There is a beautiful saying by C.S.Lewis: ‘You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.’ It’s one of my favourite quotes. Ever since the Sam-doesn’t-have-a-soul theory came up, I kept hearing these words in my head.
I couldn’t just let it go, because to my mind the whole concept of a soulless Sam and the logic within Supernatural appeared defective to me. So I dug into my library (and the mind of a professor known to me who was kind enough to answer some questions on a late Saturday night) and tried to find an answer that would satisfy my thirst for truth in terms of adequate storytelling.
My personal concern and point of dispute was the fact that we’ve seen Sam display various emotions, though it was argued throughout the fandom that he was supposed to not feel anything at all. However, he was angry, annoyed, curious, fascinated, satisfied, etc.
Empathy was not one of the traits to be found in his face and demeanour, but there was a lot going on. If the creators of Supernatural actually are determined to show Sam bereft of all emotion, I am not convinced.
Sam’s face was not a blank canvas.
If they really want to show a Sam devoid of all emotion and capability to feel, the scripts are not communicating it properly. There is a hole in the logic of the whole conceptâ€¦
This was somehow an adventure for me. If you like, follow me to see what I found out and whether I had to revise or completely reverse my opinion.
Okay, now, what is the Soul?
The expression soul owns such a manifold collection of possible meanings and ideals, depending on where you turn to look â€“ there are religious, philosophical, spiritual or psychological connotations, whereas in contemporary usage a soul is meant to be the entirety of all emotional, spiritual and mental processes in a human being. According to this, you could also equate the soul to what is described as the psyche.
Furthermore, the soul might be applied to a religious/spiritual/philosophical standard meaning: an individual’s life and his consistent identity through all time, often combined with the notion that the soul is independent from its existence in the body and thereby from death, being immortal, an incorporeal core of a living being.
From the late Middle Ages on, formulaic phrases like ‘with body and soul’ became popular (dividing the body from the soul), as well as the expression ‘beautiful soul’ rooted in the antique nobilitas cordis (‘noble heart’) or old French gentil cuer (like in the French medieval courtly love song by Solage: Tres gentil cuer amoureux, attraians, frans et courtois, jolis et plains de joie, a vous servir du tout mon temps emploie.(Very noble heart, loving, attractive, generous and courteous, beautiful and full of joy to service you above all do I use my time.)
During the age of Enlightenment the ideal of the beautiful soul was not only regarded with a religious eye but denoted a sensitive and virtuous disposition. The German poet, philosopher and historian Friedrich Schiller described it in his essay ‘Ãœber Anmut und WÃ¼rde’ (‘On Grace and Dignity’) as the perfect harmony of sensuality and morality.
England’s politician and philosopher the 3rd Earl of Shaftsbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, also advocated the principle of harmony and balance, describing man in his Inquiry concerning Virtue or Merit as individual in possession of a complex of desires, cravings, affections, more or less perfectly controlled by the central reason, being in appropriate balance in a moral man.
And, moreover, man is a social being, thereby a part of a greater concord being able and compelled to contribute to the happiness of the whole, in need of adjusting his own activities in a manner they won’t clash with his surroundings – thus being thought of as a moral being. According to Shaftsbury, both the altruist and the egoist are imperfect. A perfect human will adjust both impulses harmonically.
What an idea.
The Greek word psyche (life, spirit) derives from the verb ‘to blow’, referring to the vital breath (the enlivening source to living beings, also using the same word, psyche, to describe being alive or, well, souled). Similar to that appears the Hebrew nephesh, denoting ‘life, vital breath’, describing the popular belief (in many cultures) that breath is the seat of vitality and life force (to be found, among others, in Indian prana tradition or the Chinese chi)
Many old, indigenous religions describe various criteria defining the soul and thereby giving it various elements:
The Vital Soul regulates body functions, possibly attached to a specific organ or part of the body. Some cultures thought the soul to be located in the head (e.g. the Celts, one plausible reason why they liked to decapitate their dead enemies: apart from the wish to retain and control the power of the dead – to prevent them from being reborn as they believed that man was reborn after spending a certain amount of time in the afterlife), heart (e.g. Maya), bones, eyes (early Polynesian cultures), blood (e.g. ancient Babylon).
