Philosophy Soul Essay Research Paper The SoulThe

Philosophy: Soul Essay, Research Paper The Soul The question of the reality of the soul and its distinction from the body is among the most important problems of philosophy, for with it is bound up the doctrine of a future life. Various theories as to the nature of the soul have claimed to be reconcilable with the belief of immortality, but it is a sure instinct that leads us to suspect every attack on the actuality or spirituality of the soul as an assault on the belief in existence after death.

Philosophy: Soul Essay, Research Paper

The Soul

The question of the reality of the soul and its distinction from the body is among the most important problems of philosophy, for with it is bound up the doctrine of a future life. Various theories as to the nature of the soul have claimed to be reconcilable with the belief of immortality, but it is a sure instinct that leads us to suspect every attack on the actuality or spirituality of the soul as an assault on the belief in existence after death.

The soul may be defined as the ultimate internal principle by which we think, feel, will, and essence of the human body. The term “mind” usually denotes this principle as the subject of our conscious states, while “soul” denotes the source of our vegetative activities as well. That our vital activities proceed from a principle capable of subsisting in itself, is the thesis of the substantiality of the soul: that this principle is not itself composite, extended, corporeal, or essentially and intrinsically dependent on the body, is the doctrine of spirituality. If there be a life after death, clearly the agent or subject of our vital activities must be capable of an existence separate from the body. Even uncivilized peoples arrive at the concept of the soul almost without reflection, certainly without any severe mental effort. The mysteries of birth and death, the lapse of conscious life during sleep and in swooning, even the commonest operations of imagination and memory, which abstract a man from his bodily presence even while awake-all such facts invincibly suggest the existence of something besides the visible organism, internal to it, but to a large extent independent of it, and leading a life of its own. In the rude psychology of the primitive nations, the soul is often represented as actually migrating to and fro during dreams and trances, and after death haunting the neighbourhood of its body. Nearly always it is figured as something extremely volatile, a perfume or a breath. Often, as among the Fijians, it is represented as a miniature replica of the body, so small as to be invisible. The Samoans have a name for the soul which means “that which comes and goes”. Many peoples, such as the Dyaks and Sumatrans, bind various parts of the body with cords during sickness to prevent the escape of the soul. In short, all the evidence goes to show that Dualism, however uncritical and inconsistent, is the instinctive creed of “primitive man” (see ANIMISM).


