I identify myself as a Christian, but I'm not posting this on Christianity because almost all religions have a definition for soul.

The Latin word "anima" was "something" they believed "animated" objects. A creature can walk, eat, defend, think because it is anima[ted] by this "anima". An anima[tion] is a drawing brought to life.

Back to the question: If we accept that humans (or all creatures) have a soul, when is this soul "created"? It is created when the baby is born? When the baby starts developing? Or there are "fresh and default" souls exactly the same stored somewhere waiting to receive a baby body?

Try to think of this question outside the framework of any religion; think of the question regardless if you believe there is a God managing the souls. And if you find yourself reading this thread and you identify as an atheist then don't respond to this question because it is a question about the philosophy of believing in this "anima" that I told before about.

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    This is more of a question for Christianity SE. The term is ensoulment, God puts a soul into the body (he has no need to store them). There is no consensus on when exactly it happens, some time between conception and birth. On an early Christian view it is a process stretched in time, as the soul "develops", rather than an event. In recent times, due to the abortion debates, the event view became increasingly popular with the timing pushed closer to conception.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 21:30
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    @Conifold -- Biblically, ensoulment took place with the first breath. The breath of life. The question though is broader, and is a good one to ask all spiritual dualists, Christian or not.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 22:00
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    @Dcleve The Bible does not say anything definitive on when it takes place. I do not think it is a good question for this SE. There is no clear view in the literature, and we do not need debates and discussions here.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 22:04

4 Answers 4


This question is fine for this site. It's not specific to Christianity, and the existence or nature of the soul has been a perennial question in philosophy. Simply denying any existence to the soul, just ends discussion of something many find an important idea.

Aristotle had an interesting perspective. He believed in a three-part soul: a vegetative soul, an animal soul, and a thinking soul, with each supervening on (affecting but not affected by, roughly) the previous one, and the last soul as only possessed by humans. He saw souls as beginning at birth and ending with death - so you have to bear in mind how diverse uses of the term 'soul' have been. His 'eudaimonia' literally translates as 'good spiritedness'; daimons were semi-divine spiritual beings invoked for protection or placated in various ways, and Socrates talked about his daimon provoking him to proclaim the truth - that was his animating spirit. You may know Aristotle's views sharply diverged from Plato who had given the Myth of Er in his writing, a detailed supposedly first-person account of reincarnation.

In Buddhist thought the most detailed picture of rebirth is found in Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, where they picture the 'Alayavijnana', Eighth- or Storehouse-consciousness, as the means by which karma is transmitted but a unique special essence is not - in Buddhist thought the self is considered only to result from causes and conditions, as per the core Buddhist doctrine of Anatta. I think Alayavijnana is very comparable to the modern idea of the Memesphere (or Noosphere): it is the domain of inferential congnition, and so can be related to who is remembered well (memory 'kept alive') and used as inspiration (meme-complex replicated). Discussed in more detail in this answer: Is there a term that indicates disbelief in human "soul" or "spirit"?

A problem for this interpretation of Buddhist thought, is reconciling the clear doctrinal stance that each (unawakened) being's karma is reborn into exactly one new being, whereas karma in principle could diverge or converge. This gets into complex sectarian territory probably not of interest outside of Buddhism, but the existence in Mahayana schools of bodhisattva Avalokitesvara as explicitly the being constituted by 'the thousand hands and eyes of compassionate action', and considered to have been reborn as more than one being alive at the same time, shows this is at least a possibility. It should be noted that Alayavijnana has a difference to space of just memes, in that it concerns having subjective experiences, it concerns specifically the subset of memes that can be experienced by beings, so not for instance viruses which don't have subjectivity. In Buddhist thought souls are eternal and 'carry' personal karma, but this poses questions for making sense of what happens at Enlightenment, when a being ceases to create karma. A modern way to make sense of this is the term intersubjective virtuosity for how an Enlightened being behaves, that it is exactly not being limited to one subjectivity, but fully engaging with the experiences of others from their own perspective.

The rationing of 'symbolic immortality', can help us understand how humans have become willing to die for unrelated people, or even just abstract ideas themselves. Discussed here: What are some philosophical works that explore constructing meaning in life from an agnostic or atheist view? It can help us bridge between a religious mindset, into understanding how living and dying well can link us to transcendental themes, in literal and physically real ways.

It is easy to jump straight to detailed doctrinal disputes about the soul, because the word has meant so many things to so many people. The proper place to go is not to rush to conjecture about what happens after death, but to look first at what the self is in life. The Ship of Theseus, Teletransportation Paradoxes, what it means for there to be no Private Language, the challenge of solipsism, what it could mean if existence to come before essence, the meaning of the metaphor of Indra's Net, and the implications of the idea of Sunyata, etc etc. Classic tools of philosophy, that make us reflect on intuitions about conventional notions of identity.

