Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cartesian angelism


Angels, as Aquinas and other Scholastic theologians conceive of them, are purely intellectual substances, minds separated from matter.  An angel thinks and wills but has no corporeal operations at all.  Naturally, then, popular images of angels – creatures with wings, long flowing robes, and so forth – have nothing to do with the real McCoy.  For a modern philosopher, the easiest way to understand what an angel is is to conceive of it as a Cartesian res cogitans – though as we will see in what follows, in a way this actually gets things the wrong way around.

You do not have to believe in angels in order to find the notion of philosophical interest.  Working out the implications of the idea of a purely incorporeal intellect is useful for understanding the nature of the intellect, the nature of free choice and its relationship to the presence or absence of the body, the nature of time, and other issues too.  In fact there is such a thing as rational angelology, and here as elsewhere Aquinas often surprises with his demonstration of how much might be established via purely philosophical arguments.

The position of angels in the hierarchy of reality illuminates the similarities and differences between the kinds of things which exist (or, if you don’t believe in angels, which could exist).  At the bottom of the hierarchy come inanimate material things – rocks, dirt, water, and so forth.  Next come the vegetative forms of life, which take in nutrients, grow, and reproduce themselves but do nothing beyond this.  Then we have sensory or animal forms of life, which carry out the vegetative functions but add to them sensation, appetite, and locomotion or self-movement.  Above mere animals are rational animals or human beings.  Human beings do everything other animals do, but on top of that possess intellect and will; and for Aquinas and other Scholastic thinkers, these are incorporeal activities.  A human being is, accordingly, the kind of substance which possesses at the same time both bodily and non-bodily attributes.

Now, there is, as it were, metaphysical room in between human beings and God for a further kind of thing – something which is entirely incorporeal rather than being merely partially incorporeal (as human beings are), but which is nevertheless finite and in need of being created (as God is not).  That is what an angel is. 

On Aquinas’s analysis, among the things we can say about angels are the following:

1. Being utterly incorporeal by nature, angels lack sense organs or brain activity.  They do not have sensory experiences, or the mental imagery that follows upon these.  Hence their mode of knowledge is not like ours.  We come to know things through the senses, and form concepts by abstracting them from the things we experience.  An angel, by contrast, has all its concepts and knowledge “built in” at its creation.  In other words, it possesses innate ideas.

2. Angels are not in time, though they are not strictly eternal either.  What is in time, as corporeal things are, is changeable both in its substance and in its accidents.  What is strictly eternal, as God is, is utterly unchangeable.  Angels are unchangeable in their substance, since they are incorporeal.  An angel is not composed of matter which might lose its substantial form and thereby go out of existence.  It is in this way incorruptible or immortal.  But it can change in its accidents insofar as it can choose either this or that.  This middle ground between time and eternity is what Aquinas calls “aeviternity.”

3. For these reasons, an angel does not know things in a discursive way.  It does not have to engage in processes like reasoning from premises to a conclusion, weighing alternative hypotheses, or otherwise “figuring things out” the way we do.  It simply knows what it knows “all at once,” as it were.

4. Unlike the human soul, an angel is not the form of any body.  A human being, again, is the kind of substance which possesses both corporeal and incorporeal activities.  It accordingly has the substantial form of the kind of thing capable of both activities.  When its corporeal side is destroyed, the substance itself is not thereby destroyed, because it was never entirely corporeal in the first place.  That is why the human soul carries on beyond death – qua substantial form, it continues to inform the now incomplete substance of which it is the form, a substance reduced to its incorporeal operations.  But this is not its natural state.  In the absence of matter, the substance in question cannot do all the things it is naturally inclined to do (seeing, hearing, walking, talking, etc.).  But angels are not like that.  Being incorporeal is their natural state. 

5. All angels fall under the same genus (which is why they are all angels), but there cannot be more than one member of any angelic species.  The reason is that, for Aquinas, matter is what distinguishes one member of a species of thing from another.  Hence, since angels are completely incorporeal, there is no way in principle by which one member of an angelic species could be distinguished from another.  If there are two or more angels, then, there are ipso facto two or more angelic species.  The way these species differ is the only way they can differ in purely intellectual substances, viz. degree of intellectual power. 

See (among other works) Summa Theologiae I.50-64 for more details.  But this much gives us enough to understand why, from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, the Cartesian view of human nature is deeply mistaken.  To be sure, like the Cartesian, the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher regards the human intellect as incorporeal.  But that does not suffice to make for a purely incorporeal substance.  Rather, a human being is a substance which of its nature possesses both corporeal and incorporeal operations.

A Cartesian res cogitans, by contrast, is a thing that thinks and nothing more than that.  That is why the Cartesian (unlike the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher) is a substance dualist.  The res cogitans is an utterly incorporeal substance but nevertheless a complete one.  The body must accordingly be a second, distinct complete substance.  From an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, this entails that with Descartes’ res cogitans, we are no longer talking about a human intellect at all.  We are really implicitly talking about an angelic intellect.  (This was not Descartes’ own intention, to be sure.  The point, though, is that that is what his position entails, whether he welcomes it or not.)

As I noted in another post not too long ago, the famous mind-body interaction problem facing the Cartesian ultimately is not, from the Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, the problem of explaining how an incorporeal substance can be the efficient cause of a bodily event.  After all, God causes the physical world to exist, and angels can cause various events in the natural world to occur, and these cases do not raise any special problem about causation.  (Or at least, Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers don’t think these cases any more problematic than Cartesians do.) 

