Soul, Mind, and Body

Authored by: Paul J. M. M. Bakker

The Routledge Companion to Medieval Philosophy

Print publication date:  January  2021
Online publication date:  January  2021

Print ISBN: 9780415658270
eBook ISBN: 9781315709604
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



One of the most salient and far-reaching differences between modern “philosophy of mind” and medieval “philosophical psychology” has to do with the relation between soul and mind. For Descartes and the vast majority of his early modern successors, there is no meaningful distinction between these two notions. “Soul” (anima) and “mind” (mens) are just two names by which we refer to one and the same “thinking thing” (res cogitans). The problem that was created by Descartes, and that has occupied philosophy of mind until today, is how to explain the relationship between this thinking thing, the immaterial and unextended mind, and the body, defined in terms of matter and extension (res extensa). In its modern, Cartesian form, the “mind-body problem” was unknown to medieval thinkers. For them, the notion of “soul” had a much broader meaning than that of “mind.” The soul is not merely a thinking thing, but the principle that accounts for the whole range of functions associated with life: nutrition, growth, reproduction, locomotion, sensation, imagination, memory, and thinking. Hence, soul is not specifically human: plants and non-human animals have souls as well, albeit less complex and less powerful ones. From the perspective of medieval philosophical psychology, the primary problem is not how to explain the relationship between mind and body, but rather how to explain the relationship between soul, as the “principle of life” in general, and mind (or intellect), as the “principle of thinking.” 1

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.