Do We Have A Soul?


The question has never been simple and easy to deal with. Though, the issue at hand is almost a steadfast notion which is never questioned by adherents and devotees of whatever thought system–or religion, if you will–where such a notion is held in grand esteem. The concept of soul is an important component in the infrastructure of a metaphysical system that puts the human being within a larger belief context dominated by supernatural forces. In this sense, the materialistic/physicalistic scientific presuppostion has absolutely no access into it for it is never observable much less experimentable. The most we can say about it in positive terms is it is a construct to strengthen pre-established convictions zealously guarded by their defenders from the aggressive onslaught of prospective assailants.

In the Hindu religion, the soul is known as the “Atman” which is the human counterpart of the divine “Brahman”. There is therefore an ontological link that connects the Atman and the Brahman which grants the meaningfulness of human existence. Without such link, humanity is nothing. The Atman is the essence of being that guides humanity in pursuit of earthly pleasure and desire (“Kama”) as well as power and wealth (“Artha”) but without setting aside or ignoring the demands of duty and responsibility (“Dharma”) towards fellow human beings, society and the entire cosmic reality. These are human states of affairs whose trajectory is guided by the Atman towards the final achievement of liberation (“moksha”).

In the Christian tradition, the Hebrew concept of “nephesh” lives on from its Jewish theological rootage and in the new dispensation is directly associated with the Greek “psyche” where it is understood as the soul. However, the association is basically more theological than etymological because a deeper analysis of the Hebrew “nephesh” leads the inquirer not to the concept of soul because there is no such concept in Judaism. Early Bible translators (particularly those whose translation became known as the King James Version of the Bible) who worked on the Hebrew Scripures (also known as the Old Testament in the Christian Bible) were heavily influenced by their Greek-dominated theology as they translated “nephesh” into “soul”. Modern-day Biblical scholars have unanimously resolved the problem by a general consensus that “nephesh” in the overall context of Jewish theological system should more accurately be understood as “being”. In this light and as it is used in the Hebrew scriptures, “nephesh” doesn’t only refer to human beings but even to animals. In other words, both human beings and animals are “nephesh.”

However, the Greek concept of “psyche” is not totally isolated from the Hebrew “nephesh” as they are synthesized in the Latin concept of “anima” from which the English word “animal” is derived. The “anima” is the soul as it was configured in medieval theology but with a significant dosage of Aristotelian ingredient in the theological formulation of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“For Aristotle and for his medieval interpeter, St. Thomas Aquinas, in animals, the soul was the form of the body; even plants had souls which gave their body form. The growing oak tree was attracted towards the material form of the tree by the soul of the oak. Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas thought that there were animal souls which coordinated their movements, their instincts, their senses, their emotions. Of course, the word “animal” comes from the Latin word for “soul” which is “anima”; they were beings with souls. In addition, human beings had rational conscious minds concerned with the use of language and these conscious minds were embedded within the animal and the vegetative parts of our soul. The vegetaive soul shapes the embryo and the body had to maintain health and recovery from injury and disease. The animal part of our nature gives us our animal nature, our emotions which we share with the animals, our senses which we share with other animals.” [As quoted from Rupert Sheldrake’s lecture entitled “Cycle of Wonder: Can Science Revive Spirituality” . . . ]

This whole exposition and any other related discourses as well on the complex issue of the soul do not, however, strengthen the case to prove the existence of the soul as a space-time entity.  Nevertheless, in the language-game where  it is traditionally used, the soul is more basically understood as a principle upon which certain observable and experimentable aspects of life–human, animal and plant–are reckoned to signify activities–both external and internal–that constitute the empirical and the rational in the whole gamut of reality where consciousness plays a vital and imminent role. This entire landscape is now the present specialized concern of the science of psychology which in its infancy had focused more on the unquestioned given-ness of the soul as a metaphysico-theological assumption. Psychology’s emergence and modification from being a thought system that initially dealt with the study of the soul (“psyche”) to becoming a science now engaged in the study of behaviors and mental activities in both humans and animals has gone a long way. With the rigorous demands of modern scientific paradigm, it has transcended the nebulae shrouding the concept of soul and directed its attention to focus on the more concrete and hence observable matters of behavior and cognition that constitute the transformational path of ontological progress towards a goal that integrates experience both external and internal.