The problem facing the Cartesian is rather how to explain mind-body interaction in a way that doesn’t reduce it to something comparable to demonic possession.  A fallen angel moves a bit of matter around in something like the way a poltergeist is popularly thought to move material things around.  A Cartesian res cogitans controlling a res extensa is essentially like a demon’s control of one of the Gadarene swine – the manipulation of something utterly extrinsic to the manipulator, to which it is only contingently related.  That is a bizarre model of human nature that is not compatible with the intimate way we are actually related to our own bodies, which is why Gilbert Ryle famously characterized the Cartesian view as the theory of the “ghost in the machine.” 

The fact that Descartes attributes innate ideas to us only underlines the extent to which his model of human nature is essentially an angelic model.  And if Aquinas’s analysis of the angelic nature is correct, it entails further arguments against the Cartesian view of human nature.  If the Cartesian view were correct, then (since it entails that the human intellect is essentially angel-like), it would follow that human knowledge would be “all at once” rather than discursive, that human intellects would not exist in time, and that each human being would be the unique member of his own species.  But none of these things is true.  Hence the Cartesian view of human nature is not correct.

Of course, Cartesians do not in fact attribute all of these features to a res cogitans, which is why it is not a perfect model for what an angelic intellect is like.  The Cartesian does not see the implications of severing the human intellect from the body as thoroughly as Descartes severs it.  Strictly speaking, the proper procedure is not to try to understand angels in terms of res cogitans, but rather to understand the notion of res cogitans – including the implicit aspects that Cartesians do not see – in light of the Thomistic analysis of angelic intellects.

[For more on the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of human nature, enter soul, dualism, mind-body, and related terms in the search bar of this blog]

39 comments:

  1. Dr. Feser,


    Since angels are pure intellect and can manipulate matter, how far can this manipulation go?


    For example, you mentioned in one of your older blog posts about God creating something out of nothing that the power to bring something into being ex nihilo is a power belonging solely to God, while lower things such as informing the Prime Matter of a certain thing with a new substantial form, while it may require a lot of power, is not something that belongs to the realm of God alone.

    Does this then explain how an angel can manipulate matter?

    For example, if we read the Book of Exodus literally, it turns out that fallen angels can turn sticks into snakes, water into blood, can seemingly make frogs come out of nothing, but fail at turning pieces of sand into insects.

    It seems as if the fallen angels had the capability to manipulate the Prime Matter underlying a certain thing and inform it with a new substantial form, thus we have sticks turning into snakes, water becoming blood, and frogs popping out of nowhere, but their power stops short of turning sand into insects.

    Now there are some problems with interpreting these thing literally, especially since to turn a stick into a snake, one will have to inform it with a sensitive soul, which seems a bit outstretched.

    A less weird interpretation is that Pharaoh's magicians used some chemicals to turn a stick into a slithering snake-like object, or somehow managed to switch a stick with a snake in some unknown way.

    But how far does the ability to manipulate matter really go for an immaterial intellect? The saints had the capacity to bilocate and teleport, angels can muster up human like bodies that are indistinguishable from actual living ones.

    But do immaterial intellects have the ability to manipulate the Prime Matter of something and inform it with a new substantial form, thus, say, turning air into fire, or even turning a tree into water.


    Another interesting question that I want to ask you Dr. Feser, is the intelligence that angels have when it comes to time.

    As you mention, they are immaterial intellects thet are outside of time, but are still short of eternity. This gives them a big capacity to understand the causality of the natural order.

    But does this extend to being able to predict the future with seemingly preternatural precision?

    For example, the Book of Acts reports of a slave girl who could tell the future and thus brought a great fortune to her master, but it was later revealed that her abilities actually came from spirits.

    What would be your estimation of this Dr Feser?



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    1. But does this extend to being able to predict the future with seemingly preternatural precision?

      Taking the biblical and social evidence of angels (such as exorcisms) at face value, it seems to me that angels could predict some kinds of future events well, but not "with preternatural precision". One thing they cannot do that well is predict human free will choices. Even more, they cannot predict social events that comprise complex workings of many individuals acting over time and with multiple layers of interaction.

      It seems as if the fallen angels had the capability to manipulate the Prime Matter underlying a certain thing and inform it with a new substantial form, thus we have sticks turning into snakes, water becoming blood, and frogs popping out of nowhere, but their power stops short of turning sand into insects.

      Even without attributing to them the power of changing a stick into a snake, we can easily suppose that bad angels could have made a snake appear like a stick, and then "come to life". That would be no stretch at all.

      Nevertheless, various theories about lower living things compatible with hylemorphic dualism would put it within angelic power to directly cause a frog to form from air or water or any other physical substance. All the more so, (under those theories) would it be possible for them to cause insects to come to be from sand; insects are far lower, and it would take a much lesser power over nature to generate insects than frogs.

      For my money, though, it is hard for us to say how far angelic powers extend over the physical order, because God has (apparently) established an order in which angelic interventions that have direct physical manifestations (even if just appearances) are exceptions to the normal causes. Or so it seems. It may be that God usually prevents them from affecting lower beings (like snakes and frogs) but always prevents them from doing some other things that, but for God's blocking it, they would be able to do.

