Immortal Soul

I decided to have the page...because today I was watching a video of "Indigenous peoples of the Americas"..finding out by surprise, that many had ..."In Common,the Immortal Soul"

  and many had rituals which helped the soul of the one whom has pasted upon their death- "thus greatly helping the grieving in return"

           A thought came to mind due to the fact my great Aunt passed away recently,as well as a friends mother I know.."I had thought to my self,...isn't there more we can offer a grieving person,more than just saying "I am sorry"

The term-" Immortal Soul"

          pre-Dates Christianity-Belief in the immortality of the soul was an important aspect of ancient thought espoused by the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Plato, in Phaedo, presents Socrates’ explanation of death: “Is it not the separation of soul and body? And to be dead is the completion of this; when the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and body is released from the soul, what is this but death?” ( Five Great Dialogues, Classics Club edition, 1969, p. 93).

....Socrates lived ca. 470-399 B.C., so his view of the soul predated Christianity.(around 500 years)

              Origen (ca. 185-254) was the first person to attempt to organize Christian doctrine into a systematic theology. He was an admirer of Plato and believed in the immortality of the soul and that it would depart to an everlasting reward or everlasting punishment at death.

              In Origen De Principiis he wrote: “… The soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, being destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, if its actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this …” ( Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, 1995, p. 240).

             Origen taught that human souls existed before the body but are imprisoned in the physical world as a form of punishment. Physical life, he reasoned, is a purification process to return humans to a spiritual state.

             Later Augustine (354-430) tackled the problem of the immortality of the soul and death. For Augustine death meant the destruction of the body, but the conscious soul would continue to live in either a blissful state with God or an agonizing state of separation from God.

               Plato (ca. 428-348 ) saw man’s existence as divided into the material and spiritual, or “Ideal,” realms. “Plato reasoned that the soul, being eternal, must have had a pre-existence in the ideal world where it learned about the eternal Ideals” (William S. Sahakian, History of Philosophy, 1968, p. 56). In Plato’s reasoning, man is meant to attain goodness and return to the Ideal through the experiences of the transmigration of the soul.,,,,,,,,Thus secular philosophies sanction the idea of the immortal soul, even though the Bible does not. Believe it or not, God’s Word teaches something entirely different.

               The influences of pagan Platonic philosophy on Origen and Augustine are profound. Richard Tarnas, in his best-seller The Passion of the Western Mind, points to this influence: “… It was Augustine’s formulation of Christian Platonism that was to permeate virtually all of medieval Christian thought in the West. So enthusiastic was the Christian integration of the Greek spirit that Socrates and Plato were frequently regarded as divinely inspired pre-Christian saints …” (1991, p. 103).

             Centuries later Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225-1274) crystallized the doctrine of the immortal soul in The Summa Theologica. He taught that the soul is a conscious intellect and will and cannot be destroyed.

              A few centuries later the leaders of the Protestant Reformation generally accepted these traditional views, so they became entrenched in traditional Protestant teaching.

               The immortality of the soul is foundational in Western thought, both philosophical and religious. Belief in going to heaven or hell depends on it. But does the Bible teach that death is the separation of body and soul or that the soul is immortal?

               The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the Old Testament is nephesh, which simply means “a breathing creature.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines nephesh as “the essence of life, the act of breathing, taking breath … The problem with the English term ‘soul’ is that no actual equivalent of the term or the idea behind it is represented in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the combination or opposition of the ‘body’ and ‘soul’ which are really Greek and Latin in origin” (1985, p. 237-238, emphasis added).

                The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible makes this comment on nephesh: “The word ‘soul’ in English, though it has to some extent naturalized the Hebrew idiom, frequently carries with it overtones, ultimately coming from philosophical Greek (Platonism) and from Orphism and Gnosticism which are absent in ‘nephesh.’ In the it never means the immortal soul, but it is essentially the life principle, or the living being, or the self as the subject of appetite, and emotion, occasionally of volition” (Vol. 4, 1962, “Soul,” emphasis added).