Early literature bears the same stamp of Dualism. In the “Rig-Veda” and other liturgical books of India, we find frequent references to the coming and going of manas (mind or soul). Indian philosophy, whether Brahminic or Buddhistic, with its various systems of metempsychosis, accentuated the distinction of soul and body, making the bodily life a mere transitory episode in the existence of the soul. They all taught the doctrine of limited immortality, ending either with the periodic world-destruction (Brahminism) or with attainment of Nirvana (Buddhism). The doctrine of a world-soul in a highly abstract form is met with as early as the eighth century before Christ, when we find it described as “the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the unknown knower, the Eternal in which space is woven and which is woven in it.” In Greece, on the other hand, the first essays of philosophy took a positive and somewhat materialistic direction, inherited from the pre-philosophic age, from Homer and the early Greek religion. In Homer, while the distinction of soul and body is recognized, the soul is hardly conceived as possessing a substantial existence of its own. Severed from the body, it is a mere shadow, incapable of energetic life. The philosophers did something to correct such views. The earliest school was that of the Hylozoists; these conceived the soul as a kind of cosmic force, and attributed animation to the whole of nature. Any natural force might be designated psyche: thus Thales uses this term for the attractive force of the magnet, and similar language is quoted even from Anaxagoras and Democritus. With this we may compare the “mind-stuff” theory and Pan-psychism of certain modern scientists. Other philosophers again described the soul’s nature in terms of substance. Anaximander gives it an aeriform constitution, Heraclitus describes it as a fire. The fundamental thought is the same. The cosmic ether or fire is the subtlest of the elements, the nourishing flame which imparts heat, life, sense, and intelligence to all things in their several degrees and kinds. The Pythagoreans taught that the soul is a harmony, its essence consisting in those perfect mathematical ratios which are the law of the universe and the music of the heavenly spheres. With this doctrine was combined, according to Cicero, the belief in a universal world-spirit, from which all particular souls are derived. All these early theories were cosmological rather than psychological in character. Theology, physics, and mental science were not as yet distinguished. It is only with the rise of dialectic and the growing recognition of the problem of knowledge that a genuinely psychological theory became possible. In Plato the two standpoints, the cosmological and the epistemological, are found combined. Thus in the “Timaeus” (p. 30) we find an account derived from Pythagorean sources of the origin of the soul. First the world-soul is created according to the laws of mathematical symmetry and musical concord. It is composed of two elements, one an element of “sameness” (tauton), corresponding to the universal and intelligible order of truth, and the other an element of distinction or “otherness” (thateron), corresponding to the world of sensible and particular existences. The individual human soul is constructed on the same plan. Sometimes, as in the “Phaedrus”, Plato teaches the doctrine of plurality of souls (cf. the well-known allegory of the charioteer and the two steeds in that dialogue). The rational soul was located in the head, the passionate or spirited soul in the breast, the appetitive soul in the abdomen. In the “Republic”, instead of the triple soul, we find the doctrine of three elements within the complex unity of the single soul. The question of immortality was a principal subject of Plato’s speculations. His account of the origin of the soul in the “Timaeus” leads him to deny the intrinsic immortality even of the world-soul, and to admit only an immortality conditional on the good pleasure of God. In the “Phaedo” the chief argument for the immortality of the soul is based on the nature of intellectual knowledge interpreted on the theory of reminiscence; this of course implies the pre-existence of the soul, and perhaps in strict logic its eternal pre-existence. There is also an argument from the soul’s necessary participation in the idea of life, which, it is argued, makes the idea of its extinction impossible. These various lines of argument are nowhere harmonized in Plato (see IMMORTALITY). The Platonic doctrine tended to an extreme Transcendentalism. Soul and body are distinct orders of reality, and bodily existence involves a kind of violence to the higher part of our composite nature. The body is the “prison”, the “tomb”, or even, as some later Platonists expressed it, the “hell” of the soul. In Aristotle this error is avoided. His definition of the soul as “the first entelechy of a physical organized body potentially possessing life” emphasizes the closeness of the union of soul and body. The

difficulty in his theory is to determine what degree of distinctness or separateness from the matter of the body is to be conceded to the human soul. He fully recognizes the spiritual element in thought and describes the “active intellect” (nous poetikos) as “separate and impassible”, but the precise relation of this active intellect to the individual mind is a hopelessly obscure question in Aristotle’s psychology. (See INTELLECT; MIND.) The Stoics taught that all existence is material, and described the soul as a breath pervading the body. They also called it Divine, a particle of God (apospasma tou theu) — it was composed of the most refined and ethereal matter. Eight distinct parts of the soul were recognized by them: the ruling reason (to hegemonikon) the five senses; the procreative powers. Absolute immortality they denied; relative immortality, terminating with the universal conflagration and destruction of all things, some of them (e. g. Cleanthes and Chrysippus) admitted in the case of the wise man; others, such as Panaetius and Posidonius, denied even this, arguing that, as the soul began with the body, so it must end with it. Epicureanism accepted the Atomist theory of Leucippus and Democritus. Soul consists of the finest grained atoms in the universe, finer even than those of wind and heat which they resemble: hence the exquisite fluency of the soul’s movements in thought and sensation. The soul-atoms themselves, however, could not exercise their functions if they were not kept together by the body. It is this which gives shape and consistency to the group. If this is destroyed, the atoms escape and life is dissolved; if it is injured, part of the soul is lost, but enough may be left to maintain life. The Lucretian version of Epicureanism distinguishes between animus and anima: the latter only is soul in the biological sense, the former is the higher, directing principle (to hegemonikon) in the Stoic terminology, whose seat is the heart, the centre of the cognitive and emotional life.


