This page is about the core essence of a being. For the music genre, see soul music; for the chief city of South Korea see Seoul.
The soul, in several philosophical movements and many religious traditions, is the core principle of life. Some traditions considered it immortal; others mortal. In most religions, and some philosophical movements, a soul has strong links with notions of an afterlife, but opinions vary wildly even within a given religion as to what happens to the soul after death. Many within these religions and philosophies see the soul as immaterial, while others consider it possibly material.
In the discussion that follows, note that the word "soul", the way we commonly use the word today, may not correspond very closely to original usage in the Bible, nor in the writings of Plato or of Aristotle, but that interpretation may have conflated different meanings.
The current English word "soul" may have originated from Old English sawol, documented in 970 AD. The Ancient Greeks sometimes referred to the soul as psyche (as in modern English psychology). Aristotle's works in Latin translation used the word anima (as in animated), which also means "breath". In the New Testament, the original word may sometimes better translate as "life", as in :
- "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?"
- Mt 16:26
If you exchange the word "soul" for "life" in the sentence above, the statement may seem less profound.
This demonstrates that what we call "soul" today has not only changed its meaning during history, but the word and concept themselves have changed in their implications.
The Ancient Greeks used the same word for 'alive' as for 'ensouled'. So the earliest surviving Western philosophical view might suggest that the soul makes living things alive.
Socrates and Plato
Plato, drawing on the words of his teacher Socrates, considers the soul as the essence of a person, as that which decides how we act. He considered this essence as an incorporeal occupant of our being. The Platonic soul comprises three parts:
- the reason (mind or logos)
- the appetite (body or passion)
- spirit (emotion or pathos).
Each of these has a function in a balance and peaceful soul.
The reason is the mind. It corresponds to the charioteer directing the balanced horses of appetite and spirit. It allows for logic to prevail and balance to be optimised.
The appetite is the part of us that drives us to find out basic bodily needs. Yet when the passion in controls us, master passion drives us to hedonism in all forms. This is the basal and most feral state.
The spirit is our emotional motive, that which drives us to acts of bravery and glory. If left unchecked it will lead to hubris -- the most fatal of all flaws in the Greek view.
Aristotle, following Plato, defined the soul as the core essence of a being, but argued against it having a separate existence. For instance, if a knife had a soul, the act of cutting would be that soul, because 'cutting' is the essence of what it is to be a knife. Unlike Plato and the religious traditions, he did not consider the soul as some kind of separate, ghostly occupant of the body (just as the activity of cutting cannot be separated from the knife). As the soul, in Aristotle's view, is an activity of the body it cannot be immortal (when a knife is destroyed, the cutting stops). More precisely, the soul is the "first activity" of a living body. This is a state, or a potential for actual, or 'second', activity. "The axe has an edge for cutting" was, for him, analogous to "humans have bodies for rational activity," and the potential for rational activity thus constituted the essence of a human soul. Aristotle used his concept of the soul in many of his works; the Nicomachean Ethics provides a good place to start to gain more understanding of his views.
Aristotle's view appears to have some similarity to the Buddhist 'no soul' view (see below). For both there is certainly no 'separable immortal essence'. It may simply become a matter of definition, as most Buddhists would agree, surely, that one can use a knife for cutting. They might, perhaps, stress the impermanence of the knife's cutting ability, and Aristotle would probably agree with that.
According to Buddhist teaching, all things are impermanent, in a constant state of flux, all is transient, and there is no abiding state. This applies to humanity as much as anything else in the cosmos; thus, there is no unchanging and abiding self. Our sense of "I" or "me" is simply a sense belonging to the ever-changing entity that (conventionally speaking) is us, our body, and mind. This expresses in essence the Buddhist principle of anatta (Pāli; Sanskrit: anātman).
Buddhists hold that the delusion of a permanent, abiding self is one of the main root causes for human conflict on the emotional, social, political level, that understanding of anatta or not-self provides an accurate description of the human condition, and that this understanding allows "us" to go beyond "our" mundane desires. Nirvana is solely recognized as being distinct. Buddhists can speak in conventional terms of the soul or self as a matter of convenience, but only under the conviction that ultimately "we" are changing entities. At death, the body and mind disintegrate; if the disintegrating mind contains any remaining traces of karma, it will cause the continuity of the consciousness to bounce back an arising mind to an awaiting being, that is, a fetus developing the ability to harbor consciousness. Thus, in Buddhist teaching, a being that is born is neither entirely different nor exactly the same as it was prior to rebirth.
