Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Soul

Hello everyone,

I welcome you all back from your breaks, even though I am preemptively sending this email out before break is actually over, which is a minor technicality. As a reminder of what I said last week, Tapping Philosophy will be meeting on Wednesday at 7:30, at Yeats' Pub, with rides leaving from Connelly at around 7:00. I encourage everyone to attend this lecture:

Start Date: 3/27/2008Start Time: 7:00 PM
End Date: 3/27/2008End Time: 8:30 PM
Event Description
"The Media's Service in Selling the Wars in Iraq, Iran, and Beyond" lecture given by Professor Emeritus Edward S. Herman.
Location Information:
Villanova University Main Campus - Bartley Hall
Room: 1011 - Ampitheater

And now for some quotes and of course the topic:

"It is manifest that not every principle of vital action is a soul, for then the eye would be a soul, as it is a principle of vision; and the same might be applied to the other instruments of the soul: but it is the "first" principle of life, which we call the soul. Now, though a body may be a principle of life, or to be a living thing, as the heart is a principle of life in an animal, yet nothing corporeal can be the first principle of life. For it is clear that to be a principle of life, or to be a living thing, does not belong to a body as such; since, if that were the case, every body would be a living thing, or a principle of life. Therefore a body is competent to be a living thing or even a principle of life, as "such" a body. Now that it is actually such a body, it owes to some principle which is called its act. Therefore the soul, which is the first principle of life, is not a body, but the act of a body; thus heat, which is the principle of calefaction, is not a body, but an act of a body."

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica


They don't know nothing,

About my soul,

Oh they don't know."

-Jeff Tweedy from Wilco in "Theologians" on A Ghost is Born


A standard theological definition of the soul is the separate immaterial unchanging substance that defines the individuality of a specific person, particularly insofar as they relate to God. This substantial conception of the soul has been philosophically criticized by many; nevertheless the term still holds currency in popular discourse, albeit in various different forms. Has the term soul been completely evacuated of analytically descriptive potential in its popular use, or has the term simply evolved in meaning due to the arguable failure of theology as a project that can adequately contribute to explaining the human condition? How might the contemporary use of the term soul have a counterpart in what is often referred to as subjectivity, and where might these terms differ? What ambiguities can arise with contemporary use of the term as a result of its relationship to theological discourse, and what assumptions can we unpack from this relation?

Where does the soul stand in relation to the mind body problem? Is the soul simply a synonym or part of the mind, vice versa, or a third independent part? Is it possible to separate the soul from the body or the mind? Can other people know something about each other's souls, or are they strictly off limits to others in the manner of traditional subjectivity? How do people associate the soul with cognitive functions, such as emotions and thoughts, and how have theologians traditionally made these associations? Is it possible for a human being to not have a soul, or is concept soul already tied up with what it means to be a human being? If the former is possible, are there relative degrees of soul that are attainable on a scale going from soulless to soulful, and if so, what are the problems with the practical implementation of such a scale? And of course, the ever popular: do animals have souls?

I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Francis Prior
Villanova Philosophy Club Website
Villanova Phi Sigma Tau Minutes:

1 comment:

Francis Prior said...


Well, of course, animals have "souls." Even if one follows Aquinas's discussion which you've quoted--one which is highly Aristotelian in this instance--then it follows animals have "souls" [= vital principle]. Do they have theological "souls"? Yawn. I'd put that in the realm of unanswerable questions, along with the question about human "souls." Yes, my Buddhist philosophical inclinations are showing, along with, interestingly, here Locke. At any rate, enjoy puzzling over such questions.
Michael Prosch