What is soul?

   SOUL is the principle or vehicle of the life of the individual, animal or human, conceived of as a substance, quality, or efficient cause of the phenomena of sentience and consciousness in general. While some form of conception corresponding to this word has been found in all ages and among all peoples, it has assumed several more or less distinct varieties in the attempts of human thought and imagination to define it clearly.

   Among the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, as well as among the more primitive peoples, soul has been conceived of after the analogy of some especially refined or ethereal substance such as the breath, or a species of fire, or ether. The development of religious conceptions caused the soul to be regarded as partaking of a divine nature and to be ascribed to the gods or to God as a divine gift. This view, combined with the phenomena of dreams and other experiences of a suggestive sort, together with the difficulty of consciously thinking oneself out of conscious existence led inevitably to the belief in the separability of the soul from the bodily organism and in its continuance after the dissolution of the organism.

   Among the ancient Hebrews soul was the equivalent of the principle of life as embodied in living creatures, and this meaning is continued throughout the Bible, although in the later Biblical writings the allied conception of spirit, as being more or less distinct from soul, is made the principle and vehicle of the higher and more obviously divine activities and capacities of human nature.

   It was Augustine especially who, in part on religious grounds and in part as the disciple of the later Greek philosophy, taught the simple, immaterial, and spiritual nature of the human soul—a view which has remained that of the scholastic philosophy and of Christian theologians down to the present time.