views updated Jun 08 2018


In its most ordinary present-day usage, the term "soul" (Gr. ψυχή; Lat. anima ), when used alone, refers to the human soul; to say soul is to mean human soul. If one intends to speak about other sorts of soul, he uses expressed qualifiers; e.g., he says plant soul, or animal soul. There is nonetheless a use of the term "soul" that means simply a principle of life, or a source of life activities, at least that of nourishing. According to this usage, soul designates the mark of a living thing, or what separates the living from the nonliving; soul in this sense is the concern of this article.

Early Greek Views. The Greek predecessors of Aristotle fastened on two characteristic marks that distinguish what has soul in it from what has not: (1) movement, and (2) sensation or knowledge; each of these is traceable to their views on the first principles of things (see Aristotle, Anim. 403b 2528). Those who paid special attention to movement thought that soul ought to be identified with the first principle, which is most capable of originating movement. democritus, e.g., held that soul is composed of spherical atoms, which because they are spherical are most suited for motion, and hence are most in a state of motion. Diogenes's argument was in form identical with that of Democritus; but for Diogenes, air was the element most capable of originating movement, because it is the finest in grain. Anaxagoras's view, though obscure in many respects, seems to have been that soul is the source of movement, without itself being in

motion; seemingly, therefore, it is a first principle in some respects unlike what is material or a body.

Those who expressed a view on soul from the viewpoint of sensation or knowledge had, as a basic conviction, that like is known only by like. Thus, if one analyzes what soul knows, one can say what soul is. According to empedocles, the soul knows all natural things, and natural things can be analyzed into four intrinsic constituents, namely, fire, air, water, and earth, and two extrinsic principles, namely, Love and Strife. Soul, therefore, is a combination of the six. Otherwise, it would be difficult to see how soul can know these things. According to plato, soul knows not only natural and changing things, but also changeless thingsthe Numbers, the Forms or Ideas, and the Geometricals. Since all things have whatever reality they possess because of a participation in the Numbers, and since soul knows all things, soul must be a number. Another way of showing that the soul is a number (or a combination of numbers) is to consider the fact that soul knows in different ways: (1) by intuition (hence the number one is of the nature of the soul, since intuition grasps in a single flash); (2) by science (hence the number two, since in science the soul moves from one thing to a second, i.e., from premises to a conclusion); (3) by opinion (hence the number three, since soul here moves from premises to a conclusion but with the fear that some third thing, rather than the conclusion, may be true); and (4) by sense (hence the number four, because it takes four points to determine a body, and the soul knows bodies by sense).

A brief reflection on the views just recorded reveals a third characteristic mark of soul, namely, incorporeity. But two senses of incorporeity can be discerned: (1) a strict sense, as in the case of Plato's Numbers, which are neither material nor bodies; this is perhaps also implied in Anaxagoras's view of soul as the origin of motion, itself not in motion, hence possibly itself not a body; and (2) a looser sense, as in the case of Democritus's spherical atoms and Diogenes's airin the sense of something subtle or rarefied, but nonetheless a body or material.

Preliminaries to a Definition. Of the many criticisms aristotle makes of his predecessors' views on the soul (Anim. 403b 20411b 31), two are quite basic: (1) If one is to have a complete account of soul from the viewpoint of motion, one ought to investigate all that is implied in motion. If there is motion, then there is both a mover and a moved; in the mover there must be the ability to move, i.e., to originate motion; in the moved, the ability to be moved. The mover in this case is said to be the soul; the moved, the body. Thus, one ought not simply to put his finger on the source of soul's ability to move the body, e.g., Democritus's spherical atoms or Diogenes's air; one should also try to put his finger on the source of the body's ability to be moved by the soul. One should perhaps ask such questions as: What are the structural specifications of a body moved by soul? None of the views of Aristotle's predecessors looks to the condition of the body qua moved by the soul; all of them look only to the condition of the soul qua mover of the body. (2) Aristotle observes that all the views on soul proposed by his predecessors fail to take into account all types of soul. To say something about soul from the viewpoint of local movement, or of sensation or knowledge, or of respiration, is not to talk about all kinds of soul, for it is obvious that not all living things move about locally, nor do all of them sense, nor do all of them breathe. A complete account of soul ought to consider all types of soul. And this is why Aristotle begins his own account of soul by proposing a common definition of soul, i.e., one applicable to all its types without specifying what is distinctive of any given type; and why he carefully specifies the sort of body that is the appropriate subject having a soul (see Anim. 412a 2414a 28).

The question, What is it?, which is fundamental for philosophers and which asks for a definition, is not properly asked about a thing until one knows that there is such a thing. But to ask: Is there such a thing as soul? presupposes having assigned a meaning to soul. Now, if soul is taken to mean the source or principle of life activities, namely, whatever there is in all things we call living that distinguishes them from those we call nonliving, then it is clear that the question: Is there such a thing as soul? is answered by answering the question: Are there living things? It is clear therefore that there is such a thing as soul, because it is clear that there are living things.

