Digest of terms


in traditional Christian and Muslim ethics the ultimate nonmaterial constituent of human personality and identity, and the distinguishing mark of humans as God's unique creatures in contrast to animals. It is seen by many as grounding the especial moral virtue of respect for persons, and the ascription of distinctively human rights. There has been theological disagreement about the timing of 'ensoulment', its alleged delay by a period of days or weeks subsequent to conception permitting some leeway for claiming the permissibility of abortion. At death the soul lives on, although there are different interpretations regarding what this entails (heaven and hell, judgment, resurrection).

In Hindu thought, while there is considerable variety of theories in different theologies, the soul, atman, is believed to have pre-existed this life and to be eternal throughout the ongoing karmic cycle of reincarnation. An analogous view is found in Buddhist thought despite the great philosophical difference between the Hindu atman and the Buddhist no-soul, anatta, doctrines (reincarnation/rebirth).

Philosophical critics of reincarnation have argued that since the criteria of personal identity are those of memory and physical continuity it is incoherent to posit as identical through countless aeons (and possible embodiments as animals) a nonmaterial entity stripped of both. Positing resurrection appears to avoid this objection while opening the door to another, namely that all that is required is some kind of mind-body continuity - a 'soul' is redundant.

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