As Concerns Soul

Reading Time: 39 minutes

John Mancini, Rhode Island University


The following inquiry presents five different notions of soul, delving into the ones concerning Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Carl Jung. I divide these interpretations into two main categories, mythological and rational, and then a third minor one which is a mix of the two. In explaining these views, I show where a modern-day Catholic can take issue with each of them, in order that he may gain a fuller understanding regarding what the Church teaches about the soul. I end the inquiry by presenting a philosophy by Gianni Vattimo and briefly Jean-Paul Sartre, both of which rely upon the denial of soul’s existence, to show the true benefit that arises from belief in this concept and thus argue that soul remains necessary in this regard.


The realm of metaphysics tends to be the object of much criticism and ridicule in the modern age, where its according concepts are often dismissed as far-fetched, ridiculous, or absurd. As a result, the study of being or things in themselves is greeted with scoffs and the waving of hands. I, however, do not deem such behavior appropriate. Metaphysics may be difficult to understand, but it is certainly not absurd. It can, in fact, prove quite the substantial aid in our journey to understand the universe. We simply have to narrow down what its concepts entail to deduce how they operate in our lives. Naturally, this is the exact area where metaphysics loses many people; it is often (seemingly) impossible to pin a single definition to metaphysical ideas. For this reason, many turn to religion, as religions, such as Catholicism, logically apply metaphysics to the universe and have done so for centuries. Even in a religion such as Catholicism, however, metaphysics remains a necessarily ambiguous field. Central concepts such as the soul remain impossible to fully grasp, and unless one is well-versed in the according field of philosophy, he will never truly understand his faith or why he cannot apply proper meaning to such terms. On that note, this is the precise concept I would like to fully treat for this inquiry. Soul remains an incredibly ambiguous concept in Catholicism and metaphysics in general. Hence, I, a humble devout Catholic, am going to fully analyze some of the leading notions of the soul, laying out their strengths and weaknesses in this respect, so people can better understand the Church’s stance regarding this topic. Then, I will show why soul as a fundamental principle remains so pertinent in modernity to all of humanity by revealing its place in the world.

I. Mythology:

There are two general manners in which we can speak of soul. The first regards mythology, i.e. creating a story about soul to better understand how it functions and “looks.” Mythology finds its strength in comprehending such concepts due to how it enables us to think about them at all. We cannot actively view soul in our current human status, a status requiring we visually see a thing to properly conceive of it. In creating a myth about soul, then, we gain a visual interpretation regarding how it exists and thus a means of grasping this concept. Hence, mythological views of the soul remain allegorical in nature; they create a story about soul, relating it to something earthly, so that we can deduce what soul, something unearthly, is like. Herein, however, lies Mythology’s weakness. While the object of myth is to allow us to think about metaphysical concepts, i.e. as things, it can lead us to believe that every unearthly — or simply non-physical — idea is a thing. We begin to say, “The soul is that thing that-” or “Gravity is the thing that-”, when neither of these “things” are things at all. Because mythology conceptualizes incorporeal notions, it remains imperative to remember that it can only tell us what these “things” are like and hence remains purely allegorical, as stated previously. We must bear caution in referring to mythology, then, as it does not and cannot fully portray the being of the concept it is describing nor does it claim to possess this power. With that said, allow me to explain two mythological philosophies of the soul: Plato’s, from ancient philosophical times, and Carl Jung’s, from modernity. 


Before getting into the structure of Plato’s soul, allow me to first explain what Plato believed possessed a soul. To Plato, “All soul looks after all that lacks a soul . . . [I]t settles and takes on an earthly body, which then, owing to the power of this soul, seems to move itself.” From this passage, we gather that Plato believed anything that “[moves] itself” has a soul. These things, however, move themselves only seemingly. The Platonic body, then, is essentially dead and lifeless. The only reason said body can move is due to its being empowered by a soul, the principle of life. That is why the Platonic soul is often referred to as a battery or motor or, as I like to think of it, similar to a driver in a car; the soul “drives” the body and leads it through the Earth, suggesting that the body remains a mere shell for soul.

We need not speculate how Plato envisioned the soul, however. He provides his mythological account in the Phaedrus. The Phaedrus frames the soul as a chariot driver guiding two horses, one good and one bad. The good horse is “companion to true glory, he needs no whip, and is guided by verbal commands alone. The other horse . . . is companion to wild boasts and indecency . . . and just barely yields to horsewhip and goad combined.” The bad horse is drawn toward earthly temptations and seeks to pull the entire chariot towards its appetites. The charioteer and the good horse, however, do everything in their power to overcome the bad horse; they see its desires for what they truly are, i.e. as detriments to the whole chariot, which could arguably be said to be the person. In this way, the bad horse concerns itself only with what is physically pleasurable, while the other horse and the charioteer consider what is truly beneficial to a person and not merely pleasurable to him. Socrates uses the example of the bad horse being drawn towards a beautiful boy: 

[The bad horse] leaps violently forward and does everything to aggravate its yokemate and its charioteer, trying to make them go up to the boy and suggest to him the pleasure of sex. At first the other two resist, angry in the belief that they are being made to do things that are dreadfully wrong. At last, however, when they see no end to their trouble, they are led forward, reluctantly agreeing to do as they have been told.

This, however, remains improper, according to Socrates, as the boy merely reminds the soul of true Beauty. Hence, using this impression of Beauty for mere pleasure is an abuse, a crime against nature. It is only after much struggling that, finally, the “lover’s soul follows its boy in reverence and awe.” Thus, that is how we can consider the soul according to Plato: as a charioteer and his good horse doing everything they can to tame a bad horse.

This mythological account, on its own, however, may not prove satisfactory for many people in determining what the soul is and how it functions. Too many questions arise from Plato’s account: Why is there a bad horse? Why does it have jurisdiction over the other horse and charioteer in some circumstances? Who is the charioteer? Is the soul one or many? Let us look to Plato’s Republic to address at least some of these questions; then, I shall do my best to answer any remaining ones.