Graeco-Roman philosophy made no further progress in the doctrine of

the soul in the age immediately preceding the Christian era. None of

the existing theories had found general acceptance, and in the

literature of the period an eclectic spirit nearly akin to

Scepticism predominated. Of the strife and fusion of systems at this

time the works of Cicero are the best example. On the question of

the soul he is by turns Platonic and Pythagorean, while he confesses

that the Stoic and Epicurean systems have each an attraction for

him. Such was the state of the question in the West at the dawn of

Christianity. In Jewish circles a like uncertainty prevailed. The

Sadducees were Materialists, denying immortality and all spiritual

existence. The Pharisees maintained these doctrines, adding belief

in pre-existence and transmigration. The psychology of the Rabbins

is founded on the Sacred Books, particularly the account of the

creation of man in Genesis. Three terms are used for the soul:

nephesh, nuah, and neshamah; the first was taken to refer to the

animal and vegetative nature, the second to the ethical principle,

the third to the purely spiritual intelligence. At all events, it is

evident that the Old Testament throughout either asserts or implies

the distinct reality of the soul. An important contribution to later

Jewish thought was the infusion of Platonism into it by Philo of

Alexandria. He taught the immediately Divine origin of the soul, its

pre-existence and transmigration; he contrasts the pneuma, or

spiritual essence, with the soul proper, the source of vital

phenomena, whose seat is the blood; finally he revived the old

Platonic Dualism, attributing the origin of sin and evil to the

union of spirit with matter.

It was Christianity that, after many centuries of struggle, applied

the final criticisms to the various psychologies of antiquity, and

brought their scattered elements of truth to full focus. The

tendency of Christ’s teaching was to centre all interest in the

spiritual side of man’s nature; the salvation or loss of the soul is

the great issue of existence. The Gospel language is popular, not

technical. Psyche and pneuma are used indifferently either for the

principle of natural life or for spirit in the strict sense. Body

and soul are recognized as a dualism and their values contrasted:

“Fear ye not them that kill the body . . . but rather fear him that

can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

In St. Paul we find a more technical phraseology employed with great

consistency. Psyche is now appropriated to the purely natural life;

pneuma to the life of supernatural religion, the principle of which

is the Holy Spirit, dwelling and operating in the heart. The

opposition of flesh and spirit is accentuated afresh (Romans 1:18,

etc.). This Pauline system, presented to a world already

prepossessed in favour of a quasi-Platonic Dualism, occasioned one

of the earliest widespread forms of error among Christian writers —

the doctrine of the Trichotomy. According to this, man, perfect man

(teleios) consists of three parts: body, soul, spirit (soma, psyche,

pneuma). Body and soul come by natural generation; spirit is given

to the regenerate Christian alone. Thus, the “newness of life”, of

which St. Paul speaks, was conceived by some as a superadded entity,

a kind of oversoul sublimating the “natural man” into a higher

species. This doctrine was variously distorted in the different

Gnostic systems. The Gnostics divided man into three classes:

pneumatici or spiritual,

psychici or animal,

choici or earthy.

To each class they ascribed a different origin and destiny. The

spiritual were of the seed of Achemoth, and were destined to return

in time whence they had sprung — namely, into the pleroma. Even in

this life they are exempted from the possibility of a fall from

their high calling; they therefore stand in no need of good works,

and have nothing to fear from the contaminations of the world and

the flesh. This class consists of course of the Gnostics themselves.

The psychici are in a lower position: they have capacities for

spiritual life which they must cultivate by good works. They stand

in a middle place, and may either rise to the spiritual or sink to

the hylic level. In this category stands the Christian Church at

large. Lastly, the earthy souls are a mere material emanation,

destined to perish: the matter of which they are composed being

incapable of salvation (me gar einai ten hylen dektiken soterias).