What follows is a brief presentation of Aristotle's two common definitions of soul, as commented on by St. thomas aquinas, and as clarified with examples from modern science, wherever they are of service. Aristotle's method is that of division. He begins by laying out two sets of distinctions. The first set:

  1. What exists, i.e., being, is either a substance, i.e., an independently existing subject, like Jack; or an accident, i.e., something that exists in an independently existing subject as some sort of modification of it, like Jack's height.
  2. Substance, according to its meanings or senses, is either matter, which is potency and as such does not exist; or form, which is act, and as such does not exist, but which accounts for the existence of matter and of the composite (such a form is said to be a substantial formsee matter and form); and the composite (i.e., what is composed of matter and form), which is the actually existing thing, such as Jack.
  3. Actuality or entelechy is either like knowledge possessed (this is first actuality) or like considering knowledge possessed (this is second actuality).

The second set:

  1. Substance, according to its types, is either a body (i.e., a corporeal substance) or a spirit (things such as an angel or God). (see angels, 2.)
  2. A body is either natural, which is such that both its matter and its form are substantial; or artificial, which is such that only its matter is substantial, its form being accidental. The form of an artificial body is man-given. A natural body is more perfectly a substance than an artificial body, since both its matter and its form are substantial.
  3. A natural body is either nonliving, such as a stone, or living, such as Jack. Anything that at least vegetates, i.e., keeps itself in existence by absorbing nourishment from its environment, is said to be a living body.

First Definition. From the second set of distinctions, it is easy to see that a living body is a natural body and a substance. Since a living body is an actually existing thing, such as Jack, a living body is a substance in the sense of a composite (see substance in the first set). Therefore, a living body has a natural and substantial matter and a natural and substantial form; a form that accounts for its being alive, and a matter that is its potentiality for being alive. Thus, soul is the form or actuality of a natural body with a potentiality for being alive. Indeed, soul is the first actuality of such a body. Soul is actuality in the sense in which knowledge possessed is actuality; for soul is presupposed to life activities. Life activities are actualities in the sense in which actually considering what one knows is actuality; actually considering what one knows presupposes what one knows. To say that soul is the first actuality of such a body is to say that soul is such a body's substantial form.

But life activities presuppose not only soul. They presuppose also a certain sort of natural body, a body having life potentially in it. Such a body is composed of certain sorts of natural elements and compounds, and is productive of certain others whose natural activities contribute to life activities. For example, digestion is performed through the natural activities of HCl, among others. Such a body is also an organized body. Witness those things, i.e., plants, in which are found what men take to be the minimum manifestations of life. The plant has diverse bodily parts ordered to diverse functions. Functionally ordered parts are organs; and a body with such parts is said to be an organized body or organism.

In light of this analysis, it can be said that natural organized body stands in the same relationship to soul as potency does to actuality. But this proportion must be properly understood. There are two senses of the potency-actuality relationship: (1) the sense in which marble, for example, before the change in which it becomes a statue, is in potency to the shape; it is as something perfectible in relation to the perfection (the shape) it is about to acquire; (2) the sense in which the marble, after the change has been completed, is in potency to the shape it has acquired; it is as something perfected in relation to the perfection it possesses, the perfection being no part of the marble as such. Natural organized body, as it appears in the definition of soul, is in potency to soul in the second sense just distinguished.

Second Definition. Aristotle's second common definition of soul, namely, the primary principle whereby we live, sense, move, and understand, is formulated in order to be used as a middle term for arriving at the first common definition by the method of demonstration.

Types of Soul. There are three types of soul, distinguished in terms of the extent to which activities commonly attributed to living things transcend the activities of matter in its nonliving states; or, in another way of putting it, in terms of the extent to which these activities transcend anything that is found in the makeup of the natural organized body of a living thing (see St. Thomas, ST 1a, 78.1). There is an activity of soul that so transcends anything in the makeup of a natural organized body, that it is not even performed by any bodily organ; this is the activity of the intellectual soul (see soul, human). Below this, there is an activity of soul performed by a bodily organ, but not through the natural activities of the elements and compounds that constitute the organ; this is the activity of the sensitive soul. Of course, such elements and compounds and their activities are required for this activity of soul, not in such a way that it takes place by the power of these elements, but only for keeping the organ properly disposed. Lastly, there is an activity of soul that is performed by a bodily organ and by the activities of certain natural elements and compounds; this is the activity of the vegetative soul. The transcendence of this activity is seen clearly in nourishment; it is seen even more clearly in the process of reproduction.

