Persons without Immaterial Souls

Document Type : Original Article


Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at University of Massachusetts Amherst


Traditionally, Christians and Muslims have held that a human person is (or has) an immaterial soul. Since there does not seem to be a place for immaterial souls in the natural world, I offer an alternative view that I call ‘Person-Body Constitutionalism’. Person-Body Constitutionalism holds that there are no (finite) immaterial entities like souls. Instead of distinguishing between souls and bodies, Constitutionalism distinguishes between whole persons and bodies. Human persons are essentially embodied, but do not essentially have the bodies that they in fact have at any given time. So, human persons, though spatially coincident with their bodies, are not identical to their bodies. Persons are distinguished from their bodies by having first-person perspectives essentially. I shall try to show that Constitutionalism is consistent with Christian doctrines. First, I set out Constitutionalism. Then, after critically discussing Thomas Aquinas’s view of Resurrection, I discuss the compatibility between Constitutionalism and the Resurrection, and an intermediate state between death and a general resurrection (e.g., Purgatory). Finally, I have a brief discussion of Constitutionalism and the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. The conclusion is that Person-Body Constitutionalism is congenial to these central Christian doctrines, and the existence of immaterial souls is not required for traditional Christianity.


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