Atheists, agnostics and intellectually superficial people doubt the existence of the human soul. But not only them. Many churchgoing folks sometimes doubt the fact that the human being is a composite of body and soul. We can experience the reality of the body through our senses, of course, but the soul…? Can the existence of the soul be proved by pure reason?
This is our topic in this article and the next. The first thing to do is to define the word soul, to make sure we are talking about the same thing.
Everyone knows the difference between a living being and a lifeless one. You see in the garden a boy playing with a puppy dog on the lawn, near a fountain. Only the water is lifeless, and the other beings, the boy, the puppy and the grass are living beings. The grass has a life of its own, whereby it can feed, grow and reproduce its own kind. It is called vegetative life. The puppy has all of that plus senses that make it aware of its surroundings. That is called sensitive life. The boy has all of that plus the ability to think – that is called intellectual life.
So, every living being has within itself its own the source of its own activity, its own power, and its own vital principle. That source, or power, that makes every living being tick, is called the soul, in the wider sense of the term. But strictly speaking, we only call soul the vital principle of human beings, because of its intrinsically superior power of thinking. The Latin word for life is anima, which also means, soul.
How can we know for sure that humans have a vital principle – soul – intrinsically superior to those of plants and animals? Let us reason (and here we are acting in 100% human way, which plants and animals are not able to do).
First of all, how do we know anything? We are not born with any knowledge, our minds are a blank slate at birth. We know what we know through our senses. That is, the things we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. So, we know what a rainbow is because we see it; we know what a song is because we can hear it; we know what bacon and eggs really are like because we can taste them; we know what a perfume is because we can smell it; and we know about the softness of velvet cloth because our sense of touch feels it. Here are the five ordinary ways we get to know things.
But there is another way we can know things that do not depend of direct sensations. Concepts such as ‘honesty’, ‘generosity’ and ‘kindness’ are not seen, heard or touched. They are understood by our mind. When we say, ‘man is a rational animal’ we are not thinking of a specific human type, white, short of skinny. We speak of ‘man’ as a category, a concept, produced by our minds. We can think about thinking. And there is no gland in the brain to produce such things. Certain areas of the brain may be more directly linked to sensations, but not to reasoning.
We call this human power the intellect, or the reason or the mind. Quite independently from the senses. The senses provide the information, and the mind ‘digest’ them, as it were, makes sense out of them.
The human will is also a proof of the soul’s existence and operations. Free will is a characteristic of the human person. We can choose to do something, or change our minds and not do it. A man can choose to betray a friend or not to betray him. It is a moral choice, completely independent from the senses. I am writing this article right now, but I may choose to stop writing and do it later. An atheist or an agnostic who may be reading it, may choose to stop reading because he realizes that it makes sense and he abhors common sense. But in so doing he proves that he has free will – something independent from his five senses.
If men had no free will, we would be like the animals, enslaved to the senses, and the law of the jungle would prevail – might makes right. But we expect criminals to be punished precisely because they abused their free will and did harm to others. But we do not punish an insane man for harming another – he is unable to exercise his free will because of his insanity.
Then you may ask how does the free will work, how do we exercise it. It can be stated simply: our wills are always choosing what we perceive to be good and avoiding what our minds perceive to be bad. We are naturally driven to seek happiness, even though we may not find it in a wrong choice. We call ‘good’ whatever makes us happy, and ‘evil’ whatever makes us unhappy.
Your choice of career is guided by your mind, by what you think will be better for you. One girl may choose to be a nun working in a hospital in Africa, whereas another girl may abhor the idea and choose to pursue a career in marketing or to be married to a scientist. Both girls made a choice based upon what their minds perceived that would bring them happiness.
Likewise, the junkie chooses drugs because he thinks they will make him feel good, or, ‘happy’ in his mind, even though it will wreck his life sooner or later. But his choice was free, based upon his perception of reality. That is why in a normal human society – difficult to find these days – crime is punished and good deeds re rewarded.
So, free will is defined as the power to choose between two or more courses of action, each one appealing in some way to the mind. Because nobody ever chooses evil as such, nobody chooses misery and unhappiness knowing that he will suffer with no rest or consolation. When we choose to do something evil, it is because there is an apparent good in it that appeals to us, and we make the choice, knowing that it is not completely good, but the attraction seems irresistible and we choose to do it, freely.
Take, for example, a young man who hesitates between joining the military and being a lawyer. The uniform, the discipline, the pageantry appel to him. These things are good in his eyes. But he has a fear of heights, and detests the mere possibility of jumping on parachute, seen as distasteful evil. The lawyer’s life has no parachute jumping, but no military pageantry, either. So he weighs the good of the military pageantry against the evil of his possible parachute-jumping on the one hand, against the non-jumping on parachute in the lawyer’s profession against the lack of pageantry. And he makes a choice, a free choice, which is quite independent from his senses.
More concretely, a Catholic politician is deliberating whether or not to vote for abortion in congress. He knows that to vote for abortion is a mortal sin, as he is an accessory to the assassination of innocent children, but he will please the country’s President and may get a nomination for the Senate with many perks. On the other hand, if he votes against abortion, he will fall into the President’s displeasure, and forget about any possible nomination by the Party. It is moral choice, quite independent from the senses. A free choice, deserving applause or condemnation.
Next article: How men differ from animals – evolution is impossible
Raymond de Souza KM is available to speak at Catholic events anywhere in the free world in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. Please emailSacredHeartMedia@Outlook.com or visit http://www.RaymonddeSouza.com or phone 507-450-4196 in the United States.