Let us first answer the last question: Is Plato’s soul one or many? From the Phaedrus, a strong case can be made for the Platonic soul being many or composed of parts, considering that Plato made specific distinctions between two horses and a charioteer. This can be further concluded from the Republic, where Plato formally introduces the idea of the soul having three parts: one he called appetitive desire, another rational calculation, and another spirited. Hence, for this inquiry, we will assume the Platonic soul is portioned in this way. We see the appetitive part of the soul at work when “someone who has an appetite for a thing . . . takes to himself what it is his will to have, and . . . his soul, since it desires this to come about, nods assent to it.” In essence, the appetitive part drives one’s actions in terms of what he physically desires; it feels earthly sensation and acts on that basis. This perfectly resembles the bad horse from the Phaedrus’s account, i.e. the part of the chariot that only seeks what is pleasurable.

Rational calculation, on the other hand, is responsible for exactly what its name implies: rational calculation. It reserves the function of thinking and fully assessing situations. Socrates illustrates rational calculation’s role by giving the example of one desiring to drink but opting not to drink for whatever reason: “Isn’t it that there is something in their soul, bidding them to drink, and something different, forbidding them to do so, that overrules the thing that bids?” Rational calculation essentially acts as our conscience in such circumstances; we consider a bodily appetite but then decide against it because such an appetite may not prove beneficial for our health, for example. Since our rationale provides self-control and works to override harmful earthly passions, we can consider this the charioteer driver; it acknowledges the bad horse’s wants but actively disregards them.

Before I move on to explain the final part of Plato’s soul, the analysis thus far should make clear that these parts commonly conflict with one another. This is why, in fact, Plato describes his soul as portioned, i.e. to allow it to conflict with itself or allow for the possibility of one to want and not-want a drink. If the soul was simple or composed of only one part, however, Plato, through Socrates, claims that one could not experience such contrary desires in a given moment: “It is obvious that the same thing will not be willing to do or undergo opposites in the same part of itself, in relation to the same thing, at the same time. So, if we ever find this happening in the soul, we’ll know that we aren’t dealing with one thing but many.” As for why Plato’s soul only consists of three parts, we can assume that he felt this sufficient in explaining human experiences. We have a bad horse because we obey detrimental earthly appetites; we have a charioteer driver because we demonstrate our ability to resist such detriments from time to time; and we have a good horse because we show emotion, the final part of Plato’s soul I will fully describe shortly. Plato’s philosophy, then, is phenomenological in nature; if we did not fall prey to earthly pleasures, for example, we would not have a bad horse. Because we do give in to our appetites, however, Plato took that as evidence of our souls possessing a bad horse, a part that rebels against other parts of the soul.

This is where the final, spirited part of the soul plays a role, i.e. as the good horse. This part, when one’s rationale and appetites conflict, “aligns” itself with either of those parts, typically the former, to respectively bring about emotions or anger from them. If the spirit aids rational calculation, then, it will make one angry out of rationality; if it aligns with appetitive desire, one will be angry for an appetitive reason. This fits the description of the good horse adequately, as this horse has no issue obeying the charioteer or rationale. Socrates gives a prime example of the good horse’s or spirit’s influence on human life through the story of Leontius: Leontius had the appetite to look at some corpses lying at an executioner’s feet, “but at the same time he was disgusted and turned away. For a time he struggled with himself and covered his face, but, finally, overpowered by the appetite, he pushed his eyes wide open and rushed towards the corpses, saying, ‘Look for yourselves, you evil wretches, take your fill of the beautiful sight!’” Here, the spirit aided the rational part of the soul in its aggression against the appetitive part to prevent Leontius from gazing at the corpses. The appetitive part, however, gave way and triumphed over the other parts of the soul. As a result, the spirit expressed itself rationally, causing Leontius to angrily feast his eyes upon the dead bodies. Thus, the spirited part of the soul causes us to show emotion; it is the reason that we, after wrongfully giving in to a bodily appetite, reproach and get angry with ourselves on a deeper level. It is the part of the soul that causes one to show his true colors.

Critique: Plato

At first glance, Plato’s soul may seem completely incompatible with Catholicism. Accordingly, it is fair to question why; what is it about Plato’s soul that is so repugnant to the Catholic faith? Many may be quick to refer to the idea of the soul being portioned. In Catholicism, we are never told that the soul has three parts. In fact, this seems quite contrary to the faith, considering we believe it is only one “thing” that rests in Heaven or burns in hell, and further believe this thing to be whole, the fulfillment of our being. How can such a concept be so divided that it has parts, parts which can even act independently of one another? Furthermore, Catholicism states that we, as human beings, are composite and that the soul remains one of these composites. If the soul was further broken into parts, Catholic doctrine would inform us of it — especially if these parts were the Platonic ones just described, as they seem to fully align with our being.

On that note, I do not necessarily believe Plato’s soul opposes the Catholic faith to such a high extent. Granted, we do not believe the soul to be portioned, but we do, as I stated prior, believe ourselves to be portioned, divisible into parts that act similarly to the Platonic soul. Do we not, as Catholics, admit that one can ignore the bodily desire for a drink, thus running contrary to how his body wants him to act? Do we not say that it is his rationale causing him to act in such a manner? Would not Plato make the same claim? Here, we seem to agree with Plato but only in this one sense. If we were to further pry at these questions, we would see that if a Catholic truly believes only one part of his being desires a drink, the result is something closer to a Cartesian philosophy, where the body and soul oppose each other rather than work in conjunction to each other. The Catechism, however, dictates that “Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity . . . For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.” In reconciling the Platonic soul with Catholicism, then, we must not claim, in a literal sense, that one part of the human being feels earthly desire; it is the whole person that experiences this feeling, which merely arises from bodily means. We must clarify, then, that the soul, in being unified with a body, wants precisely what this body wants. The soul “animates” the body; the body would not want something if not for the soul’s animation, i.e. if not because the soul wanted this thing first. Plato, however, suggests that the soul as a whole — and thus the person as a whole — does not want a bodily appetite. He suggests that there remains only one part that concerns itself with bodily desire and that it must force the rest of the soul in this direction. If there was no bad horse, no appetitive part, then, we can conclude that people and their bodies would never consider anything earthly. That is why the Platonic soul remains incompatible with the Catholic faith. That is why Plato’s reasoning cannot be accepted in this regard.


Let us move on, now, to another mythological account of the soul, from Carl Jung. Jung, being a psychologist, favors a psychological interpretation of the soul. In this way, he repeatedly attempts to convince readers that he does not leave his field in describing metaphysical ideas — even though he does. Hence, he reminds readers time after time that he remains an empiricist, and thereby maintains a completely phenomenological, reactionary philosophy of the psyche or soul; he only draws conclusions based on what he, himself, has experienced a posteriori. Accordingly, Jung’s account shares more than one similarity to Plato’s in seeking to explain human experiences. So, let us analyze Jung’s vision.

Jung believed there to exist a conscious and unconscious life for all human beings. He classified the former as the life of which we are aware and the latter as the life of which we are unaware. This is not to say, however, that human beings formally lead two lives and are thus two different people — though it can, perhaps, look this way in a certain light. Jung merely means to suggest that there remains something that we ignore, something that gathers our “forgotten and repressed contents,” that influences us to the point that we can consider it a life of its own. Without our conscious lives, our unconscious lives would take over and have enough at their disposals to do so because they contain the necessary experiences from our whole lives. We simply do not recognize such experiences in the conscious moment.

Within the unconscious there lies one of collective and one of personal nature. The collective unconscious “has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals;” it contains “patterns of instinctual behavior” constructed by humanity as a whole. The personal unconscious, on the other hand, reflects the unconscious life of only one particular person and is constructed on the individual level. Within every unconscious lie “archetypes,” which are the contents, i.e. the instincts, of the unconscious, themselves, and are what make up the psyche. In short, the psyche, for Jung, is made up of consciousness and unconsciousness on a personal and collective level, the latter of which contains archetypes which influence and explain human behavior. The key archetypes I am going to focus on for this inquiry, with the help of Jungian psychologist Murray Stein, concern the ego, the shadow, the anima and animus, and the Self. Let us start with the ego, the regulator of conscious life.

The ego essentially represents our conscious life, i.e. the life of which we are aware; it is composed of the contents and experiences we use to define us. It is to what we refer in addressing ourselves, the “‘subject of all personal acts of consciousness.’” Some mistake the ego with what Jung calls the “persona.” The persona is the person we wish to be and the person we wish others to view us as. It can make up a portion of the ego, i.e. the portion of which we are proud and display to others, but it can never be credited as our ego. To Jung, the persona is like a mask, a mask which we wear to hide our true selves, hoping the world cannot see under it. As Stein writes, it is “the official and ‘public person’ . . . that is more or less identified with ego-consciousness and forms the psycho-social identity of the individual.” In a word, we try to convince the world we are the persona and, because these qualities are the ones with which we seek to identify, readily bring it to consciousness, allowing our ego to identify with the persona, as it is only concerned with this conscious life. This also means, however, that the ego cannot characterize our full being. Recall that underneath our consciousness lies unconsciousness, which, unbeknownst to us, i.e. our egos, influences the former life. The selves of which we remain ignorant or, perhaps, simply do not want to show the world rebel against the ego and live under our masks. They are our “shadow” sides.

The shadow resides in every individual’s personal unconscious, hosting all of the contents his ego consciousness rejects. It is those contents of which one is ashamed and with which he seeks not to identify. As a result, we push the shadow within the personal unconscious, hoping it never shows itself in the conscious world. Stein explains the shadow as “a complementary functional complex” or “a sort of counter-persona.” The shadow can be part of the ego if we are conscious of it, but even then, we dare not let it into the world. For the most part, however, we do not know our shadow — or at least part of it — exists. We, i.e. our egos, remain completely unaware of it, as it remains unconscious and hidden. Hence, while the persona exists as “the person-as-presented” and is readily — and frequently — absorbed by the ego, the shadow exists as the unknown, less-desirable person neglected by the ego.

Another archetype of the unconscious that makes up a primary part of the psyche and our being is what Jung calls the “anima or animus.” Straight away, some may recognize that “anima” translates from Latin to “soul” and conclude that this means that the soul is merely a part of our psyche. If, however, the psyche is soul for Jung, then to say that soul (anima) is a part of soul is simply nonsensical — but this is not too far off from Jung’s view of the anima. Jung writes, “The anima is not the soul in the dogmatic sense, not an anima rationalis . . . but a natural archetype that satisfactorily sums up all the statements of the unconscious . . . [I]t is always that a priori element in his (man’s) moods, reactions, impulses, and whatever else is spontaneous in psychic life.” The anima, then, similar to other accounts of the soul to be discussed, is soul in that it allows us to act and live. It is the principle (archetype) always present in potentiality which we then actualize. It exists potentially, however, only insofar as it makes us desire what is potential: “[T]he anima wants life, she wants both good and bad.” She desires wholeness — something which we are not yet — and the actions we commit on her terms can seem chaotic and destructive, as she will go to any means to achieve her goal. This idea of “wholeness” is key in terms of the anima/animus archetype: The anima is the “not-I” in men, as she is feminine, while the animus is the “not-I” in women, as he is masculine. In this way, “[e]ither sex is inhabited by the opposite sex up to a point,” thus providing the whole of humanity in a single individual. This inhabitation, however, is only understood in terms of what is desired. Thus, in the case of men, what is not-I is “projected” upon certain women and draws them towards these women. A man, then, becomes whole by uniting with the woman who reflects what he is not, his not-I, his anima. The same goes for women and their animus archetype, i.e. women are drawn to the men whom they project their animus archetype upon to become whole. For this reason, Jung states that the anima/animus archetype is concerned with wisdom, i.e. the true us — and this remains the goal of the archetypes of the unconscious: They seek to unite one’s conscious and unconscious life, to make conscious that which is currently unconscious. Once this is achieved, we can finally become whole. We can finally portray our Self.

Similar to the anima/animus, the Self can also be understood as existing potentially. Accordingly, and somewhat counterintuitively, it remains imperative to understand that the Self is not ourselves; it is not to whom we refer in stating, “I am hungry.” The Self is whole; it is the summation of conscious and unconscious life. It also, however, governs psychic life and draws us towards wholeness, i.e. towards itself. The Self, then, is the God-image, the imago Dei, to Jung, which every human being has ingrained in his life, but which he also must actualize in order to be complete. It is similar to the Catholic idea that we are made in the image and likeness of God and must be sanctified, i.e. must become like God to the point where we could arguably be Him. Just like in Catholicism, we are constantly moving towards the Self, constantly becoming the Self, and this is the telos of all of our actions. Hence, our journey on Earth, as Catholics, is to be united with God, whereas for Jung it is to be united with our unconscious lives to become the Self, and that is how we achieve wholeness. Those are the main archetypes of the unconscious that constitute Jung’s soul: the ego, the shadow, the anima and animus, and the Self. What I will now more properly treat is how exactly these “beings” affect our everyday lives, according to Jung.

