Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Evolution of Man

Yesterday, we saw how Ramban presents two different views on the soul. Plato’s view was that the human soul is a single indivisible entity, comprised of a vegetative-like power of growth, an animalistic life-force, and a rational intellect. Aristotle, on the other hand, took the position that these three components are distinct; in other words, a human being contains the growth-nature of a plant, the animate life of an animal, and has a rational intellect superimposed on top of that.

Ramban explains his reasons for preferring the latter view - reasons that we shall explore in a future post. For now, let us focus on how he sees this view as fitting in with the pesukim in Bereishis.

In his commentary to Bereishis 1:26, Ramban says that the creation of man was a joint effort, with the earth providing the animal component, and God providing the divine component. He then quotes a Midrash which says that the verse "Let the land bring forth a living spirit, according to its kind" - which, according to peshat, refers to the creation of animal life - midrashically refers to the spirit of Adam. Ramban explains that this cannot refer to the totality of Adam's spirit, since that was something divine, and thus not produced from the earth. Rather, this refers to the animalistic spirit within man - the one that made him animate. Only afterward, when he was already a walking humanoid, did he receive the divine spirit (of the rational soul). Ramban elaborate upon this idea in his commentary to Bereishis 2:7, and Seforno presents the same approach.

There are significant implications of this for evolution. True, Ramban did not believe that man is on the animal family tree. But he did believe that before man was man, he was a humanoid creature that was qualitatively not different from animals in any way whatsoever. There are thus no innate theological problems, according to Ramban, in saying that man's body evolved from other animals - since in Ramban's view, Adam himself was originally an animal.

All this also means that according to Ramban, it is possible to have someone who looks human, and is even animate, and just as alive as an animal, but who is nevertheless not human - because they lack the "rational soul."

Daniel Winkler, in "Conceptual Issues in the Determination of Death," notes that even if it possible to make a definition of personhood and to ascertain that a brain-dead person has lost personhood, there is still no clear link between loss of personhood and death: "A philosophically sophisticated defender of the heart-lung definition of death may find it perfectly consistent to say that a given patient has lost his personhood but not his life, and that after brain death there may follow a period of life during which the patient is not a person." But according to Ramban, if a person lost his personhood - which Ramban defines as his rational soul - then while he would still be alive, he would not be alive as a human, only as an animal.

To be continued...

(When submitting comments, please stick to the precise topic of the post, and don't "jump the gun." Note that this post did not argue that according to Ramban, someone who is brain-dead has lost his rational soul. We will discuss that possibility on another occasion.)

21 comments:

  1. But according to Ramban, if a person lost his personhood - which Ramban defines as his rational soul - then while he would still be alive, he would not be alive as a human, only as an animal.

    Why is the reversability of personhood the only possibility? Could Ramban perhaps hold that once personhood is attained that it cannot be fully lost, sort of in analogy to efshar l'sochto asur/Chaticha na'aseh neveilah?

    ReplyDelete
  2. "But according to Ramban, if a person lost his personhood - which Ramban defines as his rational soul"

    Seeing as the Ramban does not write in English, what is the personhood that he is defining as the rational soul. You are mixing English concepts with Hebrew concepts. Please refer to your concepts in Hebrew with an English translation.

    Personhood as far as I understand it relates to the individual. I think the Ramban is speaking more generally of humans when he speaks of the nefesh maskelet (the rational soul). It is this aspect of the soul that separates man from animals.

    ReplyDelete
  3. All this also means that according to Ramban, it is possible to have someone who looks human, and is even animate, and just as alive as an animal, but who is nevertheless not human - because they lack the "rational soul."

    I think this is too big a logical leap.

    Certainly, according to Ramban, it was possible to have such a creature during creation. But after the end of ma`aseh vreishit? I'm unconvinced.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Could Ramban perhaps hold that once personhood is attained that it cannot be fully lost, sort of in analogy to efshar l'sochto asur/Chaticha na'aseh neveilah?

