About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Monday, August 29, 2005
The case of the Catholic cannibal
Anyway, one of the thought experiments concerns the consequences of considering a Catholic cannibal, and was originally advanced by Thomas Aquinas in his "Summa Contra Gentiles." The problem is this: if the cannibal eats only human flesh, every physical part of his body "belongs" to someone else; if so, what happens to the latter person, as well as the cannibal, when the end of time comes, and -- according to most Christians -- there will be a bodily resurrection of everyone (including the damned, since they need a body to enjoy the torments of Hell)?
Indeed, as Cohen points out, this is a serious problem because it isn't limited to the rather extreme case of cannibals. Since we now know (while Aquinas didn't) that human beings are part of the complex terrestrial ecosystem, all our bodies are in fact made of "recycled" materials, many of which have passed through other people's bodies before!
Aquinas "solved" the problem by stating that the resurrection of the body doesn't depend on bodily matter, but this surely opens the way to even more theological trouble (what kind of "body" would we then have at resurrection? Made of what? And why bother with a body if it isn't the original thing?). Origen suggested that perhaps we can have our resurrection and eat it too, so to speak, because what we need is a body with the exact same structure, not one made of the same particles. This is possible because Origen espouses the Socratic-Platonic view that the soul's existence is independent of the body. But the third member of the original philosophical "dream team," Aristotle (a student of Plato, who in turn was a student of Socrates), rejected this possibility -- essentially agreeing with most modern philosophers of mind who stick to the "no ectoplasm" clause: whatever consciousness (the modern term for soul?) is, no body/brain means no consciousness. After all, when was the last time you saw a disembodied soul walking around? Or do we have to wait until resurrection time for that?