the state of passivity brought about in the sense by the sensible differs in kind from that which the intelligible causes in the intellect; the latter occurs without a bodily organ, the former with a bodily organ, the harmonious structure of whose parts is shattered by the pre-eminent power of some sensible objects…

Notes Students take note: more knowledge is better than less.

20 It is, then, clearly impossible for any operation of the brute animal’s soul to be independent of its body. And from this it can be inferred with necessity that the soul of the brute perishes with the body.

Notes So long, Spot.


  1. Sander van der Wal

    There is the matter of certain monkeys and great apes inventing simple tools. And other apes and monkeys copying the use of these tools. Copying is mimicry, but being the first is not mimicy by definition.

  2. Timo Soren

    3. the conclusion is not supported at all.

  3. I couldn’t imagine a spiritual system that disconnects other life forms here on Earth from our own in this way. I always disliked this particular aspect, or interpretation, of Christianity. If you do not see a “soul” in the eyes of a little pussycat or a doggy, the little fish that makes elaborate sand art for mating, the little tree reaching up for that little ray of light in the forest, you are lacking a little “soul” yourself.


  4. Anne O Neemus

    The poor wee things. Perhaps Aquinas got it wrong…could happen.

  5. There is no difference in intellect between a human with brain damage and an ape or a dolphin. Does this mean humans with brain damage do not have an immortal soul? Or is the immortal soul simply conjecture?

  6. Ye Olde Statistician

    Inventing simple tools is not an intellective act. It requires only imagination and knowledge of singulars, not abstraction of universals. As Aristotle comments somewhere: Animals understand flesh, but man understands what flesh is.

  7. Ye Olde Statistician

    There is no difference in mobility between a human paralysis and a legless creature. Does this mean a human paralytic does not have legs? Or is bipedalism simply conjecture?

    Or perhaps the concept of “damage” or “impairment” is too much of a stretch?

  8. Akinchana dasa

    If animals have no soul independent of the body, then what is the purpose of the existence of animal bodies? Bodies, be they human, animal or even plants, appear to think and move because of the existence of a causal agent, i.e. atma (soul). Being made of inert matter, how otherwise could they do so? According to the desires of individual living entities, an appropriate body is occupied to best fulfil those desires. The human form may offer the best opportunity for awareness of one’s actual self, but this does not mean that animals and plants are devoid of consciousness—a soul.
    Darwin got evolution completely wrong. It’s the conscious self that’s evolving from lower to higher bodies/species, to attain the ability to re-establish his/her eternal relationship with God.

  9. Ye Olde Statistician

    Obviously, an anima is the principle of animation. The question is whether this principle persists when animation ceases. But if basketballs were alive, spheres would be their souls, and if a basketball were destroyed, where does its sphere go?

    I think you confuse multiple concepts. “Conscious” and “alive” and “intellective” and so on. Not all manners of “thinking” are the same kind of thing; not all ways of knowing are the same sort of knowing. One may be conscious simply because one is sentient; that is, able to sense. Sensation separates the world into self and not-self and this is all that consciousness requires. None of the powers of the sensitive soul — sensing, perceiving, imagining, remembering, emotional reactions, and motor reactions — require a non-material agent to perform, and therefore do not require a separable substance. Still less so, the vegetative soul, which moves the body only to digestion, metabolism, reproduction, and homeostasis.

    Just as it is an error to reduce everything to mechanics, it is an error to raise everything to our own experience.

  10. Oldavid

    A “soul” is a metaphysical “thing” or “stuff” that animates, or “makes alive” a material or corporeal body. It is what makes it go. It is the difference between a dead body and a live one… the difference between a pile of chemicals as in a corpse and a live, functioning organism.

    Most crudely, it is the metaphysical thing we call “life”. It is only generated, or passed on, from a pre-existing life. Like everything else, it cannot create itself. “A thing that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist”.

