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 tenet of immortality.......

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 tenet of immortality, but it is a sure instinct that leads us to suspect every attack on the substantiality 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, and will, and by which our bodies are animated. 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.

The belief in an animating principle in some sense distinct from the body is an almost inevitable inference from the observed facts of life. 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"

The soul in Judaism thought

The Hebrew terms nephesh (literally "living being"), ruach (literally "wind"), neshama (literally "breath"), chaya (literally "life") and yechidah (literally "singularity") are used to describe the soul or spirit.

In Judaism the soul is believed to be given by God to a person as mentioned in Genesis, "And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." Genesis 2:7.

Judaism relates the quality of one's soul to one's performance of the commandments, mitzvot, and reaching higher levels of understanding, and thus closeness to God.

A person with such closeness is called a tzadik. Therefore, Judaism embraces the commemoration of the day of one's death, nahala/Yahrtzeit and not the birthday as a festive of remembrance, for only toward the end of life's struggles, tests and challenges human souls could be judged and credited - b'ezrat hashem ("with God's help") - for righteousness and holiness. Judaism places great importance on the study of the souls.

Kabbalah and other mystic traditions go into greater detail into the nature of the soul. Kabbalah separates the soul into five elements, corresponding to the five worlds:

1. Nephesh, related to natural instinct.
2. Ruach, related to emotion and morality.
3. Neshamah, related to intellect and the awareness of God.
4. Chayah, considered a part of God, as it were.
5. Yechidah, also termed the pintele Yid (the "essential [inner] Jew"). This aspect is essentially one with God.

The soul in Christian thought

Graeco-Roman philosophy made no further progress in the doctrine of the soul in the age immediately preceding the Christian era. 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.

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