My friend Nancey Murphy, a philosopher and theologian, has developed a philosophical theory called 'non-reductive physicalism.' I've been in this camp for about twenty years now, and am happy that someone has been able to create a coherent philosophy to account for this stance. I'm just an ordinary person who is 'living' my philosophy, finding support for it, thinking it through, but not in any systematic philosophical way, so I appreciate her work very much. I'd like to respond to it here on the blog, with some of my own discoveries that match up with what she is saying. So, here goes:
In discussing the origin of the problem of soul-body dualism, Murphy writes: "For many Greek thinkers reality was conceived as a hierarchy of beings exhibiting varying degrees of materiality. ONe important conflict in ancient philosophy concerned the question whether the soul belonged to this gradation of material realities." (p.3, Whatever Happened to the Soul) In other words, is the soul a material entity, albeit of a subtle quality of matter? "Plato described the person as an immortal soul imprisoned in a mortal body. Origen (185-254) followed Plato in teaching that the soul is incorporeal and eternal, pre-existing the body." (pp3-4, ibid) It is easy to see how, in our scientific post-modern age, this kind of concept of the soul is no longer acceptable. I don't think it's necessary for me to describe here why this body-soul or body-mind dualism is no longer acceptable, but I can refer you to Murphy's book, 'Anglo-American Postmodernism,' if you are interested in further reading on this subject.
Thomas Moore, on the other hand, represents a psychological, non-dualistic approach to the soul au courant today, when he writes: "Soul is an elusive word. For many, soul is an invisible but finite essence, made of some spiritual substance, that keeps the body together and functioning in life and flies off to another dimension at death. In relation to the body, it is like a genie in a bottle." (p.40, The Planets Within, the Astrological Psychology of Marsilio Ficino.) Clearly Moore does not agree with this understanding of the 'soul.' His book's subject is Marsilio Ficino, a Renaissance hermeticist. "The soul Ficino places at the center of his professional and personal life is not this creature of folk religion. For him soul is a quality of existence, a quality rather than a quantity. For that reason it is better to speak of soul rather than a soul. When we say that a person has soul, we usually mean that he shows evidence of internal movement. People who clearly have soul show a certain depth, vitality, individuality, familiarity with pain and death, and good humor. Soul is also depth, a metaphor we use to point to a certain intensity of experience. With soul, events are not merely two-dimensional; they carry an invisible but clearly felt dimension of depth, a reverberation and resonance carrying through beneath the surface of everyday experience." (pp.40-41, ibid)
Murphy looks at other ancient conceptions of soul that are more 'vitalistic' than substantive. "Aristotle thought of the soul not as an entity, but more as a life principle. He illustrates the relation of soul to body with an analogy: if the eye were a complete animal, sight would be its soul." (p3, ibid) This view is about potency, what Thomas Aquinas called 'virtue,' from the Latin, vir, 'male power.' Soul and virtue in this sense are similar to the Asian images of 'qi' (China) and 'prana' (India), the energetic source of power and movement in matter. In fact, this image of the eye and sight is very similar to the Bhagavad Gita's way of indicating the presence of divinity in matter. Krishna says, "Of luminaries, I am the radiant sun, and of lights in the night, I am the moon. Of words I am OM, and of prayers I am the prayer of silence. Of things that move not I am the Himalayas. Among things of purification I am the wind, and of all things that measure I am time. Among creators I am the creator of love."
These images suggest both Aristotelian potency and also Ficino's essence. These are not merely images of 'greatness' or power but also of essentials, of that which 'means' the very thing that is alluded to. The sun is the prototype of all illumination, (who can hold a candle to the sun?), and the very nature of 'light' during the darkness of the night is indeed imaged by the Moon. Om is the sacred sound that underlies all sound and all words. In need of an image of the essence of 'that which moves not' what could be more dramatic and complete than an image of the Himalayas? The wind in many indigenous cultures signifies purification and change. And what is more creative than love?
In other translations: I am "The policy of conquerors, the potency of kings, The great unbroken silence in learning's secret things; The lore of all the learned, the seed of all which springs" -(this is from Sir Edwin Arnold's translation on line). Anyway, I'm sure you get the idea. "Among winds (I am) the whirlwind, and (I am) Wisdom Supreme of what is wise, Words on the uttering lips am I, and the eyesight of the eyes" - the very same image used by Aristotle and making the same point.
To be continued...And I suppose I ought to add a few words about myself to explain why I'm doing this writing. I was a philosophy student at UC Berkeley briefly - however, I had been accepted into the department which was quite an honor in itself. I later studied liberal theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, graduating with a master's degree in 1985. I went on to study indigenous medicine and healing systems, and am a self-published writer living in Berkeley. I've always been interested in etymology and the way the meanings (and sounds) of words change over time.