                That nephesh doesn’t refer to an immortal soul can be seen in the way the word is used in the Old Testament. It is translated “soul” or “being” in reference to man in , but also to animals by being translated “creature” in . Nephesh is translated “body” in reference to a human corpse

                The Hebrew Scriptures state plainly that, rather than possess immortality, the soul can and does die.

                The Old Testament describes the dead as going to sheol, translated into English as “hell,” “pit” or “grave."Eccleslates 9:5-6 describes sheol as a place of unconsciousness: “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished …”

                King David laments that death extinguishes a relationship with God. “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalms 6:5)

                The immortal-soul concept isn’t part of the Old Testament, but it began to make inroads into Jewish thought as Jews came in contact with Greek culture. In the first century the Jewish philosopher Philo taught a Platonic concept: “… The death of a man is the separation of his soul from his body …” ( The Works of Philo, translated by Yonge, 1993, p. 37). Philo followed the Hellenistic view that the soul is freed upon death to an everlasting life of virtue or evil.

                 In the New Testament-the Greek word translated “soul” is psuche, which is also translated “life.”

                 If the Old Testament describes death as an unconscious state, how does the New Testament describe it?

                 No one wrote more about this subject than the apostle Paul. He describes death as “sleep”

                 Many people are surprised to find that the term immortal soul appears nowhere in the Bible. However, though the Scriptures do not speak of the soul as being immortal, they have much to say about immortality. For example: “You know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him”

                 True Origin of Immortal-soul Teaching

We’ve seen in this brief look at the supposedly immortal soul that the Bible teaches no such concept. The idea filtered into Western thought through Greek philosophy. Its origins are older than Athens, in fact as old as man.

Plato’s Immortality of the Soul


After putting forward his tripartite model of the soul, Plato turns his attention to the soul’s immortality. It is important to remember the following points which will be developed in this handout:

  • Much of Plato’s views on the soul’s immortality can be found in his Republic.
  • He starts with the concept of reward and punishment, developing it into his concept of specific evils.
  • Plato was a thinker of his time and therefore understands immortality in terms of reincarnation (literally to be made flesh again).
  • The ancient Greeks believed that the soul about to be reincarnated drank from the river Lethe (forgetfulness) which explained why people have no recollection of their previous life.
  • Much of Plato’s teaching is put across through his account of his teacher Socrates. It is therefore difficult to say where Plato’s own teaching starts and Socrates ends.

Rewards Now and Hereafter

Towards the end of his Republic Plato turned his attention towards the immorality of the soul. For Plato goodness needs to be understood without considering its consequences. Goodness is its own reward – an end in itself and not a means to an end. Nevertheless, Plato argues that the just man is rewarded not only in his lifetime (i.e. by his society) but to an even greater extent after death. Plato believed that the soul was fundamentally pure but becomes deformed through association with the body. Despite this it retains something of its true nature – and shows this through longing for wisdom.

Specific Evils

Plato argues that each individual thing has its own particular evil which will cause it to deteriorate and eventually to be destroyed. Just as the body is prone to disease so to is the soul open to injustice and ignorance. Plato’s point is that if anything is destroyed it can be only through its own specific evil. We must conclude that it is only through its own inner weaknesses that the soul can be destroyed. We have no proof that the soul is made worse morally by death of the body. The soul’s specific affliction is immorality which can harm but not destroy it. Plato concludes that the soul must be indestructible and therefore immortal.


Plato’s main argument for the immortality of the soul is found in his Phaedo. Following contemporary Greek religious belief and Socrates assumption that everything is involved in an eternal cyclical process, Plato naturally understands immortality (and pre-existence) of the soul in terms of reincarnation. Plato draws an analogy with sleep. Sleep comes after being awake and being awake comes after sleep. Likewise just as death comes from life so must death return to life again.

Knowledge of Comparisons

Elsewhere in his Meno, Plato through the mouth of Socrates argues that our knowledge of comparisions (e.g. equality) is innate and not learnt – evidence of a pre-existent soul. However, knowledge of particulars is forgotten at birth and has to be recollected with the help of a teacher.

Two Worlds

Socrates distinguishes between the world of change and the world of forms. He sees the soul as belonging to the world of forms arguing that it is invisible, reflective and naturally rules the body. Ideas are not physical things, so they must belong to a spiritual realm which is more real than the material realm. The soul is that which can grasp these ideas and so it too must belong to that realm. Since Forms are immutable; so too must the soul be.

