Via First Things, I found out about this frustrating piece by Charles Krauthammer. Before I get to a discussion of "substance," I want to pause a bit to talk about just how silly Krauthammer is being. First, as Matthew J. Franck points out, there is no "profound disagreement" about when "ensoulment" takes place which lies behind opposition to pro-life efforts. Nor is there any such profound disagreement in the pro-life camp. As a sheer sociological matter, Krauthammer's reference to "profound disagreement" on "ensoulment" is nonsense on stilts. As Franck says, on the pro-choice side there are "sophisticated pseudo-arguments purporting to complicate the question whether, and when, we can call these human beings 'persons' with a right not to be killed by others." But these do not arise from theological hangups about ensoulment. Far from it. Usually they arise from a naturalistic idea that man is not special but rather is just another animal and that it is "speciesist" to treat membership in the human race as per se conferring value.
Another point that Franck doesn't get to is Krauthammer's weird ideas about democratic process. Krauthammer makes the following convoluted suggestion:
[R]egarding early abortions, the objective should be persuasion — creating some future majority —rather than legislative coercion in the absence of a current majority. These are the constraints of a democratic system.
Thanks for the civics lecture, Dr. Krauthammer, but it seems that it is you who needs a review on the subject of democratic process. Please tell us in what state of the union or under what constitutional provision pro-lifers could possibly engage in "legislative coercion in the absence of a current majority"? How is that supposed to work, precisely? And what is its connection to the lack of consensus in America over legislation and early abortion? Please be specific. Because last time I looked, legislation has to be passed by a majority of legislators, so regardless of whether we are trying to protect unborn children early or late in pregnancy, "legislative coercion" is going to happen only if, y'know, a majority of legislators vote for it. So Krauthammer just appears not to know what he's talking about.
I also note in passing that Krauthammer's airy advice to focus on late-term abortion and "get it banned" ignores the little problem of Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court. To read Krauthammer, anyone would think pro-lifers have been sitting around like a bunch of dummies for the past forty-one years doing nothing effective because no one ever suggested to them trying to ban late-term abortions. I'm sure pro-life activists will all rise up upon reading Krauthammer's column, slap themselves on the foreheads, and say, "Why didn't I think of that?" Then we can just march on out there and ban late-term abortions coast to coast, and it will all be due to the sapience of Krauthammer. Let me know when to contact my legislator on the proposed ban, Dr. Krauthammer, and then please tell us what is going to happen when the pro-aborts sue under Roe within a nanosecond.
But let's go back to that ensoulment issue. I have recently had a debate in a private forum with someone who isn't in fact a naturalist but does believe that those without "sufficient" brains are not persons and bases this upon something like the "ensoulment" argument. This is unusual, as Franck points out, because, although pro-aborts often try to muddy the waters (as Krauthammer tellingly does) by throwing around the word "ensoulment," real debates about when a soul or mind "enters" an unborn child are rarely actually relevant to the pro-life debate. Most of the pro-aborts don't believe in souls anyway.
It is, in fact, a good thing for pro-lifers to recognize that the "ensoulment" question is for the most part a distraction from the pro-life argument. The pro-lifer should usually be arguing from the fact that the unborn child is a human being and that it is self-evident that all human beings have value and that innocent human beings should not be killed.
But then there are the personhood theorists, a la Peter Singer, who will say that human beings don't all have value. And just once in a great while, one comes upon a personhood theorist who borrows Singer's baloney about "speciesism" but who, unlike Singer, actually believes in the mind or soul and actually believes that early embryos (and some developed human beings) don't have one. Again, it should be a reductio of any position if it entails that it isn't wrong to kill infants, even those with "not enough brain," but if someone is genuinely worried by the metaphysics, it doesn't hurt to have a compelling account to give in reply.
So, as to metaphysics. I myself am not a hylemorphist and do accept that the mind and the body are different "types of stuff," for which the word "substance" might as well be used. Scripture teaches that God is a spirit (obviously, apart from the Incarnation), so entirely immaterial beings are possible. And rocks, presumably, are entirely material entities. So matter can exist without mind and mind can exist without matter. Christian doctrine also teaches that our minds/souls will exist disembodied between our deaths and the resurrection. I believe that my disembodied existence will be my own existence, so apparently I can exist without a body.
