Sometimes it’s fun to speculate about things about which we know nothing. For animal lovers, one of these speculations may be dead serious.
I’ve written before about Thomas Aquinas’s argument that the “soul” of a beast – the pattern of its embodied life -- perishes upon the death of its body, because all of the powers of its soul are utterly dependent on its body. By contrast, the rational soul of a human being is capable of conceiving universals, which transcend the body. Although bodily senses perceive only singulars -- this water, this food, this enemy – the rational soul conceives water as such, food as such, or an enemy as such. Since there is something in the rational soul that is not dependent on the body, the rational soul can survive the body’s death.
Perhaps this reasoning is a bit hasty. Even on St. Thomas's premises, if the rational power could be added to the beast's soul, it could survive death. The obvious objection to such a possibility would be that since such an addition would involve a change in the very essence of the beast, the original beast would indeed have perished – what now exists would be a new beast.
But there may be a way around the objection. The soul of the beast could survive death if a certain thing happened to be true. This is purely a what-if argument.
First consider the rational soul again. According to St. Thomas, not even the rational soul has in itself the potentiality to see God. Rather God adds to the souls of the redeemed the power to see Him in the next life. It might seem that here, too, we are supposing a change in essence, so that it would not be us seeing Him, but entirely new beings seeing Him. But St. Thomas says this is not the case. Why not? Because although our nature does not possess the potentiality to raise itself to the vision of God by its own powers, it does have a receptive potentiality to receive from God the vision of Himself. For a nature to receive what it has a potentiality to receive does not change it in essence but rather completes it. Thus we are not destroyed by receiving the vision, but rather uplifted.
Is it possible that the beasts too have a receptive potentiality, though of a lesser kind? Could it be that unknown to us, God has endowed them, not with the potentiality to raise themselves to rationality on their own, but to receive from God Himself the power of rationality? In this case, just as the acquisition of the power to behold God would uplift rather than destroying a rational being like you and me, so the acquisition of the power of rationality – presumably, at the point of death -- would in a lesser degree uplift rather than destroying a beast. Fido would still be Fido – but rational, as we are already.
Turn the question around. Can we be certain that no beast nature does contain a receptive potentiality of the sort I have in mind? If we take the story of Balaam’s ass* literally, such certainty may be a bit reckless. But suppose God did bestow rationality upon a beast possessing the potentiality to receive it. In this case, the beast, now elevated to rationality, could survive the death of its body after all.
Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?
*The relevant part of Balaam’s story is given in Numbers 22:22-44.