In describing the anima/animus archetype, I briefly mentioned the idea of “projection.” Jung states that this term is not so appropriate when describing one’s relationship to the unconscious, however. He rather states that it is by a “series of acts of introjection” that one comes to know his unconscious life. Nevertheless, the former term still finds its place in Jungian psychology, and so it will be used in conjunction with introjection to explain the occurrence of recognizing archetypes in human life — and this is how the archetypes influence our behavior. We are both receptive and proactive in our introjections with the archetypes; we thrust out, i.e. project, what is repressed within ourselves onto someone (or something) else because he (or it) reflects, i.e. introjects, this archetype, himself (or itself). A common example of this includes our shadows: We claim that someone is overbearing, for instance, because we do not want to face the fact that we are overbearing, ourselves. As a result, we project this shadow quality onto another, who may reflect our shadow only to a small degree, but it is enough for us to criticize because we are hypersensitive to it; it is a part of ourselves that we do not wish to recognize but that wants to be recognized, itself. All of the archetypes, in this way, want to be made conscious, and so we unconsciously project them upon everything and anything that is willing to accept (or reflects) such projections. It is in recognizing these projections that we act: We see one who portrays our anima/animus, so we chase after this individual; we see one who portrays our shadow, so we criticize and put him down; we see someone whom we wish to be, and so we copy his mannerisms. As for the drive behind our projections, this, once again, lies in our unconscious desire to be made whole. We want to be made into the Self, just as the archetypes want to be made conscious. The only method through which our psyche knows to do this is through introjections.

Critique: Jung

Jung, once again, presents a philosophy which seems completely incompatible with the Catholic faith. With a little bit of fine-tuning, however, we can find some overlap: The archetypes lead us towards wholeness, i.e. towards the Self. The Self, as we said, is the imago Dei, which we all have within us a priori. In Catholicism, we do not have archetypes that lead us to God, but we do have saints and angels who aid us in our journeys towards Him, i.e. in our struggles to turn away from sin in favor of eternal life. The Church claims that we can pray to the saints for their intercessions to help us in a given circumstance, e.g. we pray to Saint Anthony when we have lost a precious item, similar to how Jung states that we can (and must) integrate the archetypes into our lives to live better and more fully. On the angelic side, the Church preaches that angels “‘[hearken] to the voice of his (God’s) word,’” just as all archetypes conform to the Self, albeit indirectly through integration. The archetypes, then, can be thought of as a cross between saints and angels but only in the sense that they help bring us to a fuller life — and even then, there lie critical contrasts. We, as Catholics, ultimately must reject the archetypes for a couple of key reasons: Even considering that the archetypes remain crucial for allowing us to live full lives, Jung’s concept in no way implies the existence of beings that seek to make us whole. If we pray to the saints for their intercessions and ask the angels for their protection, they will lead us towards God for our benefits; they want to see us succeed. If we integrate an archetype into our lives, however, this archetype will lead us towards the Self for its own benefit; it wants to achieve its own full potential. The archetypes, then, are daemonic in this sense; they are not personable and do not care for their persons. They use us as a means to an end. Saints and angels, however, truly care for us and only reveal themselves if it is for our benefits. For angels, this is because they have wills of their own; they choose to serve and so choose to love us. For saints, this is due to how they have already actualized their full beings, as understood from a Jungian perspective. A saint is whole and formally reflects the Self archetype. There is nothing left on Earth for him to accomplish, nothing that he can do for us that will add to his Self. The archetypes, on the other hand, have not achieved their ultimate ends of being integrated and so remain incomplete. They, also contrary to saints (and angels), are a part of our being or psyche that has not been made whole. That is why Jung reduces them to mere instincts that influence our actions necessarily — because this is all they can do in the given unconscious moment. An archetype’s a priori unconscious nature characterizes its being and will. It does not enjoy being repressed, which is why it forces us to project it. It just so happens that this motive of being recognized to fully be benefits us in the end. Hence, we, as Catholics, cannot agree with the Jungian soul because it places saints and angels on a level lower than they truly are and also claims that they ultimately reside within us.

II. Rationality:

The following accounts of the soul concern rationality; they do not utilize mythology like the previous two but rather attempt to explain how the soul exists reasonably. Hence, what will be presented from Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas does not appeal to visuals and does not try to give us a method of imagining soul. It rather provides us with thought experiments, thus delving deep into the realm of formal metaphysics, by defining soul in terms of function.


Let us begin with Aristotle. The Aristotelian soul exists as form to matter, the combination of which constitutes living things. Matter “in itself is not a particular” but “in virtue of [form] . . . is then spoken of as a particular.” Matter as particular is what Aristotle calls “substance,” or “that which is never said of a subject or in a subject.” Substance, then, is to what we refer in calling things individual, which can only be thought of as such due to their forms. It is, in one sense, the product of form and matter, i.e. an “ensouled thing” and who we are as beings; it is the self of the human being. Substance gets tricky for Aristotle, however, in that he also claimed substance to be particular, itself, due to how it makes one particular. Consequently, Aristotle says we must consider substance form as well. Thus, the Aristotelian soul exists as form to matter but also as substance to matter. With this in mind, we must be careful to distinguish between the different contexts of substance when speaking in Aristotelian terms; substance always refers to something individual, but it can do so in three senses: 1) as form, 2) as particulate matter, or 3) as product of form and matter. For the majority of his work, however, Aristotle refers to substance as form, both of which — as synonymous concepts — promote selfhood. Hence, the Aristotelian soul is the individual human being, himself, as it is the form and substance of a human being. 

Now, if matter has no form, i.e. no substance, then it is no longer particular and is, in fact, nothing (that is, no-thing); for what do we call pure matter with no form? The same goes for actuality, to Aristotle, as what is pure action if it is not directed at something? As he writes in the Metaphysics, “[T]he parts of the soul (form) are prior . . . [t]o the concrete thing (substance as product) . . . in a sense . . . but in a sense they are not. For they cannot even exist if severed from the whole; for . . . the dead finger is a finger only homonymously.” Hence, we see Aristotle’s view that the parts which make up a substance can only be spoken of in terms of that substance. On their own, form and matter cannot and do not exist. Form can only exist as form to matter, and matter can only exist as matter formed. Let us expand upon this latter notion, however, as it remains key in understanding Aristotle’s metaphysics: What is the soul’s matter? For human beings, it is the body: “[T]he body is not something predicated of a subject, but rather exists as subject and matter.” Accordingly, we can designate the human being as being composed of form and matter, i.e. soul and body, the former of which actualizes and provides the latter with reason for being. How it does so is quite the interesting phenomenon.

