The soul of man can live without the body; the body cannot live without the soul. From biblical revelation we know we have souls. The Bible does not banish the soul to some “never-never” noumenal world of agnosticism. Not only do we have souls, but the nurture and care of our souls is a top priority for the Christian life.
Students of philosophy are well aware of the watershed significance of Immanuel Kant’s epochal work, The Critique of Pure Reason. In this volume Kant gave a comprehensive critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God, wrecking havoc on natural theology and classical apologetics. Kant ended in agnosticism with respect to God, arguing that God cannot be known either by rational deduction or by empirical investigation. He assigned God to the “noumenal world,” a realm impenetrable by reason or by sense perception.
The impact on apologetics and metaphysical speculation of Kant’s work has been keenly felt. What is often overlooked, however, even among philosophers, is the profound impact Kant’s critique had on our understanding of the soul.
Kant placed three concepts or entities in his noumenal realm, a realm above and beyond the phenomenal realm. The triad includes God, the self, and the thing-in-itself, or essences. If God resides in this extraphenomenal realm, then, the argument goes, we cannot know anything about Him. Our knowledge, indeed all true science, is restricted to the phenomenal realm, the world perceived by the senses. Kant argued that we cannot move to the noumenal realm by reasoning from the phenomenal realm (a point that put Kant on a collision course with the Apostle Paul).
Kant’s agnosticism moved beyond theology to metaphysics. Since meta-physics is concerned with that which is above and beyond the physical, it is deemed a fool’s errand to seek knowledge of essences. The phenomenal realm is the world of existence, not of metaphysical essences or “things-in-themselves.” There may be metaphysical essences but they cannot be known by human reason. That Kant did a hatchet job on metaphysics as well as theology is clear.
Again, what is often overlooked is that the hatchet had more work to do. By assigning the self to the noumenal realm, Kant also hacked away at the concept of the human soul. This has had a devastating impact on subsequent views of anthropology. Pre-Kantian thought gave heavy weight to the importance of the human soul. Post-Kantian thought has as all but eliminated the soul from serious consideration.
The nature of the self remains a concern of psychology, but its nature is enmeshed in enigma. Descartes arrived at a knowledge of the self as a clear and distinct idea via a rigorous doubting process. He resolved to doubt everything he could possibly doubt. The one thing he couldn’t doubt was that he was doubting. There was no doubt about that. For anyone to doubt that he is doubting, he must doubt to do it. Since doubting is a form of thinking and thought requires a thinker, Descartes arrived at his famous conclusion: Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” We notice that in this formula there is an “I,” a self, that is necessarily involved in the process.
Kant, himself, could not rid himself of the awareness of his self. He appealed, however, not to a rational deduction by which he came to a conclusion of his self; rather, he coined the idea of the “transcendental apperception of the ego.” This technical language is somewhat cumbersome but nevertheless significant.