Body, Soul and Personal Identity



  • Does not accept that there is a seperate part called the 'soul'
  • An individual is a living, physical body and nothing else. At death, the body dies and personal identity ceases to exist
  • Materialists believe an action is the result of a chain of events and eventually science will be able to explain everything. Music is nothing but a set of vibrations in the air. An emotional response is just the psycho-chemical reactions in our brain. No distinction between body and soul.

Hard Materialism - An individual's characteristics are nothing more than physical. Consciousness is nothing more than brain activity. When the body dies so does the brain.

Soft Materialism - Not all characteristics are physical ones. Consciousness is more than brain process. Mind and body are related but they act independantly of each other. However, there is nothing we can do independant of our bodies and therefore our personal identity must involve our bodies. When the physical body dies so does the mind. Richard Swinburne says that another name for soft materialism is 'property dualism'.

Life depends on a functioning brain system and physical body. Death is the destruction of the brain, nervous system and body. A persons life ends at death

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Materialism and the body/soul relationship

  • Most believe there is no such thing as a soul and humans are no more than their physical bodies. When the physical body dies the individual ceases to exist.
  • The body is matter alone so there cannot be a soul.
  • Materialists use 'soul' synonymously with 'mind'.

Gilbert Ryle

  • He was a materialist and argued that the idea of the soul which he described as 'the ghost in the machine', was a 'catagory mistake'. And to speak of the soul was a misuse in language.
  • He used the example of a foreigner watching a cricket game and asking 'but wheres the team spirit?'
  • Ryle argued that talk of a soul was talk about the way in which a person acted and intergrated with others and the world.
  • It is not something seperate and distinct
  • Such terms simply refer to the way that someone behaves.
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Scientific Support for Materialism

  • Richard Dawkins a scientist has written many books on Darwinian Evolution and is a Materialist.
  • Dawkin argues that scientific beliefs are supported by scientific evidence and are reliable.
  • Religious beliefs such as the soul depend on myth and faith for which there is no empirical evidence. Dawkins claims the belief in a soul results from human inability to accept evil and suffering have no purpose.
  • The purpose of life is DNA survival, the only way a human is immortal is through their DNA
  • Humans are no more than DNA carries that will ensure the survival of the species.
  • We are no more than 'robot vehicles'.
  • Sense of individuality comes from our genes working as a unit.
  • Through evolution, consciousness has developed in humans so that they are able to choose the behaviour that is more likely to lead to survival of their genes.
  • Believes human dignity is passed down. Dawkins does not think that humans should worry about the meaning of their lives
  • Human thinking has gone awry because people have tried to find meanings to life. Science can answer the questions about the origins of life and provide evidence but religion can't.
  • Memes are the way we can survive. Contribution to human culture. Cultural survival within the individual.
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Dualism and the body/soul relationship

Plato and The Forms (c. 428 - c.347 BCE)

  • Believed the sould and body were two seperate substances that interact.
  • Soul belongs to a level of higher reality than the body. Soul is immortal and is a substance.
  • For Plato everything in existence there was the perfect idea (form) In the world of the forms.
  • Ideas are not physical things so they must belong to a spiritual realm of reality.
  • Real identity of a person lies in their soul. The soul can grasp the realm of ideas. The soul is immaterial and capable of knowing eternal truths beyond the world. The body wants to be involved in worldly matters to do with the senses. The soul is trying to steer the mind to the spiritual realm.
  • According to Plato we do not learn things in life, we only have recollection of the knowledge gained when we were in the realm of the forms before our souls became imprisoned in bodies.
  • When we die, the human soul seperates from the body
  • The aim of the soul is to break free of the chains of matter and flee to the realm of ideas
  • The body does not survive death but the soul and the 'I' of the person continues as it is our personal identity that makes us.
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Dualism and the body/soul relationship

Aristotle (384 - 322 BCE)

  • Aristotle was the pupil of Plato but he did not believe in an afterlife or in the immortality of the soul.
  • Aristotle describes the mind as the part of the soul which reasons
  • He considered the soul to be part of the body which gave it life. For example a dog has a doggy soul and a human has a human soul.
  • Soul and body are inseperable. The soul develops the person's skills and character but it cannot survive death.
  • Body and soul are a unity and when the body dies, the soul ceases to exist. He believed neither would survive death
  • Human beings have a soul or self capable of an intellectual life only humans can reflect on feelings and sensations.
  • Aristotle refers to emotions as 'affectations of the soul'.
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Cartesian Dualism

Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650)

