(urth) Souls

Chris P rasputin_ at hotmail.com
Thu Mar 19 15:04:22 PDT 2009

I agree, although I'd maintain that this is still exactly the same ambiguity - there are two common understandings of what makes up the 'self'. It is somewhat open as to what terms we use to denote which we're talking about.

Actually, if it is of interest to anyone, there is an article (which may be a bit technical, IIRC) by Derek Parfit that led me to ask my question of James in that particular way, and it is online. It isn't so much his primary argument - which is ethical in nature - that got me thinking this way, it is his way of laying it out (via the "Simple" and "Complex" views). I think it would likely be a step back to try to hammer the square peg of what he is saying entirely into this particular hole.


> Interestingly, "soul" often has been used the opposite of the way we use "self." That is, as something you possess that is not you, and which you may have stolen from you.
> If you consider George MacDonald's "shadows" and Lord Dunsany's shadows and souls, and some fairy tales as well (giant's hearts and so on), they tend to be nameless, faceless things. And this makes sense, because the concept well predates the era of Romanticism. You could consider it a "spark," perhaps.
> The "self" is much more to the point here, I think.
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> Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2009 20:29:51 +0000
> From: Chris P <rasputin_ at hotmail.com>
> Subject: Re: (urth) Souls
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> Well, this is part of the problem with using the word "soul"; there is an ambiguity in these ways of looking at how the word is used, which tends to lead to metaphysical questions like "Well ok, what is the 'soul' *really*?" The introduction of the two different words was to make a bit more explicit the possibility that we can be talking about two different things; this pushes the dispute a bit away from that metaphysical ground towards a question of "OK, well, which of these (possibly distinct) things is what determines personal identity; which is 'really *me*'?"
> Now, if you take the position that the two words (soul/psyche) don't actually refer to anything distinct but to a single underlying notion of "soul", then the question is immediately pushed back to "What is the soul really like?" and you seem forced to say that one of the two ways of looking at it must be wrong, after all. This is part of what gives me trouble with James's composite view... Because we can vacillate case by case in which notion seems to best fit our intuitive understanding of identity. But if we take a single case and attempt to claim that identity consists in both of them at the same time, then you once again seem to point back to that metaphysical question, and you have to reject soul-as-substance, psyche, or possibly both.
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