[asa] What has happened to the soul?

From: Bill Powers <wjp@swcp.com>
Date: Fri May 08 2009 - 11:55:17 EDT

I've been reading of late some Mary Hesse, Francis Bacon, and William Gilbert.
 It appears to me that something happened to the concept of the soul between
the Medieval period and the Enlightenment.

Both Bacon and Gilbert affirm that magnetism is due to an immaterial soul
because the effect of magnetism is not impeded or lessened by an intervening

One supposed problem with Cartesian dualism is the apparent inability of the
spiritual to influence the material. Such a problem, although familiar to
both Francis Bacon and Gilbert through the work of Roger Bacon, carried little
or no weight with them.

For both the notion of the spiritual and soulful was embedded and necessary in
the material world. For the very order and regularity of the world required
that material be so maintained by souls, a human soul being but one example,
but not the only. The sun, moon, and stars were ensouled, no much less so
than a lodestone, the earth. Indeed, without souls all would be "confusion
and the entire world lapse into chaos, and, in fine, the earth were void and
dead and without use."

Yet, according to Hesse (and Collingwood), Kepler was to reject (or gravely
suspect), in favor of a corporeal effect, the notion of souls influencing the
movement of the planets because the velocities of the planets was too exactly
proportioned to their distances from the sun. Whereas, for Gilbert this very
order bespoke of souls. The diminution of an effect with distance, including
that of magnetism, was well known to Gilbert, and yet it had no influence over
his judgment that the effect was not "corporeal."

The vast difference, it seems, between these two periods is the paradigm
employed. For Bacon and Gilbert, still standing astride the two periods, the
world was viewed in the analogies of an organism, whereas, beginning with
Kepler and Galileo it betook that of an inanimate mechanism, which lacked any
power of its own. From a mechanistic perspective the soul is decidedly
divided from the material. Whereas, from the perspective of the organism of
what value the material without a soul. Material without a soul is dead,
chaotic, and unruly. And, yet, as DesCartes intended it the mechanism required
power from without to be in motion at all.

It seems, that modern physics has rejected Cartesian mechanism and has moved
closer to the Medieval model. The "soul" of "material" is now embodied in the
intrinsic properties of "material." Each "material" having is own "soul" or
"form." Whereas, in the Medieval model of organism each body has its own
soul: a lunar soul, a solar soul, a terrestrial soul. Souls were individual
and manifold. Modern atomism has reduced the number of "souls" to but a few,
to that of hadrons, and quarks, and the like. So there is no animal soul or
human soul.

Previously order and "intelligence" required a soul. Matter itself was inert
and without form. Mechanism ordered the relationships between various bodily
parts, but the life was without (a dualism). Today, the machine has no need
of life. The order and power are in the machine. We are all robots.

This very dichotomy can be seen in the evolutionary debate between
creationists of all stripes and naturalistic evolution. Is the machine itself
capable of accounting for all its various forms, or is it necessary that the
"life" broadly construed come from without the machine?

bill powers


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Received on Fri May 8 11:55:39 2009

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