March 30, 2013

Pietro Pomponazzi - On the Immortality of the Soul

The Philosophy and Psychology of Pietro Pomponazzi by Andrew Halliday Douglas (2011).

Pietro Pomponazzi (16 September 1462 – 18 May 1525) was an Italian philosopher.

Pomponazzi is profoundly interesting as the herald of the Renaissance. He was born in the period of transition when scholastic formalism was losing its hold over men both in the Church and outside. Hitherto the dogma of the Church had been based on Aristotle as interpreted by Thomas Aquinas. So close was this identification that any attack on Aristotle, or even an attempt to reopen the old discussions on the Aristotelian problems, was regarded as a dangerous heresy. Pomponazzi claimed the right to study Aristotle for himself, and devoted himself to the De anima with the view of showing that Thomas Aquinas had entirely misconceived the Aristotelian theory of the active and the passive intellect.

In On the Immortality of the Soul Pomponazzi argued specifically that Aquinas and Aristotle clash over the question of the immortality of the soul. While Pomponazzi himself does not follow Aristotle in this respect, he argues that Aristotle very clearly argues for the absolute mortality of the soul, with only limited features of immortality. He was not the first to make this claim, and appears to have been influenced by the Greek commentator on Aristotle, Alexander of Aphrodisias. He further claims that the immortality of the soul cannot be determined through reason, and thus must be left to the powers of God. Since the scriptures reveal that God has made the soul immortal, argued Pomponazzi, we too can accept as true the immortality of the soul and thereby go beyond the limits of reason.
Below is Pietro Pomponazzi's 1516 essay, "On the Immortality of the Soul," in full. Source: The Portable Renaissance Reader. Edited by James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin. 1953. The Viking Press: New York. Pg. 392-395. As sourced at the end of the essay in the book: From "On the Immortality of the Soul," trans. by W. H. Hay II in E. Cassirer et al., The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948).
Now I hold that the beginning of our consideration should be made at this point. Man is clearly not of simple but of multiple, not of certain but of ambiguous (ancipitis) nature, and he is to be placed as a mean between mortal and immortal things. This is plain to see if we examine his essential operations, as it is from such operations that essences are made known. For in performing the functions of the vegetative and of the sensitive soul, which, as is said in De anima, Book II, and in De generatione animalium, Book II, chapter 3, cannot be performed without a bodily and perishable instrument, man assumes mortality. However, in knowing and willing, operations which throughout the whole De anima and in De partibus animalium, Book I, chapter 1, and in De generatione animalium, Book II, chapter 3, are held to be performed without any bodily instrument, since they prove separability and immateriality, and these in turn prove immortality, man is to be numbered among the immortal things. From these facts the whole conclusion can be drawn, that man is clearly not of a simple nature, since he includes three souls, so to speak---the vegetative, the sensitive, and the intellective---and that he claims a twofold nature for himself, since he exists neither unqualifiedly (simpliciter) mortal nor unqualifiedly immortal but embraces both natures.

Therefore the ancients spoke well when they established man between eternal and temporal things for the reason that he is neither purely eternal nor purely temporal, since he partakes of both natures. And to man, who thus exists as a mean between the two, power is given to assume whichever nature he wishes. Hence there are three kinds of men to be found. Some are numbered with the gods, although such are but few. And these are the men who, having subjugated the vegetative and the sensitive, have become almost completely rational. Some from total neglect of the intellect and from occupying themselves with the vegetative and the sensitive alone, have changed as it were, into beasts. And perhaps this is what the Pythagorean fable means when it says that men's souls pass into different beasts. Some are called normal men; and these are the ones who have lived tolerably according to the moral virtues. They have not, however, devoted themselves entirely to the intellect or held entirely aloof from the bodily powers. Each of these two latter sorts has a wide range, as is plain to see. With this agrees what is said in the Psalm: "Thou hast made him but a little lower than the angels," etc. . . .

And it must be considered that many men have thought the soul mortal who nevertheless have written that it is immortal. But they did so on account of the proneness to evil of men who have little or no intellect, and neither knowing nor loving the goods of the soul devote themselves to bodily things alone. Whence it is necessary to cure them by devices of this sort, just as the physician acts towards the sick man and the nurse towards the child lacking reason.

By these reasons, I think, other points also can be resolved. For although it is commonly said that, if the soul is mortal, man ought to give himself over completely to bodily pleasures, commit all evils for his own advantage, and that it would be vain to worship God, to honour the divine, to pour forth prayers to God, to make sacrifices, and do other things of this sort, the answer is clear enough from what has been said. For since happiness is naturally desired and misery shunned, and by what has been said happiness consists in virtuous action, but misery in vicious action, since to worship God with the whole mind, to honour the divine, to raise prayers to God, to sacrifice are actions in the highest degree virtuous, we ought hence to strive with all our powers to acquire them. But on the contrary, thefts, robberies, murders, a life of pleasures are vices, which make man turn into a beast and cease to be a man; hence we ought to abstain from them. And note that one who acts conscientiously, expecting no other reward than virtue, seems to act far more virtuously and purely than he who expects some reward beyond virtue. And he who shuns vice on account of the foulness of vice, not because of the fear of due punishment for vice, seems more to be praised than he who avoids vice on account of the fear of punishment, as in the verses:

The good hate sin from love of virtue,
The evil hate sin from fear of punishment.

Wherefore those who claim that the soul is mortal seem better to save the grounds of virtue than those who claim it to be immortal. For the hope of reward and the fear of punishment seem to suggest a certain servility, which is contrary to the grounds of virtue, etc. . . .

Now since these things are so, it seems to me that in this matter, keeping the saner view, we must say that the question of the immortality of the soul is a neutral problem, like that of the eternity of the world. For it seems to me that no natural reason can be brought forth proving that the soul is immortal, and still less any proving that the soul is mortal, as very many scholars who hold it immortal declare. Wherefore I do not want to make answer to the other side, since others do so, St. Thomas in particular, clearly, fully, and weightily. Wherefore we shall say, as Plato said in the Laws I, that to be certain of anything, when many are in doubt, is for God alone. Since therefore such famous men disagree with each other, I think that this can be made certain only through God. . . .

Wherefore, if any arguments seem to prove the mortality of the soul, they are false and merely seeming, since the first light and the first truth show the opposite. But if any seem to prove its immortality, they are true and clear, but not light and truth. Wherefore this way alone is most firm, unshaken, and lasting; the rest are untrustworthy.