Summary Against Modern Thought: Animal Souls Aren’t Immortal

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.

Review is a must. Imagine cracking open Introductory Quantum Mechanics at page 500. And then exclaiming, “Why this is nothing but nonsense!” That cry would not be convincing to a physicist. Also,
experience shows today’s subject is rather sensitive, as people cannot bear thinking about being separated permanently from their pets.

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

1 This truth 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 Again no operation of the sensitive part of the soul can be performed without the body. And since we need the sensitive parts for day-to-day operations, we need our bodies.

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.

5 Moreover, as Aristotle remarks in Ethics X [4], pleasures perfect operations. Hence, a thing’s activity is directed to that object wherein it takes pleasure, as to its end. But all the pleasures of brute animals have reference to the preservation of their body; thus, they delight in sounds, odors, and sights only to the extent that they signify for them food or sex, the sole objects of all their pleasures. All the activities of such animals, then, have but a single end: the preservation of their bodily existence. Thus, there is in them no being whatever which is independent of the body…

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…

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 Again: while the intellect attains to universals.

13…Without a bodily organ, then, no sensation takes place.

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…

16 [The argument based on movement above] is seen to be false, for two reasons. First, because it has been proved in Book I of this work that whatever is moved through itself is a body; since, then, the soul is not a body, it cannot possibly be moved except by accident…

Notes Sorry, folks, Fido is not going to make it. On the other hand, neither is he going to be judged. And what animals appear in the new heavens and earth, only God knows.


  1. Akinchana Dasa

    “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.”

    Akinchana: Did not God create animals as well as humans? If so, then why did He bother? Does He lack the intelligence or skills to achieve perfection? No, animal bodies have a purpose as does everything, and that is to provide the living entities with a means of interaction with His material potency, according to their state of consciousness. For example, if one behaves like an animal, then why should one have a human body when an animal body would be more suitable? This is simple ergonomics.

    Animal consciousness is different from that of humans in degree, not type. Both humans and animals conflate the self with the body, with the unfortunate consequence of becoming unaware of their actual nature as the eternal servants of God. There are many humans who are not cognizant of perpetual existence, thinking, “I was born and I will die, I’ve only got one life to live.” Forgetting or neglecting their relationship with God, in what way are such persons superior to the animal species? Animals eat, sleep, mate and defend. Humans also partake of these activities. However, if one uses one’s human life solely for these purposes then one is leading an animal existence. Animals are conscious and humans are conscious, but it’s all a matter of the ability to discern the correct object of consciousness.

  2. Joy

    To depict someone who disagrees with this as someone who opens a book at page five hundred to conclude it’s nonsense is only a true statement in a scenario of your own construction wherein the person did just that. It is assuming, more bad guessing and there’s a lot of that about.

    To state, to imagine, that disagreement is only due to some emotional attachment with animals is as valid as my saying, which I do, that much of the justification is based on a poor knowledge and understanding of biology and human behaviour let alone animal behaviour.

    To commentate that individuals readingWILLl be upset by reading and then rejoice in that, even if it were true, is evil. It is not humour. Delighting in death is evil.

    Whether you think it might or might not be upsetting is irrelevant to the truth of the argument.
    Just as the existence of God is not proved by a wish for him to exist or the opposite case for Atheists. It is a conjecture about an opponent to the argument that long ago gave up the argument itself.

    If, and I don’t give it so much credit, this argument were a deduction from the start, of perfect logic without a hole it could be reducible to numbers. Since it can’t and for obvious reasons and given it’s length, the chances of it being completely wrong are so high as to make it preposterous.

    I say what’s true is obvious, unarguable isn’t worth discussing and what is known is more than what was known when the book was written. This is simply excused as if it makes no difference.

    What it concludes regarding the human soul is of so little importance that it’s worthless if’t were true. It is not faith sustaining as you claimed at the beginning. It is faith destroying_;
    Probably in a good way in the end because one must find one’s own way to faith and not rely on the convictions of others.