This class contains the multitudes of the merely natural man.

Two features claim attention in this the earliest essay towards a

complete anthropology within the Christian Church:

an extreme spirituality is attributed to “the perfect”;

immortality is conditional for the second class of souls, not an

intrinsic attribute of all souls.

It is probable that originally the terms pneumatici, psychici, and

choici denoted at first elements which were observed to exist in all

souls, and that it was only by an afterthought that they were

employed, according to the respective predominance of these elements

in different cases, to represent supposed real classes of men. The

doctrine of the four temperaments and the Stoic ideal of the Wise

Man afford a parallel for the personification of abstract qualities.

The true genius of Christianity, expressed by the Fathers of the

early centuries, rejected Gnosticism. The ascription to a creature

of an absolutely spiritual nature, and the claim to endless

existence asserted as a strictly de jure privilege in the case of

the “perfect”, seemed to them an encroachment on the incommunicable

attributes of God. The theory of Emanation too was seen to be a

derogation from the dignity of the Divine nature For this reason,

St. Justin, supposing that the doctrine of natural immortality

logically implies eternal existence, rejects it, making this

attribute (like Plato in the “Timaeus”) dependent on the free will

of God; at the same time he plainly asserts the de facto immortality

of every human soul. The doctrine of conservation, as the necessary

complement of creation, was not yet elaborated. Even in Scholastic

philosophy, which asserts natural immortality, the abstract

possibility of annihilation through an act of God’s absolute power

is also admitted. Similarly, Tatian denies the simplicity of the

soul, claiming that absolute simplicity belongs to God alone. All

other beings, he held, are composed of matter and spirit. Here again

it would be rash to urge a charge of Materialism. Many of these

writers failed to distinguish between corporeity in strict essence

and corporeity as a necessary or natural concomitant. Thus the soul

may itself be incorporeal and yet require a body as a condition of

its existence. In this sense St. Irenaeus attributes a certain

“corporeal character” to the soul; he represents it as possessing

the form of its body, as water possesses the form of its containing

vessel. At the same time, he teaches fairly explicitly the

incorporeal nature of the soul. He also sometimes uses what seems to

be the language of the Trichotomists, as when he says that in the

Resurrection men shall have each their own body, soul, and spirit.

But such an interpretation is impossible in view of his whole

position in regard to the Gnostic controversy.

The dubious language of these writers can only be understood in

relation to the system they were opposing. By assigning a literal

divinity to a certain small aristocracy of souls, Gnosticism set

aside the doctrine of Creation and the whole Christian idea of God’s

relation to man. On the other side, by its extreme dualism of matter

and spirit, and its denial to matter (i.e. the flesh) of all

capacity for spiritual influences, it involved the rejection of

cardinal doctrines like the Resurrection of the Body and even of the

Incarnation itself in any proper sense. The orthodox teacher had to


the soul’s distinction from God and subjection to Him;

its affinities with matter.

The two converse truths — those of the soul’s affinity with the

Divine nature and its radical distinction from matter, were apt to

be obscured in comparison. It was only afterwards and very

gradually, with the development of the doctrine of grace, with the

fuller recognition of the supernatural order as such, and the

realization of the Person and Office of the Holy Spirit, that the

various errors connected with the pneuma ceased to be a

stumbling-block to Christian psychology. Indeed, similar errors have

accompanied almost every subsequent form of heterodox Illuminism and


Tertullian’s treatise “De Anima” has been called the first Christian

classic on psychology proper. The author aims to show the failure of

all philosophies to elucidate the nature of the soul, and argues

eloquently that Christ alone can teach mankind the truth on such

subjects. His own doctrine, however, is simply the refined

Materialism of the Stoics, supported by arguments from medicine and

physiology and by ingenious interpretations of Scripture, in which

the unavoidable materialism of language is made to establish a

metaphysical Materialism. Tertullian is the founder of the theory of

Traducianism, which derives the rational soul ex traduce, i.e. by

procreation from the soul of the parent. For Tertullian this was a

necessary consequence of Materialism. Later writers found in the

doctrine a convenient explanation of the transmission of original

sin. St. Jerome says that in his day it was the common theory in the

West. Theologians have long abandoned it, however, in favour of

Creationism, as it seems to compromise the spirituality of the soul.

Origen taught the pre-existence of the soul. Terrestrial life is a

punishment and a remedy for prenatal sin. “Soul” is properly

degraded spirit: flesh is a condition of alienation and bondage (cf.

Comment. ad Rom., i, 18). Spirit, however, finite spirit, can exist

only in a body, albeit of a glorious and ethereal nature.

Neo-Platonism, which through St. Augustine contributed so much to

spiritual philosophy, belongs to this period. Like Gnosticism, it

uses emanations. The primeval and eternal One begets by emanation

nous (intelligence); and from nous in turn springs psyche (soul),

which is the image of nous, but distinct from it. Matter is a still

later emanation. Soul has relations to both ends of the scale of

reality, and its perfection lies in turning towards the Divine Unity

from which it came. In everything, the neo-Platonist recognized the

absolute primacy of the soul with respect to the body. Thus, the

mind is always active, even in sense — perception — it is only the

body that is passively affected by external stimuli. Similarly

Plotinus prefers to say that the body is in the soul rather than

vice versa: and he seems to have been the first to conceive the

peculiar manner of the soul’s location as an undivided and universal

presence pervading the organism (tota in toto et tota in singulis

partibus). It is impossible to give more than a very brief notice of

the psychology of St. Augustine. His contributions to every branch

of the science were immense; the senses, the emotions, imagination,

memory, the will, and the intellect — he explored them all, and

there is scarcely any subsequent development of importance that he

did not forestall. He is the founder of the introspective method.

Noverim Te, noverim me was an intellectual no less than a devotional

aspiration with him. The following are perhaps the chief points for

our present purpose:

he opposes body and soul on the ground of the irreducible

distinction of thought and extension (cf. DESCARTES). St.

Augustine, however, lays more stress on the volitional activities

than did the French Idealists.

As against the Manichaeans he always asserts the worth and dignity

of the body. Like Aristotle he makes the soul the final cause of

the body. As God is the Good or Summum Bonum of the soul, so is

the soul the good of the body.

The origin of the soul is perhaps beyond our ken. He never

definitely decided between Traducianism and Creationism.

As regards spirituality, he is everywhere most explicit, but it is

interesting as an indication of the futile subtleties current at

the time to find him warning a friend against the controversy on

the corporeality of the soul, seeing that the term “corpus” was

used in so many different senses. “Corpus, non caro” is his own

description of the angelic body.

Medieval psychology prior to the Aristotelean revival was affected

by neo-Platonism, Augustinianism, and mystical influences derived

from the works of pseudo-Dionysius. This fusion produced sometimes,

notably in Scotus Eriugena, a pantheistic theory of the soul. All

individual existence is but the development of the Divine life, in

which all things are destined to be resumed. The Arabian

commentators, Averroes and Avicenna, had interpreted Aristotle’s

psychology in a pantheistic sense. St. Thomas, with the rest of the

Schoolmen, amends this portion of the Aristotelean tradition,

accepting the rest with no important modifications. St. Thomas’s

doctrine is briefly as follows:

the rational soul, which is one with the sensitive and vegetative

principle, is the form of the body. This was defined as of faith

by the Council of Vienne of 1311;

the soul is a substance, but an incomplete substance, i. e. it has

a natural aptitude and exigency for existence in the body, in

conjunction with which it makes up the substantial unity of human


though connaturally related to the body, it is itself absolutely

simple, i.e. of an unextended and spiritual nature. It is not

wholly immersed in matter, its higher operations being

intrinsically independent of the organism;

the rational soul is produced by special creation at the moment

when the organism is sufficiently developed to receive it. In the

first stage of embryonic development, the vital principle has

merely vegetative powers; then a sensitive soul comes into being,

educed from the evolving potencies of the organism — later yet,

this is replaced by the perfect rational soul, which is

essentially immaterial and so postulates a special creative act.

Many modern theologians have abandoned this last point of St.

Thomas’s teaching, and maintain that a fully rational soul is

infused into the embryo at the first moment of its existence.


Modern speculations respecting the soul have taken two main

directions, Idealism and Materialism. Agnosticism need not be

reckoned as a third and distinct answer to the problem, since, as a

matter of fact, all actual agnosticisms have an easily recognized

bias towards one or other of the two solutions aforesaid. Both

Idealism and Materialism in present-day philosophy merge into

Monism, which is probably the most influential system outside the

Catholic Church.


Descartes conceived the soul as essentially thinking (i.e.

conscious) substance, and body as essentially extended substance.

The two are thus simply disparate realities, with no vital

connection between them. This is significantly marked by his theory

of the soul’s location in the body. Unlike the Scholastics he

confines it to a single point — the pineal gland — from which it

is supposed to control the various organs and muscles through the

medium of the “animal spirits”, a kind of fluid circulating through

the body. Thus, to say the least, the soul’s biological functions

are made very remote and indirect, and were in fact later on reduced

almost to a nullity: the lower life was violently severed from the

higher, and regarded as a simple mechanism. In the Cartesian theory

animals are mere automata. It is only by the Divine assistance that

action between soul and body is possible. The Occasionalists went

further, denying all interaction whatever, and making the

correspondence of the two sets of facts a pure result of the action

of God. The Leibnizian theory of Pre-established Harmony similarly

refuses to admit any inter-causal relation. The superior monad

(soul) and the aggregate of inferior monads which go to make up the

body are like two clocks constructed with perfect art so as always

to agree. They register alike, but independently: they are still two

clocks, not one. This awkward Dualism was entirely got rid of by

Spinoza. For him there is but one, infinite substance, of which

thought and extension are only attributes. Thought comprehends

extension, and by that very fact shows that it is at root one with

that which it comprehends. The alleged irreducible distinction is

transcended: soul and body are neither of them substances, but each

is a property of the one substance. Each in its sphere is the

counterpart of the other. This is the meaning of the definition,

“Soul is the Idea of Body”. Soul is the counterpart within the

sphere of the attribute of thought of that particular mode of the

attribute of extension which we call the body. Such was the fate of


English Idealism had a different course. Berkeley had begun by

denying the existence of material substance, which he reduced merely

to a series of impressions in the sentient mind. Mind is the only

substance. Hume finished the argument by dissolving mind itself into

its phenomena, a loose collection of “impressions and ideas”. The

Sensist school (Condillac etc.) and the Associationists (Hartley,

the Mills, and Bain) continued in similar fashion to regard the mind

as constituted by its phenomena or “states”, and the growth of

modern positive psychology has tended to encourage this attitude.

But to rest in Phenomenalism as a theory is impossible, as its

ablest advocates themselves have seen. Thus J.S. Mill, while

describing the mind as merely “a series [i.e. of conscious

phenomena] aware of itself as a series”, is forced to admit that

such a conception involves an unresolved paradox. Again, W. James’s

assertion that “the passing thought is itself the Thinker”, which

“appropriates” all past thoughts in the “stream of consciousness”,

simply blinks the question. For surely there is something which in

its turn “appropriates” the passing thought itself and the entire

stream of past and future thoughts as well, viz. the self-conscious,

self-asserting “I” the substantial ultimate of our mental life. To

be in this sense “monarch of all it surveys” in introspective

observation and reflective self-consciousness, to appropriate

without itself being appropriated by anything else, to be the

genuine owner of a certain limited section of reality (the stream of

consciousness), this is to be a free and sovereign (though finite)

personality, a self-conscious, spiritual substance in the language

of Catholic metaphysics.


