Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The lost pages of the Summa

Shared on a Yahoo group - Part of the Benedictine College philosophy department's celebration of St. Thomas' feastday included a contest: write your own question in the style of St. Thomas' Summa. The winning submission, written by Joseph R.

Whether a zombie possesses scientific knowledge?

Objection 1: It seems that a zombie cannot possess scientific knowledge. For the brain is required in order for the imagination to produce phantasms, and, as the Philosopher says in the De Anima, “the soul understands nothing without a phantasm.” Now it is known of zombies that they desire the human brain. But no thing desires what it already possesses, as was said above. Therefore zombies do not possess a brain and so cannot obtain the phantasms necessary for knowledge.

Objection 2: What does not have being cannot know. Now it is known that zombies can exist only during the “zombie apocalypse”, but nowhere in the Book of the Apocalypse does the apostle John mention zombies. Therefore zombies do not exist. Therefore they cannot know.

On the Contrary:

Although he only speaks one word, the word “brains”, it is known that a zombie is able to speak. But according to the Philosopher in De Interpretatione, “spoken words are the symbols of mental experience.” Therefore zombies have mental experience. In order to have mental experience one must have an intellect and be able to know. Therefore zombies must have scientific knowledge.


The term “zombie” is understood in two ways.

First, we call a man who is not acting in full rationality on account of drunkenness, sleeplessness, or laziness a zombie. Those who lack the necessary means to make themselves alert upon waking up are also called zombies. It is in this way that the Philosopher speaks of the Pythagoreans and those who proposed Ideas. While those spoken of as zombies in this manner may not act as if they possess knowledge, we must still say that they have both the capacity to know and the habit of scientific knowledge. For we would not say that a drunken man does not know, but only that he acts as if he does not know. In the same way, we would not say that the zombie, whether he is a lazy student or an exhausted man, does not know, but only that he does not act as if he does.

Secondly, we speak of a zombie as the nonliving corpse of a man made to move as if it were living. It is the opinion of some that a zombie of this kind is a dead body given some of the perfections of an animal soul while still remaining a dead body, but this is not possible. For the matter of a dead body, being without life, inasmuch as it is dead, has none of the perfections of a living being and cannot obtain these perfections unless it is in some way disposed to the reception of an animal soul. Therefore a zombie of this kind must be made to move as if it were alive by some exterior living agent, as the puppet though not alive, is made to move as if it were alive by the hand, which is living. But since there is no sign of an exterior material agent moving the corpse, as there is in the case of the puppet, we must say that the exterior agent moving the corpse is immaterial. But if this agent is immaterial, it must be capable of knowledge, as we said above. Therefore even this kind of zombie is capable of knowledge, or at least the agent moving the corpse.

Ad 1: A thing can be desired in two ways. First, according to its proper function. Second, because of some accident. It is in the second way that a zombie desires the human brain. For a zombie desires the brain not on account of its usefulness in producing phantasms, but according to an accidental aspect, namely, insofar as it is food for the zombie.

Ad 2: While there is no mention of a “zombie apocalypse” in the Book of Revelation, it is manifest that zombies can exist at times other than the last days. That zombies exist even at this time is clear from the writings of Siger of Brabant on the eternity of the world and the teachings of David of Dinant on the Divine Essence.

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