Tag Archives: philosophy of language

When does a soul get created?

As a Buddhist, I do not believe in souls. Talk to most people – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and even Buddhists – and they talk as though something survives after death. Such is the power and attraction of the concept of the soul.

Out of curiosity, I asked an American Muslim when is the soul created. He said, “at the moment of conception”. And thereafter it remains either in Heaven or Hell (and also Purgatory if you are Roman Catholic). So the mystery, it seems to me, is that the eternal soul did not start off as eternal but was created out of the grace of God or gods (of which again in Buddhism are concepts).

The problem here is that we have no evidence for these, only that of the textual sources, and not any independent or direct proof of souls and gods as such. Apart from being told by someone else, namely the sacred texts and by those who believe in word of the sacred texts, there is no other proof. Buddhism’s claim that everything is impermanent can be verified by observation. While we cannot observe everything, the weight of non-contrary evidence is substantial. Inferential logic tells us that the soul is perhaps one of these “things” which stands counter to impermanence even though no one can show us any evidence for its existence.

This alone should sound off alarm bells in your head.

While I do not have a problem with the concept of the soul, I do have problem with the belief in the existence of a soul. But at the same time, it is normal to think and believe that such a thing exists. This is something humans do very well, and perhaps defines us from other animals. But it is also natural that some for the human species (Buddhists) to “see through” it, that is, to understand the nature of it.

So it is baffling that in this day and age, where our understanding of the natural physical world has progressed this far, to be still caught in the grips of such an illusion. Powerful indeed is this illusion, passed on from generation to generation through speech and action.

Souls are not created. The concept of a soul is. The concept is perpetuated by its continued reinforcement. The root is therefore in the nature of words and not in the nature of the thing.

Physicalism, not atheism

I don’t like atheism.

I don’t like atheism because it drags God, god or gods in the conversation as if they exist. It assumes first that there is a god or gods then proceeds with the argument to deny it. Atheism is the trap that theists have set for the unsuspecting.

The better approach is physicalism. Conclude that everything is physical, then to proceed to see what is a god or gods means we can deal with it like the fiction that it is. The concept of god is then seen as ordinary like Harry Potter and purple unicorns. The verbalisation or iteration of these do not make them real. Physicalism allows us the possibility to deal with concepts.

The equality of objectivity

In objectivity everything has a value of 1. The problem is that it has a value. Choosing an equal value for everything is in itself a value-ladened choice, no different to choice unequal values.

To talk of nihilism is meaningless

If everything is meaningless (or if nothing has meaning) then to talk of nihilism is also meaningless. Is there not a tautological trap here?

“Philosophy”, East and West

Like all terms in any language there is no full presence of meaning.

Here are the three definitions of “philosophy” from LDOCE. They are distinct but related as all polysemy are.

1 [uncountable] the study of the nature and meaning of existence, truth, good and evil etc
2 [countable] the views of a particular philosopher or group of philosophers
3 [countable] the attitude or set of ideas that guides the behaviour of a person or organization

I think the first two terms are fairly straightforward (the first one at least) but it is the third which is of interest here.

One often uses the third meaning in sentences like, “my philosophy on life is …” or “his philosophy on the matter is that …”.

Interestingly this does not translate across languages.

When learners try to ask a question like “what is your philosophy on X” they often fail by literally translating the words.

In Japanese, for example, “X in taisuru anata no tetsugaku wa nan desu ka” sounds strange and unnatural. More natural would be “X ni kanshite wa dou omoimasu ka“, which would be literally close to “what do you think of X“, which would sound like asking for an opinion.

The term philosophy then entails some degree of objectivity, whatever that may be. This is not true of what do you think of X. The point being the possible structure of the language and the influence of it upon you must be taken into consideration.

Going back to the other two meanings too it would be hard to use the same structure as “the philosophy of Confucius” or “his management philosophy”. Different words would replace philosophy for this usage in Japanese and Chinese, and presumably in many other languages as well.

I know of no other existence

I know of no other existence other than this one. We may speak of souls and spirits but we may only speak of them from this existence, and none other. Whether souls or spirits exist or not is really not the point. What we should be noting is that the possible existence of or as souls and spirits has no direct bearing on this existence other than through that kind of thought and discourse.

Be, being, becoming

I don’t like the to in to be or to with any other infinitive for that matter. It entails movement when the infinitive indicates anything but movement or change. I am or it is are to indicate a state that in reality does not exist.

Being is to indicate a state over time. So this is closer to what is true of the reality.

Becoming is what is what we always do. But that too is an illusion. Becoming is what we perceive when the reality “sees” none. Becoming is therefore a value.