However, scholars such as Shirō Matsumoto have argued that a curious development occurred in Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, stemming from the Cittamatra and Vijnanavada schools in India: although this school of thought denies the permanent personal selfhood , it affirms concepts such as Buddha-nature, Tathagatagarbha, Rigpa, or "original nature". Matsumoto argues that these concepts constitute a non- or trans-personal self, and are almost equal in meaning to the Hindu concept of Atman, although they differ in that Buddha-nature does not incarnate. One should note the polarity in Tibetan Buddhism between shes-pa (the principle of consciousness) and rig-pa (pure consciousness equal to Buddha-nature). Even more controversial is the concept of tulku, a person who has, due to heroic austerities and esoteric training, achieved the goal of transferring personal identity from one rebirth to the next (for instance, the Dalai Lama is considered to be a tulku). The mechanics behind this are described as follows: although Buddha-nature does not incarnate, the individual self is composed of skandhas or components that are reborn. For an ordinary person, skandhas cohere in a way that will be dissolved upon the person's death. So, elements of personality, transformed, are reborn, but they lose the unity that constitutes personal selfhood for a specific person. In the case of tulkus, however, it is supposed that they achieve a "crystallization" of skandhas in such a manner that the skandhas do not "disentangle" upon the tulku's death; rather, a voluntary reincarnation occurs. In this new birth, the tulku possesses a continuity of personal identity rooted in the fact that the consciousness or shes-pa (which equates to a type of skandha called vijnana) has not dissolved after death, but is durable enough to survive in repeated births. The compatiblility of these concepts with Buddhist orthodoxy remains in dispute.
Many modern Buddhists, particularly in Western countries, reject the concept of rebirth or reincarnation as incompatible with the concept of anatta. They take the view that if there is no abiding self and no soul then there is nothing to be reborn. Stephen Batchelor, notably, discusses this issue in his book Buddhism Without Beliefs. However, the question arises: if a self does not exist, who thinks/lives now? Buddhists hold the view that thought itself thinks: if you remove the thought, there's no thinker (self) to be found. A detailed introduction to this and to other basic buddhist teachings appears in What the Buddha taught by the Buddhist monk Walpola Rahula.
Most Christians believe the soul to be the immortal essence of a human, and that after death, God either rewards or punishes the soul. Different Christian groups dispute heatedly whether this reward or punishment is contingent upon doing good deeds, or merely upon believing in God and in Jesus.
Many Christian scholars hold, as Aristotle did, that "to attain any assured knowledge of the soul is one of the most difficult things in the world". Augustine, one of the most influential early Christian thinkers, described the soul as "a special substance, endowed with reason, adapted to rule the body". Philosopher Anthony Quinton said the soul is a "series of mental states connected by continuity of character and memory, [and] is the essential constituent of personality. The soul, therefore, is not only logically distinct from any particular human body with which it is associated; it is also what a person is". Richard Swinburne, Christian philosopher of religion at Oxford University, wrote that "it is a frequent criticism of substance dualism that dualists cannot say what souls are.... Souls are immaterial subjects of mental properties. They have sensations and thoughts, desires and beliefs and perform intentional actions. Souls are essential parts of human beings...."
The origin of the soul has provided a sometimes vexing question in Christianity; the major theories put forward include creationism, traducianism and pre-existence.
Other Christian beliefs differ:
- A few Christian groups do not believe in the soul, and hold that people cease to exist, both mind and body, at death; they claim however that God will recreate the minds and bodies of believers in Jesus at some future time, the "end of the world."
- Another minority of Christians believe in the soul, but don't regard it as inherently immortal. This minority also believes the life of Christ brings immortality, but only to believers.
- Medieval Christian thinkers often assigned to the soul attributes such as thought and imagination as well as faith and love: this suggests that the boundaries between "soul" and "mind" can vary in different interpretations.
- Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the souls of lives are not spirits, but themselves, and that every soul will die. (Gen.2:7; Ezek.18:4, KJV)
- The soul sleep theory states that the soul goes to "sleep" at the time of death, and stays in this quiescent state until the last judgment.
- The "absent from the body, present with the Lord" theory states that the soul at the point of death, immediately is present at the end of time, without experiencing any time passing between.
- The "purgatory" theory states the soul, if imperfect, spends a period of time purging or cleansing before becoming ready for the end of time.
