Bertrand Russell agreed and gave the examples of football to illustrate this point. He suggested that football couldn’t exists without footballers and in turn, the colour red, could not exist without red objects. As such, the soul cannot exist without a body to function in. Aquinas agreed with Aristotle that the soul animates the physical body, but he also believed that the soul can operate independently from the body. The soul cannot be broken down or decayed and as such argued that the soul can survive death, it can retain individual identity and that identity can live on.
Richard Dawkins is also a famous figure that discredits Plato, he too is a monist and argues that we are just a product of our genes. Our bodies enable our genes to survive and be passed on. He argues that the concept of the soul is mythological, in the same way as God of the gaps argument. He said that to refer to the soul is “not an explanation but an evasion” and instead suggests that our personality (the part of us that makes us “us”) is our genetic codes – nothing more.
Dawkins rejects the traditional definition of the soul being a separate and spiritual matter and indeed says “science has either killed the soul or is in the process of doing so”. However, he does accept the definition of the soul in the Oxford Dictionary, which goes as follows: “an intellectual power that alludes to the high development of mental faculties, deep feeling and sensitivity of a person.”
A lot of psychologists agree with the position that Dawkins hold and argue that the soul is nothing more than a human fantasy brought about through fear of death. It makes rational sense that we would come up with a way that ensured we could see/contact our loved ones again in order to bring about comfort.
Descartes was a Cartesian Dualist and rationalist – he believed that true knowledge can only be gained through the use of reason and rational thought. Descartes was born in a time of great scepticism, where everybody doubted everything, to the extent that Descartes started to doubt the existence of his own body. One thing he couldn’t doubt though, was his ability to think, he couldn’t doubt that he existed because that required him to think for himself, therefore he concluded that we must be more than merely a physical shell. This is where his famous quote: “cognito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) derives from.
He concluded that the mind must exist and must be distinct from the material and bodily substance. The mind is the place in which all feelings, sensations and thoughts are known only to the person experiencing them. The body however, performs all physical activities which are observable to all. Descartes dedicated much of his time to the study of the pineal gland to which he named: the seat of the soul. He believe that it was the point of connection between intellect and body. E.g. hearing someone laugh and point at you can cause your mind to ruminate. Having said this, they are still two fundamentally separate and as such the soul can be distinct from the body and can survive outside of it, because they are two distinct entities.
Gilbert Ryle disagreed with this proposition and explained that physical states and mental states are the same. He says that Cartesian Dualism makes a category mistake by assuming the mind and body are not in the same logical category - mental processes are merely intellectual acts, and as such, intellectual acts like laughing, learning and imagining are all physical acts. However, dualists oppose this description as it fails to explain how feelings such as love can be materialised.
Ryle famously says: “there is no Ghost in the machine” and to think there is would be a categorical mistake and an incorrect use of language. It resulted to people speaking of the mind and body as different phenomena as if the soul was something identifiably extra within a person intrinsically wrong. He used the example of someone watching a cricket game and asking where the team spirit was. In this way, Ryle argued that talk of the soul was talk about the way a person acted and integrated with others in the world. It was not separate and distinct. To describe someone as clever or happy did not require the existence of a separate thing called mind or soul. The mind or spirit does not exist hence the phrase there is no ghost in the machine. Therefore, if there is no soul, there certainly cannot be distinct from the body.
John Hick was a Christian theologian that rejected the idea of the body-soul distinction by adopting a materialistic position but argued at the same time that this does not weaken the possibility of life after death. John Hicks thought experiment (An omnipotent God can produce a ‘replica’ of us that shares the same physical body and non-physical traits) can be used to describe resurrection that there may be life after death but the body and soul cannot be separated, instead resurrected into a new world on judgment day.
Hick essentially argued that when we talk of the soul, we are referring to: mental characteristic, personality and behavioural dispositions to which were passed down by parents over generations. As such, he labelled humans as psycho-somatic unities, therefore, the entire unity dies, when the body dies. Hick was therefore criticised by the Roman Catholic Church as it rejects the idea that individual’s souls are created and implanted by God to which allows us to live on after death. His theory was therefore labelled as heresy and disregarded. Hick’s theory has many flaws, lack of evidence being one of them, another being that individuals with Alzheimer’s, according to Hick’s thoughts, have no soul – so how could they be replicated?
There is a lot of evidence that suggests the soul is distinct from the body in the sense that we all have our own personal identity, identical twins are physically exactly the same but at the same time two different people. There is something non-physical that makes one distinct from the other. However, this does not mean that the soul and the body are two separate entities. I do not wish to deny that the soul exists, rather I deny that the two are separate entities. Plato and Descartes are in the minority and there is by far more evidence that supports the monist/materialistic belief that the body is enhanced by the soul, in the same sense that the colour red is enhanced by red objects – one cannot survive without the other. Therefore I conclude that the soul is not distinct from the body – the soul cannot survive without the body, but the body can survive without the soul e.g. psychopaths and individuals with Alzheimer’s.