Parts of Soul. Since soul performs diverse sorts of activity, it is often said that soul has diverse parts, a part for each sort of activity. Since soul is not a body, but the first entelechy of a body, these parts of soul cannot be quantitative parts; hence soul is not quantitatively divisible into them. These parts are nothing other than the potencies or powers the soul has for performing diverse sorts of life activity; thus, if one says that soul is divisible into these parts, the meaning is simply that these parts are distinguishable from each other by definition; each is defined in terms of its object (see faculties of the soul). These parts are often called power parts, to distinguish them from quantitative parts; and the soul, a power whole. The following will make clear the difference between power parts and quantitative parts: (1) quantitative parts are "spread-out" parts, whereas power parts are not; (2) quantitative parts are homogeneous, whereas power parts are heterogeneousthere being as many different sorts of parts as there are different activities; and (3) quantitative parts are intrinsic constituents of the whole, whereas power parts are not, since the soul is something substantial and the powers of the soul are merely accidents.

Modern Thought. In modern thought, say from the time of R. descartes to the present, man's concern with the problem of soul has been: (1) a concern with the human soul, largely with the problem of the relation between man's body and soul (see soul-body relationship); and (2) a concern with the problem of life, turning mainly about the issue of mechanism versus vitalism (see mechanism, biological; vitalism).

See Also: soul, human; immortality; soul, human, origin of.

Bibliography: j. e. royce, Man and His Nature (New York 1961). a. m. hoffstetter, "Viruses: Are They Alive?" New Scholasticism 31 (1957) 297316. r. taylor, Metaphysics (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1963). m. j. adler, ed., The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, 2 v. (Chicago 1952); v. 2, 3 of Great Books of the Western World 2:791810. c. mazzantini, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 1:222239. r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 3 v. (4th ed. Berlin 192730) 3:122.

[j. bobik]


views updated Jun 08 2018


In the Bible

The personality was considered as a whole in the biblical period. Thus the soul was not sharply distinguished from the body. In biblical Hebrew the words neshamah and ru'aḥ both mean "breath" and nefesh refers to the person or even the body (cf. Num. 6:6). For ways of expressing mind see *Heart.

Rabbinic Doctrine

For the rabbinic view of the soul see *Body and Soul.

In Medieval Jewish Philosophy

The soul in medieval Jewish philosophy is often depicted as the king and ruler of the body, its principle of life, organization, and perception. It is likened, in similes which go back to antiquity, to the rider of a steed, the captain of a ship, and the governor of a state. Yet, paradoxically, the soul is also often considered as a stranger on earth, an alien yearning for its supernal home. Philosophers view this latter characteristic, indicative of the soul's ability to survive the death of the body, as a function of its intellectual as well as moral perfection. Intellectual perfection was understood to comprise a true understanding of the nature of all being, both physical and metaphysical, including the nature of the soul. Descriptions of the soul followed Platonic and Aristotelian views, with later Greek thought supplying the models by which man's soul was related to heavenly substances.*Saadiah Gaon had a partial familiarity, derived from Pseudo-Plutarch's De placitis philosophorum, with these and many other systems of thought, none of which consistently appealed to his primarily theological perspective. He delared that each soul is created from nothing by God – the sole eternal being – at the moment of the completion of the formation of the body, and that body and soul form a unit bound together in this life and, eventually, in the hereafter. The soul requires the good acts of the body to perfect its peculiarly immaterial, celestial-like substance, even as the body needs the faculties of sensation and reason which the soul provides. Saadiah believed, with Plato (see Republic 4:435b; Timaeus 69c), that the soul has intellectual, spiritual, and passionate expressions; however, following Aristotle, he maintained that these were faculties of a single soul, located in the heart (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Treatise 6).

Man's soul was believed by most of the philosophers to have affinities with the souls of plants and animals, on the one hand, and with either the World Soul of the Neoplatonists or, in the Aristotelian system, the souls of the celestial bodies – the soul of a celestial body being a kind of rational principle separate from and responsible for the movement, if not life, of the sphere – on the other. In the Neoplatonic cosmology accepted by Isaac *Israeli, Solomon ibn *Gabirol, Joseph ibn *Ẓaddik, and Pseudo-*Baḥya, the World Soul emanates from the Universal Intellect and therefore has intellectual powers, which it transmits, together with the subsequently emanated physical qualities of Nature, to the individual soul. Man's soul, a substance or form independent of the body, thus contains "natural" or vegetative, animal, and rational aspects, and as such reflects the World Soul. These faculties are usually treated as separate, distinct souls, located respectively in the liver, heart, and brain.

