The Aquinas Institute is delighted to announce the publication of our 35th volume in St. Thomas’s Opera Omnia, Aquinas’s commentaries on three works of Aristotle: On the Soul, On Sense and Sensation, and On Memory and Recollection.
Aquinas’s commentary on On the Soul, or De Anima, was the first commentary he wrote on one of Aristotle’s works, and it is not hard to see why he chose this as his starting point. He begins his commentary by highlighting De Anima’s importance to metaphysics, to moral philosophy and ethics, and to natural science (Commentary on De Anima, Bk. 1, L. 1, 7).
From where we sit, we can see De Anima’s importance to the history of philosophy, Church teaching on virtue, and current discussions of human dignity and sexuality.
Plato’s characterization of the soul as something divine that needs release from the body resonates with our intuitions. Who can deny that the body interferes with the soul’s highest and best activities? The experience of the body as a dead weight on the soul has misled even such great minds as St. Augustine, drawing him into Manichaeism.
Aristotle’s correction that the soul is the first act of the body gives us the fundamental principle for showing that a human person is one integrated whole. At the same time, Aristotle proves the immortality of the soul by addressing those activities of soul that are not worked through the body.
In this one Aristotelian treatise (whose themes are developed and explored in the other two treatises in this volume), we find the keys for unlocking the current debates about human dignity and sexuality. The soul as form of the body is the fundamental principle underlying Christian anthropology, and forms the foundation for St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
All of us living in this Cartesian age grow accustomed to thinking of our bodies as animated machines—machines that function better or worse, subject to innumerable material factors.
De Anima reminds us that the human person is one whole, and the soul is actively making the body what it is. This means that, among other things, the quality of the body’s functioning does not determine a human being’s “quality of life,” and it is completely irrelevant to that person’s worth or dignity.