Matthew 22 : 23That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him (Jesus) with a question. 24“Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. 25Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27Finally, the woman died. 28Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” 29Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31But about the resurrection of the dead – have you not read what God said to you, 32‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’[Exodus 3:6]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 33When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
1 Corinthians 15 : 12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (...) 29Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31I die every day–I mean that, brothers–just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”[Isaiah 22:13] (...) 35But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45(...) 46The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
Christian Gnosticism: Valentinus
In early centuries of Christianity, the Gnostic Christian Valentinus proposed a version of spiritual psychology that accorded with numerous other "perennial wisdom" doctrines. He conceived the human being as a triple entity, consisting of body (soma, hyle), soul (psyche) and spirit (pneuma). This equates exactly to the division one finds in St. Peter’s Epistle to Thessalonians I, but enriched: Valentinus considered that all humans possess semi-dormant "spiritual seed" (sperme pneumatike) which, in spiritually developed Christians, can unite with spirit, equated with Angel Christ. Evidently his spiritual seed corresponds precisely to shes-pa in Tibetan Buddhism, jiva in Vedanta, ruh in Hermetic Sufism or soul-spark in other traditions, and Angel Christ to Higher Self in modern transpersonal psychologies, Atman in Vedanta or Buddha nature in Mahayana Buddhism. In Valentinus’ opinion, spiritual seed, the ray from Angel Christ, returns to its source. This is true resurrection (as Valentinus himself wrote in The Gospel of Truth: "People who say they will first die and then arise are mistaken. If they do not receive resurrection while they are alive, once they have died they will receive nothing."). In Valentinus’ vision of life human bodies go to dust, soul-sparks or spiritual seeds unite (in realised Gnostics) with their Higher Selves/Angel Christ and the soul proper, carrier of psychological functions and personalities (emotions, memory, rational faculties, imagination,..) will survive - but will not go to Pleroma or Fullness (the source of all where resurrected seeds that have realised their beings as Angels Christ return to). The souls stay in "the places that are in the middle", the worlds of Psyche. In time, after numerous purifications, the souls receive "spiritual flesh", i.e. resurrection body. This division appears rather puzzling, but not dissimilar to Kabbalah, where neshamah goes to the source and ruach is, undestructed and indestructible, but unredeemed, relegated to a lower world. Similarly, according to Valentinus, complete resurrection is accomplished only after the end of Time (in the Christian worldview), when transfigured souls who have acquired spiritual flesh finally re-united with the perfect, individual Angel Christ, residing in the Pleroma. This is, according to Valentinus, final salvation.
Many non-denominational Christians, and indeed many that ostensibly subscribe to denominations having clear-cut dogma on the concept of soul, take an "à la carte" approach to the belief, that is, they judge each issue on what they see as its merits and juxtapose different beliefs from different branches of Christianity, from other religions, and from their understanding of science.
See also Christian eschatology.
In Hinduism, the Sanskrit word most closely corresponding to soul is "Atman", which can mean soul or even God. It is seen as the portion of Brahman within us. Hinduism contains many variant beliefs on the origin, purpose, and fate of the soul. For example, advaita or non-dualistic conception of the soul accords it union with Brahman, the absolute uncreated (roughly, the Godhead), in eventuality or in pre-existing fact. Dvaita or dualistic concepts reject this, instead identifying the soul as a different and incompatible substance.
According to the Qur'an of Islam (15:29), the creation of man involves Allah "breathing" a soul into him. This intangible part of an individual's existence is "pure" at birth and has the potential of growing and achieving nearness to God if the person leads a righteous life. At death the person's soul transitions to an eternal afterlife of bliss, peace and unending spiritual growth (Qur’an 66:8, 39:20). This transition can be pleasant (Heaven) or unpleasant (Hell) depending on the degree to which a person has developed or destroyed his or her soul during life (Qur’an 91:7-10).
In Sufism, Islamic mysticism, elaborate doctrines on the soul have developed, as explained in the article on Sufi psychology.
Jainists believe in a jiva, an immortal essence of a living being analogous to a soul, subject to the illusion of maya and evolving through many incarnations from mineral to vegetable to animal, its accumulated karma determining the form of its next birth.
Jewish views of the soul begin with the book of Genesis, in which verse 2:7 states, "the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being." (New JPS)
The Hebrew Bible offers no systematic definition of a soul; various descriptions of the soul exist in classical rabbinic literature.
Saadia Gaon, in his Emunoth ve-Deoth 6:3, explained classical rabbinic teaching about the soul through the lens of neo-Aristotelian philosophy. He held that the soul comprises that part of a person's mind which constitutes physical desire, emotion, and thought.
Maimonides, in his The Guide to the Perplexed, explained classical rabbinic teaching about the soul through the lens of neo-Aristotelian philosophy, and viewed the soul as a person's developed intellect, which has no substance.
Kabbalah (esoteric Jewish mysticism) saw the soul as having three elements. The Zohar, a classic work of Jewish mysticism, posits that the human soul has three elements, the nefesh, ru'ah, and neshamah. A common way of explaining these three parts follows:
- Nefesh - the lower or animal part of the soul. It links to instincts and bodily cravings. It is found in all humans, and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of one's physical and psychological nature.
The next two parts of the soul are not implanted at birth, but are slowly created over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually:
- Ruach - the middle soul, or spirit. It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil. In modern parlance, it equates to psyche or ego-personality.