The evolution that the concept of the soul has gone through gives us the image of a seemingly formidable and unassailable institution of a concept destined to survive in eternity, so to speak. Then, finally, it got to the point of standing face to face with the instrumentality of scientific investigation which has conclusively determined that the concept of the soul as it was theologically formulated on the basis of medieval metaphysics is nothing but a construct to sustain a belief network which in turn likewise sustained the soul’s image as real within the framework of such a belief system.

Now, the more scientifically enlightened among us don’t use the concept of the soul in its medieval configuration.  Its most common appropriation at present is in the figurative sense which is encountered more in poetic versification and prose. In retrospect, this modern understanding jibes well with the ancient Hebrew concept of “nephesh” which is properly translated as “being” and thus never evokes a mysterious or an ineffable aura. In the final analysis, we haven’t really dismissed and thrown away the concept of the soul in the dustbin of insignificance but rehabilitated it in the sphere of literary endeavor.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 September 2015




“Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse æquales et in partes contrarias dirigi.” (“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.”)

— Isaac Newton, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica

Gender is basically a social construct (as distinguished from sex which is biological). It is traditionally defined by a classification of certain assigned roles to people in a social formation. In this sense, masculine roles are sharply distinguished from those of the feminine. Through time we have seen how this situation has been institutionalized with the fabrication of an impregnable frontier that separates one gender from the other. There are tasks socially assigned to exclusively cover the range of a gender’s conduct. In other words, none of a particular gender’s traditional roles may be assigned to and thus performed by those who belong to the other gender. Along with this is the standardization of an imbalance between genders where one is considered to be more superior than the other.

We’ve even witnessed how a wedge is stuck between genders to segregate skills and professions and in the process consider some of them more distinguished over the others. Though more equitable societies generally found in the West have levelled off the gender playing field, so to speak, the spectre of the traditional past still lingers in some localities. There may really be some changes in different areas of concern where we have seen the frontier being traversed both ways. Yet, when it comes to the issue of one gender dominant over the other, quantitative/statiscal records still show the persistence of the traditional perception which is actually embedded in the people’s collective consciousness. This whole scenario affirms the notion that old habits are really hard to die (as a line of an old song goes).

Though we’ve already seen an increase in the number of males in the nursing profession, it is still predominated by women and hence remains to be considered as a feminine career. However, there are certainly positive indications that sooner or later, a balance in terms of gender will be achieved. The same is true among the professional practitioners in the fields of construction and transportation (air, land and sea) which are yet considered as masculine arenas despite the entry of women in trickles. We can enumerate more employment areas where gender classification is yet particularly stressed.

What I consider as seriously odious on the issue of gender distinction is the privileging of one over the other which in the traditional context is the masculine over the feminine. We could have seen some superficial instances where there seems to be a progress towards equality but a closer analysis reveals that underneath still remains the vestiges of the old patterns. We can sense here the protracted ramification of medieval religiosity which exalts the social prioritization bestowed on the male species. It only shows that despite the trend that veers away from the religious and moves onward to secularization, a considerable amount of certain values, behaviors and attitudes still reflect the clout of male-domination in religion that continues to exert a lasting influence even in the cultural apparatus of the modern western human being.

The ghost of patriarchy is very much alive and felt in many traditionalist societies even in the contemporary post-modern era. Male-dominated societies which give more emphasis on the exceptionality of sex roles than gender roles (the fact that these societies are said to be dominated by males) continually thrive as denizens in these societies are yet incapable to disentangle and distinguish sex roles from gender roles. Worse still, women remain subservient to the wishes and biddings of men who are regarded as physically stronger (which is a matter of sex and hence biological) and therefore more stable, more decisive, more purposeful and more determined (which are matters of gender and hence cultural). But a closer look at this equation reveals the faulty association because physical strength is not the precondition of stability, decisiveness, purposefulness and determination. In other words, over and beyond the physical and the biological, these personal qualities of cultural importance may be present and therefore further enhanced in both masculine and feminine genders. (1)

