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The Function of the Human Heart as It Relates to the Soul According to the Thought of Thomas Aquinas
The language of the "heart" is pervasive in contemporary culture as denoting the core of someone’s character or innermost feelings. This language is even used in contemporary philosophical discussion. Nevertheless, the language of the heart seems to be necessarily metaphorical. That is, it seems to be dissociated from a discussion of the physical organ of the heart itself. In order to provide a deeper understanding of human intuitions regarding the language of the heart, I examine the thought of Thomas Aquinas on the material organ of the heart.
In order to elucidate Thomas’s thought on the organ of the heart, I use his short treatise De Motu Cordis as a road map. First I bring this text into conversation with his commentary on Aristotle’s Physics to demonstrate that, for Thomas, the actual motion of the heart is the first motion of the composite and the vital motion of the body. Next, through the lens of the anatomy of Albert the Great, I demonstrate how it is that Thomas could have conceived of the heart to be the actual principle of motion of the body. Then I examine Thomas’s analogy of the motion of the heart to the motion of the first heavens – the outermost celestial sphere. I demonstrate that, according to Thomas, the heart is moved by the soul which is itself moved by an object of desire as an ‘unmoved mover.’ I conclude my discussion of Thomas by demonstrating that, according to his view, the motion of the heart is more natural as it is moved by objects of desire that are more intelligibly good. Last I discuss the work of contemporary psychophysiologist Rollin McCraty to demonstrate how Thomas’s conception of the motion of the heart can provide a philosophical framework which aligns with contemporary physiological research.
This brief excursus on the function of the human heart as it relates to the soul according to the thought of Thomas Aquinas demonstrates that the organ of the human heart is central to Thomas’s conception of the existence, motion, and flourishing of the human composite.