  • Descartes was a dualist. The mind (soul) is distinct from the body and makes contact with it at the pineal gland.
  • He included in the 'mind' all the feelings and sensations he could describe but could not locate in the body. Everything non-physical becomes part of the mind.
  • We cannot doubt our own existence - 'I think therefore I am'. We must exist to have our own thoughts. The physical self takes up space but the mind is of a different substance that does not need to take up space.
  • The mind is not located in the body and is not the same as the brain
  • The mind is a 'non-corporeal' substance which is distinct from material or bodily substance. The Mind and body are different things

Summarised - The mind is the place which knows all feelings and thoughts, the body performs all physical activities, the mind and body interact as the mind can cause events in the body and vice versa and the mind and body are seperate.

Our identity comes from our ability to think and reason, Mind can survive death of body.

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Aquinas' belief about the soul

St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

  • Agreed with Aristotle that it was the soul that animated the body and gave it life
  • He called the soul the 'anima'; that which animates the body.
  • Soul operates independantly of the body
  • The only things that are divisible into parts decay.
  • The soul is not divisible and so is able to survive death.
  • Through link with a human body, each soul becomes individual
  • Even when the body dies, the soul that departs retains the individual identity of the body.
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Resurrection of the body

  • Not all materialists accept death is the end some believe there is life after death.
  • Physical body and soul (mind) cannot be seperated so the only way would be the resurrection of the whole body.
  • A dead body is known to decay in the grave or become ashes after cremation.
  • It would have to be possible to recognise the resurrected person as the same individual before death.
  • Any other form would mean that the individual and personal identity has not survived death.
  • This problem led to the Replica Theory
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John Hick's Replica Theory

  • Hick is a materialist and believes the body and soul are one and at death they both die.
  • Hick says that given certain circumstances, it is possible the dead could exist after death as themselves if an exact replica were to appear.
  • This replica is identified as the same person who has died
  • God is all-powerful so it is no problem for him to create a replica
  • It would be complete with all the individual's memories and characteristics and is therefore the same person
  • Even though death destroys us, God creates us in a different place
  • Hick's view is compatible with Christian understanding of resurrection of the body.
  • St Paul taught that after death the body will be raised but it will be transformed and will be a spiritual body.
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The Problem of RT and Hick's Response

The Problem of personal identity and a replica body

  • A replica is not the original and therefore THE individual has not survived death.
  • It is still not the same 'I' that died
  • It is a question of which of the following statements is correct - 1. First I existed in this world, then I died, and then I existed again in the next world. Or 2. First I existed in this world, then I died, and then God created someone else who is exactly similar to me.
  • However Hick is relying on the existence of Godd, which is not proven.

Hick's Response

  • He imagined a man called John Smith who lived in the US. One day his friends watched as smith suddenly vanished without trace. At the same moment as he dissapeared, a replica smith appeared in India.
  • According to Hick this Smith: is exactly similar in both physical and mental characteristics and there is continuity of memory.
  • Supposing John Smith died. God created John in the next world and this recreated John Smith was the same person
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The Immortality of the soul

  • Dualist approach - mind (soul) determines out personality and that the body is only an outer shell to house the real self
  • The body is contingent and therefore destined for decay but the mind is immortal.
  • The belief that the soul continues after death is called the imortality of the soul.
  • Descartes agree that when an individual dies, their soul can continue to exist with God.
  • Christians do not agree on whether or not is is a physical or spiritual resurrection.
  • God breathing life into Adam at the moment of creation is regarded as evidence by many christians of the existence of a soul that gives human beings their individuality.
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Personal Identity and an Immortal Soul

Personal Identity and an Immortal Soul

  • Is our identity only the result of memories? If we get a new body does it have no influence on how we behave? Bernard Williams = memories are not a good guide to identity. They are fabricated so personal identity cannot be proved through mental activity alone. Personal identity depends on the way in which we recognise each other and without our physical bodies, we cannot be fully identified.
  • Causal effects between mind and body? We know that there are things that we do to the body that effect the mind. e.g Drugs and alcohol changes personality
  • Modern science has shown links between mind and brain so how can the mind survive on its own?  The mind appears to be causally dependant on the brain.
  • If the mind is a non-physical object, how can the mind cause anything to happen in the physical world?
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Psychological Continuity or Connectedness

'Sameness of Consciousness'