    The whole purpose of a “soul” is to make an organism “alive”… to order physics and chemistry to do what they never can do outside of a “live” organism. Generally, when an organism dies its life simply ceases to exist… it’s not doing anything anymore so it isn’t anything. Again crudely, metaphysically a “thing” “is” what it “does” and “does” what it “is”.

    However, that does not completely apply to a creature “in His Own image and likeness” that has intellect and will. Intellect and will are powers, or functions, or qualities of a human soul that are eternal, immortal. However again, the purpose of a soul is to animate a body. A Man is a Man’s soul animating a Man’s body; hence the absolute necessity of a General Resurrection where everyone will consign themselves, body and soul, to their just deserts.

  11. Akinchana dasa

    I’ve commented on here before about the monolithic use of terms such as soul, intellect, mind, etc. so common in Western philosophy. From the perspective of Eastern thought, sentience is synonymous with consciousness and is not to be confused with intellect and mind, which are considered to be subtle material elements.

    According to Eastern theology/philosophy, the sentient or conscious principle is known as ‘atma’, and God, the ultimate sentient or conscious person, is ‘Paramatma’. In their original constitutional position, the ‘jivatmas’ (ordinary living beings) are able to choose between their relationship with God and a relationship with the inferior material energy (maya), which they deludedly think lends itself to being manipulated by them. Those who choose to interact with the material energy, according to their specific desires, are given a suitable body made of material elements that may only allow the expression of rudimentary awareness or, according to one’s level of piety, a superior body with advanced faculties of intellect, mind, etc. However, regardless of the degree of exhibition of awareness or activity, the principle of animation of any bodily form is the same in all bodies—all living beings are equal in this sense and all have the potential to engage in a relationship with God.

    What sense does it make to say that the purpose of the soul is to animate a body, which is nothing more than a temporary conglomeration of material elements? The purpose of the soul is to engage in a loving relationship with God, but sometimes, due to fee will, a living being becomes envious of God and wishes to be Him. This is the unfortunate situation of the materially embodied beings who all suffer from this disease to varying degrees. This expresses itself in the material realm as lust, where attachment to, and the desire for, material objects makes one forgetful of love for God.

    Regarding the suggestion of my anthropomorphising the situation of animals, God by definition should be unlimited and if this be so, then why can God not assume any form He wishes, including animal forms while retaining all the attributes of Godhead? If one says, “in His Own image and likeness”, then it behooves one to provide a vivid description of God’s appearance to clarify what exactly is being referred to.

    God is eternal, the individual living beings are eternal and the relationship between them is eternal. The environment is also eternal and serves as a medium of communication between these entities. No entity is born or dies, including animals and plants.

  12. Akinchana dasa

    Clarification of a couple of points in my previous post:

    1. I’m not saying that God assumes a material animal body (or any type of body made of material elements), but rather that He can display any form He wishes in a transcendental way. All material bodies are a perverted form of transcendental concepts.

    Spiritual form is composed of eternity, knowledge/cognisance and happiness/bliss (will, thought and feeling), the three things that living beings strive for above and beyond any quantifiable material goals. Put another way, these three things are the desire to live forever, to gain knowledge and to utilise that knowledge in order to be permanently happy. After all, who in their right mind would want to live forever unhappy or purposefully desire knowledge that made one unhappy? God is the ultimate spiritual form/person and the original source of these things.

    2. The environment is eternal. However, what we perceive as the material world appears to be temporary in the sense that the forms within it are constantly changing, but its ultimate constituents are not produced or destroyed.

  13. Oldavid

    It is incongruous, Akinchana dasa, to try to incorporate some elements, or concepts, of the science of Reason into Eastern mysticism that inherently denies the validity of Reason. I suspect, though, that your purpose is not to introduce Reason into Eastern Mysticism but to further contaminate the science of Reason with Eastern Mysticism; a process that became epidemic in “intellectual circles” in C19 and has gained ground ever since.

