Friday, 24 January 2014

Other Selves, Other Souls?

'The human body is the best picture of the human soul.'
This sentence leapt out at me from this morning's (Radio 4) Thought for the Day, attributed by the speaker (Tablet editor Catherine Pepinster) to Wittgenstein. Quite so. It comes in the Philosophical Investigations, at a point where Wittgenstein is dealing with the kind of pickles that Cartesian dualism and radical scepticism can get us into. He's unapologetic about using the word 'soul' -
'I do not believe (nor am I certain) that the people I see are not automata. The question whether someone is an automaton cannot even arise without first discarding a great deal of what goes into my basic attitude toward other people. Though talk about people's having souls is a figurative expression, we do not use it in place of other, literal expressions.' Similarly, 'My attitude towards him is an attitude towards a soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul.'
 There's a good piece on these issues here (by Giles Fraser - not one of my favourite people, but that's Nige for you - fair-minded to the last [hem hem])... What on odd kind of thing philosophy is, indeed - and what a shame so many philosophers seem bent on making it ever odder, rather than, like Wittgenstein, showing us a way out. 'What is the aim of philosophy? To show the fly the way out of the fly bottle.'


  1. A lot of modern philosophy tries to negate, or, at best, explain our physical-soul duality. A much happier approach is to enjoy it. It is better to accept the human condition rather than try to dismantle it. The latter smacks of ingratitude.

  2. A further comment, if you'll allow it. The very first sentence above, attributed to Wittgenstein reminded me of TS Eliot's talk about the regrettable dissociation of sensibility that occurred some time in the 17th century. For Eliot, the metaphysical poets felt and even thought through their whole body. Its a wonderful idea to feel that our intellect or even our whole being experiences through the whole body and all of the senses. This idea is, of course, linked to the idea of intuition in which you enter into the 'tu' or youness (or Nigeness) of the other person. It is also a very poetic idea.

  3. It is indeed Guy - and accords well with our actual experience of living in the world as embodied consciousnesses (or indeed 'souls'). So much philosophy - and, especially, science - seems keen to row away at speed from our actual felt and known experience of being in the world. We live essentially in consciousness and in subjective experience (mine alone), do we not, and I doubt that science will ever have anything useful to say on either of those. To quote the Man again: 'Even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all'....

  4. Nige, you may be interested in a piece I wrote on my blog, entitled 'Scientism' Go to This was partly inspired by my reading of a wonderful to and fro in the New Republic bewteen Steven Pinker and the editor of the magazine, Leon Wieseltier. His ripostes to Pinker were wonderful and a joy to read. These pieces can be found with a simple search. One of Wieseltier's pieces was called 'Crimes against humanities'.

  5. Yes an interesting piece indeed Guy, to which all I can really say is Hear hear. I must look out the New Republic spat too...