    This is my opinion.
    “What makes you think that what you’ve got to say is so important, Joy.”
    I don’t. It’s important to me, along with lots of opinions of others, wherever they are stated. Everybody’s entitled to them and to keep the possibility of being shown to be wrong as a factor which should always leave faith intact.
    Thank God for bad argument.

  3. Bryant Poythress

    It is such an amazing revelation of the Almighty’s pride and joy in his creation of the beasts of the earth. His purposes and his plans, and even the simple creatures He has made, as Job admitted, are just too wonderful for any of us.

    The people of God, as a response, are to do something very much like this (although no word for blog is discernible in the original)

    Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
    ?Speak of all His wonders.
    Psalms 105:2

  4. DG

    Animal souls or minds may not be immortal, but we can be comforted by the fact that at least these creatures will never cease to exist. Technically, nothing literally ceases to exist. Things may discontinue their existence on the timeline – many things in this world have first and last events on the timeline or “temporal borders” so to speak – but not anything goes out of existence per se. We live in a block universe, as Albert Einstein and others have pointed out, where all past, present and future events are equally existent, and all events of time do not come into existence, nor go out of existence. And all temporal flow is only an appearance. In other words, there’s no privileged present that’s moving across the timeline. Time is like a frozen block of ice with all the events of history being present lined up one after another in their sequence. So while animals might not have an afterlife, they will always exist in their respective moments on our timeline.

  5. brian (bulaoren)

    I have not sifted through this post as thoroughly as it deserves (just back from a rancid visa renewal trip,eyeballs are melting) so, perhaps this has already been said; The animal rights question is not about “animal rights” but rather about the limitations of human rights. Slaughter, cruelty, extinction…we humans are not magnified or glorified in these ways. Waste is, if nothing else inellegant.

  6. Joy

    Animals do have souls. Define soul.

  7. Oldavid

    There is no joy like the joy exuded by everyone’s favourite scoffer.

    Soul has been defined many times in these pages, but for some a definition is not a definition unless it conforms to an ideological prejudice.

    Most broadly, a soul is that metaphysical thing or stuff that orders physics and chemistry to do what physics and chemistry never ever spontaneously do according to natural, universally observed, laws of thermodynamics etc., it is the difference between a live organism and a dead one. This power of life is only ever transmitted from other life… i.e. it does not spontaneously arise from non-life (create itself).

    Some souls, in addition to the power of life, have also powers of intellect and will (powers of knowing, understanding and choosing (wanting, loving) for good or evil). Such souls are necessarily immortal because their purpose cannot be realised or fulfilled in a brief physical moment. There is an infinity of Truth and Goodness to be known and loved and a being that proceeds incrementally will be occupied for an infinite “time” in such a pursuit.

    Other souls which purpose is temporary simply don’t exist if they’re not doing anything. In a metaphysical sense a “thing” is what it does in potential or in act.

    For my part, I can’t think of why pets and gardens shouldn’t continue into a “New Earth” but He doesn’t tell me all of what He’s done.

  8. Ye Olde Statistician

    Animals do have souls.

    Of course, they do.
    The soul or psyche is not a separate substance that “inhabits” the body and sits inside the head like a theater patron watching a bad indie film play on your eyeballs. The soul is the substantial form of a living body.

    What distinguishes the motions proper to life from other motions is that they are spontaneous and immanent. Both their principle and their term are intrinsic to the living substance.

    “This special way of interacting with the outside world from an inwardness,” says Lauand, “comes from the singularity of the living being’s form, and that is the reason why the form of living beings also has a special name: soul. Hence, we can talk about … the soul of a fern, the soul of an ant, the soul of a dog and the soul of a human being…” The soul (like all the substantial forms) is a principle of the substantial composition of living beings. If basketballs were alive, rubber would be their body and sphere would be their soul.

