Why Do Scientists No Longer Study The Soul?

Taught by Professor Patrick Grim, Ph.D.

Despite its immense importance over the millennia, there is one concept not found in contemporary science or philosophy of mind: the concept of the soul.

In this lecture, Professor Patrick Grimm discusses why the concept of the soul is of great importance—from its earliest origins to the medieval period. Why would it vanish? What happened to it? Why are problems of mind and body still with us, both philosophically and scientifically, while contemporary scientists and philosophers have nothing to say about souls? Watch the video below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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  1. I have been coveting this relatively new course on the Mind-Body Problem by Prof. Grim, so I was psyched(!) to see this most interesting lecture posted in ‘Daily’! The history of the concept of soul fascinates me, as does the puzzle as to why it is no longer something that science or psychology studies. (It’s very sad that Huston Smith has passed away – I wonder what he would have commented about what knocked soul out of the discussion/discourse, and how its absence has affected humanity. It’s fun to imagine Huston and Prof. Grim conversing at the end of Grim’s lecture.)

    I do wish Grim had addressed whether the essentially Platonic concept of soul (with Western roots in the Pythagoreans and the Orphic mysteries traditions) had any Eastern roots (such as from the Vedic philosophy in what is now India) that would suggest other antecedents to the Plato’s idea of soul. If there are such antecedents, it would deal a blow to the idea of the Axial Age as that pivotal period from about 800 to 300 BCE which gave birth (in the West AND the East) to such radically new ideas including a kind of immaterial continuation of the individual after bodily death and some kind of judgement at that point. And perhaps the Osiris myth itself offers evidence against the enchanting Axial Age concept….

    I’m also curious to ask Prof. Grim when and how Augustine’s view of the soul ultimately won prominence in the West’s concept of soul that we have today since I was under the impression that Aquinas was central to the Church at least until Aristotle (as-wedded-to-Christianity) was dethroned by the Scientific Revolution. I’m guessing the revival of Plato in the Renaissance probably had something to do with what Grim alludes to.

    Fascinating and well articulated lecture by Prof. Grim. I am as eager as ever to get my hands on the whole course!

    ~Susan Fay

  2. I’m of the view, nay.. dare I say understanding.. that metaphysics is logically prior to epistemology and definition. I think Aristotle nailed the nature of reality insofar as its accessible to mind on a philosophical level. I think he nailed the fourfold nature of causes involved in what we call “change” and that careful consideration of these aspects of being must underly philosophical analysis.

    We find that there is stuff, and that there are different kinds of stuff. Matter and form. As in our word “information”. Ideas are not materially in the mind, but formally. To know the form of something is to know its action, its order, the ends towards which it is ordered.. it’s intelligibility. Form and matter.. are the two terms necessary to actualize the potential to know what something is insofar as it is knowable. (Everything is grounded in Pure Act.. (God) and therefore is not totally knowable) But to return to the issue, the human person is an ensouled thing which to Aristotle meant that it is a fundamental unity within nature and it moves itself. It has its own immanent principle of action and life. Souls are known by there powers. This isn’t a magical or even religious term as most think, but a rather dry philosophical foundation that explains us. Our soul or act.. is rational as well as animal and is ordered like it or not towards the good. The mistake Descartes makes along with most is to think of the soul as a distinct type of “thing” , like an electron cloud of sparkling lights.. or smoke like a ghost image.. but .. and here’s the tough part.. Form and matter.. are the two metaphysical principles necessary to make sense (bad term) of reality. Our free will adds interesting elements to the nature of will and intellect.. but this is enough for now. The Aristotelian based metaphysical principles are necessary to have a philosophical understanding of reality.

  3. Your sentence about “…free will adds interesting elements to the nature of will and intellect”. After 53 years of medical practice I am wondering more and more just how much free will we have–or are we more like robots than we have thought.
    We know genetics definitely plays a role in our behavior. We know children from the same parents, raised in the same household can be quite different. My friends who speak of souls often think of deceased family and friends as “looking down” with “pleasure” etc. If there is a soul and if that is all there is in heave until the end of the world how does one “see” from Heaven?

  4. Free Will? Did we decide to be born? the color of our skin? our sex? our mental and physical capabilities? the character of our parent(s)?

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