- Neshamah - the higher soul, Higher Self or super-soul. This distinguishes man from all other life forms. It relates to the intellect, and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided both to Jew and non-Jew alike at birth. It allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God. In "Zohar", after death Nefesh disintegrates, Ruach is sent to a sort of intermediate zone where it is submitted to purification and enters in "temporary paradise", while Neshamah returns to the source, the world of Platonic ideas, where it enjoys "the kiss of the beloved". Supposedly after [[resurrection[[, Ruach and Neshamah, soul and spirit re-unite in a permanently transmuted state of being.
The Raaya Meheimna, a Kabbalistic tractate always published with the Zohar, posits two more parts of the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah. Gersom Scholem wrote that these "were considered to represent the sublimest levels of intuitive cognition, and to be within the grasp of only a few chosen individuals":
- Chayyah - The part of the soul that allows one to have an awareness of the divine life force itself.
- Yehidad - the highest plane of the soul, in which one can achieve as full a union with God as is possible.
Extra soul states
Both Rabbinic and kabbalistic works also posit a few additional, non-permanent states to the soul that people can develop on certain occasions. These extra souls, or extra states of the soul, play no part in any afterlife scheme, but are mentioned for completeness.
- Ruach HaKodesh - a state of the soul that makes prophecy possible. Since the age of classical prophecy passed, no one receives the soul of prophecy any longer.
- Neshamah Yeseira - The supplemental soul that a Jew experiences on Shabbat. It makes possible an enhanced spiritual enjoyment of the day. This exists only while one observes Shabbat; it can be lost and gained depending on one's observance.
- Neshoma Kedosha - Provided to Jews at the age of majority (13 for boys, 12 for girls), and related to the study and fulfillment of the Torah commandments. It exists only when one studies and follows Torah; it can be lost and gained depending on one's study and observance.
For more detail on Jewish beliefs about the soul see Jewish eschatology.
Other religious beliefs and views
In Egyptian Mythology, a person possessed six souls, three of the body and three of the mind. They had the names Chet, Ren, Schut, Ka, Ba and Akh.
Some transhumanists believe that it will become possible to perform mind transfer, either from one human body to another, or from a human body to a computer. Operations of this type (along with teleportation), raise philosophical questions related to the concept of the Soul.
Crisscrossing specific religions, the phenomenon of therianthropy and belief in the existence of otherkin also occur. One can perhaps better describe these as phenomena rather than as beliefs, since people of varying religion, ethnicity, or nationality may believe in them. Therianthropy involves the belief that a person or his soul has a spiritual, emotional, or mental connection with an animal. Such a belief may manifest itself in many forms, and many explanations for it often draw on a person's religious beliefs. Otherkin hold similar beliefs: they generally see their souls are entirely non-human, and usually not of this world.
Another fairly large segment of the population, not necessarily favoring organized religion, simply label themselves as "spiritual" and hold that both humans and all other living creatures have souls. Some further believe the entire universe has a cosmic soul as a spirit or unified consciousness. Such a conception of the soul may link with the idea of an existence before and after the present one, and one could consider such a soul as the spark, or the self, the "I" in existence that feels and lives life.
Some believe souls in some way "echo" to the edges of this universe, or even to multiple universes with compiled multiple possibilities, each presented with a slightly different energy version of itself. The science fiction author Robert Heinlein, for example, has explored such ideas.
Science and the soul
Mainstream science and medicine do not recognize the concept of soul or the idea of a soul entity. Popular presentation of the dominant scientific view of the soul uses the "computer paradigm", which compares the brain to hardware and the mind (mental processes traditionally subsumed under the concept of "soul") to software. The departure of a brain/hardware leaves no place for functioning mind/software.
Some, like the famous French neurologist Jean Pierre Changeaux, deny the appropriateness of the computer paradigm and propose an analogy with the anharmonic oscillator from physics. Needless to say, both notions have dismissed the concept of soul as a self-sustaining entity.
Some investigators have tried to measure the soul, for example by attempting to measure the weight of a person just before and just after death in hopes of determining the weight of a soul. The results of these experiments remained equivocal, especially due to conflicting reports on the findings, and do not rank as good science: see  (http://www.snopes.com/religion/soulweight.asp).
Francis Crick's book The Astonishing Hypothesis has the subtitle, "The scientific search for the soul". Crick holds the position that one can learn everything knowable about the human soul by studying the workings of the human brain.
Other uses of the term
Popular usage often describes experiences that evoke deep emotions as "touching the soul".
External references and link
- Batchelor, Stephen. Buddhism Without Belief.
- Swinburne (1997). The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Therianthropy overview (http://www.kodekitten.com/therian.html)