From Israeli on, the vegetative soul is generally held responsible for nourishment, growth, and generation; the animal soul, for a type of instinctive intelligence known as estimation, as well as for locomotion and sensory perception; and the rational soul, for discursive knowledge, both practical and theoretical. Israeli, following the Arab philosopher al-*Kindī, also introduced into Jewish philosophy the Proclean stages of purification and illumination of the soul, substituting an ultimate stage of "spiritualization," i.e., a union with the First Form, the Supernal Wisdom or Intellect, for Proclus' divine union. The ascent of the soul, the upward way, is facilitated by withdrawal from the soul's passions and appetites, an ascetic direction particularly emphasized by Baḥya ibn Paquda (Duties of the Heart, ch. 10). Paradise is, for Israeli, union with the supernal light of wisdom, and hell the failure to attain this stage, the soul being weighed down by its corporeal aspects (see A. Altmann and S.M. Stern, Isaac Israeli (1958), 165–70, 185–94).

Aristotle's De anima, seen through the eyes of such Greek commentators as *Alexander of Aphrodisias and *Themistius, and such Arab scholars as al-*Fārābī and *Avicenna, serves as the main inspiration for Abraham *Ibn Daud, Moses *Maimonides, and most subsequent philosophers. They view the soul as the form of the body, a single substance comprised (in addition to the earlier tripartite division) of nutritive, sensitive, imaginative, appetitive, and rational faculties. Descriptions of the functional anatomy of these faculties mostly follow Galen as well as Aristotle, with the emotions of the appetitive faculty particularly responsible for ethical behavior, and the imagination and intellect considered as the organs of prophecy. The Aristotelians, like the Neoplatonists, teach that the good is the mean between psychic extremes (see Maimonides, Shemonah Perakim, 1 and 4). The ideal of most philosophers is an extremely intellectual as well as virtuous person, whose intellect has reached a stage of completely immaterial, actual perfection. In this state the individual "acquired" intellect, which is comprised of universal intelligibles, may conjoin with the Active Intellect. It is this conjunction with the Active Intellect that constitutes immortality (Maimonides, Guide, 1:70, 72; 3:27; 54).

This impersonal and incorporeal approach to immortality was heightened by the view of Averroes as propounded, for example, by *Moses of Narbonne, in which the individual intellect is understood to be essentially related to the Active Intellect from its very beginning as a potential intellect. Against such denials of personal immortality, *Levi b.*Gershom contended that the "acquired" intellect became an independent eternal substance (Milḥamot Adonai, 1:12); while Ḥasdai *Crescas, in a general critique of his predecessors' views, claimed the same status for the soul itself, using the term "soul" as more than a euphemism for the intellect. Crescas believed that the perfection of the soul was achieved more through love than through knowledge of God (Or Adonai, 2:6, 1). His attack upon Aristotelianism calls to mind that of *Judah Halevi, who mentions in passing the Aristotelian view of the soul (Kuzari, 5:12, 14, 21). Judah Halevi's own contribution to the subject was to posit a divine yet "natural" endowment (ha-inyan ha-Elohi) which, apparently related to the Jewish soul, made the Jew a superior being (Kuzari, 1:95; 2:14). A somewhat similar view was advanced by Judah Halevi's 12th-century contemporary, *Abraham bar Ḥiyya, who believed that the rational soul in all its purity was to be found among the elect of Israel alone. Such national feelings have little place in Crescas' more rigorously argued philosophy, and even less in the 16th-century Dialoghi di Amore of Judah *Abrabanel. Judah Abrabanel believed that love was a universal expression of both the animated structure of the universe, and of its yearning for unity with God. Through intellection and conjunction with the Active Intellect – which, following Alexander of Aphrodisias, Abrabanel identified with God – man could enter into a direct relationship with the Divine (Dialoghi, 3). This mixture of love and intellect is pronounced in the synthesis of Aristotelian and Cartesian ideas effected by *Spinoza, in which the influence of medieval Jewish philosophy is marked. Spinoza advocated the impersonal approach to immortality, consistent with his denial of independent substantial existents of any kind. He believed that all things are ensouled, or endowed with a psychic dimension of intelligibility that is ultimately part of God. The emotions, he felt, could be controlled through an analysis of their causes, allowing for an intellectual love of God which follows the mind's knowledge of its inherent oneness with God/Nature. The man who reaches this degree of knowledge is blessed with the thought that his mind, as part of God, is eternal (Ethics, 5).

See also *Imagination; *Intellect.


Husik, Philosophy, index; Guttmann, Philosophies, index; H. Davidson, in: A. Altmann (ed.), Jewish Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1967), 75–94; H. Malter, in: jqr, 2 (1911–12), 453–79; S. Horovitz, Die Psychologie bei den juedischen Religionsphilosophen des Mittelalters von Saadia bis Maimuni, 4 vols. (1898–1912).

[Alfred L. Ivry]


views updated May 23 2018


In English, the term soul can refer to a metaphysical entity or to the state of one's character. A philosopher may disdain the first and applaud the second. This entry focuses on the soul as an entity but concludes with noting why work on the soul is often centered on values.