    He might also hold that a nefesh habehemah can only exist without a nefesh hamaskeles on a Friday. But what reason is there to say that, or your suggestion? We see that a nefesh habehemah can exist in a person before a nefesh hamaskeles has arrived, so why shouldn't it be able to exist in a person after the nefesh hamaskeles has left?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Personhood as far as I understand it relates to the individual. I think the Ramban is speaking more generally of humans when he speaks of the nefesh maskelet (the rational soul).

    That is what Winkler meant by "personhood."

    ReplyDelete
  6. "it is possible to have someone who looks human, and is even animate, and just as alive as an animal, but who is nevertheless not human"

    All you need to do is ride the NY subway to see clear evidence of this.

    ReplyDelete
  7. But what reason is there to say that, or your suggestion? We see that a nefesh habehemah can exist in a person before a nefesh hamaskeles has arrived, so why shouldn't it be able to exist in a person after the nefesh hamaskeles has left?

    First of all, I was posing a question that should be dealt with if for no other reason than for the sake of completely addressing the possibilities.

    Secondly, it seems to me that there is as much scientific evidence that possession of a rational soul places an indelible mark on the body as there is to say that it doesn't: none. The soul is not material.

    My question from kashrut was that there we say that a reversible physical change (efshar l'sochato) produces an irreversible change of status: assur.

    Furthermore, doesn't halacha treat the dead bodies of Jew and non-Jew differently -- statuses which necessarily must be based in a non-material distinction? If we do treat them the same, it is from darkei shalom; i.e. there's still an intrinsic non-material difference. And we treat a ger like a Jew. Doesn't that demonstrate a permanent change in status with no materialistic basis at all?

    For that matter, aren't the shechitah of a Jew and non-Jew halachically different even though the carcasses could be materially identical?

    ReplyDelete
  8. The problem with looking at the Ramban in question this way is that the text doesn't necessarily support this conclusion.
    Was man assembled piece by piece, with a animal phase and then subsequent addition of the soul, or was it at the same time? If the latter then there is no case in creation of a human with a neshama.

    ReplyDelete
  9. RNS: "All this also means that according to Ramban, it is possible to have someone who looks human, and is even animate, and just as alive as an animal, but who is nevertheless not human - because they lack the "rational soul.""

    No, he is limiting this to one specific person in history (or maybe one couple). You have no reason to assume he would agree with this outside of the concept of creation.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Actually, I do have such proof, which I will be posting soon. But it really isn't necessary. It's like saying that you need proof that it can happen on a Thursday, not just on a Friday. There's nothing in Ramban's explanation which remotely indicates that a nefesh habehemah can only exist without a nefesh hamaskeles during creation. Animals have a nefesh habehemah without a nefesh hamaskeles all the time!

    ReplyDelete
  11. it seems to me that there is as much scientific evidence that possession of a rational soul places an indelible mark on the body as there is to say that it doesn't: none. The soul is not material.

    So the default position is that it does NOT indelibly bond with the body.

    Especially since it disappears after death!

    And we treat a ger like a Jew. Doesn't that demonstrate a permanent change in status with no materialistic basis at all?

    I really don't understand the objection. He has a change in his religious status, because he changed his religion!

    ReplyDelete
  12. This post reminds me of a couple dvar torahs I've heard.

    One, in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe.

    They were in a carraige, and on the side of the road some people were throwing stones at Jews. The carriage driver said to the Rebbe to get inside the carriage. The Rebbe responded that human beings do not throw stones, and therefore these people are Shadim, and a Jew has nothing to fear from a Shade.


    The other dvar Torah is that on the day before Yom Kippur, we must eat a big meal, because there is a halacha that a farmer must feed his animals before he feeds himself. Therefore, we feed our bodies, before we feed our souls on Yom Kippur, since our bodies are just animals, and it is only our Souls which are truly Human.

    The point being, that there is clearly a line of thought which says our bodies are just animal bodies, and our humanity is linked to the "rational soul"... Even in a person who is fully functional!

    ReplyDelete
  13. RNS "It's like saying that you need proof that it can happen on a Thursday, not just on a Friday."