However, on a positive note, we have likewise acknowledged the fact that there are unrelenting forces amidst us that continue to sustain the struggle towards gender equality with remarkable achievements along the way. In highlighting this matter, we could even conjecture that the whole event is constitutive of an evolutionary process that will ultimately lead to the desired objective. In other words, there isn’t even a need to aggressively pursue the battle plan for like a railway track, every movement on it inevitably leads to where it is destined to end. Nevertheless, we are realistic that the whole process will surely take a longer period of time until the arrow finally and fully hits the target.

This whole culture of gender orientation and gender role performance is in general an issue of personal choice that does not have any necessary bi-conditional bearing with female or male sexuality. The state of affairs wherein certain roles are assigned exclusively by a traditionally patriarchal social orientation to one gender instead of to the other—which still relatively dominates many societies nowadays—has been undergoing a dramatic transformation. We are therefore heading towards the full flowering of a socio-cultural landscape where social roles become flexible and are not preconditioned by sexuality and strict gender role demarcation. (2)

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 23 September 2015


(1) “On Sex and Gender” . . .

(2) Ibid.

What’s In A Name?


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

by any other name would smell as sweet.”

— William Shakespeare

Names are anything. A name could spell power or disaster, hatred or admiration, respect or contempt. In most instances, we associate names with circumstances of either private or public significance and in the process, a name could acquire a connotation of fame or notoriety. In this particular consideration, there’s actually nothing inherent in a name that makes it outstanding or disgraceful, prominent or inconspicuous. The distinction or insignificance of a name is something obtained from an external derivation as a matter of substantial impression that may either be appreciative or derogatory. This reality leads to a generalization that ranges from the local to the global and could be sharply aimed to either break or make the person of an individual or a corporate outfit.

We tend to attribute qualities and impressions to names on the basis of how their past or present possessors conduct(ed) their lives and it so happened that many of them have landed on the pages of history: Alexander, Constantine, Augustine, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Gandhi, Washington and Lincoln to name a few. Even in the most local context of small towns and villages, names of respected  and vilified personalities create lasting impressions in the minds of people now and in the many generations ahead. In view of this, a multitude of namesakes emerge while other names are deemed nefarious and thus tabooed by social consensus. As an implied rule, nobody names her/his child Lucifer, Hitler or Judas.

However, we find parents naming their children after great heroes and famous personalities in showbiz, sports, politics, arts, science and technology among others with the aspiration in mind that their offspring will live up to the distinguished legacy of the persons after whom they are named. At this point, we acknowledge the reality that naming a child is basically an act of idealization. Underneath this convention is the fascination of the naming parents to think that in the future, the offspring will be like their idealized/idolized eminent namesakes. In conjunction with idealization is the effort of parents to programme and reinforce the personality and character of their child according to the qualities, skills and charisma of the idealized hero. The whole process could reasonably be construed as an act of spontaneous manipulation which appears to be as natural as it has been ordinarily done since time immemorial.

At a closer look, the satisfactory effect of this typical exercise is basically on the naming agent and not necessarily on the named subject. At a certain point of one’s life is the awakening stage of self-awareness wherein one realizes that s/he has been given a name that s/he is not comfortable with.  It may not always be the case since there are those who really like the names their parents bestowed on them so that they are even grateful that their parents gave them the names they proudly carry now. However, this positive acceptance doesn’t confer blanket endorsement to the traditional practice of naming done by parents.

With this in mind, I am of the opinion that parental naming as a socio-cultural convention should only be temporary. As a humanizing right, the act of naming should belong to the person her/himself who is to be named. This matter could be accomplished by the time the person has already reached the majority age and hence has already acquired a higher level of maturity in terms of decision-making and action-taking. Taking this into consideration opens up a totally radical way of looking at human reality at a point in time when everything conventional is placed under the microscopic lens of critical scrutiny.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 15 September 2015