    Brennan, Robert E. Thomistic Psychology (Macmillan, 1941) Hardcover book. Suck it up.
    Lauand, Jean. “Basic Concepts of Aquinas’s Anthropology” (in Filosofia, Instituto Brasileiro de Direito Constitucional, São Paulo, 1997)
    Pruss, Alexander R. “Aristotelian Forms and Laws of Nature.”
    Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature (CUA Press, 1996)

  9. Joy

    Which ‘Indie film did you have in mind? I don’t have any on either computer, you must have been mistaking me for someone else.
    “Tossed off”, “suck it up“?

    The soul is the substantial form of the body. Yep, about a thousand times and it means, nothing of substance! It’s a poetic notion.

    I don’t doubt your sincerity or your library but you know as much about immortality as anybody else.

    The construction of the mind is unknown. Yet you insist that because certain favourite geniuses have declared what constitutes the mind (intelligence/intellect) in it’s various prescribed parts that this is somehow a basis for a proof about immortality? It is as valid as claims of limbo and purgatory.

    If soul is essence then so what? That’s not a help, it’s a word substitution.

    It’s the immortality part which is in the title! and was in my ordinary use of the word soul with regards to animals and which was the point but you missed it because the temptation was too great to jump in. Spare me Humpty Dumpty, as I said before, if definitions are clear an argument can proceed in normal discourse.
    (Incidentally, don’t put ideas or words in my mouth that I didn’t say about the soul, goodness! next you’ll be embruing motive).

    For now:
    ‘A soul’ where a soul is assumed immortal because this is a religious conversation and nobody except a poet uses the word in any other meaning. Only medieval enthusiasts. This is a discussion in modern English ABOUT a medieval text. The dodging back to old use of words is just a waste of time. Nobody (sane) is interested in talking or arguing about the soul of a tree, since this is a religious text, it is the actual nature of what a soul becomes after death which is of interest. That you think it’s been stated, which it has and that you think that makes it true! is the reason it’s still disputed.

    Trust you and your friends to think it’s because I missed something! It’s just the easy refuge of the opportunist and it’s a deliberate insult to my intelligence. A habit around here. You could have left the comment alone; but no, you are more interested in pedantry about soul=substantial form of body. Ad nauseam. I got that, and it wasn’t at page 500. So it is you et ‘als’, it seems, who don’t understand. However the concept is easy and so I don’t believe that, I make it deliberate; a double fault.

    The only way this idea of intellect and will being the rationale for the make up of the ‘immortal soul’ and therefore the justification of correctness regarding both sets, humans and animals is if the insisted, demanded ‘first dibs claim’ construction of the mind is accurate and in any way near the whole truth.

    It so clearly isn’t, there’s no reason to believe the conclusion.

    What is a mystery to me is why you can’t accept that reasoning. You don’t have to alter your position one inch. I don’t need approval of my position on this.

    I recall you accepted this once, but only in the small print and with much talk of dove-tailing and margins of clearance.

  10. Joy

    “Imbuing motive”.

  11. Amy Parr

    If animals do not have souls (as is taught, based primarily on ancient Grecian Natural Philosophy), how could they “praise God from whom all blessings flow”?

  12. Ye Olde Statistician

    Ancient Greek natural philosophy does teach that animals have souls. Otherwise they would not be alive.