What does it mean to say we are the same person waking up that went to sleep, or after anaesthesia? Or that we are the same person as an adult, that we were as a baby, or when all our cells have replaced? Can a digital upload be 'the same' person? This kind of work reflecting on our our lives, is far more useful than speculating on the afterlife, because we can work on what we have evidence for, and use it to be better people - which has to be good whatever your theology.

I think of Stoic practices of how to separate our inner freedom from outer circumstances through reflection and contemplation, as a good example of this. Boethius' book On The Consolations of Philosophy was an influential medieval book answering Christian problems, using only Classical philosophy. I also think of Ecclesiastes, and the very philosophical stance there of finding a way to be reconciled with our limited knowledge 'under the sun', towards making peace with that and turning our focus towards living as well as we can. For every thing there is a season.

  • @CriglCragle why is anatta comparable to postmodern idea of the memesphere? anatta is about "non-ergo"~ memesphere about ergo. Aristotle didn't write "thinking", he write the phantasia + causal mind~. thinking and phantasia don 't overlap. Your dzen stick become unsharp. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 5:58
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    +1 The question of soul is indeed perennial to philosophy.
    – J D
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 6:51
  • @άνθρωπος: Alayavijnana is equivalent to the memesphere, it is defined as the domain of inferential cognition. Saying the memesphere is 'postmodern' is not a good use of language. It has literally nothing to do with postmodernist philosophy. Do you mean ego? Ergo = Latin for 'therefore' (eg in post hoc ergo propter hoc). I have no idea what those last two sentences mean. The en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_wits model of Scholastic philosophy was developed from Aristotle. His 'common sense' is analogous to Sixth Consciousness in Buddhist thought.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 11:30
  • @CriglCragle i think i find the base of mistake: latin anima is not same as greece psycho(i thought that both are greece words), because anima today is based on "anima mundi" concept, where soul is depends on society cosmos, but greece cosmos wasn't ever society base, it was something else, and greece psycho was base on instincts like perception and feelings, but person(ego and psyhology soul) depends on reflexes and emotions. So the person anima or "single ego" or same is pseudo-psycho concept depends on virtual model of feelings - emotions. "Single ego" - cuz Freud's Ego is triple concept. Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 13:18
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    @άνθρωπος: It's easy to overgeneralise & be vague about terms. You should go to primary texts & words of specific thinkers. Eg, beliefs expressed in Homer, or by specific Greek philosophers. You have mixed in ego & psyche (nb, not psycho, short for psycopath) as developed in Freud's work. Ego is extra problematic, because people have missapplied the term since Freud in a way that pervades modern culture.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 13:26

Even though I don't think this question is a good fit for the site, I've withdrawn my vote for closure, and would rather confront outmoded ideas than silence them. Anyone is free to believe what they want (presuming free will holds true I suppose). But without an adequate warrant for belief in ideas, they are mere metaphysical speculation, and meaningless from a naturalistic perspective. This question is very much 'How many angels can dance on the head of a pin':

In modern usage, the term has lost its theological context and is used as a metaphor for wasting time debating topics of no practical value, or questions whose answers hold no intellectual consequence, while more urgent concerns accumulate.

If there is some thing as a 'soul', and since science ruled out vitalism, the only real explanation lies in faith, tradition, or divine revelation or as best understanding 'soul' as a simple short hand for elan vital.

How does one decide which assertions about souls are true or not? For instance, the Vikings believed in an animating force and that one's soul went to Valhalla, and they have an elaborate mythology and cosmogony that offers a narrative to make the Norse explanation of life and afterlife believable. Christianity has its flavors, and Hindu and Buddhist thinking also. In fact, your question is really one for comparative religion, because as you have conceded, the notion of soul is widely spread among religious mythology and doctrine. While scientific orthodoxy generally rejects or steers clear of the soul, theologians and parapsychologists claim to have explanations for establishing its existence. However, it's best to keep a certain degree of skepticism. To do so, I'll offer you the nature of the soul according to Pastafarians.

The Pastafarians believe that before the beginning when the end ended, His Noodly Appendage was created ab nihilo. At once, the Great Pasta being in the sky used His Will to assert al dente that there should be consumers of pastas so that He may bask in all of his glory. He therefore, being greater than all things and yet equally all things, Breathed from His Holy Meatball His magical breath and created the first people, some say the Chinese and other the Italians, to inhabit earth and begin worship. Thus pasta and slurping were born. And it is until the last day until the last breath leaves the body of a man or woman (or bronnies if that's how a person identifies), that the magical breath of His High Pasta dwells within us, ultimately returning to Him so that He may again breathe into the next generation after judging each of us so the Great Sieve in the Sky may do it's appointed task.

And that is the mechanics of the soul to Pastafarians. Take it or it leave it. Such religious notions may or may not be credible in the eyes of contemporary philosophers.

