Are the body and soul one and the same?


Materialism is the theory that the body and soul are one entity and contrasts to the dualistic viewpoint on the soul which holds that the body is merely a body, transportation for the soul and when the body dies the soul is immortal. I think that a Monistic and materialistic viewpoint is correct and so agree that the body and soul are one entity however the soul that I think exists is more similar with Dawkins’ soul 2 rather than the traditional Judeo-Christian soul. In addition Paul Tillich’s work on symbols is useful in that I think the soul could be seen as a symbol for part of our relationship with God and our hope that death will not be the end.

Dawkins’ view of humanity is that we are simply a product of our genes and as a result the soul is nothing but a mythological concept created by ancient peoples to make an attempt to explain the mysteries of the mind and the conscience. This view however in the modern scientific age is becoming outdated due to the advances in neuroscience and studies of the brain. To Dawkins, talk of a soul is initiating a god of the gaps argument in that the concept of a soul and God is a handy explanation for the gaps in the current science on the conscience, ‘it is an evasion rather than an explanation’. Moreover the soul and body are one and when we die both our body and soul die. I think this is a good argument to make against the idea of the soul in that there is a distinct lack of empirical proof that souls do indeed exist and as a materialist empirical evidence is of the utmost importance.

Dawkins, while he rejected the Platonic sense of the soul, did advocate Soul Two, the idea of the soul being an intellectual or spiritual power rather than an actual physical object or presence. This view of the soul finds companionship in John Hick’s rejection of substance dualism. Hick was a Christian materialist who argued that to talk of the soul is a way of expressing the value of human beings. When someone makes an SOS they don’t want someone to save an invisible ghost-like substance, rather they are saving the whole self and so to talk of the soul is to talk about the value of a whole self. This metaphorical view of the soul is more appealing than the traditional Christian view of the soul because, for me, it has a much greater significance in that everyone can relate to Dawkins and Hick’s secular version of the soul whereas the traditional religious soul isn’t as relevant to me. Moreover I agree with Hick that the soul and the body are one entity in the sense that the soul is a symbol for our characteristics or personality.

George Hegel was an Idealist; the idea that the physical world consists of ideas rather than matter. Because matter is ideas there is no physical body to decay after death. Hegel argued that the mind imposes order on our existence and that ultimately our minds are not real, our minds come from an Absolute Spirit, the rational soul of the universe. This concept doesn’t fit into dualism or materialism; because the body doesn’t exist there is no separation of body and soul and no body to decay at death. Idealism is its own niche theory but doesn’t personally hold much sway in the debate of the soul and the body. Firstly none of Hegel’s theory is grounded in evidence. The Absolute Spirit cannot be verified and neither can the statement that matter is merely ideas. Hegel might respond that because matter does not exist in the way we think it does one cannot prove the existence of nothing. However in the words of Christopher Hitchens, a claim made without evidence can be disregarded without evidence. Moreover Logical Positivists such as A.J Ayer would claim that since the statement cannot be verified or falsified it is meaningless to talk of the soul in such a way.

Plato is the most influential dualist and was very certain that the body and soul were two different things. The soul came from the World of the Forms and is trapped in a human body, incarnated and experiencing all the tensions between the body and the soul. Plato stresses the mortality of the body and immortality of the soul as key to his philosophy. The body is controlled by bodily pleasures and it is the job of the soul to control the pleasures in such a way as to help the person achieve enlightenment and become a true philosopher. To Plato the body is not the real person, the real person is the soul and is separate and distinct from the body it inhabits. Plato’s strongest argument for dualism is the argument from opposites. This states that we know things by their opposites such as light and dark, being awake and asleep. It so follows that death and life are in a cycle and since the body decays at death there must be something to continue the cycle and Plato calls this the soul. However Brian Davies responds by saying that not all things have opposites. Fortnight for example, therefore it is not a necessary argument that everything has opposites and this undermines the argument from opposition that Plato uses to show the differences in the soul and body. In addition one could argue that since there is no way of verifying the existence of the world of the forms it is meaningless to talk of such.

Aristotle’s view of the soul in my opinion furthers the claim that the body and soul are indeed one entity. In contrast to Plato, Aristotle believed that the soul and the body are inseparable and that while the soul develops the person’s skills and character, it cannot survive death. Aristotle wasn’t a materialist however because he thought that the body and soul were different to the extent that humans have a soul that is capable of intellectual life. The body can feel hunger but the mind can dwell on the concept of hunger. Mental activity is distinguished from the body and this aspect of the soul survives death. This answers many of the criticisms of the platonic viewpoint of the soul in that we would not be recognised without our bodies as identity comes from our physical characteristics.

Descartes argued that the mind cannot be divided and that the only thing we could know for sure existed was our mind. It is possible to doubt all things including the existence of the body. However one cannot doubt oneself as a thinking being. When one thinks, there must be something doing the thinking. This is the soul. If the body can be doubted and the soul proved then this suggests they are different things. Descartes was an advocate of substance dualism in that the mind carries personal identity and influences the body. This position however is not a strong one because of the overwhelming evidence to suggest links between the mind/soul and the body. For example I can think about running for a bus but if my mind is not linked to my body then how can the physical act of running take place?

Overall I do think that the body and soul are one entity and that when we die, so does the soul. For me the soul is not so much the religious and moral immortal part of us, but similar to Hick’s metaphorical view, that the soul refers and presents our character and aspects of our personality. The monistic view of the soul is in my opinion flawed due to the lack of evidence and Gilbert Ryle’s ‘Ghost in the Machine’ view of a ghost-like substance rattling around in our body.


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