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Making the Case for the Soul in an Age of Neuroscience

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 November 2014

Alan Mittleman*
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America


Modern philosophy has been inhospitable to the soul. In the English-speaking world, the dominant tendency, since Hobbes and Locke, has been to subordinate the mental to the physical. Even where mental phenomena are granted real existence, they are construed as effects of underlying physical processes. To explain them is to identify their physical causes. Physicalist approaches to the mind cannot but see the soul as, in Gilbert Ryle's derisive phrase, a “ghost in the machine.” It is an unwanted leftover from a religious age with a bygone philosophical psychology. To the extent that mental entities do any explanatory work, modern philosophy favors “mind” over “soul.”

Review Essay*
Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2014 

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Lenn E. Goodman and D. Gregory Caramenico, Coming to Mind: The Soul and Its Body. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).


1 Aristotle conceptually distinguishes soul (psuchē) from mind (nous). Mind may survive bodily demise. The active capacity of mind, its ability to achieve a knowledge identical with that which knows, is “separable, impassible, unmixed” (De an. 430a). This becomes the Active Intellect of medieval philosophy. How precisely it relates to the soul cannot be taken up here.

2 Bennett, Maxwell, Dennett, Daniel, Hacker, Peter, and Searle, John, Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007) 131Google Scholar.

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4 Angela Matthies, Andrew Stephenson, and Nick Tasker, The Concept of Emergence in Systems Biology: A Project Report, accessed October 21, 2014, [emphasis added].

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7 Emergence might be a matter of genuinely new properties, behaviors, or entities developing in the world out of lower-level constituents. New furniture, so to speak, is added to the universe. This is the ontological sense. Or emergence might be a matter of new knowledge: given our knowledge of the lower-level state of the system, we could not predict what will develop once the higher state emerges. This latter, epistemological construal of emergence leaves open the strong ontological or metaphysical claim that new objects as such have emerged. It makes a weaker claim about how new knowledge is gained. See Chalmers, David, “Strong and Weak Emergence,” in The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion (ed. Clayton, Philip and Davies, Paul; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) 244–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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