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    2. Well, what I have in mind when it comes to extratemporal knowledge are things such as Protestant missionairies exorcising a spirit from a person that had very accurate premonition, or things such as Baba Vanga predicting that Kursk will sink, everyone thinking it's the city of Kursk, and then a submarine called Kursk sinking tragically twenty years later.

      Of course, it's possible that fallen angels, like humans, could make self-fulfilling prophecies and act with their powers and superior intelligence to easily make it come true, especially if the only thing that needs to be manipulated are physical objects.

      But some such things involve people being convinced to do something, and then we have the whole mess of people having premonition dreams that come true with striking accuracy, which seems to indicate that intellects, whether human or angelic, can have the ability to act like preternaturally skilled weather men or meteorologists.

      What do you think?

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  2. If you're on Twitter, this poll is a nice chance to defend Aquinas' honor:
    https://twitter.com/bracketheology/status/890737315814965248

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  3. I second part of JoeD's question. Biblically speaking angels could be mistaken for a man. How is that explained consistently with a being that is pure intellect? I suppose that their ability to converse with the disciples at the tomb means they were in time then?

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    1. 1. The traditional answer is that angels can assume a kind of "body", sort of in the same way Jim Henson could assume the "body of a frog". That is, what looks to us like a human body is, in the case of an angel, something more akin to a puppet or to clothes. In the ancient world this "body" was believed to be condensed out of air, but we might think of it as more like a hologram, or even the things encountered in the holodecks present in Star Trek.

      2. Time as we know it is purely corporeal, but there are related ideas, like causality, that should apply to angels. As for how they interact with humans, my understanding is that they may be said to intersect time without being confined by it.

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  4. Perhaps Angels are disembodied minds composed of spirit. A form of energy that is capable of transforming matter through the application of energy in particular ways either changing the nature of the matter in question by itself or transforming such energy into another form of energy like light or heat.

    Of course given the nature of their spirit their ability to impact reality is limited.

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  5. An entity with absolutely no sensory perception or mental imagery is pheneomonlogically empty. What does it MEAN to claim that such a Being could exist in the first place? Their "experience", this conceived, is forever completly ontologically "alien" to anything we know as consciousness. These "angels" might as well be placeholders for abstract causal principles and not true individuate entities. At best agnosticism about such purely "intellectual" entities seems reasonable. Of course angels need not be conceived of this way, as intellectual black boxes, but could be said to possess true sensory phenonologly but in a purely "Platonic" way, from the forms directly, as it were. Bottom line: does an angel know what the color "red" MEANS? If yes, they have mental imagery, if no, I don't know what kind of thing an angel is really supposed to be. You can't have a "built-in" concept of Red without the mental image of red in your consciousness.

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    1. PhiGuy, I disagree with your claim that a purely intellectual being would have be "phenomenologically empty." If the being in question at least has thoughts of some kind, then it has at least that much phenomenology, correct? And if that's the case, then a being with innate ideas still has some phenomenology, and so is not "empty" in that respect. This would be true even if they can't understand what we're talking about when we discuss sensory inputs. That what it's like to be an angel is worlds apart from what it's like to be human doesn't suffice for your argument. Moreover, I think that even having an innate idea entails some kind of phenomenology.
      There's no need to be agnostic about whether these kinds of beings can exist in the first place.

      As for your argument that angels must have mental imagery, I'm not so sure. I've got this nagging suspicion that you're using it to mean just a representation of the real thing. But if angels have some kind of "Platonic direct access" to the forms themselves, then it seems clear that they don't need representations. Knowing what redness is like via direct access to the form of redness itself means there is no no need for a representation in the mind at all. Otherwise, the access is not direct, but mediated.

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    2. To add to Grace and Rust's point, the only way this argument works is on a strict empiricism -- if we have intellectual perceptions or apprehensions, then mental phenomena don't reduce to sensible perceptions and imaginative imagery, and it is false to claim that a purely intellectual being would be "forever completely ontologically 'alien' to anything we know as consciousness" since, ex hypothesi, being partly intellectual, we would have conscious acts analogous to those of such a being.

      Bottom line: does an angel know what the color "red" MEANS?

      Colors don't mean anything; words mean, colors have accounts, are experienced in the senses, and can be represented conceptually. The argument you go on to base on this again seems to require a strictly empiricist account of concepts.

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  6. Manipulating photons to create an appearance would be simpler than actually creating matter. Like a hologram. But when, say, Jesus, actually breaks bread and eats fish after the Resurrection, he proves he was more than a spirit or appearance.

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  7. If you don't mind me asking Dr.Feser, what is your stance on NDEs (Near-Death Experience) and their possible implications for the mind-body problem?

    I hope this isn't too off topic but it seems like it could be somewhat related.

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  8. In defense of a Cartesian position, I would like to suggest an analogy. Consider the case of a child. One day he is given a stuffed animal. In playing with the stuffed animal, he imagines a personality for it, particularly suited for the stuffed creature in question. At around the same time, he imagines another personality as an imaginary friend, never taking into account any tangible object in considering how he would imagine this creature.

    I suggest these two creatures are almost exactly analogous to humans and angels. Humans possess both a physical and purely intellectual aspect (body and that "personality" which God has imagined for that body). God knows that personality fundamentally as embodied, much as the child knows the character of his stuffed animal as tangible stuffed animal. The angels are much like the imaginary friends. They are created with no physicality essential to them. God does not fundamentally understand them with reference to a physical body, much as the child does not understand the imaginary friend with reference to a tangible stuffed animal.

