Soul

The philosophy of the soul supposes that there exists with-in man an immaterial spirit that existed prior to the creation of his body and will continue to exist long after the destruction of it.

I had always taken it for granted, that man had a soul distinct from his body.Priestley, Joseph., Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit iii

Causes for Doubt

  1. What is the exact nature of a soul?
  2. How can an immaterial spirit interact with a material body?
  3. Why doesn't the soul float away if it is distinct from the body?

Origin

Ancient philosophers through observation of the body at death supposed that a person's invisible character was released through the body's final exhalation. The natural process of the body exhaling its last breath became the supernatural ethereal spirit or soul releasing itself from the body. It is from this supposition that the common idiom “he gave up the ghost” comes.

What the ancients meant by an immaterial substance [or spirit] being nothing more than an attenuated matter, like air, ether, fire, or light, considered as fluids, beyond which their idea incorporeity did not go.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 212 The ablest and most orthodox christian Fathers, he says, always say that God is a light, and a sublime light, and that all the celestial powers which surround the Deity are lights of a second order, rays of the first light.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 223 The idea of invisible forces and invisible spirits might have risen from the sight of winds coming out of nowhere and lightning bolts from the blue. Our forefathers were not aware of static air, as they could not perceive it by any of our senses. Therefore, when air began to move around they naturally assumed that it was some invisible, living force at work... Man was projecting his own nature on these invisible forces.William, Xavier, World Religions KL 924-926, 929 Another widespread belief concerning ghosts is that they are composed of a misty, airy, or subtle material. Anthropologists link this idea to early beliefs that ghosts were the person within the person (the person's spirit), most noticeable in ancient cultures as a person's breath, which upon exhaling in colder climates appears visibly as a white mist. This belief may have also fostered the metaphorical meaning of “breath” in certain languages.Wikipedia, Ghosts Mankind have always been [very ready] to ascribe the unknown cause of extraordinary appearances to something to which they can give the name spirit.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 210

The logical conclusion then was that there existed both good and bad spirits according to the character or disposition of the person from which they came. Wicked men were said to release a wicked spirit and righteous men were said to release a righteous spirit.

Nevertheless, Josephus says that “demons are the spirits of wicked men, who enter the living, and kill those who receive no help:” language too clear and express to be perverted by the power of criticism.Farmer, Hugh, An essay on the demoniacs of the New Testament p. 25 It is no inconsiderable confirmation of all that hath been offered concerning possessing demons, that the primitive Christian understood hereby human spirits, and represent this as the general opinion of the world.Farmer, Hugh, An essay on the demoniacs of the New Testament p. 28

Believing these spirits to then have supernatural powers, men began venerating them.

The doctrine of a soul, and consequently that of an intermediate state between death and the resurrection, has been the foundation of the worship of dead men and women, called saints, of the doctrine of purgatory, and many other doctrines of poperyPriestley, Joseph, Discourses relating to the evidences of revealed religion p. 212

Matter

The ancients philosophers, based on their belief in spirit, supposed that the origin of all existence was either of spirit or of matter.

Such a distinction as the ancient philosophers did make between matter and spirit... made the Supreme Mind the author of all good, and matter the source of all evil, that all inferior intelligences are emanations from the Supreme Mind, or made out of its substance, and that matter was reduced to its present form not by the Supreme Mind itself, but by another intelligence, a peculiar emanation from it, has been the real source of the greatest corruptions of true religion in all ages, many of which remain to this very day.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. iii

Those beings that were spirit, having great powers, were esteemed. Those beings that were matter, having only their natural powers, were abhorred. Everything that was spirit was thought to be holy and pure and everything that was matter was thought to be fleshly and defiled.

The more unnatural anything is, the more it is capable of becoming the object of dismal admiration.Paine, Thomas, The age of reason p. 13

Commonality

The prevailing notion concerning the constitution of the soul is that it is incorporeal or immaterial. The difficultly with this supposition is in defining how the soul and the body interact with one another seeing they have no properties in common.

The modern doctrines of immateriality have generally contended themselves with supposing, that there is some unknown real influence between the soul and the body, but that the connection is a mystery to us. And this is not the first absurdity, and impossibility, that has found a convenient shelter under that term.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit 84 To say, in general, that matter and spirit must have some common property, but that this common property is altogether unknown to us, cannot give any satisfaction. For till it be defined, I am at liberty to say, that such unknown common property may be impossible in nature.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit xxvi

If the soul or spirit be immaterial and the body be material, there is nothing preventing the one from flying away from the other.