  13. Kathleen Gaffney

    God does not destroy what He has created. He did not give us loving servants and friends in the form of so many beautiful creatures only to expunge them from eternity forever whilst our own inner souls grieve for their loss in the same manner we grieve for our human friends and family whom we so love.
    Ever read any of Father Spitzer’s books or watch his programs on EWTN? He is a great believer in the events and in the miracles that take place every day in this world that support and uphold the testimonies of the Gospel in which we all have ultimate faith in. From near-death experiences which he researches & converses about (within which people see animals of all types extant BTW) to instantaneous healings documented by medical doctors, surgeons, the Church, and yes, even veterinary medical doctors, God certainly seems to create, to love and to heal and to include all those creatures He has so fantastically given life to here on Earth. Many Saints, of course St Francis being the most notable, – prayed with animals and watched as they also praised their Creator along side Him. Even past Popes have inferred that none of God’s creatures are forever lost.
    But the most personally verifiable way I know for certain that God, through His great mercy and love, allows us to have and to hold once again the animals we knew and loved here in this imperfect world is because He showed me.
    I never was blessed with children and accepted that as God’s Will. Instead, God bestowed a ferocious love of animals that I recall so vividly having since before I could barely toddle. Dogs in particular always instilled fascination and joy within me.
    Many, many years ago, after losing one precious dog who God granted me over nine earthly years with, I was one day, about six months after his passing, (note I use the verbiage “passing” and not “death” with intent) I was walking outdoors at the massive “Brimfield Antique Market” in MA when I sensed his presence walking beside me – a sensation I had never experienced prior nor have I ever experienced again – not even after the passing of my dearly beloved husband two years ago (although I did experience other other-worldly events associated with him, but that’s for another commentary perhaps). I was not thinking of my dog at the time whatsoever but the presence was so extraordinary and mystical, it nearly brought tears to my eyes. It was as though he was walking by my side again comforting me in relating that he was indeed not gone forever, but somehow transformed and still always with me. My dog, Clifton, had been a purebred Bernese Mountain Dog. So taken aback by this experience and the feelings it left upon me, I did what virtually every former Catholic school student was instructed to never do:…..never “demand” or even ever ask God for proof of what He has promised or proof of His existence; for that is what our faith is for.
    However, being the very imperfect sinner I am – I asked God to give me evidence that what I just experienced was genuine and whether it indeed, in its own “cryptic” miraculous way signified that He was showing that me that my “Clifton” was again with Him and that one day, through His mercy & love, I would again see my dog once more. I asked God that the very next dog I see in this life – be a purebred Bernese Mountain Dog.
    I knew right then and there: I had “shot myself in the foot.” Who was I to demand that God prove to me anything? Why couldn’t I accept the experience for what it seemed to show me? How could someone so unworthy & insignificant as was I ask God to further per chance demonstrate His kindness to me over such a seemingly insignificant event such as the death of my dog? What were the astronomical odds, I pondered, that such a ‘random” coincidence should even occur?
    I crossed the street in Brimfield, MA amidst the throngs of people where virtually no one ever drags pet dogs along with them amidst their antiquing forays due to the abject lack of shelter and water available – a place quite inhospitable to four-legged friends.
    As I walked the sidewalk after crossing the busy road and began dodging the fellow pedestrians – still very intent upon contemplating my only minutes earlier foray into the spiritual side of life, I glanced up to see him – a random man walking straight towards me with a lead in hand and a big Bernese Mountain Dog at the end. Indeed, not only the very next dog I saw after asking, but the very next dog I saw approximately merely two minutes or so after asking.
    I once told a priest my story. He asked me if I had thanked God for what He had bestowed. Indeed, I did – I told the priest. I continue to thank Him today for allowing me this brief, but wondrous, glimpse into a world that generally no eye can see – as the Gospels describe – what God has in store for those who love him.
    Don’t despair those who have lost their beloved furry friends because God has showed me that they somehow, some way, through God’s glory await us too on that other side. He showed me so.

  14. Gary

    Always have hope? Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor has it dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.

  15. Jonas

    Huh, and here I thought that the mortalness of the animal soul went back to René Descartes. I am, however, really divided over this, eventhough I could hardly argue for it, just merely due to intuition (and emotionality, I guess).
    Firstly, as Kathleen stated, I can’t imagine God denying a thing He created his presence just like that. Where would the Justice be in all the suffering animals do endure throughout their life just like us? Wouldn’t the course of Evolution be incredibly brutal and pointless under that viewpoint?
    Also, when I look a dog into its eyes, and see him recognizing me, and know how the dog will react to me in his unique, differently than other dogs, I can’t believe either that there is nothing there in its soul beyond the traits that Saint Thomas described

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *