A contemporary account of soul

By a contemporary account of “a soul” I’m looking for something that satisfies three criteria:

1.) That it follows from some contemporary account of life

2.) That it is somehow non-material

3.) That it characterize living things as such and not just human beings, though allowing for a peculiar sense of a human soul.

Here’s the account of soul that I think does this:

Soul is what accounts for the identity of a living being through the flux of its physical parts. 

By physical parts I mean not sorts of things but this and that individual part. A living thing will always have cells, but it does not always have this cell; it always has the same DNA but not this strand of DNA. That there is a continuous flux of the parts in this sense satisfies criteria (1), which is a uniquely contemporary account of a living thing. This flux is not total (our best theory of neurons indicates they are not replaced) but it is enough to say that there is no one, unchanging individual thing that governs the replacement of every individual part. Replacement is systematically done thoughout the system, but not in virtue of some unchanging replacement system.

Again, no individual part of a living system can be viewed as seeking to preserve itself. The body is no more a system for preserving this gene than for preserving this cell or this toenail. This gene simply does not survive any more than this toenail does.

This identity thoughout the flux of parts at once definitive of a living system while being simply remarkable. It’s as though we were juggling blocks with diverse letters which somehow managed to continuously spell the same word across the arc formed by the juggling. Anyone seeing this would posit some activity in addition to the blocks composing the arc. This is what soul is on our account.

If this is right, our account of soul also satisfies (2) since it is understood in opposition to material components. It accounts for the identity though replacement of such components.

We can also satisfy no (3), since it is a remarkable account of all living things, though it opens up a possibility for a unique sense of a human soul, that is, what uniquely accounts for the identity of a person as a person.

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