Aristotle writes that “the soul is that by means of which, primarily, we live, perceive and think.” Again, Aristotle’s soul grants life. Without it, our bodies would only exist in principle as potentiality and so not at all. This raises the question, however, regarding animals and all other living things, which, because they are living, must have souls in Aristotle’s view — and they do. As Plato introduced the idea of a portioned soul, his student introduced the idea of there being different types of souls, each with its own range of functionality. Let us start with the lowest, least functional type of soul: nutritive. These souls belong to plants and are capable only of providing growth and nutrition for the respective body they actualize. A level above them lay the souls which belong to animals, i.e. sensitive souls. They allow a body to perceive and move in addition to all that nutritive souls allow. Human beings, however, have rational souls, granting them the capacity to reason in addition to all the given functions of sensitive souls. In this way, the soul not only grants life but life of a particular sort. When we think rationally, we do so because our soul actualizes and thus allows this capacity. That is how it is most properly form; that is how it is most properly substance.

Critique: Aristotle

My critique of Aristotle may seem fairly obvious for some, that being his view that the soul necessarily cannot be immortal. If the soul cannot exist apart from the body, or as a part severed from a whole, then this means that the Catholic belief that souls enjoy retirement in Heaven or damnation in hell remains impossible. Catholicism does believe that the human soul is rational, and so borrows much from Aristotelian definitions, but it takes this philosophy a step further to include that it is immortal. The Catechism reads: “‘[S]oul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man,” and, “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not ‘produced’ by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.” Hence, we cannot agree with Aristotle that the soul only exists as form and can only do so in terms of a body.

We can also take issue, however, with his view of selfhood. The soul, for Catholics, is not one’s self; it is the unified human being that constitutes one’s self, as previously shown by the Catechism in my critique of Plato. Granted, Aristotle does include that substance, i.e. one’s self, can be spoken of in terms of the product of form and matter, soul and body, but he remains adamant in his belief that the soul is the person, himself, as it remains the only “thing” about him that holds particularity. If this was the case in Catholicism, we would, also similar to what I wrote in my critique of Plato, question why we should even live on Earth; what is the point of having a body if it is only hindering our potentiality as true selves, i.e. as pure souls? It once again provides a slippery slope for us to regard the body as evil and the soul as good, i.e. to regard the body with a Cartesian attitude, and to believe that the body has nothing to do with us. I should include, however, that Aristotle, himself, seems quite torn on this issue. In the Metaphysics, he writes of “syllables”: “[B]a is not the same as b and a, nor is flesh fire and earth . . . The syllable . . . is something else.” This suggests that Aristotle believes substance as product, i.e. a human being, is not the same as merely soul and body. He seems to contend that we, as humans, are something else — but what? He never takes the extra step to designate syllables as true selves. He seems to reduce the idea of syllables to a simple form of language in everyday life. Hence, for Aristotle, addressing ourselves as ensouled things remains a mere method of viewing each other’s souls or selves, and for this reason Catholics cannot accept Aristotelian philosophy as the true philosophy of the soul.


This is not to say, however, that Catholics must completely disregard Aristotelian philosophy. In fact, this proves quite detrimental for Catholics, as Saint Thomas’s view of the soul mostly builds upon what Aristotle wrote.

Before moving on, I should mention that I am mostly going to present the Thomistic soul as a more proper description of how soul exists according to Catholicism. The reason we can consider Thomistic metaphysics more proper is due to Saint Thomas’s being Christian, himself, and so he applies God to his metaphysics; he wrote his Summa Theologiae in a Christian context. Hence, many consider Thomistic metaphysics dogmatic, and some of it is, seeing as the Church adopted certain aspects of his metaphysics to be described. I, however, will not present Thomistic metaphysics as hard dogma, though I will confess the areas where Aquinas’s philosophy fits perfectly with Catholic teaching, nor as the ultimate manner of thinking about soul, since the human condition dictates that we can never fully know how soul exists.

Hence, we can begin by presenting one of those areas where Thomistic — and in this case Aristotelian — metaphysics is regarded as dogma. Aquinas reiterates the view that the soul exists as form to matter and so remains the prime mover of the body: “[T]hat whereby primarily anything acts is a form of the thing to which the act is to be attributed . . . And as life appears through various operations in different degrees of living things, that whereby we primarily perform each of all these vital actions is the soul.” We find this in the Catechism in paragraph 365: “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body.” Aquinas, however, adds a couple of key layers to this phenomenon, and so adds to Aristotelian psychology and this passage. Aquinas and Aristotle agree that the soul, in providing us with acting capacity, provides us with the means by which we understand, as understanding is a part of life. This being the case means that we, as individuals, will understand and learn differently than other people, as form is what distinguishes us as particular. In Saint Thomas’s words, “But if anyone says that the intellectual soul is not the form of the body he must first explain how it is that this action of understanding is the action of this particular man.” We are provided with proper individuality, then, from the soul and can properly tell why and how we all exhibit our own intellectual properties. Again, this is all very Aristotelian.

Where Aquinas breaks from Aristotle — or rather expands upon him — is in his belief that the soul, in addition to expressing itself intellectually, also expresses itself physically through the human being. Without form, matter has no shape; our bodies would exist as indeterminate matter and so not exist at all. Once it is formed, however, it takes on a particular being — but what determines the form it takes? That is, why do we look how we do? Why did our souls shape our bodies in their present manners? This, according to Aquinas, is because a soul that actualizes a body contains characteristics which it grants unto that body in physicality: “The soul communicates that existence in which it subsists to the corporeal matter, out of which and the intellectual soul there results unity of existence; so that the existence of the whole composite is also the existence of the soul.” He further phrases it: “Since the form is not for the matter, but rather the matter for the form, we must gather from the form the reason why the matter is such as it is.” Aristotelian psychology states that the soul makes one particular by shaping his matter, but it does not tell why one soul forms matter in its given manner. Aristotle included that we all have different souls each providing different forms, but he did not include that the soul communicates itself in every possible manner through the body. My physical form is different from all others, then, due to its exclusive spiritual qualities. Aquinas’s idea further coincides with the Catholic self, i.e. that the whole human being is soul and body, by suggesting that the body is a manner through which the soul exists. In other words, the soul cannot be the Catholic self or constitute our full being because the soul (currently) exists through the body. This is further why the body is good in the Catholic faith: The soul needs the body so that it can act and live. This allows us to come to know God through such acts as prayer and almsgiving. Hence, we see that Aquinas’s view that the soul exists as form in the intellectual and physical sense of the term provides further explanation of physical beings and for this reason proved compatible with Catholic teaching.