    This allows for a defense of the Cartesian view that does not render the presence of the mind in the body the same phenomenon as a demonic possession. Suppose we were to give the child another stuffed animal. He doesn't play with it enough to bother to imagine a personality for it, but would still like to interact with it. He could imagine that the imaginary friend inhabited the new stuffed animal and could control its movements. This would have to be a temporary relation, in that the imaginary friend was not primarily intended by the child to be embodied. But a distanced inhabiting of the stuffed animal would seem to be possible. This is parallel to the case of angelic/demonic possession of bodies. The angels have not been created as essentially corporeal, but could act within bodies accidentally.

    The stuffed animal personality was created with the tangible body in mind, and largely for the sake of that body. While technically two separate things, the child thinks of the personality of the stuffed animal and the tangible object as utterly unified. If the tangible stuffed animal were destroyed, it is not improbable that the child would forget the personality along with it. Likewise, for humanity, God thinks of our mind and body as a completely unified thing, though still as two. As such, our immaterial minds are of a character that is essentially embodied.

    The difference between the two is in what the child considers them in reference to, rather than their having fundamentally different natures. Likewise with humanity and angels. Our minds are, in a way, indeed of the same sort with the angels. But, we were created with reference to bodies, angels were not. To put it another way: human minds are the sort of entirely immaterial things that essentially inhabit bodies, angels are the sort of entirely immaterial things that accidentally inhabit bodies. And this is the difference between the Cartesian mind in the body and demonic possession.

    A human intellect is as discursive and as directly intellective as God imagines it to be. The imaginary friend and the stuffed animal know exactly what the child imagines they do. The child could imagine that the stuffed animal only learns what is presented before the tangible toy, but this is not a necessity. Perhaps there is a balance of the two, direct intellect and discursive reason from experience, in human knowing. The cases seem parallel enough that the axiom that all knowledge arises first in the senses may need reevaluation.

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  9. It needs to be understood that the term "angel" was, in the OT, basically a job description ( messenger).
    What later become know as angels were the inhabitants of God's heavenly realm and of those there seem to be various types ( Serpahim, Cherubim, perhaps distinguished from them are also the divine "sons of god" of God's divine assembly/council).
    That angels CAN assume material form (typically human looking) is clear in various passage sin the OT and NT and that some did sin ( regardless of the nature of that sin) is also explicit in the NT ( Peter, Jude, etc). That some angels are higher up in heirarchy is also clear as per Daniel and Revelation.
    It seems that, going solely on the bible, what are know as angels are of:
    Different types
    Different hierarchy
    Different abilities
    Can assume material, human form to the point that they can't be distinguished from mortal humans.

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  10. Do human souls after death have to be conjoined with an act of existence, as angels are?

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    1. The human being in the post-mortem state obviously has to exist (ex-stare, "to be conditioned [by]"), but unless it has transcended form (which is quite possible in itself but not attainable by all in this life), at which point it will no longer be a human being in the strict sense, it won't be subject to the angelic conditions. Angels don't "have souls" (principles of psychic and corporeal "motion"), that is.

      I am not Feser, and he might find fault with my exposition, but I take the opportunity to respond nonetheless.

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  11. This seems like a very unbiblical view of the elohim (sometimes called "angels" in the NT).

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    1. What is or is not "Biblical" is not up for public discourse. The Bible is not a book of "facts" prior to any interpretation, contrary to Protestant delusions.

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  12. Professor Feser, you wrote:

    "An angel, by contrast, has all its concepts and knowledge “built in” at its creation. In other words, it possesses innate ideas."

    Suppose an angel was created without the knowledge of quantum mechanics "built in". Are you saying that the ONLY way said angel can acquire that knowledge is through a subsequent direct infusion by God, and not through observations of the behavior of the physical universe and inference from those observations?

    Thank you in advance for your response.

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    1. Angels, being supra-individual, have no use for any kind of "observation" of the physical world (I use "physical" in a sense encompassing corporeal as well as psychic reality, which is the proper usage, seeing as we're in the realm of "nature", or "change").

      Think of them, by analogy, not as such and such individual beings, but more like "minerals", "plants", "animals", and so forth. Angels have no corporeal bodies, and they have no subtle bodies either--what they know, they know infallibly, extra-spatially, and extra-temporally. By analogy, just as a man can know pure quantites infallibly (2+2=4 is not up for discussion), so can angels know pure qualities.

      Needless to say, the angels have no use whatsoever for artifical human theories such as "Quantum Mechanics".

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    2. Angels know universals directly and perfectly, and particulars via said universals.

      So the only way that an angel could not know how quantum mechanics works would be if it was not infused with knowledge of any substance that was a subject of quantum mechanics (which would mean any matter known to us). Obviously, such an angel could not "observe" such substances empirically.

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  13. All the angelic speculation aside, does anyone have an angelic encounters they would like to relate?

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    1. Communion with the angelic hierarchies is fundamentally an intellectual matter. It may be accompanied by psycich (and even corporeal) contingencies, but it is impossible to differentiate the miraculous and saintly from the preternatural and sorcerous by virtue of any kind of formal analysis, ratiocination, or vague sentiment alone.

