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The soul, in several philosophical movements and many religious traditions, is the core essence of a being. In some traditions it is considered immortal, in others it is considered to be mortal. In most religions, and some philosophical movements, a soul is strongly connected with notions of the 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 believe the soul is immaterial, while others feel it may indeed be material.

Table of contents
1 Philosophical Views
2 Jewish beliefs
3 Christian beliefs
4 Buddhist beliefs
5 Hindu beliefs
6 Jainist beliefs
7 Other regligious beliefs and views
8 The atheist view
9 Scientific research into the soul
10 Other uses of the term
11 See also
12 External references and link

Philosophical Views

The Ancient Greek word for 'alive' is the same as 'ensouled'. So the earliest philosophical view might be taken to be that the soul is what makes living things alive.

Socrates and Plato

Plato, probably quoting Socrates, considers the soul to be the essence of a person that reasons, decides and acts. He considered this essence to be an incorporeal occupant of the body with its own separate, and immortal, existence.


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 to be 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). To be more exact, 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, analagous 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 is 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 be a matter of definition, as most Buddhists would agree, surely, that a knife can be used for cutting. They might, perhaps, stress the impermanence of the knife's cutting ability, and Aristotle would, I suggest, definitely agree with that.

Jewish beliefs

The soul in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament)

Genesis 2:7 states, "the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground,and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;and the man became a living being (or living soul)."

The soul in the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism)

The Zohar posits that the human soul has three elements, the nefesh, ru'ah, and neshamah. A common way of explaining these three parts is as follows:

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:

The Raaya Meheimna, a later addition to the Zohar by an unknown author, posits that there are 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":

Extra soul states

Both Rabbinic and kabbalistic works posit that there are also 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.

Other Jewish beliefs

For more detail on Jewish beliefs about the soul see
Jewish eschatology.

Christian beliefs

Most Christians believe the soul to be the immortal essence of a human, and that after death, the soul is either rewarded or punished. Whether this reward or punishment is contingent upon doing good deeds, or merely upon believing in God and Jesus, is a heated dispute among different Christian groups.

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, considered one of the most influential early Christian thinkers, wrote that the soul is "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...."

A sometimes vexing question in Christianity has been the origin of the soul; the major theories put forward are creationism, traducianism and pre-existence.

Other Christian beliefs differ:

Many non-denominational Christians, and indeed many that oestensibly subscribe to denominations having clear-cut dogma on the concept of soul, take an "a 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, other religions, and their understanding of science.

See also Christian eschatology.

Buddhist beliefs

According to Buddhist teaching all things are impermanent, in a constant state of flux, all is transient, 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 is us, our body, and mind. This in essence is 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 the wars and conflicts in human history, and that by undesrtanding that the anatta or not-self model is an accurate description of the human condition allows "us" to go beyond "our" mundane desires. The ineffable state of Nirvana is solely recognized as being distinct. Conventionally speaking though, the soul or self for Buddhists is spoken of socially as a matter of convenience and convention but under the conviction that "we" are changing entities. At death the body & mind disintegrates, but 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 Buddhists teach that a reborn being is neither entirely different nor exactly the same.

Many modern followers of Buddhist teaching, particularly in developed countries reject the concept of rebirth or reincarnation as being contadictory 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. Such a line is taken in the book, Buddhism Without Belief.

Hindu beliefs

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. There are many variant beliefs on the origin, purpose, and fate of the soul in Hinduism. 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.

Jainist beliefs

Jaininst 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.

Other regligious beliefs and views

In Egyptian Mythology, a person possessed six souls, three of the body and three of the mind. They were called Chet, Ren, Schut, Ka, Ba and Ach.

Some transhumanistss 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 and transcending any specific religion, the phenomena of therianthropy and the existence of otherkin might also be briefly mentioned. These can best be described as phenomena, and not beliefs, since people of all walks of life, religions, ethnicity, backgrounds and countries of origin believe in these concepts. Therianthropy is the belief that a person has a spiritual, emotional, or mental connection with an animal. This manifests itself in many forms. The reasons for this occurrence (or existence), and purpose are often explained in terms of the person's own religion/religious beliefs. A similar belief is that held by otherkin, who generally believe their souls are entirely non-human, and usually not of this world.

Another fairly large segment of the population, not necessarily favoring organized religion, labels themselves spiritual and hold that not only do humans have souls, but also all other living creatures as well. Some further believe the entire existence of the universe has a cosmic soul, a spirit or unified consciousness. The soul spirit might be linked with the idea of an existence before and after this present one. The soul could be considered as the spark, the self. It is the "I" in existence that feels and lives life.

Some people think "souls" in part 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 oneself. Such ideas have been explored for example by science fiction author Robert Heinlein.

The atheist view

Many secular humanists and atheists reject the concept of a soul, often viewing it as an ill-defined idea for which they do not find the evidence compelling. Some of them consider the idea to be borne of wishful thinking. They could perhaps accept the existence of the soul, however, if it were defined in a radically different way, and there is some justification for doing so in a non-religious way. Aristotle's formulation, for example, would allow atheists to continue using common phrases like 'poor soul' and 'he's a good soul' without feeling they are using a meaningless term. Such a formulationfits the way the term is used in many contexts, allowing, for example, the term to be extended to machines, making the title of Tracy Kidder's book, "The Soul of a New Machine," meaningful.

Scientific research into the soul

Scientists have tried to measure the soul, for example by attempting to measure the weight of a person before and after death in the hopes of determining the weight of the soul.

Other uses of the term

Soul is also a short reference to soul music.

In popular usage, experiences that evoke deep emotions are often described as "touching the soul."

See also

External references and link