Alasdair MacIntyre has written a review of a recent collection of papers by G. E. M. Anscombe for the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. The collection is G.E.M. Anscombe, Faith in a Hard Ground: Essays on Religion, Philosophy and Ethics, Imprint Academic, 2008, 273pp., $34.90 (pbk), ISBN 9781845401214. I mention this not only to draw your attention to the Anscombe volume, but also as an excuse to quote some of what MacIntyre has to say in his review about the immortality of the soul and, indirectly, about current trends in the philosophy of mind:
Philosophy plays a very different part in Anscombe’s discussion of the immortality of the soul. In what does the spirituality of the human soul consist? Any conception of an immortal substance “is a delusive one” (71) and the kind of immateriality that thought possesses provides no basis for ascribing spirituality to the soul, let alone immortality: “there is no reason whatever for believing in a temporal immortality of the soul, apart from the resurrection,” that is, the resurrection of Christ and the promise of the resurrection of the body. Anscombe adds that “there is no ‘natural immortality of the soul’ that can be demonstrated by philosophy” and she takes “the Christian doctrine of immortality to be the doctrine of an unending human life, happy or unhappy, after the resurrection and not the doctrine of an immortal sort of substance.” (77)
Yet this raises a problem: “it is also Christian doctrine that the soul is judged at death and then suffers or is in glory till the resurrection. Must one not have a theory of how it can exist?” Anscombe’s reply is to suggest that what philosophy might achieve is a cure for the impulse to search for such a theory. Catholic teaching provides no justification for any claim that “the soul has it in it to exist apart from the body” (78), and any picture that we construct would be “an idle picture,” one that did no philosophical or theological work for us.
My dissatisfaction with this line of thought may be no more than a sign that I have not yet subjected myself to the philosophical treatment that would cure my impulse to think otherwise. But I remain uncured. Anscombe’s initial arguments follow Wittgenstein’s closely. “Thinking is not an incorporeal process which lends life and sense to speaking” (1953). Indeed, but, as Anscombe remarks, although the concept of ‘thought’ is one that we all possess, it is difficult to give a satisfactory account of it and no one as yet has, although not for lack of trying. So perhaps we need to start out all over again, first rereading Plotinus and then taking encouragement from the recent plague of wrongheaded accounts of thought advanced by philosophers so anxious to make connections between thoughts and brain states in the light of recent biochemical and neurophysiological discoveries that they lose sight of thought itself.
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