    Eastern Mysticism is a strange paranoia of self-loathing and self-deification that was largely popularised in “the West” by the likes of Rene Guenon, Helena Blavatsky and their innumerable and diverse fellow-travellers. It is founded on absurd assumptions that cannot be reconciled with observation or logic… observations and processes which are deemed “irrelevant” to the “gnosis” of “self conceived” “universals” to which all perceptions of reality must submit.

    A couple of devotees of this ideology that are significant in the Catholic Christian sense that spring immediately to mind are Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Merton.

  14. Akinchana dasa

    Reply to Oldavid:

    In what specific way does ‘Eastern mysticism’ deny the validity of reason? No offence intended, but I suspect you are not well-informed as to the nature of Indian philosophy/theology. I have the feeling you are referring to the school of Advaita Vedanta (monism) which, while popular due to its philosophy of self-deification (egocentricity will always appeal to some, whether Eastern or Western), hardly represents the complete spectrum of Eastern thought. Nor does the atheistic Bauddha (Buddhist) philosophy. Helena Blavatsky and Rene Guenon are definitely not names that come to mind when thinking about Eastern philosophy, either.

    Actually, contrary to what you say, there is a very ancient science of Reason in India known as Nyaya (school of logic and reason). Further, there are six orthodox and two heterodox schools of theological/philosophical thought existing in India presently, not just the one you seem to be referring to. That which I belong to (theistic Vedanta) opposes all the others on some level because of their tendency toward atheism. Nonetheless, we still respect some elements of these schools that we consider valid, e.g. elements of Nyaya, as we consider logic/inference to be a valid means of acquiring knowledge. However, the siddhanta (conclusion) of the Nyaya is unacceptable to us because of its diminution of the role of God.

    I can assure you that I have no interest whatsoever in self-deification nor self-loathing, and am solely interested in knowledge of, and devotion to, a completely monotheistic, personal God. I’m surprised that you have not picked up on that in my posts. I think that, because I’m stating a philosophy you’re unfamiliar with, you’ve prejudged me. It is the case that what I’ve presented is simply the philosophy I follow as it has been presented since time immemorial, without the introduction of any other elements. However, whether or not I present it well is another thing altogether.

    Is it unreasonable or mere ‘Eastern mysticism’ to say that the purpose of the soul is to engage in a relationship with God and to love Him? By saying so, am I “denying the validity of reason”? Is it unreasonable to question the merit of saying that animals lack a soul? Perhaps you would be so kind as to offer some rational debate regarding my specific defence of animals possessing a soul.

  15. Oldavid

    As I think I have made clear many times before; a thing cannot be alive without an animating principle. The whole difference between a dead organism and a live one is that metaphysical “stuff” we call life.

    Eastern Mysticism entirely bypasses the irksome “problem” of the origin of life with the irrational assumption of an infinite regression “reincarnations”. It’s not far from de Chardin’s ever present, just not yet attained, “sum of cosmic consciousness” Omega Point.

    It all assumes a self-creating Universe with no cause or purpose.

  16. Akinchana dasa

    Oldavid: As I think I have made clear many times before; a thing cannot be alive without an animating principle. The whole difference between a dead organism and a live one is that metaphysical “stuff” we call life.

    Akinchana: That’s all very well and I’m not arguing that point, but what is this metaphysical stuff? I’ve offered an explanation, namely, sat-chit-ananda, i.e. an eternal, cognisant and happy entity—one made of willing, thinking and feeling—not flesh and blood or any other material elements. Logically, if something is not constituted of, or does not possess these items, then why does it yearn for such things. For example, because one’s actual self is an eternal principle, one doesn’t want to die; something without knowledge cannot seek knowledge, and no one sane strives for knowledge of how to make one’s self unhappy (although one often makes errors of judgement, due to limited intellect and faulty sense perception, that result in unwanted suffering).

