Does the Soul Exist?




Does the soul exist? Is there any evidence to support this? In this article I'll show you one argument that I think supports the existence of a soul. Before going on, I’d like to establish the law of cause-and-effect. There is a metaphysical precept called ex nihilo nihil fit (which is Latin for “from nothing, nothing is produced”). This reasoning demands that, for any event that begins to exist, something must have caused it. This is because the idea of nothing producing such an event is ontologically impossible (from nothing, nothing is produced). Both scientists and laymen have observed the phenomenon of cause-and-effect. It rains because the clouds above are saturated with water, waves are formed because of the wind, cars move because the engine causes it to move, and so forth.

Suppose a dark, gray cloud shoots out lightning that strikes down a heavy tree, which in turn falls down on Bob’s favorite car. Can Bob rightfully blame the tree for the destruction of his car? No, the tree didn’t have a choice in the matter. Its fall was simply caused by the lightning, which was caused static electricity, which resulted from the clouds, which came about by weather patterns etc. Unlike the tree, we humans have a special ability that can cause us to be responsible for our actions. Rather than being pipelines for chains of natural causation that go back before our birth, we can initiate our own causal chains. This ability is commonly called free will.

Free will is about voluntary choice, being able to choose one’s own actions, and thus the freedom to make choices that are not determined by prior causes. (For if our actions were forced on us by prior causes outside our control, we would not have free will.)

But do we really possess free will? Are we really capable of choosing our own actions? Experiment for yourself. To see if you have free will, intentionally do something, anything at all. For instance, try to move your arm. Can you do it? I think I can. And the evidence (direct perceptions) would seem to indicate that we do indeed have free will.

Disputable Point

As we’ll see later on, the existence of free will is the foundation of the upcoming argument for the existence of the soul. But there are some people who believe the existence of free will is only an illusion, and instead our actions are determined by prior causes. Thus we have no choice in whatever we do. A rebuttal to this would be that we should trust our direct perceptions (just as we generally trust sense experience) unless we have good reason to believe otherwise, and that there is no sufficiently good reason to believe otherwise. But, like the existence of free will, even this is a point that can be disputed. So, is it the case that free will exists?


Before continuing, let's look at some terminology.

Agency theory should not be confused with simple indeterminism. In agency theory, an act of free will is not a random, uncaused event. Rather, we (agents) cause things and create new causal chains. As you might have guessed, the type of metaphysical view of free will being discussed here is agency theory. But is the essence of an agent nonphysical (as the soul) or purely physical? Read on.

In the following argument, free will the foundational piece of evidence that supports the existence of the soul (the immaterial basis of oneself). Recall that free will involves the freedom to make choices that are not determined by prior causes. Therefore, free will is itself a cause and not an effect in its interactions with corporeality. So if free will is to exist, its basis must be incorporeal (once the corporeal is excluded, the incorporeal is the only remaining logical possibility). Since it is the self that causes the actions (i.e. is the basis of the free will), and if the basis of free will is necessarily incorporeal, then the basis of the self is incorporeal. Since the incorporeal essence of the self is called the soul, then if free will exists the soul must exist also. Free will obviously exists, therefore the soul does also.

Confused? Okay, let’s take it one step at a time:

  1. Free will exists (follows from direct perceptions).
  2. The soul is the incorporeal essence of oneself (by definition).
  3. Free will is about voluntary choice, being able to choose one’s own actions; the freedom to make choices that are not determined by prior causes. (By definition.)
  4. Therefore, free will is itself a cause and not an effect in its interactions with corporeality (follows from 3, see also further justification below).
  5. So if free will exists, its basis must be incorporeal. (Follows from 4. If free will exists it has to have some kind of existence; and from 4 free will is not an effect in its interactions with corporeality, the basis of free will cannot be corporeal, the only alternative left is the incorporeal; see also further justification below.)
  6. The self chooses one’s own actions (part of the definition of free will, i.e. from line 3), and is thus the basis of free will.
  7. The basis of the self must be incorporeal if free will exists, since the basis of free will must be incorporeal, and the basis of free will is the self (from 2, 5 and 6).
Conclusion: The soul exists because free will exists (from 1 and 7).

Some quick terminology: an argument being valid just means that, if premises are true, then the conclusion must be true also. A sound argument is both valid and has all true premises. There are two ways the above argument can be unsound. One is that the argument is invalid (not valid), i.e. the conclusion does not logically follow somewhere along the way. In that case, the question would be, “which line of the argument does not logically follow from the statement(s) it’s based upon?” The second way the argument can fail to be sound is if one of the premises is wrong. In that case, “which premise fails and why?”

A quick way to attack the argument is to deny the existence of free will. Thus, a person who disbelieves in the existence of free will could reject line 1. Though rational support for the first premise was given, one could still claim (rationally or irrationally?) that that those perceptions are illusory. But if free will does exist, does it logically follow that the soul must exist also? After all, if free will exists and if the argument is valid, then the soul would have to exist. So is the argument valid? To better answer this question, let’s more closely examine lines 4 and 5 of the argument.

Further Justification for Lines 4 and 5

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: in a purely physical world, our actions are solely the product of forces completely beyond our control, and thus we would not have free will. To better illustrate lines 4 and 5 of the argument, let’s look at the materialist’s view. The causal chain would be something like this:



Natural Processes
|
CAUSE
|
Inner Brain States
|
CAUSE
|
Mental and Physical Actions


Because of cause-and-effect however, this corporeal chain of causation would extend back well before we were born. Yet conditions before our birth are clearly outside of our control, so the chain of causation would look something like this:



Natural Processes Outside Our Control
|
CAUSE
|
Inner Brain States
|
CAUSE
|
Mental and Physical Actions


But if this is accurate, we would not be originating the cause of anything. We would be just like the tree that fell on Bob's car, being a conduit of natural forces outside our control. In this case, our actions would be determined by prior causes. We would not have free will. This is why free will by definition cannot be an effect in corporeality (hence line 4). To have free will we must exist outside this corporeal tapestry (hence line 5). If free will exists and its basis cannot be corporeal, the only logical alternative is the incorporeal realm. Since its basis must be incorporeal, we must logically have souls if we possess free will.


Disputable Point

While the argument may seem sound, especially if free will exists, there are a few points that could be disputed. The argument could still be rejected if free will does not exist. Does human volition exist? Are the arguments for lines 4 and 5 sufficient rational grounds for accepting them as true?