If we want to talk about the immortality of the soul, we are immediately confronted with all kinds of problems.
For instance, we not only have to decide whether the soul dies, but what death is, that is if we want to rationally examine this question!
But further, we already have put the question problematically. Perhaps it would have been better to ask:
- Is man immortal?
- Does man die?
But such a question immediately shows itself to be absurd. For we all know that men, all men, die. Yet how do we know this? Do we know this by deductive logic. Certainly not, we cannot prove by deductive logic that every man will die, that is without assuming the conclusion (that all men are mortal). Do we know it by induction? That would be problematic. Inductive logic lends itself to likelihood, to probability. All cows are brown because every cow I have ever seen is brown. But then one day, I meet a Jersey cow and my mind is blown. I guess all cows are not brown. Perhaps all men are not mortal.
But how long would a person have to live to prove this to me? And how long would I have to live? What property does immortality present over and above ongoing life?
Here are a few considerations which might clarify a discussion on death:
- If you ask whether man dies, do you mean the just the soul?
- If you mean the composite, that is the person as he is in this life, do you mean that both body and soul die?
- Is there a reason we could argue that bodies made of parts were always open to the possibility of mortality, even if that we not their intended end (purpose)?
- As Thomas points out, man was “placed” in the garden and given fruit to eat. Do these suggest that the state of grace was inherent to man or something given to him as a gift over and above the power of his nature?
- Finally, if you imagine the soul itself dying, what might that look like? What makes a thing die or cease to be in this life and how could we apply that to a soul. For instance, a kite ceases to be a kite when I tear it in half. Water ceases to be drinking water when I put mud in it. A tree ceases to be a tree when you sever it from its roots. What would you do to a soul to get it to stop being a soul?
The bible itself speaks of man in a multi-vocal manner, as the person, the soul, the embodied being. Which is correct? Or if they are all correct, is one of them most properly the person?
This is why only one of the reasons we read De Anima and Phaedo. In them, we rediscover some of the richest thinking about the human soul: what it is and what its destiny might be!