The concept of the soul has been a recurring area of exploration since ancient times. What do we mean when we talk about finding our soul, how do we know we have one, and does it hold any relevance in today’s scientifically and technologically dominated society? From Socrates and Augustine to Darwin and Freud, In Search of the Soul takes readers on a concise, accessible journey into the origins of the soul in Western philosophy and culture, and examines how the idea has developed throughout history to the present. Touching on literature, music, art, and theology, John Cottingham illustrates how, far from being redundant in contemporary times, the soul attunes us to the importance of meaning and value, and experience and growth. A better understanding of the soul might help all of us better understand what it is to be human.
Cottingham delves into the evolution of our thoughts about the soul through landmark works—including those of Aristotle, Plato, and Descartes. He considers the nature of consciousness and subjective experience, and discusses the psychoanalytic view that large parts of the human psyche are hidden from direct conscious awareness. He also reflects on the mysterious and universal longing for transcendence that is an indelible part of our human makeup. Looking at the soul’s many dimensions—historical, moral, psychological, and spiritual—Cottingham makes a case for how it exerts a powerful pull on all of us.
In Search of the Soul is a testimony to how the soul remains a profoundly significant aspect of human flourishing.
"[A] lucid and illuminating book. . . . Cottingham’s short study explores fundamental questions more fully than many much longer volumes."—John Gray, New Statesman
"I loved [this] erudite, bold, provocative, beautiful book."—Jane O’Grady, Literary Review
"An enjoyable and illuminating read. Cottingham’s elegant account is sufficiently deep and detailed to contribute to debate among philosophers of religion, while retaining a clarity and energy that lend themselves to a broader readership."—Ruby Guyatt, Times Higher Education
"[A] superb book. . . . There could be no better guide."—Maximilian de Gaynesford, The Tablet
"Wide-ranging and well-written."—Paradigm Explorer
"In Search of the Soul, provides a good occasion to reflect, with a man who is both a distinguished philosopher and a gentle guide, on the state of religious belief and disbelief in our present age."—Bernard G. Prusak, Commonweal
"In Search of the Soul is a philosophical ode to this ebbing faith, but it refuses to be elegiac: its impetus is a quiet confidence that a receding night tide returns at dawn."—Judith Wolfe, Times Literary Supplement
"[A] well-crafted and humane book . . . [In Search of the Soul] is what a modern spirituality could look like."—Michael H. Barnes, Catholic Books Review
"His very accessible essay ought to be essential reading for all Christians and epecially for teachers and preachers, in order to equip them to convey a credible understanding of the soul in our contemporary culture"—Fergus O’Ferrall, Methodist Reader
"This book helps inspire us to turn away from these cheap substitutes for something more human and more real. The nature of the human soul is a large topic, and readers will get much from this book to fuel their own thoughts on what remains of the human soul in the twenty-first century."—Laurie M. Johnson, The European Legacy
"The great strength of In Search of the Soul is that it roots thinking about the soul in our shared human experience, especially as it has been expressed by poets. While this book provides a valuable guide to traditional discussions about the soul, together with a careful assessment of modern scientific understandings, it especially resonates with our wish to make sense of life and our desire to reach out beyond ourselves to some ideal of goodness."—Richard Harries, King’s College London
"This is a hugely enjoyable and impressive book. As fresh and thoughtful as it is erudite, it is beautifully written and elegantly argued. Full of depth and detail, In Search of the Soul makes a serious contribution to debates among experts, and is an illuminating guide for general readers."—Clare Carlisle, author of On Habit
"In Search of the Soul is a superb book, true to Cottingham’s intent to articulate a more humane manner of philosophizing than is found in much contemporary philosophy. In this aim he succeeds admirably—in his style, the nature and scope of the questions he asks, and the wide learning that he brings to the project."—Simon May, author of The Power of Cute