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.)