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Posted January 23, 2007

Book: The Soul of the Person: A Contemporary Philosophical Psychology
Author: Adrian J. Reimers
The Catholic University of America Press. Washington, D.C. 2006. Pp. 301

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

The book is the fruit of a conviction that science and the notion of a transcendent human nature are compatible, in other words, that the idea of a spiritual soul is reasonable and defensible, that within this scientifically knowable universe there can be — indeed are — beings that may admit of the expression “image of God.” Indeed, without such a conception we cannot account for some obvious and important truths about ourselves and those we share our social lives with. The casual reader will recognize that this work is an effort to rethink St. Thomas Aquinas’s account of the human soul as form of the human being. Aquinas lived about three centuries before the scientific revolution, and although I am convinced his Aristotelianism fits better with contemporary science that is usually thought, a re-statement in more contemporary terms of some fundamental physical and metaphysical principles is called for. The reader will also notice, therefore, a reliance on Charles Sanders Peirce’s theory of habits as signs. Indeed, even where not explicit, the framework of Peirce’s thought is present.

Finally, the work is significantly inspired by the thought of Pope John Paul II, whose conception of what it means to be human deserves much closer attention than has been given it to date. In his pre-papal philosophical work and especially in his speeches and writings as Pope, this scholar and churchman has sketched out what he calls an “adequate anthropology,” one characterized by an affirmation of the meaningfulness of the human body itself and the ability of the human person to transcend temporal goods precisely through the body. A Thomist, John Paul II took personal human experience as his “indispensable” starting point. This present work takes up his challenge and governing principle, seeking the roots of science and religious faith — as well as the full richness of human life and experience as a whole — in human experience.

The governing conception of this work is that to be human is to be rational, by which should be understood that everything about the human being is — or can be — an expression of reason. We are not souls inside irrational or non-rational bodies. The entire human being is a rational being. It is this rationality that constitutes the distinctiveness of the human person. In arguing this, I follow John Paul II in rejecting consciousness as the foundation of the ontological supremacy and distinctiveness of the human beings vis-a-vis the natural order. The human being is rational animal. Or, as Peirce has put it: “The mind is a sign, developing according to the laws of inference.”

An Excerpt from the Book:


Manifestations of the human spirit come to a distinctive kind of unity in the creation of art. Human beings create images through visual representation, tone and rhythm, storytelling, and poetry. Humans furnish their worlds with art. The early human cave dwellers in southwestern France are distinguished from their subhuman hominid neighbors in part by their cave painting. Animal parents care for and nourish their young, but human parents hang Richard Scarry pictures in the nursery and dangle a plastic Pooh Bear over the crib. The cat eats the same kibble every day, but its master expects variety and that his meals conform to minimal artistic standards. Foods have significance; Szechwan pork or arroz con pollo is almost unthinkable for an American Thanksgiving feast. Similarly, in their sexual activity — so frequently thought to be the most characteristically animal form of human behavior — human beings follow rituals and carry out their love making in a way involving far more than genital response and copulation. Setting and accentuated physical beauty — in short, aesthetic considerations — are important elements in human lovemaking. The artistic impulse flows, in fact, from the metaphysical thrust that characterizes the human spirit. The Greek word, kosmos, which means order, and by extension both ornament and the universe as an ordered whole, is the common root for the words cosmos and cosmetic. In ornamentation one reflects, as it were, the order of the universe. Art serves no useful function as art. Steel-frame warehouses protect from the elements as well as buildings by Pei. A story is not ordinarily as useful as a road map or a recipe. Nevertheless, we humans need art. This need is not just a superfluous emotional preference (if indeed there can be such) but is rooted in our rationality, in our power to understand. John Paul II himself a poet and actor, writes: “Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the sense perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery. The intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to give meaning to one’s own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things.” To understand beauty will shed important light on the spiritual.

Table of Contents:

Part 1: The central issue

1. The status of the question

A nature divided

The heart of the question: the reality of the spiritual

An integrated vision

The present project

Part 2: The material and the spiritual

2. The existence and essence of material things

Materially and matter


Being and existence

Essence: what a thing is

Significance and meaning

The nature of physical things


3. Spirit and the Spiritual

The characteristics of the spiritual

The good as good

The true as true

Being as being


Status and characteristics of the spiritual in human nature

Part 3: Spiritual action of the material being

4. The power to know


Ideas and habits

Two sense of truth

The mind as a sign

5. Love, consciousness and the power to choose

Values and action

Habit, will, and the practical dialectic

Practical syllogism: consciousness and the spiritual

“A sign developing” and “The Meaning of life”

Consciousness puzzles

Understanding, belief, and personality

Consciousness, values and the self

Part 4: Metaphysical conclusions

6. Reality and nature of the soul

Materiality and materialism

That human being cannot be reduced to, or explained as, a purely physical system

The immaterial basis for human action

The soul: real and immaterial

The soul’s mode of being