Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Response to Mary Rosera Joyce on the Soul

New Oxford Review: A True Turnaround, A Real Revolution by Mary Rosera Joyce
It seems obvious that our sexuality is basically biological. When a baby is born, we can tell immediately whether the child is a boy or a girl based on the physical evidence. This fact leads us to believe that sexuality revolves around these bodily organs. But if we were to examine further, we would realize that the function of the genital organs depends upon the brain, the physical source of all the nerves in the body. The earth similarly depends upon the gravity, energy, light, and heat of the sun for its various functions.

We may notice upon further examination that, apart from the brain, every cell in the female body is sexually different from every cell in the male body. The causal power of this cellular difference affects the shape and function of the entire body, including the brain in its three divisions: high, middle, and low.

The high brain, for example, is the cerebrum. There is more connective wiring (corpus callosum) between its two lobes in women than in men. The general effect of this difference on their respective use of logic is that men are generally more gifted for analysis and women for synthesis. Thus, women have been lauded for what is known as their “multitasking” ability. They are able to attend to more than one task at a time. Men are more able to focus on, probe into, and grasp one concept or task at a time.

Besides its centrality in our physical sexuality, the brain is primarily involved in the other dimensions of our personhood: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. As a result, the differences between men and women extend into their entire personhood. Human sexuality is not merely biological, or primarily genital. Thus, what seems to be the obvious center of our sexuality — our genital organs — is not the true center. There would be no genital sexuality without the involvement of the brain. And there would be no sexuality in the brain without appropriate sexual causality in the life principle of human personhood, the spiritual soul.

1. I found the essay to be problematic. "Sexuality revolves around these bodily organs"? I think people would be apt to say that the most obvious difference between the two sexes can be found in the reproductive organs.

2. The function depends on the brain? That is prone to reductionism, in so far as the sense organs are not identified with the brain alone. It is true that attraction and desire depend on sense knowledge (not just sight) and instinct, what we found attractive about the other sex, and so on. The brains are differentiated according to sex - sex hormones have an influence on their development.

Sex differences "permeate" the body and its systems (as she somewhat recognizes).

3. As for sexual causality in the soul, what does that mean? That sex differences are the result of differences in form? She goes on to explain:

When we look at a human being as an object, the physical body is the most obvious to our sense of sight. We cannot see the soul. So we are inclined to think of the soul as hidden within the body.

Ordinarily we think that we originate in the union of a sperm and an ovum, and the soul is thought to be infused by God into this newly formed body. Consequently, the soul is considered to be in the body until it leaves at death. But this common idea of the soul “entering” and “leaving,” like the sun rising and setting, is “Ptolemaic” and begs for re-vision.

The idea that the soul enters and leaves the body started to change when Pope John Paul II began, but did not complete, a “Copernican” turnaround in the way we view the human person and human sexuality with his “theology of the body.” In his encyclical “On Faith & Reason” (Fides et Ratio, 1998) he asked philosophers to develop the philosophy of being “without resorting to worn-out formulae” (no. 97). He asked them to complete the revolution he began. Where, then, would we start this process of completion? A plausible point would be the moment of conception.

She seems to be rejecting what might be called a "dualistic" conception of the soul. Fine - let us not attribute more significance to a popular understanding (or, more accurately, imagining) of the soul than it deserves, or mistake it with a more scientific (in the Aristotelian sense) account of the soul. In attributing this problem to Catholic thinkers before John Paul II, she would be exaggerating, no? Unless she is judging the Aristotelian account of the soul to be "dualistic" as well.

Among the “worn-out formulae” that the revolutionary turnaround would abandon is our customary explanation of life’s beginning. We still have a primitive way of interpreting what appears to us to be obvious. That is why pro-abortionists have been able to move in with their seemingly convincing rhetoric, and have successfully cleared the way for the elimination of many millions of new persons. They have even used the “delayed animation” theory of St. Thomas Aquinas to secure their objectives.

St. Thomas was one of the greatest theologians in history. Nevertheless, he believed, along with almost all of his contemporaries, that the earth is the center of the universe. He and many others also thought that human life begins with a vegetative soul, followed by an animal soul, followed by a human soul infused by God into the developing organism. It was this gradualist view that prevented him from acknowledging the immaculate conception of Mary (cf. Summa Theologiae III, q.27, a.3).

In our contemporary world, aided by subsequent developments in science, we now defend the beginning of human personhood at conception. But our interpretation of conception is still philosophically “earth-centered.” We think that the egg and sperm unite; it surely looks that way under a microscope. Actually, these cells interact and die together as a new life begins. We also think that God creates and infuses the soul into the newly “united” sex cells.

This idea of infusion implies that the soul is contained within the body. But the body, as a container, could not possibly express the person. For that purpose we need a turnaround from seeing the soul as inside the body to seeing the body as within the soul. Then, instead of our view being body-based, it would become person-based.

In a person-based view of the moment of conception, we would begin to see the soul as receiving within itself the interacting gametic (generative) cells and expressing itself in the resulting human body. This critical distinction would introduce a reversal in our manner of thinking about conception. The view of the soul as created by God and as receiving the body would replace the previous concept of infusion. In this way, we could better understand how the body, received by the soul, expresses the individual within his being and within the powers of his person.

