Personal identity 101 was designed as an independent series of articles around the topic of identity and self. It joins various philosophical, psychological, and sociological theories with the aim to explain the importance of personal identity and inspire discussion on different existential questions. Articles will be saturated with diverse ideas and concepts, anticipated or scientifically proven theories with the purpose to encourage readers to dive deep into the topic and identify their position in this dilemma.
Personal identity 101 consists of 8 articles. After completing the course, readers will be able to see the correlation between society and the self and vice versa.
The Soul Theory
How Identity is Socially Constructed
History, culture, and myself
Contemporary world and its influence on personal identity
Identity problems and solutions: Am I good enough?
Future of Personal Identity: Flying cars and smiling Androids
The Soul Theory
During the last couple of weeks, we have been exploring the dilemma of personal identity. What makes one the same person over time. Is it our documents and the fact that people know us as a person called X? Is our true self hidden somewhere deeper in ourselves? Those questions have been among us for centuries, but humankind is still trying to find the answers. As we discussed in the previous 101 articles, personal identity is closely tied to the life and death battle and is often connected to the idea of eternal life. Personal Identity is accountable for our decisions, our premises, and lifestyles. In the previous articles, we reviewed the two most famous personal identity theories: the Body Theory, and the Mind Theory. This article will review another widely recognized personal identity approach: the soul theory.
To understand what the soul theory implies, we must establish a clear definition of the soul. First of all, the soul is not equivalent to the spirit.
The soul is the immaterial essence and totality of who you are at a core level – it is your true nature. As all of life at its core is energy, a soul is the whole of this energy – the total that animates us, moves us, and even speaks to us in quiet moments when we need guidance (Luna, 2021).
Succinctly, it is our humanity that makes us feel emotions, our essence. The spirit, alternatively, is a more religious term, as it resembles our deep connection with the gods and unearthly powers. This article focuses on the soul as energy and as human essence.
Despite the various ideas and theories, we do not have any tangible proof of the existence of the soul. It is not visible, nor perceptible in any way. Even so, the soul theory is one of the most popular personal identity theories as the soul is eternal power, one that does not die or break. It is, as believed by many, the only eternal part of our being. It does not age, die, or disappear. The aforementioned features make the soul an ideal vessel for containing the personal identity, as it promises endless life.
One of the most developed personal identity soul theories was put forward by the Stoics. Their idea has roots in the belief in life after death and the survival of the soul. Based on this belief, they claim that the soul is independent of any other part of the human being, and it is not only distinct but also superior to the body. “This account of the relationship of the body and the soul has some significant consequences for how the Stoics conceptualize personal identity, namely, the idea that personal identity is rooted solely in the rational soul.” (Celkyte, 2020). However, the Greek Stoic philosopher Chrysippus believed that the soul is the most important part of the human being: it is lively, active, and charming, but in order to become a human being, it requires the body. “Peculiarly qualified individuals, to be a particular human being is to be a rational soul blended with a human body” (Celkyte, 2020).
“Aristotle’s On the Soul shows that the separation of the body and the soul is also the cessation of personal identity” (Celkyte, 2020).
Another interesting theory that highlights the importance of the soul for identity is reincarnation. As the previous article Personal Identity 101: The Body Theory reviewed, reincarnation implies that the person remains essentially the same while occupying a new body, which attributes to significant meaning to the soul for our being. However, even if reincarnation is real, the examples given by its believers include certain individuals remembering stories of their previous lives. Mostly, those memories fade in adulthood, but those who believe they are reincarnating from someone else, lead their own new life. Based on this, we can say that even if a person has a soul which has been passed to him/her from a post-mortem, that individual still would become a new person with a new personal identity.
Additionally, there are several objections to the Soul Theory. First of all, does the soul exist? As mentioned above, the discussion about the soul is very ambiguous, and believing in its existence or not is very much up to one’s own decision. Apart from this, if we consider the soul as an energy, then we encounter a different type of problem.
If we understand the soul as the unique essence or essential life force of something, we can see that everything has a soul because everything has one-of-a-kind life force energy… as the soul is energy: the life force. Therefore, it can never die, only change form (Luna, 2021)
The idea that every single creature on earth is unique is astonishing. It clarifies that we are all individuals, but does not help us to understand the dilemma of identity, as the question we are trying to answer is not only what makes one the person he or she is, but what makes one remain the same person over time. If our identity is in our soul, and our soul, like any other form of energy, changes, then what happens to our identity?
It can be concluded that there are various ideas that can confirm one of the most popular personal identity theories, the soul theory. However, there are flaws in these theories too. The idea of connecting personal identity to the soul, as a distinct part of the being, was initiated based on the belief in life after death and the theory of the survival of the soul. Because of this reason, stoics claimed that the soul is superior to the mind and body, and it holds the identity and personal essence within. However, some other thinkers of those times repudiated this idea as they claimed that the soul was important but insignificant without the body. Also, we discussed the idea of reincarnation that takes the soul as the core of our existence, but further discussions on the topic do not confirm that reincarnation is the same as preserving the personal identity. Finally, we revised some beliefs about the soul. For instance, the idea that the soul does not die, age, or disappear. Allegedly, it changes too (as any other form of energy), which is a problem regarding the persistence of personal identity and remaining as one.
Figure 1: Pat Stacy. (2012, February 27). My Soul is Dancing [Painting]. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/my-soul-is-dancing-pat-stacy.html
Figure 2: Reincarnation. (2016, December 19). [Illustration]. https://www.deviantart.com/startravellerba3/art/Reincarnation-651997756
Figure 3: Chirila Corina. (2018, May 26). The light in the soul [Painting]. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-light-in-the-soul-chirila-corina.html
Celkyte, A. (2020). The Soul and Personal Identity in Early Stoicism: Two Theories? De Gruyter. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/apeiron-2017-0038/html
Dy, G. (2021). What Is the Difference Between a Soul and a Spirit? Christianity.Com. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://www.christianity.com/wiki/salvation/difference-between-a-soul-and-a-spirit.html
Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī., & Barks, C. (1996). The essential Rumi. 1st HarperCollins paperback ed. San Francisco, CA: Harper.
Luna, A. (2021). What is a Soul? (and Can it Die, Escape, or Break?). LonerWolf. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from https://lonerwolf.com/what-is-a-soul/#h-what-is-a-soul
The mystery of reincarnation. (2013). PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705678/