Evolution of the idea

In ancient Greek philosophy the soul was thought of as a principle of life; the soul is what gives a person life as a human being. For Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.) the soul (Greek, psyche ) was identified as the form of the body. Aristotle delimited a host of different kinds of souls befitting nonhuman animal and plant life. In plants, for example, the soul was thought to be comprised of the plant's nutritive and reproductive powers. The human soul shares many of the powers of other living things but has distinctive intellectual powers as well. Aristotle's teacher, Plato (428348 b.c.e.) thought of the human soul as an immaterial concrete subject capable of preexisting the body and living on after the body's destruction. In the important work De Anima (On the soul), Aristotle hints at an incorporeal, immaterial aspect to the human soul, but falls short of Plato's more enthusiastic delineation of the soul as independent of the body.

The medieval period favored Plato over Aristotle on the soul, until the Italian philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas (12251274) appropriated and rethought Aristotle's philosophy of nature in a Christian context. While Aquinas more firmly identified the embodiment of the soul in concrete, material terms, he retained belief in an individual's afterlife and did not embrace a thorough materialism.

The early modern era was profoundly ambivalent about the soul. Modern science was deeply suspicious of Aristotle, and the success of mechanical explanations of the material world were not especially hospitable to the soul and its principles of life. The French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (15961650) demarcated the mind as distinct from the body, but increasingly a form of materialism or naturalism gained ground. Unease about the soul as a distinguishable entity was also fueled by some theologians during the Reformation. Some reformers did not believe the Hebrew Bible welcomed Platonism. In the creation story God makes human beings out of the dust of the ground, into which God breathes the breath of life (Gen. 2:7).


The wholesale identification of the soul and the body met with obstacles, however. From the vantage point of modern science, matter (and eventually matter and energy) is not intentional; fundamental physical causal processes do not involve beliefs and desires. If complete and adequate explanations of the cosmos do not involve beliefs and desires, how is one to account for, let alone describe, everyday human activities? Very basic reasoning (1 + 1 = 2 ) seems to be based on beliefs and reasons (because I grasp 1 + 1, and I grasp that 2 is 1 + 1, I see that the mathematical relationship is necessary). Mechanistic science seems to write off such psychological accounts of our reasoning. This causes an especially difficult challenge with a mechanistic philosophy, for such a philosophy is customarily introduced as a theory that ought to be accepted based on some plausible beliefs about the evidence. But if the theory is correct, then beliefs play no essential role in explaining states of the world. In other words, mechanical, reductive materialism faces the danger of undermining the common sense understanding of humans as rational agents.

Materialists have developed different replies. The most dramatic, as represented by contemporary cognitive scientists and philosophers Stephen Stich, Paul Churchland, and Patricia Churchland, has been to deny that there are any such things as beliefs and desires. Other materialists have denied that psychological explanations are truly explanations in the same category as a scientific explanations. Some consider these two options desperate, for the first risks self-refutation (Stich believes that there are no beliefs) or refutation from common sense, while the second recommends a radical dualism more severe than Descartes's. The alternative, deemed by many to be more promising, is to develop some kind of nonreductive materialism, a theory that recognizes the beliefs, desires, and other powers that used to be associated with the soul, and yet views these beliefs as either identical to, constituted by, or emergent upon physical processes. As of the early 2000s, there is no universally accepted version of nonreductive materialism. Perhaps largely because of this lack of consensus on a problem-free form of materialism, there are some prominent philosophers who defend a form of dualism in which the soul is a distinctive, nonphysical entity.

Arguments over the metaphysics of the soul and arguments over values are closely related. If the whole scope of powers associated with the soul (beliefs, desires) does not exist or has no role to play in a mature explanation of the cosmos, then the values that appear to permeate and define human lives seem to be in jeopardy. It was his perception of this plight that led Stich to revise his radical skepticism about beliefs and desires. The moral implications of eliminating beliefs also led Paul Churchland to try to secure morality within his reductive science; he took on this project under a book title that explicitly refers to the soul: The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul (1995).

Some contemporary theologians are highly motivated to see the soul in material terms. Your soul is your material body, functioning physically, psychologically, and spiritually. A dualist view of the soul is sometimes described as more Platonic than Christian. The effort to see human embodiment in integrated terms is easily appreciated, but it is difficult to avoid the dualist implications of the Bible and Christian tradition. If the soul can survive the death of the body (perhaps to be reembodied at the Resurrection), then it appears that the soul and body are not identical.

As in the Christian tradition, Jewish and Islamic philosophers have shifted between material accounts of the soul in the spirit of Aristotlean and Platonic mind-body dualism. Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions that allow for reincarnation (a rebirth of the soul in distinct material embodiments) explicitly teach or implicitly assume a distinction between body and soul.

While Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have traditionally seen the soul as a substantive individual, enduring over time, Hindu and Buddhist literature have cast the individuality of the soul in more conditional terms. In Advaita Hinduism, different human souls are identical with the singular Divine Being. In the Buddhist tradition, the soul is a composite of perception, intelligence, form, feeling, and volition.

Popular culture in North America since the mid-1980s has seen a great revival of talk about the soul. Popularized forms of Renaissance Platonism have become fashionable. There is also some effort by philosophers to rekindle language about the soul in which having a soul is understood to involve depth of character or a meaningful presence or availability. People may be said to have a soul when they have deep convictions and integrity. The result is that there is more than one way to lose one's soul, either through a radical form of materialism, or through ethical failure, or a break down of integrity, or the refusal to lead an examined life.

See also Aristotle; Consciousness Studies; Descartes, RenÉ; Dualism; Human Nature, Religious and Philosophical Aspects; Imago Dei; Materialism, Plato; Spirit; Thomas Aquinas; Value


churchland, paul. the engine of reason, the seat of the soul. cambridge, mass.: mit press, 1995.

corcoran, kevin, ed. soul, body, and survival. ithaca, n.y.: cornell university press, 2001.

rorty, amélie. mind in action: essays in the philosophy of mind. boston: beacon press, 1988.

stich, stephen. from folk psychology to cognitive science. cambridge, mass.: mit press, 1983.

swinburne, richard. the evolution of the soul. oxford: oxford university press, 1986.

taliaferro, charles. consciousness and the mind of god. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1994.

taylor, charles. sources of the self. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1989.

charles taliaferro


views updated Jun 11 2018

soul In the Hebrew scriptures, the human being is a single and undivided entity: the soul and body are not clearly distinguished from one another. Thus any discussion of life after death points to the resurrection of the body rather than the immortality of the soul (Isaiah 26: 19 and Daniel 12: 2). Jewish and Old Testament scholars have debated whether the authors of the Hebrew scriptures ever thought of the body and soul as distinct entities; certainly, later Jewish writers have interpreted passages such as Ecclesiastes 12: 7 — ‘Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it’ — to mean that at the death of the body the soul returns to reside with God forever.

The Greek, especially the Platonic, tradition saw the soul and body as utterly distinct and separate entities. For the Platonists, the soul is the human being; the intellect is eternal, and pre-exists and survives the body. In this earthly life, the soul makes use of the body and its instincts which, while not seen as evil, must be kept under control. While Aristotle modified this Platonic teaching, the Neoplatonist, Plotinus, developed it such that his biographer, Porphyry, recorded that Plotinus would tell no one his birth date, as the day of his soul's entry into his body was cause for mourning, not celebration.

This Greek tradition affected Judaism. The Greek-speaking community in Alexandria, of whom the foremost member was the philosopher Philo, began to understand the body and soul as completely distinct from one another, and Philo taught the immortality of the soul. The distinction between body and soul exists everywhere in the Rabbinical/Talmudic literature, and medieval Jewish thinkers understood the body and soul as being in struggle, and therefore promoted a denial of bodily pleasures; Maimonides saw the building up of the body as occurring at the expense of the destruction of the soul. The Kabbalists believed that the soul was a divine entity which had to descend into the body.

The Christian tradition took on both the Hebrew and Greek traditions in its thinking about the soul. The Incarnation — the Word made flesh — emphasized the Hebrew notion of the unity of body and soul: Jesus was born of a woman, and thus God took human form, with a body and soul. However, in the Hellenistic world in which much of Christianity spread, Platonic notions of the soul as temporarily imprisoned in the body took hold, so that Origen, for example, believed that humans were originally created as intellects without a body, and taught that the pre-existing soul entered the body after it had fallen into sin, and was bound to the body as a punishment. However, he also taught that the soul uses the body for healing and restoration: the body itself is not evil, but rather our misuse of free will is the root of our evil (Origen's teaching on the soul was condemned, after his death, at the fifth ecumenical council in Constantinople, in 553). By contrast, Clement, another Platonist, did not understand the soul as pre-existing and saw the body in a more positive way, as the ‘soul's consort and ally’.

Ideas about the soul were linked to notions of resurrection of the body, and from the third century to the late Middle Ages many theologians emphasized the full and literal resurrection of the body after death. Tertullian, for example, following a stoic metaphysics, not only believed that resurrection meant the full reassemblage of the body but also that all reality is corporeal, and therefore even the soul is composed of fine material particles. Irenaeus held a similar view. However, such ideas gradually declined, and by the later Middle Ages Aquinas' view that the soul is an individual spiritual substance was becoming predominant (though it did not go unchallenged) and eventually received wide acceptance amongst many branches of Christianity. For Aquinas, influenced by Aristotle, body and soul together form the human unity, though the soul can be separated from the fleshly body, as happens at death, and continue to exist. It is believed, in this scholastic tradition, that each soul is made by God individually for each human body (Creationism, as opposed to Traducianism, a belief in which the soul is the product of the generative, material power of human beings, a view that was to be held by many Lutherans and Calvinists).