  • John Locke (1632-1704) = thought personal identity consisted neither of body nor sameness of soul but rather 'sameness of consciousness'.
  • For Locke it is consciousness that creates Personal Identity
  • An individual should remember enough of their past states of consciousness, and it is this awareness of self in different places and times that is the personal identity. This means an individual can have different bodies and yet still have continuity.
  • Example of the soul of a prince transferred to a cobbler. He is still the Prince
  • Consciousness can be transferred from one soul to another and PI goes with it.
  • This would support reincarnation or rebirth
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Scientific Theories of Consciousness

  • Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose - Penrose argues that there is an essentially non-algorithmic (defined set of steps for carrying out a procedure) element to human thought and consciousness because we are capable of independant thought.
  • He also claims that it is quantum effects in the brain that are the source of our self-awareness and consciousness.
  • Both concluded that consciousness is not the product of direct brain activity but arises from tube-like structures of proteins in the cells of the body. It is the microtubules that are at the site of the quantum process in the brain
  • Microtubules can change and develop in nanoseconds - support brain activity at all levels
  • When the body is under threat of death, the microtubules leave the body so the individuals consciousness survives. If death does not occur then they return and the individual may have a memory of being in another place
  • Criticisms - Microtubles exist throughout the whole body, not just the brain. Drugs exist that damage the microtubules but appear to leave consciousness unharmed. Neuroscientist John Eccles argues that unity of consciousness is provided by the mind and not by neural machinery of the brain
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The Possibility of a Disembodied Existence

Price's dream world

  • H.H. Price examines whether or not it is coherent to accept the existence of a disembodied soul that is a mind or soul without a body.
  • He compares the world in which the disembodied soul lives to a dream world.
  • Just as dreams take place in the mind so the soul in the afterlife would be mind dependant. He is making the point that experiences in the afterlife are similar to dreams where we have experiences anf are able to perform actions with our dream bodies.


  • Hick - if in T=this disembodied, post-mortem existence our desires are to be fulfilled then tension is going to result from conflicting desires.
  • Whose dream takes priority?
  • The only way in which this could occur (have relationships and make real moral progree) if Price's dream world is to be kept is if God gave everyone the same 'dream' in the next life.
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Reincarnation and Hinduism

  • Hindus believe the atman (soul) is eternal
  • Each soul is at one with the whole of creation
  • Emphaiss is place on the individual development through the cycle of life, death and reincarnation (samsara) to achieve release and to be reunited with Brahman.
  • Reunification = Moksha
  • By living in the right way according to the faith (their dharma or duty) and individual recieves good karma.
  • Karma influences the quality of the next life
  • Hindus believ that a reincarnated soul carries no personal attributes from each life but the jiva (immortal essence) of the atman continues
  • Between each reincarnation the jiva learns new lessons to take into the next life.
  • Many uses the theory of evolution as scientific support
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Rebirth and Buddhism

  • Those who use the term rebirth consider that there is continuity between each life
  • Buddhists deny that there are souls.
  • Buddha taught that there is not an individual soul but an ever-changing individual character which moves from rebirth to rebirth.
  • This belief is illustrated by the idea of a flame being transferred from one candle to another the same way consciousness is transferred.
  • Each life interconnects with each previous life through the law of karma this influences the next life
  • The 'I' is not the person living his or her current life but the union of all the lives lived
  • There is casual conncection between each life
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Personal Identity and Reincarnation and Rebirth

  • The ultimate goal is to lose personal identity and become at one with the Godhead
  • Materialists would argue that, even if this process were to be possible, reincarnated individuals would enter new bodies, have different brains and live different lies so could not have the same personal identity as they would be born to a new one.
  • Many claim that PI depends on self-consciousness
  • William Savage has compared reincarnation to going to sleep at night.
  • Some people have memories of past lives; - Some especially children claim to have memories of former lives. Historical records have confirmed some of these descriptions - Others appear to have regressed to earlier lives under hypnosis.
  • Not everyone accepts these as - the individual may be remembering info gained in childhoo and mistakingly interpreting it as a past life - There could be a cultural gene which passes down info about the lives of our ancestors - Some memories may be the result of psychological problems that are supressed.
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Are Ghosts Evidence of Survival Beyond Death?

  • Some people regard sightings of dead people as evidence of survival after death. However, there is contraversy as to whether ghosts would be evidence of:
  • Resurrection of the boody as they seem the have recognisable physical features
  • Immortality of the soul - ghosts do not appear to have material bodies because they can pass through walls
  • Or the existence of a consciousness beyond death that supports reincarnation/rebirth.


