Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

FOR two years the Catholic Church in Scotland has been offering material help to pregnant girls, so that they keep rather than abort their child. Aristotle (4th century Bc) can take part of the credit or (if you prefer) the blame for this position. He first raised the question, `When does life begin?'

Aristotle is a materialist and divides the natural world into two categories -- things which are animate and things which are not. The animate categories are distinguished by the fact of having a 'soul' (Greek psukhe, Latin anima) or 'animator' (it being hard to think of a carrot as having a soul). A soul, he says, `is the fulfilment of a natural body that has organs': in other words, a soul is a prerequisite of a functioning body. No soul, no capacity to function. But what sort of functions? Aristotle homes in on four - nutrition, perception, movement and reason - and establishes a broad hierarchy of animated existence, each level adding to the one below: nutritional (vegetables), perceptual and locomotional (animals), and rational (man).

So souls are not physical: they are sets of capacities or faculties. Further, if this is the case, souls cannot exist separately from bodies (any more than 'walking' can exist separately from 'feet'). …

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