It is contended for by all metaphysicians, who maintain the doctrine of any proper immaterial principle, that spirit and body can have no common property; and when it is asked, How, then can they act upon one another, and how can they be so intimately connected as to be continually and necessarily subject to each other's influence? It is acknowledged to be a difficulty, and a mystery that we cannot comprehend. But had this question been considered with due attention, what has been called a difficulty would, I doubt not, have been deemed an impossibility; or such a mystery as that of the bread and wine in the Lord's supper, becoming the real body and blood of Christ, or that of each of the three persons in the Trinity being equally God, and yet there being no more Gods than one; which in the eye of common sense, are not properly difficulties, or mysteries, but direct contradictions; such as that of a thing being and not being at the same time.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 81

The Mind

In the same manner that the soul is thought to be immaterial, it is also thought that the human mind is immaterial and that it also exists distinct from the body.

According to Descartes, minds and bodies are distinct kinds of substance. Bodies, he held, are spatially extended substances, incapable of feeling or thought; minds, in contrast, are unextended, thinking, feeling substances... If minds and bodies are radically different kinds of substance, however, it is not easy to see how they could causally interactWikipedia, Mind Body Problem

The problem with separating the mind from the body philosophically is that it contradicts empirical evidence.

There is no instance of any man retaining the faculty of thinking, when his brain was destroyed; and whenever that faculty is impeded, or injured, there is sufficient reason to believe that the brain is disordered in proportion; and therefore we are necessarily led to consider the latter as the seat of the former... Moreover, as the faculty of thinking in general ripens, and comes to maturity with the body, it is also observed to decay with it; and if, in some cases, the mental faculties continue vigorous when the body in general is enfeebled, it is evidently because, in those particular cases, the brain is not much affected by the general cause of weakness.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 47 The notion, therefore, of the possibility of thinking in man, without an organized body, is not only destitute of all evidence from actual appearances, but is directly contrary to them; and yet these appearances ought alone to guide the judgement of philosophers.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 54

In other words, the proposition that the mind exists distinct from the body leads to that gross conclusion that when the body enters a vegetative state the mind becomes its prisoner.

Futhermore, the immaterial soul and the immaterial mind suffer from the same problem of commonality.

The absence of an empirically identifiable meeting point between the non-physical mind and its physical extension has proven problematic to dualismWikipedia, Mind Body Problem There is no scientific evidence that there is any measurable manifestation of a consciousness or soul which is separate from neural activityWikipedia, Astral projection

Immortality

It is commonly thought that the soul of man is immortal.

The only reason why it has been so earnestly contended for, that there is some principle in man that is not material, is that it might subsist, and be capable of sensation and action, when the body was deadPriestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 55

The Jews don't believe in the immortality of the soul which is puzzling seeing all the time that God spent with them. He told them all the complex legal rituals they should perform toward him, but forgot to describe something as simple as what constitutes the nature of man.

Almost all forms of Judaism do not share the traditional majority Christian belief in the immortality of the soulWikipedia, Problem of Hell

Christianity

The writings ascribed to Moses paint the world in a natural philosophy that is gradually replaced by later ages with spiritual one. Only in the Christian ages does spiritual philosophy reach its zenith.

The first corruptions of Christianity were derived from heathenism, and especially form the principles of the oriental philosophy; and there are similar austeries at this very day among the Hindoos. Their notion that the soul is a distinct substance from the body, and that the latter is only a prison and clog to the former, naturally leads them to extenuate and mortify the body, in order to exalt and purify the soul. Hence came the idea of the great use and value of fasting, of abstinence from marriage, and of voluntary pain and torture; til at length it became a maxim, that the man who could contrive to make himself the most miserable here, secures to himself a greater share of happiness hereafter.Priestley, Joseph., An History of the Corruptions on Christianity p. 205

It was in the fourth century A.D. that Christian philosophies first proposed that the soul was capable of existing outside of the body.

In the fourth century, Christians were concerned that Jesus had not returned and wondered what happened to those who died before the Second Coming of Christ. Christians, led by Augustine of Hippo and under the influence of both gnosticism and neoplatonism, developed a new belief in the soul as capable of a separate existence abstract from the material world. The human souls, unlike those of animals, would survive death and, depending on God's judgment, be transferred to the non-material realms of heaven or hell and the new realm of limbo for unbaptized persons and purgatory for those who do not deserve hell but are not purified for heaven..Wikipedia, Natural Religion

Scriptures

Most of the instances in the scriptures where the English translators used the soul can just as equally be translated as life. That the word soul exists in the bible is not proof that souls exists or that humans have souls. In fact, no where in the entire bible does it define what constitutes a soul. Neither does it define what constitutes a spirit or relate how a soul and spirit differ from one another.

