Monthly Archives: August 2019

Mind, soul, spirit

“The official doctrine, which hails chiefly from Descartes, is something like this. […] Some would prefer to say that every human being is both a body and a mind. His body and his mind are ordinarily harnessed together, but after the death of the body his mind may continue to exist and function.” (Ryle, The Concept of Mind, 13. Underline mine.)

Often, the mind (your thoughts or your ability to think, feel, and imagine things) is equated to the soul (the part of a person that is not physical, and that contains their character, thoughts, and feelings. Many people believe that a person’s soul continues to exist after they have died) and spirit (the part of someone that you cannot see, that consists of the qualities that make up their character, which many people believe continues to live after the person has died).

Today, we know the mind resides in the brain. The mental state is created there. Unlike the soul or spirit, the mind can be affected and influenced by diet, sensory input, and thoughts. The soul or spirit is some “thing” that is fixed, unchanging, immortal (in Western culture, at least). The soul seems to have character, thoughts, and feelings. The spirit contains character but not thoughts and feelings. Both soul or spirit are defined by its continuation after death, the expiration of the body’s animation.

So, slowly we are moving away from the notion that the mind equals a soul or spirit.

Today, we are unafraid to ask, does the soul or spirit exist. Religions will try to keep you saying yes. Science tries to convince you to say no.

The better question is to ask does the soul or spirit interact and affect the physical in way after the death. In that sense, equating the soul or spirit with the mind is better since it would suggest that mind, soul or spirit really only interacts and functions with this world when it is animated within the body. After death it has no influence other than through those who have interacted with that mind as a body. Anything beyond that interaction is a conceptualisation.

Is there such a thing as antihumanism?

Lately I have been hearing ‘antihumanism’ as a term being brandished around a lot more to refer to postmodernism (pomo). While it is true pomo is in some ways antihuman in its outlook it is by no means its main tenet.

I was hard-pressed to find anything in specialist dictionaries and general encyclopaedias with the entry ‘antihumanism’. A search of books came up with more. Most books with the word title were written in the turn of the century and were invariably contrasted against ‘humanism’. My point being this is a term that does not stand on its own, that it is always determined against humanism as disparate arguments.

Antihumanism is not a tradition but a group of thinkers and philosophies which have criticisms against humanism but is not a full blown -ism in itself. Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Heidegger are not “antihumanists”. Positivism and science, structuralism, poststructuralism, and postmodernism are not antihuman philosophies. The label is one of convenience, not one of coherence.