      Whosoever possesses (effective) infallible knowledge of the intellectual (supra-rational) domain could be said to "speak with the angels".

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    2. I ought to add that whether or not the person who has "encountered" angels is aware of it, the "encounter" is nonetheless real. It simply cannot be infallibly known to be such, which is why "mystics" need to be evaluated by an organization authorized to differentiate truly spiritual influences from merely psychic such.

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  14. From the esoteric point of view of Meister Eckhart and others, the angels are supra-individual states of the One Being (Trinity, with the Father extra-temporally begetting the Son and the Spirit proceeding from the Father, as well as from the Son by virtue of the Essence-Substance relationship.

    Exoterically, angels are supra-individual and supra-formal beings distinct from man. Their nature is purely intellectual, so it would be erroneous to attribute to them anything like the dialectical "reason" that humans tend to value so dearly.

    The esoteric point of view does not contradict the exoteric point of view and vice versa. It is available for some of us who, not content with "faith" in inscrutable dogma, want to go further and comprehend these matters inwardly.

    The profound reason that the Catholic church has lost much of its zest and become a mere humanist social organization first and foremost (not in principle, but in practise--modern Catholics do not, in my experience, generally entertain a point of view that is much different from the "secular") is that it has lost touch with the supra-formal essence of religion, which is fundamentally something radically different from more or less justified "belief".

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  15. "At the bottom of the hierarchy come inanimate material things – rocks, dirt, water, and so forth. Next come the vegetative forms of life, which take in nutrients, grow, and reproduce themselves but do nothing beyond this. Then we have sensory or animal forms of life, which carry out the vegetative functions but add to them sensation, appetite, and locomotion or self-movement. Above mere animals are rational animals or human beings. Human beings do everything other animals do, but on top of that possess intellect and will; and for Aquinas and other Scholastic thinkers, these are incorporeal activities. A human being is, accordingly, the kind of substance which possesses at the same time both bodily and non-bodily attributes."

    This is, in my opinion, one of your best paragraphs, Mr. Feser. It shows that you are, to whatever extent of profundity, aware of the Seven.

    1. Minerality, centripetal motion, desire to retain composure qua "unit".

    2. Vegetability, centrifugal motion, desire going beyond itself (the plant sees only the sun and is not distracted).

    3. Animality, the centripetal-centrifugal wheel of life. Locus of sensation and lower emotionality.

    4. Rationality. Good and evil, Sun and Moon. Able to choose whether to follow the three "below" or the three "above".

    5. True life (mirroring 3), the pure intellect, which is nothing other than Spirit.

    6. True love, "soul transposed"--the essence that can see only Being and nothing beside it, just as the plant is not distracted by sensory stimuli in its ascent toward the corporeal sun.

    7. True unity "body transposed", Being itself, the Father drawing all things to Himself. Integrates the six into a harmonious, hierarchical whole. This is the profound reason why God "rested on the seventh day", and moreover why the number seven is always and everywhere identified with perfection and Divinity.

    What is above is indeed like unto that which is below, and vice versa.

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  16. Now, there is, as it were, metaphysical room in between human beings and God for a further kind of thing – something which is entirely incorporeal rather than being merely partially incorporeal (as human beings are), but which is nevertheless finite and in need of being created (as God is not). That is what an angel is.

    Yes, but there is a lot of space there. One can easily conceptualize a spiritual being above humans but below Thomas-style angels. For example a personal being living in time and space, possessing an invisible body which it can move instantly around, possessing much greater cognitive powers than humans both about things material and things spiritual, possessing much greater powers to affect the physical world. In short a being metaphysically quite close to humans except that its body is made of an invisible substance of much greater power. It seems to me that such a Dianelos-style angels comports better with the biblical text and tradition about angels. For example it allows for legions of angels in each angelic order, it makes more sense of sinning and thus of fallen angels, it makes more sense of angels interacting with humans than Thomas-style angels living in aeviternity, and so on.

    Incidentally a one-dimensional above-below taxonomy does not exist. The angel I am describing is capable of repentance and thus I would insist is above the Thomas-style angel.

    Being utterly incorporeal by nature, angels lack sense organs or brain activity.

    It seems to me that all limited persons experience life having a body. Now I don’t know what aeviternity means but wonder whether Thomas-style angels experience being everywhere in space. If not then then they experience being in the location their body occupies. Also having limited knowledge they will experience having a “brain” limiting their capacity for knowledge. Having limited power to affect physical things they will experience having a body limiting that capacity. The fact that this body is not made up of physical substance, or that it is not visible in the physical sense (does not reflect photons) doesn’t mean it’s not there.

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    1. You said you don't know what aeviternity means, so here's a quick explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aevum
      And here's a useful passage on its nature from the Angelic Doctor himself: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1010.htm#article5
      It's better to look up the concept before talking about difficulties you see in it, as when you said it doesn't make sense that angels inhabiting aeviternity can interact with human beings. My understanding is an "aeviternal" being can interact with a temporal one because such a being can act in succession, even though this isn't necessary to it's existence.

      But what about your other criticisms?
      First, there's no conflict between having multitudes of angels within any given order and Thomism. As was noted in the OP, angels can occupy the same *genus,* which means there are numerous Seraphim, and hosts of Thrones and Principalities, but no two in the genus share a species.