Argument from incompatibility

Opposite Forms cannot exist in the same object (e.g. big and small). The soul derives its life through its association with the life Form. This association means it cannot admit death. The soul must therefore be immortal.

Platonic arguments for the immortality of the soul

Jeff Speaks

November 28, 2006

Plato is the classical source of philosophical arguments for the immortality of the soul. By calling them ‘philosophical’ arguments I am distinguishing them from arguments which are based on empirical research, like research into near-death experiences, and from arguments which rely on premises taken from a particular religious tradition. We will discuss empirical and religious arguments later. (The line between these is not always sharp. Philosophical arguments can sometimes use premises known by experience, and religious arguments might rely on religious doctrines which can be supported by philosophical arguments which don’t themselves presuppose any religious doctrines.)

The reading from Plato is a selection from his dialogue the Phaedo, which is his eulogy to his teacher, Socrates, and recounts the last hours of Socrates’ life. The form of the part of the dialogue we read is a conversation between Socrates and his friends before his death, in which he tries to convince them that there is nothing to fear from the death.

One thing to keep in mind about these arguments is that they seem, in places, to presuppose a kind of dualist view of the self. You might think that this view of the self makes arguments for immortality unnecessary: if we are immaterial souls, isn’t it obvious that we must survive death? It’s important to see that even though belief in immortality is often linked with belief in the soul, that there’s no immediate route from the latter to the former. I.e., there’s no obvious contradiction in thinking that we are immaterial souls which cease to exist when our bodies do.

1 The argument from generation out of opposites

The first of Socrates’ arguments for immortality begins on p. 117:

“Let us see whether in general everything that admits of generation is generated in this way and no other — opposites from opposites, wherever there is an opposite ...Let us consider whether it is a necessary law that everything which has an opposite is generated from that opposite and no other source. For example, when a thing becomes bigger, it must, I suppose, have been smaller first before it became bigger?”

Socrates next observes that death is the opposite of life. So, if his principle holds, it seems as though

“the living have come from the dead no less than the dead from the living. But I think we decided that if this was so, it was a sufficient proof that the souls of the dead must exist in some place from which they are reborn.”

One interpretation of what’s going on here: if death and life are opposites, and if it follows from this that something could have come to be living only after first having been dead, then it seems that we must, in some sense or other, exist when dead. But this is what Socrates is trying to show.

A criticism of this argument, based on the distinction between coming to exist and acquiring a property. Maybe coming to life is the former rather than the latter; but the argument seems to depend on it being an instance of the latter.

2 The argument from recollection

Socrates’ second argument (pp. 120-128) is based on his theory of recollection. That theory was an explanation of how we can come to know the kinds of things that we can. One way to see the motivation for this theory is via the ‘paradox of inquiry’:

For any question, either you know the answer or you don’t. If you know the answer, then inquiry is unnecessary. If you don’t know the answer, you’ll have no way of recognizing the correct answer when it presents itself — for if you don’t know what the correct answer is, how will you distinguish it from false answers? So if you don’t know the answer, inquiry is impossible.

One might take this paradox to support the view that, as Cebes puts it (p. 120)

“what we call learning is really just recollection. If that is true, then surely what we recollect now we must have learned at some time before; which is impossible unless our souls existed somewhere before they entered this human shape. So in that way too it seems likely that the soul is immortal.”

A response to the paradox of inquiry for the case of empirical knowledge, e.g. finding out what is for dinner in South Dining Hall. Why this doesn’t carry over immediately to the case of ‘a priori’ knowledge not obtained by calculation.

A second, related argument for recollection: the example of Meno.

A third argument: our knowledge of qualities like ‘absolute equality’ (p. 124) which we do not observe by our senses to exist anywhere in the world around us.

3 The simplicity argument

This argument leads Cebes to respond,

“It seems that we have got the proof of one half of what we wanted — that the soul existed before birth — but now we need also to prove that it will exist after our death no less than before our birth, if our proof is to be complete.”

