The Spirituality of the Soul

   1. Is belief in the existence of the soul an illusion of common sense, that can be destroyed by philosophy, or an academic conception that today has been surpassed by reasoning, supported by science? The whole life of our soul seems subordinated by us to the constant influences of our body. Its force or its diminution, its sadness or its joy seem to be in fact an effect of the state of our body and more specifically of our mind. The theory of cerebral localization must it seems subjugate one or other quality that seems to us was the most free, and the least material, to this circumvolution. A cerebral lesion breaks the balance of the mind for ever. After all the birth of a spiritual life in us is conditional on a certain vitality of the cerebral matter, and the destruction of that very matter destroys our reasoning. For certain the reasoning will remain something psychologically different to cerebral matter. But that matter is its deep substratum that does not subsist in it less if it dies, it is the substance out of which the phenomenon emanates.
   For certain, one would not be too much aware of being conscious of the truly intimate union that at the same time makes our body dependent on our soul and our soul dependent on our body. But by examining a little bit more thoroughly this notion of our body, one must recognize that we experience it like others, that is to say that we never attain anything from it but spiritual representations. A brain is for us merely a system for the sensations of touch and sight organized by our intellect and localized by it into forms of space and time (and of our own brain we can never know anything since it is precisely the condition of our consciousness that, by for a moment being the object, it would have ceased to be the instrument). But sensations are acts of consciousness. The laws that unite them are the laws of the intellect and as for the form of space and time, that in itself is an empty framework, that was in no way able to respond to the idea of substance, a framework that determines the gifts of understanding when the intelligence comes to replenish it, but of itself can produce nothing, not previously existing and being nothing but a principle of order and relation.
   One can not therefore say that the intellect is produced from matter since on the contrary it is the intellect that constructs matter. However far one may resolve the soul into material elements, one can resolve matter into psychological elements.

   2. The substance of the soul therefore is not matter for the very reason that it is not a substance. There are no material objects that we have intuition of, but a multitude of phenomena between which our reasoning creates a unity when it perceives a certain relationship between them, a certain harmony of tendencies towards the same end.
   But by submitting it to such precise analysis it appears that one sees the very substance of the soul dissolve too into phenomena. We no more have an intuition of a one identical self than we have an intuition of a material substance. What we perceive, is precisely what is found within the grasp of our understanding, that is to say that which exists in time, that which is transitory and specific. An emotion, a sensation, an idea, that is what we perceive from within ourselves, these are the limits of the series between which we establish relationships in order to forge a fiction of substance as has already been forged in us for external things. The spiritual THING has no more existence than material THINGS. The soul like matter separates into phenomena united by the intellect.
   But to unite them, to establish between my love and my hatred rather than my love and another's hatred a correspondence that exceeds the phenomenon so as to unite it with others, the intellect must be more than a phenomenon. The idea of a phenomenon is a given that is already more than phenomena. Unity is not shown in the phenomenon, still less the plurality that supposes that consciousness of a phenomenon outlives it so as to reunite it with others. What survives, it is said, is the phenomenon preserved by the memory. But for memory, for consciousness even to attribute this phenomenon to me, the intellect must recognize the unity and the identity of myself: the Intellect is not a reality hidden beneath phenomena, the intellect is one and the same with the phenomena. Here is the substance that in truth does not sustain phenomena and is not distinct from them but is the consciousness of their unity and their identity. It is an action that consists in reducing the multiple into unity, the successive into the identical. Substance understood in this way, is wholly spiritual.

   3. But this substance is simply the intellect, the reason. We rightly call it the self. But the subject of our universal judgements is in our physical individuality; it is rational and universal intellect. It is the essence of our selves; but this essence is common to all consciousness; it is the substantial unicity of all who think... At least we have only arrived at this conclusion: the existence of the substance of the intellect. If we stop here, our actions have nothing absolutely individual; they are1 a minute part of an immense action in which all the other parts determine the former. Each human life is a wave in the sea.
   And yet this is not the way that our life presents itself to us. That we participate to a certain extent in universal reason is quite certain; and it is on this very unity that are founded the possibilities of science and the obligations of charity. But it is individually that we have come to realize this universal. In the act of creation God has repeated substance infinitely and in the particular he was able to express the universal. How? There without doubt is the profound mystery of moral being that philosophy can never fully explain. Still, the fact remains that our thought does not present itself to us as an immovable abstraction and common to all men, but as an activity that is appropriate to us, to resolve the multiplicity of phenomena into the unity of reason, to regulate our most personal actions with a view to universal ends. That this very unity of reason be a more real substance than the individual, it is this perhaps that is true in the absolute. But this superior unity leaves a place for individual effort, in the progress of which our soul manifests itself to ourselves like a relatively free spiritual activity.
   Our last word, is that the soul is in every consciousness a sort of empire, a universe in the universal empire. That is not fully intelligible: but it is the act of moral liberty. Therefore if we must define spirituality, the substance of the soul, we say: it is freedom.

Essay written by Proust whilst studying philosophy under M. Darlu c. 1889.

1. Initial wording, crossed out: "[But this substance is] the same for all men. Their sensations may differ, the laws of reason are common to them. They do not participate at all to the same measure but in the end they are the no doubt unequal parts but indissoluble from a same whole. Their individuality, their freedom, their responsibility are a similar illusion, since their actions are the result of all the actions of others, or rather [a minute part, etc.]"


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