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Conversation on Immortality
L. I think, we no longer believe in a 'soul', - at least not in the antique or medieval sense of that term, meaning an autonomous entity, radically different from the body. The soul is the life of the body, but that life cannot be an independent entity in itself, abstracted from the body and remaining - how shall I put it - an ens per se. That would be taking a mere abstraction to be something real. Life is only real together with the body. And so is the soul.
Distant bangs. Pause.
S. Hm. What about the Self, the I or Ego? Would you call that a mere abstraction? Is the consciousness of the Self something illusory? A mirage? Actually non-existent?
L. Most certainly. David Hume looked for the Self or Ego, or whatever else you want to call it, and found nothing. All he was able to detect in the whole range of our consciousness were impressions or their derivates: ideas. Our consciousness always has content: sensations, feelings, volitions directed upon something - but no Ego can be discovered there. We give the all-inclusive name Ego to the idea of the total of the bodily experiences of our whole life. Those experiences are impressions and their abstract forms are ideas, to use Hume's terminology. There is no Self or soul, if we keep honestly to the facts of inner observation and resist the temptation to imagine something that we wish to find.
S. If there is no Self, then, I suppose, there is nothing to endure.
L. The 'soul' belongs to religion, not to science. That means we have no right to assume its existence. No scientific psychology to-day would speak of a soul in the old sense, that is, a describable Self, different in kind from the body. People even speak of 'psychology without soul'.
S. But are mental phenomena explicable in terms of physical nature or character? I mean, can they be reduced to bodily processes?
L. Not yet. But I think we're on the way.
B. Aren't you going too far, my dear Lowenthal?
L. Even if I am - even if there are, perhaps, mental phenomena taken to be 'emergent', that is, of a new sort, to be distinguished from bodily experiences, such mental phenomena would not constitute a Self, a soul.
B. Are not the terms 'experience' and 'experiencing' simply a veil for the whole riddle of an Ego that is, as it were, implicit in experience?
L. If it is implicit, kindly make it explicit.
B. It seems to me that there is something in the nature of the Self, if there is a Self, that resists being made explicit. An explicit Self, perhaps, is no Self; it is not a true subject; I mean, it is an object.
L. If it is in the nature of the Self not to be accessible to demonstration, that comes to the same as not being demonstrable for other reasons; for instance, because it does not exist. In short, it cannot be 'verified'.
K. I see. So, all of us, 'we' are not.
L. Not properly.
D. Has all philosophical reflection on Immortality been abandoned since Hume?