Lecture Notes by Hugo Lj. Odhner
Part 4, Chapter VII
ANCIENT AND MODERN CONCEPTS ABOUT THE SOUL AND MIND
1. The Problem before Philosophers
The question about the very nature of "the Self",
came to the fore from the very beginning of the effort to philosophize
from the teachings of tradition. What was asked for was not a statement
of the ancient religious ideas surviving from the Ancient
Church, but a rational explanation based on experience.
2. The Early Greeks.
The early Greek thinkers generally sought to explain the Mind as a finest matter, consisting of one or more elements, such as the atoms of fire. Later the concept of a universal ordering Mind came into use.
Plato regarded the soul or the mind as a partaker in the "world of ideas" or "prototypes', and as pre-existing and independent of the body. The mind could thus exert itself as a pure (but individual) rationality. The soul (mind) was thought of as a changeless entity. (Critics charge him with regarding it as a passive substance.) Matter took away reality rather than added to it; so that the mind was the real thing, and the world but a shadow.
Aristotle spoke of the psyche or soul as the organizing principle and form of the body of matter. But within the psyche dwells the "divine" element of man, the Nous or Mind- uncreate, immortal, the pre-existent substance and subject in us which thinks and conceives.(1807)
5. Christian Fathers.
Christian ideas followed along the lines of Classical Greek thought, modified by the materialistic Jewish concepts. The immortal "spirit" was regarded as a personal conscious entity of "spiritual substance". As to the psyche and its identity with the immortal spirit, there was considerable confusion and uncertainty. Usually the Christians believed that the real life of the spirit released by death was no tresumed until a supposed re-union with the material body at the ressuection on the "Last Day". Angels and devils were classed as incorporeal beings of spiritual essence created before the world of nature.(1808) (See Scholastics.)
Descartes ignored the distinction between 'soul' and 'mind' and defended the idea of spiritual substance as non spatial and incorporated and thus as definable only as thought, in contrast with body and matter which he identified with extension. As to the "animal spirits", separated from the blood in the brain, he thought of them as "nothing but material bodies", like particles of flame.
The preceding views have all assumed the existence
of a separate substance of the mind, usually defined as a "spiritual
substance". (Spiritual Substance Theory)
The resulting current of scepticism was checked by Immanuel Kant. He pointed out that mind and memoey cannot be broken up into a number of isolated states. He showed that all experiences were unified in the individual by an organizing agent, conceived as judgement.
9. The Humian Tradition.
Hume's philosophy was gradually formed into a trend
of thought which stressed the mind as a sum-total of the mental
processes. These were impersonal, so that it might be said that "it
thinks in the brain" just as we say "it rains outside".
The extreme of the Humian tradition held that mind is only behavior, that the nervous system is the only ground of unity among experiences, and that mind is therefore only the body in action, or the body in response to its environment.
11. The Kantian Tradition.
Following Kant, many philosophers have recognized that the mind is a deeper permanent reality and that mental phenomena are the ways of the mind's behavior. The mind is not a mere eddy in the endless stream of sensations, but with a person acting with will and intelligence.
12. Personalistic Theory, or Subject Theory.
Thus many found it impossible to identify the ground
of unity among experiences with the neuro-muscular system, as the
13. Theosophic and Mystical Speculations.
Eclectics, sensing certain values in ancient traditions, in oriental religious and psychic phenomena, but attaching no authority to Divine revelation, have spawned a great variety of opinions about the soul. Some thus hold that the soul will be eventually emptied into an impersonal river of thought or absorbed into the infinite Life. (Cp. Schroedinger, "What is Life?") Others regard the personality, after many "reincarnations", as perishable, but believe that the individuality of the soul might remain as a memory in the mind of God.
The reading of the History of Philosophy gives the impression that all avenues of thought have already been explored - and in vain. For every theory about the Mind has exhibited certain weaknesses:
1. The Greek concept of the Mind as a spiritual substance has been rejected as useless because it does not successfully show how such a substance can be anything but merely passive and devoid of change, and thus not a proper subject of changing experiences such as make an individual.
2. Christian and theosophic ideas are classed with the mythologies - having no purely philosophical authority but only a dogmatical or poetic appeal.
