I am a Soul and so Can You


At some point, when I began studying philosophy, I was silly and young enough to tell my philosophy professor that Aristotle didn’t have an immortal conception of the human soul, because the concept of the soul was too abstract for him. He gave me the death stare and, in a most Dutch manner, said, “No, souls are not abstract. No.”

In any case, one of the most problematic issues in Western culture is the fact that people do not understand the idea of “soul.” So, let’s look into it a little bit.

In the most basic sense, to have a soul means to be alive. The soul can, in this sense, be defined as that which makes matter alive. In this sense, all that lives has souls, bacteria, plants, everything. This is the usual starting point for pantheism (i.e. all living things have soul, soul=Divine). Most philosophies, however, Plato among them, argue that these most primitive souls are not eternal or even self-conscious.

In a more developed sense of the word, a soul is that which, in addition to giving a thing life, contains its desires, instincts, and affections. This is the type of soul most attributed to animals. It contains desires and instincts, as well as will. One obvious distinction between animals and plants is that they can will to do things, that is to say, they are not purely instinct and process. For example, a dog that is hungry will not bite its master, though a wild beast may, perhaps, bite a man in the forest for food, but not its own young.

Finally, to human souls. The distinction between human and animal souls comes in the form of reason, which is a whole new part of the soul. That’s why you can say “I,” dumbo. Human have self-consciousness, the ability to communicate among themselves, and the ability to form ideas. That’s why you don’t bring a dog to court if it barks at you, but if Westboro Baptist does… well, that’s not a very good example, they’re a lot like animals. A lot of people, when they are mentioned the alternate name for this part of the soul, i.e. mind, think people mean brain. Ancient cultures had a much bigger grasp of this word. The common noun assigned to someone who has done something stupid in Latin is amens, i.e. mindless (that does not mean brainless, we’re not talking about zombies here). In addition, a common insult in Latin is “Empty in the upstairs” (I’ll spare you the Latin this time), which, again, has nothing to do with zombies.

One common misconception, aided by modern science, is the idea that thoughts are after-farts of chemicals being produced in the brain. Well, the real question is, what is what’s after-fart? As G. K. Chesterton very well put it (I am paraphrasing here) this problem can be illustrated by trees in the wind. The adult man (human, bite me) understands that there is such a thing as wind, which is invisible to the naked eyes, which is making the tree branches move. A child, on the other hand, feels air in his face and sees tree braches moving, so it very logically concludes that the tree branches, moving of their own accord, are causing the wind. Just because you can’t see something, it does not mean it is not there. Of course, there is the whole materialist point of view, that no such thing as souls, or logic, exist, but, if you buy into that school of thought, then I would ask you why you to explain why you feel some sort of a desire to comment on how stupid I am, if logic, or desire for that matter, does not exist.

Finally, one brief point about the heart. That is to say, not <3… The ancients often considered the heart the locus of the soul. No, I am not talking about the only muscle that even couch potatoes have fully developed. The idea that the heart is the house of the soul is similar to the idea that The Good is where the Forms are housed (more about that on a different post). The heart is one thing that the humans share with the Divine. Reason is shared too, but whether Platonist or monotheist, one believes that divine reason is superior and distinct from human reason. As Pascal beautifully puts it, “the heart has its reasons which reason does not understand.” That does not mean “listen to your heart, [when it’s calling for you]” but that sometimes thoughts come to us which are entirely unreasonable, such as to give up your own life so that someone you love may live, or to work a second job so that you can provide more for your kids. In a strictly logical sense, those actions are ridiculous. The pain you cause that loved one by making them live the rest of their lives knowing that your death was necessary for them to live (often known as survivor syndrome) and the distance from your kids in the second example should be calculated. However, no one ever sacrificed themselves for someone else in syllogism form (Everyone has the right to live proportionately to how much they do in this world. X has done more in their life than me. Therefore, I must die so X may live). In other words, thoughts that originate from the heart are wildly illogical to human logic, because they, in fact, do not appeal to human logic, but rather to Divine logic. I think I should stop there before I write another five pages about the heart.

Well, I have given it a stab, comment, show me how upset you are at my stupidity, praise me about my non-existent conciseness, I can take it all.


9 comments on “I am a Soul and so Can You

  1. Things that I felt absolutely sure of but a few years ago, I do not believe now. This thought makes me see more clearly how foolish it would be to expect all men to agree with me. Jim Rohn

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  5. davor says:

    ”One obvious distinction between animals and plants is that they can will to do things, that is to say, they are not purely instinct and process. For example, … a wild beast may, perhaps, bite a man in the forest for food, but not its own young.”

    Perhaps you should find another example for distinction between plants and animals: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/10/plant-siblings/

    • No, animals do, sometimes, attack their own young. The reason for it is that animals cannot distinguish appearances from reality. Aristotle posits that, besides the five senses, there is a “common sense” a sense which combines sensory impressions form different senses into one image. Because of this common sense, a fox cannot confuse a white fence (white, hard) with a white chick (white, soft, fluffy). However, in the case of the hookaburra, a predatory bird, indigenous to Australia if I remember correctly, you can see that birds can be “tricked” into eating their own young. When a bunch of them were taken for study in a lab and were fed white mice (they usually eat brown mice), they started eating their own young because they could not distinguish between the two.

      Also, about the plant article, if it is imply a chemical response, it does not “count.” Going by Aristotle’s premises (which modern science still uses for taxonomies), amoebas should be classified as animals because they can move, but because their movement seems to be a chemical response more than anything, they are classified as vegetative. In addition, you can see why evolution would demand the plant to have such trait. For the first mustard plant to spread, it would need to be able to adapt to sharing space with its “sibling plants” and because in nature mustard seeds still fall relatively close to one another, that trait endures.

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