Thomistic hylomorphism and the phenomenology of self-sensing
Spencer, Mark Kenneth
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In this study I show that self-sensing, that is, the experience of one's body from the inside, as described by some phenomenologists, is evidence for Thomas Aquinas' hylomorphist metaphysics of the human person. Thomistic hylomorphism is the theory that human persons are unified substances composed of an immaterial form or soul and matter, where the form structures the matter, is the root of its powers, and is subsistent. While some argue that our subjective experience is evidence for a theory of what we are such as a form of dualism or non-reductive materialism, I show that our experiences of our bodies, when phenomenologically examined, are evidence that we are composed of matter and a subsistent soul that is also the form of our bodies. In this study I fulfill the appeal by analytic Thomists David Braine and John Haldane to incorporate phenomenological data into Thomistic hylomorphism. I synthesize the descriptions of self-sensing given by four phenomenologists who are often considered to be at odds with one another: Max Scheler, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas, and Michel Henry. I contribute to work on methodology in philosophy, demonstrating that phenomenology both provides evidence for metaphysics and requires metaphysics as a foundation, and showing that Aquinas' methodology compares favorably to methodologies used in contemporary metaphysics, especially when it comes to accounting for our experience. The study is divided into four parts. The first part motivates the study by reviewing work already done on this topic, related questions, and objections to hylomorphism that have been raised by contemporary philosophers. These objections center on the idea of "form"; it is objected, for example, that the notion of form is vague, tries to do too much, is self-contradictory, or is opposed by science. Objections to the combination of phenomenology and metaphysics are also raised. In later chapters I show that these objections can be defeated by a phenomenologically-supported hylomorphism. In this first chapter, Thomistic and phenomenological methods are examined and compared to those of contemporary metaphysics. I demonstrate that Thomistic hylomorphism is a more experientially-based theory than other medieval hylomorphisms and that the work of my four chosen phenomenologists is truer to our experience than the work of some other phenomenologists, such as Edmund Husserl. In the second part, I present in detail Aquinas' accounts of human powers and of the nature of the human person. Here I make it clear, through a review of further objections, that this theory requires greater evidence than has been provided by other thinkers. In the third part, I present, critique, and synthesize descriptions of the experience of self-sensing. In self-sensing we have a tacit sense where our limbs are, what we are feeling and sensing, what we are able to do, and of our subjective interiority. In this experience we are aware of our bodies as being both experiencing subjects and as material objects, and we are aware of being able to subjectively transcend all consideration of our material bodies. I show that this experience is a necessary condition for other experiences and so it indicates our nature more than other experiences do. I demonstrate that our experiential and scientifically-describable aspects are closely related but irreducible to one another, and that, contrary to what some phenomenologists think, the phenomenology of self-sensing indicates the need for metaphysical account to explain this experience. In synthesizing the four accounts, I perform my own phenomenological analysis of the experience, so as to show which aspects of each account are correct and incorrect, and how the four accounts are compatible with one another. In the fourth part, I show that Thomistic hylomorphism answers well the question of what we must metaphysically be to have the experience of self-sensing. The structure of self-sensing is evidence that a human person is a material body with powers rooted in a form, which structures but transcends the body. I show that phenomenological accounts of self-sensing cohere with Aquinas' account of self-awareness and with his view of our powers in general. I demonstrate that phenomenologically-supported hylomorphism can refute objections to hylomorphism.