Body and Soul. Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics

Written by J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae Reviewed By Andy Draycott

The concern of the authors is to uphold the importance of human nature for questions of ethics. In this they specifically mean a metaphysical description of the individual human as person. They wish to counter views that reduce personhood to materialist definition coterminous with some or other qualitative reading of physiological phenomena. Equally deficient in their view is the increasingly popular Christian compatibilism which allows personhood to be untethered freely from bodily reality as a separate criteria of conscious identity—clearly potentially problematic for discussions of beginning and end of life issues.

The book is divided in two parts, 1: metaphysical reflections on human personhood, and 2: ethical reflections of human personhood. We open with a chapter that establishes a framework for approaching human personhood. This allows a brief survey of biblical material leading the authors to conclude that what is needed is a Thomistic version of substance dualism—which is nevertheless functionally holistic. By this they mean to defend a traditional account of body-soul dualism, using exegesis that points to the existence of immaterial beings in an intermediate state, meaning that a human is always a person, but that a person is essentially defined as a soul rather than a body. Chapters two to six explore in highly philosophical detail the arguments for and against this substance-dualism.

Part two relates the metaphysical stance to questions about the status of the unborn with regard to abortion, fetal research, reproductive and genetic technologies, as well as end of life issues of care and physician assisted suicide.

This reviewer is unconvinced. Despite the intricacy of the arguments we might demur initially over the scriptural interpretation in chapter one. We might suspect that the philosophical framework that drives the bulk of the book is actually driving the exegesis. Further, despite the occasional claim throughout that the authors are giving us a theological and philosophical treatment, this book is very thin on theology. (Indeed, even as a work of natural theology we are told that ‘our conclusions about personhood are consistent with but not dependent upon our theological views’ (241).) An initial chapter of proof-texting just will not do. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating then, whatever one makes of the intricacies of the metaphysical arguments as they stand alone, the weakness of section two can only undermine the former. For example, it is incredible that a Christian treatment of reproductive technologies has nothing to say by way of critique of these technologies per se. A casuistry of how Christians might negotiate the minefield blatantly cries out for prior theological reflection of the whole area. Should the minefield be entered at all? Is infertility a disease that intervention ought to cure? Whatever our answer we should be surprised that the questions are never asked here. It simply does not do to limit discussion by addressing only those specific issues of personhood that the substance-dualism view raises, as the authors plead. Precisely because personhood becomes a matter of individual possession we lose a whole perspective of gift and thanksgiving, or relationality on a vertical and horizontal plain that properly should have a place in a theological description of the creature ascreature. The staunch defence of thomistic substance-dualism is actually fatally imprisoned in the modern individualism that it purports to escape in retreating to an earlier source.

Andy Draycott

Andy Draycott
Biola University
La Mirada, California, USA