The next point I would like to cover in studying the Thomistic soul regards a rebuttal to Aristotle’s idea of the mortal soul. As we stated previously, Aristotle contends that the soul can only exist as form to matter. When matter dissipates, then, there seems no manner in which the soul can exist; if it does, then we must question: as what form? If, however, the soul ceases to exist when the body does, this necessarily labels the soul as bodily; for if the soul is something other than bodily, then it should remain unaffected by the body’s perishing. Aquinas, accordingly, does not consider the soul bodily. If this was the case, we would not be able to know corporeal things: “[I]t is clear that by means of the intellect (the soul) man can have knowledge of all corporeal things. Now whatever knows certain things cannot have any of them in its own nature; because that which is in it naturally would impede the knowledge of anything else.” In simpler terms, we would not know that something was bodily unless we were able to view such a thing from a place of non-bodily nature. The fact that we can look to this world and declare it earthly suggests that a part of us is not earthly. Aquinas relates this idea to a sick man’s tongue; such a tongue cannot identify bitterness because everything is bitter to it. Hence, the corresponding individual cannot describe food in the same capacity as a healthy one because he is blinded by his current status. Therefore, our souls must be incorporeal, something other than bodily, to provide us with the means of knowing bodily things. This, then, allows the possibility of souls existing after death; if the body perishes, why must a soul perish with it? Catholics, as we showed previously, do believe the soul continues to exist after the body’s death and so reject the contrary Aristotelian notion. In fact, the Catechism states that this allows human beings to live more fully after death considering they find their place in Heaven: “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ.” However, what reason do we have to support this hypothesis? It is not good philosophical practice to answer any question by appealing to ignorance, i.e. by answering with “Because why not?” which is what we can currently conclude with the given analysis. Fortunately for Catholics, however, Aquinas does provide an answer in accordance with good philosophy.

In Aquinas’s words: “There exists . . . an operation of the soul which so far exceeds the corporeal nature that it is not even performed by any corporeal organ; and such is the operation of the ‘rational soul,’” and, “[T]he intellectual principle which we call the mind or the intellect has an operation per se apart from the body.” In essence, we can infer that the soul can maintain its being even without a body because it does so right now. Every time we rationally consider anything at all, we exercise our spiritual powers, something unearthly, something non-bodily. That being the case, Aquinas contends that this “per se” act of soul will continue to operate even once its body perishes, seeing as the body remains unnecessary to perform this action. It is not simply that the soul remains incorporeal that allows us reason to believe it continues to live without the body, then; it is that its functionality transcends the body currently and can continue to do so without it. Therefore, we can thus conclude from this Thomistic analysis that the soul persists even after death, despite its no longer acting as form to matter. With that, the Thomistic soul primarily adds two key layers to Aristotelian psychology: 1) That the soul has qualities that express themselves physically as well as intellectually through the body, and 2) that the soul necessarily remains separate from the body, in a sense, and so has being after death without said body.

Critique: Aquinas

As I stated previously, Aquinas’s philosophy is often regarded as dogma, and so it may seem inappropriate to critique him. Nevertheless, the greatest issue I find with Saint Thomas regards the difficulty in understanding how the soul can exist without the body, when it necessarily exists as form to matter on Earth and is form, itself. To be clear, I am not critiquing the logic behind Aquinas’s and Catholicism’s belief in this idea. I am rather critiquing the lack of reasoning behind it, according to Thomistic metaphysics. If the soul is form, then, as Aristotle states, it must always have matter to form. Otherwise, after death, the soul is no longer form if it continues to exist. We seem to have fallen into a Hermeneutical circle, then, where an answer to the question of whether the soul can exist without the body only brings us back to our initial question: An affirmative answer begs the question of how; a negative answer questions why a spiritual entity would cease existing without something bodily. Even still, the Catholic faith dictates that there is life after death, i.e. the soul does live absent of the body. The manner in which it is able to do so, however, remains a mystery, hence the nature of faith.

III. Rational Mythology: Plotinus

I am placing Plotinus in his own category for the simple reason that he combines mythology with rationality in offering an explanation of soul. Hence, he uses terms such as “form” and “matter,” and at the same time provides an allegorical account regarding how the soul acts. In this way, we can consider Plotinus a reconciliation of Platonic mythology with Aristotelian rationality, yielding what I call a “rational mythology.”


Let us begin with the Plotinian ideas of form and matter: “[T]he soul,” writes Plotinus, “should bear to the body the relation of form to matter,” where “the soul is the man, himself.” Here, we clearly see Aristotle’s influence shining through, especially when we consider that Plotinus also argues for a simple soul, just as Aristotle did. Nevertheless, we see a turn away from Aristotle in a couple of key fashions: Firstly, Plotinus’s “form” does not carry the exact same definition as Aristotle’s. “Form,” to Plotinus, merely regards the action one commits; the soul is the form of the human being insofar as “form” only refers to action. It does not, in this way, influence how we look — at least, not in the Thomistic or Aristotelian sense; the soul is not an “affection” of matter. The rejection of direct physical influence stems from Plotinus’s belief that souls are immortal — again, also contrary to Aristotle.