3. Cartesian postulate about a spiritual substance vaguely identified with thought and a matter which was synonymous with extension, gave no hope for the discernment of any real connection between the two. This lack of clarity about the essence of Mind and about the constitution of Matter made any causal relation of mind to matter inconceiveable. It therefore led to the idea that mind and matter were merely two aspects of a single unknown substance (Monism). This single substance was (by Spinoza) identified with God. By others (Berkeley, etc.) matter was regarded merely as a sensory appearance of mind (Idealism). The third alternative was that of Materialism, which regards mind as a mere "epiphenomenon" of matter. The difficulty with the view of Spinoza is that it is merely a disguised form of Pantheism; while Idealism leads to the logical quandary of being able to admit the existence of no one else than oneself (Solipsism).
4. Materialistic and actualistic theories unreasonably ask us to accept an explanation of mental states and processes, and even personality itself, in terms of purely physical motion, which seems incomprehensible to common sense. Behaviorism treats thought and will as if they were products of the material body, like the secretions of the glands.
5. Kantian thought and the personalistic theories indeed grant the need of conceiving the experiences of a man as united into a personality, but tells nothing of the underlying cause for such a unification and nothing of the nature of the"Self".
All the weaknesses of the foregoing systems are overcome,
and the philosophical objections met, in the concept presented in
the Writings of the New Church - a concept which involves a new revealed
knowledge of the soul and of spiritual substance.
The New Church doctrine, anticipated in part in
the course of Swedenborg's preparatory studies, clearly make possible the
1. That man is primarily a spirit or soul and that this soul with its mind is the subject which thinks and wills and feels in the material body which clothes it during life on earth.
2. That this spirit, although it has no physical extension and is beyond the changes of nature, is not an abstraction but is a finite spiritual substance and form: a substance which - as a tool of the Divine creative power - impresses its form on the natural substances of the body and actively directs the energy there available to fashion and maintain organs for the use of the spirit.
3. That this spirit is not changed by the material forces of the body or influenced by sensory impulses, but adapts itself in correspondence to the forces and, recognizing in them uses for itself, interprets all sensory changes into meanings.
4. That this spirit is unconsciously an inhabitant of the spiritual world, and is influenced by the spirits and angels there. The influx from the spiritual world is the origin of all affections, feelings, and emotions, end gives the power of sensation and will, thought and understanding.
5. That the spirit by degrees continually forms itself in accommodation to bodily experiences and sensations, retaining their meanings as 'memory', judging their values, selecting them and arranging them according to laws of reason and according to individual free choice; thus becoming a Mind within which states and ideas and affections are built up into complex forms with personal characteristics and reactions and a deliberately induced quality that is imperishable and consciously personal to eternity of after its seperation from the physical body.
6. That the spirit of man - to this end - is now held in an equilibrium between heaven and hell.
7. That the influx of the spirit into the body is conceivable because the spiritual is the cause of matter; since matter originates from and is maintained by a conatus to motion and cm be comprehended only as a form of motion in space-time; and that therefore the spiritual, as living conatus, can direct its formation into organic forms of use which image, serve, and represent spiritual ends.
8. That thus the spirit (Soul and mind) is a substantial subject and a self-organizing force actuated by the life proceeding from God and receptive of love end wisdom from Him.
9. That this spirit retains i its complete e human form end all its human faculties even after death.
In the De Infinito and the Psychologica, the "soul" is described as the immortal organization of the first and second finites of the Principia system. This entity, constructed of the finest things of nature, would thus correspond to what the Theological Writings call the "limbus" or "medium".
In the Economy of the Animal Kingdom, this sane entity,
produced from the first aura of nature, is called a "spirituous fluid",
This is often called the "soul" of the body, although it belongs to
dead nature and cannot be said to live, feel, or perceive.(1809)
In the work on the "Fibre" the Soul is further distinguished from the spirituous fluid and said to be without parts, extension, figure, or motion, simple and spiritual.(1811)
In the Rational Psychology and the Animal Kingdom the Soul is distinguished from the puree: animal essence and is called an immaterial essence, purely spiritual in form and substance, and devoid of extension or parts, yet having something analogous to cotta, The Soul , thus defined, is shown to mean the entire after-death spirit, whether `ether good or evil.(1812)
In the Worship and Love of God and later in the Word Explained (Adversaria), the Soul is distinguished from the Mens and the Animus, and called a supra-celestial faculty, purely spiritual in essence,(1813) The term "souls" is used to distinguish human spirits from "minds which rule human minds mediately", i.e., from spiritual forces in the abstract which do no t possess an-; "quasi-corporeal texture" (or 'limbus') such as men have after death.(1814)
In the Theological Writings we note the following usages of the term "soul" and "souls":
a) The entire spirit of man which survives after death.(1815)