      Second, the reason a "Thomist angel" can't repent is because that requires changing one's mind. But changing one's mind requires acquiring new information, if not by experience, then from discursively drawing out the implications of a belief or action. But since an angel knows all the implications of the choice before making it, there can be no changing its mind. It is /because/ of the angel's superior nature that repentance is impossible. Does this make sinning incomprehensible? I don't see why; the choice was made with full knowledge, and for whatever reason, the devil was willing to live with the consequences.

      Lastly, you now suggest that an angel *must* have a body in some sense. Your argument amounts to saying that a body *just is* the experience of limited existence. But you haven't justified that assertion; the examples you give are only illustrations of what this principle entails if it's true. We don't need to accept it; in the case of an angel's experience of location, this link should provide a helpful (if mind-boggling!) explanation: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_53angels1.html (I recommend the entire series).
      I hope this helps.

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    2. @ Grace and Rust,

      It is /because/ of the angel's superior nature that repentance is impossible.I

      I would rather be created an angel who can repent and thus can reach atonement in God, than one who doesn’t. It’s a value judgment on my part.

      Does this make sinning incomprehensible? I don't see why; the choice was made with full knowledge, and for whatever reason, the devil was willing to live with the consequences.

      Well, having full knowledge only a deranged person would choose what is worse. I mean the reason we don’t jump off a cliff is that we know the consequences. Thus I do find it incomprehensible that an angel having full knowledge of God’s glory and of its own eternal future of perdition should choose to turn away from God.

      Your argument amounts to saying that a body *just is* the experience of limited existence.

      Not exactly. The principle I am pointing out is that if one experiences having a body then there is some body to be experienced. My claim is not that the body “just is” that experience; indeed the body may be much more than that. On the other hand it can’t be absent. For if were absent then what is it one is experiencing?

      I hope this helps.

      Yes, thanks. According to that description the angel has not a body occupying some location space, but a body directed to some location of space. Which is equally effective for my position which is that only God is truly body-less since only God is completely unlimited. Now I don’t understand A-T metaphysics well enough, but it seems to me that in the way our soul is the form of our material body, the angel’s soul is the form of its kind of body.

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    3. I'm going to go mostly in reverse order in response.
      1. "THe principle I am pointing out is that if one experiences having a body then there is some body to be experienced. . . . For if [the body] were absent then what is it one is experiencing?"
      I think you should have kept closer to something like my interpretation, for two reasons:
      º First, your examples (e.g. how something with a limited capacity for knowledge will experience having a "brain") no longer illustrate what your principle allows. Why should an experience of /limitation/ be associated with an experience of /being embodied/? Your stated principle doesn't make the connection.
      º Second, the way you clarify your principle doesn't allow you to surmise that angels have bodies. As I said before, you have no reason to suppose that angels experience having bodies.
      Your principle also seems to raise difficulties. If God is bodiless *because* He is unlimited, then either we become limitless when we die, or we have "spirit bodies" along with our physical ones, and that's assuming you believe we continue to exist after death, which raises its own problems. I'll let you decide which option you favor.

      2. "According to that description the angel has not a body occupying some location space, but a body directed to some location of space."
      I think you need to clarify what you mean by "body." You say you don't mean that it's the experience of being limited. And of course you don't mean an extended object (otherwise, McManaman's account of angels and place would contradict your claims). If you simply mean that it's some "limiting principle," then it seems you're advocating a trivial position.

      3. "Well, having full knowledge only a deranged person would choose what is worse. . . . Thus I do find it incomprehensible that an angel having full knowledge of God's glory and of its own eternal future of perdition should choose to turn away from God."
      To co-opt your example, sane people sometimes do jump off cliffs. The consequences can seem desirable, or preferable to the alternatives. Perhaps I should say that it's a value judgment on the agent's part... And the same applies to the devil, who as far as we know decided he valued himself more than God.

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    4. @ Grace and Rust,

      Why should an experience of /limitation/ be associated with an experience of /being embodied/?

      Because to experience a limitation entails experiencing something that causes that limitation – which necessarily exists.

      In general: Whatever one experiences has a cause. So if I experience seeing the moon then what I experience, namely the moon, must exist in some sense. For if it didn’t I wouldn’t be experiencing it. On the other hand I don’t experience seeing the moon in perfect detail. Something bound to me is causing this limitations. What is it? My eyes, or rather whatever it is in my body that realizes my limited kind of vision. Of course an injured or malfunctioning body is an even greater restriction, and thus is experienced as a heavier weight bound to one’s spirit.

      Now an angel may have perfect vision of material objects, in which case it is not bound to anything that restricts its vision. But even though it has great power over material objects, that power is not limitless. Thus the angel is bound to something that restricts its power, which I call the angel’s body. Why? Because it fits with our own experience of a body. On the other hand where angels are not limited the respective bodily restriction doesn’t exist; so for example if an angel is not limited to occupying a particular place in space then its body will not have extension.

      It’s a simple observation about reality. If I knew how to use the terminology of A-T perhaps I would be able to put it in the appropriate terms. Perhaps the problem is that in A-T terminology a body is by definition a physical body. For me a body is by definition what is bound to the spirit thus restricting it, in our case a physical body, in the case of angels a non-physical body of some kind.

