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The ontological status of the soul is a question Khajeh Nasir al-Din Tusi takes up at  Book I, ch.II of his Akhlaq-i Nasiri. I want to here briefly look at the argument he adduces. The conclusion Tusi seeks for is that the soul is indeed a substance and not an accident (of any sort). The basis on which he draws this conclusion, and which he takes as sufficient evidence to justify the judgment that the soul cannot be an accident, is the incongruity he perceives between what is essential to all accidentality and what is essential to the soul. After presenting the argument, I will then raise a number of shobbohat against it, all of which I’ll leave unanswered for the time being.

Here then is Tusi’s argument in full:

I say that every existent that is, save the Necessary Being (be He exalted and sanctified!), is either a substance or an accident. The demonstration thereof, apt to this occasion, is as follows. (In the case of) every existent that is (one of two situations arises): either its existence can be consequent on another existent being, other than itself, which existent being is independent in itself, e.g., blackness, which inheres in a body, or the shape of a bed, which is a consequence of the existence of wood; for if the body be not, blackness cannot be, and if wood (or some substitute) be not, the form of a bed cannot be. Such an existent being is called ‘accident’. Or it may be otherwise: (the existent being) can in itself have independence, without consequence to another independent [being], like the body and the wood in the aforementioned examples. Such is called a ‘substance’. This division having been established, I say: it is not the case that the essence and reality of man should be an accident; for the property of an accident is that it should be predicated of, and received by, another thing, which itself has independence, thus to be the sustainer and recipient of that accident. In this manner, the essence of man is the sustainer and recipient of the forms of the intelligibles and the ideas of things perceived, one form and idea constantly appearing therein while another passes away; and such a property is contrary to accidentality. Thus the soul cannot be an accident; but since it is not an accident, it being evident that an existent being is either a substance or an accident, therefore the soul is a substance.

The above proof can be syllogistically formulated in at least two ways, call them (a) and (b). Both ways, I think, amount to the same thing, the difference only being that one of them (i.e., (a)) explicitly introduces a term which is only implicit in Tusi’s actual text. Although I’ll state both ways, only proofs for the premises of (b) will be provided as its wording is closer to that of Tusi’s text itself. The two formulations are:

(a) Every finite existent is either a substance or an accident
The soul is not an accident
Therefore, the soul is a substance

(b) Every existent, except the Necessary Being, is either a substance or an     accident
The soul is not an accident
Therefore, the soul is a substance

Proof of the major: the existence of every existent, as Tusi says, is either “consequent on another existent being, other than itself, which existent being is independent in itself, […], [s]uch an existent being is called ‘accident’. Or it may be otherwise: (the existent being) can in itself have independence, without consequence to another independent [being], […], [s]uch [an existent] is called a ‘substance’.” Proof of the minor: As Tusi says, the “property of an accident is that it should be predicated of, and received by, another thing, which itself has independence [in being], [and as a result can] thus be the sustainer and recipient of that accident. [But] the [soul] is the sustainer and recipient of the forms of the intelligibles and the ideas of things perceived, one form and idea constantly appearing therein while another passes away; and such a property is contrary to accidentality.” And the conclusion would then follow, namely, that the soul cannot be an accident and is therefore a substance.

Having said all that, let’s now state some objections to the argument as it stands:

obj 1. Someone may take issue with formulation (a), saying it contains a hidden premise i.e., ‘the soul is finite’. So, unless this premise can be proven, the conclusion will not follow.

obj 2. Someone may say formulation (b) too contains a hidden premise i.e., ‘the soul is not the Necessary Being’. As with (a), the conclusion will not be established unless this is proven.

obj 3. Someone may deny the minor by objecting that the soul is the form of the body. As such, it is not a substance but a constituent (i.e., formal) part of a complete substance i.e., the soul-body composite that is an individual man. Now a part of a substance is not itself a substance.

obj 4. Someone may also deny the minor by disputing its proof, saying that the soul is not in fact the receptacle of the intelligibles but rather the composite (i.e., soul and body) is. If the composite is the receptacle, then the reason the soul was thought to be a substance is undermined. Hence, it cannot then be considered a substance.

obj 5. Again someone may deny the minor, this time, as a sort of variation on the 3rd objection, by noting that the receptacle of the soul is primary matter. After all, it is the combination of primary matter with form that gives rise to particular material substances (e.g., man). Hence, insofar as prime matter receives the soul, the soul as a consequence will be characterized by that property of all accidents which Tusi mentions above and which is so crucial to his argument. As such, it will be an accident (i.e., of prime matter), not a substance.

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