In some other religious systems and philosophies, body and soul are not as sharply opposed as they often have been in Christianity. In Taoism, the religious philosophy developed in China, the soul is essential to the body's wholeness and healing. Central to Taoism is a system of meditation and prayer in which the soul relates to the inner body and the external world. The ‘shen’, meaning soul or spirit, resides in the heart. When ch'i (mind energy), shen (soul), and ching (intuition and physical powers) are in harmony, the body is healthy, works in concert with nature and the person lives a long time. However, a person dies when the ch'i and ching are exhausted and at that point the soul leaves the body. In Zoroastrianism, the world's oldest prophetic religion, which originated in Iran, body and soul are seen as distinct from each other, but not necessarily opposed in a dualistic manner; indeed, bodily sickness is said to indicate the soul's sickness, while bodily health, fertility, and maturity indicate spiritual health. The body is to be treated with respect and is seen as a part of the human being's ultimate nature, not a means to an incorporeal nature.

Jane Shaw

See also mind–body problem; religion and the body.


views updated May 29 2018


The term soul is used in two sensesit indicates the ego and the spirit-body. In ancient writings, an individual was described as a triune being: body, soul, and spirit. According to this concept, the soul is just as much an envelope, animated by the spirit, as the physical body is an envelope for the soul. At death the soul withdraws and continues to function in the spiritual world. Astral body and soul are almost equivalent terms.

Some occult and Eastern teachings, however, speak of five bodies of differing degrees of refinement that will be cast away in time just as the physical body is left behind.

In his book Man and the Universe (1908), Sir Oliver Lodge defined the soul and ego as,

" that controlling and guiding principle which is responsible for our personal expression and for the construction of the body, under the restrictions of physical condition and ancestry. In its higher development it includes also feeling and intelligence and will, and is the storehouse of mental experience. The body is its instrument or organ, enabling it to receive and convey physical impressions, and to effect and be effected by matter and energy."

Because such concepts as "soul" and "spirit" (as its animating essence) are not available for scientific scrutiny like the body or the world of matter generally, many scientists have either denied their existence as real entities or as a reality not subject to scientific scrutiny, although retaining as useful the concept of consciousness, with which the ego is associated.

Spiritualists claim that there is evidence for survival of consciousness after death, and that there is sufficient individuality in the surviving consciousness to justify the use of the term soul. A good deal of psychical research tends to confirm this position, without necessarily accepting the religious implications of such survival.

Christianity has generally taught the resurrection of the body, although, in light of Paul's mention of a spiritual resurrection body, there has been some disagreement on the exact nature of that revived body. The doctrine of the soul has always vied for attention with the Greek notion of the immortality of the soul.

In Eastern religious philosophy, there are clear distinctions between the gross ego of name and form (with individual experience) and the subtle ego that is claimed as a universal substratum of all individual souls. The gross ego, by reason of its limitations of experience and consciousness, is tied to the world of matter, which is transient. This ego is an obstruction to fuller awareness of reality and must be transcended by selfless service and refinement of consciousness. In this process, the individual soul loses its attachment to the transient desires and fears of material life and is eventually subsumed in a divine consciousness. In this progress, the world of matter becomes like an illusion that ceases to have validity when divine reality supervenes. As long as an attachment to the world of matter and sense experience remains, the soul must go through a process of reincarnation.

The concept of the soul remains unverifiable by experimental method that is based on the limitations of material existence itself. But it is a useful concept insofar as it relates to individual subjective experience, which is often more relevant to ethical goals than laboratory experiments.

For many individuals, the conviction that there is a soul that is independent of (although shaped by) the physical body occurs as they experience out-of-the-body travel or astral projection. Such an experience is an overwhelming one to most who have it and has become a profound religious experience to many individuals.


Bernard, Theos. The Philosophical Foundations of India. London: Rider, 1945.

Broad, C. D. The Mind and Its Place in Nature. London: Kegan Paul, 1925.

Carrington, Hereward. Psychic Science and Survival. Man-chester, England: Two Worlds Publishing; New York: American Psychical Institute, 1939.

Carus, Paul. The Soul of Man. Chicago: Open Court, 1900.

Crookall, Robert. Out-of-the-Body Experiences and Survival. UK: World Fellowship Press, 1970.

. The Supreme Adventure. London: James Clarke, 1961.

Ducasse, C. J. A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1961.

Head, Joseph, and S. L. Cranston. Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery. New York: Julian Press; Crown Publishers, 1977.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. London: Longmans, Green, 1903.

Myers, F. W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1903.

