Aquinas on human life after death

Silas Nacer Langley, Fordham University


Many have looked to Aquinas for help in developing a philosophically defensible position which affirms both personal survival after death and the centrality of the body to personal identity. But, as evidenced by conflicting contemporary interpretations of his texts, his views on human survival after death are not altogether clear. I argue for a particular interpretation of Aquinas' views on our survival after death and then argue that his views, so interpreted, are viable options today. The first two chapters put Aquinas' views in context by briefly narrating Christian discussions of the resurrected body and philosophical discussions of immortality up to Aquinas. The third chapter explores Aquinas' view that the human person essentially consists of both soul and body and argues that, for Aquinas, human personal identity over time requires both sameness of soul and sameness of body. The fourth chapter argues that the numerical identity of the separated soul depends on its past and potentially future relation to its body and on its continued existence, which in turn depends on its engagement in intellectual activity of some kind. The fifth chapter explores whether Aquinas held the view that the numerical identity of the body is preserved solely by being informed by the same soul even if there is no material continuity whatever. Ultimately, I argue that Aquinas held to the end the view that sameness of body also requires material continuity. Chapter six switches from interpretation to analysis and argues that, given his overall physical and metaphysical views, Aquinas can only consistently hold a weak version of material continuity that does not require preservation of the very same material particles as the original body. Chapter seven defends Aquinas' views on human life after death, and his requirement for material continuity in particular, against various objections which come from contemporary philosophical literature on personal identity and the afterlife.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Langley, Silas Nacer, "Aquinas on human life after death" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3045131.