      If God is bodiless *because* He is unlimited, then either we become limitless when we die, or we have "spirit bodies" along with our physical ones,

      Well, if you can tell me how you think it will be like for us between bodily death and bodily resurrection I can tell you how our body will be. We will certainly not have our current physical bodies (they will have wasted away). If I understand Aquinas right, lacking a material form we wont’ be able to think or perceive, and thus can’t be more than personal subjects in the deep sleep.

      Anyway my own views of the afterlife are quite different. With John Hick I believe that the atonement is a long path for all of humanity in which our current condition is but the first step. After dying in this world I expect we shall experience life with less limitations and thus being bound to a different and lighter kind of body. Having less limitations will make our cognitive powers clearer and thus we shall experience more painful remorse for our sins and imperfections and also more joy at the realization of God’s beauty and love for us. And more empathy for our neighbors. As you can see in my understanding the concepts of bodily resurrection and divine judgment have quite a different meaning from the traditional one.

      If you simply mean that it's some "limiting principle," then it seems you're advocating a trivial position.

      No I mean “limiting being”. There is something real limiting us, and that is our body. If not our body, then what? Answer that question in A-T terminology and substitute it wherever I use “body”.

      To co-opt your example, sane people sometimes do jump off cliffs. The consequences can seem desirable, or preferable to the alternatives.

      Yes, but consider the huge difference between the two cases. Perhaps it is sane to choose to jump of a cliff in order to put a quick end to one’s great physical pain one believes is incurable and pointless. But that’s not at all the case of fallen angels. They are supposed to choose to turn away from God in the full knowledge that by doing this they will lose heavenly joy in exchange for the great pain of evil. That idea I find incoherent.

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    5. Sorry I didn't get to this yesterday.
      Re: Whether angels have bodies.
      º "Because to experience a limitation entails experiencing something that causes that limitation – which necessarily exists."
      First, this doesn't justify your assertions. My own answer is consistent with your principle, and provides a cause for this experience without positing that angels have bodies.
      Second, I'm under the impression that your preferred "limiting being" is important because it implies that something /external/ to us causes our limitations. This at least explains why you seem to argue that our limitations are caused by something bound to our spirits, and that in like manner angels are limited by something bound to them. You must also hold something like "the spiritual is /ipso facto/ unlimited" (I built my previous dilemma on that principle). Otherwise, my answer that angels are limited by, for example, how they inherently know and interact with other entities (in other words, by their intrinsic natures) would be sufficient, and your argument wouldn't justify your views. My answer should also take precedence because it fits our experience of bodies better than your own account does, for two reasons:
      1- They are something integral to what we are; ghosts and corpses are horrifying partly because they're both incomplete. In contrast, your view makes bodies into prisons because we are *bound* to them and they restrict us in unnatural ways. If our limits are natural to us, then we can at least be at harmony with them, even when we wish to transcend them;
      2- Expanding on the above, bodies are in a sense the /source/ of our power, because so many of our operations are essentially bodily--a healthy body is more functional than a sickly one, so that a healthy person has more power than a sick one.

      RE: Afterlife.
      If you remember the link to Wikipedia on aeviternity, you'll know that departed saints experience this state. Considering that the Church teaches that we will face both a private and a public judgment, it's reasonable to infer that all departed souls experience this state. This of course raises the question of how we can think or perceive in such a state, if we actually need our bodies for these things. You might profit from this quick answer: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/10/some-questions-on-soul-part-ii.html
      Now since I raised that dilemma, I'd like to point out that your approach basically takes the second horn--that we have "spirit bodies" as well as physical ones--and makes it more complicated (so that we have a host of spirit bodies). What's wrong with this? If the spiritual is /ipso facto/ unlimited, then God created beings that are just as powerful as He is (because they are also unlimited), which I think we can agree is impossible. ...Unless you think every creature just is a body, albeit the "highest" of them are also the least limited. I find that hard to believe, since you suggested that bodies are "bound" to our spirits to limit them.

      RE: Fallen Angels.
      º "Yes, but consider the huge difference between the two cases. Perhaps it is sane to choose to jump of a cliff in order to put a quick end to one’s great physical pain one believes is incurable and pointless. But that’s not at all the case of fallen angels. They are supposed to choose to turn away from God in the full knowledge that by doing this they will lose heavenly joy in exchange for the great pain of evil. That idea I find incoherent."
      Well, at least we know you think that some value-judgments are objective rather than subjective! But in all seriousness, I think you're overstepping your boundaries when you suggest that the choice is incoherent. I would be really silly to choose worthless trinkets over a year's wages just because I liked the way they look, but the event remains coherent, because it has a consistent explanation. The choice to value oneself more than God despite the consequences is also extremely silly, but remains coherent.

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  17. Incidentally a one-dimensional above-below taxonomy does not exist. The angel I am describing is capable of repentance and thus I would insist is above the Thomas-style angel.

    I thought I had seen the limits of absurdity before, but this takes the cake. It simply does not compute: to be "capable of repentance" is not only not proof of whether the being is above or below another, it isn't even evidence for it, without citing more. Rocks are not capable of repentance, bacteria are not capable of it, and God is not capable of it. To be "not capable of repentance" simply does not speak to "higher" or "lower" by itself.

    It seems to me that all limited persons experience life having a body.

    Translated: so far as my experience goes, all limited persons experience life having a body. Therefore, all limited persons experience life having a body.

