Post Author: Bill Pratt
Joseph Owens’ book, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, argues for the existence of an immaterial human soul. In part 1 of this post, we looked at three of his arguments for an immaterial soul: 1) the human intellect’s ability to know things as universals, 2) the human intellect’s ability to know in a way that transcends time, and 3) the human intellect’s ability to reason and pursue science.
In part 2, we will look at more reasons to think that there is an immaterial human soul.
First, Owens argues that man’s ability to reflect on himself entails an immaterial soul. Material things cannot perceive themselves. “An act of seeing or of any other external sense is always different from the thing it perceives. It cannot perceive itself.” Think of a movie projector at a theater. The projector is able to project all sorts of images on the screen, but it would it be impossible for the projector to project itself on the screen.
But the human intellect is able to perceive itself. Owens elaborates:
Men experience this self-knowledge through reflection. The reflection is complete. It is not a case of one sense perceiving the operations of another sense, as an internal sense attains the workings of the external senses. It is a case of the intellect making itself and its own activities the object of its full reflective gaze. . . . It is a complete bending back to view its own self.
Material things cannot accomplish this complete bending back, so the intellect must not be material.
Second, Owens explains that the human power of free will negates the possibility of a completely material intellect. Why? The acts of material substances are determined by their physical form. If the human intellect were completely material, then all the actions of the intellect would be determined by physical processes.
Man, however, is aware that he has, at least sometimes, the power to choose without those choices being determined. Owens explains, “This power cannot come to him from anything [material], for what is [material] is already determined to a definite way of acting. Free choice is an activity that functions beyond the limiting conditions of matter, and cannot proceed from a principle that is [material].”
To summarize, given the human intellect’s abilities of 1) knowing things as universals, 2) knowing things in a way that transcends time, 3) reasoning and doing science, 4) self-reflection, and 5) free choice, the intellect must consist of an immaterial component. It cannot be completely material as material objects cannot do any of these things.