  • Could be a hoax or an elaborate tick
  • The 'stone tape' theory suggests just as magnetic tape is able to record events and play them back, so, in certain conditions, stones will record dramatic events and 'play them back' when the same conditions are present
  • Ghosts could be mistaken identity - trick of light
  • Dr Deepak Chopra - bodies are compromised of energy. Ghosts could be impulse energy. When an individual dies, the energy field may retain his or her image and be percieved as a ghost. He considers the 'ghost' to be an imprint of the individual's consciousness manifesting through remaining energy.
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Is Spiritualism evidence of survival beyond death?

  • Spiritualism - Belief that it is possible to communicate with departed spirits
  • Many regard spiritualism as evidence of life after death because it involves communication between those who are dead and those living,
  • Many mediums have passed on messages that contain correct information previously unknown to the medium.
  • Messages give comfort to loved ones


  • Investigations have proved some mediums are frauds
  • People are skeptical about it as there is no proof
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Near Death Experiences

  • The term used to describe the out-of-body experience of people who have been declared clinically dead and have subsequently been resuscitated
  • 1983 Bruce Greyson devised a measurement scale to differentiate between a near death experience and other experiences.
  • To be classified as an NDE there must be a minumum score of 7/32. It includes:
  • Feelings of peace and joy
  • A sudden sense of understanding
  • Vivid sensations
  • A sense of being out of body
  • A sense of deceased or religious figure
  • A sense of a border point or point of no return
  • A life review
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Evidence to Support NDEs

  • Those who have the experience have a clear recollection of what occurred during the experience. Dr Peter Fenwick's research showed that of people who had had them only 14% had been given any form of drug
  • The NDE is life-changing. After the eperience individuals belief the most important thing in life is love of others and they become more interested in spiritual matters
  • Those who have pleasant NDE no longer fear death and for those who have a bad experience there is a certainty that they must change their way of life to avoid punishment. eg. Ronald Regan
  • Children who are declared clinically dead are able to give accounts of near-death experiences without understanding what they are describing
  • People witness events that they can later describe including blind people describing objects eg. Pam Reynolds
  • Near-death experiences occur in all parts of the world. Evidence of experiences throughout history
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Opposition to NDEs

  • The exact point at which the individual died or is resuscitated is not known and the last sense lost is hearing. Upon resuscitation the brain constructs the NDE from stored memories
  • Described as an NDE because the individual is not dead - so contributes nothing to the knowledge of death
  • They are the result of hypoxia. The dying brain creates feelings of euphoria. Persinger = by stimulating the temporal lobes he can artificially induce the same feelings of an NDE
  • American Jet fighter pilots had similar experiences when spun at high levels of acceleration. The pilot loses consciousness from lack of blood flow
  • Susan Blackmore - 'dying brain' theory. Most of our vision comes from our central vision and very little comes from our peripheral. As the brain dies the lack of oxygen to the brain activates cells in the back of the brain involved with central vision and creates the impression of intense bright light. Fewer cells are associated with peripheral giving the tunnel of light impression.
  • Freudians regard NDEs a hallucinatory wishful thinking to overcome the fear of death. They appear real to those who experience them
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P.M.H Atwater's Four Types of NDE

1. Initial Experience 'SEED' - Involves elements such as nothingness, the living dark, a friendly voice or a brief out of body episode. Often becomes a 'seed' experience or an intro into other ways of perceiving and recognizing reality.

2.Unpleasant or Hell-like experience 'PUNISHMENT' - Encounter with threatening void, or stark limbo or hellish purgatory or even hauntings from ones own past. Usually experienced by those who have deeply supressed guilt, fears or anger.

3.Pleasant or Heaven-like experience 'AFFIRMATION OF LOVE' - Heaven-like scenarios of loving reunions, reasurring religious figures. Usually experienced by those who most need to know how loved they are and how important life is

4.Transcendent Experience - Exposure to otherwordly dimensions and scenes beyond individual's frame of reference. Relevlations of greater truths. Usuall experienced by those who are ready for a mine-stretching challenge.

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Examples of NDEs

Gordon Alan

  • Profound sense of love and purpose felt
  • 'Hearts on fire'.
  • Asked people for forgiveness

Vicki Noratuk

  • Blind from birth and had a serious car accident
  • She saw herself and her wedding ring
  • Attitude to death changes
  • 'Death is an illusion'.

Pam Reynolds

  • Clinically dead, no neuronal activity. Shouldn't be able to hear but she could remember the noises of tools used in operation. Heard a doctor's convo. Pin point of light
  • Saw figures and said he uncle brought her back. Light and breath of God
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