The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 19, Issue 4, Winter 2019

Tyler Wittenmyer
Pages 559-565

Scotist Hylomorphism in Support of Total Brain Death

Empirical evidence has led some philosophers to question total brain death (TBD), because a brain-dead patient’s body remains integrated; it can still grow and age. Catholic philosophers have based arguments for and against TBD on Thomist principles of hylomorphism. Given such principles, the arguments against TBD appear stronger. Blessed John Duns Scotus provides an alternative set of principles. Specifically, Scotus is a pluralist regarding substantial form. However, his pluralism is distinct in that he denies a substantial form to the body as a whole and instead speaks of part-substances that are integrated with each other by efficient and final causal chains. Scotus’s hylomorphism, unlike St. Thomas Aquinas’s, can both defend TBD and adequately describe the physical characteristics of the totally brain-dead patient.