Transgenderism and Philosophy | Vancouver Island Christian News

by Roy Wiebe

    What is implied when someone claims that he is biologically male but identifies as female? The self is being distinguished from the body, and the self, not the body, determines identity. Hence, if the self feels female, identifies as female, the biological male with such a self is female.

     Given this perspective, what is the self and how does it relate to body?  Clearly the self is not the body, not something material but immaterial that is contained in the body. An immaterial something in which the psyche, emotions, thoughts are grounded. Or to use old terminology – the human soul. And this “soul” resides in the body like a driver in a car. Just as the car doesn’t define the driver, so the body doesn’t define the self. And just as a driver can change cars, so can the self, or soul, change bodies.

     But is the human soul’s relation to the body like that of a driver to a car? Plato thought so, Aristotle disagreed. Both thought there was a soul and that it could survive the death of the body. But Plato also believed the self, or person with his unique identity, survived the separation of soul from body at death. And this unique identity did not require a body. The self and the soul were one. Hence he believed in the transmigration of souls in the sense that when YOU die YOU could occupy another body. 

     Why did Plato believe in the transmigration of souls? After death we survive as complete immaterial beings with the identity we had before death. We do not need another body. We are spiritual beings and can enjoy the bliss of heaven. Except if we are still attached to the material world, in which case we are drawn back into another body. Thus for Plato the body was something inferior to the soul, something that degraded the soul, that prevented us for attaining our highest, true destiny. Thus for Plato not only did the soul not need a body but a body united to a soul was bad for the soul. 

     Aristotle disagreed. He thought it possible that the human soul could survive physical death since it was immaterial. Nonetheless, it was of such a nature that it needed to be united to a body. It cannot stand alone and be complete. So does the soul really survive death even in this incomplete way? This ties our self identity to our bodies before and after death. Maybe after death WE don’t survive but only an impersonal, radically incomplete soul? 

     He was left with a mystery reason alone could not solve. He needed Christian revelation: the resurrection of our particular body. God designed our souls such that our self identity is maintained after death when our resurrected body is united with our soul. This is our highest destiny, our perfection as human beings, our supreme good. The doctrine of the resurrection is thus profoundly incompatible with Plato’s understanding of the soul-body relationship. Likewise since our bodies are intrinsically either male or female, the doctrine of the resurrection is incompatible with trans ideology. 

    But to get back to philosophy, the conflict between Aristotle’s and Plato’s views of the soul is related to Plato’s theory of forms, which Aristotle rejected. Both Plato and Aristotle believed material things were a combination of matter and “form.” By form they did not mean the shape of a thing but the attributes that determine it to be what it is. Matter in itself is pure potential, form is the activation of this potential. But for Plato these forms did not exist only in things but in a reality separate from the material world,  in some transcendent realm of Forms. The forms in things were a reflection of these transcendent Forms. Different individual trees were reflections or projections the the transcendent Tree.

     Aristotle disagreed. For him the forms really existed only in things and not as things in themselves, or substances, to use his terminology. A bit of clarification is needed here. The forms united with matter can exist only in material things, he reasoned, but with one exception: the form united to the human body which Aristotle called the rational soul. This had the possibility of surviving the death of the body because of its ability to think about universals, to abstract from particulars, to self reflect, to think about thinking and so on which indicated it somehow transcended the material world. These abilities indicated the human, or rational, soul is an immaterial substance that might survive separation from the body at death. A body it nonetheless needs with the ensuing philosophical complications mentioned above. 

     In sum Platonic forms are compatible with transgenderism and Aristotelian forms are not. Furthermore, the Aristotelian view of forms is compatible with the doctrine of the resurrection and Platonic forms are not. Which theory is true? Aristotle has the Ockham razor advantage: no need to posit a transcendent realm of Forms. Aristotle’s theory of knowledge posits that the mind, which is an aspect of the rational soul, is a tabla rasa which receives knowledge by reflecting on sensory information. This is modern, well established epistemology which has been proven to work. Plato posits a mind already full of forms which just need to be remembered. A theory that cannot account for empirical knowledge including modern science. 

      A recent article in Public Discourse (August) by Abigail Favale, “Our Bodies, Our Selves,” supports my analysis. Favale states that transgender ideology is dependent on a dualistic model of personhood in which the body is seen, “as an inert object, upon which an idealized sense of self is projected.” She asks what it would look like to see the body as integral to the self, “rather than pretending that matter does not matter.” She endorses the sacramental principle: “The body reveals the person. The body I am is always already revealing my personhood.” 

About faithvictoria

Steve Weatherbe is a journalist with 30 years experience, specializing in religion and public issues, a conservative Catholic Christian, a supporter of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, living in Victoria, British Columbia. Canada

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