Let us briefly return, once again, to Aristotle’s On the Soul, where he argues that the soul and body remain so intertwined that one cannot possibly subsist without the other. Again, the soul must exist as form; if the body perishes, the soul loses its means of actualization and thus its means of living. Plotinus, similar to Aquinas and Catholic teaching, however, rejects this notion altogether. He argues that souls can and do exist independent of bodies. In fact, this idea remains central to his philosophy. Plotinus writes about two realms that make up reality: the intelligible and the physical. The former hosts what Plotinus calls the “Intelligence,” or the being that grants meaning unto the material world, while the physical realm hosts what we see “here below” on Earth. Our souls, i.e. human souls, initially reside in the intelligible realm existing as one and many and then descend into bodies “ready to receive [them].” Plotinus, then, argues that for a soul to govern a body, a body must exist a priori, as a soul can only come to know matter as form if the matter was initially present. Hence, he advocates for a self-sufficient body and soul, where one — including the body — can subsist without the other. So, the soul is not affectionate of matter in the sense that it does not provide reason for the body’s qualities. In fact, we could rather argue that the body provides reason for its actions, as a body will only receive a particular soul and so particular action if it reflects those actions beforehand. Nevertheless, we here see a substantial difference between Aristotle and Plotinus, as Aristotle argues that the soul only exists in principle before the body and so not at all, while Plotinus argues that bodies and souls fully exist prior to their unification. This is an incredibly interesting and somewhat paradoxical view, however, as Plotinus also agrees that souls grant life unto the bodies they actualize and so remain life-forces in that way. To solve this paradox, we must remember that Plotinus only labels the soul “form” in terms of action. Consequently, we can assume that he understood the soul as life in this regard as well, i.e. as active life. Thus, he writes that “the body . . . enters into the soul” and “participates in the life and the soul.” The soul gives “the body something of the soul,” i.e. activity and so life, which the soul possesses in itself. Hence, without a soul, a body has no life or acting capacity. Life, as action, is something which the soul possesses in itself and shares with or grants unto the body because it is act, i.e. form or actualization. Thus, the soul remains immortal for Plotinus because it must exist a priori to actualize an a priori body. It, as a concept, necessarily contains the principle of life and action and can never lose this quality regardless of what happens to the body. As for how the soul necessarily contains this principle, how it has life written unto its being, this is contingent upon what Plotinus calls the “Universal Soul.”

I briefly mentioned the intelligible realm where the Intelligence resides, as do all souls initially as “one and many.” This refers to Plotinus’s “Universal Soul” idea. Soul also dwells in the intelligible realm, and it is as Soul that all human souls exist in said realm, i.e. as one. The Universal Soul also exists as the principle which allows souls to grant life unto bodies. In this way, all souls owe to Soul their powers of life. Considering the Soul is what allows souls to give life, however, it must have this principle and power in itself — and it does. The Universal Soul “enters the body of the universe and comes to animate it . . . [S]he dominates it . . . and is present throughout [its] whole extension.” Plotinus considers the universe as “a net in the sea” of the Soul, and perhaps this analogy can best aid us in our understanding of how human souls function. The Soul extends to the furthest regions of the universe, but how is it then to care for every individual thing within it? That is why human souls are sent and separate from Soul and descend “here below,” i.e. to grant life unto inanimate bodies. Hence, Plotinus claims that every living being ultimately conforms to the Universal Soul because every soul originated from it as the principle of animation. In this way, all souls are Soul because the Universal Soul is the only true soul to ever exist. Thus, souls remain one insofar as they derive their life-giving power from the same Soul, conform to it in that way, and are all ultimately part of it. They remain many, however, insofar as they come to command one, single body — and even have autonomy in this regard. That is, souls do not all act in uniform fashion, thus providing them with formal individuality. In this way, Plotinus describes human souls as portioned.

Plotinus’s portioned soul does not compare to Plato’s in a strict sense, i.e. he does not suggest that the soul is truly composed of multiple parts. Plotinus rather claims that, insofar as souls remain one, one “part” of all souls — after descending from the intelligible realm — resides in the Intelligence, contemplating higher values, and while another “part” of all souls resides in the corporeal world, governing a body and contemplating earthly sensations. Because Plotinus argues that the soul is simple, however, his claiming that one spiritual “part” of all souls resides in the intelligence merely refers to a soul’s never losing connection to the Universal Soul; again, mythology is not to be taken literally. The Universal Soul emanates and allows for human souls to control particular bodies. For this reason, a human soul’s connection to Soul can never fully dissipate, lest it lose its possession and granting of life. Accordingly, when Plotinus says that a soul has “a lower part,” we can read this as a mere reference to the fact that a soul governs an earthly body. It may be improper to think, then, that a soul is both on Earth and in another realm. A soul is incorporeal for Plotinus; it does not fill physical space. When speaking of the soul’s residing in the intelligible and earthly realms, we can thus take this to mean only in principle; the soul does not necessarily “leave” or separate from the Universal Soul, for this would imply that it is bodily, as only bodily things “leave” in the formal sense of the term. Rather, a soul “leaves” the Universal Soul insofar as it opts not only to consider and contemplate higher values in the intelligible realm but also those in the lower, earthly realm, i.e. bodies. Now, when the Soul emanates human souls to the earthly realm, they maintain autonomy, thus allowing them to properly be many: When she “follows her own guide . . . her determination is really voluntary.” That is why Plotinus describes the soul as divisible; she divides herself from the whole and acts singly as concerns one body. At the same time, however, in remaining “in” the intelligible realm, the Soul is whole and indivisible. Hence, the Plotinian soul bears the paradoxical “one and many” idea to allow for proper relationality of beings to and in the universe.

As for the precise functions of a human soul and how it specifically affects its body, Plotinus states, “[T]he powers that we attribute to the soul . . . are thought, sensation, reasoning, desire, judiciousness, propriety and wisdom.” From this statement, Plotinus makes clear that he agrees with Plato that the soul desires and moves the body in that way, at the same time maintaining the Aristotelian view that the soul allows us to desire and act as specific beings, i.e. as humans. Granted, Plato’s soul does allow for rationality, through his rational part of the soul, but it seems to only do so in wake of desire. Aristotle seems to reject the notion that the soul feels earthly desires, however, in claiming that the soul allows the body to act according to a certain capacity; every action the body commits can be found in the soul, which allows the body to desire without feeling desire, itself — though this conclusion can be hotly debated. Plotinus argues that both are correct: Human souls exercise Platonic desire and Aristotelian reason. This, again, refers to his idea of souls residing in the intelligible and earthly realm, where the former provides reason, and the latter provides feelings of desire. There is an explicit implication, however, that the intelligible “part” of the soul remains ontologically higher than the earthly. This is because the intelligible realm is where all souls must return. The lower part can corrupt the higher part, in this regard, thus causing human souls to forget their place and cease contemplating higher values; they will no longer seek to reconnect with the Universal Soul. At that point, one’s soul no longer moves him in rationality but through pure earthly desire — pure earthly appetite, which is rather impure to Plotinus. Hence, a soul’s governance and function hinges on its maintaining proper connection to the higher, intelligible realm, lest it undergo corruption and separate from it in this fashion.