The existence of this soul ends with the body’s life.
The Free Soul is presumed to be a soul capable of leaving the body in ecstasy or during sleep (on which the concept of astral projection is based) and giving up the body it resides in upon the death of the host body. Being immortal it enables the continuity of a person.
It can move on to a netherworld or stay in this world, becoming a ghost sometimes (e.g. Neolithic beliefs). Some traditions teach that this soul, being a soul of reincarnation, too, can move on to another body.
To not expand this article to an essay of novel proportions, I will explain the concept of the soul in only some of ancient or contemporary religions and philosophy and focus only on the most significant elements, here.
Please forgive me for not going into further details or marking components as noteworthy according to my personal view and to what I need for this article. I don’t mean any disrespect by any of this. I am, as you may know by now, have you read any of my previous meta-articles, supporting the respectful and peaceful co-existence of all religions and beliefs (a personal ideal of mine that, sadly, probably will never find fulfilment in my lifetime).
The Antique World
According to Homer, the psyche (the old greek usage for what we would call the soul) is divided from the body upon the moment of death and moves on to the netherworld as a shadowy image of the person. A dead person’s soul seems to be so real that Achilles tries to embrace the soul of his dead companion Patroclos who appears and speaks to him (the Iliad 23). Homer describes the ‘bodyless’ soul as being capable of showing emotions and active thinking.
Homer also describes the source of all human drives as the thymos, and this is regarded to be just as important as the psyche to life. He doesn’t claim that the thymos enters the netherworld, but shows it as destructible. During a person’s life the thymos will be enriched or depleted by life events. Furthermore, in contrast to the psyche which is presumed to be a cold breeze, the thymos burns hot, being located in the chest, the diaphragm. There is no distinct location to the psyche to be found in Homer’s works.
The psyche, however, in only mentioned in life threatening situations. Achilles speaks of endangering his psyche during battle (Iliad, 9). Scientists agree that is the intellect that is meant here, while all emotions take place in the thymos.
Philosophical evolvement after Homer – Plato
In later ancient literature of the Greeks, both ideas (the psyche and the thymos) are somewhat combined to one soul, appearing more and more in moral contexts. To be ‘souled’ means not only to be alive, but also to be a being of conscience, furthermore describing the soul as an immortal entity.
According to Plato, learning is an activity of the soul. Without a soul a person would not be capable of learning. This also concerns the ability of remembering knowledge already acquired and events experienced. Combined with what the soul acquires during her body-bound life is the knowledge the soul brought from a ‘higher place’.
The soul has the ability of realizing and understanding notions of justice, beauty or simply the good. Its nature commands the soul to direct its attention to these ideas. It is, however, exposed to factors in life that might nurture or damage it. The afflictions causing harm to the soul are injustice, according to Plato, and action based on ignorance or nescience that works against a person’s own nature.
The soul being composed of three parts â€“ the logos (mind, reason), the thymos (emotion, spirituality, the masculine) and the eros (desire, appetitive, the feminine).
Based on this hypothesis he also explains the innate inner conflicts of a human being with the thought of the soul actually consisting of three parts: the logistikÃ³n (corresponding to reason, located in the brain), the epithymetikÃ³n (corresponding to drive, passion, love, located in the abdomen) and the thymoeides (corresponding to courage, located in the chest). In his writings, Plato used this distinction to also describe the nature of politics and a republic.
A just society can’t exist without man living in accordance to his soul. All the soul’s various functions, as described above, are supposed to have their own desires, emotionality and rational abilities which makes a soul an inconsistent, non-uniform matter. But â€“ in Plato’s system of thought â€“ they establish a form of unity by being immortal.