Purohit, Swami Shri. The Geeta: The Gospel of the Lord Shri Krishna. London: Faber & Faber, 1935.


views updated Jun 11 2018

soul / sōl/ • n. 1. the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal. ∎  a person's moral or emotional nature or sense of identity: in the depths of her soul, she knew he would betray her. ∎  the essence of something: integrity is the soul of intellectual life. ∎  emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, esp. as revealed in a work of art or an artistic performance: their interpretation lacked soul.2. a person regarded as the embodiment of a specified quality: he was the soul of discretion. ∎  an individual person: I'll never tell a soul. ∎  a person regarded with affection or pity: she's a nice old soul.3. African-American culture or ethnic pride. ∎ short for soul music.PHRASES: bare one's soulsee bare.the life and soul of the partysee life.lost soul a soul that is damned. ∎ chiefly humorous a person who seems unable to cope with everyday life.sell one's soul (to the devil) see sell.upon my soul dated an exclamation of surprise.DERIVATIVES: souled adj. [in comb.] she was a great-souled character.ORIGIN: Old English sāwol, sāw(e)l, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch ziel and German Seele.


views updated Jun 11 2018



In the Hebrew scriptures, the soul and the body are not sharply distinguished. The words ruʾaḥ (‘breath’, ‘wind’), nefesh (that which locates the animate as opposed to the dead—as e.g. ‘the waters have come up to my nefesh’, i.e. neck), and neshāmah (‘vitality’) have no independent, ontological status: they refer to that which gives life and which, if it is absent, leads to death. The rabbis of the Talmudic period recognized some separation. The soul was understood as the guest of the body during the body's earthly life (Lev.R. 34. 3). Jewish philosophers, such as Philo, Saʿadiah Gaon, and Solomon ibn Gabirol, were influenced by Platonism in their teachings on the immortality of the soul, while the kabbalists taught that the soul was a divine entity that evolved downwards to enter the body. It has its origins in the divine emanation and its ultimate goal is its return to the world of sefirot.


The New Testament writers inherited the biblical terminology (though in Greek), together with the undecided contest about the basic human composition and about whether any part of it might continue after death. Roughly, nephesh became psyche and ruaḥ became pneuma; but both these were transformed by the resurrection of Jesus and by the experience of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. Thus early Christianity came to believe that the psyche must be surrendered to God with complete commitment and trust, even to the extent of, so to speak, losing it (Matthew 6. 25, 16. 25; Mark 8. 35; Luke 9. 24; John 12. 25) and thus securing it. The soul was then associated with a belief that there will be an embodied resurrection. In the Hellenistic world, an application of the dualism of Plato nevertheless seemed spiritually attractive, since the sense of a soul imprisoned in a body (sōma sēma, ‘the body a tomb’) led to a heroic spirituality in which ascetic efforts might be made to ensure the soul's escape and safety.



Indian Religions



views updated May 18 2018

379. Soul

See also 182. GHOSTS ; 349. RELIGION ;384. SPIRITS and SPIRITUALISM ; 392. THEOLOGY .

creationism Theology.
a doctrine that God creates a new soul for every human being bon. Cf. metempsychosis. creationist, n. creationistic, adj.
the doctrine or belief that the soul enters the body by divine infu-sion at conception or birth.
1. the passage of a soul from one body to another.
2. the rebirth of the soul at death in another body, either human or animal. Cf. creationism. metempsychic, metempsychosic, metempsychosical, adj.
the theory that all souls are actually a single unity. mono-psychic, monopsychical, adj.
the denial that the soul exists. nullibist, n.
Philosophy. the doctrine that each object in the universe has either a mind or an unconscious soul. panpsychist, n. panpsychistic, adj.
the belief that one person may have many souls or modes of intelligence. polypsychic, polypsychical, adj.
the guiding of a soul, especially that of a person recently dead into the lower world. psychagogue, n. psychagogic, adj.
Obsolete, a conflict or battle between the soul and the body.
the manifestation of a persons soul to another, usually at some distance from the body. psychorrhagic, adj.
the belief that the soul has a divine nature.
Theology. the doctrine that a new human soul is generated from the souls of the parents at the moment of conception. traducianist, n. traducianistic, adj.
any of various theories of metempsychosis or reincarna-tion, as the Hindu doctrines of Karma.


views updated Jun 27 2018


views updated May 23 2018

soul the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal. The word is recorded from Old English (in form sāwol, sāw(e)l), and is of Germanic origin.

The Souls were a late 19th-century aristocratic circle with predominantly cultural and intellectual interests; the name was said to have been given by Lord Charles Beresford in 1888. Members of the group included Curzon, Arthur Balfour, and Margot Tennant (later Margot Asquith).
soul music a kind of music incorporating elements of rhythm and blues and gospel music, popularized by American blacks. Characterized by an emphasis on vocals and an impassioned improvisatory delivery, it is associated with performers such as Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Otis Redding.