The Soul

Autumn 2022


seminar INformation:

PHIL 24284
Professor Shields
Seminar Meetings: MW 12.45-14.00

Office Hours and Contact Information:

Office: Marian Kennedy Fischer Hall 4.15
Office hours: Tu 14.00-16.00  and by appointment

N.b. I prefer e-mail to telephone as a manner of student contact. I make an effort to answer student e-mails promptly, but please be aware that I measure promptness in this domain in days rather than hours or minutes.



Plato, Phaedo, 2nd ed., tr. G. M. A. Grube (Hackett: 1977)

Aristotle, On the Soul, tr. Fred D. Miller, Jr.  (Oxford: 2018)

Augustine, Confessions, tr. Thomas Williams (Hackett: 2019)

Cottingham, John, In Search of the Soul (Princeton: 2020)


N.b. Etexts are available for some of these works. You are most welcome to use them, as you prefer. Please note, however, that you are responsible for making sure that you have available the translations selected for our seminar. Translations vary in character and quality; these are good translations, selected for that reason and also because they are suited to our joint use. Although there are indeed some other strong translations of these works, seminar discussions, examinations, and required essays will presuppose these translations. 


Requirements and Protocol:

Students will sit two examinations, one preliminary and one final, and write three essays, in the neighbourhood of 1,500 words each. Each student will also be asked to present a section of Cottingham’s In Search of the Soul. Each presentation will involve a summary, critical assessment, and a question or two intended to stimulate discussion. 

Please note that standard London Undergraduate Program attendance policies apply. Students are expected to be present at every class. In case of illness, please contact the Undergraduate Program Office straightaway. Unexcused absences will result in academic penalties, usually in the form of a reduction in your final grade for this course. 


Dates for the examinations:

Preliminary Examination: 12 October 
Final Examination: 7 December


Due dates for the Essays:

Essay One: 15 September
Essay Two: 13 October
Essay Three: 1 December


I will offer prompts for each of the essays. You are, however, welcome to ignore these suggestions and write on a pertinent topic of your own choosing, but only if that topic is approved by me at least one week in advance of the due date.


These essays are to be submitted electronically in a main-stream word-processing format or (if you use something non-standard) as .pdf documents, to the address given above. Papers will be accepted until 17.00 on their due dates.


Attendance is expected at all seminar meetings.


All members of this seminar will be Understood to have read and endorsed Notre Dame’s UnderGraduate Academic Code of Honor.

Two conceptions of soul pervade the Western philosophical tradition, one manifestly theistic and one decidedly not. In the Christian philosophical tradition, for instance, the soul plays a central role in understandings of post mortem existence and personal identity, as well as in conceptions of the dignity of the human person. This approach to the soul we find explored and exalted in glorious detail in Augustine’s Confessions. Still, the soul existed in the Western philosophical tradition before there was Christianity,, most prominently in the systems of Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle devoted an entire treatise to its consideration, De Anima, which depicts the soul not as a locus of personal identity or as an immaterial being capable of existing in its own right without the body, but as a principle of life, as that which differentiates the living from the non-living and which grounds the unity of the living system. These two conceptions of soul—as an (1) immaterial entity capable of surviving the death of the body and as a (2) principle of life for all living things—seem on the surface, and even a good deal below the surface—to be talking about two different sorts of things, accidentally (if understandably) given the same name, the soul. One bold hypothesis, owing above all else to the seminal synthesis of Aristotelianism within theistic philosophy, both Christian and Islamic, takes a different view: the soul understood as a repository of value and the soul understood as a principle of life are, on the contrary, one and the same. A crucial question about this proposed synthesis arises unavoidably: can one and the same soul hold both offices? Or is this synthesis really rather a mixture of inconsistent views, serving only to water down each while preserving nothing of value in either?



Reading Schedule:

Please adhere to reading schedule. Please note: some readings will be discussed directly, while others will merely be assumed as background for lectures; all are, however to be read before the lecture for which they are assigned. It is good practice to reread them after the lecture as well.

As you will observe, each week is divided into two halves: the first session will be given over to consideration of a classic text on the soul and the second session will discuss Cottingham’s In Search of the Soul. 


Weeks One-Four: Plato
Week One
      • Wednesday: Kraut, Plato (Stanford Encylopedia)
Week Two
      • Monday: Phaedo 57a-72a
      • Wednesday: SS 1-14
Week Three
      • Monday: Phaedo 72a-96a
      • WednesdaySS:14-32
Week Four
      • Monday: Phaedo 96a-107e
      • Wednesday: SS 33-48
Weeks Five-Eight: Aristotle 
Week Five
      • Monday: Shields, Aristotle (Stanford Encyclopedia)
      • Wednesday: SS 49-63
Week Six:
      • Monday: On the Soul i 3-4
      • Wednesday: SS 64-69
Week Seven:
      • Monday: On the Soul ii 1-5
      • Wednesday: SS 70-89
Week Eight:
      • Monday: On the Soul iii 3-5
      • Wednesday: Preliminary Examination 
Week Nine: Mid-semester Break
Weeks Ten-Fifteen: Augustine
Week Ten:
      • Monday: Tornau, Saint Augustine (Stanford Encyclopedia); Augustine, Confessions I-II
      • Wednesday: SS 90-99
Week Eleven:
      • Monday: Confessions III-IV
      • Wednesday: SS 100-117
Week Twelve:
      • Monday: Confessions V-VI
      • Wednesday: SS 118-125
Week Thirteen:
      • Monday: Confessions VII-VIII
      • Wednesday: SS 126-141
Week Fourteen:
      • Monday: Confessions IX-X
      • Wednesday: SS 142-148
Week fifteen
      • Monday: Confessions XI-XIII
      • Wednesday: SS 149-158/Guest: Prof. John Cottingham
Week Sixteen: Quodlibetal 
      • Monday: Final Examination 
Keynote presentations 
  1. Introduction to the Soul
  2. The Phaedo I: Platonic Background
  3. Normative and Descriptive
  4. The phaedo II: Arguing for the Soul
  5. Background to Aristotle
  6. Aristotelian Souls and Bodies I
  7. Aristotelian Souls and Bodies II
  8. Background to the Confessions
  9. Augustine’s Adolescence
  10. Augustine: Belief into Understanding
  11. Augustine’s Will