Join John Cottingham in conversation with Lauren Slater, presented by The Philosopher.
In his latest book In Search of the Soul, John Cottingham argues that, so far from being made obsolete by the rise of science, the concept of the soul still exerts a powerful pull on us today. We don’t have to think of the soul as a “spooky” immaterial substance, but as a way of referring to certain precious human attributes that enable us to engage in a rich repertoire of conscious activities including, most importantly, the search for meaning and value in our lives. This conversation will consider these and other central ideas in his book, and why Cottingham thinks that the concept of the soul has a claim to be central to our thinking about what it is to be human.
John Cottingham is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Reading, Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Roehampton University, and an Honorary Fellow of St. John’s College, Oxford. His latest book In Search of the Soul: A Philosophical Essay was published this year.
Lauren Slater is a PhD researcher at Birkbeck College, University of London. She works on Descartes’ philosophy of perception and Early Modern theories of Language. @laurenamslater
About the Book
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.