    Oldavid: Eastern Mysticism entirely bypasses the irksome “problem” of the origin of life with the irrational assumption of an infinite regression “reincarnations”. It’s not far from de Chardin’s ever present, just not yet attained, “sum of cosmic consciousness” Omega Point.

    It all assumes a self-creating Universe with no cause or purpose.

    Akinchana: Not so. The origin of life according to the Vedic literatures is God:

    aham sarvasya prabhavo
    mattah sarvam pravartate
    iti matva bhajante mam
    budha bhava-samanvitah
    (Bhagavad-gita 10.8)

    “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in my devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.”

    Reincarnation does not infinitely regress. It is anadi (without a beginning) not because of an infinite regress of births and deaths, but because it makes no logical sense to apply the concept of ‘beginning’ to an eternally existent entity. Entry into the material world obviously happens, but such an event takes place outside of time itself. Without the concept of time, ‘infinite regress’ has no validity. However, there is a school of thought that does believe in an infinite regress of births and deaths, and does not recognise any need for a creator. That is known as karma-mimamsa philosophy (karma is responsible for all things). I do not subscribe to such atheistic philosophies.

    Of course there is a purpose to the universe. Everything exists solely for the pleasure of God, as it’s all His energy/potency. Everything belongs solely to Him. One should utilise the objects of sense perception for His satisfaction, then our lives will be happy, not otherwise. All else is like chasing a dream. Darkness exists but it’s merely the absence of light. Similarly, the material world exists but it’s insubstantial like darkness or a dream.

  17. Joy

    It is the writing of this sort of post in which Briggs demonstrates his illness of spirit in this love of sadism and a pretence of truth.

    This rather dark sadistic writing is unbecoming and somewhat a change for the depicted writer of this blog in the past. The same man who wrote “o For a car’ (mu spelling and I can’t be bothered to look up the spelling).

    The gentleman does not set out to delight in causing pain for others.
    That IS evil.

  18. Joy

    Hans is correct to point out the flaw in the staggeringly simplistic and I would say crass argument about movement which then is pretending to say something about the mind and the soul. This is the silly Ed Feser rout. It requires no depth of knowledge of the world or the human body and particularly requires a one dimensional, black and white, binary, call it what you will, perspective.

    YOS my lovely, I am afraid if you think there’s no difference
    between a legless creature and a man who is paralysed then you really do have a problem.

    Revision of these ideas and dogmas over and over won’t make them true or more rational for that matter.

    Metaphysics is not a closed shop for special intellectuals. There is no proof. There are poorly demonstrated ideas and arguments amongst statements of the obvious and the unarguable and prosaic truth.

    John Lennox for me articulates the best arguments in the God arena. He approaches it with kindness and seems to be a caring man. He never loses sight of the fact that God is love.

    He cares for truth irrespective of how convenient that might be for fellow Christians and the social acceptability of a given set which to some is more important than any other consideration.

    He thinks for himself and does not simply hang onto coattails.

    …and another thing YOS, God IS eternal. You corrected me last year on that point to make a remark abut emails from eternity. It was never clear why you did that or what you intended but Briggs knew what you were talking about, evidently.

  19. Oldavid

    Sentimental attempts to “spiritualise” crass materialism are neither entertaining nor enlightening. Stupid empiricism disguised as objectivity is just another psycho-political hoodwink.

    There are a great many things (even in the physical world) that cannot be directly examined (e.g. an electron) that we know for sure exist because we can see what they do. Even more so in the metaphysical world. An astute and honest thinker can deduce many things about metaphysical things because of what they do and don’t do. That is what this is about. Ole Tom is not infallible but he was a blardy good thinker even though his explanations are very often ponderous… which is an excuse for the blithe and shallow to summarily dismiss and ignore his deliberations.

    One of the best things Ole Tom produced was his Scholastic Method of investigation. I am sure that he would be delighted if that logical method was used to show that any of his conclusions was wrong. However, logic doesn’t count for much these days… political and ideological prejudice reigns supreme!

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