This leads Socrates to another argument for the immortality of the soul:

“We ought, I think, to ask ourselves this: What sort of thing is it that would naturally suffer the fate of being dispersed? For what sort of thing should we fear this fate, and for what should we not? When we have answered this, we should next consider to which class the soul belongs; and then we shall know whether to feel confidence or fear about the fate of our souls.


Would you not expect a composite object or a natural compound to be liable to break up where it was put together? and ought not anything which is really incomposite to be the one thing of all others which is not affected in this way?”

Socrates’ thought here seems to be this: if a thing is composite, then it can be destroyed by being separated into its parts; if we observe things being destroyed, this is usually how it goes. But if something is incomposite, and has no parts, then it cannot be destroyed by being resolved into its parts. But it seems that there’s no other way in which a thing could be destroyed. So, if the soul is incomposite, it is indestructible, and so can’t be destroyed by death.

Then the question is: is the soul composite, or incomposite?

Socrates asks: “Is it not extremely probable that what is always constant and invariable is incomposite, and what is inconstant and variable is composite?”

Socrates then contrasts things which are constant and invariable — like absolute equality and absolute beauty — with things which are not, like the concrete material things around us. He concludes that in general things which are invisible are constant and invariable, whereas things which are visible are inconstant and variable. But it looks like the body is visible whereas the soul is invisible; so it looks like the soul is more like those things which have been found to be constant and invariable. But if the soul is constant and invariable, and the body is inconstant and variable, the soul must be less likely to be destroyed by death than the body. But the body is not destroyed by death; so all the more so must the soul be destroyed by death.

To this argument, Simmias gives the following objection (p. 139):

“You might say the same thing about tuning the strings of a musical instrument: that the attunement is something invisible and incorporeal and splendid and divine, and located in the tuned instrument, while the instrument itself and its strings are material and composite and earthly and closely related to what is mortal. Now suppose that the instrument is broken, or its strings cut or snapped. According to your theory the attunement must still exist — it cannot have been destroyed; because it would be inconceivable that when the strings are broken the instrument and the strings themselves, which have a mortal nature, should still exist, and the attunement, which shares the nature and characteristics of the divine and immortal, should exist no longer ...You would say that the attunement must still exist somewhere ...Well, if the soul really is an adjustment, obviously as soon as the tension of our body is lowered or increased beyond the proper point, the soul must be destroyed, just like any other adjustment ...

Socrates responds to Simmias’ objection in two ways:

  • Simmias has already granted the theory of recollection, which means that he has granted that the soul pre-exists the body. But attunements can’t pre-exist the instruments that they are attunements of. So this already shows that the relationship of soul to body cannot be a kind of attunement.
  • A second reply is that an attunement of a musical instrument cannot be acted on differently than the instrument itself, nor can it control the musical instrument, but rather is controlled by it. But, as Socrates says, “surely we can see now that the soul works in just the opposite way. It directs all the elements of which it is said to consist, opposing them in almost everything all through life, and exercising every form of control ...” (151).

Cebes offers a different objection: even if the soul is less apt to be destroyed then the body, it does not follow that in every case the soul lasts longer than the body. A person’s body is less apt to be destroyed than a coat; but, even though I outlive most of my coats, it is clearly possible that at least one of my coats should outlive me. So why not say that, by analogy, it is possible that in at least some cases the soul is destroyed at death, even though the body remains? (pp. 141-2)

Socrates sketches a reply to Cebes based on the principle that nothing can both have a property and have the opposite property; for example, no collection of things can be both even and odd. Now note that there are some things which have a certain property essentially — e.g., the number three has essentially the property of being odd. So it follows that it is impossible for something that is three to have the property which is the opposite of oddness, namely evenness. Socrates thinks that it is an essential property of the soul to be alive. So, the soul cannot have the opposite property, which is being dead. So, the soul cannot die. So, the soul is destructible.

A problem with this argument based on the distinction between ceasing to exist and acquiring the property of being dead.

Another way of replying to Cebes is to emphasize Socrates’ earlier point that the soul is not just more like things which seem invariable, but also incomposite, and therefore indestructible. Why should we think that the soul is incomposite? Is it is true that incomposite things cannot be destroyed?