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Monday, August 1, 2005

Neo-Confucian vs Christian Concepts of the Soul

Below is a link to an article on how Neo-Confucians viewed Christian teachings on the soul. Many thanks to Malcolm Schosha over at the International Stoics Forum for informing me of this.

I read this article and it was incredibly interesting. It seems that the scientific perspective on the human mind has a lot in common with the Neo-Confician model.

In my view, the mind is the function of the brain. Or an "attunement" to use Socrates' analogy to the relationship between music and an instrument (an analogy which he unfortunately discounted).

In this sense, the mind is not physical, and one might therefore even call it metaphysical, but it is not supernatural either. It is more like the word "economy" or "capitalism" or "democracy" or "tyranny". These things are all metaphysical in the sense that they are not physical objects either, but are names of processes. As the article states...

The Sino-Korean term Ricci adopted for the immaterial, muhyeong, meant "without form" and referred in Neo-Confucian texts to either primal ki, before that material force had been directed by li into specific shapes, or to li and other abstractions which subsisted rather than existed and so were not considered concrete beings or actual entities.

The mind subsists rather than exists as a concrete being or entity. A perfect description of the modern biological/scientific view of the brain and mind.

Such an assumption was perplexing to Hudam and other Neo-Confucians who defined the soul more as an activity than as an object.

Here is another good example...

...Attacking the Buddhist doctrine of metempsychosis, Fan argued that:

The body is the substance of the soul; the soul is the functioning of the body....The relationship of the soul to its substance is like that of sharpness to a knife, while the relationship of the body to its functioning is like that of a knife to sharpness. What is called sharpness is not the same as the knife, and what is called the knife is not the same as sharpness. Nevertheless, there can be no knife if the sharpness is discarded, nor sharpness if the knife is discarded. I have never heard of sharpness surviving if the knife is destroyed, so how can it be admitted that the soul can remain if the body is annihilated?

What I found equally interesting was the explanation of how the nature of our language lead to processes being turned conceptually into entities (which presumably leads one to think they can then exist separately)...

The Thomistic philosophy of the Jesuits classified reality into nouns (substances), on the one hand, and adjectives and verbs (attributes) on the other. This metaphysical schema was probably generated by the linguistic pressure in the Indo-European linguistic community toward "entification", the nominalization of verbal concepts.(13) In the European languages which framed Catholic metaphysics in terms of substances and attributes, the noun occupied the center of gravity. Nominalization was commonly used to create abstractions drawn from verbs. To exist turned into existence, live into life, and to think into thought.

But I highly recommend giving it a read:

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