The Debate on Existence of the Human Soul According to Rene Descartes and Thomas Hobbes

Various philosophers have held diverse opinions about the existence of the human soul. Rene Descartes and Thomas Hobbes are among the philosophers who have contributed to this debate. In Principles, part 1, Descartes was of the opinion that there exists a human soul that is actually different from the body. To the philosopher, the soul and the body are two distinct substances, and one substance can be clearly and characteristically understood without considering the input of the other.

The philosopher argued that God had the capacity to create a mental matter to exist all by itself without associating it to any other created matter (Skirry para. 42). In other words, the philosopher was arguing for the likelihood of human souls existing without physical bodies. This philosophical thought can be used to explain frightening experiences reported in some communities of souls of dead people returning to haunt the living (Fowler 117).

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According to Descartes, the soul, also called the mind, is the thinking, non-extended matter while the body is the extended, physical and non-thinking substance. The philosopher clearly underlined the existence of the human soul in his arguments on diverse primitive notions.

Descartes argued that the notion of the soul consist of all the perceptions of intelligence and the leanings of the human will, and is totally different from the notion of the body which concerns itself with issues of shape and motion (Skirry para 48; Fowler 169). Ultimately, the two are interrelated by the fact that the soul’s power moves the body while the body’s clout is known to cause sensations and obsessions in the soul. In this perspective, the body is made truly human only by the existence of the soul.

To Descartes, the soul is the principle of life and is united to the whole body. Accordingly, the body can only be called a corpse without the existence of the soul. The body must act in unison with the soul for it to be referred as a living human body. His arguments are mostly used by contemporary Christians and Muslims to explain death as a process where the body and soul part ways.

Thomas Hobbes categorically refuted the claim of an immaterial soul existing without considering the body. He was also opposed to the notion of free will. According to Hobbes, the key mistake “lies in moving from the observations that we can talk about ‘A’ and ‘B’, and can think about A without thinking about B, to the conclusion that A can exist without B existing” (Duncan para. 34).

He was harshly critical of Aristotelians who argued that the human soul can exist by itself when separated from the human body. Hobbes argued that the human soul as described in the scripture signifies a living creature or a physical body and soul jointly (Hobbes & Gaskin XXVII).

In this perspective, the philosopher affirms an analogous minimalism state about the existence of human souls. To him, if the soul is to be described at all, it can only be depicted as a bodily or corporeal spirit principally because only what is physical can move.

In equal measure, the philosopher wondered if it was practically possible to disconnect the critical processes of our corporeal composition from the voluntary choices that ensue from the same faculties (Hobbes, Tuck & Silverthorne 59). For example, is it possible to distinguish between the bodily desire of having sex and the mental faculties that triggers the desires? Hobbes believed this to be impractical.

Being a materialist, Hobbes gave a purely mechanical explanation to the issue of soul in his concept of human existence. To him, there is no evidence whatsoever about the existence of an innate soul with some innate ideas (Hobbes, Tuck & Silverthorne 179).

In his mechanical explanation, the philosopher wondered how the non-material, spiritual soul could have the capacity to influence the corporeal organ of the brain or the body itself. According to Hobbes, the world revolved around two metaphysical components – matter and motion. He argued that life was a by product of the two components, and the human soul is only a combination of very subtle atoms. To Hobbes, the thinking process itself was composed of matter and motion. Hobbes was called a fascist for his mechanical explanations

Works Cited

Duncan, S. Thomas Hobbes. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 5 Nov 2009

Fowler, C.F. Descartes on the Human Soul: Philosophy and the Demands of Christian Doctrine. Springer. 1999. ISBN: 9780792354734

Hobbes, T., & Gaskin, J.C.A. Leviathan. Oxford University Press. 1998. ISBN: 9780192834980

Hobbes, T., Tuck, R., & Silverthorne, M. On the Citizen. Cambridge University Press. 1998. ISBN: 9780521437806

Skirry, J. Descartes: An Overview. In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 5 Nov 2009

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