    He is not saying it CAN happen, he is saying it DID happen and it did happen ONCE. Ramban is pretty unambiguous and explicit that he is talking about the Creation of World discuses in first chapter of Sefer Bereshis (Genesis). If you want to claim that it can be applied to any other situation, you have to prove it, not just declare it "self-evident". Looking forward to see the announced proof (which I believe should have been part of the original post).

    ReplyDelete
  14. The creation of man happened once. But I don't see why evidence would be required that the state of a nefesh habehemah without a nefesh hamaskeles can exist at other times. Animals have a nefesh habehemah without a nefesh hamaskeles all the time!

    (Reuven Meir - I didn't post your comment, because you guessed tomorrow's post!)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm sure you're aware of this already, but this is precisely how the evidence of the existence of cave men is reconciled with Torah. They were soul-less humanoids.

    ReplyDelete
  16. RNS "But I don't see why evidence would be required that the state of a nefesh habehemah without a nefesh hamaskeles can exist at other times."

    And therefore a person with a severe retardation is not human?

    C'mon, Ramban states that the basic process of creation of Man (Adam haRishon) was the acquisition of nefesh hamaskeles (an upgrade from animals). Saying that in later times a human can be downgraded to animal status without such level of soul is putting words in his mouth.

    Humans can not become non-humans, even if one of the simanim is in one particular individual missing. You go by species, not by abnormal individuals.

    ReplyDelete
  17. And therefore a person with a severe retardation is not human?

    I wish people would read my post. I specifically wrote: "When submitting comments, please stick to the precise topic of the post, and don't "jump the gun." Note that this post did not argue that according to Ramban, someone who is brain-dead has lost his rational soul. We will discuss that possibility on another occasion."

    Saying that in later times a human can be downgraded to animal status without such level of soul is putting words in his mouth.

    According to Ramban, it is possible for a Homo sapiens to have an animal soul but not a human soul. There is no reason to assume that they must depart simultaneously.

    Humans can not become non-humans, even if one of the simanim is in one particular individual missing. You go by species, not by abnormal individuals.

    According to Ramban, it's not a siman - it's a sibah.

    ReplyDelete
  18. RNS: "Note that this post did not argue that according to Ramban, someone who is brain-dead has lost his rational soul."

    Lets see:

    "But according to Ramban, if a person lost his personhood - which Ramban defines as his rational soul - then while he would still be alive, he would not be alive as a human, only as an animal."

    Where did he lost it? On the subway? Of course you are not talking about brain death...

    "According to Ramban, it is possible for a Homo sapiens to have an animal soul but not a human soul. There is no reason to assume that they must depart simultaneously."

    Again, do they depart just for the lunch-break? No connection with brain-death v. cardiac death issue?

    Don't you claim that such a Homo Sapiens is not human?

    "according to Ramban, it is possible to have someone who looks human...but who is nevertheless not human - because they lack the "rational soul."

    Are you not saying that Ramban means: no rational soul = not human?

    ReplyDelete
  19. Reading the comments on a lot of these posts, and how they conflate kabbalistic mystical conceptions of Jewishness, personhood, etc. with the real thing, reminds me why I avoided learning mahshava in yeshiva.

    ReplyDelete
  20. No connection with brain-death v. cardiac death issue?

    Obviously that is what I am working towards! But I haven't reached that stage of the argument yet. When I do, feel free to dispute it. This stage of the argument is just that according to Ramban, if a person, in whatever way, did not have his rational soul, then while he would still be alive, he would not be alive as a human, only as an animal.

    Are you not saying that Ramban means: no rational soul = not human?

    Absolutely.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "Reading the comments on a lot of these posts, and how they conflate kabbalistic mystical conceptions of Jewishness, personhood, etc. with the real thing, reminds me why I avoided learning mahshava in yeshiva."

    What do you mean by confuse with the real thing?
    We are in the middle of a discussion of legal fiction. Do you mean real halacha? R. Slifkin is the one who is suggesting that agadatah is valid for halachic discussion.

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.