The foregoing discussion partly anticipates our criticism of

Materialism (q. v.). The father of modern Materialism is Hobbes, who

accepted the theory of Epicurus, and reduced all spirits either to

phantoms of the imagination or to matter in a highly rarefied state.

This theory need not detain us here. Later Materialism has three

main sources:

Newtonian physics, which taught men to regard matter, not as inert

and passive, but as instinct with force. Why should not life and

consciousness be among its unexplored potencies? (Priestley,

Tyndall, etc.) Tyndall himself provides the answer admitting that

the chasm that separates psychical facts from material phenomena

is “intellectually impassable”. Writers, therefore, who make

thought a mere “secretion of the brain” or a “phosphorescence” of

its substance (Vogt, Moleschott) may be simply ignored. In reply

to the more serious Materialism, spiritualist philosophers need

only re-assert the admissions of the Materialists themselves, that

there is an impassable chasm between the two classes of facts.

Psychophysics, it is alleged, shows the most minute dependence of

mind-functions upon brain-states. The two orders of facts are

therefore perfectly continuous, and, though they may be

superficially different yet they must be after all radically one.

Mental phenomena may be styled an epiphenomenon or byproduct of

material force (Huxley). The answer is the same as before. There

is no analogy for an epiphenomenon being separated by an

“impassable chasm” from the causal series to which it belongs. The

term is, in fact, a mere verbal subterfuge. The only sound

principle in such arguments is the principle that essential or

“impassable” distinctions in the effect can be explained only by

similar distinctions in the cause. This is the principle on which

Dualism as we have explained it, rests. Merely to find relations,

however close, between mental and physiological facts does not

advance us an inch towards transcending this Dualism. It only

enriches and fills out our concept of it. The mutual

compenetration of soul and body in their activities is just what

Catholic philosophy (anticipating positive science) had taught for

centuries. Man is two and one, a divisible but a vital unity.

Evolutionism endeavours to explain the origin of the soul from

merely material forces. Spirit is not the basis and principle;

rather it is the ultimate efflorescence of the Cosmos. If we ask

then “what was the original basis out of which spirit and all

things arose?” we are told it was the Unknowable (Spencer). This

system must be treated as Materialistic Monism. The answer to it

is that, as the outcome of the Unknowable has a spiritual

character, the Unknowable itself (assuming its reality) must be


As regards monistic systems generally, it belongs rather to

cosmology to discuss them. We take our stand on the consciousness of

individual personality, which consciousness is a distinct

deliverance of our very highest faculties, growing more and more

explicit with the strengthening of our moral and intellectual being.

This consciousness is emphatic, as against the figments of a

fallaciously abstract reason, in asserting the self-subsistence (and

at the same time the finitude) of our being, i.e. it declares that

we are independent inasmuch as we are truly persons or selves, not

mere attributes or adjectives, while at the same time, by exhibiting

our manifold limitations, it directs us to a higher Cause on which

our being depends.

Such is the Catholic doctrine on the nature, unity, substantiality,

spirituality, and origin of the soul. It is the only system

consistent with Christian faith, and, we may add, morals, for both

Materialism and Monism logically cut away the foundations of these.

The foregoing historical sketch will have served also to show

another advantage it possesses — namely, that it is by far the most

comprehensive, and at the same time discriminating, syntheseis of

whatever is best in rival systems. It recognizes the physical

conditions of the soul’s activity with the Materialist, and its

spiritual aspect with the Idealist, while with the Monist it insists

on the vital unity of human life. It enshrines the principles of

ancient speculation, and is ready to receive and assimilate the

fruits of modern research.


Transcribed by Tomas Hancil and Joseph P. Thomas

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV

Copyright ? 1912 by Robert Appleton Company

Online Edition Copyright ? 1999 by Kevin Knight

Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor

Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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