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    Hmmm. First person empiricism is something I thought you were familiar with. NO -- first person empiricism is NOT "metaphysical speculation." No downvote though, as the Pastafarian myth was a blast to read. ;-)
    – Dcleve
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 22:36
  • @Dcleve Heterophenomenology trumps phenomenology. Every crackpot paints themselves into a prison of first-person empirical thought. But, one can argue that all empiricism is first-person with the question being weighting the role of testimony appropriately. Pastafarianesque language is beautiful for parroting back a bizzarro version of true belief. No religious dogma is spared, so it's equal-opportunity satire.
    – J D
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 0:22
  • Dennett is correct that the principle of heterophenomenology is how we should study first person experiences, when we can. However, in application he tries to use the method to smuggle in behaviorism. It is quite simply false that one can substitute behaviors and utterances for internal mental states, and treat them as 1:1. The bandwidth of our behaviors, and utterances, is FAR FAR less than that of our experiences. But Dennett makes that claim. He engages not just in motivated reasoning, but in deliberately motivated ARGUMENTATION. He is a polemicist.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 1:55
  • What I considered downvoting you over was this: "Any account of souls you get here will be a series of assertions about souls with no real manner in which to decide which is true, and which is not. .... Since there is no objective way to sort out whose version is correct (other than excommunication and religious crusade)". This claim is untrue. Both standard empirical test cases (Problem of Evil) and first person empiricism (practical mysticism, parapsych methods, field studies like Stevenson, etc), can be used to evaluate theological claims about souls.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 2:03
  • @Dcleve Okay, I admit that despite the 'soul' being largely rejected by orthodox science, a parapsychologist has a metaphysics that admits testing. Thus, I've amended my language to "How does one decide which assertions about souls are true or not?" to open the question for reflection as not to presume that my scientism is incapable of compromise. You like bruising my ribs on these supernatural issues.
    – J D
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 6:50

The best empirical data we have on whether souls are always "fresh" or not are the early childhood reincarnation studies by Stephenson and others at UVA. Here is a link to the research center that has compiled data from thousands of remembered lives from young children: https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-studies/our-research/children-who-report-memories-of-previous-lives/ As a minimum, at least SOME souls are not "fresh".

One can also look at the data from past life hypnotherapy to see the frequency of patients having had past lives. And the vast majority of past life therapy patients DO have past life memories. If hypnotic regression is reliable, then this suggests that almost no souls are "fresh".

The reincarnation data introduces a problem, the "problem of numbers", which is discussed in this prior PhilSE question: Doesn't population increase logically preclude reincarnation? My answer to this question noted that there are a variety of ways this question can be resolved, and the one that seems the most consistent with the regression therapy data is that souls may not be unitary -- IE that multiple souls may share the same past life memory.

There is an implicit secondary question -- when does ensoulment take place, in your question. The regression data tests to show that ensoulment is not a one time event, but occurs progressively, with a soul spending more and more time in its body as pregnancy advances.


What is the soul, and something else.

Anima*** is the Greek term for living, moving, and feeling pain (responding with movement) . Anima is the root word of animation - moving pictures, alive pictures. In Ancient Greek thought the Anima as soul (or animating spirit) belonged to all animals, but the Christian idea of the soul is that it's uniquely human. So the term Anima and the term soul as used by Christians, are not same. Christians picture eternal souls. Anima is a mortal nature.

That is why to kill animals is not a sin in Christianity (and other Abrahamic religions). All Abrahamic religions are anthropocentric and assert the superiority of humans over other creatures, and plants.

But not same in Hinduism, Buddhism and other traditions. In Indian thought they have a different term to "soul", they use Atman, it is not same as an immortal soul or the Greek term Anima. Also gods in Hinduism have no spirit, but have avatars. So, in spite of lots of gods in the pantheon many of them are avatars of Krishna or Shiva, for example Kali can be represented as Shakti -Shiva's wife- who is an avatar (I may be making a mistake with this term) of Shiva. In this view Jesus is an avatar of the one God. But! In Christian thought Jesus is not an avatar - he is a human, he has a human eternal (or immortal) soul... So Atman in Hinduism and Buddhism is not ever the same as the term soul is in Chrustianity. Also Atman can switch type of body to another biological form, but Christian's eternal soul only relates to humans.

Question about immortal souls in different Christian denominations are different too. And here you need the Pre-Existing version - "the soul came into existence at some time prior" to birth, but another version says that God is creating souls only when being born... Also there are different doctrines about the soul after death. In the Orthodox Christian version all souls are not in Hell or Paradise yet, thay are waiting of the Last Judgment. So, they are in a waiting place after death... What happens due to sin is different too, but that doesn't matter - metanoia!

Another view point is psychological: soul ~ Psyche, Greek goddess - perceptions, emotions and feelings, breath, part of life, but not present after death. But this type of soul is not ever an Anima, or of immortal/eternal/mortal soul...

And I'm sorry, but "reincarnation of souls" looks to me to be a pop-culture myth. Because 'soul' is not Atman, and soul can't be reincarnated in the Christian religion. But maybe it'll become another cult soon.

***i got a mistake because i thought that anima it is a greece word, but anima is latin term, and greece "soul" psycho is not same anima that belong to anima mundi! They are completely different things. So i have to rewrite this text)

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