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I'm new to philosophy and I have 2 questions:

Will our Soul leave this Universe after our body death ?

Is our body created before our Soul ?

What are the opinions on these 2 questions among current philosophers ?

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  • In philosophy, the notion of a soul has been largely supplanted by the notion of the mind. The mind is different from the soul in that (1) it has no supernatural implications and is not presumed to be immortal, and (2) it is the seat of our sense of self and all experience, but not primarily seen as the foundation of who we are as a person. Whether the self is immortal is generally seen, not as a philosophical question, but a religious one. Apr 1 at 16:59
  • In one interpretation the soul is revealed through life choices, tracks & traces. They are permanent, so the soul is immortal. Apr 2 at 15:53
  • Even some Christian religions don't believe in the Greek and Pagan concept of a supernatural soul, and certainly not one that is immortal. A "soul" is simply a living creature, something that can die (as in "the ship sank and all souls were lost"). People are souls, they don't have souls. Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are examples, as are various "Church of God" denominations, such as Why You Don’t Have an Immortal Soul | United Church of God. Apr 3 at 15:27

2 Answers 2

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i) The general opinion among contemporary philosophers:

The traditional concept of a 'soul' as a substance is outdated. It can be transformed to the concept of processes, nameley 'soul = sum of all psychic processes of a living being'. These processes are processes of a physical system named a living 'body'. Hence:

No body => No soul.

Therefore the answer to your question:

  1. There is no soul after the death of the body.
  2. There is no soul before the existence of the body.

ii) Different from the general opinion most philosophers of religion continue to use the traditional concept and assume the existence of a soul without a body. They affirm question 1). Concerning question 2) they work with the belief that soul and body are created simultaneously by God.

Added in reply to comment:

i) The standard online reference is

https://plato.stanford.edu/

E.g. keyword ‚afterlife‘. The encyclopedia contains many further references.

ii) A good printed reference is

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cambridge-Dictionary-Philosophy-2015-05-18/dp/B01FKS6E0Q/ref=sr_1_5?Adv-Srch-Books-Submit.x=0&Adv-Srch-Books-Submit.y=0&__mk_en_GB=%C3%85M%C3%85Z%C3%95%C3%91&qid=1648833290&refinements=p_28%3AThe+Cambridge+Dictionary+of+Philosophy&s=books&sr=1-5&unfiltered=1

iii) The converse implication

no soul => no body i.e. body => soul

is false. There are many animals without a nerve system, which I consider a necessary requirement for psychic processes.

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  • Thank you for your reply. Your answer implies that the Soul is not immortal any more ? Yes please, give me some good books at amazon.co.uk. Apr 1 at 16:23
  • As a mathematician I could ask whether the converse implication > No body <= No soul also holds ? Apr 1 at 16:44
  • @user1642683, FWIW, I dispute that it is a "general" opinion in philosophy today that what was once called the soul can be seen as process. That is probably the majority opinion among academic philosophers, but it is a view primarily associated with materialism (because the position is meant to answer problems of materialism) and not a general assumption. Apr 1 at 17:02
  • @user1642683 I added references to my answer
    – Jo Wehler
    Apr 1 at 17:20
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'Soul' is largely an antique term, rarely used outside of explicitly religious philosophy discussions in Abrahamic faiths, and Hinduism.

Plato recounted The Myth Of Er at the close of his book The Republic, where it is made explicitly clear that it's role is that we must face ultimate moral consequences for immoral actions that could be done in secret for worldly benefits. Buddhist thought takes a similar approach, committing theologically to a Middle Way between 'eternalism' of some unchanging essence, and 'annihilationism' where nothing of us survives the death of our body, explicitly in a context of moral consequences of actions outliving ys (karma). This leaves plenty of space for dispute about which statements are metaphors, the 'two truths' controversy, and crucially must be integrated with the Buddhist challenge to the conventional self embodied in the doctrine of Anatta. Discussed with quotes here: How do the concepts of anatta rebirth and karma coexist together Buddha in the discourses where he was questioned about issues to do with the soul, would always begin by asking 'What exactly do you mean?', and that I think is a good example to follow. Modern philosophy tends to go straight to more precise terms than soul, like 'qualia' which arguably overlaps.

Aristotle, Plato's student, pictured a tripartite soul, with downwardly-causative or supervenient layers, all animals & plants having the first 'vegetative soul', animals all having a 'sensitive soul' that reacts to stimuli able to overide that, and only humans having a 'rational soul' that reacts to ideas and which can overide both. He saw the soul as ending when the body ends, introducing the idea of life-functionalism, which I would say is broadly the modern view. In many ways his picture holds up, describe something like metabolism, nervous system, and brain, but using the terminology 'soul'. Aristotle was a keen botanist, and did a lot of fieldwork.

Descartes saw the soul as something only humans have, divinely given by god, and somehow tethered to the body likely he thought through the pituitary gland towards the centre of the brain. Elizabeth of Bohemia made fairly devastating critique of his views, in his own lifetime:

"I ask you please to tell me how the soul of a human being (it being only a thinking substance) can determine the bodily spirits, in order to bring about voluntary actions. For it seems that all determination of movement happens through the impulsion of the thing moved, by the manner in which it is pushed by that which moves it, or else by the particular qualities and shape of the surface of the latter. Physical contact is required for the first two conditions, extension for the third. You entirely exclude the one [extension—i.e., spatial dimensions] from the notion you have of the soul, and the other [physical contact] appears to me incompatible with an immaterial thing." - Elizabeth of Bohemia in letters to Descartes

This critique of an 'immaterial' soul and action-at-a-distance runs deep, especially with the understanding by modern physics of the essential physicality of information, it's storage transfer, and how it can have impacts on the world. Discussed here: Is the concept of information nonphysical?

We can think of humans as meme-complexes with, in that sense, some capacities for substrate independence - dependence on a physical embodiment but not a specific embodiment, as understood through copying computer programmes. I would argue the meme-sphere has antecedents in the noosphere, and the Mahayana Buddhist Alayavijnana or 'storehouse consciousness', discussed here: Is it rationally possible to believe in a sensationless soul after death?

Personally, I see the idea of a soul as having been a mechanism to ensure moral behaviour, used to secure action for social benefits even when the contradict personal interests. I would say we can approach that better, and without relying on claims about immaterial essences, through understanding intersubjectivity, discussed here: Is the Categorical Imperative Simply Bad Math? :)

The Buddhist critique of the conventional self, is that in a deep way the universe is all of us, if we care about our own feelings we should care about others, and in light of inter-being, isolated individuality is an illusion. We are all involved in the lives of each other, and together become far more than apart. In this sense, our actions will outlive us, just as the actions of countless others were essential in our own becoming.

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