The word nephish which our translators have here rendered soul, is a common Hebrew word for life, and is very often so rendered.Balfour, Walter, Inquiry p. 30 The phrase, “both soul and body,” is a mere Hebrew idiom, to express the whole man or personBalfour, Walter, Inquiry p. 149

1 Thessalonians 5:23

This is probably the most notable verse that is used in support of their being three parts in man; and that concept is used as justification by the orthodox for their being three in one God.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Thessalonians 5:23 NKJV

The apostle Paul traveled extensively and was most likely familiar with many Jewish fables 1 and Gentile philosophies.

Also, when the apostle Paul, 1 Thess. v. 23. says, I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, he only uses these terms as denoting, in the philosophy of his time (which had spread even among the Jews) all that constituted a complete man, without hinting at the possibility of any separation of the several parts.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 169

Bodily Soul

A soul existing distinct from the body has been discussed above at length. A soul existing within the body is suggested as a possibility by Aristotle,

In sum, Aristotle saw the relation between soul and body as uncomplicated, in the same way that it is uncomplicated that a cubical shape is a property of a toy building block. The soul is a property exhibited by the body, one among many. Moreover, Aristotle proposed that when the body perishes, so does the soul, just as the shape of a building block disappears with destruction of the block.Wikipedia, Mind Body Problem

I cannot find any basis for a soul existing within the body. The reason being that there exists no organ or part properly called the soul within the body according to our knowledge of human anatomy. Until somebody can identify it within the realm of the body, I am inclined to say that mankind has no such soul. And the thought of a material soul is so different from what is commonly thought of as a soul that if one did exist, it should properly be called something else.

Further Reading

Most of the quotes found on this page come from volume one of Joseph Priestley's work on matter and spirit which I highly recommend.

References

1. 2 Timothy 3:8-9

Additional Quotes

Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit

It has generally been supposed that there are two distinct kinds of substance in human nature, and they have been distinguished by the terms matter and spirit. The former of these has been said to be possessed of the property of extension, viz. of length, breadth, and thickness, and also of solidity or impenetrability, but it is said to be naturally destitute of all powers whatever. The latter has of late been defined to be a substance entirely destitute of all extension, or relation to space, so as to have no propery in common with matter; and therefore to be properly immaterial, but to be possessed of the powers of perception, intelligence, and self-motion.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. i-ii It is likewise maintained in this treatise, that the notion of two substances that have no common property and yet are capable of intimate connection and mutual action, is both absurd and modern.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. iii I shall devote as much of my time as possible to the pursuit of truth, and as little as I can help to the mere defense of it, or of myself.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. xix That many persons who have rejected a part of it, will see equal reason to reject the whole.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. xxi The reason of the conclusion above-mentioned, is simply this, that the powers of sensation or perception, and thought, as belonging to man, have never been found but in conjunction with a certain organized system of matter; and therefore, that those powers necessarily exist in, and depend upon, such a system.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 46 Moreover, as the faculty of thinking in general ripens, and comes to maturity with the body, it is also observed to decay with it; and if, in some cases, the mental faculties continue vigorous when the body in general is enfeebled, it is evidently because, in those particular cases, the brain is not much affected by the general cause of weakness.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 47 Likewise, as the mind is affected in consequence of the affections of the body and brain, so the body is liable to be reciprocally affected by the affections of the mind.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 48} Notwithstanding, Mr. Hallet was satisfied that there was no good argument from the light of nature, in favour either of the immateriality or immortality of the soul, he still retained the belief of it on the authority, as he imagined, of revelation. But it will be seen, in a subsequent section, that the scriptures afford no evidence whatever of a thing so contrary to the principles of reason; but that the sacred writers go upon quite different principles, always taking for granted the very thing I am here contending for; and that the notion of the soul being a substance distinct from the body, was originally a part of the system of heathenism, and was from thence introduced into christianity, which has derived the greatest part of its corruptions from this source.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 51} Thus, we might conclude, that the body was mortal, from observing that all the separate sense, and limbs, were liable to decay and perish.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 56} If the soul be immaterial, and the body material, neither the generation nor the destruction of the body can have any effect with respect to it.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 61 If the soul be immaterial, and the body material, neither the generation nor the destruction of the body can have any effect with respect to it.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 61 That a spirit is, strictly speaking, indivisible, which is essential to the modern idea of it, is absolutely incompatible with the notion that is known to have run through almost all the systems of the ancients, derived originally from the East, viz. that all human souls, and all finite intelligences, were originally portions of the great soul of the universe; and though detached from it for a time, are finally to be absorbed into it again;Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 73 Consequently, according to the strict and only consistent system of immateriality, a spirit is properly no where, and altogether incapable of local motion, though it has an arbitary connection with a body, that is confined to a particular place, and is capable of moving from one place to another.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 76 How unintelligibly are persons reduced to talk, when they quit the road of common sense, forming their systems not from facts and appearances, but from imagination.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 78 The vulgar, who consider spirit as a thin aerial substance, would be exceedingly puzzled if they were to endeavour to realize the modern idea of a proper immaterial being; since, to them, it would seem to have nothing positive in its nature, but to be only a negation of properties, though disguised under the positive appellation of spirit. To them it must appear to be the idea of nothing at all, and to be incapable of supporting any properties.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 92 The essence of the soul, it is said, cannot be matter, because it would then be divisible; but is not everything that is extended divisible?Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 95 How easy is it to get rid of the embarrassment attending the doctrine of the soul, in every view of it, by admitting, agreeably to all the phenomena, that the power of thinking belongs to the brain of a man, as that of walking to his feet, or that of speaking to his tongue; that, therefore, man, who is one being, is composed of one kind of substance, made of the dust of the earth; that when he dies, he of course, ceases to think; but when his sleeping dust shall be re-animated at the resurrection, his power of thinking, and his consciousness, will be restored to him?Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 102 There can be no state of mind to which there is no a corresponding state of the brain... unless [of course] the mind could have sensations and ideas independent of the state of the brain, which every observation proves to be impossible.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 120 Ideas which have parts... cannot exist in a soul that has no partsPriestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 131 The doctrine of a separate soul most evidently embarrasses the true christian system, which takes no sort of notice of it, and is uniform and consistent without it.Priestley, Joseph, Disquisitions relating to matter and spirit p. 163