In our tradition, however, there is no recognition of substantial receptivity in the soul. Instead, the infused soul is viewed as the actuating form of passively receptive matter. But receptivity is not only passive; it is primarily active. By actively receiving the gametic causes of the body, the soul becomes the body’s formative power. Thus, the soul is both receiving and giving in relation to the body. The soul, then, receives the body so that the body can become the expression of the person.

St. Thomas's gradualism seemed to be justified according to what they knew about embryonic development. The science that she claims as support could also be used to support a view of delayed homonization. If we took ideologues at their word and maintained that science is purely empirical then we cannot make a judgment that the rational or human soul is present at fertilization. But we cannot reason to this conclusively either, just based on the evidence alone. (I have maintained that this can be held only through the supernatural virtue of faith.)

But on to the rest of her explanation. Can matter act upon form? (This sloppy thinking about receptivity reminds me of a certain brand of Catholic phenomenology - did the author go to FUS?) How can the soul "receive" without being further actualized? As it it is somehow changed by actualizing the body? Her account destroys any proper understanding of form as act.

The human soul, by actively receiving the interacting gametes at conception, becomes sexually differentiated in its spiritual depths. Seeing the source of our personhood in this way is the beginning of a true sexual revolution.

At conception and thereafter, the inner causal source of human sexuality would be properly understood as spiritual, not physical. The person is basically spiritual, and has a soul that receives physical causes and expresses itself physically. Not only Freud, but many Aristotelian traditionalists, however, would be unwilling to accept such a radical departure. Hugh Hefner and his kind would simply turn their backs. Like those intellectuals who refused to look into a telescope to see the evidence of the Copernican revolution, many twenty-first-century intellectuals would likewise insist that the physical sex urge is the center of human sexuality. But this is the equivalent of saying that the earth is the center of the universe.

The center and source of our sexuality is our spiritually-based being as expressed in our body. True sexual freedom is not genital-centered, but person-centered. It is the freedom to develop well, as a man or woman, by chastely receiving the energy of the sex urge for interior sexual maturation. This process is meant to re-center, in the inner “sun” of awareness, the growing person’s experience of the sex urge. In other words, some degree of spiritual, intellectual, and emotional sexual maturity is meant to precede and prepare the person either for celibacy or marriage, genital intercourse, and children.

Interior sexual maturation results from a special way of thinking about the physical sex urge. Since all nerves in the body receive their impulses from the brain, our way of thinking affects the nerves to the organs of the body, especially those related to our freedom. A re-centering in our thinking, then, affects the powers of the brain and eventually increases our sense of freedom for sexual integration.

But this re-centering cannot happen while our view of sexuality remains fixed on the physical aspect alone. By seeing our sexuality as person-based, we can deepen the premises of our traditional conclusions, and strengthen them. And so, when the earth begins to revolve around the sun in our way of thinking about our personhood, manhood, and womanhood, a true sexual revolution can begin. Pope John Paul II’s deep desire for further development in our understanding of ourselves would be on its way to fulfillment.

The author is trying to root the differences between the sexes within the soul. But she is imagining the soul to be some sort of thing which is subsequently "shaped" by being receiving the body, rather than understanding the soul as being proportioned to the body. Insofar as it is spiritual, the souls of males and females are the same. But in so far as they are proportioned to a specific body in actualizing it as the form, with certain sex organs and so on, then they are distinct. She is critical of Aristotelianism without understanding its hylomorphism. It is perhaps telling that she rejects accounts that locate the soul "in" the body, and yet she still uses the language of "inner source." A Thomist will agree that sexual freedom is not genital-centered but person-centered in so far as we have reason, and our sense appetites should be ordered by it. There are differences in the bodies of males and females and also in their behaviors - these differences are "taken up" or "ratified" by the soul but the soul does not "receive" anything as if it is somehow further actualized. (We only need to compare the souls of animals with the souls of human beings to better comprehend this, though perhaps we may need to better understand how the universal is instantiated in the individual.)

If she were merely speaking metaphorically about the soul receiving the body, it would be more acceptable, but it would also renders the account less useful as a way of understanding reality. The soul is, by definition, the form of the body - if it is present at conception then it is the formal cause of development and all of the specification and differentiation of the parts that ensue.

4. Can the gametes said to be "interacting" at fertilization? Only improperly since they no longer exist as distinct entities. There is only the conceptum, which now has the matter that was previously present in egg and sperm.

5. As a result of her premises, her account of chastity (and by implication, sin) seems excessively intellectualistic. "Interior sexual maturation results from a special way of thinking about the physical sex urge." No doubt training in chastity benefits from a proper understanding of human sexuality and its telos, and how this is ordered by love or caritas. But what Thomist would deny this? Our problem with sex does not primarily arise from an erroneous understanding of sex and the person.

Nor should a affective maturity entail a false understanding of members of the opposite sex, such as putting women on a pedestal. This stance can be harmonized with her words here, but proponents of theology of the body may be too "romantic" or "idealistic" in their understanding of relations between men and women and female sexuality.

I'll ignore her characterization of the Copernican revolution and the reaction of "conservatives" to that, for now, but it does seem inaccurate on many levels.

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