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  18. I have a question about Aquinas and his thought about angels. My question does not refer to what he taught but to what led him to teach it. Specifically to what led him to think that angels are incapable of change and thus incapable of repentance. I understand Aquinas used as sources of knowledge reason and revelation – but not experience. So I wonder if his teaching about the unchanging nature of angels is based exclusively on reason such as A-T metaphysics, or was also influenced by revelation. If the later, perhaps somebody can point out for me what in revelation suggests that angels possess an unchanging nature.

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    1. You could read what he says in the Summa Theologica.

      But, to be brief, he bases a great deal of it on the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, especially St. John Damascene and St. Dionysius (as well as, of course, the Bible).

      Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but St. Thomas appears to have winnowed through all the contradictory opinions of the many, sifted them, and come out with what is, first, most compatible with Scripture; and second, most compatible with sound metaphysics, making a coherent whole of many bits and pieces of the truth found in the Fathers and Doctors out of what is ambiguous or obscure in the Bible. In some other work than the Summa, he might have relied more heavily on Aristotelian metaphysics, but in the Summa, as a work of theology that rests ultimately on God's revelation, he relies primarily on Scripture and the teachings of the Fathers about Scripture. His core mode of operating is to first say what prior authority has already declared (i.e. God in Scripture, the Apostles in what they handed to their disciples, and the later Fathers), and then to mop up with explanations that show how what has been taught with the authority of Scripture and the Fathers is compatible with philosophy and science.

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    2. @ Tony,

      Thanks. Your description sounds very plausible to me: Aquinas took all knowledge considered important in his time, including Aristotle’s philosophy, and bound it all into a coherent whole, or at least to an apparently coherent whole. Surely a major intellectual achievement. One wonders though: If in the Middle Ages the philosophy of Plato rather than Aristotle’s were better known, whether then Aquinas’s edifice might have not come out looking more like later idealistic metaphysics. I mean what he had at hand must have influenced the final result.

      In any case my question was more specific. Since I can’t afford to study Aquinas (I understand that’s about a lifetime of work), I wonder what moved Aquinas to posit that the mind of an angel is set at the moment of its creation. The idea just occurred to me that the reason was perhaps that according to received wisdom human souls after passing away but before resurrection cannot change their mind and repent. The human soul can only change when it is conjoined with matter, and during that period human souls exist in a similar state to angels, namely as a matter-less form. Therefore angels being always in that matter-less form cannot ever change their mind too. Finally since it was given that there are good and evil angels, they must have freely chosen their mind at the instant of their creation (which it seems to me does not very well comport with the traditional story of the fall of some angels). - Does this sound like the reason? If not can you think of another? The conceptual space between humans and God is huge; I’d like to understand why Aquinas chose that particular metaphysical description for angels.

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  19. Your description sounds very plausible to me: Aquinas took all knowledge considered important in his time,

    He was doing theology. He took revelation, first, and other material second. The "all knowledge" he was guided by was first the Bible and then the Tradition encapsulated in the Fathers, and only after that any philosophy.

    including Aristotle’s philosophy, and bound it all into a coherent whole, or at least to an apparently coherent whole. Surely a major intellectual achievement. One wonders though: If in the Middle Ages the philosophy of Plato rather than Aristotle’s were better known, whether then Aquinas’s edifice might have not come out looking more like later idealistic metaphysics. I mean what he had at hand must have influenced the final result.

    You have it exactly backwards. Insofar as the Church Fathers of the classical and early medieval period had "a philosophy" built in to their theology, it was Platonic more than anything (or maybe neo-Platonic). The Arab philosophers in the 1200s were dabbling with Aristotle (and making texts available, of which there had been few before that), but few of the Christian thinkers were doing very much with Ari at that point. St. Thomas insisted on correcting some primary errors of Plato with Aristotle's improvements, and "baptized" Aristotle by showing compatibility with Christianity, but at least initially there was quite some resistance to accepting Aristotle. Plato WAS better known, much.

    Finally since it was given that there are good and evil angels, they must have freely chosen their mind at the instant of their creation (which it seems to me does not very well comport with the traditional story of the fall of some angels).

    No, that's not what St. Thomas claimed:

    Whether the devil was wicked by the fault of his own will in the first instant of his creation?...We must therefore reply that, on the contrary, it was impossible for the angel to sin in the first instant by an inordinate act of free-will.

    It was AFTER the moment of creation:

    There is a twofold opinion on this point. But the more probable one, which is also more in harmony with the teachings of the Saints, is that the devil sinned at once after the first instant of his creation. This must be maintained if it be held that he elicited an act of free-will in the first instant of his creation, and that he was created in grace; as we have said (I:62:3. For since the angels attain beatitude by one meritorious act, as was said above (I:62:5), if the devil, created in grace, merited in the first instant, he would at once have received beatitude after that first instant, if he had not placed an impediment by sinning.

    If, however, it be contended that the angel was not created in grace, or that he could not elicit an act of free-will in the first instant, then there is nothing to prevent some interval being interposed between his creation and fall.

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  20. "As I noted in another post not too long ago, the famous mind-body interaction problem facing the Cartesian ultimately is not, from the Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, the problem of explaining how an incorporeal substance can be the efficient cause of a bodily event."

    That is indeed true from the Thomist point of view,. But what most philosophers mean by the "interaction problem" is exactly how in the world an immaterial soul can interact with a physical body.....?

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