Discourses relating to the evidences of revealed religion

That this doctrine of a resurrection is inconsistent with that of a soul, which survives the body, and retains all of its faculties, not only unimpaired, but improved, (for such is the original and proper doctrine on the subject) is obvious to the slightest consideration. For if such be the condition of the soul, when freed from the clog and obstruction of the body, a resurrection would not only be unnecessary, but even undesirable. The two systems are, therefore, repugnant to each other, and cannot be rationally held together.Priestley, Joseph, Discourses relating to the evidences of revealed religion p. 212 He [Plato] moreover held that “the soul consists of three parts, the first the seat of intelligence, the second of the passions, and the third of appetite,” and he assigned to each its proper place in the human body.Priestley, Joseph, Discourses relating to the evidences of revealed religion p. 217

Principles of nature

The human mind is incapable of forming any conception of that which is not material; man is a being whose composition is purely physical, and moral properties or intellect, are the necessary results of organic constructionPalmer, Elihu, Principles of nature Gb. 214-215

World religions

Traditional philosophy boasts of the vast differences in all aspects between animals and men. However, the more we study animals, the more we realize that the similarities between man and animals are far more striking than the differences.William, Xavier, World Religions KL 884-885 The early concept of God was that of a ghostly spirit. For the Tennessee, a native tribe in the United States, the word for god, means literally a dead man. Similarly, the term ‘Jehovah’ originally meant the “strong man” or “the warrior.”William, Xavier, World Religions KL 994-996 Newborns and infants, on the other hand, are not aware of their aspirations and fears and so cannot project these feelings on to others. Naturally, babies and infants are immune from being possessed or threatened by ghosts, spirits, demons or devils.William, Xavier, World Religions KL 1212-1213

Wikipedia

Plato (429–347 B.C.E.) argued that, as the body is from the material world, the soul is from the world of ideas and is thus immortal. He believed the soul was temporarily united with the body and would only be separated at death, when it would return to the world of Forms. Since the soul does not exist in time and space, as the body does, it can access universal truths.Wikipedia, Mind Body Problem

The doctrine of inspiration

Thus, the word “ghost” is by no means confined to the denoting a divine agent; but even, in modern English, it signifies the popular idea of any disembodied human person; and, in scriptural English, we find the expression “yielded up the ghost” as the rendering for a Greek word signifying “died :” and the word “spirit” is by us employed, in manifold senses, to denote courage, animation, alcoholic mixtures, and a multitude of other things.Macnaught, John, The doctrine of inspiration p. 141

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