Critique: Plotinus

There remain several areas where we can critique Plotinus from a Catholic standpoint. At the same time, however, his philosophy coincides with Catholicism in certain respects. Let us start with a critique: Firstly, Catholics do not believe there exists the “Intelligence,” “Universal Soul,” or the “One” — or, at least, not in the Plotinian senses of these terms. We rather believe in one God that created the universe in His image and calls all things back to Him: “[T]he eternal God gave a beginning to all that exists outside of himself; he alone is Creator . . . The totality of what exists (expressed by the formula ‘the heavens and the earth’) depends on the One who gives it being.” Catholicism, and Christianity as a whole, combines all of the Plotinian entities into one single entity to explain the universe. So, in a sense, Catholics agree with Plotinus that the Intelligence provides intelligibility to the universe and that the Soul emanates — but only if we understand these concepts as one and the same, i.e. as God. God as the Intelligence (and the One) provided (and continues to provide) the world with intelligibility in being the sole creator: God “creates through wisdom, [so] [H]is creation is ordered.” God as Soul emanates a part of Himself to grant us the gift of life — hence our being created in His image and likeness — and we conform to God in “[depending] on the One who gives [us] being.” Finally, we participate in God as Soul, through grace: “Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an ‘adopted son’ he can henceforth call God ‘Father,’ in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.” Hence, we see much overlap between Plotinus and the Catholic faith, as the latter seems to have refined much of the former’s philosophy. What we cannot accept, however, is the final remark I noted from the Plotinian psyche.

Once again, Catholics cannot accept the view that matter is evil, which Plotinus expresses in stating that the body can corrupt the soul. If this is the case, however, then why should we not end our human lives right now? Why should we allow our souls to continue suffering rather than disconnect them from their lower, corrupting parts? As previously explained, the Catholic soul acts through the body, seeing as it is form. If the soul becomes corrupted through the body in the Plotinian sense, it is because the soul freely chose to be corrupted; the soul is not subject to the body. Interestingly enough, Plotinus actually includes that the body is good for the soul to a degree. He writes, “[T]he faculties of the soul would be useless if they slumbered continuously in incorporeal being without ever becoming actualized.” In other words, souls need bodies to achieve their full potential and actualize their full being, according to Plotinus. Hence, Plotinian matter is both good and bad — though mostly the latter. This, however, only levels another critique at Plotinus: If the soul’s functionality is limited when separated from the body, then does this not imply that the body actualizes the soul? Plotinus suggests that if a soul did not descend to Earth, it would not be able to act according to the capacities we see on Earth — and this limits it. It would only be able to contemplate higher values and would lose the possibility of commanding a body. This means, then, that such faculties exist in potentiality for a soul; it can potentially govern a body. Thus, we can question which the soul is for Plotinus: Is it form or matter? Is it both? If this is the case, then we seem to have made Plotinus’s soul portioned in the Platonic sense: There remains one part of the soul that rests in potentiality, while the other is always actualized. This is contrary to Plotinus’s view of a simple soul, however, suggesting that his soul does not prove as sound a philosophy as it should.

Final Remarks and Conclusion

I have just laid out five different interpretations of soul, what it is and how it functions, and gave my thoughts regarding where a Catholic may take issue with each of them. Some may be wondering, however, why I did not simply provide a full theology of the soul rather than work through these five notions. The reason is twofold: Firstly, the theology of the soul remains incomplete. That is, our understanding of soul — and anything that pertains to our Lord — is not full. We, humans, are so limited in our capacity to learn that we must philosophize about those things we cannot know. In doing so, we hope to come closer to the Truth, which is full in itself, i.e. God. Thus, I wanted to spell out mythological accounts, in particular, to allow readers a more natural manner to think about the spiritual entity which characterizes a part of their lives and gain a fuller grasp of what the Truth could be. In this way, I hope that Catholics will no longer stray from mythology to the extent that they do, as it is truly key in coming to comprehend metaphysical concepts. As I included in the according section, however, mythology cannot be understood as literal or proper interpretations. That is why rationality aids us in applying such mythology reasonably, hence we label them “allegories,” and so the two work together in a rational mythological sort of way, as we saw through Plotinus.

The second reason lies in my belief that the soul remains the most important metaphysical concept known to humankind — other than God or a like figure, of course. Accordingly, I wanted to provide a decent number of accounts for how the soul could exist to allow more to come to believe in it and have at least some notion regarding it. The main benefit I see in agreeing that soul exists and does so for each individual person regards ontological equality. With soul, we can make a proper case that all human beings are essentially the same. We render all physical, or as Aquinas would say, “accidental,” qualities irrelevant because we only concern ourselves with rational soul, a spiritual principle we all possess. Hence, we are one because of soul and are the same because it is the same type of soul of which our beings are composed. If we denied such a principle, as Gianni Vattimo does, for example, then how could we hope to find respect for all people? Affirming that no one has a soul raises too many questions and legitimizes all evil: How are we the same? How are we different? Why is prejudice wrong? Take, for instance, racism. Without soul, how could we say that this gruesome ideology remains illogical? From this perspective, white and black people are different on a fundamental level. All that exists, in terms of human beings, are physical properties, and so a different skin color necessarily divides the human race. This points to an even greater issue: The dissolution of ethics. Ethics is designed to protect a fundamental good, i.e. the human being. Any act that remains unethical is deemed such because it takes advantage of something good. Without soul, however, we lose the principle of divine goodness. Humans no longer consist of something transcendent connecting them to the Good. Hence, we cannot judge an action, such as racism, as formally good or evil because the good does not exist. The resulting philosophy is one of Vattimo’s, where we establish what is good and bad on a case-by-case rational basis. We accept new practices, then, based on what we individually and then collectively judge to be correct. This philosophy, however, falls apart, as this assumes that those to whom we are listening, those who prescribe new ethical virtues, are worthy of our rational consideration. Why would they have this worth, however, if not for some common principle which we all contain? In this way, Vattimo, even though he explicitly states that “the recognition that we are all essentially equal” does not provide proper reasoning in this regard, indirectly contends that there lies something in calling each other “human” that demands respect; there remains something essential a priori that dictates who and what we are as beings. It is simply too difficult and nonsensical not to attribute this to soul. Therefore, even if one does not accept the Catholic soul and all of its metaphysical qualities, we should, as a people, consider soul to be a necessary principle, as it will allow for proper harmonious life among human beings.


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