Philosophical Apprentice confronts the question of ‘ensoulment’ .

Reading Judith Wolfe’s essay, in the TLS March 19,2021, titled ‘Soul-searching; A philosophical attempt to make sense of the self’ Professor Wolfe begins her essay with a paraphrase of Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold:

‘hearing the long, withdrawing roar of the Sea of Faith, promises to be true to his love amid the confused and ignorant battles sweeping the naked world left behind by the ebbing of religion.’

Judging from the biography of Arnold by Ian Hamilton titled ‘A Gift Imprisoned: the poetic life of Matthew Arnold’ Arnold spent his life sunk in regret and self-disappointment: a portion of Blake Morrison’s insightful review of Ian Hamilton’s book:

The answers go back to childhood, and his father, Dr Thomas Arnold, controversialist, disciplinarian and headmaster of Rugby school, from out of whose shadow even the toughest boy would have found it hard to escape. Young Matt, nicknamed “Crabby”, coped with his father’s domineering manner and strict regimes by cultivating a cool, languid, at times facetious manner. He was thought to be idle – and not especially bright. No one was more surprised than Dr Arnold when he won a scholarship to Balliol College.

The Doctor, needless to say, had been at Oxford, too, and was back there hard on his son’s heels to give a series of lectures. As Matthew developed a taste for wine, cards and fancy clothes, contrasts were drawn between the earnest father and his feckless offspring. Matthew protested, knowing there was a serious side to him waiting to be expressed, perhaps in poetry. When his father died of a heart attack shortly afterwards, the poetry and seriousness, the “sad lucidity of soul”, did slowly begin to emerge. But there was also some deeper malaise (the malaise of the child of an energetic father), which he never succeeded in defeating.

Could the reader look to ‘Dover Beach’ as a kind of sign that Arnold was in fact as described by Morrison: (the malaise of the child of an energetic father), which he never succeeded in defeating.‘ The Age of The Father had been eclipsed, yet Matthew could not exercise a self-emancipation? This question cannot be answered, but it does offer possibilities for consideration.

The question that concerns this reader is the idea of ‘ensoulment’ as presented by Prof Wolfe:

Although talk of the soul is complicated, John Cottingham is convinced that it is not only legitimate but ultimately unavoidable. His own contribution is to affirm the trustworthiness of the basic human experience of ensoulment, and to probe the metaphysical horizons within which it thrives.

Cottingham does not treat “soul” as a simple notion, but as a placeholder for that by virtue of which we are each a self: a subject rather than merely an object. The first chapter chronicles facets of this experience of selfhood or ensoulment: the presence of the world and other people as realities we encounter emotionally, rationally and actively; our ineradicable sense of the demands of truth, goodness and love; our lifelong striving for a “better” or “truer” self. Many scientists and philosophers, seeking to pare away unnecessary entities, analyse these experiences as by-products of processes more basic than consciousness, aimed at survival and self-propagation. Cottingham, like Raymond Tallis, regards this analysis as self-referentially incoherent: it denies the fundamental significance of the difference between illusion (even advantageous illusion) and truth which motivates and enables scientific work in the first place.

According to th OED ‘ensoulment’ is defined as, to put or take into the soul; to unite with the soul; to infuse a soul into, to fill with soul, to dwell in animate, as a soul,become part of the (Divine soul) .

In sum, the question of ‘ensoulment’ is purely theological. On the question of ‘Consciousness’ Alva Noe provides the reader with this:

The synergy between Brain,Body and World, as presented by Noe isn’t freighted with Theological/Philosophical baggage, The second quoted paragraph of Prof. Wolfe’s essay is awash in that very particular baggage.

This union of Theology, Philosophy, and the Metaphysics common to both these ways of viewing the world, and the place of humans in it, was a challenge to this reader. As was Christopher J. Insole’s ‘The Intolerable God : Kant’s Theological Journey’ another Professor of Philosophical Theology.

As rewarding and challenging to my philosophical world view as Prof. Wolfe’s essay was, the final paragraph using Wittgenstein’s ‘therapeutic release into life’ hitched to the peculiarly human itch to flay our skin with Occam’s razor is

Ultimately, this would come as no surprise to Cottingham. His book (in the words of its subtitle) is a “philosophical essay”, not in the analytic sense of a demonstration but in Wittgenstein’s of a therapeutic release into life. Only for Cottingham, the question of God is not a distraction, but part of a therapy capable of releasing us from the peculiarly human itch to flay our skin with Occam’s razor.

The Austinian temperament of Wittgenstein, and his venerated musings… He was a misfit, like Kierkegaard, though not an actual rebel, but a particular kind of egoist. I am a misfit, who came late to the self-acceptance of that status. Perhaps my insights can be useful , or just an expression of my own egotism?

Philosophical Apprentice


About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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