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souls of Time

  soul of etymology
gary e. davis
September 3, 2020
‘soul’: a nice trope for the inner essence of onself—but what is “essence”?

The “soul” of one is its heartfulness?—but what is “heart”fulness, non-anatomically?

What does a person want with ‘soul’?

In light of various authoritative discussions, I find that a full dictionary definition covers it all well.

I’ve discussed the etymology earlier: “Etymologically,” I noted years ago (sup-posing that matters), “‘psyche’ has been a synonym for ‘soul’ and ‘self,’ as well as ‘mind’ ever since the classical Greeks coined the term.” And I returned to the matter last May. Yet, I want to do better entertainment of that. Then, I’ll go briefly to encyclopedia and academic philosophy.

‘Soul’ in English begins around the 12thC (from earlier Norse/Gothic, Old High German, Old English, and Middle English), though comparable notions turn up anciently outside the British Isles. ‘Soul’ is a northwest European term. What’s anciently meant elsewhere is an anthropological kindredness, since non-English ethnic engagements aren’t implied by common English use. (For example, tracing meaning back to classical Greece is a monastic and academic heritage that is left behind in modernity—save etymologists.)

In the beginning, soul is “1 : the immaterial essence or substance, animating principle, or actuating cause of life or of the individual life” (M-W Unabridged). One could importantly claim that the terminology is scholastic, but the matter belongs to the defining terms (which are as mysterious as ‘soul’ itself), not to a doctrine about those mysterious terms.

The elaborateness of 1 shows the original nebulousness of the auratic semantic point: essence, substance, principle, cause of life. Soul is originally about vitality of whatever “has” soul. Anciently, the liveliness of life was a complete mystery, of course, until modern times: ‘Soul’ tropes the mystery of life’s vitality by focusing on the vitality of something being. That sense contnues well into modernity in pre-biological doctrines of vitalism. There’s nothing especially religious about it.

Further definitions will amplify that nebulosity (if you will).

‘Soul’ becomes more often a psychal matter: the vitality of intelligent beings:
2 a : the psychical or spiritual principle in general shared by or embodied in individual human beings or all beings having a rational and spiritual nature”: psychal/spiritual… shared/embodied… rational/spiritual principle in general nature. Yet, ‘psychical’ and ‘spiritual’ are mysterious, too. Defining ‘soul’ shifts
the mystery to the appreciating sensibility for other mysteries.

What definitional sense does is to certify a neighborhood of kindred importances (“family of meaning,” Wittgenstein posited). The mystery is displaced by certi-
fying its mysterious neighborhood of importances as our vitality. The soul of importance, the importance of soul, is vitality, especially of intelligent life witnessing that vitality as especially its own.

Given etymological credibility here (which editors of M-W Unabridged say they’re doing their best to express), def. 1 evolves to def. 2. That is, the mystery of vitality becomes especially ours: intelligent vitality. Indeed, it’s us who are appreciating vitality in the first place. It’s intelligent life that is naming the mystery its being life.

And sense of vital principle in general nature becomes more general, as aspiring, starry-eyed minds are wont to do: “2 b : the psychical or spiritual nature of the universe related to the physical world as the human soul to the human body.”

Marvelous: psychal universe : physical world : : soul : body.

In other words: humanization of the universe—domestication of nature.

Indeed, that’s been the hallmark of civilization.

“—compare LOGOS,” the dictionary suggests.

Very nebulous, beginning with “the classical Greek appeal…”.

Notwithstanding Logos, the story is juicy enough unto itself: “3 a : the immortal part of man having permanent individual existence.”

Later, the meaning becomes secular: “3 b : a person’s total self in its living unity and wholeness—sometimes distinguished from spirit.”

So, soul—once identified with spirit—becomes especially psychological in a way that is differentiable from spirit—and, presumably, apart from body: Mind-body difference becomes separable from spiritual sense.

Hereon, the meaning has a life of lush usage that we might as well call literary-historical or widely figurative (tropical) in usage—an auratic variability (which
I won’t anymore bother to number): “a seat of real life, vitality, or action: person-
ality, psyche…. an animating or essential part: a vital principle actuating some-
thing… moving spirit: inspirer leader…. a man’s moral and emotional nature as distinguished from his mind or intellect… the quality of expression that effectively presents or arouses emotion and sentiment… a manifestation of the moral nature (such as affection, generosity, charity, sympathy)… spiritual or moral force: fervor…”

And most abstract: “human being: person” (airline pilots sanctify their passengers’ presence as “souls on board”); most laudatory: “one having a good or noble quality in the highest degree”; and most vague: “a strong positive feeling (as of intense sensitivity and emotional fervor).”

Wasn’t that fun?

next—> soul of genealogy



  Be fair. © 2020, gary e. davis