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What is a Soul?

The soul is the ethereal essence of a living being in a wide variety of religious, philosophical, and mythological traditions. The soul or psyche (Ancient Greek: psykh, from v pskhein, “to breathe,” cf. Latin ‘anima’) is a term that refers to a living being’s mental abilities: reason, character, feeling, awareness, qualia, memory, perception, and reasoning. A soul might be mortal or immortal, depending on the philosophical philosophy. Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle recognised that the soul ( psykh ) required a logical faculty whose use was the most divine of human deeds. Socrates described his teachings during his defence trial as an invitation to his fellow Athenians to excel in issues of the psyche, as all corporeal goods are contingent on such greatness (Apology 30a–b). According to Aristotle, the body and soul of a man were his matter and form, respectively. The body is made up of elements, whereas the soul is its essence. Saint Thomas Aquinas imbued Christianity with this perspective. In Judaism and several Christian religions, only human beings have immortal souls (apart from angels) (although immortality is disputed within Judaism and the concept of immortality may have been influenced by Plato). For example, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, based his argument on Aristotle’s On the Soul, ascribed “soul” (anima) to all organisms but claimed that only human souls are immortal. Other religions, most notably Hinduism and Jainism, believe that all living things, from the tiniest bacteria to the greatest mammals, are souls (Atman, jiva) with a physical embodiment (the body) in the world. The soul is the true self, whereas the body is merely a vehicle for experiencing the karma of that life. Thus, if one sees a tiger, it possesses a self-conscious identity (the soul) and a physical representation (the tiger’s entire body, which is visible) in the world. According to some, even non-biological phenomena (such as rivers and mountains) are endowed with souls. This is referred to as animism.

Nuriel Angel
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