So far so good. A problem can arise, however, if one takes this notion that my mind is a different "kind of stuff" from my body to mean that each one of us normal members of homo sapiens is literally composed of two beings--the mind, on the one hand, and the "human animal" or body, on the other. But here the interactive dualist should call foul. "Two substances" is not at all the same thing as "two beings."
By analogy, consider water. Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen and oxygen are two different kinds of atoms, and each can exist apart from the other. But water exists only when they come together. Water, a composite substance made up of both hydrogen and oxygen, has properties that neither hydrogen nor oxygen has by itself.
Similarly, a disembodied human mind is, in an important sense, not a full-orbed and normal human being. A disembodied human soul is the soul of a human being waiting for a new body in a state which is not the state God originally intended it to have. (The actual separation of the human mind and body, which we call death, was the result of the Fall.) And a human body without any human soul, all our evidence indicates, simply dies and decays. (Newsflash: Zombies aren't real.) So a human being is a composite entity, like water, made up of two "types of stuff" which are intimately bonded and intimately interact in ways so incredibly complex as to make the chemical bonds that create water look like a baby puzzle by comparison. This interactive composite entity, a man, a human being, is normally able to do all kinds of things--he talks, sings, enjoys food and music, sleeps, contemplates sunsets, helps and harms other embodied beings, and conceives children. And he is enabled to do these things precisely because he is in his natural state an embodied being. The interaction of mind and body brings properties, such as the property of being able to conceive a child in a uniquely human way involving both mind and body, into existence that would not come into being if mind and body were always separate.
This is what I call "taking interaction seriously." Being a substance dualist doesn't have to mean not taking interaction seriously, and it certainly shouldn't mean considering oneself to be literally two entities, two beings, that "just happen" to be connected. The human mind was meant for the human body, and the human body was meant for the human mind. That is why their interaction is, under normal circumstances, so seamless and natural. It is highly doubtful that it would be meaningful to refer to a being that is not only disembodied but was never meant to be embodied in the first place as "me." It is essential to the nature of my soul that it is the type of soul that is meant to be connected to a human body. That is what makes it a human soul rather than, say, an angelic soul or the soul of some disembodied alien species.
Once we take embodiment seriously and take seriously the nature of a human being as a mind-body entity, we should see the problem with worries about "ensoulment" or worries that a person in a long-term coma has "lost" his soul. Such proposals involve ignoring the fact that the unborn child or the comatose patient is a living human being. And if he is a human being, then he is the kind of being that by nature is a mind-body composite.
Here, too, the pro-life arguments from continuity come into play: Since the unborn child belongs to the same natural kind--the species homo sapiens--from the moment of conception throughout its development, it would be arbitrary to pick some magical point along the way and say, "This is the point where it comes to have a soul or a mind." Why think that such an arbitrary point exists, since it is manifestly the same kind of being all along?
Normally the answer has something to do with brain development or the probability of present consciousness. But here, again, pro-lifers have a long-standing relevant comeback--sleep and anesthesia. Evidently present consciousness and brain function sustaining such consciousness are not necessary for having a mind. I have a mind even when the brain function of sustaining consciousness has been switched off by anesthesia. My mind is simply asleep or unconscious--gone off-line, if you will. If brain function is not a necessary condition for having a mind, why should developed specific brain structures be a necessary condition in the type of being that we know to be like ourselves, a human being, hence, naturally a mind-body composite? It is plausible that those who have suffered severe brain damage or unborn children who have not developed very far do not have present consciousness, that they are like us when we are asleep or unconscious. But we have already established that present consciousness is not necessary for being a personal being with a mind. What ought to matter is what kind of being we are talking about. When the kind of being is a human being, there is every reason to take that being to "have a soul" or to "have a mind" throughout his life from conception to biological death.
So if you're one of those rare people whose commitment to the pro-life cause, perhaps for the unborn or perhaps for the severely mentally disabled, is shaky simply because you are worried that maybe this or that human being "doesn't have a mind," I invite you to draw the one reasonable conclusion: He does.