Some religious thinkers such as Paul Tillich reconceive immortality of the soul, not as a continuation of temporal life after death, but understood in a non-dualistic way. Following Aristotle’s ontology of form and matter, the soul is the form of the life process and includes all elements which constitute that process as essences. Tillich’s understanding of immortality of the soul then involves the power of essentialization (his word). Immortality is symbolic not literal, wherein man’s finitude is taken into God’s infinitude as ‘Eternal Life.’ He concludes that bodily resurrection entails a symbolic reference to the ‘Spiritual Body’ while affirming the individual person’s uniqueness.3
Spiritual afterlife is the most satisfying and intuitive concept of immortality for most of us. However as the soul cannot be demonstrated convincingly and there is no empirical evidence for persistence of human agency, it seems to be based more on hope than reason. Plato’s arguments for the soul seem unpersuasive. This model depends on an untenable complexity – multiple individual spiritual agents including God (or gods) and humans, the unexplained connectivity of souls and physical bodies during mortal life, and an eternal realm unconnected with the known universe. It also suffers from the metaphysical concern of identity of a disembodied soul and an earthly person.
Antiquity offered one additional mode of immortality which lacks this complexity while remaining palatable to us and is the subject of the next blog.
1Adler, Mortimer J, et. al., The Great Ideas – A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Volume II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1952 page 791.
2Harvey, Sir Paul, The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, Oxford University Press, London, 1969 page 193.
3Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology. The University of Chicago Press. 1967. ISBN 0-226-80336-8.Volume 3, Pages 409-414.